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Dahait [487]

List of Paragraphs

1. _Origin of the caste._ 2. _Internal structure: totemism._ 3. _Marriage and other customs._ 4. _Social position._ 5. _Former occupations, door-keeper and mace-bearer._ 6. _The umbrella._ 7. _Significance of the umbrella._

1. Origin of the caste.

_Dahait, Dahayat._–A mixed caste of village watchmen of the Jubbulpore and Mandla Districts, who are derived from the cognate caste of Khangars and from several of the forest tribes. In 1911 the Dahaits numbered about 15,000 persons in the Central Provinces, of whom the large majority were found in the Jubbulpore District and the remainder in Bilaspur, Damoh and Seoni. Outside the Province they reside only in Bundelkhand. According to one story the Dahaits and Khangars had a common ancestor, and in Mandla again they say that their ancestors were the door-keepers of the Rajas of Mahoba, and were known as Chhadidar or Darwan; and they came to Mandla about 200 years ago, during the time of Raja Nizam Shah of the Raj-Gond dynasty of that place. In Mandla the names of their subdivisions are given as Rawatia or Rautia, Kol, Mawasi, Sonwani and Rajwaria. Of these Kol and Rajwar are the names of separate tribes; Mawasi is commonly used as a synonym for Korku, another tribe; Sonwani is the name of a sept found among several of the primitive tribes; while Rawat is a t.i.tle borne by the Saonrs and Gonds. The names Rautia and Rajwaria are found as subdivisions of the Kol tribe in Mirzapur, [488] and it is not improbable that the Dahaits are derived from this tribe. The actual name Dahait is also given by Mr. Crooke as a subdivision of the Kols, and he states it to have the meaning of ‘villager,’ from _dehat_, a village. The Dahaits were a cla.s.s of personal attendants on the chief or Raja, as will be seen subsequently. They stood behind the royal cushion and fanned him, ran in front of his chariot or litter to clear the way, and acted as door-keepers and ushers. Service of this kind is of a menial nature and, further, demands a considerable degree of physical robustness; and hence members of the non-Aryan forest tribes would naturally be selected for it. And it would appear that these menial servants gradually formed themselves into a caste in Bundelkhand and became the Dahaits. They obtained a certain rise in status, and now rank in the position of village menials above their parent tribes. In the Central Provinces the Dahaits have commonly been employed as village watchmen, a post a.n.a.logous to that of door-keeper or porter. The caste are also known as Bhaldar or spearmen, and Kotwar or village watchmen.

2. Internal structure: totemism.

The subcastes returned from the Mandla District have already been mentioned. In Bilaspur they have quite different ones, of which two, Joharia and Pailagia, are derived from methods of greeting. Johar is the salutation which a Rajput prince sends to a va.s.sal or chief of inferior rank, and Pailagi or ‘I fall at your feet’ is that with which a member of a lower caste accosts a Brahman. How such names came to be adopted as subcastes cannot be explained. The caste have a number of exogamous groups named after plants and animals. Members of the Bel, [489] Rusallo and Chheola [490] septs revere the trees after which these septs are named. They will not cut or injure the tree, and at the time of marriage they go and invite it to be present at the ceremony. They offer to the tree the _maihar_ cake, which is given only to the members of the family and the husbands and children of daughters. Those belonging to the Nagotia sept [491]

will not kill a snake, and at the time of marriage they deposit the _maihar_ cake at a snake-hole. Members of the Singh (lion) and Bagh (tiger) septs will not kill a tiger, and at their weddings they draw his image on a wall and offer the cake to it, being well aware that if they approached the animal himself, he would probably repudiate the relationship and might not be satisfied with the cake for his meal.

