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 It has been archived for its historical value as well as for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


Chitari, Chiter, Chitrakar,Maharana

A caste of painters on wood and plaster. Chiter is the Hindustani, and Chitari the Marathi name, both being corruptions of the Sanskrit Chitrakar. Maharana is the term used in the Uriya country, where the caste are also known as Phal- Barhai, or a carpenter who only works on one side of the wood. Chitari is further an occupational term applied to Mochis and Jingars, or leather-workers, who have adopted the occupation of wall-painting, and there is no reason to doubt that the Chitaris were originally derived from the Mochis, though they have now a somewhat higher position. In Mandla the Chitrakars and Jingars are separate castes, and do not eat or intermarry with one another. Neither branch will take water from the Mochis, who make shoes, and some Chitrakars even refuse to touch them.

They say that the founder of their caste was Biskarma,^ the first painter, and that their ancestors were Rajputs, whose country was taken by Akbar. As they were without occupation Akbar then assigned to them the business of making saddles and bridles for his cavalry and scabbards for their swords. It is not unlikely that the Jingar caste did really originate or first become differentiated from the Mochis and Chamars in Rajputana owing to the demand for such articles, and this would account for the Mochis and Jingars having adopted Rajput names for their sections, and making a claim to Rajpilt 1 A corruption for Viswakarma, the divine artificer and architect.

descent. Tlie Chitrakars of Mandla say that their ancestors beloni^ed to Garha, near Jubbulpore, where the tomb of a woman of their family who became sati is still to be seen. Garha, which was once the seat of an important Gond dynasty with a garrison, would also naturally have been a centre for their craft.

Another legend traces their origin from Chitrarekha, a nymph who was skilled in painting and magic. She was the friend of a princess Usha, whose father was king of Sohagpur in Hoshangabad. Usha fell in love with a beautiful young prince whom she saw in a dream, and Chitrarekha drew the portraits of many gods and men for her, until finally Usha recognised the youth of her dream in the portrait of Ani- ruddha, the grandson of Krishna.

Chitrarekha then by her magic power brought Aniruddha to Usha, but when her father found him in the palace he bound him and kept him in prison. On this Krishna appeared and rescued his grandson, and taking Usha from her father married them to each other. The Chitaris say that as a reward to Chitrarekha, Krishna promised her that her descendants should never be in want, and hence members of their caste do not lack for food even in famine time.^ The Chitaris are declining in numbers, as their paintings are no longer in demand, the people prefer- ring the cheap coloured prints imported from Germany and England.

The caste is a mixed occupational group, and those of 2. Social Maratha, Telugu and Hindustani extraction marry among themselves. A few wear the sacred thread, and abstain from eating flesh or drinking liquor, while the bulk of them do not observe these restrictions. Among the Jingars women accompany the marriage pro- cession, but not with the Chitaris. Widow-marriage is allowed, but among the Maharanas a wife who has lived with her husband may not marry any one except his younger brother, and if there are none she must remain a widow. In Mandla, if a widow marries her younger brother-in-law, half her first husband's property goes to him finally, and half to the first husband's children. ^ The story, however, really belongs to northern India. Usha is the goddess of dawn. VOL. II 2 F customs. 434 CHITARI part If she marries an outsider she takes her first husband's property and children with her. Formerly if a wife mis- behaved the Chitari sometimes sold her to the highest bidder, but this custom has fallen into abeyance, and now if a man divorces his wife her father usually repays to him the expenses of his marriage.

These he realises in turn from any man who takes his daughter. A second wife worships the spirit of the dead first wife on the day of Akhatlj, offering some food and a breast-cloth, so that the spirit may not trouble her. A pregnant woman must stay indoors during an eclipse ; if she goes out and sees it they believe that her child will be born deformed. They think that a woman in this condition must be given any food which she takes a fancy for, so far as may be practicable, as to thwart her desires would affect the health of the child. Women in this condition sometimes have a craving for eating earth ; then they will eat either the scrapings or whitewash from the walls, or black clay soil, or the ashes of cowdung cakes to the extent of a small handful a day. A woman's first child should be born in her father- in-law's or husband's house if possible, but at any rate not in her father's house. And if she should be taken with the pangs of travail while on a visit to her own family, they will send her to some other house for her child to be born.

