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This article is an excerpt from
Castes and Tribes of Southern India
By Edgar Thurston, C.I.E.,
Superintendent, Madras Government Museum; Correspondant
Étranger, Société d’Anthropologie de Paris; Socio
Corrispondante, Societa,Romana di Anthropologia
Assisted by K. Rangachari, M.A.,
of the Madras Government Museum.

Government Press, Madras


For the following account of the Bants I am mainly indebted to Mr. H. A. Stuart’s description of them in the Manual of South Canara. The name Bant, pronounced Bunt, means in Tulu a powerful man or soldier, and indicates that the Bants were originally a military class corresponding to the Nāyars of Malabar. The term Nādava instead of Bant in the northern portions of South Canara points, among other indications, to a territorial organisation by nāds similar to that described [148]by Mr. Logan as prevailing in Malabar. “The Nāyars,” he writes, “were, until the British occupied the country, the militia of the district. Originally they seem to have been organised into ‘Six Hundreds,’ and each six hundred seems to have had assigned to it the protection of all the people in a nād or country. The nād was in turn split up into taras, a Dravidian word signifying originally a foundation, the foundation of a house, hence applied collectively to a street, as in Tamil teru, in Telugu teruvu, and in Canarese and Tulu terāvu. The tara was the Nāyar territorial unit for civil purposes.” It has been stated that “the Malabar Nair chieftain of old had his nād or barony, and his own military class; and the relics of this powerful feudal system still survive in the names of some of the tāluks (divisions) of modern Malabar, and in the official designations of certain Nair families, whose men still come out with quaint-looking swords and shields to guard the person of the Zamorin on the occasion of the rice-throwing ceremony, which formally constitutes him the ruler of the land. Correspondingly, the Bants of the northern parts of Canara still answer to the territorial name of Nād Bants, or warriors of the nād or territory. It is necessary to explain that, in both ancient Kēralam and Tulu, the functions of the great military and dominant classes were so distributed that only certain classes were bound to render military service to the ruling prince. The rest were lairds or squires, or gentleman farmers, or the labourers and artisans of their particular community, though all of them cultivated a love of manly sports.”29

Few traces of any such organisation as has been indicated now prevail, great changes having been made [149]when the Vijayanagar Government introduced, more than five hundred years ago, a system of administration under which the local Jain chiefs, though owing allegiance to an overlord, became more independent in their relations with the people of the country. Under the Bednūr kings, and still more under the Mysore rule, the power of the chiefs was also swept away, but the old organisation was not reverted to.

The Bants are now the chief land-owning and cultivating class in South Canara, and are, with the exception of the Billavas or toddy-drawers, the most numerous caste in the district. “At the present day, the Bants of Canara are largely the independent and influential landed gentry, some would say, perhaps, the substantial yeomanry. They still retain their manly independence of character, their strong and well developed physique, and they still carry their heads with the same haughty toss as their forefathers did in the stirring fighting days when, as an old proverb had it, ‘The slain rested in the yard of the slayer,’ and when every warrior constantly carried his sword and shield. Both men and women of the Bant community are among the comeliest of Asiatic races, the men having high foreheads and well-turned aquiline noses.”

In a note on the agricultural economy of South Canara, Rao Sahib T. Raghaviah writes30 that “the ryot (cultivator) of South Canara loves to make his land look attractive, and every field is lined with the lovely areca, and the stately palm. The slopes adjoining the rich fields are studded with plantations of jack, mango, cashew, plantain and other fruit and shade trees, and the ryot would not even omit to daub his trees with the [150]alternate white and red bands, with which the east coast women love to adorn a marriage house or temple wall. These, with the regularly laid out and carefully embanked water-courses and streams, lend an air of enchantment to the whole scene. The ignorance prevailing among the women of the richer section of the landed classes (on the east coast) is so great that it is not uncommon to ridicule a woman by saying that what she knows about paddy (rice) is that it grows on a tree. But, in a district like South Canara, the woman that does not know agriculture is the exception. I have often come across respectable women of the landed classes like the Bants, Shivallis, and Nairs, managing large landed estates as efficiently as men. The South Canara woman is born on the land, and lives on it. She knows when to sow, and when to reap; how much seed to sow, and how much labour to employ to plough, to weed, or to reap. She knows how to prepare her seed, and to cure her tobacco, to garner her grain, and to preserve her cucumbers through the coming monsoon. She knows further how to feed her cow, and to milk it, to treat it when sick, and to graze it when hale. She also knows how to make her manure, and how to use it without wasting a bit of it. She knows how to collect green leaves for her manure, and to help the fuel reserve on the hill slope above her house grow by a system of lopping the branches and leaving the standards. She knows also how to collect her areca nuts, and to prepare them for the market, and to collect her cocoanuts, and haggle for a high price for them with her customers. There is, in fact, not a single thing about agriculture which the South Canara man knows, and which the South Canara woman does not know. It is a common sight, as one passes through a paddy flat or along the adjoining slope, to see housewives bringing out handfuls [151]of ashes collected in the oven over night, and depositing them at the root of the nearest fruit tree on their land.”

