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SOCIAL STATUS OF THE JÁTS

231

status of

elephant - drivers, Will you sell those little donkeys ? ' Socially the Jāt occupies a position which is shared by the Ror, the Gūjar, and the Ahir, all four eating and smoking together. He is, of course, far below the Rājpūt, from the simple fact that he practises widow-marriage. The Jāt father is made to say in the rhyming proverbs of the countryside, 'Come, my daughter, and be married ; if this husband dies there are plenty more.' But among the widow-marrying castes he stands first. The Bania with his sacred thread, his strict Hinduism, and his twice-born standing, looks down on the Jāt as a Sūdra. But the Jāt looks down upon the Bania as a cowardly, spiritless moneygrubber, and society in general agrees with the Jāt. The Khatri, who is far superior to the Bania in manliness and vigour, probably takes precedence of the Jāt. But among the races or tribes of purely Hindu origin, I think that the Jāt stands next after the Brāhman, the Rājpūt, and the Khatri.”

The above account clearly indicates the social position 5. Social of the Jāt. His is the highest caste except the aristocracy consisting of the Brāhmans and Rājpūts, the Khatris who are derived from the Rājpūts, and the Banias who are recognised as ranking not much below the Rājpūts. The derivation of some of the Rājpūt clans from the Jāts seems highly probable, and is confirmed by other instances of aristocratic selection in such castes as the Marāthas and Kunbis, the Rāj-Gonds and Gonds, and so on. If, however, the Rājpūts are a Jāt aristocracy, it is clear that the Jāts were not the Sūdras, who are described as wholly debased and impure in the Hindu classics ; and the present application of the term Sūdra to them is a misnomer arising from modern errors in classification by the Hindus themselves. The Jāts, if Sir D. Ibbetson's account be accepted, must have been the main body of the invading host, whether Aryan or Scythian, of whom the Rājpūts were the leaders. They settled on the land and formed village communities, and the status of the Jāt at present appears to be that of a member of the village community and part-holder of its land. A slightly undue importance may perhaps have been given in the above passage to the

the Jāts.

practice of widow-marriage as determining the position of a great caste like the Jāts. Some Rājpūts, Kāyasths and Banias permit widow-marriage, and considerable sections of all these castes, and Brāhmans also, permit the practice of keeping widows, which, though not called a marriage, does not differ very widely from it. The Jāt probably finds his women too valuable as assistants in cultivation to make a pretence at the abolition of widow-marriage in order to improve his social status as some other castes do. The Jāt, of course, ranks as what is commonly called a pure caste, in that Brāhmans take water to drink from him. But his status does not depend on this, because Brāhmans take water from such menials as barbers, Kahārs or bearers, Bāris or household servants, and so on, who rank far below the Jāt, and also from the Mālis and other gardening castes who are appreciably below him. The Jāt is equal to the Gūjar and Ahir so far as social purity is concerned, but still above them, because they are graziers and vagrants, while he is a settled cultivator. It is from this fact that his status is perhaps mainly derived ; and his leading characteristics, his independence, self-sufficiency, doggedness, and industry, are those generally recognised as typical of the peasant proprietor. But the Jāt, in the Punjab at any rate, has also a higher status than the principal cultivating castes of other provinces, the Kurmi and the Kunbi. And this may perhaps be explained by his purer foreign descent, and also by the fact that both as Jāt and as Sikh his caste has been a military and dominant one in history and has furnished princes and heads of states.

The Jāts themselves relate the following Brāhmanical legend of legend of their origin. On one occasion when Himāchal origin. or Daksha Rāja, the father-in-law of Mahādeo, was per

forming a great sacrifice, he invited all the gods to be present except his son-in-law Mahādeo (Siva). The latter's wife Pārvati was, however, very anxious to go, so she asked Mahādeo to let her attend, even though she had not been invited. Mahādeo was unwilling to do this, but finally consented. But Daksha treated Pārvati with great want of respect at the sacrifice, so she came home and told Mahādeo about him. When Mahādeo heard this he was

6. Brāhmanical

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THE JĀTS IN THE CENTRAL PROVINCES

233

Central

filled with wrath, and untying his matted hair (jata) dashed it on the ground, when two powerful beings arose from it. He sent them to destroy Daksha's sacrifice and they went and destroyed it, and from these were descended the race of the Jāts, and they take their name from the matted locks (jata) of the lord Mahādeo. Another saying of the caste is that “The ancestor of the Rājpūts was Kashyap and of the Jāts Siva. In the beginning these were the only two races of India.”

