Audhelia (Audhalia)

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This article was written in 1916 when conditions were different. Even in
1916 its contents related only to Central India and did not claim to be true
of all of India. It has been archived for its historical value as well as for
the insights it gives into British colonial writing about the various communities
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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: The 'Central Provinces' have since been renamed Madhya Pradesh.


A small hybrid caste found i. Origin. almost exclusively in the Bilaspur District, where they number about looo persons. The name is derived from the word Udharia, meaning a person with clandestine sexual intimacies. The Audhelias are a mixed caste and trace their origin from a Daharia Rajput ancestor, by one BhQri Bandi, a female slave of unknown caste.

This couple is supposed to have resided in Ratanpur, the old capital of Chhattisgarh, and the female ancestors of the Audhelias are said to have been prostitutes until they developed into a caste and began to marry among themselves. Their proper avocation at present is the rearing of pigs, while some of them are also tenants and farm-labourers. Owing to the base descent and impure occupation of the caste they are held in very low esteem, and their touch is considered to convey pollution.


The caste have at present no endogamous divisions and 2. Mar- still admit members of other castes with the exception of "^^^' the very lowest. But social gradations exist to a certain ' Jasrnimiin zainbac. " Michelia chanipaca. '^ Phyllanthus cinblica.

extent among the members according to the position of their male ancestors, a Daharia Audhelia, for instance, being rekictant to eat or intermarry with a Panka Audhelia. Under these circumstances it has become a rule among the Audhelias not to eat with their caste-fellows excepting their own relations. On the occasion of a caste feast, therefore, each guest prepares his own food, taking only uncooked grain from his host. At present seven gotras or exogamous divisions appear to have been formed in the caste with the names of Pachbhaiya, Chhahri, Kalkhor, Bachhawat, Dhanawat, Bhainsa and Limuan. The following story exists as to the origin of these gotras : There were formerly three brothers, Sahasman, Budha and Mangal, who were Sansis or robbers. One evening the three brothers halted in a forest and went to look for food. One brought back a buffalo-horn, another a peacock's feather and the youngest, Mangal, brought plums.

The other brothers asked Mangal to let them share his plums, to which he agreed on condition that one of the brothers should give his daughter to him in marriage. As Mangal and his brothers were of one gotra or section, and the marriage would thus involve splitting up the gotra, the brothers were doubtful whether it could be performed. They sought about for some sign to determine this difficult question, and decided that if Mangal succeeded in breaking in pieces an iron image of a cat simply by blows of his naked fist, it would be a sufficient indication that they might split up "CaoAx gotra. Mangal was therefore put to the ordeal and succeeded in breaking the image, so the three brothers split up their gotra, the eldest assuming the gotra name of Bhainsa because he had found a buffalo-horn, the second that of Kalkhor, which is stated to mean peacock, and the third that of Chhahri, which at any rate does not mean a plum.

The word Chhahri means either ' shadow,' or ' one who washes the clothes of a woman in confinement.' If we assume it to have the latter meaning, it may be due to the fact that Mangal had to wash the clothes of his own wife, not being able to induce a professional washerman to do so on account of the incestuous nature of the connection. As the eldest brother gave his daughter in an incestuous marriage he was also degraded, and became the ancestor

of the Kanjars or prostitutes, who, it is said, to the present day do not solicit Audhelias in consideration of the con- sanguinity existinc^ between tlicm. The story itself suf- ficiently indicates the low and mixed descent of the Audhelias, and its real meaning may possibly be that when they first began to form a separate caste they per- mitted incestuous marriages on account of the paucity of their members. A curious point about the story is that the incestuous nature of the connection is not taken to be the most pressing objection to the marriage of Mangal with his own niece, but the violation of the caste rule prohibiting marriage within the same gotra. Bachhawat and Dhanawat are the names of sections of the Banjara caste, and the persons of these gotras among the Audhelias are probably the descendants of illicit connections among Banjaras. The word Pachbhaiya means ' five brothers,' and this name possibly commemorates a polyandrous connection of some Audhelia woman. Limuan means a tortoise, which is a section of many castes. Several of the section-names are thus totemistic, and, as in other castes, some reverence is paid to the animal from whom the name is derived. At present the Audhelias forbid marriage within the same gotra and also the union of first cousins.

Girls are married between five and seven years of age as their numbers are scarce, and they are engaged as early as possible. Unless weddings are arranged by ex- changing girls between two families, a high bride-price, often amounting to as much as Rs. 60, is paid. No stigma is in- curred, however, if a girl should remain unmarried till she arrives at adolescence, but, on the contrary, a higher price is then obtained for her. Sexual licence either before or after marriage is considered a venial offence, but a woman detected in a liaison with a man of one of the lowest castes is turned out of caste. Widow marriage and divorce are freely allowed.

Religion birth and death

The Audhelias venerate Dulha Deo and Devi, to whom 3. Religion, they usually offer pigs. Their principal festival is the Holi, ^lath^" at which their women were formerly engaged to perform as professional dancers. They usually burn their dead and remove the ashes on the third day, throwing them into the nearest stream. A few of the bones are picked up and

buried under a pipal tree, and a pitcher with a hole in the bottom is hung on the tree so that water may trickle down on to them. On the tenth day the caste-people assemble and are shaved and bathe and rub their bodies with oil under the tree. Unmarried men and persons dying of cholera are buried, the head being placed to the north. They consider that if they place the corpse in the reverse position it would be an insult to the Ganges equivalent to kicking the holy river, as the feet of the body would then be turned towards it.


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