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From The Tribes And Castes Of The Central Provinces Of India
By R. V. Russell
Of The Indian Civil Service
Superintendent Of Ethnography, Central Provinces
Assisted By Rai Bahadur Hira Lal, Extra Assistant Commissioner
Macmillan And Co., Limited, London, 1916.
NOTE: The 'Central Provinces' have since been renamed Madhya Pradesh.
Agaria (a corruption of Agaria, meaning one who came from Agra).—A cultivating caste belonging to the Sambalpur District^ and adjoining States. They number 27,000 persons in the Raigarh and Sarangarh States and Bilaspur District of the Central Provinces, and are found also in some of the Chota Nagpur States transferred from Bengal. According to the traditions of the Agharias their forefathers were Rajputs who lived near Agra. They were accustomed to salute the king of Delhi with one hand only and without bending the head. The king after suffering this for a long time determined to punish them for their contumacy, and summoned all the Agharias to appear before him.
At the door through which they were to pass to his presence he fixed a sword at the height of a man's neck. The haughty Agharias came to the door, holding their heads high and not seeing the sword, and as a natural consequence they were all decapitated as they passed through. But there was one Agharia who had heard about the fixing of the sword and who thought it better to stay at home, saying that he had some ceremony to perform. When the king heard that there was one Agharia who had not passed through the door, he sent again, commanding him to come.
The Agharia did not wish to go but felt it impossible to decline. He therefore sent for a Chamar of his village and besought him to go instead, saying that he would become a Rajput in his death and that he would ever be held in remembrance by the Agharia's descendants. The Chamar consented to sacrifice himself for his master, and going before the king was be- headed at the door. But the Agharia fled south, taking his whole village with him, and came to Chhattisgarh,
where each of the families in the village founded a clan of the Agharia caste. And in memory of this, whenever an Agharia makes a libation to his ancestors, he first pours a little water on the ground in honour of the dead Chamar.
According to ' This article is mainly compiled Mnster of the Raigarh English School, from papers by the late Mr. Baikunth and Kanhya Lai, clerk in the Gazetteer Nath Pujari, Extra Assistant Com- office. missioner, Sambalpur; Sitaram, Head '^ Now transferred to Bengal.
another version of the story three brothers of different families escaped and first went to Orissa, where they asked the Gaj[)ati king to employ them as soldiers. The kin<^ caused two sheaths of swords to be placed before them, and telling them that one contained a sword and the other a bullock-goad, asked them to select one and by their choice to determine whether they would be soldiers or husbandmen. From one sheath a haft of gold projected and from the other one of silver.
The Agharias pulled out the golden haft and found that they had chosen the goad. The point of the golden and silver handles is obvious, and the story is of some interest for the distant resemblance which it bears to the choice of the caskets in The Merchant of Venice. Condemned, as they considered, to drive the plough, the Agharias took off their sacred threads, which they could no longer wear, and gave them to the youngest member of the caste, saying that he should keep them and be their Bhat, and they would support him with contributions of a tenth of the produce of their fields. He assented, and his descendants are the genealogists of the Agharias and are termed Dashanshi. The Agharias claim to be Somvansi Rajputs, a claim which Colonel Dalton says their appearance favours. " Tall, well-made, with high Aryan features and tawny complexions, they look like Rajputs, though they are more industrious and intelligent than the generality of the fighting tribe." ^ Owing to the fact that with the transfer of the Sambalpur
2. Sub-District, a considerable portion of the Agharias have ceased to be residents of the Central Provinces, it is unnecessary to give the details of their caste organisation at length. They have two subdivisions, the Bad or superior Agharias and the Chhote, Sarolia or Sarwaria, the inferior or mixed Agharias. The latter are a cross between an Agharia and a Gaur (Ahir) woman. The Bad Agharias will not eat with or even take water from the others. Further local sub- divisions are now in course of formation, as the Ratanpuria, Phuljharia and Raigarhia or those living round Ratanpur, Phuljhar and Raigarh. The caste is said to have 84 gotras or exogamous sections, of which 60 bear the title of Patel, 18 that of Naik, and 6 of Chaudhri. The section names
' Daltou's EtJiiiolog}' of Bengal, p. 322. divisions. lo ACHARTA part are very mixed, some being those of eponymous Brahman gotyas, as Sandilya, Kaushik and Bharadwaj ; others those of Rajput septs, as Karchhul ; while others are the names of animals and plants, as Barah (pig), Baram (the pipal tree), Nag (cobra), Kachhapa (tortoise), and a number of other local terms the meaning of which has been forgotten. Each of these sections, however, uses a different mark for brand- ing cows, which it is the religious duty of an Agharia to rear, and though the marks now convey no meaning, they were probably originally the representations of material objects.
