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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 their correct place.


Bairagi, Sadhu

Definition of name and statistice

The general term for members of i- Defini- the Vishnuite religious orders, who formerly as a rule lived „ai'nrand by mendicancy. The Bairagis have now, however, become statistics. a caste. In 191 1 they numbered 38,000 persons in the Provinces, being distributed over all Districts and States. The name Bairagi is supposed to come from the Sanskrit Vairagya and to signify one who is free from human passions. Bairaga is also the term for the crutched stick which such mendicants frequently carry about with them and lean upon, either sitting or standing, and which in case of need would serve them as a weapon.

Platts considers that the name of the order comes from the Sanskrit abstract term, and the crutch therefore apparently obtained its name from being used by members of the order. Properly, a religious mendi- cant of any Vishnuite sect should be called a Bairagi. But the term is not generally applied to the more distinctive sects as the Kablrpanthi, Swami-Narayan, Satnami and others, some of whfch are almost separated from Hinduism, ' This article contains material from chSrya's Hindu Castes and Sects Sir E. Maclagan's Punjab Census Re- (Thacker, Spink & Co., Calcutta). port (1891), and Dr. J. N. Bhatta- - Dictionary, s.v.

nor to the Sikh religious orders, nor the Chaitanya sect of Bengal. A proper Bairagi is one whose principal deity is either Vishnu or either of his great incarnations, Rama and Krishna.

The four Sampradayas or main orders

It is generally held that there are four Sampradayas or main sects of Bairagis. These are — {a) The Ramanujis, the followers of the first prominent Vishnuite reformer Ramanuj in southern India, with whom are classed the Ramanandis or adherents of his great disciple Ramanand in northern India. Both these are also called Sri Vaishnava, that is, the principal or original Vaishnava sect. (Jj) The Nimanandi, Nimat or Nimbaditya sect, followers of a saint called Nimanand. {c) The Vishnu- Swami or Vallabhacharya sect, wor- shippers of Krishna and Radha. [d) The Madhavacharya sect of southern India. It will be desirable to give a few particulars of each of these, mainly taken from Wilson's Hindu Sects and Dr. Bhattacharya's Hindu Castes and Sects.

The Ramanujis

Ramanuj was the first great Vishnuite prophet, and lived in southern India in the eleventh or twelfth century on an island in the Kaveri river near Trichinopoly. He preached the worship of a supreme spirit, Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi, and taught that men also had souls or spirits, and that matter was lifeless. He was a strong opponent of the cult of Siva, then predominant in southern India, and of phallic worship. He, however, admitted only the higher castes into his order, and cannot therefore be considered as the founder of the liberalising principle of Vishnuism.

The superiors of the Ramanuja sect are called Acharya, and rank highest among the priests of the Vishnuite orders. The most striking feature in the practice of the Ramanujis is the separate preparation and scrupulous privacy of their meals.


They must not eat in cotton garments, but must bathe, and then put on wool or silk. The teachers allow their select pupils to assist them, but in general all the Ramanujis cook for themselves, and should the meal during this process, or while they are eating, attract even the look of a stranger, the operation is instantly stopped and the viands buried in the

ground. The Rumruuijis address each other with the sakita- tion Dasoham, or ' I am your slave/ accompanied with the I'ranam or slight inclination of the head and the applica- tion of joined hands to the forehead. To the Acharyas or superiors the other members of the sect perform the Ashtanga or prostration of the body with eight parts touching the ground. The tilak or sect-mark of the Ramanujis consists of two perpendicular white lines from the roots of the hair to the top of the eyebrows, with a connecting white line at the base, and a third central line either of red or yellow. The Ramanujis do not recognise the worship of Radha, the consort of Krishna. The mendicant orders of the Satanis and Dasaris of southern India are branches of this sect.

Ramanand, the great prophet of Vishnuism in northern 4. The India, and the real founder of the liberal doctrines of the ^^^'"! nandis. cult, lived at Benares at the end of the fourteenth century, and is supposed to have been a follower of Ramanuj. He introduced, however, a great extension of his predecessor's gospel in making his sect, nominally at least, open to all castes. He thus initiated the struggle against the social tyranny and exclusiveness of the caste system, which was carried to greater lengths by his disciples and successors, Kablr, Nanak, Dadu, Rai Das and others. These afterwards proclaimed the worship of one unseen god who could not be represented by idols, and the religious equality of all men, their tenets no doubt being considerably influenced by their observance of Islam, which had now become a principal religion of India. Ramanand himself did not go so far, and remained a good Hindu, inculcating the special worship of Rama and his consort Sita.

