Chakla or Dhobi: Deccan

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Chakla or Dhobi

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Dhobi, Chakla, Parit, Agesaru, Warathi, Madiyal, Ramdu — the washerman caste of the Telingana, Marathwadi and Carnatic Districts. Styled as ' Manjushar,' the washermen, according to Manu, are born of a Vaidehik father and an Ugra mother, and are pratilomaja, I.e., born against the hair or grain, viz., in an inverse order, the mother being of the higher caste than the father.

Origin and Internal Structure

Apart from this mythical origin, the Dhobis appear to be a functional group formed from members of the lower classes, a view which the physical charac- teristics of the Dhobis, and their offices as priests to the animistic deities, seem to support. They have, however, no traditions respecting their origift, nor will their exogamous sections throw any light upon this point. Owing to its very wide distribution, the Dhobi caste is divided into a very large number of endogamous groups, eighteen of which are given below.


These names either refer to the country to which the sub-castes belong, or to the castes from which they have sprung.

(I) Telaga Chakla — represents the Dhobi caste of Telingana. The name ' Chakla ' comes from the word ' sakia ' which means service ' in Telugu.

(2) Chippa Chakla — are the descendants of a Chakla father and a Chippa (tailor) mother.

(3) Turka Chakla — those Dhobis who have joined the ranks of Islam.

(4) Waddi Chakla — of the Waddewar caste, following the trade of a washerman.

(5) Lambadi Chakla — people of the Lambada caste, following the Dhobi s trade.

(6) Balija or Lingayit caste — do not follow the occupation of other Dhobis, but wash only rumals (large kerchiefs used as head-gear).

(7) Agesaru — the Carnatic Chakla, the name gwen to the Dhobis in the Carnatic.

(8) Bundeli Chakla — also called Hindustani Chakla, being emigrants from Hindustan.

(9) Barki Chakla — descendants of a Komti father and a Dhobi mother, are found in the Nalgunda District.

(10) Parit or Marathi Chakla — the name given to the Dhobis of the Marathawadi Districts. t

(11) Waddi Chakla — the lowest class of the Dhobis; they wash the clothes of the unclean classes such as the Mahar, Mang, fitc.

(12) Lingayit Chakla — also called ' Madiyal,' are the descend- ants of Madiyal Machaya, who washed the clothes of Basava and was one of his favourite disciples.

Only a few of the exogamous groups into which the caste is divided are given below : —


These divisions present no features of special interest. It may, however, be remarked that one of them, 'Manipad,' is a sub- division of the Erkala caste. Marriages are regulated as by the other Telugu castes. The Dhobis say that they have only one goto, Jalnul,' which, however, is against the rule of exogamy.

The Dhobis admit into their community those members of the higher castes who have been ei;pelled from their own caste, no special ceremony being performed on the occasion. It is said that, formerly, the Dhobis and the Mangalas belonged to the same caste. Once a Mangala went to a Dhobi's house in order to ask the Dhobi's daughter in marriage. Nobody, except the girl in question, was in the house, and the girl informed the suitor that her parents had gone to the reu to wash clothes. The reu means that part of the river bank where the shaving operations at funerals are performed. Con- sidering this to be an ill omen, the Mangala departed, and since then the Mangalas have ceased to intermarry with the Chaklas.


Girls are married as infants between the ages of 5 and 12 'years. Boys are usually married between 12 and 20. Girls are dedicated to temples, in fulfilment of vows or owing to their deformity, if husbands cannot be procured for them. The ceremony is as follows. On an auspicious day the girl is dressed in a new sari and choli and is taken before the image and wedded to it by a Brahman according to the rites. Five rupees are paid to the Brahman as his fee. Cohabitation is allowed after marriage even before the girl attains puberty.

The marriage ceremony is the same as is observed by the other Telugu castes. It comprises the following rituals : —

(I) Shastriya A char —

(a) Lagnam — in which the Brahman priest ties a thread-bracelet on the right wrist of the bridegroom and the left wrist of the bride. (b) Jilkerbellam — the bridal pair put a mixture of cumin seeds and jaggery on each other's heads, (c) Thalwat — throwing turmeric coloured rice on each other's heads, (d) Kan^adan — the formal gift of the bride by her father to the bridegroom, regarded as the binding portion of the marriage ceremony, (e) Padghattan — treading by the bridal pair on each other's foot, (f) Pusii — the bridegroom ties an auspicious string round the bride's neck, {g) Brahmamudi — the ends of the garments of the bridal pair are tied in a knot.