No detailed description of the Jāts need be attempted 7. The here, but some information which has been obtained on

Jāts in the their customs in this Province may be recorded. They Provinces. entered the Hoshangābād District, Sir C. Elliot states, in the eighteenth century, and came originally from Bharatpur (Bhurtpur), but halted in Mārwār on the way. “They are the best cultivators in the District after the Pardeshi Kurmis, and though they confine themselves to ordinary crops they are very laborious, and the tilth of their fields is pleasant to look on.” For the purposes of marriage the caste is divided into exogamous sections in the usual

The bulk of the section - names cannot be explained, being probably corrupted forms of the names of villages, but it is noticeable that several pairs of them are considered to be related so that their members cannot intermarry. Thus no marriages can take place between the Golia and Gwalwa, the Choyala and Sārana, the Bhukar and Bhāri, and the Lathial and Lālar sections, as each pair is considered to be descended from a common ancestor.

A man may not take a wife either from his own section 8. Maror that of his mother or his grandmother, nor from those riage of the husbands of his father's sisters. For a Jāt wedding a square enclosure is marked out with pegs, and a thread is wound seven times round the pegs touching the ground, and covered over with rice or wheat so that it may not be burnt. The enclosure is known as Chaonri, and inside it the hom or fire sacrifice is performed with butter,

manner.

customs.

1 Kashyap was a Rīshi or saint, but he may probably have developed into an eponymous hero from Kachhap, a

tortoise.

2 Hoshangābād Settlement Report,

p. 62.

[blocks in formation]

barley, sesamum, sugar and saffron placed on the top of a heap of wheat-flour. After the sacrifice the bride and bridegroom walk seven times round the Chaonri with their right hands inwards. After this tufts of cotton are thrown over the bodies of the bridegroom and bride and they have to pick it off each other, the one who finishes first being considered the winner. This is apparently a symbolical imitation of the agricultural operation of cotton-picking. The remarriage of widows is permitted, the ceremony being usually performed on a Saturday. A bachelor who is to marry a widow must first walk seven times round a pīpal tree. Contrary to the usual custom, a widow is forbidden to espouse her deceased husband's younger brother or any of his relations within three degrees of consanguinity,

The dead are burnt, with the exception of children under seven whose bodies are buried. After the death of a married man his widow walks round his body seven times with her left hand inwards, or in the reverse direction to the perambulation of the Chaonri at marriage. This ceremony is therefore, as it were, a sort of undoing of the marriage. The women wear lac or ivory bangles, and the widow breaks a few of these when the corpse of her husband is lifted up to be carried outside the house. She breaks the remaining ones on the twelfth day after the death and throws them on the chūlha or earthen hearth.

An important occasion for display among the Jāts is known as the Paida ceremony. This is sometimes performed by wealthy families when the head of the household or his wife dies or a daughter is married. They get a long pole of teakwood and plant it in the ground so that it stands some forty feet high. Before being raised the pole is worshipped with offerings of milk; a cart-wheel is tied to the upper end and it is then pulled erect with ropes, and if any difficulty is experienced the celebrant believes himself to be in fault and gives away some cows in charity. On the axle of the cart-wheel is secured a brass pot called kaseri, containing wheat and money, with a cloth tied over the mouth. The pole is left standing for three days, and during this time the celebrant feasts the Bhāts or genealogists of the caste and all the caste-fellows from his own and

10. The

Paida ceremony.

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CUSTOMS AT BIRTH

235

the surrounding villages.

If the occasion of the ceremony be a death, male and female calves are taken and their marriage is performed; oil and turmeric are rubbed on their bodies, and they are led seven times round the high pole. The heifer is then given to a Brāhman, and the male, being first branded on one flank with a figure of a trident and on the other with a representation of the sun and moon, is set at liberty for life, and no Hindu will injure it. This last practice is, however, falling into desuetude, owing to the injury which such animals inflict on the crops. A Jāt who performs the Paida ceremony obtains great consideration in the community, and his opinion is given weight in caste disputes. A similar liberality is observed in other ways by wealthy men ; thus one rich proprietor in Hoshangābād, whose son was to be married, gave a feast to all the residents of every village through which the wedding procession passed on its way to the bride's house. Another presented each of his wedding guests with new cloth to the value of ten or twelve rupees, and as in the case of a prominent family the number of guests may be a thousand or more, the cost of such liberality can be easily realised. Similarly Colonel Tod states that on the occasion of their weddings the Jāts of Bikaner even blocked up the highways to obtain visitors, whose numbers formed the measure of the liberality and munificence of the donor of the fête. Indeed, the desire for the social distinction which accrues to generous hosts on such occasions has proved to be the undoing of many a once notable family.

If a woman is barren, she is taken to the meeting of the 11. Cusboundaries of three villages and bathed there.

On the birth toms at of a boy a brass dish is hammered to announce the event, but on that of a girl only a winnowing-fan. The navelstring is buried in the lying-in room. When the newborn child is a few days old, it is taken out of doors and made to bow to the sun. When a man proposes to adopt a son the caste-fellows are invited, and in their presence the boy is seated in his lap, while music is played and songs are sung by the women. Each of the guests then comes up and presents the boy with a cocoanut, while sugar is distributed and a feast is afterwards given.

birth.

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