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"Banjāra [बंजारा], Wanjāri [वंजारी], Labhāna [लभाना], Mukeri [मुकेरी].1 —
1 This article is based principally on a Monograph on the Banjāra Clan, by Mr. N. F. Cumberlege of the Berār Police, believed to have been first written in 1869 and reprinted in 1882 ; notes on the Banjāras written by Colonel Mackenzie and printed in the Berār Census Report (1881) and the Pioneer newspaper (communicated by Mrs. Horsburgh) ; Major Gunthorpe's Criminal Tribes ; papers by Mr. M. E. Khare, Extra-Assistant Commissioner, Chānda ; Mr. Narāyan Rao, Tahr., Betūl ; Mr. Mukund Rao, Manager, Pachmarhi Estate ; and information on the caste collected in Yeotmāl and Nimār.
1. Historical notice of the caste.
The caste of carriers and drivers of pack - bullocks. In 1911 the Banjāras [बंजारा] numbered about 56,000 persons in the Central Provinces and 80,000 in Berār [बेरार], the caste being in greater strength here than in any part of India except Hyderābād [حیدر آباد], where their total is 174,000. Bombay [मुंबई] comes next with a figure approaching that of the Central Provinces and Berār [बेरार], and the caste belongs therefore rather to the Deccan [दक्खिन] than to northern India. The name has been variously explained, but the most probable derivation is from the Sanskrit banijya kara [वनिज्यकार], a merchant. Sir H. M. Elliot held that the name Banjāra [बंजारा] was of great antiquity, quoting a passage from the Dasa Kumara Charita [द्शकुमारचरित] of the eleventh or twelfth century. But it was subsequently shown by Professor Cowell that the name Banjāra [बंजारा] did not occur in the original text of this work.1 Banjāras [बंजारा] are supposed to be the people mentioned by Arrian [Άρριανός] in the fourth century B.C., as leading a wandering life, dwelling in tents and letting out for hire their beasts of burden.2 But this passage merely proves the existence of carriers and not of the Banjāra [बंजारा] caste. Mr. Crooke states 3 that the first mention of Banjāras [बंजारा] in Muhammadan history is in Sikandar’s [سکندر لودھی] attack on Dholpur [धौलपुर] in A.D. 1504.4 It seems improbable, therefore, that the Banjāras [बंजारा] accompanied the different Muhammadan invaders of India, as might have been inferred from the fact that they came into the Deccan [दक्खिन] in the train of the forces of Aurāngzeb [اورنگزیب] [1618 - 1707]. The caste has indeed two Muhammadan sections, the Turkia [तुर्किया] and Mukeri [मुकेरी].5 But both of these have the same Rājpūt [राजपूत] clan names as the Hindu branch of the caste, and it seems possible that they may have embraced Islam under the proselytising influence of Aurāngzeb [اورنگزیب] [1618 - 1707], or simply owing to their having been employed with the Muhammadan troops. The great bulk of the caste in southern India are Hindus, and there seems no reason for assuming that its origin was Muhammadan.
1 Mr. Crooke's Tribes and Castes, art. Banjāra, para. 1
2 Berār Census Report (1881), p. 150
3 Ibidem, para. 2, quoting Dowson's Elliot, v. 100.
4 Khan Bahadur Fazalullah Lutfullah Farīdi in the Bombay Gazetteer (Muhammedans of Gujarat, p. 86) quoting vom General Briggs (Transactions Bombay Literary Society, vol. i. 183) says that “as carriers of grain for Muhammadan armies the Banjāras have figured in history from the days of Muhammad Tughlak (a.D. 1340) to those of Aurāngzeb.’’
5 Sir H. M. Elliot’s Supplemental Glossary.
2. Banjāras [बंजारा] derived from the Chārans [चारण] or Bhāts [भाट].
It may be suggested that the Banjāras [बंजारा] are derived from the Chāran [चारण] or Bhāt [भाट] caste of Rājputāna [राजपुताना]. Mr. Cumberlege, whose Monograph on the caste in Berār [बेरार] is one of the best from the authorities, states that of the four divisions existing there Bhāts [भाट] the Chārans [चारण] are the most numerous and by far the most interesting class.6
6 Monograph on the Banjāra Clan, p. 8.
In the article on Bhāt [भाट] it has been explained how the Chārans [चारण] or bards, owing to their readiness to kill themselves rather than give up the property entrusted to their care, became the best safe-conduct for the passage of goods in Rājputāna [राजपुताना]. The name Chāran [चारण] is generally held to mean 'Wanderer,’ and in their capacity of bards the Chārans [चारण] were accustomed to travel from court to court of the different chiefs in quest of patronage. They were first protected by their sacred character and afterwards by their custom of trāga or chāndi [चांदी], that is, of killing themselves when attacked and threatening their assailants with the dreaded fate of being haunted by their ghosts. Mr. Bhimbhai Kirparām 1 remarks :
1 Hindus of Gujarāt, p. 214 et seq.
“After Parasurāma’s [परशुराम] dispersion of the Kshatris [क्षत्रि] the Chārans [चारण] accompanied them in their southward flight. In those troubled times the Chārans [चारण] took charge of the supplies of the Kshatri [क्षत्रि] forces and so fell to their present position of cattle-breeders and grain-carriers. . . .”
Most of the Chārans [चारण] are graziers, cattle-sellers and pack-carriers. Colonel Tod says:2
2 Rajasthan, i. 602.
“The Chārans [चारण] and Bhāts [भाट] or bards and genealogists are the chief carriers of these regions (Mārwār [मारवाड़]) ; their sacred character overawes the lawless Rājpūt [राजपूत] chief, and even the savage Koli [कोली] and Bhīl [भील] and the plundering Sahrai [सहराई] of the desert dread the anathema of these singular races, who conduct the caravans through the wildest and most desolate regions.”
In another passage Colonel Tod identifies the Chārans [चारण] and Banjaras [बंजारा]3 as follows:
3 Ibidem, ii. 570, 573.
“ Murlāh is an excellent township inhabited by a community of Chārans [चारण] of the tribe Cucholia (Kacheli [कचेली]), who are Bunjārris [बंजारा] (carriers) by profession, though poets by birth. The alliance is a curious one, and would appear incongruous were not gain the object generally in both cases. It was the sanctity of their office which converted our bardais (bards) into bunjārris, for their persons being sacred, the immunity extended likewise to their goods and saved them from all imposts ; so that in process of time they became the free-traders of Rājputāna [राजपुताना]. I was highly gratified with the reception I received from the community, which collectively advanced to meet me at some distance from the town. The procession was headed by the village elders and all the fair Chāranis [चारणी], who, as they approached, gracefully waved their scarfs over me until I was fairly made captive by the muses of Murlāh ! It was a novel and interesting scene. The manly persons of the Chārans [चारण], clad in the flowing white robe with the high loose-folded turban inclined on one side, from which the māla [माला] or chaplet was gracefully suspended ; and the naiques [नयक] or leaders, with their massive necklaces of gold, with the image of the pitriswar [पितृ] (manes') depending therefrom, gave the whole an air of opulence and dignity. The females were uniformly attired in a skirt of dark-brown camlet, having a bodice of light-coloured stuff, with gold ornaments worked into their fine black hair ; and all had the favourite chūris [चूडी] or rings of hāthidānt [हाथीदांत] (elephant’s tooth) covering the arm from the wrist to the elbow, and even above it.”
A little later, referring to the same Chāran [चारण] community, Colonel Tod writes:
“The tānda or caravan, consisting of four thousand bullocks, has been kept up amidst all the evils which have beset this land through Mughal [مغلیہ ] and Marātha [मराठा] tyranny. The utility of these caravans as general carriers to conflicting armies and as regular taxpaying subjects has proved their safeguard, and they were too strong to be pillaged by any petty marauder, as any one who has seen a Banjāri [बंजारी] encampment will be convinced. They encamp in a square, and their grain-bags piled over each other breast-high, with interstices left for their matchlocks, make no contemptible fortification. Even the ruthless Tūrk [ترک], Jamshīd Khān [جمشيدخان], set up a protecting tablet in favour of the Chārans [चारण] of Murlāh, recording their exemption from dīnd contributions, and that there should be no increase in duties, with threats to all who should injure the community. As usual, the sun and moon are appealed to as witnesses of good faith, and sculptured on the stone. Even the forest Bhīl [भील] and mountain Mair have set up their signs of immunity and protection to the chosen of Hinglāz [ہنگلاج] [हिंगलाज] (tutelary deity) ; and the figures of a cow and its kairi (calf) carved in rude relief speak the agreement that they should not be slain or stolen within the limits of Murlāh.”