The ears of boys and the ears and nostrils of girls are pierced, and until this is done they are not considered to be proper members of the caste and can take food from any one's hand. The Chitaris of Mandla permit a boy to do this until he is married. A child's hair is not shaved when it is born, but this should be done once before it is three years old, whether it be a boy or girl. After this the hair may be allowed to grow, and shaved off or simply cut as they prefer. Except in the case of illness a girl's hair is only shaved once, and that of an adult woman is never cut, unless she becomes a widow and makes a pilgrimage to a sacred place, when it is shaved ofif as an offering. 4- The In order to avert the evil eye they hang round a child's eye. j^g^k a nut called bajar-battu, the shell of which they say will crack and open if any one casts the evil eye on the child. If it is placed in milk the two parts will come together again.

They also think that the nut attracts the evil eye and absorbs its effect, and the child is therefore not injured. If they think that some one has cast the evil eye on a child, they say a charm, ' IsJiivar^ Gauri, Paiuati kc an iui::ar diir ho jao' or ' Depart, Iwil Eye, in the name of Mahadeo and Parvati,' and as they say this they blow on the child three times ; or they take some salt, chillies and mustard in their hand and wave it round the child's head and say, ' Teliu ki Idgi ho, Tamolin kl Idgi ho, Mardrin kl ho, Gorania {Gondiii) ki ho, oke, oke, parpardke phut jdwe^ ' If it be a Telin, Tambolin, Mararin or Gondin who has cast the evil eye, may her eyes crack and fall out.' And • at the same time they throw the mustard, chillies and salt on the fire so that the eyes of her who cast the evil eye may crack and fall out as these things crackle in the fire. If tiger's claws are used for an amulet, the points must be turned outwards. If any one intends to wish luck to a child, he says, ' Tori balaydn knn' and waves his hands round the child's head several times to signify that he takes upon himself all the misfortunes which are to happen to the child. Then he presses the knuckles of his hands against the sides of his own head till they crack, which is a lucky omen, averting calamity.

If the knuckles do not crack at the first attempt, it is repeated two or three times. When a man sneezes he will say ' Chatrapati,' which is considered to be a name of Devi, but is only used on this occasion. But some say nothing. After yawning they snap their fingers, the object of which, they say, is to drive away sleep, as otherwise the desire will become infectious and attack others present. But if a child yawns they sometimes hold one of their hands in front of his mouth, and it is probable that the original meaning of the custom was to prevent evil spirits from entering through the widely opened mouth, or the yawner's own soul or spirit from escaping ; and the habit of holding the hand before the mouth from politeness when yawning inadvertently may be a reminiscence of this. The following are some cradle-songs taken down from a 5. Cradie- Chitrakar, but probably used by most of the lower Hindu castes : songs.

1. Mother, rock the cradle of your pretty child. What is the cradle made of, and what are its tassels made of ? The cradle is made of sandalwood, its tassels are of silk. Some Gaolin (milkwoman) has overlooked the child, he vomits up his milk. Dasoda ^ shall wave salt and mustard round his head, and he shall play in my lap. My baby is making little steps. O Sunar, bring him tinkling anklets ! The Sunar shall bring anklets for him, and my child will go to the garden and there we will eat oranges and lemons. 2. My Krishna's tassel is lost, Tell me, some one, where it is. My child is angry and will not come into my arms. The tears are falling from his eyes like blossoms from the bela 2 flower. He has bangles on his wrists and anklets on his feet, on his head a golden crown and round his waist a silver chain.

The jliumri or tassel referred to above is a tassel adorned with cowries and hung from the top of the cradle so that the child may keep his eyes on it while the cradle is being rocked. 3. Sleep, sleep, my little baby ; I will wave my hands round your head ^ on the banks of the Jumna, I have cooked hot cakes for you and put butter in them ; all the night you lay awake, now take your fill of sleep. The little mangoes are hanging on the tree ; the rope is in the well ; sleep thou till I go and come back with water. I will hang your cradle on the banyan tree, and its rope to the pipal tree ; I will rock my darling gently so that the rope shall never break.

