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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 It has been archived for its historical value as well as for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 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.


A caste of household servants and makers of leaf-plates, belonging to northern India. The Baris num- bered 1200 persons in the Central Provinces in 191 i, residing mainly in Jubbulpore and Mandla. Sir H. Risley remarks of the caste : ^ " Mr. Nesfield regards the Bari as merely an offshoot from a semi -savage tribe known as Banmanush and Musahar. He is said still to associate with them at times, and if the demand for leaf-plates and cups, owing to some temporary cause, such as a local fair or an unusual multitude of marriages, happens to become larger than he can at once supply, he gets them secretly made by his ruder kinsfolk and retails them at a higher rate, passing • ni)tdit Castes, i. p. 316. '^ Tribes and Castes of Bengal, art. Bari.

them off as his own production. The strictest IJrahmans, those at least who aspire to imitate the self-denying life of the ancient Indian hermit, never eat off any other plates than those made of leaves." " If the above view is correct," Sir II. Risley remarks, " the Baris are a branch of a non-Aryan tribe who have been given a fairly respectable position in the social system in consequence of the demand for leaf-plates, which are largely used by the highest as well as the lowest castes. Instances of this sort, in which a non-Aryan or mixed group is promoted on grounds of necessity or con- venience to a higher status than their antecedents would entitle them to claim, are not unknown in other castes, and must have occurred frequently in outlying parts of the country, where the Aryan settlements were scanty and imperfectly supplied with the social apparatus demanded by the theory of ceremonial purity.

" There is no reason why the origin of the Bari from the Banmanush (wild man of the woods) or Musahar (mouse-eater), a forest tribe, as suggested by Mr. Nesfield from his observation of their mutual connec- tion, should be questioned. The making of leaf-plates is an avocation which may be considered naturally to pertain to the tribes frequenting jungles from which the leaves are gathered ; and in the Central Provinces, though in the north the Nai or barber ostensibly supplies the leaf-plates, probably buying the leaves and getting them made up by Gonds and others, in the Maratha Districts the Gond himself does so, and many Gonds make their living by this trade. The people of the Maratha country are apparently less strict than those of northern India, and do not object to eat off plates avowedly the handiwork of Gonds.

The fact that the Bari has been raised to the position of a pure caste, so that Brahmans will take water from his hands, is one among several instances of this elevation of the rank of the serving castes for purposes of convenience. The caste themselves have the following legend of their origin : Once upon a time Parmeshwar ^ was offering rice milk to the spirits of his ancestors. In the course of this ceremony the performer has to present a gift known as Vikraya Dan, which cannot be accepted by others without loss of position. Parmeshwar

  • Vishnu.

offered the gift to various Brahmans, but they all refused it. So he made a man of clay, and blew upon the image and gave it life, and the god then asked the man whom he had created to accept the gift which the Brahmans had refused. This man, who was the first Bari, agreed on condition that all men should drink with him and recognise his purity of caste. Parmeshwar then told him to bring water in a cup, and drank of it in the presence of all the castes. And in consequence of this all the Hindus will take water from the hands of a Bari. They also say that their first ancestor was named Sundar on account of his personal beauty ; but if so, he failed to bequeath this quality to his descendants.

The proper avocation of the Baris is, as already stated, the manufacture of the leaf-cups and plates used by all Hindus at festivals. In the Central Provinces these are made from the large leaves of the mdJiul creeper {Bauhinia Vahlii), or from the palds {Butea frondosa). The caste also act as personal servants, handing round water, lighting and carry- ing torches at marriages and other entertainments and on journeys, and performing other functions. Some of them have taken to agriculture. Their women act as maids to high-caste Hindu ladies, and as they are always about the zenana, are liable to lose their virtue. A curious custom prevails in Marwar on the birth of an heir to the throne. An impression of the child's foot is taken by a Bari on cloth covered with saffron, and is exhibited to the native chiefs, who make him rich presents.^ The Baris have the reputation of great fidelity to their employers, and a saying about them is, ' The Bari will die fighting for his master.'


(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, All information used will be gratefully acknowledged in your name.)

Synonyms: Donwar [Bihar and/or Jharkhand] Panwari [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Subgroups: Deshi, Neraadi, Vaswade [R.E. Enthoven] Surnames: Bari, Raut [Bihar and/or Jharkhand] Bari (old), Lai, Prasad, Rawat (new), Singh, Varma [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Gotra: Kashyap [Bihar and/or Jharkhand]

  • Sections/gotra: Bilkhariya, Chauhan, Desi, Donwar, Gorcharha, Hinduiya, Kanaujiya, Kariya, Mathuriya, Pattariha,

Rawat, Sarwariya Dakkhinaha, Sundar [W. Crooke] Exogamous units/lineages (kultvans): Arambi, Asapure, Berad, Bhagure Chavan, Dhamane, Garote, God, Hage, Ikare, Kalbhande, Kature, Kolhe, Masode, Musele, Panchod, Pavar, Sagure, Saupure, Tade, Telangade, Vasule (kul) [R.E. Enthoven] Exogamous units/lineages (vans): [Bihar and/or Jharkhand]

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