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 It has been archived for its historical value as well as for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


LIST OF PARAGRAPHS I . Origin and h'ibal legefid. 5 . Fii7ieral ceremonies, z. Tribal subdivisions. 6. Religion and magic. 3. Marriage. 7. Social life and customs. 4. Childbirth. 8. Occupatioii.

Bharia, BhaPia – Bhumia

— A Dravidian tribe num- bering about 50,000 persons and residing principally in legend. the Jubbulpore District, which contains a half of the total number. The others are found in Chhindvvara and Bilaspur. The proper name of the tribe is Bharia, but they are often called Bharia-Bhumia, because many of them hold the office of Bhumia or priest of the village gods and of the lower castes in Jubbulpore, and the Bharias prefer the designa- tion of Bhumia as being the more respectable. The term Bhumia or ' Lord of the soil ' is an alternative for Bhuiya, the name of another Dravidian tribe, and no doubt came to be applied to the office of village priest because it was held by members of this tribe ; the term Baiga has a similar signification in Mandla and Balaghat, and is applied to the village priest though he may not belong to the Baiga tribe at all. The Bharias have forgotten their original affinities, and several stories of the origin of the tribe are based on far-fetched derivations of the name.

One of these is to the effect that Arjun, when matters were going badly with the Pandavas in their battle against the Kauravas, took up a handful of bJiarru grass and, pressing it, produced a host of men who fought in the battle and became the ancestors of ^ This article is compiled fronn notes pore, and from a paper by Ram Lai taken by Mr. Hira Lai, Assistant Sharma, schoolmaster, Bilaspur. Gazetteer Superintendent in Jubbul- 242 I 'ART II ORIGIN AND I'RII'^AL LEGEND 243 the Bliarias. And there are others of the same historical value. But there is no reason to doubt that l^haria is the contemptuous form of Bhar, as Telia for Teli, Jugia for Jogi, Kuria for Kori, and that the Bharias belong to the great Bhar tribe who were once dominant in the eastern part of the United Provinces, but are now at the bottom of the social scale, and relegated by their conquerors to the degrad- ing office of swineherds. The Rajjhars, who appear to have formed a separate caste as the landowning subdivision of the Bhars, like the Raj-Gonds among Gonds, are said to be the descendants of a Raja and a Bharia woman. The Rajjhars form a separate caste in the Central Provinces, and the Bharias acknowledge some connection with them, but refuse to take water from their hands, as they consider them to be of impure blood.

The Bharias also give Mahoba or Band- hogarh as their former home, and these places are in the country of the Bhars. According to tradition Raja Kama Deva, a former king of Dahal, the classical name of the Jubbulpore country, was a Bhar, and it may be that the immigration of the Bharias into Jubbulpore dates from his period, which is taken as 1040 to 1080 A.D.

While then it may be considered as fairly certain that the Bharias are merely the Bhar tribe with a variant of the name, it is clear from the titles of their family groups, which will shortly be given, that they are an extremely mixed class and consist largely of the descendants of members of other castes, who, having lost their own social position, have taken refuge among the Bharias at the bottom of the social scale. Mr. Crooke says of the Bhars : ^ " The most probable supposition is that the Bhars were a Dravidian race closely allied to the Kols, Cheros and Seoris, who at an early date succumbed to the invading Aryans. This is borne out by their appearance and physique, which closely resemble that of the undoubted non-Aryan aborigines of the Vindhyan-Kaimur plateau." In the Central Provinces the Bharias have been so closely associated with the Gonds that they have been commonly considered to belong to that tribe. Thus Mr. Drysdale says of them : " ' The Bharias were the wildest of the wild Gonds ^ Tribes and Castes of the N. W.P., art. Bhar. - C.P. Census Report, 1881, p. 188.


2. Tribal sub- divisions. and were inveterate dJiayd^ cutters.' Although, however, they have to some extent intermarried with the Gonds, the Bharias were originally quite a distinct tribe, and would belong to the Kolarian or Munda group but that they have entirely forgotten their own language and speak only Hindi, though with a peculiar intonation especially noticeable in the case of their women. The structure of the tribe is a very loose one, and though the Bharias say that they are divided into subcastes, there are none in reality. Members of all castes except the very lowest may become Bharias, and one Bharia will recognise another as a fellow-tribesman if he can show relationship to any person admitted to occupy that position. But a division is in process of formation in Bilaspur based on the practice of eating beef, from which some abstain, and in consequence look down on the others who are addicted to it, and call them Dhur Bharias, the term dJiur meaning cattle. The abstainers from beef now refuse to marry with the others.

