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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 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.



list of paragraphs 1. General notice. 4. Other ChJiattlsgarhi Belddrs. 2. Belddrs of the nortitern Dis- 5. MunurwCir a7td Telenga. tricts. 6. Vaddar. 3. Odias of ChhattlsgarJi. 7. Pdthrot. 8. Takdri.

Beldar/ Od, Sonkar, Raj, Larhia, Karigar, Matkuda, Chunkar

Munurwar, Thapatkari, Vaddar, PathrotTakari

The term Beldar is generically applied to a number of occupational groups of more or less diverse origin, who work as masons or navvies, build the earthen embankments of tanks or fields, carry lime and bricks and in former times refined salt. Beldar means one who carries a bel^ a hoe or mattock. In 191 i a total of 25,000 Beldars were returned from the Central Provinces, being most numerous in the Nimar, Wardha, Nagpur, Chanda and Raipur districts. The Nunia, Murha and Sansia (Uriya) castes, which have been treated in separate articles, are also frequently known as Beldar, and cannot be clearly distinguished from the main caste. If they are all classed together the total of the earth- and stone-working castes comes to 35,000 persons. It is probable that the bulk of the Beldars and allied castes are derived from the non-Aryan tribes. The Murhas or navvies of the northern Districts appear to be an offshoot of the Bind tribe ; the people known as Matkuda (earth- digger) are usually Gonds or Pardhans ; the Sansias and Larhias or Uriyas of Chhattlsgarh and the Uriya country seem to have originated from the Kol, Bhuiya and Oraon 1 This article is based on papers by Raipur, and Munshi Kanhiya Lai, of Mr. A. K. Smith, C.S., Mr. Khande the Gazetteer office. Rao, Superintendent of Land Records,

tribes, the Kols especially making excellent diggers and masons ; the Oddes or Vaddars of Madras are a' very low caste, and some of their customs point to a similar origin, though the Munurwar masons of Chanda appear to have belonged originally to the Kapu caste of cultivators. The term Raj, which is also used for the Beldars in the northern Districts, has the distinctive meaning of a mason, while Chunkar signifies a lime-burner. The Sonkars were formerly occupied in Saugor in carrying lime, bricks and earth on donkeys, but they have now abandoned this calling in Chhattlsgarh and taken to growing vegetables, and have been given a short separate notice. In Hoshangabad some Muhammadan Beldars are now also found. The Beldars of Saugor say that their ancestors were engaged in refining salt from earth.

A divine saint named Nona Rlshi {non, salt) came down on earth, and while cooking his food mixed some saline soil with it. The bread tasted much better in consequence, and he made the earth into a ball or goli and taught his followers to extract the salt from it, whence their descendants are known as Goli Beldars. The customs of these Beldars are of the ordinary low-caste type. The wedding procession is accompanied by drums, fireworks and, if means permit, a nautch-girl. If a man puts away his wife without adequate cause the caste panchdyat may compel him to support her so long as she remains of good conduct.

The party seeking a divorce, whether husband or wife, has to pay Rs. y to the caste committee and the other partner Rs. 3, irrespective of where the blame rests, and each remains out of caste until he or she pays. These Beldars will not take food from any caste but their own, and will not take water from a Brahman, though they will accept it from Kurmis, Gujars and similar castes. Sir H. Risley notes that their women always remove earth in baskets on the head. " The Beldars regard this mode of carrying earth as distinctive of themselves, and will on no account transport it in baskets slung from the shoulders.

They work very hard when paid by the piece, and are notorious for their skill in manipulating the pillars {sdkhi^ witness) left to mark work done, so as to exaggerate the 1 1 onIA s oh~ ciiUA I riseA i<ii 2 1 7 measurement. On one occasion while working for mc on a large lake at Govindpur, in the north of the Manbhum District, a number of l^eldars transplanted an entire pillar during the night and claimed payment for several thousand feet of imaginary earthwork. The fraud was most skilfully carried out, and was only detected by accident." ^ The Beldars are often dishonest in their dealings, and will take large advances for a tank or embankment, and then abscond with the money without doing the work. During the open season parties of the caste travel about in camp looking for work, their furniture being loaded on donkeys. They carry grain in earthen pots encased in bags of netting, neatly and closely woven, and grind their wheat daily in a small mill set on a goat-skin. Butter is made in one of their pots with a churning-stick, consisting of a cogged wheel fixed on to the end of a wooden rod.