The last song may be given in the vernacular as a specimen : 4. Ram kl Chireya, Ram ko khet. Khaori Chireya, bhar, bhar pet. Tan jnuttaiydn khd lao khet., Agao, labra^ gCili detj Knhe ko, /abra, gdli dej Ap?ii bhiiniia gin, gin le. or — The field is Rama's, the little birds are Rama's ; O birds, eat your fill ; the little birds have eaten up the corn. ' Krishna's mother. to the ordinary observer who sees a Hindu child crying. ^ Little white flowers like jasmine. ^ Tori balayaii hnin. For explana- This simile would be unlikely to occur tion see above.

The surly farmer has come to the field and scolds them ; the little birds say, 'O farmer, why do you scold us? count your ears of maize, they are all there.'

This song commemorates a favourite incident in the life of Tuisi Das, the author of the Ramayana, who when he was a Httle boy was once sent by his guru to watch the crop. But after some time the guru came and found the field full of birds eating the corn and Tulsi Das watching them. When asked why he did not scare them away, he said, ' Are they not as much the creatures of Rama as I am ? how should I deprive them of food ? ' The Chitaris pursue their old trade, principally in Nagpur 6. Occupa- city, where the taste for wall-paintings still survives ; and "°"' they decorate the walls of houses with their crude red and blue colours. But they have now a number of other avoca- tions.

They paint pictures on paper, making their colours from the tins of imported aniline dyeing-powders which are sold in the bazar ; but there is little demand for these. They make small pictures of the deities which the people hang on their walls for a day and then throw away. They also paint the bodies of the men who pretend to be tigers at the Muharram festival, for which they charge a rupee. They make the clay paper-covered masks of monkeys and demons worn by actors who play the Ramllla or story of Rama on the Ramnaomi festival in Chait (March) ; they also make the tdzias or representations of the tomb of Hussain and paper figures of human beings with small clay heads, which are carried in the Muharram procession. They make marriage crowns ; the frames of these are of conical shape with a half-moon at the top, made from strips of bamboo ; they are covered with red paper picked out with yellow and green and with tinfoil, and are ornamented with borders of date-palm leaves. The crowns cost from four annas to a rupee each.

They make the artificial flowers used at weddings ; these are stuck on a bamboo stick and at the arrival and departure of the bridegroom are scrambled for by the guests, who take them home as keepsakes or give them to their children for playthings. The flowers copied are the lotus, rose and chrysanthemum, and the imitations are quite good. Sometimes the bridegroom is 438 CHITRAKATHI part surrounded by trays or boxes of flowers, carried in procession and arranged so as to look as if they were planted in beds. Other articles made by the Chitrakar are paper fans, paper globes for hanging to the roofs of houses, Chinese lanterns made either of paper or of mica covered with paper, and small caps of velvet embroidered with gold lace. At the Akti festival ^ they make pairs of little clay dolls, dressing them as male and female, and sell them in red lacquered bamboo baskets, and the girls take them to the jungle and pretend that they are married. Formerly the Chitrakars made clay idols for temples, but these have been supplanted by marble images imported from Jaipur. The Jingars make the cloth saddles on which natives ride, and some of them bind books, the leather for which is made from goat-skin, and is not considered so impure as that made from the hides of cattle.' But one class of them, who are considered inferior, make leather harness from cow-hide and buffalo- hide.


This section has been extracted from


Ethnographic Glossary.

Printed at the Bengal Secretariat Press.
1891. .

NOTE 1: Indpaedia neither agrees nor disagrees with the contents of this article. Readers who wish to add fresh information can create a Part II of this article. The general rule is that if we have nothing nice to say about communities other than our own it is best to say nothing at all.

NOTE 2: While reading please keep in mind that all posts in this series have been scanned from a very old book. Therefore, footnotes have got inserted into the main text of the article, interrupting the flow. Readers who spot scanning errors are requested to report the correct spelling to the Facebook page, All information used will be gratefully acknowledged in your name.

A painter.

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