This article is an extract from
THE TRIBES and CASTES of BENGAL.
Printed at the Bengal Secretariat Press.
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Tradition of origin
Bhuinya, Bhuiyan, Bhuindar Bhumiya, Mushar, Naik Khandayat, Kltandayat-Pliik, Ghatwat, Ghatual', Tikayat, Puran, Rajwar, Rai, Rai-Bhuiya, Ber-Bhuiya, Sal'dal', The bewildering array of synonyms which stands at the head of this article suggests a problem of great importance to ethnological research in India ¬the question what value can properly be attached to the names of tribes and castes as we find them at the present day.A re suc names mamly for¬tuitous, deriving their origin from such aooidents as locality, ocou¬pation, habit, and the like; or do they take us back to periods of remote antiquity and furnish olues that may safely be followed to the actual desoent and true affinities of the human aggregates which they now serve to distinguish? Take, for example, the name Bhuiya. AJ.•e we to regard this as the original designation of a tribe, onoe oompact, whioh has now spread into the ends of the earth and disguieed itself-7ToA.A.wV ovof./-amJJv €7TCi>vuf./-o,>-under a variety of titles, whioh in course of time have come to be the badges of distinot endogamous groups'; or, should we rather say, that the word Bhuiya is itself no tribal name at all, but a mere title conferred on or assnmed by many groups of men in different parts of India, on the strength in each oase of their real or supposed claim to be deemed the original settlers and first clearers of the soil? If we adopt the former view, we are led to infer that all tribes or castes calling themselves Bhuiya are offshoots from one original stock; while the latter theory points to no such general conclusion, and leaves us to aooount as we may for the various groups which use this title in a more or less pronounoed and exolusive fashion. Most of the authorities who have written about the Bhui.yas have assumed at starting that the name must be a genuine tribal designation of very anoient date, and have thus been led into specu¬lations whioh in my judgment rest on a very scanty foundation of ascertained fact. Thus Buohanan, finding in Bhagalpur, Behar, and Dimijpur a number of people calling themselves Bhuinyas, I seems to take it for granted that they all oome of one stook. His line of argument on this point is not free :£rom obsourity, but it certainly goes perilously near to identifying the distinotly non¬Aryan Bhuinyas of North Bbagalpur and Dinajpur with the highly Aryan Babhans of Behar, who assume the title Bhuinya or Bhuinbar with referenoe to their claims upon the land. Sir George Oampbell travels still further afield, and suggests that the Bhuiyas of Bengal are oonneoted with the Buis of Madras and the Central Provinces. Oolonel Dalton thinks this opinion probable, adding that the Bhuiya features are on the whole of a Tamulian oast, and that the tribe is found in its greatest strength and purity on the southern frontier of Benga1.2 The referenoe to the Barah Bhuiyas of Assam, which follows, leaves it uncertain whether Colonel Dalton looked upon them also as an offshoot of the same stock as the Bhuiyas of Bengal; but it is clear from several passages in his account of the latter that he regarded them as a distinct tribe extending from Eastern and Northern Bengal to the southern borders of Chota N agpur. His remark that" there are grounds for supposing that some of the noblest families in Bengal are sprung from this race, and they still hold high positions in the Jungle'and Tributary MaMls" may even be taken to imply acceptance of Buchanan's identification of Bhuiyas and Bhuinbar-Babhans, but this point is not entirely clear.
It seems to me that the history of the Barah Bhuiyas of Assam and Eastern Bengal should of itself be sufficient to throw suspicion on a theory which admittedly rests on the basis of a mere resem• blance of names. In an article published in the J ournal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, the late Dr. James Wise worked out with the patience and thoroughness which mark all his researches the obscure history of these twelve Bhuiyas or landlords, and showed that their designation had so little of a tribal character about it that at least obe of them was a Mahomedan. 'l'hey were in fact merely territorial chiefs of portions of Eastern Bengal or Assam. N or is this state of things confined to the twelve historical Bhuiyas. The title survives in Assam at the present day as the designation of several forms of landholdin g rights. So in Chota N agpur the Bbumij of Manbhum and the Oraons and Mundas of L ohardaga habitually use the term to denote a certain class of tenants who claim to hold large areas of land at privileged rates of Tent in consi-deration of their being the descendants of the first clearers of the soil. In the Tributary States of Gangpur and Bonai the leading vassals of the chief are called Bhuiyas, both as members of a distinct tribe and in virtue of theil' status in connexion with the land; in Behar we find the high-caste Babhan and the despised Musahar alike styling themselves Bhuinya or Bhuinbar, though the latter have at the present day no special status in relation to the land. Lastly, in Rajputanc't the term :Bhumia or Bhuiya denotes Rajputs who hold land on a tribal tenure in virtue of thei.r descent through a particular line.