In the case of names whose meaning is understood, traces of totemism survive in the respect paid to the animal or plant by members of the sept which bears its name. This analysis of the structure of the caste shows that it was a very mixed one. Originally consisting perhaps of a nucleus of immigrant Rajputs, the offspring of connections with inferior classes have been assimilated ; while the story already quoted is probably intended to signify, after the usual Brahmanical fashion, that the pedigree of the Agharias at some period included a Chamar.
Marriage within the exogamous section and also with first cousins is forbidden, though in some places the union of a sister's son with a brother's daughter is permitted. Child marriage is usual, and censure visits a man who allows an unmarried daughter to arrive at adolescence. The bride- groom should always be older than the bride, at any rate by a day. When a betrothal is arranged some ornaments and a cloth bearing the szuastik or lucky mark are sent to the girl. Marriages are always celebrated during the months of Magh and Phagun, and they are held only once in five or six years, when all children whose matches can be arranged for are married off.
This custom is economical, as it saves expenditure on marriage feasts. Colonel Dalton also states that the Agharias always employ Hindustani Brahmans for their ceremonies, and as very few of these are available, they make circuits over large areas, and conduct all the weddings of a locality at the same period. Before the marriage a kid is sacrificed at the bride's house to celebrate the removal of her status of maidenhood. When the bridegroom arrives at the bride's house he touches with his dagger the
string of mango-lcavcs suspended from the marriage-shed and presents a rupee and a hundred betel-leaves to the bride's saivdsin or attendant. Next day the bridegroom's father sends a present of a bracelet and seven small earthen cups to the bride. She is seated in the open, and seven women hold the cups over her head one above the other. Water is then poured from above from one cup into the other, each being filled in turn and the whole finally falling on the bride's head. This probably symbolises the fertilising action of rain. The bride is then bathed and carried in a basket seven times round the marriage-post, after which she is seated in a chair and seven women place their heads together round her while a male relative winds a thread seven times round the heads of the women. The meaning of this ceremony is obscure. The bridegroom makes his appearance alone and is seated with the bride, both being dressed in clothes coloured yellow with turmeric. The bridegroom's party follows, and the feet of the couple are washed with milk.
The bride's brother embraces the bridegroom and changes cloths with him. Water is poured over the hands of the couple, the girl's forehead is daubed with vermilion, and a red silk cloth is presented to her and the couple go round the marriage-post. The bride is taken for four days to the husband's house and then returns, and is again sent with the usual gauna ceremony, when she is fit for conjugal relations. No price is usually paid for the bride, and each party spends about Rs. lOO on the marriage ceremony. Polygamy and widow marriage are generally allowed, the widow being disposed of by her parents.
