This article is an extract from
THE CASTES AND TRIBES
H. E. H. THE NIZAM'S DOMINIONS
SYED SIRAJ UL HASSAN
Of Merton College, Oxford, Trinity College, Dublin, and
Middle Temple, London.
One of the Judges of H. E. H. the Nizam's High Court
of Judicature : Lately Director of Public Instruction.
THE TlMES PRESS
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Bhavsar, Bahusar, Bhausagar, Bhavasagari, Wannekar, Rangari, Rangrez — the dyer and tailor caste of Maharashtra whose traditions say that they came originally from Gujaratha neaitly seven hundred years ago. Many of them have settled in Telingana, where they are known by the popular designation 'Vinnekar ' (a dyer). They are generally stout and short, dress like the Maratha Kunbis and speak the Marathi language.
Bhavsars lay claim to a Kshatriya origin and profess to derive their name from ' Bahusar,' Bahu — arm and sar — sprung (lit. moved) meaning " sprung from the arm of Brahma.' Regarding their origin, they relate the following legend. When Parshuram, in fulfilment of his vow, extirminated the Kshatriya race, a few of them escaped the general carnage by taking shelter in the shrine of their patron goddess, Ingala Devi. The Devi, to save them from destruction, deprived them of their sacred thread and enjoined them to betake themselves to their present occupations. Those who were furnished with thread and needle became tailors, while others were supplied with dyes and became dyers. But neither their physical character, nor their traditions, throw any clear light on their real antecedents. They were known to the ancients as ' Sindolaka ' or the descendants of a Shudra father and Bhanda mother.
Bhavsaras have two main sub- divisions — Bhavsar Rangari and Bhavsar Darji, or Chippalu — which are, however, purely functional, for members belonging to them intermarry' and eat together. Their exogamous system is obscure and complicated. It consists of a double series of sections, a specimen of which is shown below : —
Although it is held that, for the purposes of marriage, the gotra series is taken into account, it is not very clear whether the fact of two persons belonging to the same family, or bearing the same family name, would operate as a bar to their intermarriage, notwithstanding their gotras being different. Such a case has not been made out in the enquiry, and further information is, therefore, wanted on the point. The rule of exogamy is carefully practised, and a man is prohibited from marrying a woman of his own section. In matters of prohibited degrees, that overlap the rule of exogamy, Bhavsars follow the practice in use among the Maratha Kunbis. Polygamy is permitted, but there is no rule limiting the number of wives a man mav have.
Among Bhavsars, girls are married as infants, and social reproach attaches to a girl's parents if she is not provided with a husband before she has reached the age of puberty. The cere- mony is of the orthodox type, in practice among the Maratha Kunbis and other Maratha castes of the same social standing. After the preliminary negotiations have been completed, an auspicious day for the marriage is fixed by consulting a Brahman skilled in such matters. The ceremony takes place at the bride's house, under a booth of nine or eleven posts, the muhurta medha, or wedding pillar, being of umbar (Ficus glomerata). To this hallowed pillar are fastened an axe, five cakes, and leaves of the five sacred trees — the mango, shami (Prosopis spicigera), jambul (Eugenia Jambolana), umbar (Ficus glomerata), and pipal (Ficus religiosa) — the whole representing Deva Devaka, or marriage guardian deity. The ceremony comprises several usages, which may be described as follows : —
(1) Mangani or Kunku Lavane (the betrothal), in which the maiden is presented with a silver coin and sweetmeat and has her forehead smeared with kunkum, or red powder, by the Brahman who officiates as priest : this completes the betrothal. The guests are offered pan supari, or betel-leaves and areca nuts, after which they disperse to their homes.
(2) The invocation of the village and family deities for their blessing upon the betrothed couple. These are (1) Bhavani and (2) Ellama, both propitiated with offerings of flesh, (3) Gorakha, (4) Mahadeva, (5) Yankoba and (6) Narsinha. The Bhavsars also worship the jungle grass, a usage the true significance of which is obscure at the present day.
(3) Haldi Laoane, or the smearing over with turmeric. The betrothed pair, in their respective homes, are separately rubbed over with turmeric paste and oil. Five married females, whose husbands are living, grind, ceremonially, turmeric, with which »he boy is first smeared, a portion of this being subsequently conveyed in procession to the bride's house and applied to her body. Before the wedding a curious Kulachar, or family rite, ist performed by the caste and merits -special description. In a large pot filled with water are arranged wheaten cakes and leaves of makai, in alternate layers, which, having been sufficiently boiled, are distributed among the wives of the caste Panchas. Each of the matrons receives two cakes and gives jawari, or Indian millet, in return. On the wedding day the boy is carried in procession to Maruti's temple, where he is formally received for the first time by the bride's relatives. He is thence conducted by both parlies to the girl's house, where, on arrival, the bride's mother waves two cakes round his face and washes his feet with water. On alighting from his horse, the bridegroom is taken straight to tho wedding platform, built under the wedding booth. Here the bride immediately joins hiro and both are made to stand face to face, in bamboo baskets containing ropes used for drawing water from wells. The ceremonies that follow, viz., Antarpat, Kankana bandhan, Mangalsutra, Kanyadan, Naoagraha Puja, Homa and several others, closely resemble those current among the Maratha Kunbis. It should be observed, however, that those Bhavsars who have settled in Telingana or the Carnatic follow wedding ribes peculiar to the respectable members of their adopted localities.
