Bahna, Pinjara, Dhunia

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This article was written in 1916 when conditions were different. Even in
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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.

Important: This article has been scanned from a book. Therefore, it has several spelling mistakes. You can help by sending the corrected version to the Facebook page, All information used will be duly acknowledged.

Bahna, Pinjara, Dhunia

Nomenclature and internal structure

^—The occupational caste of i. Nomen- cotton-cleaners. The Bahnas numbered 48,000 persons in |^,-,^eJ^^^i^" the Central Provinces and Berar in 191 1. The large stmciure. increase in the number of ginning-factories has ruined the Bahna's trade of cleaning hand-ginned cotton, and as no distinction attaches to the name of Bahna it is possible that members of the caste who have taken to other occu- pations may have abandoned it and returned themselves

1 Kennedy, loc. cit. p. 208. paper by Munshi Kanhya Lai of the '^ Kennedy, loc. cit. p. 185. Gazetteer office. ^ This article is partly based on a JO BANNA TART simply as Muhammadans, The three names Bahna, Pinjara, Dhunia appear to be used indifferently for the caste in this Province, though in other parts of India they are dis- tinguished. Pinjara is derived from the word pinjan used for a cotton-bow, and Dhunia is from dJnmna, to card cotton. The caste is also known as Dhunak Pathani.

Though professing the Muhammadan religion, they still have many Hindu customs and ceremonies, and in the matter of in- heritance our courts have held that they are subject to Hindu and not Muhammadan law.^ In Raipur a girl receives half the share of a boy in the division of inherited property.

The caste appears to be a mixed occupational group, and is split into many territorial subcastes named after the different parts of the country from which its members have come, as Badharia from Badhas in Mirzapur, Sarsutia from the Saraswati river, Berari of Berar, Dakhni from the Deccan, Telangi from Madras, Pardeshi from northern India, and so on. Two groups are occupational, the Newaris of Saugor, who make the thick newdr tape used for the webbing of beds, and the Kanderas, who make fireworks and generally constitute a separate caste. There is considerable ground for supposing that the Bahnas are mainly derived from the caste of Telis or oil-pressers.

In the Punjab Sir D. Ibbetson says ^ that the Penja or cotton- scutcher is an occupational name applied to Telis who follow this profession ; and that the Penja, Kasai and Teli are all of the same caste. Similarly in Nasik the Telis and Pinjaras are said to form one community, under the government of a single panchayat. In cases of dispute or misconduct the usual penalty is temporary excommunica- tion, which is known as the stopping of food and water.^

The Telis are an enterprising community of very low status, and would therefore be naturally inclined to take to other occupations ; many of them are shopkeepers, cultivators and landholders, and it is quite probable that in past times they took up the Bahna's profession and changed their religion with the hope of improving their social status. ' Sir \'>. Robertson's C.P. Census paras. 646, 647. /Report (1 89 1), p. 203. ^ Ni'isik Gazetteer, pp. 84, 85. '^ Punjab Census Rep07-l (1881),

The TcHs are generally considered to be quarrelsome and talkative, and the Bahnas or Dhunias have the same characteristics. If one man abusing another lapses into Billingsgate, the other will say to him, ' Hainko JuldJia Dhunia neJi Jdno,' or ' Don't talk to me as if I u^as a Juliiha or a Dhunia.' Some Bahnas have exogamous sections with Hindu 2. Mar- names, while others are without these, and simply regulate '^'^•^^' their marriages by rules of relationship. They have the primitive Hindu custom of allowing a sister's son to marry a brother's daughter, but not vice versa. A man cannot marry his wife's younger sister during her lifetime, nor her elder sister at any time. Children of the same foster- mother are also not allowed to marry. Their marriages are performed by a Kazi with an imitation of the Nikah rite. The bridegroom's party sit under the marriage-shed, and the bride with the women of her party inside the house. The Kazi selects two men, one from the bride's party, who is known as the Nikahi Bap or ' Marriage Father,' and the other from the bridegroom's, who is called the Gowah or ' Witness.' These two men go to the bride and ask her whether she accepts the bridegroom, whose name is stated, for her husband. She answers in the affirmative, and mentions the amount of the dowry which she is to receive. The bridegroom, who has hitherto had a veil {imck/ma) over his face, now takes it off, and the men go to him and ask him whether he accepts the bride. He replies that he does, and agrees to pay the dowry demanded by her. The Kazi reads some texts and the guests are given a meal of rice and sugar. Many of the preliminaries to a Hindu marriage are performed by the more backward members of the caste, and until recently they erected a sacred post in the marriage -shed, but now they merely hang the green branch of a mango tree to the roof The minimum amount of the vie/iar or dowry is said to be Rs. 125, but it is paid to the girl's parents as a bride- price and not to herself, as among the Muhammadans. A widow is expected, but not obliged, to marry her deceased husband's younger brother. Divorce is permitted by means of a written deed known as ' Farkhati.'