3. Marriage and other customs.

Prior to a marriage a bride-price, known as _sukh_ or _chari_, and consisting of six rupees with some sugar, turmeric and sesamum oil, must be paid by the parents of the bridegroom to those of the bride; and in the absence of this they will decline to perform the ceremony. At the wedding the couple go round the sacred post, and then the bridegroom mingles the flames of two burning lamps and pierces the nose of the image of a bullock made in flour. This rite is performed by several castes, and is said to be in commemoration of Krishna’s having done so on different occasions. It is probably meant to excuse or legitimise the real operation, which should properly be considered as sinful in view of the sacred character of the animal. And it may be mentioned here that the people of the Vindhyan or Bundelkhand Districts where the Dahaits live do not perforate the nostrils of bullocks, and drive them simply by a rope tied round the mouth. In consequence they have little control over them and are quite unable to stop a cart going downhill, which simply proceeds at the will of the animals until it reaches the level or bangs up against some obstacle. In Bilaspur a widow is expected to remain single for five years after her husband’s death, and if she marries within that time she is put out of caste. Divorce is permitted, but is not of frequent occurrence. The caste will excuse a married woman caught in adultery once, but on a second offence she must be expelled. If a woman leaves her husband and goes to live with another man, the latter must repay to her husband the amount expended on his marriage. But in such a case, if the woman was already a widow or _kari aurat_, [492] no penalty is incurred by a man who takes her from her second husband. A man of any good cultivating caste who has a _liaison_ with a Dahait woman will be admitted into the community. An outsider who desires to become a member of the caste must clean his house, break his earthen cooking-pots and buy new ones, and give a meal to the caste-fellows at his house. He sits and takes food with them, and when the meal is over he takes a grain of rice from the leaf-plate of each guest and eats it, and drinks a drop of water from his leaf-cup. This act is equivalent to eating the leavings of food, and after it he cannot re-enter his own caste. On such occasions a rupee and a piece of cloth must be given to the headman of the caste, and a piece of cloth to each member of the _panchayat_ or committee. The headman is known as Mirdhan, and a member of the committee as Diwan, the offices of both being hereditary. The caste worship the Hindu and village G.o.ds of the locality. They have a curious belief that the skull of a man of the Kayasth (writer) caste cannot be burnt in fire, and that if it is placed in a dwelling-house the inmates will quarrel. A child’s first teeth, if found, are thrown into a sacred river or on to the roof of a house with a few grains of rice, in order that the second teeth may grow white and pointed like the rice. The Jhalar or first hair of a boy or girl is cut between two and ten years of age and is wrapped in a piece of dough and thrown into a sacred river. Women are tattooed on the back of the hands, and also sometimes on the shoulder and the arms above the elbow, but not on the feet or face.

4. Social position.

The Dahaits are now commonly employed as village watchmen and as guards or porters (_chaukidar_) of houses. In Bilaspur they also carry litters and work as navvies and stonebreakers like the Kols. Here they will eat pork, but in Jubbulpore greater regard is paid to Hindu prejudice, and they have given up pork and fowls and begun to employ Brahmans for their ceremonies. The men of the caste will accept cooked food from any man of the higher castes or those cultivators from whom a Brahman will take water, but the women are more strict and will only accept it from a Brahman, Bania, Lodhi or Kurmi.

5. Former occupations: door-keeper and mace-bearer.

In past times the Dahaits were the personal attendants on the king. They fanned him with the _chaur_ or yak-tail whisk when he sat in state on the royal cushion. This implement is held sacred and is also used by Brahmans to fan the deities. On ordinary occasions the Raja was fanned by a pankha made of _khaskhas_ gra.s.s and wetted, but not so that the water fell on his head. They also acted as gate-keepers of the palace, and had the t.i.tle of Darwan. The gate-keeper’s post was a responsible one, as it lay on him to see that no one with evil intentions or carrying secret arms was admitted to the palace. Whenever a chief or n.o.ble came to visit the king he deposited his arms with the porter or door-keeper. The necessity of a faithful door-keeper is shown in the proverb: “With these five you must never quarrel: your Guru, your wife, your gate-keeper, your doctor and your cook.” The reasons for the inclusion of the others are fairly clear. On the other hand the gate-porter had usually to be propitiated before access was obtained to his master, like the modern chupra.s.sie; and the resentment felt at his rapacity is shown in the proverb: “The broker, the octroi moharrir, the door-keeper and the bard: these four will surely go to h.e.l.l.” The Darwan or door-keeper would be given the right to collect dues, equivalent to those of a village watchman, from forty or fifty villages. The Dahaits also carried the _chob_ or silver mace before the king. This was about five feet long with a k.n.o.b at the upper end as thick as a man’s wrist. The mace-bearer was known as Chobdar, and it was his duty to carry messages and announce visitors; this latter function he performed with a degree of pomposity truly Asiatic, dwelling with open mouth very audibly on some of the most sounding and emphatic syllables in a way that appeared to strangers almost ludicrous, [493] as shown in the following instance: “On advancing, the Chobdars or heralds proclaimed the t.i.tles of this princely cow-keeper in the usual hyperbolical style. One of the most insignificant-looking men I ever saw then became the destroyer of nations, the leveller of mountains, the exhauster of the ocean. After commanding every inferior mortal to make way for this exalted prince, the heralds called aloud to the animal creation, ‘Retire, ye serpents; fly, ye locusts; approach not, iguanas, lizards and reptiles, while your lord and master condescends to set his foot on the earth.'” [494]