The Beldars of ChhattTsgarh are divided into the Odia 3. Odias of or Uriya, Larhia, Kuchbandhia, Matkuda and Karigar j^^ groups. Uriya and Larhia are local names, applied to residents of the Uriya country and ChhattTsgarh respectively. Odia is the name of a low Madras caste of masons, but whether it is a corruption of Uriya is not clear. Karigar means a workman, and Kuchbandhia is the name of a separate caste, who make loom-combs for weavers. The Odias pretend to be fallen Rajputs. They say that when Indra stole the sacrificial horse of Raja Sagar and kept it in the underworld, the Raja's thousand sons dug great holes through the earth to get it. Finally they arrived at the underworld and were all reduced to ashes by the Rishi Kapil Muni, who dwelt there. Their ghosts besought him for life, and he said that their descendants should always continue to dig holes in the earth, which would be used as tanks ; and that whenever a tank was dug by them, and its marriage celebrated with a sacrifice, the savour of the sacrifice would descend to the ghosts and would afford them sus- tenance. The Odias say that they are the descendants of the Raja's sons, and unless a tank is dug and its marriage celebrated by them it remains impure. These Odias have their tutelary deity in Rewah State, and at his shrine is 1 Tribes and Castes of Bengal, art. Beldar.

a flag which none but an Odia of genuine descent from Raja Sagar's sons can touch without some injury befalling him. If any Beldar therefore claims to belong to their caste they call on him to touch the flag, and if he does so with impunity they acknowledge him as a brother. The other groups of Chhattisgarhi Beldars are of lower status, and clearly derived from the non-Aryan tribes. They eat pigs, and at intervals of two or three years they celebrate the worship of Gosain Deo with a sacrifice of pigs, the deity being apparently a deified ascetic or mendicant. On this occasion the Dhlmars, Gonds, and all other castes which eat pig's flesh join in the sacrifice, and consume the meat together after the fashion of the rice at Jagannath's temple, which all castes may eat together without becoming impure.

These Beldars use asses for the transport of their bricks and stones, and on the Diwali day they place a lamp before the ass and pay reverence to it. They say that at their marriages a bride-price of Rs. loo or Rs. 200 must always be paid, but they are allowed to give one or two donkeys and value them at Rs. 50 apiece. They make grindstones {chakki), combs for straightening the threads on the loom, and frames for stretching the threads. These frames are called dongi, and are made either wholly or partly from the horns of animals, a fact which no doubt renders them impure. In Chanda the principal castes of stone-workers are the Telengas (Telugus), who are also known as Thapatkari (tapper or chiseller), Telenga Kunbi and Munurwar.

They occupy a higher position than the ordinary Beldar, and Kunbis will take water from them and sometimes food. They say that they came into Chanda from the Telugu country along the Godavari and Pranhita rivers to build the great wall of Chanda and the palaces and tombs of the Gond kings. There is no reason to doubt that the Munurwars are a branch of the Kapu cultivating caste of the Telugu country. Mr. A. K. Smith states that they refuse to eat the flesh of an animal which has been skinned by a Mahar, a Chamar, or a Gond ; the Kunbis and Marathas also consider flesh touched by a Mahar or Chamar to be impure, but do not object to a Gond. Like the Berar II VAPDAK 219 Kuiibis, the Telengas prefer that an animal should be killed by the rite of haldl as practised by Muhamnaadan butchers. The reason no doubt is that the haldl is a method of sacrificial slaughter, and the killing of the animal is legiti- mised even though by the ritual of a foreign religion. The Thapatkaris appear to be a separate group, and their original profession was to collect and retail jungle fruits and roots having medicinal properties. Though the majority have become stone- and earth-workers some of them still do this. The Vaddars or Wadewars are a branch of the Odde 6. Vaddar. caste of Madras. They are almost an impure caste, and a section of them are professional criminals.

Their women wear glass bangles only on the left arm, those on the right arm being made of brass or other metal. This rule has no doubt been introduced because glass bangles would get broken when they were supporting loads on the head. The men often wear an iron bangle on the left wrist, which they say keeps off the lightning. Mr. Thurston states that " Women who have had seven husbands are much respected among the Oddes, and their blessing on a bridal pair is greatly prized. They" work in gangs on contract, and every one, except very old and very young, shares in the labour. The women carry the earth in baskets, while the men use the pick and spade. The babies are usually tied up in cloths, which are suspended, hammock- fashion, from the boughs of trees.