Seeing, then, how wide is the area over which the term Bhuiya. is distributed; that it ranges from Assam to Rajputana and from Behar to Madras; and that its use is elastic enough to inclnde Rajputs and Bhumij, Mahomedans and Oraons, we should, I think, hesitate and demand some independent evidence of affinity before we pronounce it to be an original tribal designation, and accept the conclusion that all tribes which bear the name at the present day are sprung :from a common stock. Furr•her doubt is thrown npon this inference by the fact that the word Bhuiya is itself a Sanskrit derivative, and is always aesociated with some sort of claim to the privileged tenure of land. Were it a genuine tribal name, we might expect that its etymology would be traceable to one of the non¬Aryan languages, and that it would attaoh to groups defined rather by descent than by territorial status. the evidence, taken as a whole, goes to show thn.t the title Bhuiya does not necessarily denote a large original circle of tribal affinity, embracing all manner of men who now belong to separate groups, it by no means follows that there are no distinct tribes bearing the name. Among the Dravidian races of Western Bengal and Chota Nagpur large endogamous groups are certainly found who call themselves Bhuiya and believe this to be their original designation.
It may well be doubted whether their belief is correct, but the point is not very materia.l for our present purpose. Among a considerable proportion of the non¬Aryan tribes of Bengal a Sanskrit derivative has displaced the original tribal name so completely that in some cases no trace of the latter can n~ be discerned; and as often as not it bappens that the name now sanctioned by actual usage may plausi¬bly be referred to locality or to supposed rights in respect of the land. It is easy to see how this might happen. The advanoed guard of the Aryan immigrants pressing forward in quest of land, and seeking a name for the alien races whom they found in pos¬session of scanty clearings in the forest-clad tract of Central India, whither they had themselves been driven, would naturally ignore the tribal names of the groups with which they oame ill contact, and would call the strangers Bhuiyas or children of the soil.
In course of time, as the Aryan domination grew, the name conferred by the conquering race would abide, and the older savage designations would pass away and be forgotten. But wherever the title of Bhuiya, oonferred in this rough general fashion by the new settlers on all the nonooAryans whom they came across, chanoed to be adopted by a compaot tribe, i.t would become the tribal name of that aggre¬gate, and would be used by them for the purpose of desoribing themselves collectively. 'rhus, it would seem, may have arisen the distinction, well known in most parts of Chota Nag-pur, between a 'Bhuiya by tribe' and a 'Bhuiya by title.' The Bhuiyas of
Bonai and Keunjhar desoribed by Colonel Dalton belong to the former oategory; the Bhumij, Mundas, and Oraons to the latter. 'rhe distinotion will be made somewhat clearer if it is explained that every 'tribal Bhuiya) will as a matter of COUl'se describe himself as Bhuiya, while a member of the other tribes mentioned in the last sentenoe will only call himself Bhuiya if he is speaking with referenoe to a question of land, or desires for some speoial reason to lay stress on his status as a landholder or agrioulturist.
It is a plausible oonjeoture that the tribal Bhuiyas, properly so called, as distinguished from the titular Bhuiyas of other tribes or castes, may have had their original settlements in the Tributary States to the south of the Chota N agpur plateau. In Gangpur, Bonai, Keunjhar, and Bamra the organisation of the tribe is more complete than elsewhere, and the name Bhuiya is unequivooally reoognised as the tribal designation.
They form also a substantial proportion of the population of Singbhum, but their position there is less assured than in the Tributary States, and tradition avers thab in the western and southern parts of the distriot they were subj ugated by the Hos. Further north they seem to have been displaoed in Lohardaga by the Mundas and Oraons, and in Manbhum by the Bhumij, for in those districts their settlements al'e soattered and weak. In Hazaribagh the tribe again gathers strength, and in Southern Behar we meet with Bhuiyas in large numbers bearing the opprobrious name of Musahar or rat-eater, but invariably calling themselves by their original tribal designation, which in Behar at any rate is not associated with any claim to hold land on privileged terms. The present distribution of the tribe seem in fact to accord fairly well with the hypothesis that the south of the Chota Nagpur country may have been their original centre of distribution. Spread¬ing from that point, their social fortunes seem to have been deter¬mined by the character of the people with whom they came in contact.