The Bahnas venerate Muhammad, and also worship the tombs of Muhammadan saints or Pirs. A green sheet or cloth is spread over the tomb and a lamp is kept burning by it, while offerings of incense and flowers are made. When the new cotton crop has been gathered they lay some new cotton by their bow and mallet and make an offering of viallda or cakes of flour and sugar to it. They believe that two angels, one good and one bad, are perched continually on the shoulders of every man to record his good and evil deeds. And when an eclipse occurs they say that the sun and moon have gone behind a pinnacle or tower of the heavens. For exorcising evil spirits they write texts of the Koran on paper and burn them before the sufferer. The caste bury the dead with the feet point- ing to the south. On the way to the grave each one of the mourners places his shoulder under the bier for a time, partaking of the impurity communicated by it.

Incense is burnt daily in the name of a deceased person for forty days after his death, with the object probably of preventing his ghost from returning to haunt the house. Muhammadan beggars are fed on the tenth day. Similarly, after the birth of a child a woman is unclean for forty days, and cannot cook for her husband during that period. A child's hair is cut for the first time on the tenth or twelfth day after birth, this being known as Jhalar. Some parents leave a lock of hair to grow on the head in the name of the famous saint Sheikh Farid, thinking that they will thus ensure a long life for the child. It is probably in reality a way of preserving the Hindu choti or scalp-lock. The hereditary calling ^ of the Bahna is the cleaning or scutching of cotton, which is done by subjecting it to the vibration of a bow-string.

The seed has been previously separated by a hand-gin, but the ginned cotton still contains much dirt, leaf-fibre and other rubbish, and to remove this is the Bahna's task. The bow is somewhat in the shape of a harp, the wide end consisting of a broad piece of wood over which the string passes, being secured to a straight wooden bar at the back. At the narrow end the bar and string arc fixed to an iron ring. The string is made of the


sinew of some animal, and this renders the implement objectionable to Hindus, and may account for the liahnas being Muhammadans. The club or mallet is a wooden implement shaped like a dumb-bell. The bow is suspended from the roof so as to hang just over the pile of loose cotton ; and the worker twangs the string with the mallet and then draws the mallet across the string, each three or four times.

The string strikes a small portion of the cotton, the fibre of which is scattered by the impact and thrown off in a uniform condition of soft fluff, all dirt being at the same time removed. This is the operation technically known as teasing. Buchanan remarked that women frequently did the work themselves at home, using a smaller kind of bow called dlmnkara. The clean cotton is made up into balls, some of which are passed on to the spinner, while others are used for the filling of quilts and the padded coats worn in the cold weather. The ingenious though rather clumsy method of the Bahna has been superseded by the ginning-factory, and little or no cotton destined for the spindle is now cleaned by him. The caste have been forced to take to cultivation or field labour, while many have become cartmen and others are brokers, peons or constables. Nearly every house still has its pinjajt or bow, but only a desultory use is made of this during the winter months. As it is principally used by a Muham- madan caste it seems a possible hypothesis that the cotton-bow was introduced into India by invaders of that religion. The name of the bow, pinj'an, is, however, a Sanskrit derivative, and this is against the above theory. It has already been seen that the fact of animal sinew being used for the string would make it objectionable to Hindus.

The Bahnas are subjected to considerable ridicule on account of their curious mixture of Hindu and Muhammadan ceremonies, amounting in some respects practically to a caricature of the rites of Islam ; and further, they share with the weaver class the contempt shown to those who follow a calling considered more suitable for women than men. It is related that when the Mughal general Asaf Khan first made an expedition into the north of the Central Provinces he found the famous Gond- Rajput queen Durgavati of the Garha-Mandla dynasty governing with success a large and

prosperous state in this locality. He thought a country- ruled by a woman should fall an easy prey to the Muham- madan arms, and to show his contempt for her power he sent her a golden spindle. The queen retorted by a present of a gold cotton-cleaner's bow, and this so enraged the Mughal that he proceeded to attack the Gond kingdom. The story indicates that cotton-carding is considered a Muhammadan profession, and also that it is held in contempt.

