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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 It has been archived for its historical value as well as for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 OP^ PARAGRAPHS 1. General notice and stntcti/re of 6. Propitiation ofghosts. the caste. 7. Religion. Ceremonies at hunt- 2. Admission of outsiders. ing, 3. Arrangejnent of marriages. 8. Superstitious retnedies. 4. The Counter of Posts. 9. Occupatioji. 5. Marriage customs. 10. Names. Bhatra.^—A primitive tribe of the Bastar State and the i. General south of Raipur District, akin to the Gonds. They numbered "°'"^^ ^"^ •^ ' •' structure 33,000 persons in 1 891, and in subsequent enumerations of the have been amalgamated with the Gonds. Nothing is known ^^^'^' of their origin except a legend that they came with the Rajas of Bastar from Warangal twenty-three generations ago.

The word Bhatra is said to mean a servant, and the tribe are emplo}'ed as village watchmen and household and domestic servants. They have three divisions, the Pit, Amnait and San Bhatras, who rank one below the other, the Pit being the highest and the San the lowest. The Pit Bhatras base their superiority on the fact that they decline to make grass mats, which the Amnait Bhatras will do, while the San Bhatras are considered to be practically identical with the Muria Gonds.

Members of the three groups will eat with each other before marriage, but after- wards they will take only food cooked without water from a person belonging to another group. They have the usual set of exogamous septs named after plants and animals. Formerly, it is said, they were tattooed with representations 1 This article is compiled from ment Officer, Bastar ; and Mr. Gopal papers drawn up by Rai Bahadur Krishna, Assistant Superintendent, Panda Baijnath, Superintendent, Bas- Bastar. tar State ; Mr. Ravi Shankar, Settle- 271 272 BHA TRA 2. Admis- sion of outsiders. 3. Arrange- ment of marriages. 4. The Counter of Posts. of the totem plant and animal, and the septs named after the tiger and snake ate the flesh of these animals at a sacrificial meal. These customs have fallen into abeyance, but still if they kill their totem animal they will make apologies to it, and break their cooking-pots, and bury or burn the body, A man of substance will distribute alms in the name of the deceased animal. In some localities members of the Kachhun or tortoise sept will not eat a pumpkin which drops from a tree because it is considered to resemble a tortoise. But if they can break it immediately on touching the ground they may partake of the fruit, the assumption being apparently that it has not had time to become like a tortoise. Outsiders are not as a rule admitted.

But a woman of equal or higher caste who enters the house of a Bhatra will be recognised as his wife, and a man of the Panara, or gardener caste, can also become a member of the community if he lives with a Bhatra woman and eats from her hand. In Raipur a girl should be married before puberty, and if no husband is immediately available, they tie a few flowers into her cloth and consider this as a marriage. If an unmarried girl becomes pregnant she is debarred from going through the wedding ceremony, and will simply go and live with her lover or any other man.

Matches are usually arranged by the parents, but if a daughter is not pleased with the prospective bridegroom, who may some- times be a well-to-do man much older than herself, she occasionally runs away and goes through the ceremony on her own account with the man of her choice. If no one has asked her parents for her hand she may similarly select a husband for herself and make her wishes known, but in that case she is temporarily put out of caste _ until the chosen bridegroom signifies his acquiescence by giving the marriage feast. What happens if he definitely fails to respond is not stated, but presumably the young woman tries elsewhere until she finds herself accepted. The date and hour of the wedding are fixed by an official known as the Meda Gantia, or Counter of Posts. He is a sort of illiterate village astrologer, who can foretell the character of the rainfall, and gives auspicious dates for

sowing and harvest. He goes through some training, and as a test of his capacity is required by his teacher to tell at a glance the number of posts in an enclosure which he has not seen before.

Having done this correctly he qualifies as a Meda Gantia. Apparently the Bhatras, being unable at one time to count themselves, acquired an exaggerated reverence for the faculty of counting, and thought that if a man could only count far enough he could reckon into the future ; or it might be thought that as he could count and name future days, he thus obtained power over them, and could tell what would happen on them just as one can obtain power over a man and work him injury by knowing his real name. At a wedding the couple walk seven times round the 5- MJit"- sacred post, which must be of wood of the mahua ^ tree, and customs. on its conclusion the post is taken to a river or stream and consigned to the water. The Bhatras, like the Gonds, no doubt revere this tree because their intoxicating liquor is made from its flowers. The couple wear marriage crowns made from the leaves of the date palm and exchange these. A little turmeric and flour are mixed with water in a plate, and the bride, taking the bridegroom's right hand, dips it into the coloured paste and strikes it against the wall.