Most of the Bants are Hindus by religion, and rank as Sūdras, but about ten thousand of them are Jains. Probably they originally assumed Jainism as a fashionable addition to the ancestral demon worship, to which they all still adhere, whether they profess to be Vaishnavites, Saivites, or Jains. It is probable that, during the political supremacy of the Jains, a much larger proportion of the Bants professed adherence to that religion than now-a-days.

There are four principal sub-divisions of the caste, viz., Māsādika, who are the ordinary Bants of Tuluva; Nādava or Nād, who speak Canarese, and are found in the northern part of South Canara; the Parivāra, who do not follow the aliya santāna system of inheritance; and the Jains. Members of these sub-divisions may not intermarry, but instances have occurred of marriage between members of the Māsādika and Nād sub-divisions.

Nothing very definite is known of the origin of the Bants, but Tuluva seems, in the early centuries of the Christian era, to have had kings who apparently were sometimes independent and sometimes feudatories of overlords, such as the Pallavas, the early Kadambas, the early Chālukyans, the later Kadambas, the western Chālukyans, the Kalachurians, and the Hoysal Ballāls. This indicates a constant state of fighting, which would account for an important class of the population being known as Bantaru or warriors; and, as a matter of course, they succeeded in becoming the owners of all the land which did not fall to the share of the priestly class, the Brāhmans. Ancient inscriptions speak of kings of [152]Tuluva, and the Bairasu Wodears of Kārakal, whose inscriptions have been found at Kalasa as early as the twelfth century, may have exercised power throughout Tuluva or the greater part of it. But, when the Vijayanagar dynasty became the overlords of Canara in 1336, there were then existing a number of minor chiefs who had probably been in power long before, and the numerous titles still remaining among the Bants and Jains, and the local dignities known as Pattam and Gadi, point to the existence from very early times of a number of more or less powerful local chieftains. The system peculiar to the west coast under which all property vests in females, and is managed by the seniors of the family, was also favourable to the continuance of large landed properties, and it is probable that it is only within comparatively recent times that sub-division of landed property became anything like as common as it is now. All the Bants, except the Parivāra and a few Jains follow this aliya santāna system of inheritance,31 a survival of a time when the military followers of conquering invaders or local chiefs married women of the local land-owning classes, and the most important male members of the family were usually absent in camp or at court, while the women remained at the family house on the estate, and managed the farms. The titles and the pattams or dignities have always been held by the male members, but, as they also go with the landed property, they necessarily devolve on the sister’s son of a deceased holder, whence has arisen the name aliya santāna, which means sister’s son lineage. A story is embodied in local traditions, attributing the origin of the system to the fiat of a king named Bhūtal Pāndya, until whose time makkala santāna, [153]or inheritance from father to son, generally obtained. “It is said that the maternal uncle of this prince, called Dēva Pāndya, wanted to launch his newly constructed ships with valuable cargo in them, when Kundodara, king of demons demanded a human sacrifice. Dēva Pāndya asked his wife’s permission to offer one of his sons, but she refused, while his sister Satyavati offered her son Jaya Pāndya for the purpose. Kundodara, discovering in the child signs of future greatness, waived the sacrifice, and permitted the ships to sail. He then took the child, restored to him his father’s kingdom of Jayantika, and gave him the name of Bhūtal Pāndya. Subsequently, when some of the ships brought immense wealth, the demon again appeared, and demanded of Dēva Pāndya another human sacrifice. On the latter again consulting his wife, she refused to comply with the request, and publicly renounced her title and that of her children to the valuable property brought in the ships. Kundodara then demanded the Dēva Pāndya to disinherit his sons of the wealth which had been brought in the ships, as also of the kingdom, and to bestow all on his sister’s son, Jaya or Bhūtal Pāndya. This was accordingly done. And, as this prince inherited his kingdom from his maternal uncle and not from his father, he ruled that his own example should be followed by his subjects, and it was thus that the aliya santāna law was established about A.D. 77.”32

