Page images



known as Deogarhni, and are supposed to have come from Deogarh in Chhindwāra, formerly the headquarters of a Gond dynasty. The Sārangias or fiddlers are separate caste. In the northern Districts the dancing-girls are usually women of the Beria caste and are known as Berni. After the spring harvest the village headman hires one or two of these girls, who dance and do acrobatic feats by torchlight. They will continue all through the night, stimulated by draughts of liquor, and it is said that one woman will drink two or three bottles of the country spirit. The young men of the village beat the drum to accompany her dancing, and take turns to see how long they can go on doing so without breaking down. After the performance each cultivator gives the woman one or two pice (farthings) and the headman gives her a rupee.

Such a celebration is known as Rai, and is distinctive of Bundelkhand.

In Bengal this class of women often become religious mendicants and join the Vaishnava or Bairāgi community, as stated by Sir H. Risley:1 “The mendicant members of the Vaishnava community are of evil repute, their ranks being recruited by those who have no relatives, by widows, by individuals too idle or depraved to lead a steady working life, and by prostitutes. Vaishnavi, or Baishtabi according to the vulgar pronunciation, has come to mean a courtesan. A few undoubtedly join from sincere and worthy motives, but their numbers are too small to produce any appreciable effect on the behaviour of their comrades. The habits of these beggars are very unsettled. They wander from village to village and from one akhāra (monastery) to another, fleecing the frugal and industrious peasantry on the plea of religion, and singing songs in praise of Hari beneath the village tree or shrine. Members of both sexes smoke Indian hemp (gānja), and although living as brothers and sisters are notorious for licentiousness. There is every reason for suspecting that infanticide is common, as children

In the course of their wanderings they entice away unmarried girls, widows, and even married women on the pretence of visiting Sri Kshetra (Jagannāth)

are never seen.

1 Tribes and Castes of Bengal, art. Vaishnava. The notice, as stated,

refers only to the lowest section of Bairāgis.




Brindāban or Benares, for which reason they are shunned by all respectable natives, who gladly give charity to be rid of them.”.

In large towns prostitutes belong to all castes. An old list obtained by Rai Bahādur Hīra Lāl of registered prostitutes in Jubbulpore showed the following numbers of different castes : Barai six, Dhimar four, and Nai, Khangār, Kāchhi, Gond, Teli, Brāhman, Rājpūt and Bania three each. Each woman usually has one or two girls in training if she can obtain them, with a view to support herself by their earnings in the same method of livelihood when her own attractions have waned. Fatherless and orphan girls run a risk of falling into this mode of life, partly because their marriages cannot conveniently be arranged, and also from the absence of strict paternal supervision. For it is to be feared that a girl who is allowed to run about at her will in the bazār has little chance of retaining her chastity even up to the period of her arrival at adolescence. This is no doubt one of the principal considerations in favour of early marriage. The caste-people often subscribe for the marriage of a girl who is left without support, and it is said that in former times an unmarried orphan girl might go and sit dharna, or starving herself, at the king's gate until he arranged for her wedding. Formerly the practice of obtaining young girls was carried on to a much greater extent than at present.

Malcolm remarks :1 “Slavery in Mālwa and the adjoining provinces is chiefly limited to females ; but there is perhaps no part of India where there are so many slaves of this sex. The dancing - girls are all purchased, when young, by the Nakins or heads of the different sets or companies, who often lay out large sums in these speculations, obtaining advances from the bankers on interest like other classes.” But the attractions of the profession and the numbers of those who engage in it have now largely declined.

The better class of Kasbi women, when seen in public, 8. Dancing are conspicuous by their wealth of jewellery and their shoes and

singing. of patent leather or other good material. Women of other castes do not commonly wear shoes in the streets. The

1 Memoir of Central India.

Kasbis are always well and completely clothed, and it has been noticed elsewhere that the Indian courtesan is more modestly dressed than most women. No doubt in this matter she knows her business. A well-to-do dancing-girl has a dress of coloured muslin or gauze trimmed with tinsel lace, with a short waist, long straight sleeves, and skirts which reach a little below the knee, a shawl falling from the head over the shoulders and wrapped round the body, and a pair of tight satin trousers, reaching to the ankles. The feet are bare, and strings of small bells are tied round them. They usually dance and sing to the accompaniment of the tabla, sārangi and majīra. The tabla or drum is made of two half-bowls-one brass or clay for the bass, and the other of wood for the treble. They are covered with goat-skin and played together. The sārangi is a fiddle.

The majīra (cymbals) consist of two metallic cups slung together and used for beating time. Before a dancing-girl begins her performance she often invokes the aid of Sāraswati, the goddess of music. She then pulls her ear as a sign of remembrance of Tānsen, India's greatest musician, and a confession to his spirit of the imperfection of her own sense of music. The movements of the feet are accompanied by a continual opening and closing of henna-dyed hands; and at intervals the girl kneels at the feet of one or other of the audience. On the festival of Basant Panchmi or the commencement of spring these girls worship their dancing-dress and musical instruments with offerings of rice, flowers and a cocoanut.

