Zitierweise / cite as:
Russell, R. V. (Robert Vane) <1873-1915> ; Hira Lāl <1867-1934>: Bhāt (1916). -- (Quellenkunde zur indischen Geschichte bis 1858 / Alois Payer ; 10. Mündliche Quellen, 1.). --Fassung vom 2008-04-15. -- http://www.payer.de/quellenkunde/quellen101.htm
Erstmals publiziert als:
Russell, R. V. (Robert Vane) <1873-1915>: The tribes and castes of the Central Provinces of India / by R.V. Russell ... assisted by Rai Bahadur Hira Lāl ... Pub. under the orders of the Central Provinces Administration ... -- London : Macmillan, 1916. . -- 4 vol. : Ill. ; 22 cm. -- vol. 2. -- S. 288f. -- S. 251 - 270
Erstmals hier veröffentlicht: 2008-04-15
Anlass: Lehrveranstaltung FS 2008
©opyright: Public domain
Dieser Text ist Teil der Abteilung Sanskrit von Tüpfli's Global Village Library
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Bhāt, Rao, Jasondhi.
The caste of bards and genealogists. In 1911 the Bhāts numbered 29,000 persons in the Central Provinces and Berār, being distributed over all Districts and States, with a slight preponderance in large towns such as Nāgpur, Jubbulpore and Amraoti. The name Bhāt is derived from the Sanskrit Bhātta, a lord. The origin of the Bhāts has been discussed in detail by Sir H. Risley. Some, no doubt, are derived from the Brāhman caste as stated by Mr. Nesfield : "They are an offshoot from those secularised Brāhmans who frequented the courts of princes and the camps of warriors, recited their praises in public, and kept records of their genealogies. Such, without much variation, is the function of the Bhāt at the present day. The Mahābhārata speaks of a band of bards and eulogists marching in front of Yudishthira as he made his progress from the field of Kurukshetra towards Hastinapur. But these very men are spoken of in the same poem as Brāhmans. Naturally as time went on these courtier priests became hereditary bards, receded from the parent stem and founded a new caste." " The best modern opinion," Sir H. [S. 252] Risley states,1 "seems disposed to find the germ of the Brāhman caste in the bards, ministers and family priests, who were attached to the king's household in Vedic times. The characteristic profession of the Bhāts has an ancient and distinguished history. The literature of both Greece and India owes the preservation of its oldest treasures to the singers who recited poems in the households of the chiefs, and doubtless helped in some measure to shape the masterpieces which they handed down. Their place was one of marked distinction. In the days when writing was unknown, the man who could remember many verses was held in high honour by the tribal chief, who depended upon the memory of the bard for his personal amusement, for the record of his own and his ancestors' prowess, and for the maintenance of the genealogy which established the purity of his descent. The bard, like the herald, was not lightly to be slain, and even Odysseus in the heat of his vengeance spares the αοιδος Phemius, "who sang among the wooers of necessity."2
There is no reason to doubt that the Birm or Baram Bhāts are an offshoot of Brāhmans, their name being merely a corruption of the term Brāhman. But the caste is a very mixed one, and another large section, the Chārans, are almost certainly derived from Rājpūts. Malcolm states that according to the fable of their origin, Mahādeo first created Bhāts to attend his lion and bull ; but these could not prevent the former from killing the latter, which was a source of infinite vexation and trouble, as it compelled Mahādeo to create new ones. He therefore formed the Chāran, equally devout with the Bhāt, but of bolder spirit, and gave him in charge these favourite animals. From that time no bull was ever destroyed by the lion.3 This fable perhaps indicates that while the peaceful Bhāts were Brāhmans, the more warlike Chārans were Rājpūts. It is also said that some Rājpūts disguised themselves as bards to escape the vengeance of Parasurāma.4 The Māru Chārans intermarry with Rājpūts, and their name appears to be derived from Māru, the term for the Rājpūtana desert, which is also found in Mārwār. [S. 253] Malcolm states1 that when the Rājpūts migrated from the banks of the Ganges to Rājputāna, their Brāhman priests did not accompany them in any numbers, and hence the Chārans arose and supplied their place. They had to understand the rites of worship, particularly of Siva and Pārvati, the favourite deities of the Rājpūts, and were taught to read and write. One class became merchants and travelled with large convoys of goods, and the others were the bards and genealogists of the Rāpūts. Their songs were in the rudest metre, and their language was the local dialect, understood by all. All this evidence shows that the Chārans were a class of Rājpūt bards.
