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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 small Dravidian tribe residing in the traditions. Bindranawagarh and Khariar zamindaris of the Raipur District, and numbering about 7000 persons. The tribe was not returned outside this area in 191 1, but Sherring mentions them in a list of the hill tribes of the Jaipur zamlndari of Vizagapatam, which touches the extreme south of Bindranawagarh.
The Bhunjias are divided into two branches, Chaukhutia and Chinda, and the former have the following legend of their origin. On one occasion a Bhatra Gond named Bachar cast a net into the Pairi river and brought out a stone. He threw the stone back into the river and cast his net again, but a second and yet a third time the stone came out. So he laid the stone on the bank of the river and went back to his house, and that night he dreamt that the stone was Bura Deo, the great God of the Gonds. So he said : ' If this dream be true let me draw in a deer in my net to-morrow for a sign ' ; and the next day the body of a deer appeared in his net. The stone then called upon the Gond to worship him as Bura Deo, but the Gond demurred to doing so himself, and said he would provide a substitute as a devotee. To this Bura Deo agreed, but said that Bachar, the Gond, must marry his daughter to the substituted worshipper.
The Gond then set out to search for somebody, and in the village of Lafandi he found a Halba of the name of Konda, who was a cripple, deaf and dumb, blind, and a leper. He brought Konda to the stone, and on reaching it he was miraculously cured of all his ailments and gladly began to worship Bura Deo. He afterwards married the Gond's daughter and they had a son called Chaukhutia Bhunjia, who was the ancestor of the Chaukhutia division of the tribe. Now the term Chaukhutia in ^ This article is based on papers by Misra of the Gazetteer office, and Mr. Hira Lai, Mr. Gokul Prasad, Munshi Ganpati Giri, Superintendent, Tahsildar, Dhamtari, Mr. Pyare L^l Bindranawagarh estate.
Chhattisc^arhi sit^nifics a bastard, and the story related above is obviously intended to signify that the Chaukhutia J^hunjias are of mixed descent from the Gonds and Halbas. It is clearly with this end in view that the Gond is made to decline to worship the stone himself and promise to find a substitute, an incident which is wholly unnatural and is simply dragged in to meet the case. The Chaukhutia sub- tribe especially worship Bura Deo, and sing a song relating to the finding of the stone in their marriage ceremony as follows :
Johdr, johar Thdkur Dcota, Tiiniko Idgon, Do 7natia ghar men dine tumhdre nam. Johdr, johdr Konda, Tumko Idgon, Do ntatia ghar men, etc. Johdr, johdr Bdchar Jhdkar Tumko Idgoji, etc. Johdr, johdr Bftdha Kdja Tumko Idgon, etc. Johdr, johdr Lafandi Mdti Tumko Idgon, etc. Johdr, johdr Anand Mdti Tumko Idgon, etc. which may be rendered :
I make obeisance to thee, O Thakur Deo, I bow down to thee ! In thy name have I placed two pots in my house (as a mark of respect). I make obeisance to thee, O Konda Pujari, I bow down to thee ! In thy name have I placed two pots in my house. I make obeisance to thee, O Bachar Jhakar ! In thy name have I placed two pots in my house. I make obeisance to thee, O Biadha Raja ! In thy name have I placed two pots in my house. I make obeisance to thee, O Soil of Lafandi ! In thy name have I placed two pots in my house. I make obeisance to thee, O Happy Spot ! In thy name have I placed two pots in my house. The song refers to the incidents in the story. Thakur Deo is the title given to the divine stone, Konda is the Halba priest, and Bachar the Gond who cast the net.