A woman found guilty of immorality is said to have to carry a basketful of earth from house to house before she is readmitted to the caste. The stone-cutting Vaddars are the principal criminals, and by going about under the pretence of mending grindstones they obtain much useful information as to the houses to be looted or parties of travellers to be attacked. In committing a highway robbery or dacoity they are always armed with stout sticks." ^ In Berar besides the regular Beldars two castes of stone- 7. Pathrot. workers are found, the Pathrawats or Pathrots (stone-breakers) and the Takaris, who should perhaps be classed as separate castes. Both make and sharpen millstones and grindstones, and they are probably only occupational groups of recent formation.

The Takaris are connected with the Pardhi caste 1 The Castes and Tribes of Southern India, art. Odde. 220 BERTA PART of professional hunters and fowlers and may be a branch of them. The social customs of the Pathrots resemble those of the Kunbis. " They will take cooked food from a Sutar or a Kumbhar. Imprisonment, the killing of a cow or criminal intimacy of a man with a woman of another caste is punished by temporary outcasting, readmission involving a fine of Rs. 4 or Rs. 5. Their chief deity is the Devi of Tuljapur and their chief festival Dasahra ; the implements of the caste are worshipped twice a year, on Gudhi Padwa and Diwali. Women are tattooed with a crescent between the eyebrows and dots on the right side of the nose, the right cheek, and the chin, and a basil plant or peacock is drawn on their wrists." ^ 8.

Takari. " The Takaris take their name from the verb tdkne, to reset or rechisel. They mend the handmills {chakkis) used for grinding corn, an occupation which is sometimes shared with them by the Langoti Pardhis. The Takari's avocation of chiselling grindstones gives him excellent opportunities for examining the interior economy of houses, and the posi- tion of boxes and cupboards, and for gauging the wealth of the inmates. They are the most inveterate house-breakers and dangerous criminals. A form of crime favoured by the Takari, in common with many other criminal classes, is that of decoying into a secluded spot outside the village the would-be receiver of stolen property and robbing him ot his cash—a trick which carries a wholesome lesson with it." ^ The chisel with which they chip the grindstones furnishes, as stated by Mr. D. A. Smyth, D.S.P., an excel- lent implement for breaking a hole through the mud wall of a house.

Beria, Bedia

[Bibliography. Sir H. Risley's Tribes and Castes of Bengal ; Rajendra Lai Mitra in Memoirs, Anthropological Society of London, iii. p. 122; Mr. Crooke's Tribes and Castes of the A^orth- IVestern Provinces and Oudh ; Mr. Kennedy's Criminal Classes of the Bombay Presidency ; Major Gunthorpe's Criminal Tribes ; Mr. Gayer's Lectures on some Criininal Tribes of the Central Pro- vinces ; Colonel Sleeman's Report on the Badhak or Bdgri Dacoits.'] I. nistori- A caste of gipsies and thieves who are closely con- cai notice, nccted with the Sansias. In 1891 they numbered 906 1 Akola District Gazetteer (Mr. C. ^ Ai?vaoti District Gazetteer (Messrs. Brown), pp. 132, 133. Nelson and Fitzgerald), p. 146.

persons in the Central Provinces, distributed over the northern Districts ; in 1 90 1 they were not separately classified but were identified with the Nats. " They say that some generations ago two brothers resided in the Bhartpur territory, of whom one was named Sains Mul and the other Mullanur. The descendants of Sains Mul are the Sansias and those of Mullanur the Berias or Kolhatis, who are vagrants and robbers by hereditary profession, living in tents or huts of matting, like Nats or other vagrant tribes, and having their women in common without any marriage ceremonies or ties whatsoever. Among themselves or their relatives the Sansias or descendants of Sains Mul, they are called Dholi or Kolhati. The descendants of the brothers cat, drink and smoke together, and join in robberies, but never intermarry." So Colonel Sleeman wrote in 1849, and other authorities agree on the close connection or identity of the Berias and Sansias of Central India.

