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From The Tribes And Castes Of The Central Provinces Of India
By R. V. Russell
Of The Indian Civil Service
Superintendent Of Ethnography, Central Provinces
Assisted By Rai Bahadur Hira Lal, Extra Assistant Commissioner
Macmillan And Co., Limited, London, 1916.
NOTE 1: The 'Central Provinces' have since been renamed Madhya Pradesh.
NOTE 2: While reading please keep in mind that all articles in this series have been scanned from the original book. Therefore, footnotes have got inserted into the main text of the article, interrupting the flow. Readers who spot these footnotes gone astray might like to shift them to the correct place.
Origin and Subdivisions
A small Dravidian caste, who arc an offshoot of the Gond tribe. The Agarias have adopted the profession of iron-smelting and form a separate caste. They numbered 9500 persons in 191 i and live on the Maikal range in the Mandla, Raipur and Bilaspur Districts, The name probably signifies a worker with d^- or fire. An Agaria subcaste of Lohars also exists, many of whom are quite probably Gonds, but they are not included in the regular caste. Similar Dravidian castes of Agarias are to be found in Mirzapur and Bengal.
The Agarias are quite distinct from the Agharia cultivating caste of the Uriya country. The Raipur Agarias still intermarry with the Rawanbansi Gonds of the District. The Agarias think that their caste has existed from the beginning of the world, and that the first Agaria made the ploughshare with which the first bullocks furrowed the primeval soil. The caste has two endogamous divisions, the Patharia and the Khuntia /\garias.
The Patharias place a stone on the mouth of the bellows to fix them in the ground for smelting, while the Khuntias use a peg. The two subcastes do not even take water from one another. Their exogamous sections have generally the same names as those of the Gonds, as Sonwani, Dhurua, Tekam, Markam, Uika, Purtai, Marai, and others. A few names of Hindi origin are also found, as Ahindwar, Ranchirai and Rathoria, which show that some Hindus have probably been amalgamated with the caste. Ahindwar or Aindwar and Ranchirai mean a fish and a bird respectively in Hindi, while Rathoria is a gotra both of Rajputs and Telis. The Gond names are probably also those of animals, plants or other objects, but their meaning has now generally been forgotten. Tekam or ieka is a teak tree. Sonwani is a sept found among several of the Dravidian tribes, and the lower Hindu castes. A person of the Sonwani sept is always chosen to perform the ceremony of purification and readmis- sion into caste of persons temporarily excommunicated. His duty often consists in pouring on such a person a little water in which gold has been placed to make it holy, and hence the name is considered to mean Sonapani or gold- water. The Agarias do not know the meanings of their section names and therefore have no totemistic observances. But they consider that all persons belonging to one gotra are descended from a common ancestor, and marriage within the gotra is therefore prohibited. As among the Gonds, first cousins are allowed to marry.
[This article is compiled from of Bilaspur, and Kanhya Lai, clerk in papers by Mr. Mir Padshah, Tahsildar the Gazetteer office.]
Marriage is usually adult. When the father of a boy riage. wishes to arrange a marriage he sends emissaries to the father of the girl. They open the proceedings by saying, ' So-and-so has come to partake of your stale food.' ^ If the father of the girl approves he gives his consent by saying, ' He has come on foot, I receive him on my head.' The boy's father then repairs to the girl's house, where he is respectfully received and his feet are washed. He is then asked to take a drink of plain water, which is a humble method of offering him a meal. After this, presents for the girl are sent by a party accompanied by tomtom players, and a date is fixed for the marriage, which, contrary to the usual Hindu rule, may take place in the rains.