Budha Raja, otherwise Singh Sei, is the Chief who was ruling in Bindranawagarh at the time, Lafandi the village where Konda Halba was found, and the Anand Mati or Happy Spot is that where the stone was taken out of the river. The majority of the sept-names returned are of Gond origin, and there seems no doubt that the Chaukhutias are, as the story says, of mixed descent from the Halbas and Goods. It is
noticeable, however, that the Bhunjias, though surrounded by Gonds on all sides, do not speak Gondi but a dialect of Hindi, which Sir G. Grierson considers to resemble that of the Halbas, and also describes as " A form of Chhattlsgarhi which is practically the same as Baigani. It is a jargon spoken by Binjhwars, Bhumias and Bhunjias of Raipur, Raigarh, Sarangarh and Patna in the Central Provinces." ^ The Binjhwars also belong to the country of the Bhunjias, and one or two estates close to Bindranawagarh are held by members of this tribe. The Chinda division of the Bhunjias have a saying about themselves: ' Chinda Raja, BJiunjia Pdik^ ; and they say that there was originally a Kamar ruler of Bindranawagarh who was dispossessed by Chinda. The Kamars are a small and very primitive tribe of the same locality. Pdik means a foot-soldier, and it seems therefore that the Bhunjias formed the levies of this Chinda, who may very probably have been one of themselves. The term Bhunjia may perhaps signify one who lives on the soil, from bhuni, the earth, and jia, dependent on. The word Birjia, a synonym for Binjhwar, is similarly a corruption of bewar jia, and means one who is dependent on dahia or patch cultivation. Sir H. Risley gives Birjia, Binjhia and Binjhwar ^ as synonymous terms, and Bhunjia may be another corruption of the same sort.
The Binjhwars are a Hinduised offshoot of the ancient Baiga tribe, who may probably have been in possession of the hills bordering the Chhattlsgarh plain as well as of the Satpura range before the advent of the Gonds, as the term Baiga is employed for a village priest over a large part of this area. It thus seems not improbable that the Chinda Bhunjias may have been derived from the Binjhwars, and this would account for the fact that the tribe speaks a dialect of Hindi and not Gondi. As already seen, the Chaukhutia subcaste appear to be of mixed origin from the Gonds and Halbas, and as the Chindas are probably descended from the Baigas, the Bhunjias may be considered to be an offshoot from these three important tribes, 2. Sub- Of the two subtribes already mentioned the Chaukhutia divisions. ' P'rom the Index of Languages and - Tribes and Castes of Bengal, art. Dialects, furnished by Sir G. Grierson Binjhia. for the census.
are recognised to be of illegitimate descent. As a consequence of this they strive to obtain increased social estimation by a ridiculously strict observance of the rules of ceremonial purity. If any man not of his own caste touches the hut where a Chaukhutia cooks his food, it is entirely abandoned and a fresh one built. At the time of the census they threatened to kill the enumerator if he touched their huts to affix the census number.
Pegs had therefore to be planted in the ground a little in front of the huts and marked with their numbers. The Chaukhutia will not eat food cooked by other members of his own community, and this is a restriction found only among those of bastard descent, where every man is suspicious of his neighbour's parentage. He will not take food from the hands of his own daughter after she is married ; as soon as the ceremony is over her belongings are at once removed from the hut, and even the floor beneath the seat of the bride and bridegroom during the marriage ceremony is dug up and the surface earth thrown away to avoid any risk of defilement. Only when it is remembered that these rules are observed by people who do not wash themselves from one week's end to the other, and wear the same wisp of cloth about their loins until it comes to pieces, can the full absurdity of such customs as the above be appreciated. But the tendency appears to be of the same kind as the intense desire for respectability so often noticed among the lower classes in England.
The Chindas, whose pedigree is more reliable, are far less particular about their social purity. As already stated, the exogamous divisions of the 3- i^^ar- Bhunjias are derived from those of the Gonds. Among '"^ the Chaukhutias it is considered a great sin if the signs of puberty appear in a girl before she is married, and to avoid this, if no husband has been found for her, they perform a ' Kand Byah ' or ' Arrow Marriage ' : the girl walks seven times round an arrow fixed in the ground, and is given away without ceremony to the man who by previous arrangement has brought the arrow. If a girl of the Chinda group goes wrong with an outsider before marriage and becomes pregnant, the matter is hushed up, but if she is a Chaukhutia it is said that she is finally expelled from the community,
the same severe course being adopted even when she is not pregnant if there is reason to suppose that the offence has been committed. A proposal for marriage among the Chaukhutias is made on the boy's behalf by two men who are known as Mahalia and Jangalia, and are supposed to represent a Nai (barber) and Dhlmar (water-carrier), though they do not actually belong to these castes. As among the Gonds, the marriage takes place at the bridegroom's village, and the Mahalia and Jangalia act as stewards of the cere- mony, and are entrusted with the rice, pulse, salt, oil and other provisions, the bridegroom's family having no function in the matter except to pay for them. The provisions are all stored in a separate hut, and when the time for the feast has come they are distributed raw to all the guests, each family of whom cook for themselves. The reason for this is, as already explained, that each one is afraid of losing status by eating with other members of the tribe.