(II) Deshachar —

The worship of Pinnamma, Pochamma and Nagulu, whose blessings are invoked upon the bridal pair and whose assistance is sought to avert any evil influenc('£ in the ceremony.

(III) Stri Achar—

(a) Kotnam or Ulukhala — pestles, mortars and grindstones are worshipped, (b) Aroeni Kundalu — earthen pots are brought from the potter's house and placed and worshipped near the household gods.

(IV) Kulachar—

On the last day, the ceremonies of (a) Nagoeli, (h) Panpm, (c) Wappagintha and (d) Wadrbium are performed, whereupon the bride is sent to her husband's house. Polygamy is permitted theoretically to any extent.


A widow may marry again, but she cannot marry the brother of her deceased husband. The ritual consists of the tying of a string of black beads (Mangulsutra) round the neck ci the bride by the bridegroom, and the presentation to her of a cocoanut, some rice and date-fruits. No Brahman is called in to officiate at this ceremony, which is attended by widows alone.


Divorce is allowed if the wife is unchaste, or for incompatibility of temper, and is effected by removing the lucky string (pusti) from her neck and driving her out of the house. A divorced woman may marry again by the same rite as a widow. Sexual intercourse with an outsider belonging to a higher caste may be tolerated, but that with one of a lower caste involves expulsion.


The sons inherit by equal shares, no extra share being given to the eldest son. Females can inherit in default of any male issue. The usage of Chudawand prevails in the caste.


In matters of religion, the Chaklas are Saivaits and smear their foreheads with sacred ashes (vibhuti). They employ Brahmans for religious and ceremonial purposes and call in Jangams to officiate at funerals. On Mondays in the month of Sravan (July- August), Madiyal Machaya, the supposed founder of the caste, is honoured, being represented by a round piece of stone daubed with gem (red ochre) and besmeared with holy ashes. In the month of Ashadha (June-July), Pochamma and Durgamma are propitiated with offerings of goats, &c.

Disposal of the Dead

They Chaklas bury their dead in a lying posture with the head towards the south. No Sradha is per- formed. On the last day of the month of Bhadrapad, all the ances- tors are propitiated, when libations of til water (gingelly) are poured and charity is distributed in the name of the manes. On the 3rd of the lunar half of Waishakha, the dead aficestors are worshipped in the form of earthen pots painted with red and yellow stripes, with offerings of sweet dainties, which the worshipper subsequently partakes of. The Lingayit Dhobis bury their dead, if married, in a sitting posture with the face towards the north. If the dead are unmanied, they are buried in a lying posture with the face downwards. Pregnant women a:^ ijersons dying of disease, or leprosy, are burnt, in the belief that their burial causes drought.

Social Status

Since the Chakla does not object to wash clothes which are considered ceremonially unclean, he is himself regarded as being unclean. His social status is therefore very low, lower than that of almost all those whose touch is regarded as ceremonially unclean. The Chaklas decline to wash for barbers, since the latter do not hold torches at their weddings. The Chaklas eat mutton, pork, the flesh of fowl and cloven-footed animals and are strongly addicted to drink. They also eat the leavings of the higher caste people.


Washing clothes has been the traditional occu- pation of the caste and to this they still adhere. This is due to the large demand which all classes have for their services. The village Chakla is paid for his services in grain, the quantity of which, for every plough in the village, is fixed. This is called haluta. Dhobis plying their trade in towns are paid in cash.

Their mode of washing clothes is as follows : — First the clothes are rinsed in water and beaten. They are then cleansed with fuller's earth and steamed in earthen vessels, After they are all thoroughly steamed, they are again cleansed with soap and washed with cold water in a river or tank. They are then steeped in rice starch and dried. Finally they are ironed and folded. Flannel or silk clothes are not steamed, but only cleansed with warm soapsuds and then washed with cold water.

In the worship of the minor, village gods, the Dhobi acts as^a priest and receives, as his perquisite, the offerings, or a part of the offerings, made to the deities. The Dhobi is also useful in the marriage ceremony, in which he shares the presents with the barber. Some of the Chaklas have taken to agriculture. Some manufacture lime and let donkeys for hire. A few have adopted respectable pro- fessions and are Goverrunent clerks.

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