The Ramanandis consider the Ramayana as their most sacred book, and make pilgrimages to Ajodhia and Ramnath.^ Their sect-mark consists of two white lines down the forehead with a red one between, but they are continued on to the nose, ending in a loop, instead of terminating at the line of the eyebrows, like that of the Ramanujis. The Ramanandis say that the mark on the nose represents the Singasun or lion's throne, while the two white lines up the forehead are Rama and Lakhshman, and

  • Sir E. Maclagan's Punjab Cciistts Report (1S91), p. 122.

96 DAIRAGI 5- The Nlma- nandis. 6. The Madhava- charyas.

the centre red one is Sita. Some of their devotees wear ochre-coloured clothes like the Sivite mendicants. The second of the four orders is that of the Nimanandis, called after a saint Nimanand. He lived near Mathura Brindaban, and on one occasion was engaged in religious controversy with a Jain ascetic till sunset. He then offered his visitor some refreshment, but the Jain could not eat anything after sunset, so Nimanand stopped the sun from setting, and ordered him to wait above a nlm tree till the meal was cooked and eaten under the tree, and this direction the sun duly obeyed. Hence Nimanand, whose original name was Bhaskaracharya, was called by his new name after the tree, and was afterwards held to have been an incarnation of Vishnu or the Sun.

The doctrines of the sect, Mr. Growse states,-^ are of a very enlightened character. Thus their tenet of salvation by faith is thought by many scholars to have been directly derived from the Gospels ; while another article in their creed is the continuance of conscious individual existence in a future world, when the highest reward of the good will not be extinction, but the enjoyment of the visible presence of the divinity whom they have served while on earth. The Nimanandis worship Krishna, and were the first sect, Dr. Bhattacharya states," to associate with him as a divine consort Radha, the chief partner of his illicit loves. Their headquarters arc at Muttra, and their chief festival is the Janam-Ashtami^ or Krishna's birthday.

Their sect- mark consists of two white lines down the forehead with a bl,ack patch in the centre, which is called Shiambindini. Shiam means black, and is a name of Krishna. They also sometimes have a circular line across the nose, which represents the moon. The third great order is that of the Madhavas, named after a saint called Madhavachfirya in southern India. He attempted to reconcile the warring Sivites and Vishnuites by combining the worship of Krisiina with that of Siva ' Memoir of Matlinra. ^ Hi)idn Ca<:les and Sects, p. 449. ^ I>it. the birth on the eitjhth day, as Krishna was born on the 8th of (iaik r.iiadon.

II TIJE VALJ.AnHACl/ARVAS 97 and Pfirvati. The doctrine of the sect is that the human soul is different from the divine soul, and its members arc therefore called dualists. They admit a distinction between the divine soul and the universe, and between the human soul and the material world. They deny also the possibility of Nirvana or the absorption and extinction of the human soul in the divine essence. They destroy their thread at initiation, and also wear red clothes like the Sivite devotees, and like them also they carry a staff and water-pot. The tilak of the Madhavacharyas is said to consist of two white lines down the forehead and continued on to the nose where they meet, with a black vertical line between them. The fourth main order is the Vishnu-Swami, which is 7- The much better known as the Vallabhacharya sect, called after chlrvas'^ its founder Vallabha, who was born in A.D. 1479. The god Krishna appeared to him and ordered him to marry and set up a shrine to the god at Gokul near Mathura (Muttra). The sect worship Krishna in his character of Bala Gopala or the cowherd boy. Their temples are numerous all over India, and especially at Mathura and Brindaban, where Krishna was brought up as a cowherd.

The temples at Benares, Jagannath and Dwarka are rich and important, but the most celebrated shrine is at Sri Nathadwara in Mewar. The image is said to have trans- ported itself thither from Mathura, when Aurangzeb ordered its temple at Mathura to be destroyed. Krishna is here represented as a little boy in the act of supporting the mountain Govardhan on his finger to shelter the people from the storms of rain sent by Indra.