In the above passage the community described by Colonel Tod were Chārans [चारण], but he identified them with Banjāras [बंजारा], using the name alternatively. He mentions their large herds of pack-bullocks, for the management of which the Chārans [चारण], who were graziers as well as bards, would naturally be adapted ; the name given to the camp, tānda, is that generally used by the Banjāras [बंजारा] ; the women wore ivory bangles, which the Banjāra [बंजारा] women wear.1
1 This custom does not necessarily indicate a special connection between the Banjaras and Charans, as it is common to several castes in Rājputāna [राजपुताना] ; but it indicates that the Banjaras came from Rājputāna [राजपुताना]. Banjara men also frequently wear the hair long, down to the neck, which is another custom of Rājputāna [राजपुताना].
In commenting on the way in which the women threw their scarves over him, making him a prisoner, Colonel Tod remarks :
“This community had enjoyed for five hundred years the privilege of making prisoner any Rāna [राणा] of Mewār [मेवाड़] who may pass through Murlāh, and keeping him in bondage until he gives them a got or entertainment. The patriarch (of the village) told me that I was in jeopardy as the Rāna's [राणा] representative, but not knowing how I might have relished the joke had it been carried to its conclusion, they let me escape.”
Mr. Ball notes a similar custom of the Banjāra [बंजारा] women far away in the Bastar [बस्तर] State of the Central Provinces:2
2Jungle Life in India, p. 517.
“Today I passed through another Banjāra [बंजारा] hamlet, from whence the women and girls all hurried out in pursuit, and a brazenfaced powerful-looking lass seized the bridle of my horse as he was being led by the sais in the rear. The sais and chaprāsi [चपरासी] were both Muhammadans, and the forward conduct of these females perplexed them not a little, and the former was fast losing his temper at being thus assaulted by a woman.”
Colonel Mackenzie in his account of the Banjāra [बंजारा] caste remarks:3
3 Berār Census Report (1881), p. 152
“It is certain that the Chārans [चारण], whoever they were, first rose to the demand which the great armies of northern India, contending in exhausted countries far from their basis of supply, created, viz. the want of a fearless and reliable transport service. . . . The start which the Chārans [चारण] then acquired they retain among Banjāras [बंजारा] to this day, though in very much diminished splendour and position. As they themselves relate, they were originally five brethren, Rāthor [राठौड़] [राठौड़], Turi, Panwār [پنھوار], Chauhān [चौहान] and Jādon [जादों] [जादों]. But fortune particularly smiled on Bhīka Rāthor [राठौड़] [भीका राठौड़], as his four sons, Mersi [मेर्सी], Multāsi [मुलतासी], Dheda [ढेड़ा] and Khāmdār [खामदर], great names among the Chārans [चारण], rose immediately to eminence as commissariat transporters in the north. And not only under the Delhi [दिल्ली] Emperors, but under the Satāra [सतारा], subsequently the Poona Rāj [पुणे राज], and the Subāhship [صوبہ] of the Nizām [نظام الملك] [نظام الملك], did several of their descendants rise to consideration and power.”
It thus seems a reasonable hypothesis that the nucleus of the Banjāra [बंजारा] caste was constituted by the Chārans [चारण] or bards of Rājputāna [राजपुताना]. Mr. Bhimbhai Kirparam 1 also identifies the Chārans [चारण] and Banjāras [बंजारा], but I have not been able to find the exact passage.
1 Bombay Gazetteer, Hindus of Gujarāt .
The following notice2 by Colonel Tone is of interest in this connection :
2 Letter on the Marāthas (179S), p. 67, India Office Tracts.
“ The vast consumption that attends a Marātha [मराठा] army necessarily superinduces the idea of great supplies ; yet, notwithstanding this, the native powers never concern themselves about providing for their forces, and have no idea of a grain and victualling department, which forms so great an object in a European campaign. The Banias [बनिया] or grain-sellers in an Indian army have always their servants ahead of the troops on the line of march, to purchase in the circumjacent country whatever necessaries are to be disposed of. Articles of consumption are never wanting in a native camp, though they are generally twenty-five per cent dearer than in the town bazārs ; but independent of this mode of supply the Vanjāris or itinerant grain-merchants furnish large quantities, which they bring on bullocks from an immense distance. These are a very peculiar race, and appear a marked and discriminated people from any other I have seen in this country. Formerly they were considered so sacred that they passed in safety in the midst of contending armies ; of late, however, this reverence for their character is much abated and they have been frequently plundered, particularly by Tipu [1750 - 1799] [ٹیپو سلطان].”
The reference to the sacred character attaching to the Banjāras [बंजारा] a century ago appears to be strong evidence in favour of their derivation from the Chārans [चारण]. For it could scarcely have been obtained by any body of commissariat agents coming into India with the Muhammadans. The fact that the example of disregarding it was first set by a Muhammadan prince points to the same conclusion.
Mr. Irvine notices the Banjāras [बंजारा] with the Mughal [مغلیہ ] armies in similar terms:1
1 Army of the Indian Mughals, p. 192
“It is by these people that the Indian armies in the field are fed, and they are never injured by either army. The grain is taken from them, but invariably paid for. They encamp for safety every evening in a regular square formed of the bags of grain of which they construct a breastwork. They and their families are in the centre, and the oxen are made fast outside. Guards with matchlocks and spears are placed at the corners, and their dogs do duty as advanced posts. I have seen them with droves of 5000 bullocks. They do not move above two miles an hour, as their cattle are allowed to graze as they proceed on the march.”
One may suppose that the Chārans [चारण] having acted as carriers for the Rājpūt [राजपूत] chiefs and courts, both in time of peace and in their continuous intestinal feuds, were pressed into service when the Mughal [مغلیہ ] armies entered Rājputāna [राजपुताना] and passed through it to Gujarāt [ગુજરાત] and the Deccan [दक्खिन]. In adopting the profession of transport agents for the imperial troops they may have been amalgamated into a fresh caste with other Hindus and Muhammadans doing the same work, just as the camp language formed by the superposition of a Persian vocabulary on to a grammatical basis of Hindi [हिन्दी] became Urdu [اردو] or Hindustāni [हिंदुस्तानी] [हिंदुस्तानी / ہندوستانی]. The readiness of the Chārans [चारण] to commit suicide rather than give up property committed to their charge was not, however, copied by the Banjāras [बंजारा], and so far as I am aware there is no record of men of this caste taking their own lives, though they had little scruple with those of others.
3. Chāran Banjāras [चारण बंजारा] employed with the Mughal [مغلیہ ] armies.
The Chāran Banjāras [चारण बंजारा], Mr. Cumberlege states,2 first came to the Deccan [दक्खिन] with Asaf Khan [میرزا حسن آصفخان] [1569 - 1641] in the campaign which closed with the annexation by the Emperor Shāh Jahān [شهاب الدین محمّد شاه جهان] [1592 - 1666] of Ahmadnagar [अहमदनगर] and Berār [बेरार] about 1630. Their leaders or Nāiks [नाईक] were Bhangi [भंगी] and Jhangi [झंगी] of the Rāthor [राठौड़] 3 and Bhagwān Dās [भगवान दास] [भगवान दास] of the Jādon [जादों] clan.
2 Monograph, p. 14, and Berār Census Report (1881) (Kitts), p. 151.
3 These are held to have been descendants of the Bhīka Rāthors [भीका राठौड़] referred to by Colonel Mackenzie above.
Bhangi [भंगी] and Jhangi [झंगी] [झंगी] had 180,000 pack-bullocks, and Bhagwān Dās [भगवान दास] [भगवान दास] 52,000. It was naturally an object with Asaf Khan to keep his commissariat well up with his force, and as Bhangi [भंगी] and Jhangi [झंगी] made difficulties about the supply of grass and water to their cattle, he gave them an order engraved on copper in letters of gold to the following effect :
Ranjan kā pāni
Chhappar kā ghās
Din ke tīn khūn muāf;
Aur jahān Asaf Jāh ke ghore
Wahān Bhangi Jhangi [झंगी] ke bail,
which may be rendered as follows :
“If you can find no water elsewhere you may even take it from the pots of my followers ; grass you may take from the roofs of their huts; and I will pardon you up to three murders a day, provided that wherever I find my cavalry, Bhangi [भंगी] and Jhangi [झंगी]’s [झंगी] bullocks shall be with them.”