The stronger non-Aryan tribes-Mundas, Hos, and Santals -out like a wedge through the line of the Bhuiya advance towards the north; a small number successfully established themselves in Hazaribagh beyond the range of Mundas, while those who travelled furthest in this direotion fell under the domination of Hindus in Behar, and were reduced to the servile status whioh the Musahars now occupy. Travelling southward from the assumed centre, the condi¬tions appear to have been more favourable, and the tendenoy has been for the Bhuiyas to rise rather than to decliue in social status. Some of their leading families have oome to be ohiefs of the petty States of Orissa, and have merged their identity in the olaim to quasi¬Rajput descent. 'rhe main body of the southern colonists furnished the tribal militia of Orissa, and have now sunk the Bhuiya in the Khandait 01' Swordsman-a caste of admitted respectability in Orissa, and likely in course of time to transform itself into some variety or Rajput.
Writing of the Bhuiyas of Gangpur and Bonai, Colonel Dalton says: ¬
"They are a dark-brown, well-proportioned race, with black straight hair, plentiful on the head, but scant Physicaicharactoristics. on the face; of middle height, figures well-knit and cal able of enduring great fatigue, but light-framed like tho Hindu, rather than presenting the usual musoular development of a hill-man. 'The features are very mnch of the same cast throughout. The oheek and jaw-bones aI'e projecting, so as to give a breadth and squarenAss to the faoo. The nose is but slightly olevated, still neither so depressed nor so broad at the root as the generality of Turanian nose, and rather of a retrousse type; mouths and teeth well formed, and the facial angle generally good. The eyes well shaped and straight, but never very large or deep set." '1.'he Keunjhar Hill Bhuiyas, on the other hand, " are rather of an exaggerated Turanian type; very large mouths, thiok and somewhat projecting lips, foreheads narrow and low. but Dot roceding, eyes dark, but well-shaped, hair plentiful on the head, though rathel' frizzly and generally scanty on face, but to this there are notable exceptions; short of stature, averaging about five feet two inches, round shouldered, and many of them with the lump that is pro¬duced by the displaoement of tho musoles in oarrying loads bang-by fashion. The colour of tho skin varies from a deep ohocolate, the predominating tint, to tawny." Furthor north, again, in the country round I ill'asnath liill, the landholders, though prelending to be Kshatriyas, flre believed by Colonel Dalton to be Bhuiyas, and are described as swarthy, almost black in complexion, and with coarse, Negro-like features.
The traditions of the tribe vary greatly in different parts of the country, and in many cases refer merely to local migrations of recent date, which give no clue to their real affinities. Colonel Dal-ton says that the Bhuiyas to the south of Singbhum call themselves Pawan• bans, ( the children of the wind,' to this day; and connecting this with Hanuman's title Pmcallrka-put, ( son of the wind,' suggests that the Bhuiyas are the veritable apes of the Ramayana. The coincidence no doubt is curious, but can hardly be pressed to the point of associating a particular tribe with the epithet by which the early Aryaus indicated their sense of the marked racial difference between themselves and the non-Aryans of Central India. With a single exception, their other traditions are valueless. This is the fact that all Bhuiyas, from the Musahars of Behar to the Khandait¬Paiks of Southern Lohardaga, affect great reverence for the memory of Rikhmun or Rikhiasan, whom they regard, some as a patron deity, others as a mythical ancestor, whose name distingui hes one of¬the divisions of the tribe. It seems probable that in the earliest stage of belief Rikhmun was the bear-totem of a sept of the tribe, that later on he was transformed into an ancestral hero, and finally promoted to tho rank of a tribal god. However this may be, his cult is peculiar to the Bhuiyas, and serves to link together the scattered branches of the tribe.
The internal structure of the Bhuiyas is intricate and confusing, and illustrates the disorganisation which sets in when a tribe becomes scattered over a wide range of country, and is exposed to different religious and social inflnences. An examination of the groups into which they have now been brok en up may throw some light upon the causes which work towards the disintegration of tribes and the formation of castes out of their fragments. The Bhuiyas of the Tributary States may be taken to represent the original nucleus of the tribe.
They form at present a compact body, marrying among them¬selves, and seOUl'e in the possession of the ancestral landed tenures. Some of the chiefs have transformed themselves into Raj puts, but the memory of the tribal bond between them and their Bhuiya. vassal is preserved by the usage, described in detail below, which requires the former to seek investiture at the hands of the princi¬pal Bhuiya. In Orissa aud patts of Lohardaga the practice of military service paid for in land has become the distinctive characteristic, and an offshoot of the Bhuiya tribo has parted from the parent body and assnmed an inJependent existence as the Khandait caste. The social conditions of Orissa and the comparative weaknes of its caste system seem to have favoured this development, so that the Khandaits now occupy rather a high place in the scale of precedence, and many of them look down upon the original stock and disown the tribal name. In Behar the converse process has been at work. The Bhuiya colonists of that rart of Lhe country fell ulldor the domination of people stronger than themselves.