The Dahaits ran before the Raja’s chariot or litter to clear the way for him and announce his coming; and it was also a business of the caste to carry the royal umbrella above the head of the king.

6. The umbrella.

The umbrella was the essential symbol of sovereignty in Asia like the crown in Europe. “Among the ancient Egyptians the umbrella carried with it a mark of distinction, and persons of quality alone could use it. The a.s.syrians reserved it for royal personages only. The umbrella or parasol, says Layard, that emblem of royalty so universally adopted by Eastern nations, was generally carried over the king in time of peace and sometimes even in war. In shape it resembled very closely those now in common use; but it is always seen open in the sculptures. It was edged with ta.s.sels and usually decorated at the top by a flower or some other ornament. The Greeks used it as a mystic symbol in some of their sacred festivals, and the Romans introduced the custom of hanging an umbrella in the basilican churches as a part of the insignia of office of the judge sitting in the basilica. It is said that on the judgment hall being turned into a church the umbrella remained, and in fact occupied the place of the canopy over thrones and the like; and Beatian, an Italian herald, says that a vermilion umbrella in a field argent symbolises dominion. It is also believed that the cardinal’s hat is a modification of the umbrella in the basilican churches. The king of Burma is proud to call himself The Lord of Twenty-four Umbrellas, and the Emperor of China carries that number even to the hunting-field.” [495] In Buddhist architecture the ‘Wheel of Light’ symbolising Buddha is overshadowed by an umbrella, itself adorned with garlands. At Sanchi we find sculptured representations of two and even three umbrellas placed one above the other over the temples, the double and triple canopies of which appear to be fixed to the same handle or staff as in the modern state umbrellas of China and Burma. Thus we have the primary idea of the acc.u.mulated honour of stone or metal discs which subsequently became such a prominent feature of Buddhist architecture, culminating in the many-storied paG.o.das of China and j.a.pan. [496] Similarly in Hindu temples the pinnacle often stands on a circular stone base, probably representing an umbrella.

The umbrella of state was apparently not black like its successor of commerce, but of white or another colour, though the colour is seldom recorded. Sometimes it was of peac.o.c.k’s feathers, the symbol of the Indian war-G.o.d, and as seen above, in Italy it was of red, the royal colour. It has been suggested that the halo originally represented an umbrella, and there is no reason to doubt that the umbrella was the parent of the state canopy.

7. Significance of the umbrella.

It has been supposed that the reason for carrying the umbrella above the king’s head was to veil his eyes from his subjects, and prevent them from being injured by the magical power of his glance. [497]

But its appearance on temples perhaps rather militates against this view. Possibly it may have merely served as a protection or covering to the king’s head, the head being considered especially sacred as the seat of life. The same idea is perhaps at the root of the objection felt by Hindus to being seen abroad without a covering on the head. It seems likely that the umbrella may have been held to be a representation of the sky or firmament. The Muhammadans conjoined with it an _aftada_ or sun-symbol; this was an imitation of the sun, embroidered in gold upon crimson velvet and fixed on a circular framework which was borne aloft upon a gold or silver staff. [498]