The marriage is solemnised by walking round the sacred post, and the ceremony is conducted by a hereditary priest known as Dinwari, a member of the tribe, whose line it is believed will never become extinct. Among the Chinda Bhunjias the bride goes away with her husband, and in a short time returns with him to her parents' house for a few days, to make an offering to the deities. But the Chaukhutias will not allow her, after she has lived in her father-in-law's house, to return to her home. In future if she goes to visit her parents she must stay outside the house and cook her food separately. Widow-marriage and divorce are permitted, but a husband will often overlook transgressions on the part of his wife and only put her away when her conduct has become an open scandal. In such a case he will either quietly leave house and wife and settle alone in another village, or have his wife informed by means of a neighbour that if she does not leave the village he will do so. It is not the custom to bring cases before the tribal committee or to claim damages. A special tie exists between a man and his sister's children.
The marriage of a brother's son or daughter to a sister's daughter or son is considered the most suitable. A man will not allow his sister's children .to eat the leavings of food on his plate,
though his own children may do so. This is a special token of respect to his sister's children. He will not chastise his sister's children, even though they deserve it. And it is considered especially meritorious for a man to pay for the wedding ceremony of his sister's son or daughter. Every third year in the month of Chait (March) the 4- Reii- tribe offer a goat and a cocoanut to Mata, the deity of ^' cholera and smallpox. They bow daily to the sun with folded hands, and believe that he is of special assistance to them in the liquidation of debt, which the Bhunjias consider a primary obligation. When a debt has been paid off they offer a cocoanut to the sun as a mark of gratitude for his assistance. They also pay great reverence to the tortoise. They call the tortoise the footstool (jpidha) of God, and have adopted the Hindu theory that the earth is supported by a tortoise swimming in the midst of the ocean. Professor Tylor explains as follows how this belief arose : ^ " To man in the lower levels of science the earth is a flat plain over which the sky is placed like a dome as the arched upper shell of the tortoise stands upon the flat plate below, and this is why the tortoise is the symbol or representative of the world," It is said that Bhunjia women are never allowed to sit either on a footstool or a bed -cot, because these are considered to be the seats of the deities.
They consider it disrespectful to walk across the shadow of any elderly person, or to step over the body of any human being or revered object on the ground. If they do this inadvert- ently, they apologise to the person or thing. If a man falls from a tree he will offer a chicken to the tree-spirit. The tribe will eat pork, but abstain from beef and the s- Social flesh of monkeys. Notwithstanding their strictness of social observance, they rank lower than the Gonds, and only the Kamars will accept food from their hands. A man who has got maggots in a wound is purified by being given to drink water, mixed with powdered turmeric, in which silver and copper rings have been dipped. Women are secluded during the menstrual period for as long as eight days, and during this time they may not enter the dwelling-hut nor touch any article belonging to it.
The Bhunjias take their
food on plates of leaves, and often a whole family will have only one brass vessel, which will be reserved for production on the visit of a guest. But no strangers can be admitted to the house, and a separate hut is kept in the village for their use. Here they are given uncooked grain and pulse, which they prepare for themselves. When the women go out to work they do not leave their babies in the house, but carry them tied up in a small rag under the arm. They have no knowledge of medicine and are too timid to enter a Government dispensary. Their panacea for most dis- eases is branding the skin with a hot iron, which is employed indifferently for headache, pains in the stomach and rheumatism. Mr. Pyare Lai notes that one of his informants had recently been branded for rheumatism on both knees and said that he felt much relief.
(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, Indpaedia.com. All information used will be gratefully acknowledged in your name.)
Groups/subgroups: Chinda Bhunjia, Choukutia Bhunjia [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Chinda Bhunjia, Chuktia Bhunjia [Orissa] Subtribes: Chaukhutia, Chindas [Russell & Hiralal] Surnames: Barik, Bhanargadia, Bhoae, Chhatriya, Majhi, Mallik, Patia, Pujari, Sasangia, Suara, Thakar [Orissa] Moieties: Markam, Netani [Orissa] Exogamous units/clans (got): Chedayya, Dhansena, Markham, Netam (pig), Son [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Exogamous units/lineages (bansh): [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh]