Caste in modern india and other essays ebook
The cultivators of each village believed themselves to be kinsmen descended from a common ancestor, and also to be akin to the god of the village lands from which they drew their sustenance. Hence their order had an equal right to cultivate the village land and their children to inherit it, though they did not conceive of the idea of ownership of land in the sense in which we understand this phrase. In process of time, as land was the chief source of wealth, and was also regarded as sacred, the old status became attached to castes or groups of persons who obtained or held land irrespective of their origin, and these are what are now called the good cultivating castes.
They have now practically the same status, though, as has been seen, they were originally of most diverse origin, including bands of robbers and freebooters, cattle-lifters, non-Aryan tribes, and sections of any castes which managed to get possession of an appreciable quantity of land. These industries represent a higher degree of civilisation than the village trades, and the workers may probably have been formed into castes at a later period, when the practice of the handicrafts was no longer despised.
The metal-working castes are now [ 51 ] usually urban, and on the average their members are as well-to-do as the cultivators. These classes of artisans generally live in towns.
The Barhai or carpenter is sometimes a village menial, but most carpenters live in towns, the wooden implements of agriculture being made either by the blacksmith or by the cultivators themselves. He could not thus be a village menial, and his status would be somewhat improved by the sanctity of his calling. Their position resembles that of the barber [ 52 ] and waterman, the pure village menials, which will be discussed later.
Their callings have there become important urban industries. These castes and certain others have a much higher rank than that of the corresponding castes in northern and Central India, and the special reasons indicated seem to account for this. Generally the artisan castes ranking on the same or a higher level than the cultivators are urban and not rural. They were not placed in a position of inferiority to the cultivators by accepting contributions of grain and gifts from them, and this perhaps accounts for their higher position.
The typical castes of this group appear to be the village artisans and menials and the village priests. The annexed list shows the principal of these. The essential fact which formerly governed the status of this group of castes appears to be that they performed various services for the cultivators according to their different vocations, and were supported by contributions of grain made to [ 54 ] them by the cultivators, and by presents given to them at seed-time and harvest.
The Politics of Caste in West Bengal
They were the clients of the cultivators and the latter were their patrons and supporters, and hence ranked above them. This condition of things survives only in the case of a few castes, but prior to the introduction of a metal currency must apparently have been the method of remuneration of all the village industries. For this he is paid in Saugor a yearly contribution of 20 lbs.
In Wardha he gets 50 lbs. For new implements he must either be paid separately or at least supplied with the iron and charcoal. The village barber receives in Saugor 20 lbs. In return for this he shaves each cultivator over the head and face about once a fortnight. The Dhobi or washerman gets half the annual contribution of the blacksmith and carpenter, with the same presents, and in return for this he washes the clothes of the family two or three times a month. When he brings the clothes home he also receives a meal or a wheaten cake, and well-to-do families give him their old clothes as a present.
When the cultivators have marriages he performs the same duties for the whole wedding party, and receives a present of money and clothes according to the means of the family, and his food every day while the wedding is in progress. He supplies water for drinking to the reapers, receiving three sheaves a day as payment, and takes sweet potatoes and boiled plums to the field and sells them. But he sometimes takes for use the soiled grass from the stalls of the cattle and gives pots free to the cultivator in exchange.
He presents the bride with seven new pots at a wedding, and these are filled with water and used in the ceremony, being considered to represent the seven seas. The office of village watchman is an important one, and is usually held by a member of the indigenous tribes.
These formerly were the chief criminals, and the village watchman, in return for his pay, was expected to detect the crimes of his tribesmen and to make good any losses of property caused by them. They are now usually employed as village watchmen and are not regarded as impure. The village watchman now receives a remuneration fixed by Government and is practically a rural policeman, but in former times he was a village menial and was maintained by the cultivators in the same manner as the others. The village priests are another class of this group.
He is also sometimes in charge of the village temple.
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He is supported by contributions of grain from the villagers and often has a plot of land rent-free from the proprietor. The Gurao is another village priest, whose fortune has been quite different. The caste acted as priests of the temples of Siva and were also musicians and supplied leaf-plates. The Gondhalis are the village priests of Devi, the earth-goddess, who is also frequently the tutelary goddess of the village.
Flowers were held sacred and were an essential adjunct to worship in India as in Greece and Rome.
The sacred flowers of [ 57 ] India are the lotus, the marigold and the champak 63 and from their use in religious worship is derived the custom of adorning the guests with garlands at all social functions, just as in Rome and Greece they wore crowns on their heads. It seems not unlikely that this was the purpose for which cultivated flowers were first grown, at any rate in India. This leaf, growing on a kind of creeper, like the vine, in irrigated gardens roofed with thatch for protection from the sun, is very highly prized by the Hindus.
It is offered with areca-nut, cloves, cardamom and lime rolled up in a quid to the guests at all social functions. It is endowed by them with great virtues, being supposed to prevent heartburn, indigestion, and other stomachic and intestinal disorders, and to preserve the teeth, while taken with musk, saffron and almonds, the betel-leaf is held to be a strong aphrodisiac.
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This staining of the mouth red with betel-leaf is also said to distinguish a man from a dog. The idea that betel preserves the teeth seems to be unfounded. The teeth of Hindus appear to be far less liable to decay than those of Europeans, but this is thought to be because they generally restrict themselves to a vegetable diet and always rinse out their mouths with water after taking food. The betel-leaf is considered sacred; a silver ornament is made in its shape and it is often invoked in spells and [ 58 ] magic.
The castes following other village trades mainly fall into this group, though they may not now be village menials. Formerly it is probable that the village Teli had the right of pressing all the oil grown in the village, and retaining a certain share for his remuneration. Both these castes have now become prosperous, and include a number of landowners, and their status is gradually improving.
The Darzi or tailor is not usually attached to the village community; sewn clothes have hitherto scarcely been worn among the rural population, and the weaver provides the cloths which they drape on the body and round the head. The Kachera or maker of the glass bangles which every Hindu married woman wears as a sign of her estate, ranks with the village artisans; his is probably an urban trade, but he has never become [ 59 ] prosperous or important.
The Nat or rope-dancer and acrobat may formerly have had functions in the village in connection with the crops. In Kumaon 66 a Nat still slides down a long rope from the summit of a cliff to the base as a rite for ensuring the success of the crops on the occasion of a festival of Siva. The rope on which he slid down the cliff is cut up and distributed among the inhabitants of the village, who hang the pieces as charms on the eaves of their houses. The hair of the Nat is also taken and preserved as possessing similar virtues. A Natni, or Nat woman, is sometimes worshipped; and when two sharp peaks of hills are situated close to each other, it is related that there was once a Natni, very skilful on the tight-rope, who performed before the king; and he promised her that if she would stretch a rope from the peak of one hill to that of the other, and walk across it, he would marry her and make her wealthy.
Accordingly the rope was stretched, but the queen from jealousy went and cut it nearly through in the night, and when the Natni started to walk, the rope broke, and she fell down and was killed. Having regard to the Kumaon rite, it may be surmised that these legends commemorate the death of a Natni or acrobat during the performance of some feat of dancing or sliding on a rope for the magical benefit of the crops. And it seems possible that acrobatic performances may have had their origin in this manner. The point bearing on the present argument [ 60 ] is, however, that the Nat performed special functions for the success of the village crops, and on this account was supported by contributions from the villagers, and ranked with the village menials.
Some of the castes already mentioned, and one or two others having the same status, work as household servants as well as village menials. He can boil water and pour pulse into the cooking-pot from above, so long as he does not touch the vessel after the food has been placed in it. He will take any remains of food left in the cooking-pot, as this is not considered to be polluted, food only becoming polluted when the hand touches it on the dish after having touched the mouth. Such a man arranges the marriages of the children and takes a considerable part in conducting them, and acts as escort to the women of the family when they go on a journey.
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Plates made of large leaves fastened together with little wooden pins and strips of fibre are commonly used by the Hindus for eating food, as are little leaf-cups for drinking; glazed earthenware has hitherto not been commonly manufactured, and that with a rougher surface becomes ceremonially impure by contact with any strange person or thing. Metal vessels and plates are the only alternative to those made of leaves, and there are frequently not enough of them to go round for a party. Their women are maids to high-caste Hindu ladies, and as they are always about the zenana are liable to lose their virtue.