1 Tribes and Castes of Bengal, art. Brāhman.
2 art. Bhāt.
3 Malcolm, Central India, ii. p. 132
4 Rājasthān, ii. p. 406.
1 Malcolm, ii. p. 135.
But besides the Birm or Brāhman Bhāts and the Rājpūt Chārans there is another large body of the caste of mixed origin, who serve as bards of the lower castes and are probably composed to a great extent of members of these castes. These are known as the Brid-dhari or begging Bhāts. They beg from such castes as Lodhis, Telis, Kurmis, Ahīrs and so on, each caste having a separate section of Bhāts to serve it ; the Bhāts of each caste take food from the members of the caste, but they also eat and intermarry with each other. Again, there are Bairāgi Bhāts who beg from Bairāgis, and keep the genealogies of the temple-priests and their successors. Yet another class are the Dasaundhis or Jasondhis, who sing songs in honour of Devi, play on musical instruments and practise astrology. These rank below the cultivating castes and sometimes admit members of such castes who have taken religious vows.
The Brāhman or Birm-Bhāts form a separate subcaste, and the Rājpūts are sometimes called Rājbhāt. These wear the sacred thread, which the Brid-Bhāts and Jasondhis do not. The social status of the Bhāts appears to vary greatly. Sir H. Risley states that they rank immediately below Kāyasths, and Brāhmans will take water from their hands. The Chārans are treated by the Rājpūts with the greatest respect ;2 the highest ruler rises when one of this class enters or leaves an assembly, and the Chāran is invited to eat first at a Rājpūt feast. He smokes from the same huqqa as Rājpūts, and only caste-fellows can do this, as the smoke [S. 254] passes through water on its way to the mouth. In past times the Chāran acted as a herald, and his person was inviolable. He was addressed as Mahārāj,1 and could sit on the Singhāsan or Lion's Hide, the ancient term for a Rājpūt throne, as well as on the hides of the tiger, panther and black antelope. The Rājpūts held him in equal estimation with the Brāhman or perhaps even greater.2 This was because they looked to him to enshrine their heroic deeds in his songs and hand them down to posterity. His sarcastic references to a defeat in battle or any act displaying a want of courage inflamed their passions as nothing else could do. On the other hand, the Brid-Bhāts, who serve the lower castes, occupy an inferior position. This is because they beg at weddings and other feasts, and accept cooked food from members of the caste who are their clients. Such an act constitutes an admission of inferior status, and as the Bhāts eat together their position becomes equivalent to that of the lowest group among them. Thus if other Bhāts eat with the Bhāts of Telis or Kalārs, who have taken cooked food from their clients, they are all in the position of having taken food from Telis and Kalārs, a thing which only the lowest castes will do. If the Bhāt of any caste, such as the Kurmis, keeps a girl of that caste, she can be admitted into the community, which is therefore of a very mixed character. Such a caste as the Kurmis will not even take water from the hands of the Bhāts who serve them. This rule applies also where a special section of the caste itself act as bards and minstrels. Thus the Pardhāns are the bards of the Gonds, but rank below ordinary Gonds, who give them food and will not take it from them. And the Sānsias, the bards of the Jāts, and the Mirāsis, who are employed in this capacity by the lower castes generally, occupy a very inferior position, and are sometimes considered as impure.
2 Rājasthān, ii. pp. 133, 134.
1 Great King, the ordinary method of address to Brāhmans.
2 Rājasthān, ii. p. 175
The customs of the Bhāts resemble those of other castes of corresponding status. The higher Bhāts forbid the remarriage of widows, and expel a girl who becomes pregnant before marriage. They carry a dagger, the special emblem of the Chārans, in order to be distinguished from low-class [S. 255] Bhāts. The Bhāts generally display the chaur or yak-tail whisk and the chhadi or silver-plated rod on ceremonial occasions, and they worship these emblems of their calling on the principal festivals. The former is waved over the bridegroom at a wedding, and the latter is borne before him. The Brāhman Bhāts abstain from flesh of any kind and liquor, and other Bhāts usually have the same rules about food as the caste whom they serve. Brāhman Bhāts and Chārans alone wear the sacred thread. The high status sometimes assigned to this division of the caste is shown in the saying :
Age Brāhman pīchhe Bhāt
tāke pīchhe aur jāt,
or, 'First comes the Brāhman, then the Bhāt, and after them the other castes.'