The image is splendidly dressed and richly decorated with ornaments to the value of several thousand pounds. The images of Krishna in the temples are commonly known as Thakurji, and are either of stone or brass. At all Vallabhacharya temples there are eight daily services : the Mangala or morning levee, a little after sunrise, when the god is taken from his couch and bathed ; the Sringara, when he is attired in his jewels and seated on his throne ; the Gwala, when he is supposed to be starting to graze his cattle in the woods of Braj ; the Raj Bhog or midday meal, which, after presentation, is consumed by the priests and votaries VOL. II H

who have assisted at the ceremonies ; the Uttapan, about three o'clock, when the god awakes from his siesta ; the Bhog or evening collation ; the Sandhiya or disrobing at sunset ; and the Sayan or retiring to rest. The ritual is performed by the priests and the lay worshipper is only a spectator, who shows his reverence by the same forms as he would to a human superior/ The priests of the sect are called Gokalastha Gosain or Maharaja. They are considered to be incarnations of the god, and divine honours are paid to them. They always marry, and avow that union with the god is best obtained by indulgence in all bodily enjoyments. This doctrine has led to great licentiousness in some groups of the sect, especially on the part of the priests or Maharajas. Women were taught to believe that the service of and contact with the priest were the most real form of worshipping the god, and that intercourse with him was equivalent to being united with the god. Dr. Bhattacharya quotes ^ the follow-ing tariff for the privilege of obtaining different degrees of contact with the body of the Maharaja or priest

For homage by sight . . . Rs. 5. For homage by touch . . . Rs. 20. For the honour of washing the Maha- raja's foot .... Rs. 35. For swinging him .... Rs. 40. For rubbing sweet unguents on his body ..... Rs. 42. For being allowed to sit with him on the same couch . . . Rs. 60. For the privilege of dancing with him ..... Rs. 100 to 200. For drinking the water in which he has bathed .... Rs. 17. For being closeted with him in the same room .... Rs, 50 to 500. The public disapprobation caused by these practices


and their bad effect on the morality of women culminated in the great Maharfij libel suit in the l^ombay High Court in 1862. Since then the objectionable features of the cult have to a large extent disappeared, while it has produced some priests of exceptional liberality and enlightenment. The tilak of the Vallabhacharyas is said to consist of two white lines down the forehead, forming a half-circle at its base and a white dot between them. They will not admit the lower castes into the order, but only those from whom a Brahman can take water.

Minor sects

Besides the main sects as described above, Vaishnavism 8. Minor has produced many minor sects, consisting of the followers ^*^'^'^" of some saint of special fame, and mendicants belonging to these are included in the body of Bairagis. One or two legends concerning such saints may be given. A common order is that of the Bendiwale, or those who wear a dot. Their founder began putting a red dot on his forehead between the two white lines in place of the long red line of the Ramanandis. His associates asked him why he had dared to alter his tilak or sect-mark. He said that the goddess Janki had given him the dot, and as a test he went and bathed in the Sarju river, and rubbed his forehead with water, and all the sect-mark was rubbed out except the dot. So the others recognised the special intervention of the goddess, and he founded a sect.

Another sect is called the Chaturbhuji or four-armed, Chaturbhuj being an epithet of Vishnu. He was taking part in a feast when his loin- cloth came undone behind, and the others said to him that as this had happened, he had become impure at the feast. He replied, ' Let him to whom the dhoti belongs tie it up,' and immediately four arms sprang from his body, and while two continued to take food, the other two tied up his loin- cloth behind. Thus it was recognised that the Chaturbhuji Vishnu had appeared in him, and he was venerated. Among the Bairagis, besides the four Sampradayas or 9. The main orders, there are seven Akharas. These are military ^^^"^^^g divisions or schools for training, and were instituted when the Bairagis had to fight with the Gosains, Any member of one of the four Sampradayas can belong to any one of the seven Akharas, and a man can change his Akhara as

often as he likes, but not his Sampradaya. The Akharas, with the exception of the Lasgaris, who change the red centre line of the Ramanandis into a white line, have no special sect-marks. They are distinguished by their flags or standards, which are elaborately decorated with gold thread embroidered on silk or sometimes with jewels, and cost two or three hundred rupees to prepare. These standards were carried by the Naga or naked members of the Akhara, who went in front and fought. Once in twelve years a great meeting of all the seven Akharas is held at Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain or Hardwar, where they bathe and wash the image of the god in the water of the holy rivers.

The quarrels between the Bairagis and Gosains usually occurred at the sacred rivers, and the point of con- tention was which sect should bathe first. The following is a list of the seven Akharas : Digambari, Khaki, Munjia, Kathia, Nirmohi, Nirbani or Niranjani and Lasgari. The name of the Digamber or Meghdamber signifies sky-clad or cloud-clad, that is naked. They do penance in the rainy season by sitting naked in the rain for two or three hours a day with an earthen pot on the head and the hands inserted in two others so that they cannot rub the skin. In the dry season they wear only a little cloth round the waist and ashes over the rest of the body.

