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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.


A comparatively civilised Dravidian i. Origin tribe, or caste formed from a tribe, found in the Raipur and ^j'^jitjo^ Bilaspur Districts and the adjoining Uriya country. In 191 1 the Binjhwars numbered 60,000 persons in the Central Provinces. There is little or no doubt that the Binjhwars are an offshoot of the primitive Baiga tribe of Mandla and Balaghat, who occupy the Satpura or Maikal hills to the north of the Chhattlsgarh plain.

In these Districts a Binjhwar subdivision of the Baigas exists ; it is the most civilised and occupies the highest rank in the tribe. In Bhandara is found the Injhwar caste who are boatmen and cultivators. This caste is derived from the Binjhwar subdivision of the Baigas, and the name Injhwar is simply a corruption of Binjhwar. Neither the Binjhwars nor the Baigas are found except in the territories above mentioned, and it seems clear that the Binjhwars are a comparatively civilised section of the Baigas, who have become a distinct caste. They are in fact the landholding section of the Baigas, like the Raj-Gonds among the Gonds and the Bhilalas among Bhils. The zamlndars of Bodasamar, Rampur, Bhatgaon and other estates to the south and east of the Chhattlsgarh plain belong to this tribe. But owing 1 This article is based on a paper by Mr. Mian Bhai Abdul Hussain, Extra Assistant Commissioner, Sambalpur.

to the change of name their connection with the parent Baigas has now been forgotten. The name Binjhwar is derived from the Vindhya hills, and the tribe still worship the goddess Vindhyabasini of these hills as their tutelary deity. They say that their ancestors migrated from Binjha- kop to Lampa, which may be either Lamta in Balaghat or Laphagarh in Bilaspur. The hills of Mandla, the home of perhaps the most primitive Baigas, are quite close to the Vindhya range. The tribe say that their original ancestors were Bdrah bhai betkdr, or the twelve Brother Archers.

They were the sons of the goddess Vindhyabasini. One day they were out shooting and let off their arrows, which flew to the door of the great temple at Puri and stuck in it. Nobody in the place was able to pull them out, not even when the king's elephants were brought and harnessed to them ; till at length the brothers arrived and drew them forth quite easily with their hands, and the king was so pleased with their feat that he gave them the several estates which their descendants now hold. The story recalls that of Arthur and the magic sword.

According to another legend the mother of the first Raja of Patna, a Chauhan Rajput, had fled from northern India to Sambalpur after her husband and relations had been killed in battle. She took refuge in a Binjhwar's hut and bore a son who became Raja of Patna ; and in reward for the protection afforded to his mother he gave the Binjhwar the Bodasamar estate, requiring only of him and his descendants the tribute of a silk cloth on accession to the zamindari ; and this has been rendered ever since by the zamlndars of Bodasamar to the Rajas of Patna as a mark of fealty. It is further stated that the twelve archers when they fired the memor- able arrows in the forest were in pursuit of a wild boar ; and the landholding class of Binjhwars are called Bariha from bdrdh, a boar. As is only fitting, the Binjhwars have taken the arrow as their tribal symbol or mark ; their cattle are branded with it, and illiterate Binjhwars sign it in place of their name. If a husband cannot be found for a girl she is sometimes married to an arrow. At a Binjhwar wedding an arrow is laid on the trunk of mahua ^ which forms the 1 Bassia latifolia.

marriage-post, and honours are paid to it as representing the bridegroom. The tribe have four subdivisions, the Binjhwars proper, a. Tribal the Sonjharas, the Birjhias and the Binjhias. The Sonjharas jl^j'sions consist of those who took to washing for gold in the sands of the Mahanadi, and it may be noted that a separate caste of Sonjharas is also in existence in this locality besides the Binjhwar group. The Birjhias are those who practised bezvar or shifting cultivation in the forests, the name being derived from beivarjia, one living by bewar-^o'wmg. Binjhia is simply a diminutive form of Binjhwar, but in Bilaspur it is sometimes regarded as a separate caste.

The zamlndar of Bhatgaon belongs to this group. The tribe have also exogamous divisions, the names of which are of a diverse character, and on being scrutinised show a mixture of foreign blood. Among totemistic names are Bagh, a tiger ; Pod, a buffalo ; Kamalia, the lotus flower ; Panknali, the water- crow ; Tar, the date-palm ; Jal, a net, and others. Some of the sections are nicknames, as Udhar, a debtor ; Marai Meli Bagh, one who carried a dead tiger ; Ultum, a talker ; Jalia, a liar ; Kessal, one who has shaved a man, and so on. Several are the names of other castes, as Lobar, Dudh Kawaria, Bhil, Banka and Majhi, indicating that members of these castes have become Binjhwars and have founded families.

The sept names also differ in different localities ; the Birjhia subtribe who live in the same country as the Mundas have several Munda names among their septs, as Munna, Son, Solai ; while the Binjhwars who are neighbours of the Gonds have Gond sept names, as Tekam, Sonwani, and others. This indicates that there has been a considerable amount of intermarriage with the surrounding tribes, as is the case generally among the lower classes of the population in Chhattlsgarh. Even now if a woman of any caste from whom the Binjhwars will take water to drink forms a con- nection with a man of the tribe, though she herself must remain in an irregular position, her children will be considered as full members of it.