It is noted by Mr. L. Moore33 that various judicial decisions relating to the aliya santāna system are based to a great extent on a book termed Aliya Santanada Kattu Kattale, which was alleged to be the work of Bhutala Pāndiya, who, according to Dr. Whitley Stokes, [154]the learned scholar who edited the first volume of the Madras High Court Reports, lived about A.D. 78, but which is in reality a very recent forgery compiled about 1840. As to this, Dr. A. C. Burnell observes as follows in a note in his law of partition and succession. “One patent imposture yet accepted by the Courts as evidence is the Aliya Santanada Kattu Kattale, a falsified account of the customs of South Canara. Silly as many Indian books are, a more childish or foolish tract it would be impossible to discover; it is about as much worthy of notice in a law court as ‘Jack the Giant Killer.’ That it is a recent forgery is certain.... The origin of the book in its present state is well-known; it is satisfactorily traced to two notorious forgers and scoundrels about thirty years ago, and all copies have been made from the one they produced. I have enquired in vain for an old manuscript, and am informed, on the best authority, that not one exists. A number of recent manuscripts are to be found, but they all differ essentially one from another. A more clumsy imposture it would be hard to find, but it has proved a mischievous one in South Canara, and threatens to render a large amount of property quite valueless. The forgers knew the people they had to deal with, the Bants, and, by inserting a course that families which did not follow the Aliya Santāna shall become extinct, have effectually prevented an application for legislative interference, though the poor superstitious folk would willingly (it is said) have the custom abolished.”34

As a custom similar to aliya santāna prevails in Malabar, it no doubt originated before Tuluva and Kērala [155]were separated. The small body of Parivāra Bants, and the few Jain Bants that do not follow the aliya santāna system, are probably the descendants of a few families who allowed their religious conversion to Hinduism or Jainism to have more effect on their social relations than was commonly the case. Now that the ideas regarding marriage among the Bants are in practice assimilated to a great extent to those of most other people, the national rule of inheritance is a cause of much heart-burning and quarrelling, fathers always endeavouring to benefit their own offspring at the cost of the estate. A change would be gladly welcomed by many, but vested interests in property constitute an almost insuperable obstacle.

The Bants do not usually object to the use of animal food, except, of course, the flesh of the cow, and they do not as a rule wear the sacred thread. But there are some families of position called Ballāls, amongst whom heads of families abstain from animal food, and wear the sacred thread. These neither eat nor intermarry with the ordinary Bants. The origin of the Ballāls is explained by a proverb, which says that when a Bant becomes powerful, he becomes a Ballāl. Those who have the dignity called Pattam, and the heads of certain families, known as Shettivalas or Heggades, also wear the sacred thread, and are usually managers or mukhtesars of the temples and bhūtasthāns or demon shrines within the area over which, in former days, they are said to have exercised a more extended jurisdiction, dealing not only with caste disputes, but settling numerous civil and criminal matters. The Jain Bants are strict vegetarians, and they abstain from the use of alcoholic liquors, the consumption of which is permitted among other Bants, though the practice is not common. The Jain Bants avoid taking food after sunset. [156]

The more well-to-do Bants usually occupy substantial houses on their estates, in many of which there is much fine wood-work, and, in some cases, the pillars of the porches and verandahs, and the doorways are artistically and elaborately carved. These houses have been described as being well built, thatched with palm, and generally prettily situated with beautiful scenic prospects stretching away on all sides.

The Bants have not as a rule largely availed themselves of European education, and consequently there are but few of them in the Government service, but among these few some have attained to high office, and been much respected. As is often the case among high spirited people of primitive modes of thought, party and faction feeling run high, and jealousy and disputes about landed property often lead to hasty acts of violence. Now-a-days, however, the last class of disputes more frequently lead to protracted litigation in the Courts.


Kambla Buffalo Race.