Various sayings show that the Bahna is not considered a proper Muhammadan, as Turuk to Turuk Aiir BaJina Tm'iik, or ' A Muhammadan (Turk) is a Muhammadan and the Bahna is also a Muhammadan ' ; and again — Achera^ Kachera, Pinjdra, AIuham7nad se dfir, Din se niyura^ or ' The Kachera and Pinjara are lost to Muhammad and far from the faith ' ; and again — Adho Hindu ad/io Musabndn Tink/ton kahcn DJiiinak Pat/iiln, or ' Half a Hindu and half a Muhammadan, that is he who is a Dhunak Pathan.'

They have a grotesque imitation of the Muhammadan rite of halill, or causing an animal's blood to flow on to the ground with the repetition of the kalma or invocation ; thus it is said that when a Bahna is about to kill a fowl he addresses it somewhat as follows : Kdhe karkarat hai ? KdJie barbardt hai ? Kdhe jai jai log07t ka duna khdt hdi? Tor kidniat inor nidviat, Bismilldh hai iuch, or " Why do you cackle ? Why do you crow ? Why do you eat other people's grain ? Your death is my feast ; I touch you in the name of God." And saying this he puts a knife to the fowl's throat. The vernacular verse is a good

  • The word Achera is merely a jingle put in to make the rhyme complete. Kachera is a maker of glass bangles.

imitation of the cackling of a fowl. And again, they slice off the top of an egg as if they were killing an animal and repeat the formula, " White dome, full of moisture, I know not if there is a male or female within ; in the name of God I kill you." A person whose memory is not good enough to retain these texts will take a knife and proceed to one who knows them. Such a man will repeat the texts over the knife, blowing on it as he does so, and the Bahna con- siders that the knife has been sanctified and retains its virtue for a week. Others do not think this necessary, but have a special knife, which having once been consecrated is always kept for killing animals, and descends as an heirloom in the family, the use of this sacred knife being considered to make the repetition of the kalma unnecessary.

These customs are, however, practised only by the ignorant members of the caste in Raipur and Bilaspur, and are unknown in the more civilised tracts, where the Bahnas are rapidly conforming to ordinary Muhammadan usage. Such primitive Bahnas perform their marriages by walking round the sacred post, keep the Hindu festivals, and feed Brahmans on the tenth day after a death. They have a priest whom they call their Kazi, but elect him themselves. In some places when a Bahn-a goes to the well to draw water he first washes the parapet of the well to make it ceremonially clean, and then draws his water.

This custom can only be compared with that of the Raj-Gonds who wash the firewood with which they are about to cook their food, in order to make it more pure. Respectable Muhammadans naturally look down on the Bahnas, and they retaliate by refusing to take food or watqr from any Muhammadan who is not a Bahna. By such strictness the more ignorant think that they will enhance their ceremonial purity and hence their social consideration ; but the intelligent members of the caste know better and are glad to improve themselves by learning from educated Muhammadans. The other menial artisan castes among the Muhammadans have similar ideas, and it is reported that a Rangrez boy who took food in the house of one of the highest Muhammadan officers of Government in the Province was temporarily put out of caste. Another saying about the Bahnas is —

SheikJioji ki Sheikht,

Pathdnofi kl farr,

Tiirkott ki Tierkshdhi,

Bahnoii ki bharrr

or ' Proud as a Sheikh, obstinate as a Pathan, royal as a Turk, buzzing like a Bahna.' This refers to the noise of the cotton-cleaning bow, the twang of which as it is struck by the club is like a quail flying ; and at the same time to the Bahna's loquacity. Another story is that a Bahna was once going through the forest with his cotton-cleaning bow and club or mallet, when a jackal met him on the path. The jackal was afraid that the Bahna would knock him on the head, so he said, " With thy bow on thy shoulder and thine arrow in thy hand, whither goest thou, O King of Delhi ? " The Bahna was exceedingly pleased at this and replied, ' King of the forest, eater of wild plums, only the great can recognise the great.'

But when the jackal had got to a safe distance he turned round and shouted, " With your cotton-bow on your shoulder and your club in your hand, there you go, you sorry Bahna." It is said also that although the Bahnas as good Muhammadans wear beards, they do not cultivate them very successfully, and many of them only have a growth of hair below the chin and none on the under-lip, in the fashion known as a goat's beard. This kind of beard is thus proverbially described as ' Bahna kaisi ddrhi' or *A Bahna's beard.' It may be repeated in conclusion that much of the ridicule attaching to the Bahnas arises simply from the fact that they follow what is considered a feminine occupation, and the remainder because in their ignorance they parody the rites of Islam. It may seem ill- natured to record the sayings in which they are lampooned, but the l^ahnas cannot read English, and these have an interest as specimens of popular wit.

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