1. General notice.

Katia, Katwa, Katua. — An occupational caste of cotton - spinners and village watchmen belonging to the Satpūra Districts and the Nerbudda valley. In 1911 they numbered 41,000 persons and were returned mainly from the Hoshangābād, Seoni and Chhindwāra Districts. The caste is almost confined to the Central Provinces. The name is derived from the Hindi kātna, to spin thread, and the Katias are an occupational group probably recruited from the Mahārs and Koris. They have a tradition, Mr. Crooke states, that they were originally Bais Rājpūts, whose

1 Tribes and Castes of the N.-W. P., art. Katwa.





ancestors, having been imprisoned for resistance to authority, were released on the promise that they would follow a woman's occupation of spinning thread. In the Central Provinces they are sometimes called Renhta Rājpūts or Knights of the Spinning Wheel. The tradition of Rājpūt descent need not of course be taken seriously. The drudgery of spinning thread was naturally imposed on any widow in the household, and hence the saying, “It is always moving, like a widow's spinning-wheel.'1

The Katias have several subcastes, with names generally 2. Subderived from places in the Central Provinces, as Pathāri castes and from a village in the Chhindwāra District, Mandilwār from groups. Mandla, Gadhewal from Garha, near Jubbulpore, and so on. The Dulbuha group consist of those who were formerly palanquin-bearers (from doli, a litter). They have also more than fifty exogamous septs, with names of the usual lowcaste type, derived from places, animals or plants, or natural objects. Some of the septs are subdivided. Thus the Nāgotia sept, named after the cobra, is split up into the Nāgotia, Dirat? Nāg, Bhārowar 3 Nāg, Kosam Karia and Hazāri Nag groups.

It is said that the different groups do not intermarry; but it is probable that they do, as otherwise there seems to be no object in the subdivision. The Kosam Karias worship a cobra at their weddings, but not the others. The Singhotia sept, from singh, a horn, is divided into the Bakaria (goat) and Ghāgar-bharia (one who fills an earthen vessel) subsepts. The Bakarias offer goats to their gods; and the Ghāgar-bharias on the Akti festival, just before the breaking of the rains, fill an earthen vessel and worship it, and consider it sacred for that day. Next day it is brought into ordinary use. The Dongaria sept, from dongar, a hill, revere the chheola tree. They choose any tree of this species outside the village, and say that it is placed on a hill, and go and worship it once a year. In this case it would appear that a hill was first venerated as an animate being and the ancestor of the sept. When hills were no longer so regarded, a chheola tree growing on a hill

Temple and Fallon's Hindustāni 4 A thousand. Proverbs.

5 The third Baisākh (June). 2 Perhaps a leather strap or belt. 3 A revolution or circuit.

6 Butea frondosa. VOL. III

2 C


[blocks in formation]

was substituted ; and now the tree only is revered, probably a good deal for form's sake, and so far as the hill is concerned, the mere pretence that it is growing on a hill is sufficient.

A man must not take a wife from his own sept nor from that of his mother or grandmother. Girls are commonly married between eight and twelve years of age ; and a customary payment of Rs. 9 is made to the father of the bride, double this amount being given by a widower.

An unmarried girl seduced by a man of the caste is united to him by the ceremony used for a widow, and a fine is imposed on her parents ; if she goes wrong with an outsider she is expelled from the community. In the marriage ceremony the customary ritual of the northern Districts is followed, and the binding portion of it consists in the bride and bridegroom walking seven times around the bhānwar or sacred pole. While she does this it is essential that the bride should wear a string of black beads round her neck and brass anklets on her feet. After the ceremony the bride's mother and other women dance before the company.

Whether the bride be a child or young woman she always returns home after a stay of a few days at her husband's house, and at her subsequent final departure the Gauna or going-away ceremony is performed. If the bridegroom dies after the wedding and before the Gauna, his younger brother or cousin or anybody else may come and take away the bride after performing this ceremony, and she will be considered as fully married to him. She is known as a Gonhyai wife, as distinguished from a Byāhta or one married in the ordinary manner, and a Karta or widow married a second time. But the children of all three inherit equally. A widow may marry again, and take any one she pleases for her second husband. Widowmarriages must not be celebrated in the rainy months of Shrāwan, Bhādon and Kunwār. No music is allowed at them, and the husband must present a fee of a rupee and a cocoanut to the mālguzār (proprietor) of the village and four annas to the kotwār or watchman. A bachelor who is to marry a widow first goes through a formal ceremony with a cotton plant. Divorce is permitted for mutual disagreement.

1 A description of the ceremony is given in the article on Kurmi.

« PreviousContinue »