The Bants are fond of out-door sports, football and buffalo-racing being amongst their favourite amusements. But the most popular of all is cock-fighting. Every Bant, who is not a Jain, takes an interest in this sport, and large assemblages of cocks are found at every fair and festival throughout South Canara. “The outsider,” it has been said,35 “cannot fail to be struck with the tremendous excitement that attends a village fair in South Canara. Large numbers of cocks are displayed for sale, and groups of excited people may be seen huddled together, bending down with intense eagerness to watch every detail in the progress of a combat between two celebrated village game-cocks.” Cock fights on an elaborate scale take place on the day after the [157]Dīpāvali, Sankaranthi or Vinayakachathurthi, and Gokalāshtami festivals, outside the village boundary. At Hiriadaka, in October, 1907, more than a hundred birds were tethered by the leg to the scrub jungle composed of the evergreen shrub Ixora coccinea, or carried in the arms of their owners or youngsters. Only males, from the town and surrounding villages, were witnesses of the spectacle. The tethered birds, if within range of each other, excited by the constant crowing and turmoil, indulged in an impromptu fight. Grains of rice and water were poured into the mouths and over the heads of the birds before the fight, and after each round. The birds were armed with cunningly devised steel spurs, constituting a battery of variously curved and sinuous weapons. It is believed that the Bhūta (demon) is appeased, if the blood from the wounds drops on the ground. The men, whose duty it is to separate the birds at the end of a round, sometimes receive nasty wounds from the spurs. The tail feathers of a wounded bird are lifted up, and a palm leaf fan or towel is waved to and fro over the cloacal orifice to revive it. The owner of a victorious bird becomes the possessor of the vanquished bird, dead or alive. At an exhibition of the products of South Canara, during a recent visit of the Governor of Madras to Mangalore, a collection of spurs was exhibited in the class “household implements.”


For the following note on buffalo races, I am indebted to Mr. H. O. D. Harding. “This is a sport that has grown up among a race of cultivators of wet land. It is, I believe, peculiar to South Canara, where all the cultivation worth mentioning is wet. The Bants and Jains, and other landowners of position, own and run buffaloes, and the Billava, or toddy drawer, has also entered the racing world. Every rich Bant keeps his [158]kambla field consecrated to buffalo-racing, and his pair of racing buffaloes, costing from Rs. 150 to Rs. 500, are splendid animals; and, except for an occasional plough-drawing at the beginning of the cultivation season, are used for no purpose all the year, except racing. The racing is for no prize or stakes, and there is no betting, starter, judge, or winning post. Each pair of buffaloes runs the course alone, and is judged by the assembled crowd for pace and style, and, most important of all, the height and breadth of the splash which they make. Most people know the common levelling plank used by the ryots (cultivators) all over India to level the wet field after ploughing. It is a plank some 4 or 5 feet long by 1 or 1½ feet broad, and on it the driver stands to give it weight, and the buffaloes pull it over the mud of a flooded rice-field. This is the prototype of the buffalo-racing car, and any day during the cultivating season in the Tulu country one may see two boys racing for the love of the sport, as they drive their levelling boards. From this the racing car has been specialised, and, if a work of art for its own purpose, is not a car on which any one could or would wish to travel far. The leveller of utility is cut down to a plank about 1½ by 1 foot, sometimes handsomely carved, on which is fixed a gaily decorated wooden stool about 6 inches high and 10 inches across each way, hollowed out on the top, and just big enough to afford good standing for one foot. In the plank, on each side, are holes to let the mud and water through. The plank is fixed to a pole, which is tied to the buffalo’s yoke. The buffaloes are decorated with coloured jhūls and marvellous head-pieces of brass and silver (sometimes bearing the emblems of the sun and moon), and ropes which make a sort of bridle. The driver, stripping himself to the necessary minimum of [159]garments, mounts, while some of his friends cling, like ants struggling round a dead beetle, to the buffaloes. When he is fairly up, they let go, and the animals start. The course is a wet rice-field, about 150 yards long, full of mud and water. All round are hundreds, or perhaps thousands of people, including Pariahs who dance in groups in the mud, play stick-game, and beat drums. In front of the galloping buffaloes the water is clear and still, throwing a powerful reflection of them as they gallop down the course, raising a perfect tornado of mud and water. The driver stands with one foot on the stool, and one on the pole of the car. He holds a whip aloft in one hand, and one of the buffaloes’ tails in the other. He drives without reins, with nothing but a waggling tail to hold on to and steer by. Opening his mouth wide, he shouts for all he is worth, while, to all appearances, a deluge of mud and water goes down his throat. So he comes down the course, the plank on which he stands throwing up a sort of Prince of Wales’ feathers of mud and water round him. The stance on the plank is no easy matter, and not a few men come to grief, but it is soft falling in the slush. Marks are given for pace, style, sticking to the plank, and throwing up the biggest and widest splash. Sometimes a kind of gallows, perhaps twenty feet high, is erected on the course, and there is a round of applause if the splash reaches up to or above it. Sometimes the buffaloes bolt, scatter the crowd, and get away into the young rice. At the end of the course, the driver jumps off with a parting smack at his buffaloes, which run up the slope of the field, and stop of themselves in what may be called the paddock. At a big meeting perhaps a hundred pairs, brought from all over the Tulu country, will compete, and the big men always send their [160]buffaloes to the races headed by the local band. The roads are alive with horns and tom-toms for several days. The proceedings commence with a procession, which is not infrequently headed by a couple of painted dolls in an attitude suggestive of that reproductiveness, which the races really give thanks for. They are a sort of harvest festival, before the second or sugge crop is sown, and are usually held in October and November. Devils must be propitiated, and the meeting opens with a devil dance. A painted, grass-crowned devil dancer, riding a hobby-horse, proceeds with music round the kambla field. Then comes the buffalo procession, and the races commence. At a big meeting near Mangalore, the two leading devil dancers were dressed up in masks, and coat and trousers of blue mission cloth, and one had the genitalia represented by a long piece of blue cloth tipped with red, and enormous testes. Buffaloes, young and old, trained and untrained, compete, some without the plank attached to them, and others with planks but without drivers. Accidents sometimes happen, owing to the animals breaking away among the crowd. On one occasion, a man who was in front of a pair of buffaloes which were just about to start failed to jump clear of them. Catching hold of the yoke, he hung on to it by his hands, and was carried right down the course, and was landed safely at the other end. If he had dropped, he would have fallen among four pairs of hoofs, not to mention the planks, and would probably have been brained. It is often a case of owners up, and the sons and nephews of big Bants, worth perhaps Rs. 10,000 a year, drive the teams.”