The tribe is divided into a number of exogamous groups, and the names of these indicate the very heterogeneous elements of which it consists. Out of fifty-one groups reported not less than fifteen or sixteen have names derived from other castes or clans, showing almost certainly that such groups were formed by a mixed marriage or the admission of a family of outsiders. Such names are : Agaria, from the Agarias or iron-workers : this clan worships Loha-Sur, the god of the Agarias ; Ahirwar, or the descendants of an Ahir : this clan worships the Ahir gods ; Bamhania, born of a Brahman ancestor ; Binjhwar or Binjha, perhaps from the tribe of that name ; Chandel, from a Rajput clan ; Dagdoha, a synonym of Basor : persons of this sept hang a piece of bamboo and a curved knife to the waist of the bride at their marriages ; Dhurua, born of a Dhurua Gond ; Kuanpa, born of an Ahir subcaste of that name ; Kurka, of Korku parentage ; Maravi, the name of a Gond clan ; Rathor from a Rajput clan ; Samarba from a Chamar ; and Yarkara, the name of a Gond clan. These names sufficiently indicate the diverse elements of which the tribe is made up.

Other ' Dhaya means the system of shifting cultivation, which until prohibited was so injurious to the forests. n MARRIAGE 245 group names with meanings are : Gambhele, or those who scckide tlieir women in a separate house during the menstrual period ; Kaitha, from the kaith tree {^Fcronia clephantiivi) ; Karondiha, from the karonda plant {Carissa Carandas) ; Magarha, from Diagar a crocodile : members of this group worship an image of a crocodile made with flour and fried in oil ; Sonwani, from sona gold : members of this group perform the ceremony of readmission of persons temporarily put out of caste by sprinkling on them a little water in which gold has been dipped. Any person who does not know his clan name calls himself a Chandel, and this group, though bearing the name of a distinguished Rajput clan, is looked upon as the lowest. But although the rule of exogamy in marriage is recognised, it is by no means strictly adhered to, and many cases are known in which unions have taken place between members of the same clan. So long as people can recollect a relationship between themselves, they do not permit their families to intermarry. But the memory of the Bharia does not extend beyond the third generation.

Marriages are adult, and the proposal comes from the 3. Mar- boy's father, who has it conveyed to the girl's father through "^^^' some friend in his village. If a betrothal is arranged the bride's father invites the father and friends of the bridegroom to dinner ; on this occasion the boy's father brings some necklaces of lac beads and spangles and presents them to the bride's female relatives, who then come out and tie the necklaces round his neck and those of his friends, place the spangles on their foreheads, and then, catching hold of their cheeks, press and twist them violently. Some turmeric powder is also thrown on their faces. This is the binding portion of the betrothal ceremony. The date of marriage is fixed by a Brahman, this being the only purpose for which he is employed, and a bride-price varying from six to twelve rupees is paid. On this occasion the women draw caricatures with turmeric or charcoal on the loin-cloth of the boy's father, which they manage to purloin. The marriage ceremony follows generally the Hindu form. The bride- groom puts on women's ornaments and carries with him an iron nut-cracker or dagger to keep off evil spirits.


the wedding, the niidua, a sort of burlesque dance, is held. The girl's mother gets the dress of the boy's father and puts it on, together with a false beard and moustaches, and dances, holding a wooden ladle in one hand and a packet of ashes in the other. Every time she approaches the bridegroom's father on her rounds she spills some of the ashes over him, and occasionally gives him a crack on the head with her ladle, these actions being accompanied by bursts of laughter from the party and frenzied playing by the musicians. When the party reach the bridegroom's house on their return, his mother and the other women come out and burn a little mustard and human hair in a lamp, the unpleasant smell emitted by these articles being considered potent to drive away evil spirits. Every time the bride leaves her father's house she must weep, and must cry separately with each one of her caste-sisters when taking leave of them. When she returns home she must begin weeping loudly on the boundary of the village, and continue doing so until she has embraced each of her relatives and friends, a performance which in a village containing a large number of Bharias may take from three to six hours. These tears are, however, considered to be a manifestation of joy, and the girl who cannot produce enough of them is often ridiculed. A pro- spective son-in-law who serves for his wife is known as Gharjian.