The business of a Bhāt in former times is thus described by Forbes :1 "When the rainy season closes and travelling becomes practicable, the bard sets off on his yearly tour from his residence in the Bhātwāra or bard's quarter of some city or town. One by one he visits each of the Rājpūt chiefs who are his patrons, and from whom he has received portions of land or annual grants of money, timing his arrival, if possible, to suit occasions of marriage or other domestic festivals. After he has received the usual courtesies he produces the Wai, a book written in his own crabbed hieroglyphics or in those of his father, which contains the descent of the house from its founder, interspersed with many a verse or ballad, the dark sayings contained in which are chanted forth in musical cadence to a delighted audience, and are then orally interpreted by the bard with many an illustrative anecdote or tale. The Wai, however, is not merely a source for the gratification of family pride or even of love of song ; it is also a record by which questions of relationship are determined when a marriage is in prospect, and disputes relating to the division of ancestral property are decided, intricate as these last necessarily are from the practice of polygamy and the rule that all the sons of a family are entitled to a share. It is the duty of the bard at each periodical visit to register the births, marriages and deaths [S. 256] which have taken place in the family since his last circuit, as well as to chronicle all the other events worthy of remark which have occurred to affect the fortunes of his patron ; nor have we ever heard even a doubt suggested regarding the accurate, much less the honest fulfilment of this duty by the bard. The manners of the bardic tribe are very similar to those of their Rājpūt clients ; their dress is nearly the same, but the bard seldom appears without the katār or dagger, a representation of which is scrawled beside his signature, and often rudely engraved upon his monumental stone, in evidence of his death in the sacred duty of trāga (suicide)."1
1 Rāsmālā, ii. pp. 261, 262.
1 See later in this article.
The Bhāt thus fulfilled a most useful function as registrar of births and marriages. But his merits were soon eclipsed by the evils produced by his custom of extolling liberal patrons and satirising those who gave inadequately. The desire of the Rājpūts to be handed down to fame in the Bhāt's songs was such that no extravagance was spared to satisfy him. Chand, the great Rājpūt bard, sang of the marriage of Prithwi Rāj, king of Delhi, that the bride's father emptied his coffers in gifts, but he filled them with the praises of mankind. A lakh of rupees2 was given to the chief bard, and this became a precedent for similar occasions. "Until vanity suffers itself to be controlled," Colonel Tod wrote,3 " and the aristocratic Rājpūts submit to republican simplicity, the evils arising from nuptial profusion will not cease. Unfortunately those who should check it find their interest in stimulating it, namely, the whole crowd of māngtas or beggars, bards, minstrels, jugglers, Brāhmans, who assemble on these occasions, and pour forth their epithalamiums in praise of the virtue of liberality. The bards are the grand recorders of fame, and the volume of precedent is always [S. 257] resorted to by citing the liberality of former chiefs ; while the dread of their satire1 shuts the eyes of the chief to consequences, and they are only anxious to maintain the reputation of their ancestors, though fraught with future ruin." Owing to this insensate liberality in the desire to satisfy the bards and win their praises, a Rājpūt chief who had to marry a daughter was often practically ruined ; and the desire to avoid such obligations led to the general practice of female infanticide, formerly so prevalent in Rājpūtana. The importance of the bards increased their voracity ; Mr. Nesfield describes them as "Rapacious and conceited mendicants, too proud to work but not too proud to beg." The Dholis2 or minstrels were one of the seven great evils which the famous king Sidhrāj expelled from Anhilwāda Pātan in Gujart ; the Dākans or witches were another.3 Malcolm states that "They give praise and fame in their songs to those who are liberal to them, while they visit those who neglect or injure them with satires in which the victims are usually reproached with illegitimate birth and meanness of character. Sometimes the Bhāt, if very seriously offended, fixes an effigy of the person he desires to degrade on a long pole