To the above account, I may add a few notes made at a buffalo race-meeting near Udipi, at which I was present. Each group of buffaloes, as they went up the track to [161]the starting-point, was preceded by the Koraga band playing on drum, fife and cymbals, Holeyas armed with staves and dancing, and a man holding a flag (nishāni). Sometimes, in addition to the flag, there is a pakkē or spear on the end of a bamboo covered with strips of cloth, or a makara torana, i.e., festooned cloths between two bamboos. The two last are permitted only if the buffaloes belong to a Bant or Brāhman, not if they are the property of a Billava. At the end of the races, the Ballāla chief, in whose field they had taken place, retired in procession, headed by a man carrying his banner, which, during the races, had been floating on the top of a long bamboo pole at the far end of the track. He was followed by the Koraga band, and the Holeyas attached to him, armed with clubs, and dancing a step dance amid discordant noises. Two Nalkes (devil-dancers), dressed up in their professional garb, and a torch-bearer also joined in the procession, in the rear of which came the Ballāla beneath a decorated umbrella. In every village there are rākshasas (demons), called Kambla-asura, who preside over the fields. The races are held to propitiate them, and, if they are omitted, it is believed that there will be a failure of the crop. According to some, Kambla-asura is the brother of Mahēshasura, the buffalo-headed giant, from whom Mysore receives its name. The Koragas sit up through the night before the Kambla day, performing a ceremony called panikkuluni, or sitting under the dew. They sing songs to the accompaniment of the band, about their devil Nīcha, and offer toddy and a rice-pudding boiled in a large earthen pot, which is broken so that the pudding remains as a solid mass. This pudding is called kandēl addē, or pot pudding. On the morning of the races, the Holeyas scatter manure over the field, and [162]plough it. On the following day, the seedlings are planted, without, as in ordinary cases, any ploughing. To propitiate various devils, the days following the races are devoted to cock-fighting. The Kamblas, in different places, have various names derived from the village deity, the chief village devil, or the village itself, e.g., Janardhana Dēvara, Daivala, or Udiyavar. The young men, who have the management of the buffaloes, are called Bannangayi Gurikara (half-ripe cocoanut masters) as they have the right of taking tender cocoanuts, as well as beaten rice to give them physical strength, without the special permission of their landlord. At the village of Vandar, the races take place in a dry field, which has been ploughed, and beaten to break up the clods of earth. For this reason they are called podi (powder) Kambla.

A pair of buffaloes, belonging to the field in which the races take place, should enter the field first, and a breach of this observance leads to discussion and quarrels. On one occasion, a dispute arose between two Bants in connection with the question of precedence. One of them brought his own pair of buffaloes, and the other a borrowed pair. If the latter had brought his own animals, he would have had precedence over the former. But, as his animals were borrowed, precedence was given to the man who brought his own buffaloes. This led to a dispute, and the races were not commenced until the delicate point at issue was decided. In some places, a long pole, called pūkāre, decorated with flags, flowers, and festoons of leaves, is set up in the Kambla field, sometimes on a platform. Billavas are in charge of this pole, which is worshipped, throughout the races, and others may not touch it.