The Kolhatis belong mainly to the Deccan and are apparently a branch of the Berias, named after the Kolhdn or long pole with which they perform acrobatic feats. The Berias of Central India differ in many respects from those of Bengal. Here Sir H, Risley considers Beria to be ' the generic name of a number of vagrant, gipsy-like groups ' ; and a full descrip- tion of them has been given by Babu Rajendra Lai Mitra, who considers them to resemble the gipsies of Europe. " They are noted for a light, elastic, wiry make, very uncom- mon in the people of this country. In agility and hardness they stand unrivalled.

The men are of a brownish colour, like the bulk of Bengalis, but never black. The women are of lighter complexion and generally well-formed ; some of them have considerable claims to beauty, and for a race so rude and primitive in their habits as the Berias, there is a sharpness in the features of their women which we see in no other aboriginal race in India. Like the gipsies of Europe they are noted for the symmetry of their limbs ; but their offensive habits, dirty clothing and filthy professions give them a repulsive appearance, which is heightened by the reputation they have of kidnapping children and frequenting burial-grounds and places of cremation. . . . Familiar with the use of bows and arrows and great adepts in 222 BERIA PART laying snares and traps, they are seldom without large supplies of game and flesh of wild animals of all kinds.

They keep the dried bodies of a variety of birds for medical purposes ; mongoose, squirrels and flying-foxes they eat with avidity as articles of luxury. Spirituous liquors and intoxicating drugs are indulged in to a large extent, and chiefs of clans assume the title of Bhangi or drinkers of hemp ibJidng) as a mark of honour. ... In lying, thieving and knavery the Beria is not a whit inferior to his brother gipsy of Europe. The Beria woman deals in charms for exorcising the devil and palmistry is her special vocation. She also carries with her a bundle of herbs and other real or pretended charms against sickness of body or mind ; and she is much sought after by village maidens for the sake of the philtre with which she restores to them their estranged lovers ; while she foretells the date when absent friends will return and the sex of unborn children. They practise cupping with buffalo horns, pretend to extract worms from decayed teeth and are commonly employed as tattooers. At home the Beria woman makes mats of palm-leaves, while her lord alone cooks. . . . Beria women are even more circumspect than European gipsies.

If a wife does not return before the jackal's cry is heard in the evening, she is subject to severe punishment. It is said that a faux pas among her own kindred is not considered reprehensible ; but it is certain that no Berini has ever been known to be at fault with any one not of her own caste." This last state- ment is not a little astonishing, inasmuch as in Central India and in Bundelkhand Berni is an equivalent term for a prostitute. A similar diversity of conjugal morality has been noticed between the Bagris of northern India and the Vaghris of Gujarat.^ 2. Criminal ^^ Other rcspects also the Berias of Bengal appear to tendencies ^e morc respectable than the remainder of the caste, obtain- Centrai i"g thcir livelihood by means which, if disreputable, are not Provinces, actually dishonest ; while in Central India the women Berias are prostitutes and the men house-breakers and thieves. These latter are so closely connected with the Sansias that the account of that caste is also applicable to the Berias.

' See article on Badhak. customs. 11 SOCIAL CUSTOMS 223 In Jubbulporc, Mr. Gayer states, tlic caste are expert house- breakers, bold and daring, and sometimes armed with swords and matchlocks. They sew up stolen property in their bed- quilts and secrete it in the hollow legs of their sleeping-cots, and the women habitually conceal jewels and even coins in the natural passages of the body, in which they make special saos or receptacles by practice. The Beria women go about begging, and often break open the doors of unoccupied houses in the daytime and steal anything they can find.! Both Sansia and Beria women wear a laong or clove in the left nostril.

As already stated, the women are professional prostitutes, 3. Social but these do not marry, and on arrival at maturity they choose the life which they prefer. Mr. Crooke states," how- ever, that regular marriages seldom occur among them, because nearly all the girls are reserved for prostitution, and the men keep concubines drawn from any fairly respect- able caste. So far is this the rule that in some localities if a man marries a girl of the tribe he is put out of caste or obliged to pay a fine to the tribal council. This last rule does not seem to obtain in the Central Provinces, but marriages are uncommon. In a colony of Berias in Jubbul- pore ^ numbering sixty families it was stated that only eight weddings could be remembered as having occurred in the last fifty years. The boys therefore have to obtain wives as best they can ; sometimes orphan girls from other castes are taken into the community, or any outsider is picked up.