The action is repeated five times, and then the bridegroom does the same with the bride's hand. By this rite the couple pledge each other for their mutual behaviour during married life. From the custom of making an impression of the hand on a wall in token of a vow may have arisen that of clasping hands as a symbol of a bargain assented to, and hence of shaking hands, by persons who meet, as a pledge of amity and the absence of hostile intentions. Usually the hand is covered with red ochre, which is probably a sub- stitute for blood ; and the impression of the hand is made on the wall of a temple in token of a vow. This may be a survival of the covenant made by the parties dipping their hands in the blood of the sacrifice and laying them on the god.

A pit about a foot deep is dug close to the marriage- shed, and filled with mud or wet earth. The bride conceals a nut in the mud and the bridegroom has to find it, and 1 Bassia latifolia. VOL. II T

the hiding and finding are repeated by both parties. This rite may have the signification of looking for children. The remainder of the day is spent in eating, drinking and dancing. On the way home after the wedding the bridegroom has to shoot a deer, the animal being represented by a branch of a tree thrown across the path by one of the party. But if a real deer happens by any chance to come by he has to shoot this.

The bride goes up to the real or sham deer and pulls out the arrow, and presents her husband with water and a tooth-stick, after which he takes her in his arms and they dance home together. On arrival at the house the bride- groom's maternal uncle or his son lies down before the door covering himself with a blanket. He is asked what he wants, and says he will have tlie daughter of the bridegroom to wife. The bridegroom promises to give a daughter if he has one, and if he has a son to give him for a friend. The tribe consider that a man has a right to marry the daughter of his maternal uncle, and formerly if the girl was refused by her parents he abducted her and married her forcibly. The bride remains at her husband's house for a few days and then goes home, and before she finally takes up her abode with him the gamia or going-away ceremony must be per- formed.

The hands of the bride and bridegroom are tied together, and an arrow is held upright on them and some oil poured over it. The foreheads of the couple are marked with turmeric and rice, this rite being known as tika or anointing, and presents are given to the bride's family. 6. Pro- The dead are buried, the corpse being laid on its back pitiation of ^yjtj-^ thg head to the north. Some rice, cowrie-shells, a ghosts. winnowing-fan and other articles are placed on the grave. The tribe probably consider the winnowing-fan to have some magical property, as it also forms one of the presents given to the bride at the betrothal. If a man is killed by a tiger his spirit must be propitiated. The priest ties strips of tiger-skin to his arms, and the feathers of the peacock and blue jay to his waist, and jumps about pretending to be a tiger.

A package of a hundred seers (200 lbs.) of rice is made up, and he sits on this and finally takes it away with him. If the dead man had any ornaments they must all be given, however valuable, lest his spirit should hanker after

them and return to look for them in the shape of the tiger. The lari^^e quantity of rice given to the priest is also probably intended as a provision of the best food for the dead man's spirit, lest it be hungry and come in the shape of the tiger to satisfy its appetite upon the surviving relatives. The laying of the ghosts of persons killed by tigers is thus a very profitable business for the priests. The tribe worship the god of hunting, who is known as 7. Reii- Mati Deo and resides in a separate tree in each village. At ^'°"". ^^^' _ . . . monies at the Bljphutni (threshing) or harvest festival in the month of hunting. Chait (March) they have a ceremonial hunting party.

All the people of the village collect, each man having a bow and arrow slung to his back and a hatchet on his shoulder. They spread out a long net in the forest and beat the animals into this, usually catching a deer, wild pig or hare, and quails and other birds. They return and cook the game before the shrine of the god and offer to him a fowl and a pig. A pit is dug and water poured into it, and a person from each house must stand in the mud. A little seed taken from each house is also soaked in the mud, and after the feast is over this is taken and returned to the householder with words of abuse, a small present of two or three pice being received from him.