Fines inflicted by the Bant caste council are, I am informed, spent in the celebration of a temple festival. [163]In former days, those found guilty by the council were beaten with tamarind switches, made to stand exposed to the sun, or big red ants were thrown over their bodies. Sometimes, to establish the innocence of an accused person, he had to take a piece of red-hot iron (axe, etc.) in his hand, and give it to his accuser.

At a puberty ceremony among some Bants the girl sits in the courtyard of her house on five unhusked cocoanuts covered with the bamboo cylinder which is used for storing paddy. Women place four pots filled with water, and containing betel leaves and nuts, round the girl, and empty the contents over her head. She is then secluded in an outhouse. The women are entertained with a feast, which must include fowl and fish curry. The cocoanuts are given to a washerwoman. On the fourth day, the girl is bathed, and received back at the house. Beaten rice, and rice flour mixed with jaggery (crude sugar) are served out to those assembled. The girl is kept gōsha (secluded) for a time, and fed up with generous diet.

Under the aliya santāna system of inheritance, the High Court has ruled that there is no marriage within the meaning of the Penal Code. But, though divorce and remarriage are permitted to women, there are formal rules and ceremonies observed in connection with them, and amongst the well-to-do classes divorce is not looked upon as respectable, and is not frequent. The fictitious marriage prevailing amongst the Nāyars is unknown among the Bants, and a wife also usually leaves the family house, and resides at her husband’s, unless she occupies so senior a position in her own family as to make it desirable that she should live on the family estate.

The Bants are divided into a number of balis (exogamous septs), which are traced in the female line, [164]i.e., a boy belongs to his mother’s, not to his father’s bali. Children belonging to the same bali cannot marry, and the prohibition extends to certain allied (koodu) balis. Moreover, a man cannot marry his father’s brother’s daughter, though she belongs to a different bali. In a memorandum by Mr. M. Mundappa Bangera,36 it is stated that “bali in aliya santāna families corresponds to gōtra of the Brāhmins governed by Hindu law, but differs in that it is derived from the mother’s side, whereas gōtra is always derived from the father’s side. A marriage between a boy and girl belonging to the same bali is considered incestuous, as falling within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity. It is not at all difficult to find out the bali to which a man or woman belongs, as one can scarcely be found who does not know one’s own bali by rote. And the heads of caste, who preside at every wedding party, and who are also consulted by the elders of the boy or girl before an alliance is formed, are such experts in these matters that they decide at once without reference to any books or rules whether intermarriages between persons brought before them can be lawfully performed or not.” As examples of balis among the Bants, the following may be cited:—

• Bellathannaya, jaggery. • • Bhūthiannaya, ashes. • • Chāliannaya, weaver. • • Edinnaya, hornet’s nest. • • Karkadabennai, scorpion. • • Kayerthannaya (Strychnos Nux-vomica). • • Kochattabannayya, or Kajjarannayya, jack tree (Artocarpus integrifolia). • • Koriannaya, fowl. • • Pathanchithannaya, green peas. • • Perugadannaya, bandicoot rat. • • Poyilethannaya, one who removes the evil eye. • • Puliattannaya, tiger. • • Rāgithannaya, rāgi (Eleusine Coracana). •

Infant marriage is not prohibited, but is not common, and both men and girls are usually married after they have reached maturity. There are two forms of marriage, one called kai dhāre for marriages between virgins and bachelors, the other called budu dhāre for the marriage of widows. After a match has been arranged, the formal betrothal, called ponnapāthera or nischaya tambula, takes place. The bridegroom’s relatives and friends proceed in a body on the appointed day to the bride’s house, and are there entertained at a grand dinner, to which the bride’s relatives and friends are also bidden. Subsequently the karnavans (heads) of the two families formally engage to perform the marriage, and plates of betel leaves and areca nuts are exchanged, and the betel and nuts partaken of by the two parties. The actual marriage ceremony is performed at the house of the bride or bridegroom, as may be most convenient. The proceedings commence with the bridegroom seating himself in the marriage pandal, a booth or canopy specially erected for the occasion. He is there shaved by the village barber, and then retires and bathes. This done, both he and the bride are conducted to the pandal by their relations, or sometimes by the village headman. They walk thrice round the seat, and then sit down side by side. The essential and binding part of the ceremony, called dhāre, then takes place. The right hand of the bride being placed over the right hand of the bridegroom, a silver vessel (dhāre gindi) filled with water, with a cocoanut over the mouth and the flower of the areca palm on the cocoanut, is placed on the joined hands. The parents, the managers of the two families, and the village headmen all touch the vessel, which, with the hands of the bridal pair, is moved up and down three times. In certain families the water is poured from the [166]vessel into the united hands of the couple, and this betokens the gift of the bride. This form of gift by pouring water was formerly common, and was not confined to the gift of a bride. It still survives in the marriage ceremonies of various castes, and the name of the Bant ceremony shows that it must once have been universal among them. The bride and bridegroom then receive the congratulations of the guests, who express a hope that the happy couple may become the parents of twelve sons and twelve daughters. An empty plate, and another containing rice, are next placed before the pair, and their friends sprinkle them with rice from the one, and place a small gift, generally four annas, in the other. The bridegroom then makes a gift to the bride. This is called sirdachi, and varies in amount according to the position of the parties. This must be returned to the husband, if his wife leaves him, or if she is divorced for misconduct. The bride is then taken back in procession to her home. A few days later she is again taken to the bridegroom’s house, and must serve her husband with food. He makes another money present to her, and after that the marriage is consummated.