For a bride from the caste itself a sum of Rs. 100 is usually demanded, and the same has to be paid by a Beria man who takes a wife from the Nat or Kanjar castes, as is some- times done. When a match is proposed they ask the expectant bridegroom how many thefts he has committed without detection ; and if his performances have been inadequate they refuse to give him the girl on the ground that he will be unable to support a wife. At the betrothal the boy's parents go to the girl's house, taking with them a potful of liquor round which a silver ring is placed and a 1 Kennedy, p. 247. from a note by Mr. K. N. Date, 2 Crooke, art. Beria. Deputy Superintendent, Reformatory ^ The following particulars are taken School, Jubbulpore. 224 BERIA PART II pig. The ring is given to the girl and the head of the pig to her father, while the liquor and the body of the pig provide a feast for the caste. They consult Brahmans at their birth and marriage ceremonies. Their principal deities appear to be their ancestors, whom they worship on the same day of the month and year as that on which their death took place.

They make an offering of a pig to the goddess Dadaju or Devi before starting on their annual predatory excursions. Some rice is thrown into the animal's ear before it is killed, and the direction in which it turns its head is selected as the one divinely indicated for their route. Prostitution is naturally not regarded as any disgrace, and the women who have selected this profession mix on perfectly equal terms with those who are married. They occupy, in fact, a more independent position, as they dispose absolutely of their own earnings and property, and on their death it devolves on their daughters or other female relatives, males having no claim to it, in some localities at least.

Among the children of married couples daughters inherit equally with sons. A prostitute is regarded as the head of the family so far as her children are concerned. Outsiders are freely admitted into the caste on giving a feast to the community. In Saugor the women of the caste, known as Berni, are the village dancing-girls, and are employed to give performances in the cold weather, especially at the Holi festival, where they dance the whole night through, fortified by continuous potations of liquor. This dance is called rai, and is accompanied by most obscene songs and gestures.


(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: Nuniya Beldar, Roy (Ray) [West Bengal] Chunkar, Karigar, Larhia, Matkuda, Munurwar, Od, Pathrot, Raj, Sonkar, Takari, Thapatkari Vaddar [Russell & Hiralal] Groups/subgroups: Chauhan, Kadiautia or Kathwa [Bihar and/or Jharkhand] . Bhagalpuria, Purha, Surha [West Bengal] Karigar, Kuchbandhia, Larhia, Odia or Uriya, atkuda [Russell & Hiralal]

  • Subcastes: Awadhia, Ayodhia or Ayodhiabasia, Bhojpuria, Chauhan Kathautia, Kathawa [H.H. Risley]

Bachhal, Chauhan, Desi, Kharebind, Kharot, Mahul, Maskhauwa, Orh, Sarwariya [W. Crooke] Titles: Gadahya, Marar, Raut [H.H. Risley] Surnames: Beldar, Bind, Jamadar, Mahato, Mandal, Nonia, Prasad, Singh [Bihar and/or Jharkhand] Singh [Orissa] Roy (Rai) [West Bengal] Exogamous units/clans: Chhipia. Dahele, Khardaha, Nimgotia, Saksel, Shahbodia [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Behatar, Fulian, Gondli, Hasu, Jibutat, Kantial, Mahala, Mangria, Murhi [Orissa] Exogamous units/clans (kul): Basniwar, Behra, Chapparwar, Chapula, Davawar, Faratwal, Ghorala, Jailwar, Karola, Marwar, Naga, Narora, Pannewar, Tusa, Udiwar [Maharashtra] Gotra: Kashyap [Bihar and/or Jharkhand] Kashyap [West Bengal]

  • Sections: Kasyapa [H.H. Risley]

In Hindustan this is a Hindu profession, but in Eastern Bengal it is exclusively a Muhammadan. In other parts of India menial work is performed by outcast Hindus; but in Bengal any repulsive or offensive occupation devolves on the Muhammadan. The Beldar is to the Muhammadan village what the Bhuinmali is to the Hindu, and it is not improbable that his ancestors belonged to this vile caste.

The Beldar acts as a scavenger in his own village, removing carcasses or cutting brushwood, and he is the torchbearer (Mash'alchi) at Hindu and Mussulman weddings, his only competitor in this occupation being the Bhuinmali.


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