The seed is no doubt thus con- secrated for the next sowing. The tribe also have joint ceremonial fishing excursions. Their ideas of a future life are very vague, and they have no belief in a place of reward or punishment after death. They propitiate the spirits of their ancestors on the 15th of Asarh (June) with offerings of a little rice and incense. To cure the evil eye they place a little gunpowder in s. Super- water and apply it to the sufferer's eyes, the idea perhaps being that the fiery glance from the evil eye which struck him is quenched like the gunpowder. To bring on rain they perform a frog marriage, tying two frogs to a pestle and pouring oil and turmeric over them as in a real marriage.

The children carry them round begging from door to door and finally deposit them in water. They say that when rain falls and the sun shines together the jackals are being married. Formerly a woman suspected of being a witch was tied up in a bag and thrown into a river or tank StltlOUS remedies.

at various places set apart for the purpose. If she sank she was held to be innocent, and if she floated, guilty. In the latter case she had to defile herself by taking the bone of a cow and the tail of a pig in her mouth, and it was supposed that this drove out the magic-working spirit.

In the case of illness of their children or cattle, or the failure of crops, they consult the Pujari or priest and make an offering. He applies some flowers or grains of rice to the forehead of the deity, and when one of these falls down he diagnoses from it the nature of the illness, and gives it to the sufferer to wear as a charm. 9. Occupa- The tribe are cultivators and farmservants, and practise ^'°"- shifting cultivation. They work as village watchmen and also as the Majhi or village headman and the Pujari or village priest.

These officials are paid by contributions of grain from the cultivators. And as already seen, the Bhatras are employed as household servants and will clean cooking- vessels. Since they act as village priests, it may perhaps be concluded that the Bhatras like the Parjas are older residents of Bastar than the bulk of the Gonds, and they have become the household servants of the Hindu immigrants, which the Gonds would probably disdain to do. Some of them wear the sacred thread, but in former times the Bastar Raja would invest any man with this for a fee of four or five rupees, and the Bhatras therefore purchased the social distinction. They find it inconvenient, however, and lay it aside when proceed- ing to their work or going out to hunt. If a man breaks his thread he must wait till a Brahman comes round, when he can purchase another. 10. Names.

Among a list of personal names given by Mr. Baijnath the following are of some interest : Pillu, one of short stature ; Matola, one who learnt to walk late ; Phagu, born in Phagun (February) ; Ghinu, dirty-looking ; Dasru, born on the Dasahra festival ; Ludki, one with a fleshy ear ; Dalu, big-bellied ; Mudi, a ring, this name having been given to a child which cried much after birth, but when its nose was pierced and a ring put in it stopped crying ; Chhi, given to a child which sneezed immediately after birth

Nunha, a posthumous child ; and Bhuklu, a child which began to play almost as soon as born. The above instances

indicate that it is a favourite plan to select the name from any characteristic displayed by the child soon after birth, or from any circumstance or incident connected with its birth. Among names of women are :

Cherangi, thin ; Fundi, one with swollen cheeks ; Kandri, one given to crying ; Mahlna (month), a child born a month late ; Batai, one with large eyes ; Gaida, fat ; Pakli, of fair colour ; Boda, one with crooked legs

Jhunki, one with small eyes ; Rupi, a girl who was given a nose-ring of silver as her brothers had died ; Paro^ born on a field-embankment ; Dango, tall. A woman must not call by their names her father-in-law, mother-in-law, her husband's brothers and elder sisters and the sons and daughters of her husband's brothers and sisters.


(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: Bade, Batamundi, Majhli Bhatra, Sargumundi, Shan Bhatra [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Groups/subgroups: Bade Bhatra, Majhli Bhatra, San Bhatra [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Jatadharis [HA Rose] Amnait, Pit, San Bhatras [Russell & Hiralal] Surnames: Baghel, Bhatri, Nag, Netam [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Exogamous units/clans: Bag (tiger), Bakri (goat), Besra (a bird), Deogotia, Hansa (goose), Kachim (tortoise), Kukra (cock), Kukur (dog), Legra (a bird), Makri (spider), Nag (cobra), Shan Bhatra, Sulk (a kind of bird) [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Got: Bgains, Bhatti, Bhotwal, Digwa, Gami, Gojra, Kag, Kasba, Lande, Lar, Lohi, Rathor, Rod [H.H. Risley] Exogamous units/lineages (bansh): [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh]

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