This grant is still in the possession of Bhangi Nāik’s [भंगी नाईक] descendant who lives at Musi [मूसी], near Hingoli [हिंगोली]. He is recognised by the Hyderābād [حیدر آباد] Court as the head Nāik [नाईक] of the Banjāra [बंजारा] caste, and on his death his successor receives a khillat [खितअत]or dress-of-honour from His Highness the Nizām [نظام الملك]. After Asaf Khan’s [میرزا حسن آصفخان] [1569 - 1641] campaign and settlement in the Deccan [दक्खिन], a quarrel broke out between the Rāthor [राठौड़] clan, headed by Bhangi [भंगी] and Jhangi [झंगी], and the Jādons [जादों] under Bhagwan Dās [भगवान दास], owing to the fact that Asaf Khān had refused to give Bhagwān Dās [भगवान दास] [भगवान दास] a grant like that quoted above. Both Bhangi [भंगी] and Bhagwān Dās [भगवान दास] [भगवान दास] were slain in the feud and the Jādons [जादों] captured the standard, consisting of eight thāns [थान] (lengths) of cloth, which was annually presented by the Nizām [نظام الملك] to Bhangi’s [भंगी] descendants. When Mr. Cumberlege wrote (1869), this standard was in the possession of Hatti Nāik [नाईक], a descendant of Bhagwān Dās [भगवान दास], who had an estate near Muchli Bunder [మచిలీపట్నం], in the Madras [மதராஸ்] Presidency. Colonel Mackenzie states that the leaders of the Rāthor [राठौड़] clan became so distinguished not only in their particular line but as men of war that the Emperors recognised their carrying distinctive standards, which were known as dhal by the Rāthors [राठौड़] [राठौड़] themselves. Jhangi [झंगी]’s family was also represented in the person of Rāmu Nāik [रामु नाईक], the Patel [पटेल] or headman of the village of Yaoli in the Yeotmāl [यवतमाळ] District. In 1791—92 the Banjāras [बंजारा] were employed to supply grain to the British army under the Marquis of Cornwallis during the siege of Seringapatam [ಶ್ರೀರಂಗಪಟ್ಟಣ],1 and the Duke of Wellington in his Indian campaigns regularly engaged them as part of the commissariat staff of his army. On one occasion he said of them :
“The Banjāras [बंजारा] I look upon in the light of servants of the public, of whose grain I have a right to regulate the sale, always taking care that they have a proportionate advantage.” 21 General Briggs quoted by Mr. Faridi in Bombay Gazetteer, Muhammadans of Gujarāt, p. 86
2 A. Wellesley (1800), quoted in Mr. Crooke's edition of Hobson-Jobson, art. Brinjarry.
4. Internal structure.
Mr. Cumberlege gives four main divisions of the caste in Berār [बेरार], the
- Chārans [चारण],
- Mathurias [मथुरिया],
- Labhānas [लभाना] and
- Dhāris [धाडी].
Of these the Chārans [चारण] are by far the most numerous and important, and included all the famous leaders of the caste mentioned above. The Chārans [चारण] are divided into the five clans,
- Rāthor [राठौड़],
- Panwār [पंवार],
- Chauhān [चौहान],
- Puri [पुरी] and
- Jādon [जादों] or Burthia,
all of these being the names of leading Rājpūt [राजपूत] clans ; and as the Chāran [चारण] bards themselves were probably Rājpūts [राजपूत] [राजपूत], the Banjāras [बंजारा], who are descended from them, may claim the same lineage. Each clan or sept is divided into a number of subsepts ; thus among the Rāthors [राठौड़] the principal subsept is the Bhurkia, called after the Bhīka Rāthor [भीका राठौड़] already mentioned ; and this is again split into four groups,
- Dheda [ढेड] and
- Khāmdār [खामदार],
named after his four sons. As a rule, members of the same clan, Panwār [पंवार], Rāthor [राठौड़] and so on, may not intermarry, but Mr. Cumberlege states that a man belonging to the Bānod [बानोद] or Bhurkia subsepts of the Rāthors [राठौड़] must not take a wife from his own subsept, but may marry any other Rāthor [राठौड़] girl. It seems probable that the same rule may hold with the other subsepts, as it is most unlikely that intermarriage should still be prohibited among so large a body as the Rāthor [राठौड़] Chārans [चारण] have now become. It may be supposed therefore that the division into subsepts took place when it became too inconvenient to prohibit marriage throughout the whole body of the sept, as has happened in other cases. The Mathuria [मथुरिया] Banjāras [बंजारा] take their name from Mathura [मथुरा] or Muttra and appear to be Brāhmans [ब्राह्मण] [ब्राह्मण].
“They wear the sacred thread,1 know the Gayatri mantra [गायत्री मन्त्र], and to the present day abstain from meat and liquor, subsisting entirely on grain and vegetables. They always had a sufficiency of Chārans [चारण] and servants (Jāngar [जांगर]) in their villages to perform all necessary manual labour, and would not themselves work for a remuneration otherwise than by carrying grain, which was and still is their legitimate occupation ; but it was not considered undignified to cut wood and grass for the household. Both Mathuria [मथुरिया] and Labhāna [लभाना] men are fairer than the Chārans [चारण]; they wear better jewellery and their loin-cloths have a silk border, while those of the Chārans [चारण] are of rough, common cloth.”
1 Cumberlege, loc. cit.
The Mathurias [मथुरिया] are sometimes known as Ahiwāsi [अहिवासी], and may be connected with the Ahiwāsis [अहिवासी] of the Hindustāni [हिंदुस्तानी] Districts, who also drive pack-bullocks and call themselves Brāhmans [ब्राह्मण]. But it is naturally a sin for a Brāhman [ब्राह्मण] to load the sacred ox, and any one who does so is held to have derogated from the priestly order. The Mathurias [मथुरिया] are divided according to Mr. Cumberlege into four groups called
- Pānde [पांडे],
- Dube [दुबे],
- Tiwāri [तिवारी] and
- Chaube [चौबे],
all of which are common titles of Hindustāni [हिंदुस्तानी] Brāhmans [ब्राह्मण] and signify a man learned in one, two, three and four Vedas [वेद] respectively. It is probable that these groups are exogamous, marrying with each other, but this is not stated.
The third division, the Labhānas [लभाना], may derive their name from lavana [लवण], salt, and probably devoted themselves more especially to the carriage of this staple. They are said to be Rājpūts [राजपूत], and to be descended from Mota [मोत] and Mola [मोल], the cowherds of Krishna [कृष्ण].
The fourth subdivision are the Dhāris [धाडी] or bards of the caste, who rank below the others. According to their own story 2 their ancestor was a member of the Bhāt [भाट] caste, who became a disciple of Nānak [ਗੁਰੂ ਨਾਨਕ, 1469 - 1539], the Sikh [ਸਿੱਖੀ] apostle, and with him attended a feast given by the Mughal [مغلیہ ] Emperor Humayun [1508 - 1565] [نصیر الدین محمد همایون]. Here he ate the flesh of a cow or buffalo, and in consequence became a Muhammadan and was circumcised. He was employed as a musician at the Mughal [مغلیہ ] court, and his sons joined the Chārans [चारण] and became the bards of the Banjāra [बंजारा] caste.
2 Cumberlege, pp. 28, 29.
“The Dhāris [धाडी],” Mr. Cumberlege continues, “are both musicians and mendicants ; they sing in praise of their own and the Chāran [चारण] ancestors and of the old kings of Delhi [दिल्ली] ; while at certain seasons of the year they visit Chāran [चारण] hamlets, when each family gives them a young bullock or a few rupees. They are Muhammadans, but worship Sarasvati [सरस्वती] and at their marriages offer up a he-goat to Gāji and Gandha, the two sons of the original Bhāt [भाट], who became a Muhammadan. At burials a Fakīr [فقير] is called to read the prayers.”5. Minor subcastes.