The ashes are produced from burnt cowdung picked up off the ground, and not mixed with straw like that which is prepared for fuel. The Khaki Bairagis also rub ashes on the body. During the four hot months they make five fires in a circle, and kneel between them with the head and legs and arms stretched towards the fires. The fires are kindled at noon with little heaps of cowdung cakes, and the penitent stays between them till they go out. They also have a block of wood with a hole through it, into which they insert the organ of generation and suspend it by chains in front and behind. They rub ashes on the body, from which they probably get their name of Khaki or dust-colour. The Munjia Akhara have a belt made of inunj grass round the \vaist, and a little apron also of grass, which is hsung from -it, and passed through the legs. Formerly they

i:i 'b 1

II THE DWARAS loi wore no other clothes, but now they have a cloth. They also do penance between the fires. The Kathias have a waist-belt of bamboo fibre, to which is suspended the wooden block for the purpose already described. Their name signifies wooden, and is probably given to them on account of this custom.

The Nirmohi carry a lota or brass vessel and a little cup, in which they receive alms. The Nirbani wear only a piece of string or rope round the waist, to which is attached a small strip o'^ o^h passing through the legs. When begging, they carry a kawar or banghy, holding two baskets covered with cloth, and into this they put all their alms. They never remove the cloth, but plunge their hands into the basket at random when they want something to eat. They call the basket Kamdhenu, the name of the cow which gave inexhaustible wealth.

These Bairagis commonly marry and accumulate property. The Lasgari are soldiers, as the name denotes.^ They wear three straight lines of sandalwood up the forehead. It is said that on one occasion the Bairagis were suddenly attacked by the Gosains when they had only made the white lines of the sect-mark, and they fought as they were. In consequence of this, they have ever since worn three white lines and no red one.

Others say that the Lasgari are a branch of the Digambari Akhara, and that the Munjia and Kathia are branches of the Khaki Akhara. They give three other Akharas—Niralankhi, Mahanirbani and Santokhi—about which nothing is known. Besides the Akharas, the Bairagis are said to have fifty- ^o. The two Dwaras or doors, and every man must be a member i^w^ras. of a Dwara as well as of a Sampradaya and Akhara. The Dwaras seem to have no special purpose, but in the case of Bairagis who marry, they now serve as exogamous sections, so that members of the same Dwara do not inter- marry. A candidate for initiation has his head shaved, is invested n. initia- with a necklace of beads of the tulsi or basil, and is taught a °"' ' ^ appearance mantra or text relating to Vishnu by his preceptor. The and initiation text of the Ramanandis is said to be Ovi Rdniaya '="^^°"^^- 1 From laskkar, an army.

Namali, or 0)n, Salutation to Rama. Om is a very sacred syllable, having much magical power. Thereafter the novice must journey to Dwarka in Gujarat and have his body branded with hot iron or copper in the shape of Vishnu's four implements : the cJiakra or discus, the guda or club, the shank or conch-shell and the padina or lotus. Sometimes these are not branded but are made daily on the arms with clay. The sect-mark should be made with Gopichandan or the milkmaid's sandalwood. This is supposed to be clay taken from a tank at Dwarka, in which the Gopis or milk- maids who had been Krishna's companions drowned them- selves when they heard of his death. But as this can seldom be obtained any suitable whitish clay is used instead. The Bairagis commonly let their hair grow long, after being shaved at initiation, to imitate the old forest ascetics.

If a man makes a pilgrimage on foot to some famous shrine he may have his head shaved there and make an offering of his hair. Others keep their hair long and shave it only at the death of their guru or preceptor. They usually wear white clothes, and if a man has a cloth on the upper part of the body it should be folded over the shoulders and knotted at the neck. He also has a cliimta or small pair of tongs, and, if he can obtain it, the skin of an Indian antelope, on which he will sit while taking his food.

The skin of this animal is held to be sacred. Every Bairagi before he takes his food should dip a sprig of tulsi or basil into it to sanctify it, and if he cannot get this he uses his necklace of i'///jz'-beads for the purpose instead. The caste abstain from flesh and liquor, but are addicted to the intoxicating drugs, gdnja and bhang or preparations of Indian hemp.

A Hindu on meeting a Bairagi will greet him with the phrase ' Jai Sitaram,' and the Bairagi will answer, ' Sitaram.' This word is a conjunction of the names of Rama and his consort Sita. When a Bairagi receives alms he will present to the giver a flower and a sprig of tidsi.