and appends to it a slipper as a mark of disgrace. In such cases the song of the Bhāt records the infamy of the object of his revenge. This image usually travels the country till the party or his friends purchase the cessation of the curses and ridicule thus entailed. It is not deemed in these countries within the power of the prince, much less any other person, to stop a Bhāt or even punish him for such a proceeding. In 1812 Sevak Rām Seth, a banker of Holkar's court, offended one of these Bhāts, pushing him rudely out of the shop where the man had come to ask alms. The man made a figure4 of him to which he attached a slipper and carried it to court, and everywhere sang the infamy of the Seth. The latter, though a man of wealth and influence, could not prevent him, but obstinately refused to purchase his forbearance. His friends after some months subscribed Rs. 80 and the Bhāt discontinued his execrations, but said it was [S. 258] too late, as his curses had taken effect ; and the superstitious Hindus ascribe the ruin of the banker, which took place some years afterwards, to this unfortunate event." The loquacity and importunity of the Bhāts are shown in the saying, 'Four Bhāts make a crowd' ; and their insincerity in the proverb quoted by Mr. Crooke, "The bard, the innkeeper and the harlot have no heart ; they are polite when customers arrive, but neglect those leaving (after they have paid)"1 The Bhāt women are as bold, voluble and ready in retort as the men. When a Bhāt woman passes a male caste-fellow on the road, it is the latter who raises a piece of cloth to his face till the woman is out of sight.2
2 This present of a lakh of rupees is known as Lākh Pasāru, and it is not usually given in cash but in kind. It is made up of grain, land, carriages, jewellery, horses, camels and elephants, and varies in vajue from Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 70,000. A living bard, Mahāmahopādhyāya Murar Dās, has received three Lākh Pasāras from the Rājas of Jodhpur and has refused one from the Rāna of Udaipur in view of the fact that he was made ayachaka by the Jodhpur Rāja. Ayachaka means literally 'not a beggar,' and when a bard has once been made ayachaka he cannot accept gifts from any person other than his own patron. An ayachaka was formerly known polpat as it became his bounden duty to sing the praises of his patron constantly from the gate (pol) of the donor's fort or castle. (Mr. Hira Lai.)
2 Rājasthān, ii. p. 548.1 Viserva, lit. poison.
2 From dhol, a drum.
3 Rājasthān, ii. p. 184.
4 Lit. putli or doll.
1 Tribes and Castes, art. Bhāt.
2 Ibidem. Veiling the face is a sign of modesty.
Bhāt with his putla or doll.
The Some of the lower classes of Bhāts have become religious mendicants and musicians, and perform ceremonial functions. Thus the Jasondhis, who are considered a class of Bhāts, take their name from the jas or hymns sung in praise of Devi. They are divided into various sections, as the Nakīb or flag-bearers in a procession, the Nāzir or ushers who introduced visitors to the Rāja, the Nagāria or players on kettle-drums, the Karaola who pour sesamum oil on their clothes and beg, and the Panda, who serve as priests of Devi, and beg carrying an image of the goddess in their hands. There is also a section of Muhammadan Bhāts who serve as bards and genealogists for Muhammadan castes. Some Bhāts, having the rare and needful qualification of literacy so that they can read the old Sanskrit medical works, have, like a number of Brāhmans, taken to the practice of medicine and are known as Kavirāj.
As already stated, the persons of the Chārans in the capacity of bard and herald were sacred, and they travelled from court to court without fear of molestation from robbers or enemies. It seems likely that the Chārans may have united the breeding of cattle to their calling of bard ; but in any case the advantage derived from their sanctity was so important that they gradually became the chief carriers and traders of Rājputāna and the adjoining tracts. They further, in virtue of their holy character, enjoyed a partial exemption from the perpetual and harassing imposts levied [S. 259] by every petty State on produce entering its territory ; and the combination of advantages thus obtained was such as to give them almost a monopoly in trade. They carried merchandise on large droves of bullocks all over Rājputāna and the adjoining countries ; and in course of time the carriers restricted themselves to their new profession, splitting off from the Chārans and forming the caste of Banjāras.