Unlike their brethren in Orissa, they were in no demand as soldiers, while the swords of Raj puts and Bab¬hans were to be had for the asking. So the Bhuiyas found their level as landless workers in the fields ; serving the men of the sword, who would not touch the plough ; and their Hindu masters named them Musahars, from their non-Aryan practice of eating field-mice. Out off geographically from the original nucleus of the tribe, and socially degraded by their unclean habits of food, they have now finally taken rank among the low castes of Behar. Known to the Hindus as• Musahar or mouse-eater, they still treasure among themselves, as a sort of distinction, the old tribal name of Bhuiya, which, as we have seen above, the Khandaits of Orissa are eager to cast off. These two groups-the Musahar caste of Behar and the Khandait caste of Orissa -mark for the Bhuiya tribe the extremes of geographical and social displacement. Both are castes in the strict sense of the word, occu¬pying a definite place in the systems to which they belong. One ranks high in the Orissa system, and tends on the whole to rise ; the other is near the bottom of the social scale in Behar and its pros¬pects are not likely to improve.
"The Bhuiyas in Keonjhur," says Colonel Dalton, " are divided into four clans-the Mal or Desh Bhuiyas (they call themselves, and are called, the Desh-lok, or the people of the country), the Dandsena, the Khatti, and the Rajklili Bhuiyas. The latter, as connected with the royal line, I should have placed first, but I give them in the order assigned to them by my informants. The Bhuiyas, it is said, twenty-seven generations ago stole a child of the Mohurbhanj Raja,'s family, brought it up amongst them, and made it their Raja. He was freely admitted to intercourse with Bhuiya girls, and the children of this intimacy are the progenitors of the Rajkllli: But they are not considered first among Bhuiyas, because they are not of pure Bhuiya dcscent."
The other divisions of the Bhuiyas need only be briefly noticed. The Ghatwal-Bhuiyas of Hazaribagh and the Santal Parganas hold service tenures, and the Tikait-Bhuiyas arc usually small zamindars. Both affect to b6 endogamous, reject the name Bhuiya, and represent themselves as belonging to independent landholding castes, and both will probably sooner or later gain admission into the large and mis¬ cellaneous community of local Raj puts. In the Santal Parganas Rai-Bhuiya and Bel' or Bhar ..Bhuiya. and Deswali-Bhuiya are men¬ tioned as sub-castes; but it is not clear that these are anything more than titular distinctions, which mayor may not have an occasional bearing upon marriage. In Manbhum, on the other hand, the Katras-Bhuiya, Musahar-Bhuiya, and Dhorfl-Bhuiya seem to be true sub-castes. .
Our information regarding the exogamous system of the tribe is unfortunately rather incomplete. We know nothing of the rules followed by the Bhuiyas of the Tributary States, where we might look for the clo est adherence to primitive usage. In Singbhum a number of exogamous groups are recognised, and. a man may not marry a woman belonging to his own group. Beyond this oircle maxriago is regulated by the ordinary method of counting prohibiteu degrees from the generation of the parents. The Musahar-Bhuiyafl. too, who are shown in Appendix I as a distinct caste under the heading Musahar, have a long list of exogamous sections to which the ordinary rules apply. But among the Bhuiyas of Lohardaga and
Hazaribagh the common tribal system of exogamy appears to be falling into disuse, and many groups whioh were at one time exog¬ amous now admit of marriage within the group. I have endeavoured to represent the oomplex and obscure relations of the various divisions of the tribe in the Table given lmder the heading Bhuiya in Appendix I, but the data available were in many cases far from perfect.
Among the Bhuiyas of the 'T'ributary States, a girl rarely marries before she is fully grown up. Great MarrIage. freedom of courtship is allowed, and "slips of morality, so long as they are confined to the tribe, are not much heeded." 1 colonel Dalton describoo a curious and grace¬ ful custom by which the young men of one village pay a visit of courtship to the maidens of another, offering presents and receiving a meal, after which they spend the night in dancing and singing. He also mentions the fact that the baohelors always sleep together in a large house set apart for that purpose, and that in some villages the girls also have a house to themselves, where they spend the night with no one to look after them. In Singbhum these Arca .. dian habits seem to have died out, and iufant-marriage, though by no. means universal, is said to be gaining ground among the bi.be, Khandaits, Tikaits, Ghatwals, and for the most part all landholding Bhuiyas in Hindu surroundings, marry their daughters as infants when they oan get husbands for them. 'l'he two latter groups, however, are oomparatively small, and their members are put to some difficulty in finding husbands within their own class; so that with them, as with the pseudo-Raj puts of Chota Nagpur, girls often remain unmarried until they have long passed the age of puberty. Musahars, on the other hand, still hold to adult-marriage.
