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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.
Basdewa,- Wasudeo, Harbola, Kaparia, Jag-a, Kapdi
A wandering beggar caste of mixed origin, who also call themselves Sanadhya or Sanaurhia Brahmans. The Basdewas trace their origin to Wasudeo, the father of Krishna, and the term Basdewa is a corruption of Wasudeo or Wasudeva. Kaparia is the name they bear in the ' Sherring, Tribes and Castes, i. papers by Mr. W. N. Maw, Deputy pj). 403, 404. Commissioner, Damoh, and Murlidhar, ^ This article is compiled from MunsiCr of Kliurai in Saugor.
Antcrvcd or country between the Ganges and Jumna, whence they claim to have come. Kaparia has been derived from kapra, cloth, owing to the custom of the Basdewas of having several dresses, which they change rapidly like the Bahrupia, making themselves up in different characters as a show. Harbola is an occupational term, applied to a class of Basdewas who climb trees in the early morning and thence vociferate praises of the deity in a loud voice.
The name is derived from Haj\ God, and bolna^ to speak. As the 1 larbolas wake people up in the morning they are also called Jaga or Awakener. The number of ]?asdewas in the Central Provinces and Berar in 191 i was 2500, and they are found principally in the northern Districts and in Chhattlsgarh.
They have several territorial subcastes, as Gangaputri or those who dwell on the banks of the Ganges ; Khaltia or Deswari, those who belong to the Central Provinces ; Parauha, from para, a male buffalo calf, being the dealers in buffaloes ; Harbola or those who climb trees and sing the praises of God ; and Wasudeo, the dwellers in the Maratha Districts who marry only among themselves. The names of the exogamous divisions are very varied, some being taken from Brahman gotras and Rajput septs, while others are the names of villages, or nicknames, or derived from animals and plants.
It may be concluded from these names that the Basdewas are a mixed occupational group recruited from high and low castes, though they themselves say that they do not admit any outsiders except Brahmans into the community. In Bombay ^ the Wasudevas have a special connection with Kumhars or potters, whom they address by the term of kdka or paternal uncle, and at whose houses they lodge on their travels, presenting their host with the two halves of a cocoanut. The caste do not observe celibacy. A price of Rs. 25 has usually tO; be given for a bride, and a Brahman is employed to perform the ceremony. At the conclusion of this the Brahman invests the bridegroom with a sacred thread, which he thereafter continues to wear. Widow marriage is permitted, and widows are commonly married to widowers. Divorce is also permitted. When a man's wife dies he shaves his moustache and beard, if any,
in mourning and a fatlier likewise for a daughter-in-law ; this is somewhat peculiar, as other Hindus do not shave the moustache for a wife or daughter-in-law.
The Basdewas are wandering mendicants. In the Maratha Districts they wear a plume of peacock's feathers, which they say was given to them as a badge by Krishna. In Saugor and Damoh instead of this they carry during the period from Dasahra to the end of Magh or from September to January a brass vessel called inatuk bound on their heads. It is surmounted by a brass cone and adorned with mango-leaves, cowries and a piece of red cloth, and with figures of Rama and Lakshman. Their stock-in-trade for begging consists of two kartdls or wooden clappers which are struck against each other ; gimngrus or jingling ornaments for the feet, worn when dancing ; and a paijna or kind of rattle, consist- ing of two semicircular iron wires bound at each end to a piece of wood with rings slung on to them ; this is simply shaken in the hand and gives out a sound from the movement of the rings against the wires. They worship all these implements as well as their beggar's wallet on the Janam- Ashtami or Krishna's birthday, the Dasahra, and the full moon of Magh (January).
They rise early and beg only in the morning from about four till eight, and sing songs in praise of Sarwan and Karan. Sarwan was a son renowned for his filial piety ; he maintained and did service to his old blind parents to the end of their lives, much against the will of his wife, and was proof against all her machinations to induce him to abandon them. Karan was a proverbially chari- table king, and all his family had the same virtue. His wife gave away daily rice and pulse to those who required it, his daughter gave them clothes, his son distributed cows as alms and his daughter-in-law cocoanuts. The king him- self gave only gold, and it is related of him that he was accustomed to expend a maund and a quarter '^ weight of gold in alms-giving before he washed himself and paid his morning devotions. Therefore the Basdewas sing that he who gives early in the morning acquires the merit of Karan ; and their presence at this time affords the requisite oppor- tunity to anybody who may be desirous of emulating the 1 About lOO lbs.
M HAS/)E IV A 207 kinc^. At the end of every cou[)let they cry ' Jai Gan^a ' or ' liar Ganga,' invoking^ the Ganges. The Harbolas have each a beat of a certain number of villages which must not be infringed by the others. Their method is to ascertain the name of some well-to-do jjcrson in the village. This done, they climb a tree in the early morning before sunrise, and continue chanting his praises in a loud voice until he is sufficiently flattered by their eulogies or wearied by their importunity to throw down a present of a few pice under the tree, which the Harbola, descending, appropriates.
The Basdewas of the northern Districts are now commonly engaged in the trade of buying and selling buffaloes. They take the young male calves from Saugor and Damoh to Chhattisgarh, and there retail them at a profit for rice cultivation, driving them in large herds along the road. For the capital which they have to borrow to make their purchases, they are charged very high rates of interest. The Basdewas have here a special veneration for the buffalo as the animal from which they make their livelihood, and they object strongly to the calves being taken to be tied out as baits for tiger, refusing, it is said, to accept payment if the calf should be killed. Their social status is not high, and none but the lowest castes will take food from their hands. They eat flesh and drink liquor, but abstain from pork, fowls and beef. Some of the caste have given up animal food.