But the mere reverence for their calling would not have sufficed for a permanent safeguard to the Chārans from destitute and unscrupulous robbers. They preserved it by the customs of Chandi or Trāga and Dharna. These consisted in their readiness to mutilate, starve or kill themselves rather than give up property entrusted to their care ; and it was a general belief that their ghosts would then haunt the persons whose ill deeds had forced them to take their own lives. It seems likely that this belief in the power of a suicide or murdered man to avenge himself by haunting any persons who had injured him or been responsible for his death may have had a somewhat wide prevalence and been partly accountable for the reprobation attaching in early times to the murderer and the act of self-slaughter. The haunted murderer would be impure and would bring ill-fortune on all who had to do with him, while the injury which a suicide would inflict on his relatives in haunting them would cause this act to be regarded as a sin against one's family and tribe. Even the ordinary fear of the ghosts of people who die in the natural course, and especially of those who are killed by accident, is so strong that a large part of the funeral rites is devoted to placating and laying the ghost of the dead man ; and in India the period of observance of mourning for the dead is perhaps in reality that time during which the spirit of the dead man is supposed to haunt his old abode and render the survivors of his family impure. It was this fear of ghosts on which the Chārans relied, nor did they hesitate a moment to sacrifice their lives in defence of any obligation they had undertaken or of property committed to their care. When plunderers carried off any cattle belonging to the Chārans, the whole community would proceed to the spot where the robbers resided ; and in failure of having their property [S. 260] restored would cut off the heads of several of their old men and women. Frequent instances occurred of a man dressing himself in cotton-quilted cloths steeped in oil which he set on fire at the bottom, and thus danced against the person against whom trāga was performed until the miserable creature dropped down and was burnt to ashes. On one occasion a Cutch chieftain, attempting to escape with his wife and child from a village, was overtaken by his enemy when about to leap a precipice ; immediately turning he cut off his wife's head with his scimitar and, flourishing his reeking blade in the face of his pursuer, denounced against him the curse of the trāga which he had so fearfully performed.1 In this case it was supposed that the wife's ghost would haunt the enemy who had driven the husband to kill her.
1 Postans, Cutch, p. 172.
The following account in the Rāsmāla2 is an instance of suicide and of the actual haunting by the ghost : A Chāran asserted a claim against the chief of Siela in Kāthiāwār, which the latter refused to liquidate. The bard thereupon, taking forty of his caste with him, went to Siela with the intention of sitting Dharna at the chiefs door and preventing any one from coming out or going in until the claim should be discharged. However, as they approached the town, the chief, becoming aware of their intention, caused the gates to be closed. The bards remained outside and for three days abstained from food ; on the fourth day they proceeded to perform trāga as follows : some hacked their own arms ; others decapitated three old women of the party and hung their heads up at the gate as a garland ; certain of the women cut off their own breasts. The bards also pierced the throats of four of their old men with spikes, and they took two young girls by the heels, and dashed out their brains against the town gate. The Chāran to whom the money was due dressed himself in clothes wadded with cotton which he steeped in oil and then set on fire. He thus burned himself to death. But as he died he cried out, "I am now dying; but I will become a headless ghost (Kuvīs) in the palace, and will take the chiefs life and cut off his posterity." After this sacrifice the rest of the bards returned home.
2 Vol. ii. pp. 392-394.
[S. 261] On the third day after the Chāran's death his Bhūt (ghost) threw the Rāni downstairs so that she was very much injured. Many other persons also beheld the headless phantom in the palace. At last he entered the chiefs head and set him trembling. At night he would throw stones at the palace, and he killed a female servant outright. At length, in consequence of the various acts of oppression which he committed, none dared to approach the chiefs mansion even in broad daylight. In order to exorcise the Bhūt, Jogis, Fakirs and Brāhmans were sent for from many different places ; but whoever attempted the cure was immediately assailed by the Bhūt in the chiefs body, and that so furiously that the exorcist's courage failed him. The Bhūt would also cause the chief to tear the flesh off his own arms with his teeth. Besides this, four or five persons died of injuries received from the Bhūt ; but nobody had the power to expel him. At length a foreign Jyotishi (astrologer) came who had a great reputation for charms and magic, and the chief sent for him and paid him honour. First he tied all round the house threads which he had charged with a charm ; then he sprinkled charmed milk and water all round ; then he drove a charmed iron nail into the ground at each corner of the mansion, and two at the door. He purified the house and continued his charms and incantations for forty-one days, every day making sacrifices at the cemetery to the Bhūt's spirit. The Joshi lived in a room securely fastened up ; but people say that while he was muttering his charms stones would fall and strike the windows. Finally the Joshi brought the chief, who had been living in a separate room, and tried to exorcise the spirit. The patient began to be very violent, but the Joshi and his people spared no pains in thrashing him until they had rendered him quite docile. A sacrificial fire-pit was made and a lemon placed between it and the chief. The Joshi commanded the Bhūt to enter the lime. The possessed, however, said, 'Who are you ; if one of your Deos (gods) were to come, I would not quit this person.' Thus they went on from morning till noon. At last they came outside, and, burning various kinds of incense and sprinkling many charms, the Bhūt was got out into the lemon. When the lemon began [S. 261] to jump about, the whole of the spectators praised the Joshi, crying out : 'The Bhūt has gone into the lemon ! The Bhūt has gone into the lemon !' The possessed person himself, when he saw the lemon hopping about, was perfectly satisfied that the Bhūt had left his body and gone out into the lemon. The Joshi then drove the lemon outside the city, followed by drummers and trumpeters ; if the lemon left the road, he would touch it with his stick and put it into the right way again. On the track they sprinkled mustard and salt and finally buried the lemon in a pit seven cubits deep, throwing into the hole above it mustard and salt, and over these dust and stones, and filling in the space between the stones with lead. At each corner, too, the Joshi drove in an iron nail, two feet long, which he had previously charmed. The lemon buried, the people returned home, and not one of them ever saw the Bhūt thereafter. According to the recorder of the tale, the cure was effected by putting quicksilver into the lemon. When a man is attacked with fever or becomes speechless or appears to have lockjaw, his friends conclude from these indications that he is possessed by a Bhūt.
In another case some Bhāts had been put in charge, by the chief of a small State, of a village which was coveted by a neighbouring prince, the Rāna of Dānta. The latter sent for the Bhāts and asked them to guard one or two of his villages, and having obtained their absence by this pretext he raided their village, carrying off hostages and cattle. When the Bhāts got back they collected to the number of a hundred and began to perform Dharna against the Rāna. They set out from their village, and at every two miles as they advanced they burned a man, so that by the time they got to the Rāna's territory seven or eight men had been burnt. They were then pacified by his people and induced to go back. The Rāna offered them presents, but they refused to accept them, as they said the guilt of the death of their fellows who had been burned would thereby be removed from the Rāna. The Rāna lost all the seven sons, born to him and died childless, and it was generally held to be on account of this sin.1
1 Rāsmāla, ii. pp. 143, 144.
[S. 263] Such was the certainty attaching to the Chāran's readiness to forfeit his life rather than prove false to a trust, and the fear entertained of the offence of causing him to do so and being haunted by his ghost, that his security was eagerly coveted in every kind of transaction. "No traveller could journey unattended by these guards, who for a small sum were satisfied to conduct him in safety."1 The guards, called Valāvas, were never backward in inflicting the most grievous wounds and even causing the death of their old men and women if the robbers persisted in plundering those under their protection ; but this seldom happened, as the wildest Koli, Kāthi or Rājpūt held the person of a Chāran sacred. Besides becoming safeguards to travellers and goods, they used to stand security to the amount of many lakhs of rupees. When rents and property were concerned, the Rājpūts preferred a Chāran's bond to that of the wealthiest banker. They also gave security for good behaviour, called chālu zāmin, and for personal attendance in court called hāzar zāmin. The ordinary trāga went no farther than a cut on the arm with the katār or crease ; the forearms of those who were in the habit of becoming security had generally several cuts from the elbow downwards. The Chārans, both men and women, wounded themselves, committed suicide and murdered their relations with the most complete self-devotion. In 1812 the Marāthas brought a body of troops to impose a payment on the village of Pānchpipla.2 The Chārans resisted the demand, but finding the Marāthas determined to carry their point, after a remonstrance against paying any kind of revenue as being contrary to their occupation and principles, they at last cut the throats of ten young children and threw them at the feet of the Marāthas, exclaiming, 'These are our riches and the only payment we can make.' The Chārans were immediately seized and confined in irons at Jambusar."
1 Bombay Gazetteer, Hindus of Gujarat, Mr. Bhimbhai Kirparām, pp. 217, 219.
2 In Broach.
As was the case with the Bhāt and the Brāhman, the source of the Chāran's power lay in the widespread fear that a Chāran's blood brought ruin on him who caused the blood to be spilt. It was also sometimes considered that the [S. 264] Chāran was possessed by his deity, and the caste were known as Deoputra or sons of God, the favourite dwelling of the guardian spirit.