Both were carried over the head of any royal personage, and the a.s.sociation favours the idea that the umbrella represents the sky, while the king’s head might be considered a.n.a.logous to the sun. When one of the early Indian monarchs made extensive conquests, the annexed territories were described as being brought under his umbrella; of the king Harsha-Vardhana (606-648 A.D.) it is recorded that he prosecuted a methodical scheme of conquest with the deliberate object of bringing all India under one umbrella, that is, of const.i.tuting it into one state. This phrase seems to support the idea that the umbrella symbolised the firmament. Similarly, when Visvamitra sent beautiful maidens to tempt the good king Harischandra he instructed them to try and induce the king to marry them, and if he would not do this, to ask him for the Puchukra Undi or State Umbrella, which was the emblem of the king’s protecting power over his kingdom, with the idea that that power would be destroyed by its loss. Chhatrapati or Lord of the Umbrella was the proudest t.i.tle of an Indian king. When Sivaji was enthroned in 1674 he proclaimed himself as Pinnacle of the Kshatriya race and Lord of the Royal Umbrella. All these instances seem to indicate that some powerful significance, such as that already suggested, attached to the umbrella. Several tribes, as the Gonds and Mundas, have a legend that their earliest king was born of poor parents, and that one day his mother, having left the child under some tree while she went to her work, returned to find a cobra spreading its hood over him. The future royal destiny of the boy was thus predicted. It is commonly said that the cobra spread its hood over the child to guard it from the heat of the sun, but such protection would perhaps scarcely seem very important to such a people as the Gonds, and the mother would naturally also leave the child in the shade. It seems a possible hypothesis that the cobra’s hood really symbolised the umbrella, the emblem of royal rank, and it was in this way that the child’s great destiny was predicted. In this connection it may be noticed that one of the Jain Tirthakars, Parasnath, is represented in sculpture with an umbrella over his head; but some Jains say that the carving above the saint’s head is not an umbrella but a cobra’s hood. Even after it had ceased to be the exclusive appanage of the king, the umbrella was a sign of n.o.ble rank, and not permitted to the commonalty.

The old Anglo-Indian term for an umbrella was ’roundel,’ an early English word, applied to a variety of circular objects, as a mat under a dish, or a target, and in its form of ‘arundel’ to the conical handguard on a lance. [499] An old Indian writer says: “Roundels are in these warm climates very necessary to keep the sun from scorching a man, they may also be serviceable to keep the rain off; most men of account maintain one, two or three roundeliers, whose office is only to attend their master’s motion; they are very light but of exceeding stiffness, being for the most part made of rhinoceros hide, very decently painted and guilded with what flowers they best admire. Exactly in the midst thereof is fixed a smooth handle made of wood, by which the Roundelier doth carry it, holding it a foot or more above his master’s head, directing the centre thereof as opposite to the sun as possibly he may. Any man whatever that will go to the charge of it, which is no great matter, may have one or more Katysols to attend him but not a Roundel; unless he be a Governor or one of the Council. The same custom the English hold good amongst their own people, whereby they may be distinguished by the natives.” [500] The Katysol was a Chinese paper and bamboo sunshade, and the use of them was not prohibited. It was derived from the Portuguese _quito-sol_, or that which keeps off the sun. [501] An extract from the _Madras Standing Orders_, 1677-78, prescribed: “That except by the members of this Council, those that have formerly been in that quality, Chiefs of Factories, Commanders of Ships out of England, and the Chaplains, Rundells shall not be worn by any men in this town, and by no woman below the degree of Factors’ Wives and Ensigns’ Wives, except by such as the Governor shall permit.” [502] Another writer in 1754 states: “Some years before our arrival in the country, they (the E. I. Co.) found such sumptuary laws so absolutely necessary, that they gave the strictest orders that none of these young gentlemen should be allowed even to hire a Roundel boy, whose business it is to walk by his master and defend him with his Roundel or umbrella from the heat of the sun. A young fellow of humour, upon this last order coming over, altered the form of his Umbrella from a round to a square, called it a Squaredel instead of a Roundel, and insisted that no order yet in force forbade him the use of it.” [503] The fact that the Anglo-Indians called the umbrella a roundel and regarded it as a symbol of sovereignty or n.o.bility indicates that it was not yet used in England; and this Mr. Skeat shows to be correct. “The first umbrella used in England by a man in the open street for protection against rain is usually said to have been that carried by Jonas Hanway, a great traveller, who introduced it on his return from Paris about 1750, some thirty years before it was generally adopted.