According to another account of the marriage ceremony among some Bants, the barber shaves the bridegroom’s face, using cow’s milk instead of water, and touches the bride’s forehead with razor. The bride and bridegroom bathe, and dress up in new clothes. A plank covered with a newly-washed cloth supplied by a washerman, a tray containing raw rice, a lighted lamp, betel leaves and areca nuts, etc., are placed in the pandal. A girl carries a tray on which are placed a lighted lamp, a measure full of raw rice, and betel. She is followed by the bridegroom conducted by her brother, and the bride, led by the bridegroom’s sister. They enter [167]the pandal and, after going round the articles contained therein five times, sit down on the plank. An elderly woman, belonging to the family of the caste headman, brings a tray containing rice, and places it in front of the couple, over whom she sprinkles a little of the rice. The assembled men and women then place presents of money on the tray, and sprinkle rice over the couple. The right hand of the bride is held by the headman, and her uncle, and laid in that of the bridegroom. A cocoanut is placed over the mouth of a vessel, which is decorated with mango leaves and flowers of the areca palm. The headman and male relations of the bride place this vessel thrice in the hands of the bridal couple. The vessel is subsequently emptied at the foot of a cocoanut tree.

The foregoing account shows that the Bant marriage is a good deal more than concubinage. It is indeed as formal a marriage as is to be found among any people in the world, and the freedom of divorce which is allowed cannot deprive it of its essential character. Widows are married with much less formality. The ceremony consists simply of joining the hands of the couple, but, strange to say, a screen is placed between them. All widows are allowed to marry again, but it is, as a rule, only the young women who actually do so. If a widow becomes pregnant, she must marry or suffer loss of caste.

The Bants all burn their dead, except in the case of children under seven, and those who have died of leprosy or of epidemic disease such as cholera or small-pox. The funeral pile must consist at least partly of mango wood. On the ninth, eleventh or thirteenth day, people are fed in large numbers, but the Jains now substitute for this a distribution of cocoanuts on the third, fifth, [168]seventh, or ninth day. Once a year—generally in October—a ceremony called agelū is performed for the propitiation of ancestors.

From a detailed account of the Bant death ceremonies, I gather that the news of a death is conveyed to the caste people by a Holeya. A carpenter, accompanied by musicians, proceeds to cut down a mango tree for the funeral pyre. The body is bathed, and laid out on a plank. Clad in new clothes, it is conveyed with music to the burning-ground. A barber carries thither a pot containing fire. The corpse is set down near the pyre and divested of the new clothes, which are distributed between a barber, washerman, carpenter, a Billava and Holeya. The pyre is kindled by a Billava, and the mat on which the corpse has been lying is thrown thereon by a son or nephew of the deceased. On the third day the relations go to the burning-ground, and a barber and washerman sprinkle water over the ashes. Some days later, the caste people are invited to attend, and a barber, washerman, and carpenter build up on the spot where the corpse was burnt a lofty structure, made of bamboo and areca palm, in an odd number of tiers, and supported on an odd number of posts. It is decorated with cloths, fruits, tender cocoanuts, sugarcane, flowers, mango leaves, areca palm flowers, etc., and a fence is set up round it. The sons and other relations of the deceased carry to the burning-ground three balls of cooked rice (pinda) dyed with turmeric and tied up in a cloth, some raw rice dyed with turmeric, pieces of green plantain fruit, and pumpkin and a cocoanut. They go thrice round the structure, carrying the various articles in trays on their heads, and deposit them therein. The relations then throw a little of the coloured rice into the structure, and one of the caste [169]men sprinkles water contained in a mango leaf over their hands. After bathing, they return home. The clothes, jewels, etc., of the deceased are laid on a cloth spread inside the house. A piece of turmeric is suspended from the ceiling by a string, and a tray containing water coloured yellow placed beneath it. Round this the females seat themselves. A cocoanut is broken, and a barber sprinkles the water thereof contained in a mango leaf over those assembled. On the following day, various kinds of food are prepared, and placed on leaves, with a piece of new cloth, within a room of the house. The cloth remains there for a year, when it is renewed. The renewal continues until another death occurs in the family.