The reason is perhaps because iron-smelting is not carried on during the rains and the Agarias therefore have no work to do. A i&w days before the wedding the bride-price is paid, which consists of 5 seers each of ui'ad and til and a sum of Rs. 4 to Rs. i 2. The marriage is held on any Monday, Tuesday or Friday, no further trouble being taken to select an auspicious day. In order that they may not forget the date fixed, the fathers of the parties each take a piece of thread in which they tie a knot for every day intervening between the date when the marriage day is settled and the day itself, and they then untie one knot for every day. Previous to the marriage all the village gods are propitiated by being anointed with oil 1 BCisi or rice boiled in water the previous day.
by the Baiga or village priest. The first clod of earth for the ovens is also dug by the Baiga, and received in her cloth by the bride's mother as a mark of respect. The usual procedure is adopted in the marriage. After the bride- groom's arrival his teeth are cleaned with tooth-sticks, and the bride's sister tries to push sdj leaves into his mouth, a proceeding which he prevents by holding his fan in front of his face. For doing this the girl is given a small present. A paili^ measure of rice is filled alternately by the bride and bridegroom twelve times, the other upsetting it each time after it is filled. At the marriage feast, in addition to rice and pulse, mutton curry and cakes of urad pulse fried in oil are provided. Urad is held in great respect, and is always given as a food at ceremonial feasts and to honoured guests. The greater part of the marriage ceremony is performed a second time at the bridegroom's house. Finally, the decorations of the marriage-shed and the palm- leaf crowns of the bride and bridegroom are thrown into a tank.
The bride and bridegroom go into the water, and each in turn hides a jar under water, which the other must find. They then bathe, change their clothes, and go back to the bridegroom's house, the bride carrying the jar filled with water on her head. The boy is furnished with a bow and arrows and has to shoot at a stuffed deer over the girl's shoulder. After each shot she gives him a little sugar, and if he does not hit the deer in three shots he must pay 4 annas to the sazvdsa or page. After the marriage the bridegroom does not visit his wife for a month in order to ascertain whether she is already pregnant. They then live together.
The marriage expenses usually amount to Rs. i 5 for the bridegroom's father and Rs. 40 for the bride's father. Sometimes the bridegroom serves his father-in-law for his wife, and he is then not required to pay anything for the marriage, the period of service being three years. If the couple anticipate the ceremony, however, they must leave the house, and then are recalled by the bride's parents, and readmitted into caste on giving a feast, which is in lieu of the marriage ceremony. If they do not comply with the first summons of the parents, the latter finally sever connec- ' A measure containing about 2^ lbs. of grain.
tion with them. Widow marriage is freely permitted, and the widow is expected to marry her late husband's younger brother, especially if he is a bachelor. If she marries another man with his consent, the new husband gives him a turban and shoulder-cloth. The children by the first husband are made over to his relatives if there are any. Divorce is permitted for adultery or extravagance or ill-treatment by either party. A divorced wife can marry again, but if she absconds with another man without being divorced the latter has to pay Rs. 1 2 to the husband.
[A measure containing about 2^ lbs. of grain.]
Birth and death ceremonies
When a woman becomes pregnant for the first time, her mother goes to her taking a new cloth and cakes and a preparation of milk, which is looked on as a luxurious food, and which, it is supposed, will strengthen the child in the womb. After birth the mother is impure for five days. The dead are usually burnt, but children under six whose ears have not been pierced, and persons dying a violent death or from cholera or smallpox are buried. When the principal man of the family dies, the caste-fellows at the mourning feast tie a cloth round the head of his successor to show that they acknowledge his new position. They offer water to the dead in the month of Kunwar (September- October).
Religion and Social
They have a vague belief in a supreme God but do not pay much attention to him. Their family god is Dulha Deo, to whom they offer goats, fowls, cocoanuts and cakes. In the forest tracts they also worship Bura Deo, the chief god of the Gonds. The deity who presides over their profession is Loha-Sur, the Iron demon, who is supposed to live in the smelting-kilns, and to whom they offer a black hen. Formerly, it is said, they were accustomed to offer a black cow. They worship their smelting implements on the day of Dasahra and during Phagun, and offer fowls to them. They have little faith in medicine, and in cases of sickness requisition the aid of the village sorcerer, who ascertains what deity is displeased with them by moving grain to and fro in a winnowing-fan and naming the village gods in turn. He goes on repeating the names until his hand slackens or stops at some name, and the offended god is thus indicated. He is then sum- moned and enters into the body of one of the persons present.
and explains his reason for being offended with the sick person, as that he has passed by the god's shrine without taking off his shoes, or omitted to make the triennial offering of a fowl or the like. Atonement is then promised and the offering made, while the sick person on recovery notes the deity in question as one of a vindictive temper, whose worship must on no account be neglected.