The ceremony at the marriage of a widow consists in putting vermilion on the parting of her hair and bangles on her wrists. Divorce is. allowed on pain of a fine of Rs. 50 if the divorce is sought by the husband, and of Rs. 25 if the wife asks for it. In some localities divorce and also polygamy are said to be forbidden, and in such cases a woman who commits adultery is finally expelled from the caste, and a funeral feast is given to sym- bolise her death. The family god of the Agharias is Dulha Deo, who exists 4- Reii- 1 111 /->. ITT .'I ,1 gious andm every household. On the Haraiti day or the commence- ^^^^^^ ment of the agricultural year they worship the implements customs.
of cultivation, and at Dasahra the sword if they have one. They have a great reverence for cows and feed them sump- tuously at festivals. Every Agharia has a giwu or spiritual guide who whispers the mantra or sacred verse into his ear and is occasionally consulted. The dead are usually burnt, but children and persons dying of cholera or smallpox are buried, males being placed on the pyre or in the grave on their faces and females on their backs, with the feet pointing to the south. On the third day the ashes are thrown into a river and the bones of each part of the body are collected and placed under the pipal tree, while a pot is slung over them, through which water trickles continually for a week, and a lighted lamp, cooked food, a leaf-cup and a tooth-stick are placed beside them daily for the use of the deceased during the same period. Mourning ends on the tenth day,
and the usual purification ceremonies are then performed. Children are mourned for a shorter period. Well -to -do members of the caste feed a Brahman daily for a year after a death, believing that food so given passes to the spirit of the deceased. On the anniversary of the death the caste- fellows are feasted, and after that the deceased becomes a purkha or ancestor and participates in devotions paid at the shrddhh ceremony.
When the head of a joint family dies, his successor is given a turban and betel-leaves, and his forehead is marked by the priest and other relations with sandalwood. After a birth the mother is impure for twenty- one days. A feast is given on the twelfth day, and sometimes the child is named then, but often children are not named until they are six years old. The names of men usually end in Ram, Ndth or Singh, and those of women in Kunwa^-. Women do not name their husbands, their elderly relations, nor the sons of their husband's eldest brother. A man does not name his wife, as he thinks that to do so would tend to shorten his life in accordance with the Sanskrit saying, ' He who is desirous of long life should not name himself, his guru, a miser, his eldest son, or his wife.' The Agharias do not admit outsiders into the caste. They will not take cooked food from any caste, and water only from a Gaur or Rawat. They refuse to take water from an Uriya Brahman, probably in retaliation for the refusal of Uriya Brahmans to accept II Acr/ORr 13 water from an Ajrharfa, thoui;h taking it from a Kolta. Both the Uriya Brahmans and Agharias are of somewhat doubtful origin, and both are therefore probably the more concerned to maintain the social position to which they lay claim. But Kewats, Rawats, Telis and other castes eat cooked food from Agharias, and the caste therefore is admitted to a fairly high rank in the Uriya country. The Agharias do not drink liquor or eat any food which a Rajput would refuse. As cultivators they are considered to be proficient. In 5. Occupa- the census of 1901 nearly a quarter of the whole caste were °"' shown as malguzars or village proprietors and lessees. They wear a coarse cloth of homespun yarn which they get woven for them by Gandas ; probably in consequence of this the Agharias do not consider the touch of the Ganda to pollute them, as other castes do. They will not grow turmeric, onions, garlic, i-<a:;^-hemp or tomatoes, nor will they rear tasar silk-cocoons. Colonel Dalton says that their women do no out- door work, and this is true in the Central Provinces as regards the better classes, but poor women work in the fields.
(From People of India/ National Series Volume VIII. Readers who wish to share additional information/ photographs may please send them as messages to the Facebook community, Indpaedia.com. All information used will be gratefully acknowledged in your name.)
Synonyms: Agaria [Orissa] Groups/subgroups: Acharia, Aghara, Saroria [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh]
- Sub-divisions: Bada Agharias, Chhote Sarolia or Samaria [Russell & Hiralal]
Titles: Choudhari, Naik, Patel [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Chaudhri, Naik, Patel [Russell & Hiralal] Surnames: Choudhury, Naik, Patel, Sai [Orissa] Exogamous units/clans: Jantrika, Shembbatu [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Debasthali, Sandhal [Orissa] Barah (pig), Baram (the pipal tree) [Russell & Hiralal] Gotra: Markandeya, Sandilya [Madhya Pradesh and/or Chhattisgarh] Kashyapa [Orissa] Kaushik, Bharadwaj, Sandilya [Russell & Hiralal]