Polygamy is allowed, and, in theory at least, a man may have as many wives as he can maintain. Few, however, can afford the luxury of more than one, and custom does not favour the taking of a second wife except when the first is barren. A widow may marry again by the sagai form, and it is usual, though not compul¬sory, for her to marry her late husband's younger brother. If she marries an outsider, her ohildren by her late husband belong as of right to his family, though children at the breast are usually left in her charge till they are big enough to be independent of their mother. Marriage yvith a,n elder brother is strictly forbidden.
Divorce is permitted, with the sanction of the panchayat of the tribe, if the wife be proved unchaste, if the husband neglect to main tain her , or if either party suffer from an incurable disease, such as leprosy or impotence. A divorced woman may marry again by the sagai form, unless she has been guilty of a liaison with a man of a lower caste, in which case any Bhuiya who married her would render himself liable to expulsion from the community. An intrigue within the tribe or with a man of respeotable caste admits of being condoned by a fine, and does not operate as a bar to remarriage. Colonel Dalton bas the following remarks on the religion of the Bhuiyas .
They have their own priests, called deoris, and their saored groves, oalled 'deota sara,' dedioated to four deities-Dasum Pat, Bamoni Pat, Koisar Pat, and Boram. The three first are brethren, but there was some difterence of opinion as to whether Bamoni was malo or female. Boram is the sun, also worshipped under the name of Dharm Deota, as with the Onions, The three minor deities are represented by stones in the sara, but Boram has no representation. Boram, as the first and greatest of gods and as the oreator. is invoked at the sowing season with the offering of a white cock. In cases of siokness goats are offered to Dasum Pat and his brethren. On such occasions the goat is given by the owner of the house in whioh the sick person resides. On other oooasions the viotim is provided by the community. the saorifioes are all offered at the foot of trees in the sara ; only men partake of the meat. The deori gets the head."
The Bhuiyas of Southern Lobardaga. have advanoed somewhat further on tho pat.h of orthodox Hinduism, but do not regularly employ Brahmans, except, as has been stated above, at the marriage oeremony. On certain oooasions, however, Brahmans are oalled in to reoite mantras, and the tendenoy towards conformity with Hindu usage will doubtless go on spreading as the country is opened up by the gradual improvement of communications. Already Thakurani Mai, the' bloodthirsty tutelary goddess' to whom, only twenty years ago, 1 the Hill Bhuiyas of Keonjhar offered the head of the obnoxious Dewan of their ohief, has been transformed, in Singbhum and Lohardaga, ioto the Hindu Durga, to whom a Bhuiya priest makes offerings of goats, sheep, etc., whioh are afterwards partaken of by the worshippers. Changes of this sort raise an impassable barrier againt researches into the origin of things, so that vestig-es of the earlier beliefs of tho people must be sought rather among the gods of the village and of the family than among the reoognised di major'es of popular worship.
Thus the oommunal ghosts Darha, Kudra, Kudri, Dano, Pacheria, Haserwar, Pakahi, with their ill•defined functions and general oapaoity for misohief and malevoleuoe, are clearly akin to the host ot evil spirits whioh people the world of the Muuda and Oraon. To appease these ghosts by oooasional offerings of fowls and rice, and thus to guarantee the oommunity against the consequenoes of their ill-wili, is the speoial funotion ot the village Pahan, who levies small subsoriptions for this sort of spiritual insur¬ance. Tho tribal deities Rikhmun and Tulsibir belong to a different and less primitive type.
Hikhmun, a has been mentioned above, is believed to be the original anoestor of the tribe; while Tulsibir was a restless aud valorous Bhuiya, who made war upon the gods until they appeased his wrath by aclmitting him to divine honours. I venture ihe conjecture that both Hikhmun and Tulsibir are merely transmuted totems, in tlle hope that further enquiries among the more primitive Bhuiyas may bring out evidence on this point. Neither of these gods has special priests; their worship is conducted by any eldor of the tribe. Sheep, goat, pigs, sweetmeats, and wine are the usual offerings, which afterwards furnish a feast for the assembled votaries. Snakes are only worshipped by those families which have lost one of their members by snake-bite. A certain herb, known as gandhari sag, and used as condiment, must be worshipped once a year, and can only be eaten if this rule is complied with. The custom sugge ts that the herb must once bave been a totem of the tribe, but this cannot be oertainly ascertained to be the case.
The following table shows the number and distribution of Bhuiyas in 1872 and 1881 :¬