“Some kind of umbrella was, however, occasionally used by ladies at least so far back as 1709; and a fact not generally known is that from about the year 1717 onwards, a ‘parish’ umbrella, resembling the more recent ‘family’ umbrella of the nineteenth century, was employed by the priest at open-air funerals, as the church accounts of many places testify.” [504] This ecclesiastical use of the umbrella may have been derived from its employment as a symbol in Italian churches, as seen above. The word umbrella is derived through the Italian from the Latin _umbra_, shade, and in mediaeval times a state umbrella was carried over the Doge or Duke at Venice on the occasion of any great ceremony. [505]

Even recently it is said that in Saugor no Bania dare go past a Bundela Rajput’s house without getting down from his pony and folding up his umbrella. In Hindu slang a ‘Chhatawali’ or carrier of an umbrella was a term for a smart young man; as in the line, ‘An umbrella has two kinds of ribs; two women are quarrelling for the love of him who carries it.’ Now that the umbrella is free to all, and may be bought for a rupee or less in the bazar, the prestige which once attached to it has practically disappeared. But some flavour of its old a.s.sociations may still cling to it in the minds of the sais and ayah who proudly parade to a festival carrying umbrellas spread over them to shade their dusky features from the sun; though the Raja, in obedience to the dictates of fashion, has discarded the umbrella for a _sola-topi_.


1. Origin and traditions.

_Daharia._ [506]–A caste of degraded Rajputs found in Bilaspur and Raipur, and numbering about 2000 persons. The Daharias were originally a clan of Rajputs but, like several others in the Central Provinces, they have now developed into a caste and marry among themselves, thus transgressing the first rule of Rajput exogamy. Colonel Tod included the Daharias among the thirty-six royal races of Rajasthan. [507]

Their name is derived from Dahar or Dahal, the cla.s.sical term for the Jubbulpore country at the period when it formed the dominion of the Haihaya or Kalachuri Rajput kings of Tripura or Tewar near Jubbulpore. This dynasty had an era of their own, commencing in A.D. 248, and their line continued until the tenth or eleventh century. The Arabian geographer Alberuni (born a.d. 973) mentions the country of Dahal and its king Gangeya Deva. His son Karna Daharia is still remembered as the builder of temples in Karanbel and Bilahri in Jubbulpore, and it is from him that the Daharia Rajputs take their name. The Haihaya dynasty of Ratanpur were related to the Kalachuri kings of Tewar, and under them the ancestors of the Daharia Rajputs probably migrated from Jubbulpore into Chhattisgarh. But they themselves have forgotten their ill.u.s.trious origin, and tell a different story to account for their name. They say that they came from Baghelkhand or Rewah, which may well be correct, as Rewah lies between Chhattisgarh and Jubbulpore, and a large colony of Kalachuri Rajputs may still be found about ten miles north-east of Rewah town. The Daharias relate that when Parasurama, the great Brahman warrior, was slaying the Kshatriyas, a few of them escaped towards Ratanpur and were camping in the forest by the wayside. Parasurama came up and asked them who they were, and they said they were _Daharias_ or wayfarers, from _dahar_ the Chhattisgarhi term for a road or path; and thus they successfully escaped the vengeance of Parasurama. This futile fiction only demonstrates the real ignorance of their Brahman priests, who, if they had known a little history, need not have had recourse to their invention to furnish the Daharias with a distinguished pedigree. A third derivation is from a word _dahri_ or gate, and they say that the name of Dahria or Daharia was conferred on them by Bimbaji Bhonsla, because of the bravery with which they held the gates of Ratanpur against his attack. But history is against them here, as it records that Ratanpur capitulated to the Marathas without striking a blow.