The Barhias or landowning group have now adopted names of Sanskrit formation, as Gajendra, an elephant, Rameswar, the god Rama, and Nageshwar, the cobra deity. Two of their septs are named Lobar (black-

smith) and Kumhar (potter), and may be derived from members of these castes who became Binjhvvars or from Binjhwars who took up the occupations. At a Binjhwar wedding the presence of a person belonging to each of the Lobar and Kumhar septs is essential, the reason being probably the estimation in which the two handicrafts were held when the Binjhwars first learnt them from their Hindu neighbours. 3. Mar- In Sambalpur there appears to be no system of riage. exogamous groups, and marriage is determined simply by relationship. The union of agnates is avoided as long as the connection can be traced between them, but on the mother's side all except first cousins may marry. Marriage is usually adult, and girls are sometimes allowed to choose their own husbands.

A bride-price of about eight kJiandis (1400 lbs.) of unhusked rice is paid. The ceremony is performed at the bridegroom's house, to which the bride proceeds after bidding farewell to her family and friends in a fit of weeping. Weddings are avoided during the four months of the rainy season, and in Chait (March) because it is inauspicious, Jeth (May) because it is too hot, and Pus (December) because it is the last month of the year among the Binjhwars. The marriage ceremony should begin on a Sunday, when the guests are welcomed and their feet washed. On Monday the formal reception of the bride takes place, the Gandsan or scenting ceremony follows on Tuesday, and on Wednesday is the actual wedding. At the scenting ceremony seven married girls dressed in new clothes dyed yellow with turmeric conduct the bridegroom round the central post ; one holds a dish containing rice, mango leaves, myrobalans and betel-nuts, and a second sprinkles water from a small pot. At each round the bridegroom is made to throw some of the condiments from the dish on to the wedding-post, and after the seven rounds he is seated and is rubbed with oil and turmeric.

4. The Among the Birjhias a trunk of mahua with two branches marriage jg ercctcd in the marriacre-shed, and on this a dagger is ceremony. ° _ '^^ placed in a winnowing-fan filled with rice, the former repre- senting the bridegroom and the latter the bride. The bride first goes round the post seven times alone, and then the bridegroom, and after this they go round it together. A

ploui^h is brou;^ht and they stand upon the yoke, and seven cups of water havini^ been collected from seven different houses, four arc poured over the brider,froom and three over the bride. Some men climb on to the top of the shed and pour pots of water down on to the couple. This is now said to be done only as a joke. Next morninj^ two strong men take the bridegroom and bride, who are usually grown up, on their backs, and the parties pelt each other with unhusked rice. Then the bridegroom holds the bride in his arms from behind and they stand facing the sun, while some old man ties round their feet a thread specially spun by a virgin.

The couple stand for some time and then fall to the ground as if dazzled by his rays, when water is again poured over their bodies to revive them. Lastly, an old man takes the arrow from the top of the marriage-post and draws three lines with it on the ground to represent the Hindu trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, and the bridegroom jumps over these holding the bride in his arms. The couple go to bathe in a river or tank, and on the way home the bridegroom shoots seven arrows at an image of a sambhar deer made with straw. At the seventh shot the bride's brother takes the arrow, and running away and hiding it in his cloth lies down at the entrance of the bridegroom's house. The couple go up to him, and the bridegroom examines his body with suspicion, pretending to think that he is dead. He draws the arrow out of his cloth and points to some blood which has been previously sprinkled on the ground. After a time the boy gets up and receives some liquor as a reward. This procedure may perhaps be a symbolic survival of marriage by capture, the bridegroom killing the bride's brother before carrying her off, or more probably, perhaps, the boy may represent a dead deer.

In some of the wilder tracts the man actually waylays and seizes the girl before the wedding, the occasion being previously determined, and the women of her family trying to prevent him. If he succeeds in carrying her off they stay for three or four days in the forest and then return and are married. If a Binjhwar girl is seduced and rendered pregnant by 5. Sexual a man of the tribe, the people exact a feast and compel '"°'"^iy- them to join their hands in an informal manner before the

caste committee, the tie thus formed being considered as indissoluble as a formal marriage. Polygamy is permitted ; a Binjhvvar zamindar marries a new wife, who is known as Pat Rani, to celebrate his accession to his estates, even though he may have five or six already. Divorce is recognised but is not very common, and a married woman having an intrigue with another Binjhwar is often simply made over to him and they live as husband and wife.

If this man does not wish to take her she can live with any other, conjugal morality being very loose in Sambalpur. In Bodasamar a fine of from one to ten rupees is payable to the zamindar in the case of each divorce, and a feast must also be given to the caste-fellows. 6. Disposal The tribe usually bury the dead, and on the third day of the they place on the grave some uncooked rice and a lighted lamp. As soon as an insect flies to the lamp they catch it, and placing it in a cake of flour carry this to a stream, where it is worshipped with an offering of coloured rice.