Such a belief enhanced the guilt attaching to the act of causing or being responsible for a Chāran's death. [...]
[S. 265] Analogous to the custom of trāga was that of Dharna, which was frequently and generally resorted to for the redress of wrongs and offences at a time when the law made little provision for either. The ordinary method of Dharna was to sit starving oneself in front of the door of the person from whom redress was sought until he gave it from fear of causing the death of the suppliant and being haunted by his ghost. It was, naturally, useless unless the person seeking redress was prepared to go to extremes, and has some analogy to the modern hunger-strike with the object of getting out of jail. Another common device was to thrust a spear-blade through both cheeks, and in this state to dance before the person against whom Dharna was practised. The pain had to be borne without a sign of suffering, which, if displayed, would destroy its efficacy. Or a creditor would proceed to the door of his debtor and demand payment, and if not appeased would stand up in his presence with an enormous weight upon his head, which he had brought with him for the purpose, swearing never to alter his position until satisfaction was given, and denouncing at the same time the most horrible execrations on his debtor, should he suffer him to expire in that situation. This seldom failed to produce the desired effect, but should he actually die [S. 266] while in Dharna, the debtor's house was razed to the earth and he and his family sold for the satisfaction of the creditor's heirs. Another and more desperate form of Dharna, only occasionally resorted to, was to erect a large pile of wood before the house of the debtor, and after the customary application for payment had been refused the creditor tied on the top of the pile a cow or a calf, or very frequently an old woman, generally his mother or other relation, swearing at the same time to set fire to it if satisfaction was not instantly given. All the time the old woman denounced the bitterest curses, threatening to persecute the wretched debtor both here and hereafter.1
1 The above account of Dharna is taken from Colonel Tone's Letter on the Marāthas (India Office Tracts).
The word dharna means 'to place or lay on,' and hence 'a pledge.' Mr. Hira Lai suggests that the standing with a weight on the head may have been the original form of the penance, from which the other and severer methods were subsequently derived. Another custom known as dharna is that of a suppliant placing a stone on the shrine of a god or tomb of a saint. He makes his request and, laying the stone on the shrine, says, "Here I place this stone until you fulfil my prayer ; if I do not remove it, the shame is on you." If the prayer is afterwards fulfilled, he takes away the stone and offers a cocoanut. It seems clear that the underlying idea of this custom is the same as that of standing with a stone on the head as described above, but it is difficult to say which was the earlier or original form.
As a general rule, if the guilt of having caused a suicide was at a man's door, he should expiate it by going to the Ganges to bathe. When a man was haunted by the ghost of any one whom he had wronged, whether such a person had committed suicide or simply died of grief at being unable to obtain redress, it was said of him Brahm laga, or that Brahma had possessed him. The spirit of a Brāhman boy, who has died unmarried, is also accustomed to haunt any person who walks over his grave in an impure condition or otherwise defiles it, and when a man is haunted in such a manner it is called Brahm laga. Then an exorcist is called, [S. 267] who sprinkles water over the possessed man, and this burns the Brahm Deo or spirit inside him as if it were burning oil. The spirit cries out, and the exorcist orders him to leave the man. Then the spirit states how he has been injured by the man, and refuses to leave him. The exorcist asks him what he requires on condition of leaving the man, and he asks for some good food or something else, and is given it. The exorcist takes a nail and goes to a pipal tree and orders the Brahm Deo to go into the tree. Brahm Deo obeys, and the exorcist drives the nail into the tree and the spirit remains imprisoned there until somebody takes the nail out, when he will come out again and haunt him. The Hindus think that the god Brahma lives in the roots of the plpal tree, Siva in its branches, and Vishnu in the choti or scalp-knot, that is the topmost foliage.
Another and mild form of Dharna is that' known as Khātpāti. When a woman is angry with her husband on account of his having refused her some request, she will put her bed in a corner of the room and go and lie on it, turning her face to the wall, and remain so, not answering when spoken to nor taking food. The term Khātpti signifies keeping to one side of the bed, and there she will remain until her husband accedes to her request, unless indeed he should decide to beat her instead. This is merely an exaggerated form of the familiar display of temper known as sulking. It is interesting to note the use of the phrase turning one's face to the wall, with something of the meaning attached to it in the Bible.