A man belonging to any caste except the impure ones can be initiated as a Bairagi, and the order is to a large extent recruited from the lower castes. Theoretic- ally all members of the order should eat together ; but the Brahmans and other high castes belonging to it now eat only

II SOCIAL rosrriON and customs 103 among themselves, except on the occasion of a Ghosti or special religious assembly, when all eat in common. As a matter of fact the order is a very mixed assortment of people. Many persons who lost their caste in the famine of 1 897 from eating in Government poor-houses, joined the order and obtained a respectable position. Debtors who have become hopelessly involved sometimes find in it a means of escape from their creditors. Women of bad character, who have been expelled from their caste, are also frequently enrolled as female members, and in monasteries live openly with the men. The caste is also responsible for a good deal of crime.

Not only is the disguise a very con- venient one for thieves and robbers to assume on their travels, but many regular members of the order are criminally disposed. Nevertheless large numbers of Bairagis are men who have given up their caste and families from a genuine impulse of self-sacrifice, and the desire to lead a religious life. On account of their sanctity the Bairagis have a fairly 13. Social good social position, and respectable Hindu castes will and"°" accept cooked food from them. Brahmans usually, but not customs, always, take water. They act as gurus or spiritual guides to the laymen of all castes who can become Bairagis. They give the Ram and Gopal Mantras, or the texts of Rama and Krishna, to their disciples of the three twice-born castes, and the Sheo Mantra or Siva's text to other castes.

The last is considered to be of smaller religious efficacy than the others, and is given to the lower castes and members of the higher ones who do not lead a particularly virtuous life. They invest boys with the sacred thread, and make the sect-mark on their foreheads. When they go and visit their disciples they receive presents, but do not ask them to confess their sins nor impose penalties. If a mendicant Bairagi keeps a woman it is stated that he is expelled from the community, but this rule does not seem to be enforced in practice. If he is detected in a casual act of sexual intercourse a fine should be imposed, such as feeding two or three hundred Bairagis.

The property of an unmarried Bairagi descends to a selected chela or disciple. The bodies of the dead are usually burnt,

but those of saints specially famous for their austerities or piety are buried, and salt is put round the body to preserve it. Such men are known as Bhakta. The Bairagis ^ have numerous maths or monasteries, scattered over the country and usually attached to temples. The Math comprises a set of huts or chambers for the Mahant or superior and his permanent pupils ; a temple and often the Samadhi or tomb of the founder, or of some eminent Mahant ; and a Dharmsala or charitable hostel for the accommodation of wandering members of the order, and of other travellers who are constantly visiting the temple.

Ingress and egress are free to all, and, indeed, a restraint on personal liberty seems never to have entered into the con- ception of any Hindu religious legislator. There are, as a rule, a small number of resident cJielas or disciples who are scholars and attendants on the superiors, and also out- members who travel over the country and return to the monastery as a headquarters.

The monastery has commonly some small endowment in land, and the resident cJielas go out and beg for alms for their common support. If the Mahant is married the headship may descend in his family ; but when he is unmarried his successor is one of his disciples, who is commonly chosen by election at a meeting of the Mahants of neighbouring monasteries. Formerly the Hindu governor of the district would preside at such an election, but it is now, of course, left entirely to the Bairagis them- selves. Large numbers of Bairagis now marry and have children, and have formed an ordinary caste.

The married Bairagis are held to be inferior to the celibate mendicants, and will take food from them, but the mendicants will not permit the married Bairagis to eat with them in the cJiauka or place purified for the taking of food. The customs of the married Bairagis resemble those of ordinary Hindu castes such as the Kurmis.

They permit divorce and the remarriage of widows, and burn the dead. Those who have taken to cultivation do not, as a rule, plough with their own hands. Many Bairagis have acquired property and become ^ This paragraph is taken from Professor Wilson's Account of Hindu Sects in the Asiatic Researches. notice.

landholders, and others have extensive moneylendin^ trans- actions.

Two such men who had acquired possession of extensive tracts of zamlndari land in Chhattlsgarh, in satis- faction of loans made to the Gond zamlndfirs, and had been given the zamlndari status by the Marathas, were subse- quently made Feudatory Chiefs of the Nandgaon and Chhuikhadan States. These chiefs now marry and the States descend in their families by primogeniture in the ordinary manner. As a rule, the Bairagi landowners and moneylenders are not found to be particularly good specimens of their class.

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