2. Sept and subsept.

As already stated, the Daharias were originally a clan of Rajputs, whose members must take wives or husbands from other clans. They have now become a caste and marry among themselves, but within the caste they still have exogamous groups or septs, several of which are named after Rajput clans as Bais, Chandel, Baghel, Bundela, Mainpuri Chauhan, Parihar, Rathor and several others. Certain names are not of Rajput origin, and probably record the admission of outsiders into the caste. Like the Rajputs, within the sept they have also subsepts, some of which are taken from the Brahmans, as Parasar, Bharadwaj, Sandilya, while others are nicknames, as Kachariha (one who does not care about a beating), Atariha, Hiyas and others. The divisions of the septs and subsepts are very confused, and seem to indicate that at different times various foreign elements have been received into the community, including Rajputs of many different clans. According to rule, a man should not take a wife whose sept or subsept are the same as his own, but this is not adhered to; and in some cases the Daharias, on account of the paucity of their numbers and the difficulty of arranging matches, have been driven to permit the marriage of first cousins, which among proper Rajputs is forbidden. They also practise hypergamy, as members of the Mainpuri Chauhan, Hiyas, Bisen, Surkhi and Bais septs or subsepts will take girls in marriage from families of other septs, but will not give their daughters to them. This practice leads to polygamy among the five higher septs, whose daughters are all married in their own circle, while in addition they receive girls from the other groups. Members of these latter also consider it an honour to marry a daughter into one of the higher septs, and are willing to pay a considerable price for such a distinction. It seems probable that the small Daraiha caste of Bilaspur are an inferior branch of the Daharias.

3. Social customs.

The Daharias, in theory at any rate, observe the same rules in regard to their women as Brahmans and Rajputs. Neither divorce nor the marriage of widows is permitted, and a woman who goes wrong is finally expelled from the caste. Their social customs resemble those of the higher Hindustani castes. When the bridegroom starts for the wedding he is dressed in a long white gown reaching to the ankles, with new shoes, and he takes with him a dagger; this serves the double purpose of warding off evil spirits, always to attack the bridal party, and also of being a subst.i.tute for the bridegroom himself, as in case he should for some unforeseen reason be rendered unable to appear at the ceremony, the bride could be married to the dagger as his representative. It may also be mentioned that, before the bridegroom starts for the wedding, after he has been rubbed with oil and turmeric for five days he is seated on a wooden plank over a hole dug in the courtyard and bathed. He then changes his clothes, and the women bring twenty-one small _chukias_ or cups full of water and empty them over him. His head is then covered with a piece of new cloth, and a thread wound round it seven times by a Brahman. The thread is afterwards removed, and tied round an iron ring with some mango leaves, and this ring forms the _kankan_ which is tied to the bridegroom’s wrist, a similar one being worn by the bride. Before the wedding the bride goes round to the houses of her friends, accompanied by the women of her party singing songs, and by musicians. At each house the mistress appears with her forehead and the parting of her hair profusely smeared with vermilion. She rubs her forehead against the bride’s so as to colour it also with vermilion, which is now considered the symbol of a long and happy married life. The barber’s wife applies red paint to the bride’s feet, the gardener’s wife presents her with a garland of flowers, and the carpenter’s wife gives her a new wooden doll. She must also visit the potter’s and washerman’s wives, whose benisons are essential; they give her a new pot and a little rice respectively. When the bridegroom comes to touch the marriage-shed with his dagger he is resisted by the bride’s sister, to whom he must give a rupee as a present. The binding portion of the marriage consists in the couple walking seven times round the marriage-post. At each turn the bridegroom seizes the bride’s right toe and with it upsets one of seven little cups of rice placed near the marriage-post. This is probably a symbol of fertility. After it they worship seven pairs of little wooden boxes smeared with vermilion and called _singhora_ and _singhori_ as if they were male and female. The bridegroom’s father brings two little dough images of Mahadeo and Parvati as the ideal married pair, and gives them to the couple. The new husband applies vermilion to his wife’s forehead, and covers and uncovers her head seven times, to signify to her that, having become a wife, she should henceforth be veiled when she goes abroad. The bride’s maid now washes her face, which probably requires it, and the wedding is complete. The Daharias usually have a _guru_ or spiritual preceptor, but husband and wife must not have the same one, as in that case they would be in the anomalous position of brother and sister, a _guru’s_ disciples being looked upon as his children. The Daharias were formerly warriors in the service of the Ratanpur kings, and many families still possess an old sword which they worship on the day of Dasahra. Their names usually end in Singh or Lal. They are now engaged in cultivation, and many of them are proprietors of villages, and tenants. Some of them are employed as constables and chupra.s.sies, but few are labourers, as they may not touch the plough with their own hands. They eat the flesh of clean animals, but do not drink liquor, and avoid onions and tomatoes. They have good features and fair complexions, the traces of their Rajput blood being quite evident. Brahmans will take water from them, but they now rank below Rajputs, on a level with the good cultivating castes.


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