Besides the above four main divisions, there are a number of others, the caste being now of a very mixed character. Two principal Muhammadan groups are given by Sir H. Elliot, the Turkia [तुर्किया] and Mukeri [मुकेरी].
The Turkia [तुर्किया] have thirty-six septs, some with Rājpūt [राजपूत] names and others territorial or titular. They seem to be a mixed group of Hindus who may have embraced Islam as the religion of their employers.
The Mukeri [मुकेरी] Banjāras [बंजारा] assert that they derive their name from Mecca [مكة] (Makka [मक्का]), which one of their Nāiks [नाईक], who had his camp in the vicinity, assisted Father Abraham [אַבְרָהָם] in building.1
1 Elliot’s Races, quoted by Mr. Crooke, ibidem.
Mr. Crooke thinks that the name may be a corruption of Makkeri [मक्केरी] and mean a seller of maize [मक्का].
Mr. Cumberlege says of them :
“Multānis [मुलतानी / ਮੁਲਤਾਨੀ] and Mukeris [मुकेरी] have been called Banjāras [बंजारा] also, but have nothing in common with the caste ; the Multānis [मुलतानी / ਮੁਲਤਾਨੀ] are carriers of grain and the Mukeri [मुकेरी] of wood and timber, and hence the confusion may have arisen between them.”
But they are now held to be Banjāras [बंजारा] by common usage ; in Saugor [सागर] the Mukeris [मुकेरी] also deal in cattle.
From Chanda [चंदा] a different set of subcastes is reported called
- Saojin and
- Kanhejin ;
the first may take their name from bhūsa [भूसा], the chaff of wheat, while Lad is the term used for people coming from Gujarāt [ગુજરાત], and Sao means a banker.
In Sambalpur [ସମ୍ବଲପୁର] again a class of Thuria Banjāras [बंजारा] is found, divided into the
- Atharadesia [अठरादेशिया],
- Navadesia [नवदेशिया] and
- Chhadesia [चडदेशिया],
or the men of the 52 districts, the 18 districts, the 9 districts and the 6 districts respectively. The first and last two of these take food and marry with each other. Other groups are the Guār Banjāras [बंजारा], apparently from Guāra or Gwāla, a milkman, the Gūguria Banjāras [बंजारा], who may, Mr. Hira Lāl suggests, take their name from trading in gūgar, a kind of gum, and the Bahrūp Banjāras [बंजारा], who are Nats [नट] or acrobats.
In Berār [बेरार] also a number of the caste have become respectable cultivators and now call themselves Wanjāri [वंजारी], disclaiming any connection with the Banjāras [बंजारा], probably on account of the bad reputation for crime attached to these latter. Many of the Wanjāris [वंजारी] have been allowed to rank with the Kunbi [कुणबी] caste, and call themselves Wanjāri Kunbis [वंजार] कुणबी] in order the better to dissociate themselves from their parent caste. The existing caste is therefore of a very mixed nature, and the original Brāhman [ब्राह्मण] and Chāran [चारण] strains, though still perfectly recognisable, cannot have maintained their purity.
6. Marriage: betrothal.
At a betrothal in Nimār [निमाड़] the bridegroom and his friends come and stay in the next village to that of the bride. The two betrothal parties meet on the boundary of the village, and here the bride-price is fixed, which is often a very large sum, ranging from Rs. 200 to Rs. 1000. Until the price is paid the father will not let the bridegroom into his house. In Yeotmāl [यवतमाळ], when a betrothal is to be made, the parties go to a liquor-shop and there a betel-leaf and a large handful of sugar are distributed to everybody. Here the price to be paid for the bride amounts to Rs. 40 and four young bullocks. Prior to the wedding the bridegroom goes and stays for a month or so in the house of the bride’s father, and during this time he must provide a supply of liquor daily for the bride’s male relatives. The period was formerly longer, but now extends to a month at the most. While he resides at the bride’s house the bridegroom wears a cloth over his head so that his face cannot be seen. Probably the prohibition against seeing him applies to the bride only, as the rule in Berār [बेरार] is that between the betrothal and marriage of a Chāran [चारण] girl she may not eat or drink in the bridegroom’s house, or show her face to him or any of his relatives. Mathuria [मथुरिया] girls must be wedded before they are seven years old, but the Chārans [चारण] permit them to remain single until after adolescence.
Banjāra [बंजारा] marriages are frequently held in the rains, a season forbidden to other Hindus, but naturally the most convenient to them, because in the dry weather they are usually travelling. For the marriage ceremony they pitch a tent in lieu of the marriage-shed, and on the ground they place two rice-pounding pestles, round which the bride and bridegroom make the seven turns. Others substitute for the pestles a pack-saddle with two bags of grain in order to symbolise their camp life. During the turns the girl’s hand is held by the Joshi [जोशी] or village priest, or some other Brāhman [ब्राह्मण], in case she should fall ; such an occurrence being probably a very unlucky omen. Afterwards, the girl runs away and the Brāhman [ब्राह्मण] has to pursue and catch her. In Bhandāra [भंडारा] the girl is clad only in a light skirt and breast-cloth, and her body is rubbed all over with oil in order to make his task more difficult. During this time the bride’s party pelt the Brāhman [ब्राह्मण] with rice, turmeric and areca-nuts, and sometimes even with stones ; and if he is forced to cry with the pain, it is considered lucky. But if he finally catches the girl, he is conducted to a dais and sits there holding a brass plate in front of him, into which the bridegroom’s party drop presents. A case is mentioned of a Brāhman [ब्राह्मण] having obtained Rs. 70 in this manner. Among the Mathuria Banjāras [मथुरिया बंजारा] of Berār [बेरार] the ceremony resembles the usual Hindu type.1 Before the wedding the families bring the branches of eight or ten different kinds of trees, and perform the hom [होम] or fire sacrifice with them. A Brāhman [ब्राह्मण] knots the clothes of the couple together, and they walk round the fire. When the bride arrives at the bridegroom’s hamlet after the wedding, two small brass vessels are given to her ; she fetches water in these and returns them to the women of the boy’s family, who mix this with other water previously drawn, and the girl, who up to this period was considered of no caste at all, becomes a Mathuria [मथुरिया].2 Food is cooked with this water, and the bride and bridegroom are formally received into the husband’s kuri [कुडी] [कुडी] or hamlet. It is possible that the mixing of the water may be a survival of the blood covenant, whereby a girl was received into her husband’s clan on her marriage by her blood being mixed with that of her husband. Or it may be simply symbolical of the union of the families. In some localities after the wedding the bride and bridegroom are made to stand on two bullocks, which are driven forward, and it is believed that whichever of them falls off first will be the first to die.
1 Cumberlege, pp. 4, 5.
2 Cumberlege, l.c.
Owing to the scarcity of women in the caste a widow is seldom allowed to go out of the family, and when her husband dies she is taken either by his elder or younger brother; this is in opposition to the usual Hindu practice, which forbids the marriage of a woman to her deceased husband’s elder brother, on the ground that as successor to the headship of the joint family he stands to her, at least potentially, in the light of a father. If the widow prefers another man and runs away to him, the first husband’s relatives claim compensation, and threaten, in the event of its being refused, to abduct a girl from this man’s family in exchange for the widow. But no case of abduction has occurred in recent years. In Berār [बेरार] the compensation claimed in the ease of a woman marrying out of the family amounts to Rs. 75, with Rs. 5 for the Nāik [नाईक] or headman of the family. Should the widow elope without her brother-in-law’s consent, he chooses ten or twelve of his friends to go and sit dharna [धरना] (starving themselves) before the hut of the man who has taken her. He is then bound to supply these men with food and liquor until he has paid the customary sum, when he may marry the widow.1 In the event of the second husband being too poor to pay monetary compensation, he gives a goat, which is cut into eighteen pieces and distributed to the community.2
1 Cumberlege, pp. 18.
2 Mr. Hira Lāl suggests that this custom may have something to do with the phrase Athāra jāt ke gāyi or 'She has gone to the eighteen castes,' used of a woman who has turned out of community. This phrase seems, however, to be a euphemism, eighteen castes being a term of indefinite multitude for any or no caste. The number eighteen may be selected from the same unknown association which causes the goat to be cut into eighteen pieces.