In the following table, the cephalic index of the Bants is compared with that of the Billavas and Shivalli Brāhmans:—


The headman among the Bants is generally called Guttinayya, meaning person of the guttu or site. Every village, or group of villages, possesses a guttu, and the Bant who occupies, or holds in possession the house or site set apart as the guttu is the Guttinayya. When this passes to another by sale or inheritance, the office of headman passes with it. It is said that, in some instances, the headmanship has in this way passed to classes other than Bants, e.g., Brāhmans and Jains. In some villages, the headman is, as among some other castes, called Gurikāra, whose appointment is hereditary.

A few supplementary notes may be added on the Parivara, Nād, and Māsādika Bants. The Parivaras are confined to the southern taluks of the South Canara district. They may interdine, but may not intermarry with the other section. The rule of inheritance is makkalakattu (in the male line). Brāhman priests are engaged for the various ceremonials, so the Parivaras are more Brāhmanised than the Nād or Māsādika Bants. The Parivaras may resort to the wells used by Brāhmans, and they consequently claim superiority over the other sections. Among the Nād Bants, no marriage badge is tied on the neck of the bride. At a Parivara marriage, after the dhāre ceremony, the bridegroom ties a gold bead, called dhāre mani, on the neck of the bride. The remarriage of widows is not in vogue. In connection with the death ceremonies, a car is not, as among the Nād and Māsādika sections, set up over the mound (dhūpe). On the eleventh day, the spreading of a cloth on the mound for offerings of food must be done by Nekkāras, who wash clothes for Billavas.

The Nād or Nādava and Māsādika Bants follow the aliya santāna law of succession, and intermarriage is permitted between the two sections. The names of the balis, which have already been given, are common among the Māsādikas, and do not apply to the Nāds, among whom different sept names occur, e.g., Honne, Shetti, Koudichi, etc. Elaborate death ceremonies are only performed if the deceased was old, or a respected member of the community. The corpse is generally cremated in one of the rice-fields belonging to the family. After the funeral, the male members of the family return home, and place a vessel containing water and light in a room. One or two women must [171]remain in this room, and the light must be kept burning until the bojja, or final death ceremonies, are over. The water in the vessel must be renewed twice daily. At the final ceremonies, a feast is given to the castemen, and in some places, the headman insists on the people of the house of mourning giving him a jewel as a pledge that the bojja will be performed on the ninth, eleventh, or thirteenth day. The headman visits the house on the previous day, and, after examination of the provisions, helps in cutting up vegetables, etc. On the bojja day, copper and silver coins, and small pieces of gold, are buried or sown in the field in which the ceremony is performed. This is called hanabiththodu. The lofty structure, called gurigi or upparige, is set up over the dhūpe or ashes heaped up into a mound, or in the field in which the body was cremated, only in the event of the deceased being a person of importance. In some places, two kinds of structure are used, one called gurigi, composed of several tiers, for males, and the other called dēlagūdu, consisting of a single tier, for females. Devil-dancers are engaged, and the commonest kōla performed by them is the eru kōla, or man and hobby-horse. In the room containing the vessel of water, four sticks are planted in the ground, and tied together. Over the sticks a cloth is placed, and the vessel of water placed beneath it. A bit of string is tied to the ceiling, and a piece of turmeric or a gold ring is attached to the end of it, and suspended so as to touch the water in the vessel. This is called nīr neralu (shadow in water), and seems to be a custom among various Tulu castes. After the bojja ceremony, all those who are under death pollution stand in two rows. A Madavali (washerman) touches them with a [172]cloth, and a Kēlasi (barber) sprinkles water over them. In this manner, they are freed from pollution.

The most common title among the Bants is Chetti or Setti, but many others occur, e.g., Heggade, Nāyaka, Bangēra, Rai, Ballālaru, etc.

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