It is then thrust into the sand or mud in the bed of the stream with a grass broom. This ceremony is called Kharpani or ' Grass and Water,' and appears to be a method of disposing of the dead man's spirit. It is not performed at all for young children, while, on the other hand, in the case of respected elders a second ceremony is carried out of the same nature, being known as Badapani or ' Great Water.' On this occasion the jivn or soul is worshipped with greater pomp. Except in the case of wicked souls, who are supposed to become malignant ghosts, the Binjhwars do not seem to have any definite belief in a future life. They say, ^ Je maris te saris', or ' That which is dead is rotten and gone.' 7. Reii- The tribe worship the common village deities of Chhat- gioti. tlsgarh, and extend their veneration to Bura Deo, the principal god of the Gonds. They venerate their daggers, spears and arrows on the day of Dasahra, and every third year their tutelary goddess Vindhyabasini is carried in pro- cession from village to village. Mr. Mian Bhai gives the following list of precepts as forming the Binjhwar's moral code :

—Not to commit adultery outside the caste ; not to eat beef ; not to murder ; not to steal ; not to swear falsely before the caste committee. The tribe have gurus or ir spiritual preceptors, whom he describes as the most itinerant Bairagis, very Httle better than impostors. When a b(jy or girl grows up the Bairagi comes and whispers the Karn mnntra or spell in his ear, also hanging a necklace of iulsi (basil) beads round his neck ; for this the guru receives a cloth, a cocoanut and a cash payment of four annas to a rupee. Thereafter he visits his disciples annually at harvest time and receives a present of grain from them. On the iith of Bhadon (August) the tribe celebrate 8. Festi- the karma festival, which is something like May-Day or a ^^^' harvest feast. The youths and maidens go to the forest and bring home a young karma tree, singing, dancing and beating drums.

Offerings are made to the tree, and then the whole village, young and old, drink and dance round it all through the night. Next morning the tree is taken to the nearest stream or tank and consigned to it. After this the young girls of five or six villages make up a party and go about to the different villages accompanied by drummers and Ganda musicians. They are entertained for the night, and next morning dance for five or six hours in the village and then go on to another. The tribe are indiscriminate in their diet, which includes 9. Social pork, snakes, rats, and even carnivorous animals, as panthers. ^'^'^'°'^^- They refuse only beef, monkeys and the leavings of others. The wilder Binjhwars of the forests will not accept cooked food from any other caste, but those who live in association with Hindus will take it when cooked without water from a few of the higher ones. The tribe are not considered as impure.

Their dress is very simple, consisting as a rule only of one dirty white piece of cloth in the case of both men and women. Their hair is unkempt, and they neither oil nor comb it. A genuine Binjhwar of the hills wears long frizzled hair with long beard and moustaches, but in the open country they cut their hair and shave the chin. Every Binjhwar woman is tattooed either before, or just after her marriage, when she has attained to the age of adolescence. A man will not touch or accept food from a woman who is not tattooed on the feet. The expenses must be paid either by the woman's parents or her brothers and not by her husband. The practice is carried to an extreme, and many

women have the upper part of the chest, the arms from shoulder to wrist, and the feet and legs up to the knee covered with devices. On the chest and arms the patterns are in the shape of flowers and leaves, while along the leg a succession of zigzag lines are pricked. The Binjhwars are usually cultivators and labourers, while, as already stated, several zamlndari and other estates are owned by members of the tribe. Binjhwars also commonly hold the office of Jhankar or priest of the village gods in the Sambalpur District, as the Baigas do in Mandla and Balaghat. In Sambalpur the Jhankar or village priest is a universal and recognised village servant of fairly high status.

His business is to conduct the worship of the local deities of the soil, crops, forests and hills, and he generally has a substantial holding, rent free, containing some of the best land in the village. It is said locally that the Jhankar is looked on as the founder of the village, and the representative of the old owners who were ousted by the Hindus. He worships on their behalf the indigenous deities, with whom he naturally possesses a more intimate acquaintance than the later immi- grants ;

while the gods of these latter cannot be relied on to exercise a sufficient control over the works of nature in the foreign land to which they have been imported, or to ensure that the earth and the seasons will regularly perform their necessary functions in producing sus


(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.)

Groups/subgroups: Sonvaha Binjhwar [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh]

  • Sub-divisions: Binjhias, Binjhwars proper, Birjhias, Sonjharas [Russell & HiraJal]

Bagh, Banka, Bhil, Dudh Kawaria, Jal, Jalia, Kamalia, Kessal, Lohar, Majhi, Marai, Meli, Bagh, Panknali, Pod, Tar, Udhar, Ultum [Russell & Hiralal) Exogamous units/clans (goitar): Bakra (goat), Bhaisa, Chandrama, Dedh, Deharia, Dehega (tree), Juwadi (who knows ploughing), Katmohi (tree), Kisam, Savur (fish), Singhi (lion or horn) [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Exogamous units/lineages (bansh): [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh]

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