9. Birth and death.
After the birth of a child the mother is unclean for five days, and lives apart in a separate hut, which is run up for her use in the kuri [कुडी] [कुडी] or hamlet. On the sixth day she washes the feet of all the children in the kuri [कुडी] [कुडी], feeds them and then returns to her husband’s hut. When a child is born in a moving tānda or camp, the same rule is observed, and for five days the mother walks alone after the camp during the daily march. The caste bury the bodies of unmarried persons and those dying of smallpox and burn the others. Their rites of mourning are not strict, and are observed only for three days. The Banjāras [बंजारा] have a saying : “Death in a foreign land is to be preferred, where there are no kinsfolk to mourn, and the corpse is a feast for birds and animals ” ; but this may perhaps be taken rather as an expression of philosophic resignation to the fate which must be in store for many of them, than a real preference, as with most people the desire to die at home almost amounts to an instinct.10. Religion : Banjāri Devi [बंजारी देवी].
One of the tutelary deities of the Banjāras [बंजारा] is Banjari Devi [बंजारी देवी], whose shrine is usually located in the forest. It is often represented by a heap of stones, a large stone smeared with vermilion being placed on the top of the heap to represent the goddess. When a Banjāra [बंजारा] passes the place he casts a stone upon the heap as a prayer to the goddess to protect him from the dangers of the forest. A similar practice of offering bells from the necks of cattle is recorded by Mr. Thurston :1
1 Ethnographic Notes in Southern India, p. 344, quoting from Moor’s Narrative of Little's Detachment.
“It is related by Moor that he passed a tree on which were hanging several hundred bells. This was a superstitious sacrifice of the Banjāras [बंजारा] (Lambāris), who, passing this tree, are in the habit of hanging a bell or bells upon it, which they take from the necks of their sick cattle, expecting to leave behind them the complaint also. Our servants particularly cautioned us against touching these diabolical bells, but as a few of them were taken for our own cattle, several accidents which happened were imputed to the anger of the deity to whom these offerings were made ; who, they say, inflicts the same disorder on the unhappy bullock who carries a bell from the tree, as that from which he relieved the donor.”
In their houses the Banjari Devi [बंजारी देवी] is represented by a pack-saddle set on high in the room, and this is worshipped before the caravans set out on their annual tours.
11. Mithu Bhūkia [मिठु भुकिया].
Another deity is Mithu Bhūkia [मिठु भुकिया], an old freebooter, who lived in the Central Provinces ; he is venerated by the dacoits as the most clever dacoit known in the annals of the caste, and a hut was usually set apart for him in each hamlet, a staff carrying a white flag being planted before it. Before setting out for a dacoity, the men engaged would assemble at the hut of Mithu Bhūkia [मिठु भुकिया], and, burning a lamp before him, ask for an omen ; if the wick of the lamp drooped the omen was propitious, and the men present then set out at once on the raid without returning home. They might not speak to each other nor answer if challenged ; for if any one spoke the charm would be broken and the protection of Mithu Bhūkia [मिठु भुकिया] removed ; and they should either return to take the omens again or give up that particular dacoity altogether.1 It has been recorded as a characteristic trait of Banjāras [बंजारा] that they will, as a rule, not answer if spoken to when engaged on a robbery, and the custom probably arises from this observance ; but the worship of Mithu Bhūkia [मिठु भुकिया] is now frequently neglected. After a successful dacoity a portion of the spoil would be set apart for Mithu Bhūkia [मिठु भुकिया], and of the balance the Nāik [नाईक] or headman of the village received two shares if he participated in the crime ; the man who struck the first blow or did most towards the common object also received two shares, and all the rest one share. With Mithu Bhūkia’s [मिठु भुकिया] share a feast was given at which thanks were returned to him for the success of the enterprise, a burnt offering of incense being made in his tent and a libation of liquor poured over the flagstaff. A portion of the food was sent to the women and children, and the men sat down to the feast. Women were not allowed to share in the worship of Mithu Bhūkia [मिठु भुकिया] nor to enter his hut.
1 Cumberlege, p. 35.
12. Siva Bhāia [शिव भाईआ]
Another favourite deity is Siva Bhāia [शिव भाईआ], whose story is given by Colonel Mackenzie 2 as follows :
2 Berār Census Report, 1881.
“ The love borne by Māri Māta [मारी माता], the goddess of cholera, for the handsome Siva Rāthor [शिव राठौड़], is an event of our own times (1874) ; she proposed to him, but his heart being pre-engaged he rejected her ; and in consequence his earthly bride was smitten sick and died, and the hand of the goddess fell heavily on Siva [शिव] himself, thwarting all his schemes and blighting his fortunes and possessions, until at last he gave himself up to her. She then possessed him and caused him to prosper exceedingly, gifting him with supernatural power until his fame was noised abroad, and he was venerated as the saintly Siva Bhāia [शिव भाईआ] or great brother to all women, being himself unable to marry. But in his old age the goddess capriciously wished him to marry and have issue, but he refused and was slain and buried at Pohur in Berār [बेरार]. A temple was erected over him and his kinsmen became priests of it, and hither large numbers are attracted by the supposed efficacy of vows made to Siva [शिव], the most sacred of all oaths being that taken in his name.”
If a Banjāra [बंजारा] swears by Siva Bhāia [शिव भाईआ], placing his right hand on the bare head of his son and heir, and grasping a cow’s tail in his left, he will fear to perjure himself, lest by doing so he should bring injury on his son and a murrain on his cattle.1
1 Cumberlege, p. 21.13. Worship of cattle.
Naturally also the Banjāras [बंजारा] worshipped their pack-cattle.2
“When sickness occurs they lead the sick man to the feet of the bullock called Hatadiya.3 On this animal no burden is ever laid, but he is decorated with streamers of red-dyed silk, and tinkling bells with many brass chains and rings on neck and feet, and silken tassels hanging in all directions ; he moves steadily at the head of the convoy, and at the place where he lies down when he is tired they pitch their camp for the day ; at his feet they make their vows when difficulties overtake them, and in illness, whether of themselves or their cattle, they trust to his worship for a cure.”
2 The following instance is taken from Mr. Balfour's article 'Migratory Tribes of Central India,' in J.A.S.B., new series, vol xiii., quoted in Mr. Crooke’s Tribes and Castes.
3 From the Sanskrit Hātya-ādhya, meaning ‘ That which it is most sinful to slay ’ (Balfour).
14. Connection with the Sikhs [ਸਿੱਖੀ].
Mr. Balfour also mentions in his paper that the Banjāras [बंजारा] call themselves Sikhs [ਸਿੱਖੀ], and it is noticeable that the Chāran [चारण] subcaste say that their ancestors were three Rājpūt [राजपूत] boys who followed Guru Nānak [ਗੁਰੂ ਨਾਨਕ, 1469 - 1539], the prophet of the Sikhs [ਸਿੱਖੀ]. The influence of Nānak appears to have been widely extended over northern India, and to have been felt by large bodies of the people other than those who actually embraced the Sikh [ਸਿੱਖੀ] religion. Cumberlege states4 that before starting to his marriage the bridegroom ties a rupee in his turban in honour of Guru Nānak [ਗੁਰੂ ਨਾਨਕ, 1469 - 1539], which is afterwards expended in sweetmeats. But otherwise the modern Banjāras [बंजारा] do not appear to retain any Sikh [ਸਿੱਖੀ] observances.
4 Monograph, p. 12.
“The Banjāras [बंजारा],” Sir A. Lyall writes,1 “ are terribly vexed by witchcraft, to which their wandering and precarious existence especially exposes them in the shape of fever, rheumatism and dysentery. Solemn inquiries are still held in the wild jungles where these people camp out like gipsies, and many an unlucky hag has been strangled by sentence of their secret tribunals.”
1 Asiatic Studies, i. p. 118 (ed. 1899)
The business of magic and witchcraft was in the hands of two classes of Bhagats [भगत]] or magicians, one good and the other bad,2 who may correspond to the European practitioners of black and white magic.
1 Cumberlege, p. 23 et seq. The description of witchcraft is wholly reproduced from his Monograph.
The good Bhagat [भगत] is called Nimbu-kātna [नींबू काटना] or lemon-cutter, a lemon speared on a knife being a powerful averter of evil spirits. He is a total abstainer from meat and liquor, and fasts once a week on the day sacred to the deity whom he venerates, usually Mahādeo [महादेओ / महादेव] ; he is highly respected and never panders to vice.