The work given him is always very heavy, and the Bharias have a saying which compares his treatment with that awarded to an ox obtained on hire. If a girl is seduced by a man of the tribe, she may be married to him by the ceremony prescribed for the remarriage of a widow, which consists merely in the placing of bangles on the wrists and a present of a new cloth, together with a feast to the caste-fellows. Similarly if she is seduced by a man of another caste who would be allowed to become a Bharia, she can be married as a widow to any man of the tribe. A widow is expected to marry her late husband's younger brother, but no compulsion is exercised. If a bachelor espouses a widow, he first goes through the ceremony of marriage with a ring to which a twig of the date-palm is tied, by carrying the ring seven times round the marriage post. This is necessary to save him from the sin of dying

unmarried, as the union with a widow is not reckoned as a true marriage. In Jubbulpore divorce is said to be allowed only for conjugal misbehaviour, and a Bharia will pass over three transgressions on his wife's part before finally turning her out of his house. A woman who wishes to leave her husband simply runs away from him and lives with somebody else. In this case the third party must pay a goat to the husband by way of compensation and give a feast to the caste-fellows. The carelessness of the Bharias in the matter of child- 4. Child- birth is notorious, and it is said that mothers commonly ^^^^ " went 'on working up to the moment of childbirth and were delivered of children in the fields.

Now, however, the woman lies up for three days, and some ceremonies of purification are performed. In Chhattlsgarh infants are branded on the day of their birth, under the impression that this will cause them to digest the food they have taken in the womb. The child is named six months after birth by the father's sister, and its lips are then touched with cooked food for the first time. The tribe both burn and bury the dead, and observe 5. Funeral mourning for an adult for ten days, during which time they ^lonies daily put out a leaf-cup containing food for the use of the deceased.

In the third year after the death, the viaugan or caste beggar visits the relatives of the deceased, and receives what they call one limb iang)^ or half his belongings ; the ang consists of a loin-cloth, a brass vessel and dish, an axe, a scythe and a wrist-ring. The Bharias call themselves Hindus and worship the 6. Reii- village deities of the locality, and on the day of Diwali offer magic" a black chicken to their family god, who may be Bura Deo, Dulha Deo or Karua, the cobra. For this snake they pro- fess great reverence, and say that he was actually born in a Bharia family. As he could not work in the fields he was usually employed on errands. One day he was sent to the house, and surprised one of his younger brother's wives, who had not heard him coming, without her veil. She reproached him, and he retired in dudgeon to the oven, where he was presently burnt to death by another woman, who kindled a fire under it not knowing that he was there. So he has

been deified and is worshipped by the tribe. The Bharias also venerate Bagheshwar, the tiger god, and believe that no tiger will eat a Bharia. On the Diwali day they invite the tiger to drink some gruel which they place ready for him behind their houses, at the same time warning the other villagers not to stir out of doors. In the morning they display the empty vessels as a proof that the tiger has visited them. They practise various magical devices, believing that they can kill a man by discharging at him a inutJi or handful of charmed objects such as lemons, vermilion and seeds of urad. This ball will travel through the air and, descending on the house of the person at whom it is aimed, will kill him outright unless he can avert its power by stronger magic, and perhaps even cause it to recoil in the same manner on the head of the sender.

They exorcise the Sudhiniyas or the drinkers of human blood. A person troubled by one of these is seated near the Bharia, who places two pots with their mouths joined over a fire. He recites incantations and the pots begin to boil, emitting blood. This result is obtained by placing a herb in the pot whose juice stains the water red.