A Bhavsar woman, after child-birth, is unclean for ten days. On the 5th day after birth, the worship of the goddess Satwai is observed, at which the image of the goddess is traced on a grind- stone, laid near the mother's cot, and worshipped with the sacrifice of a goat. The child, if a male, is named on the 13th, and if a female on the 1 2th day after birth.
The Bhavsars allow a widow to marry again, but do not require her to marry her late husband's younger or elder brother. The ceremony in use at the marriage of a widow consists of the tying of the mangalsutra, or auspicious thread, round the bride's neck by the bridegroom. A Brahman attends the ceremony and acts as priest. Widows may witness the ritual, but married women are on no account allowed to be present on the occasion. The wedded couple sleep together during the night and early next morning repair to Maruti's temple, where they screen themselves from the public gaze. At night they return to the bridegroom's house. The pro- ceedings terminate with a feast to the caste people.
Divorce is permitted on the ground of the wife's unchastity, or the husband's inability to maintain her, or if the couple cannot get on together. It is effected, with the sanction of the casti Panchayat, by depriving the woman of her mangahutra and driving her out of the house. The divorce claims alimony from her husband if her innocence is proved in the presence of the head-man of the caste. Divorced women are allowed to marry again by the same rite as widows.
The religion of the Bhavsars differs little from that of other castes of the same social status. Their special deity is Ingala or Hingala (a form of Bhavani), worshipped on Fridays or Tuesdays, with offerings of sweetmeat. On the eighth or ninth of the light half of Aswin (beginning of October),the grand worship of the goddess is held, at which Homa (sacrifice) is per- formed, mogara or jasmine flowers (Jasminum Sambac) offered to the deity and goats and sheep sacrificed to her. They also pay devotion to Khandoba, Balaji, Hanuman, and the greater gods of the Hindu pantheon. Parsharam, the incarnation of Vishnu, and the slayer of Kshatriyas, is represented by a panja (metallic palm) and is adored with the sacrifice of a sheep. In this worship the Brahmans take no part, but the head of the household officiates as priest. Animistic deities, including Pochamma (Sitala), Mari Amma, Maisamma and Ellama, are also propitiated by the members of the caste. They have a strong belief in ghosts, charms and witch-craft.
In Telingana, the Bhavsars are divided into Shivas (Vibhutidharis) and Vaishnavas (Tirmanidharis). Some of the Maratha Bhavsars are followers of the Manbhao sect and are generally known by the name of Bhavals : these have Manbhao mendicants for their Gums. On all religious and ceremonial occasions the assistance of Deshastha Brahmans is requisitioned by the caste.
Disposal of the Dead
The dead are burnt, the body being laid on the pyre with the head pointing to the south, and the ashes are collected on the 3rd day after death and thrown into the Ganges or any stream near by. Mourning is observed ten days for agnate adults and the ceremony of Sradha is performed on the 12tii day after death, when libations of til water (Sesamum indicum) and balls of rige or wheat flour are offered for the benefit of the deceased. Children, before teething, and persons dying of cholera or smallpox, are buried. Burial is also resorted to in the case of persons who become Bhavalus or disciples of Manbhaos. Ancestors, in general, are propitiated in the dark half of the month of Bhadrapad (September), with offerings of libations of water mixed with til (gingelly) seeds. In Telingana, Tirmanidharis are burnt, while Vibhutidharis are buried. A goat is sacrificed on the 3rd day after .death and the flesh is cooked and placed, with a vessel of shendi (juice of the wild date palm), on the spot where the body was cremaed or buried.
The social rank of Bhavsars is respectable, and Marathft Kunbis are said to eat k.achi from their hands, while the members of the caste eat only from the hands of Brahmans. They eat fish and the flesh of sheep, fowl, deer, hare and wild boar and indulge freely in spirituous and fermented liquors. Leavings of other people are not eaten by the caste.
The general occupation of the caste is the dyeing of cotton clothes, silks and woollen fabrics and yarns for weaving. The colotirs used in dyeing are mostly of vegetable origin and are obtained by ingenious combinations of different dyes. Safflower, madder, turmeric, indigo, myrabolams and mango leaves furnish beautiful tints of scarlet, pink, rose, crimson, purple, yellow, orange and green. The garments are dyed in pieces to suit the tastes of customers. They are first steeped in the dung of cow-buffaloes, washed and then submitted to the process of dyeing. An earthen pot or kundi, two metal vats for the principal dye becks and a cotton bag (zoli) for straining the colour comprise the simple apparatus employed for the operation.
Some of the Bhavsars are now engaged as tailors, while a fev/ of them have taken to cultivation.