But the Jānta, the ‘Wise or Cunning Man,’ is of a different type, and the following is an account of the devilry often enacted when a deputation visited him to inquire into the cause of a prolonged illness, a cattle murrain, a sudden death or other misfortune. A woman might often be called a Dākun or witch in spite, and when once this word had been used, the husband or nearest male relative would be regularly bullied into consulting the Jānta. Or if some woman had been ill for a week, an avaricious3 husband or brother would begin to whisper foul play. Witchcraft would be mentioned, and the wise man called in. He would give the sufferer a quid of betel, muttering an incantation, but this rarely effected a cure, as it was against the interest of all parties that it should do so. The sufferer’s relatives would then go to their Nāik [नाईक], tell him that the sick person was bewitched, and ask him to send a deputation to the Jānta or witch-doctor. This would be at once despatched, consisting of one male adult from each house in the hamlet, with one of the sufferer’s relatives. On the road the party would bury a bone or other article to test the wisdom of the witch-doctor. But he was not to be caught out, and on their arrival he would bid the deputation rest, and come to him for consultation on the following day. Meanwhile during the night the Jānta would be thoroughly coached by some accomplice in the party. Next morning, meeting the deputation, he would tell every man all particulars of his name and family ; name the invalid, and tell the party to bring materials for consulting the spirits, such as oil, vermilion, sugar, dates, cocoanut, chironji [चिरौंजी] (the fruit of Buchanania latifolia) and sesamum. In the evening, holding a lamp, the Jānta would be possessed by Māriai [मरिआई], the goddess of cholera ; he would mention all particulars of the sick man’s illness, and indignantly inquire why they had buried the bone on the road, naming it and describing the place. If this did not satisfy the deputation, a goat would be brought, and he would name its sex with any distinguishing marks on the body. The sick person’s representative would then produce his nazar or fee, formerly Rs. 25, but lately the double of this or more. The Jānta would now begin a sort of chant, introducing the names of the families of the kuri [कुडी]other than that containing her who was to be proclaimed a witch, and heap on them all kinds of abuse. Finally, he would assume an ironic tone, extol the virtues of a certain family, become facetious, and praise its representative then present. This man would then question the Jānta on all points regarding his own family, his connections, worldly goods, and what gods he worshipped, ask who was the witch, who taught her sorcery, and how and why she practised it in this particular instance. But the witchdoctor, having taken care to be well coached, would answer everything correctly and fix the guilt on to the witch. A goat would be sacrificed and eaten with liquor, and the deputation would return. The punishment for being proclaimed a Dākun or witch was formerly death to the woman and a fine to be paid by her relatives to the bewitched person’s family. The woman’s husband or her sons would be directed to kill her, and if they refused, other men were deputed to murder her, and bury the body at once with all the clothing and ornaments then on her person, while a further fine would be exacted from the family for not doing away with her themselves. But murder for witchcraft has been almost entirely stopped, and nowadays the husband, after being fined a few head of cattle, which are given to the sick man, is turned out of the village with his wife. It is quite possible, however, that an obnoxious old hag would even now not escape death, especially if the money fine were not forthcoming, and an instance is known in recent times of a mother being murdered by her three sons. The whole village combined to screen these amiable young men, and eventually they made the Jānta the scapegoat, and he got seven years, while the murderers could not be touched. Colonel Mackenzie writes that,
“Curious to relate, the Jāntas, known locally as Bhagats [भगत], in order to become possessed of their alleged powers of divination and prophecy, require to travel to Kazhe, beyond Surat [સુરત], there to learn and be instructed by low-caste Koli [कोली] impostors.”
This is interesting as an instance of the powers of witchcraft being attributed by the Hindus or higher race to the indigenous primitive tribes, a rule which Dr. Tylor and Dr. Jevons consider to hold good generally in the history of magic.
3 His motive being the fine inflicted on the witch’s family.
16. Human sacrifice.
Several instances are known also of the Banjāras [बंजारा] having practised human sacrifice. Mr. Thurston states:1
1 Ethnographic Notes in Southern India, p. 507, quoting from the Rev. J. Cain, Ind. Ant, viii. (1879).
“In former times the Lambādis [लंबादी], before setting out on a journey, used to procure a little child and bury it in the ground up to the shoulders, and then drive their loaded bullocks over the unfortunate victim. In proportion to the bullocks thoroughly trampling the child to death, so their belief in a successful journey increased.”
The Abbe Dubois describes another form of sacrifice :2
2 Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies, p. 70.
“The Lambādis [लंबादी] are accused of the still more atrocious crime of offering up human sacrifices. When they wish to perform this horrible act, it is said, they secretly carry off the first person they meet. Having conducted the victim to some lonely spot, they dig a hole in which they bury him up to the neck. While he is still alive they make a sort of lamp of dough made of flour, which they place on his head ; this they fill with oil, and light four wicks in it. Having done this, the men and women join hands and, forming a circle, dance round their victim, singing and making a great noise until he expires.”
Mr. Cumberlege records1 the following statement of a child kidnapped by a Banjāra [बंजारा] caravan in 1871. After explaining how he was kidnapped and the tip of his tongue cut off to give him a defect in speech, the Kunbi [कुणबी] lad, taken from Sāhungarhi, in the Bhandāra [भंडारा] District, went on to say that,
“The tānda (caravan) encamped for the night in the jungle. In the morning a woman named Gangi said that the devil was in her and that a sacrifice must be made. On this four men and three women took a boy to a place they had made for pūja [पूजा] (worship). They fed him with milk, rice and sugar, and then made him stand up, when Gangi drew a sword and approached the child, who tried to run away ; caught and brought back to this place, Gangi, holding the sword with both hands and standing on the child’s right side, cut off his head with one blow. Gangi collected the blood and sprinkled it on the idol ; this idol is made of stone, is about 9 inches high, and has something sparkling in its forehead. The camp marched that day, and for four or five days consecutively, without another sacrifice ; but on the fifth day a young woman came to the camp to sell curds, and having bought some, the Banjāras [बंजारा] asked her to come in in the evening and eat with them. She did come, and after eating with the women slept in the camp. Early next morning she was sacrificed in the same way as the boy had been, but it took three blows to cut off her head ; it was done by Gangi, and the blood was sprinkled on the stone idol. About a month ago Sitārām [सीताराम], a Gond [गोंड] lad, who had also been kidnapped and was in the camp, told me to run away as it had been decided to offer me up in sacrifice at the next Jiuti festival, so I ran away.”
1 Monograph, p. 19.
The child having been brought to the police, a searching and protracted inquiry was held, which, however, determined nothing, though it did not disprove his story.17. Admission of outsiders : kidnapped children and slaves.
The Banjāra [बंजारा] caste is not closed to outsiders, but the general rule is to admit only women who have been married to Banjāra [बंजारा] men. Women of the lowest and impure castes are excluded, and for some unknown reason the Patwas [पटवा] 2 and Nunias [नुनिया] are bracketed with these.
2 The Patwas [पटवा] are weavers of silk thread and the Nunias [नुनिया] are masons and navvies.
In Nimār [निमाड़] it is stated that formerly Gonds [गोंड], Korkus [कोरकू] and even Balāhis [बलाही]1 might become Banjāras [बंजारा], but this does not happen now, because the caste has lost its occupation of carrying goods, and there is therefore no inducement to enter it. In former times they were much addicted to kidnapping children—these were whipped up or enticed away whenever an opportunity presented itself during their expeditions. The children were first put into the gonis [गोनी] or grain bags of the bullocks and so carried for a few days, being made over at each halt to the care of a woman, who would pop the child back into its bag if any stranger passed by the encampment. The tongues of boys were sometimes slit or branded with hot gold, this last being the ceremony of initiation into the caste still used in Nimār [निमाड़]. Girls, if they were as old as seven, were sometimes disfigured for fear of recognition, and for this purpose the juice of the marking-nut tree (Semecarpus anacardium) would be smeared on one side of the face, which burned into the skin and entirely altered the appearance. Such children were known as Jāngar [जींगर]. Girls would be used as concubines and servants of the married wife, and boys would also be employed as servants. Jāngar [जींगर] boys would be married to Jāngar [जींगर] girls, both remaining in their condition of servitude. But sometimes the more enterprising of them would abscond and settle down in a village. The rule was that for seven generations the children of Jāngars [जींगर] or slaves continued in that condition, after which they were recognised as proper Banjāras [बंजारा]. The Jāngar [जींगर] could not draw in smoke through the stem of the huqqa [हुक़्क़ा] when it was passed round in the assembly, but must take off the stem and inhale from the bowl. The Jāngar [जींगर] also could not eat off the bell-metal plates of his master, because these were liable to pollution, but must use brass plates. At one time the Banjāras [बंजारा] conducted a regular traffic in female slaves between Gujarāt [ગુજરાત] and Central India, selling in each country the girls whom they had kidnapped in the other.21 An impure caste of weavers, ranking with the Mahārs [महार].