A custom similar to that of Dharna was called Diwāla nikālna or going bankrupt. When a merchant had had heavy losses and could not meet his liabilities, he would place the lock of his door outside, reversing it, and sit in the veranda with a piece of sackcloth over him. Or he wrapped round him the floor-carpet of his room. When he had displayed these signs of ruin and self-abasement his creditors would not sue him, but he would never be able to borrow money again.
In conclusion a few specimens of Bhāt songs may be given. The following is an account of the last king of Nāgpur, Raghuji III., commonly known as Bāji Rao : [S. 268]
They made a picture of Bāji Rao ;
Bāji Rao was the finest king to see ;
The Brāhmans told lies about him,
They sent a letter from Nāgpur to Calcutta,
They made Bāji Rao go on a pilgrimage.
Brothers ! the great Sirdārs who were with him,
They brought a troop of five hundred horse !
The Tuesday fair in Benares was held with fireworks,
They made the Ganges pink with rose-petals.
Bāji Rao's gifts were splendid.
His turban and coat were of brocaded silk,
A pair of diamonds and emeralds
He gave to the Brāhmans of Benares.
Oh brothers ! the Raja sat in a covered howdah bound on an elephant !
Many fans waved over his head ;
How charitable a king he was !
In the above song a note of regret is manifest for the parade and display of the old court of Nāgpur, English rule being less picturesque. The next is a song about the English :
The English have taken the throne of Nāgpur,
The fear of the English is great.
In a moment's time they conquer countries.
The guns boomed, the English came strong and warlike.
They give wealth to all.
They ram the ramrods in the guns.
They conquered also Tippoo's dominions.
The English are ruling in the fort of Gāwilgarh.
The following is another song about the English, not quite so complimentary :
The English became our kings and have made current the kaldār (milled) rupee.
The menials are favoured and the Bhāts have lost their profession.
The mango has lost its taste, the milk has lost its sweetness,
The rose has lost its scent.
Bāji Rao of Nāgpur he also is gone.
No longer are the drums beaten at the palace gate.
Poona customs have come in.
Brāhmans knowing the eighteen Purāns have become Christians ;
The son thinks himself better than his father.
The daugbter-in-law no longer respects her mother-in-law,
The wife fights with her husband.
The English have made the railways and telegraphs ;
The people wondered at the silver rupees and all the country prospered.
[S. 269] The following is a song about the Nerbudda at Mandla, Rewa being another name for the river :
The stream of the world springs out breaking apart the hills ;
The Rewa cuts her path through the soil, the air is darkened with her spray.
All the length of her banks are the seats of saints ; hermits and pilgrims worship her.
On seeing the holy river a man's sins fall away as wood is cut by a saw ;
By bathing in her he plucks the fruit of holiness.
When boats are caught in her flood, the people pray : 'We are sinners, O Rewa, bring us safely to the bank !'
When the Nerbudda is in flood, Mandla is an island and the people think their end has come :
The rain pours down on all sides, earth and sky become dark as smoke, and men call on Rama.
The bard says : 'Let it rain as it may, some one will save us as Krishna saved the people of Brindāwan !'
This is a description of a beautiful woman :
A beautiful woman is loved by her neighbours.
But she will let none come to her and answers them not
They say : ' Since God has made you so beautiful, open your litter and let yourself be seen !'
He who sees her is struck as by lightning, she shoots her lover with the darts of her eyes, invisible herself.
She will not go to her husband's house till he has her brought by the Government.
When she goes her father's village is left empty.
She is so delicate she faints at the sight of a flower.
Her body cannot bear the weight of her cloth.
The garland of jasmine-flowers is a burden on her neck,
The red powder on her feet is too heavy for them.
It is interesting to note that weakness and delicacy in a woman are emphasised as an attraction, as in English literature of the eighteenth century.
The last is a gentle intimation that poets, like other people, have to live :
It is useless to adorn oneself with sandalwood on an empty belly,
Nobody's body gets fat from the scent of flowers ;
The singing of songs excites the mind,
But if the body is not fed all these are vain and hollow.
All Bhāts recite their verses in a high-pitched sing-song tone, which renders it very difficult for their hearers to grasp [S. 270] the sense unless they know it already. The Vedas and all other sacred verses are spoken in this manner, perhaps as a mark of respect and to distinguish them from ordinary speech. The method has some resemblance to intoning. Women use the same tone when mourning for the dead."
Zu: 2. Bhāt / India Museum (1868)