The blood-sucker is thus success- fully exorcised. To drive away the evil eye they burn a mixture of chillies, salt, human hair and the husks of kodon, which emits a very evil smell. Such devices are practised by members of the tribe who hold the office of Bhumia or village priest. The Bharias are well-known thieves, and they say that the dark spots on the moon are caused by a banyan tree, which God planted with the object of diminish- ing her light and giving thieves a chance to ply their trade. If a Bhumia wishes to detect a thief, he sits clasping hands with a friend, while a pitcher is supported on their hands. An oblation is offered to the deity to guide the ordeal correctly, and the names of suspected persons are recited one by one, the name at which the pitcher topples over being that of the thief. But before employing this method of detection the Bhumia proclaims his intention of doing so on a certain date, and in the meantime places a heap of ashes in some lonely place and invites the thief to deposit the stolen article in the ashes to save himself from exposure. By common custom each person in the village is required to visit II SOCIAL LIFE AND CUSTOMS 249 the heap and mingle a handful of ashes with it, and not infrequently the thief, frightened at the Bhumia's powers of detection, takes the stolen article and buries it in the ash-heap where it is duly found, the necessity for resorting to the further method of divination being thus obviated. Occasion- ally the Bharia in his character of a Hindu will make a vow to pay for a recitation of the Satya Narayan Katha or some other holy work. But he understands nothing of it, and if the Brahman employed takes a longer time than he had bargained for over the recitation he becomes extremely bored and irritated. The scantiness of the Bharia's dress is proverbial, and 7- Social the saying is ' Bharia b/nudka, pwdnda langwdta,' or ' The customs. Bharia is verily a devil, who only covers his loins with a strip of cloth.' But lately he has assumed more clothing. For- merly an iron ring carried on the wrist to exorcise the evil spirits was his only ornament. Women wear usually only one coarse cloth dyed red, spangles on the forehead and ears, bead necklaces, and cheap metal bracelets and anklets. Some now have Hindu ornaments, but in common with other low castes they do not usually wear a nose-ring, out of respect to the higher castes. Women, though they work in the fields, do not commonly wear shoes ; and if these are necessary to protect the feet from thorns, they take them off and carry them in the presence of an elder or a man of higher caste.

They are tattooed with various devices, as a cock, a crown, a native chair, a pitcher stand, a sieve and a figure called dhandha, which consists of six dots joined by lines, and appears to be a representation of a man, one dot standing for the head, one for the body, two for the arms and two for the legs. This device is also used by other castes, and they evince reluctance if asked to explain its meaning, so that it may be intended as a representation of the girl's future husband. The Bharia is considered very ugly, and a saying about him is : ' The Bharia came down from the hills and got burnt by a cinder, so that his face is black.' He does not bathe for months together, and lives in a dirt}' hovel, infested by the fowls which he loves to rear. His food consists of coarse grain, often with boiled leaves as a vegetable, and he consumes much whey, mixing it with his scanty portion of


Members of all except the lowest castes are admitted to the Bharia community on presentation of a pagri and some money to the headman, together with a feast to the caste-fellows. The Bharias do not eat monkeys, beef or the leavings of others, but they freely consume fowls and pork. They are not considered as impure, but rank above those castes only whose touch conveys pollution. For the slaughter of a cow the Bilaspur Bharias inflict the severe punishment of nine daily feasts to the caste, or one for each limb of the cow, the limbs being held to consist of the legs, ears, horns and tail.

They have an aversion for the horse and will not remove its dung. To account for this they tell a story to the effect that in the beginning God gave them a horse to ride and fight upon. But they did not know how to mount the horse because it was so high. The wisest man among them then proposed to cut notches in the side of the animal by which they could climb up, and they did this. But God, when he saw it, was very angry with them, and ordered that they should never be soldiers, but should be given a winnowing-fan and broom to sweep the grain out of the grass and make their livelihood in that way. 8. Occupa- The Bharias are usually farmservants and field-labourers, and their services in these capacities are in much request. They are hardy and industrious, and so simple that it is an easy matter for their masters to involve them in perpetual debt, and thus to keep them bound to service from generation to generation. They have no understanding of accounts, and the saying, ' Pay for the marriage of a Bharia and he is your bond-slave for ever,' sufficiently explains the methods adopted by their employers and creditors.


(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: Bhari Thakur [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Titles: Thakur [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Surnames: Bharati (new), Bharia, Pachalia (old) [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Exogamous groups: Agaria, Ahirwar, Bamhania, Binjhwar, Chandel, Dagdoha, Dhurua, Gambhele, Kaitha, Karondiha, Kuanpa, Kurka, Loha-Sur, Magarha, Maravi, Rathor, Samarba, Sonwani, Yarkara [Russell & Hiralal] Exogamotts units/clans: Amolia, Angaria, Bapothia, Bhardia, Bijaria, Chalthia, Gadaria, Mehania, Nahal, Pachalia, Raotia, Thakaria [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh]

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