2 Malcolm, Memoir of Central India, ii. p. 269.
Abb.: Group of Banjāra [बंजारा] women
Up to twelve years of age a Chāran [चारण] girl only wears a skirt with a shoulder-cloth tucked into the waist and carried over the left arm and the head. After this she may have anklets and bangles on the forearm and a breast-cloth. But until she is married she may not have the wānkri or curved anklet, which marks that estate, nor wear bone or ivory bangles on the upper arm.1 When she is ten years old a Labhāna [लभाना] girl is given two small bundles containing a nut, some cowries and rice, which are knotted to two corners of the dupatta [दुपट्टा] or shoulder-cloth and hung over the shoulder, one in front and one behind. This denotes maidenhood. The bundles are considered sacred, are always knotted to the shoulder-cloth in wear, and are only removed to be tucked into the waist at the girl’s marriage, where they are worn till death. These bundles alone distinguish the Labhāna [लभाना] from the Mathuria [मथुरिया] woman. Women often have their hair hanging down beside the face in front and woven behind with silver thread into a plait down the back. This is known as Anthi [आंठी], and has a number of cowries at the end. They have large bell-shaped ornaments of silver tied over the head and hanging down behind the ears, the hollow part of the ornament being stuffed with sheep’s wool dyed red ; and to these are attached little bells, while the anklets on the feet are also hollow and contain little stones or balls, which tinkle as they move. They have skirts, and separate short cloths drawn across the shoulders according to the northern fashion, usually red or green in colour, and along the skirt-borders double lines of cowries are sewn. Their breast-cloths are profusely ornamented with needle-work embroidery and small pieces of glass sewn into them, and are tied behind with cords of many colours whose ends are decorated with cowries and beads. Strings of beads, ten to twenty thick, threaded on horse-hair, are worn round the neck. Their favourite ornaments are cowries,2 and they have these on their dress, in their houses and on the trappings of their bullocks. On the arms they have ten or twelve bangles of ivory, or in default of this lac, horn or cocoanut-shell.
1 Cumberlege, p. 16.
2 Small double shells which are still used to a slight extent as currency in backward tracts. This would seem an impossibly cumbrous method of carrying money about nowadays, but I have been informed by a comparatively young official that in his father's time, change for a rupee could not be had in Chhattisgarh [छत्तीसगढ़] outside the two principal towns. As the cowries were a form of currency they were probably held sacred, and hence sewn on to clothes as a charm, just as gold and silver are used for ornaments.
Mr. Ball states that he was
“at once struck by the peculiar costumes and brilliant clothing of these Indian gipsies. They recalled to my mind the appearance of the gipsies of the Lower Danube and Wallachia.” 1
1 Jungle Life in India, p. 516
The most distinctive ornament of a Banjāra [बंजारा] married woman is, however, a small stick about 6 inches long made of the wood of the khair [खैर] or catechu. In Nimār [निमाड़] this is given to a woman by her husband at marriage, and she wears it afterwards placed upright on the top of the head, the hair being wound round it and the head-cloth draped over it in a graceful fashion. Widows leave it off, but on remarriage adopt it again. The stick is known as chunda by the Banjāras [बंजारा], but outsiders call it singh [सींग] or horn. In Yeotmāl [यवतमाळ], instead of one, the women have two little sticks fixed upright in the hair. The rank of the woman is said to be shown by the angle at which she wears this horn. The dress of the men presents no features of special interest. In Nimār [निमाड़] they usually have a necklace of coral beads, and some of them carry, slung on a thread round the neck, a tin tooth-pick and ear-scraper, while a small mirror and comb are kept in the head-cloth so that their toilet can be performed anywhere.
Mr. Cumberlege1 notes that in former times all Chāran Banjāras [चारण बंजारा] when carrying grain for an army placed a twig of some tree, the sacred nīm [नीम - Azadirachta indica A.Juss.] when available, in their turban to show that they were on the war-path ; and that they would do the same now if they had occasion to fight to the death on any social matter or under any supposed grievance.
1 Monograph, p. 40
Abb.: Banjāra [बंजारा] women with the singh [सींग] or horn
19. Social customs.
The Banjāras [बंजारा] eat all kinds of meat, including fowls and pork, and drink liquor. But the Mathurias [मथुरिया] abstain from both flesh and liquor. Major Gunthorpe states that the Banjāras [बंजारा] are accustomed to drink before setting out for a dacoity or robbery and, as they smoke after drinking, the remains of leaf-pipes lying about the scene of action may indicate their handiwork. They rank below the cultivating castes, and Brāhmans [ब्राह्मण] will not take water to drink from them. When engaged in the carrying trade, they usually lived in kuris [कुडी] or hamlets attached to such regular villages as had considerable tracts of waste land belonging to them. When the tānda or caravan started on its long carrying trips, the young men and some of the women went with it with the working bullocks, while the old men and the remainder of the women and children remained to tend the breeding cattle in the hamlet. In Nimār [निमाड़] they generally rented a little land in the village to give them a footing, and paid also a carrying fee on the number of cattle present. Their spare time was constantly occupied in the manufacture of hempen twine and sacking, which was much superior to that obtainable in towns. Even in Captain Forsyth’s 3 time (1866) the construction of railways and roads had seriously interfered with the Banjāras' [बंजारा] calling, and they had perforce taken to agriculture. Many of them have settled in the new ryotwari villages in Nimār [निमाड़] as Government tenants. They still grow tilli 4 [तिल्ली] (Sesamum) in preference to other crops, because this oilseed can be raised without much labour or skill, and during their former nomadic life they were accustomed to sow it on any poor strip of land which they might rent for a season. Some of them also are accustomed to leave a part of their holding untilled in memory of their former and more prosperous life. In many villages they have not yet built proper houses, but continue to live in mud huts thatched with grass. They consider it unlucky to inhabit a house with a cement or tiled roof; this being no doubt a superstition arising from their camp life. Their houses must also be built so that the main beams do not cross, that is, the main beam of a house must never be in such a position that if projected it would cut another main beam ; but the beams may be parallel. The same rule probably governed the arrangement of tents in their camps. In Nimār [निमाड़] they prefer to live at some distance from water, probably that is of a tank or river ; and this seems to be a survival of a usage mentioned by the Abbe Dubois :1
“Among other curious customs of this odious caste is one that obliges them to drink no water which is not drawn from springs or wells. The water from rivers and tanks being thus forbidden, they are obliged in case of necessity to dig a little hole by the side of a tank or river and take the water filtering through, which, by this means, is supposed to become spring water.”
It is possible that this rule may have had its origin in a sanitary precaution. Colonel Sleeman notes2 that the Banjāras [बंजारा] on their carrying trips preferred by-paths through jungles to the high roads along cultivated plains, as grass, wood and water were more abundant along such paths ; and when they could not avoid the high roads, they commonly encamped as far as they could from villages and towns, and upon the banks of rivers and streams, with the same object of obtaining a sufficient supply of grass, wood and water. Now it is well known that the decaying vegetation in these hill streams renders the water noxious and highly productive of malaria. And it seems possible that the perception of this fact led the Banjāras [बंजारा] to dig shallow wells by the sides of the streams for their drinking-water, so that the supply thus obtained might be in some degree filtered by percolation through the intervening soil and freed from its vegetable germs. And the custom may have grown into a taboo, its underlying reason being unknown to the bulk of them, and be still practised, though no longer necessary when they do not travel. If this explanation be correct it would be an interesting conclusion that the Banjāras [बंजारा] anticipated so far as they were able the sanitary precaution by which our soldiers are supplied with portable filters when on the march.