The Agarias say that they do not admit outsiders into the caste, but Gonds, Kawars and Ahirs are occasionally allowed to enter it. They refuse to eat monkeys, jackals, crocodiles, lizards, beef and the leavings of others. They eat pork and fowls and drink liquor copiously. They take food from the higher castes and from Gonds and Baigas. Only Bahelias and otlicr impure castes will take food from them. Temporary excom- munication from caste is imposed for conviction of a criminal offence, getting maggots in a wound, and killing a cow, a dog or a cat. Permanent excommunication is imposed for adultery or eating with a very low caste. Readmission to caste after temporary exclusion entails a feast, but if the offender is very poor he simply gives a little liquor or even water. The Agarias are usually sunk in poverty, and their personal belongings are of the scantiest description, consisting of a waist-cloth, and perhaps another wisp of cloth for the head, a brass lota or cup and a few earthen vessels. Their women dress like Gond women, and have a few pewter ornaments. They are profusely tattooed with representations of flowers, scorpions and other objects. This is done merely for ornament.
The caste still follow their traditional occupation of iron- s- Occupa- smelting and also make a few agricultural implements. They get their ore from the Maikal range, selecting stones of a dark reddish colour. They mix i6 lbs. of ore with 15 lbs. of charcoal in the furnace, the blast being produced by a pair of bellows worked by the feet and conveyed to the furnace through bamboo tubes ; it is kept up steadily for four hours. The clay coating of the kiln is then broken down and the ball of molten slag and charcoal is taken out and hammered, and about 3 lbs. of good iron are obtained. With this they make ploughshares, mattocks, axes and sickles. They also move about from village to village with an anvil, a hammer tion. and tongs, and building a small furnace under a tree, make and repair iron implements for the villagers.
(From People of India/ National Series Volume VIII. Readers who wish to share additional information/ photographs may please send them as messages to the Facebook community, Indpaedia.com. All information used will be gratefully acknowledged in your name.) Synonyms: Gooldnga Patharia, Kelha Agaria, Kol Lohar, Kuntia Chok, Lohar, Mahali Asur Agaria, Patharia, Sath Lohar [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh]
- Endogamous divisions: Khuntia Agrias, Patharia [Russell & Hiralal]
Groups/subgroups: Agaria Sath, Dak Lohar, Had, Kal Lohar, Sath Lohar [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh]
- Subtribes: Asur Agaria, Birjia Agaria, Lohar Agaria, Paharia Agaria [H.H. Risley]
Surnames: Agaria [Bihar and/or Jharkhand]
- Clans/septs: Ahindwar, Dhuruva, Marai, Markam, Putai, Ranchirai
Rathoria, Sonwani, Tekatn, Uilka [Russell & Hiralal] Bajuthes, Banjhawar, Baragwar, Girdhle, Goirar, Markan, Pasawan, Sanwan [W. Crooke] Exogamous units/clans: Mahato, Markam, Pradhan, Purtia, Sonvani, Tekam [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Baherwar, Mahatoar (a ride), Samduar, Sonoar (gold), Turiar [H.H. Risley] Exogamous units/clans (gothiar): [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Exogamous units/clans (gotta): Bara Sonowar, Barki Samaddar (large ocean), Bharewar (jungle dog), Chhota, Chhotki Samaddar, Chhotki Sonowar, Suar (pig) [Bihar and/or Jharkhand] Exogamous units/clans (kuri): Ahinwar, Baghel, Banjhakwar, Barangia,