3 Author of the Nimār Settlement Report.
1 Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies, p. 21.
2 Report on the Badhak or Bāgri Dacoits, p. 310.20. The Nāik [नाईक] or headman. Banjāra [बंजारा] dogs.
Each kuri [कुडी] (hamlet) or tānda (caravan) had a chief or leader with the designation of Nāik [नाईक / నాయకుడు], a Telugu [తెలుగు] word meaning ‘lord’ or 'master.’ The office of Nāik [नाईक]1 was only partly hereditary, and the choice also depended on ability. The Nāik [नाईक] had authority to decide all disputes in the community, and the only appeal from him lay to the representatives of Bhangi [भंगी] and Jhangi [झंगी] Nāik’s [नाईक] families at Narsi [नरसी] and Poona [पुणे], and to Burthia Nāik’s successors in the Telugu [తెలుగు] country. As already seen, the Nāik [नाईक] received two shares if he participated in a robbery or other crime, and a fee on the remarriage of a widow outside her family and on the discovery of a witch. Another matter in which he was specially interested was pig-sticking. The Banjāras [बंजारा] have a particular breed of dogs, and with these they were accustomed to hunt wild pig on foot, carrying spears. When a pig was killed, the head was cut off and presented to the Nāik [नाईक] or headman, and if any man was injured or gored by the pig in the hunt, the Nāik [नाईक] kept and fed him without charge until he recovered.
1 Colonel Mackenzie’s notes.
The following notice of the Banjāras [बंजारा] and their dogs may be reproduced :2
2 Mr. W. F. Sinclair, C.S., in Ind. Ant. iii. p. 184 (1874).
“They are brave and have the reputation of great independence, which I am not disposed to allow to them. The Wanjāri [वंजारी] indeed is insolent on the road, and will drive his bullocks up against a Sāhib [साहिब] or any one else ; but at any disadvantage he is abject enough. I remember one who rather enjoyed seeing his dogs attack me, whom he supposed alone and unarmed, but the sight of a cocked pistol made him very quick in calling them off, and very humble in praying for their lives, which I spared, less for his entreaties than because they were really noble animals. The Wanjāris [वंजारी] are famous for their dogs, of which there are three breeds. The first is a large, smooth dog, generally black, sometimes fawn-coloured, with a square heavy head, most resembling the Danish boarhound. This is the true Wanjāri [वंजारी] dog. The second is also a large, square-headed dog, but shaggy, more like a great underbred spaniel than anything else. The third is an almost tailless greyhound, of the type known all over India by the various names of Lāt, Polygar, Rāmpūri [रामपूरी], etc. They all run both by sight and scent, and with their help the Wanjāri [वंजारी] kill a good deal of game, chiefly pigs ; but I think they usually keep clear of the old fighting boars. Besides sport and their legitimate occupations the Wanjāri [वंजारी] seldom stickle at supplementing their resources by theft, especially of cattle; and they are more than suspected of infanticide.”
The Banjāras [बंजारा] are credited with great affection for their dogs, and the following legend is told about one of them : Once upon a time a Banjāra [बंजारा], who had a faithful dog, took a loan from a Bania [बनिया] (moneylender) and pledged his dog with him as security for payment. And some time afterwards, while the dog was with the moneylender, a theft was committed in his house, and the dog followed the thieves and saw them throw the property into a tank. When they went away the dog brought the Bania [बनिया] to the tank and he found his property. He was therefore very pleased with the dog and wrote a letter to his master, saying that the loan was repaid, and tied it round his neck and said to him, ‘Now, go back to your master.’ So the dog started back, but on his way he met his master, the Banjāra [बंजारा], coming to the Bania [बनिया] with the money for the repayment of the loan. And when the Banjāra [बंजारा] saw the dog he was angry with him, not seeing the letter, and thinking he had run away, and said to him, ‘Why did you come, betraying your trust?’ and he killed the dog in a rage. And after killing him he found the letter and was very grieved, so he built a temple to the dog’s memory, which is called the Kukurra Mandhi [कुक्कुर मंदिर]. And in the temple is the image of a dog. This temple is in the Drūg District, five miles from Bālod [बालोद]. A similar story is told of the temple of Kukurra Math [कुक्कुर मठ] in Mandla.21. Criminal tendencies of the caste.
The following notice of Banjāra [बंजारा] criminals is abstracted from Major Gunthorpe’s interesting account:1
1 Notes on Criminal Tribes frequenting Bombay Berār and the Central Provinces (Bombay, 1882).
“In the palmy days of the tribe dacoities were undertaken on the most extensive scale. Gangs of fifty to a hundred and fifty well-armed men would go long distances from their tāndas or encampments for the purpose of attacking houses in villages, or treasure-parties or wealthy travellers on the high roads. The more intimate knowledge which the police have obtained concerning the habits of this race, and the detection and punishment of many criminals through approvers, have aided in stopping the heavy class of dacoities formerly prevalent, and their operations are now on a much smaller scale. In British territory arms are scarcely carried, but each man has a good stout stick (gedi) the bark of which is peeled off so as to make it look whitish and fresh. The attack is generally commenced by stone-throwing and then a rush is made, the sticks being freely used and the victims almost invariably struck about the head or face. While plundering, Hindustāni [हिंदुस्तानी] is sometimes spoken, but as a rule they never utter a word, but grunt signals to one another. Their loin-cloths are braced up, nothing is worn on the upper part of the body, and their faces are generally muffled. In house dacoities men are posted at different corners of streets, each with a supply of well-chosen round stones to keep off any people coming to the rescue. Banjāras [बंजारा] are very expert cattle-lifters, sometimes taking as many as a hundred head or even more at a time. This kind of robbery is usually practised in hilly or forest country where the cattle are sent to graze. Secreting themselves they watch for the herdsman to have his usual midday doze and for the cattle to stray to a little distance. As many as possible are then driven off to a great distance and secreted in ravines and woods. If questioned they answer that the animals belong to landowners and have been given into their charge to graze, and as this is done every day the questioner thinks nothing more of it. After a time the cattle are quietly sold to individual purchasers or taken to markets at a distance.
22. Their virtues.
The Banjāras [बंजारा], however, are far from being wholly criminal, and the number who have adopted an honest mode of livelihood is continually on the increase. Some allowance must be made for their having been deprived of their former calling by the cessation of the continual wars which distracted India under native rule, and the extension of roads and railways which has rendered their mode of transport by pack - bullocks almost entirely obsolete. At one time practically all the grain exported from Chhattisgarh [छत्तीसगढ़] was carried by them. In 1881 Mr. Kitts noted that the number of Banjāras [बंजारा] convicted in the Berār [वर्हाड] criminal courts was lower in proportion to the strength of the caste than that of Muhammadans, Brāhmans [ब्राह्मण], Koshtis [कोष्टी] or Sunārs [सुनार],1 though the offences committed by them were usually more heinous.
1 Berār Census Report (1881), p. 151.
Colonel Mackenzie had quite a favourable opinion of them :
“A Banjāra [बंजारा] who can read and write is unknown. But their memories, from cultivation, are marvellous and very retentive. They carry in their heads, without slip or mistake, the most varied and complicated transactions and the share of each in such, striking a debtor and creditor account as accurately as the best-kept ledger, while their history and songs are all learnt by heart and transmitted orally from generation to generation. On the whole, and taken rightly in their clannish nature, their virtues preponderate over their vices. In the main they are truthful and very brave, be it in war or the chase, and once gained over are faithful and devoted adherents. With the pride of high descent and with the right that might gives in unsettled and troublous times, these Banjāras [बंजारा] habitually lord it over and contemn the settled inhabitants of the plains. And now not having foreseen their own fate, or at least not timely having read the warnings given by a yearly diminishing occupation, which slowly has taken their bread away, it is a bitter pill for them to sink into the ryot class or, oftener still, under stern necessity to become the ryot’s servant. But they are settling to their fate, and the time must come when all their peculiar distinctive marks and traditions will be forgotten.”"[Quelle: Russell, R. V. (Robert Vane) <1873-1915> ; Hīra Lāl <Rai Bahadur> [हीरालाल <राय बहादुर>] <1873 - 1923>: The tribes and castes of the Central Provinces of India. -- London: MacMillan, 1916. -- 4 Bde. : Ill. -- Bd. 2. -- S. 162 - 192]