This article is an extract from
THE TRIBES and CASTES of BENGAL.
Printed at the Bengal Secretariat Press.
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Origin and Internal
Amath, a cultivating caste of Behar, many of whom are employed as personal servants by the higher and internal classes of Hindus This circumstance has led structure. to the formation of two sub-castes (pangats): Gharbait or "householder" and Bahiot or "bearer," the members of which do not intermarry. Gharbit Amats, who also style them¬selves Raut, live solely by cultivation, and oannot take service exoept at the risk of exolusion from their pangat; Bahiot Amats, who bear the significant titles of Khawas, "servant," Ghibihar, "ghi-eater," and Saghar, or "vegetable-eater," regard service as their oharao¬teristio occupation, but many of them work as cultivators without, however, thereby qualifying themselves for membership in the more respectable sub-caste of Gharbait. Within the Bahiot class, men who serve Rajas are held in speoial esteem, and an. extra bride-price is paid for their daughters.
That the Gharbait sub-caste is the more ancient of the two, and represents the original nuoleus of the¬entire caste, may be inferred from the fact that it is divided into exogamous sections (dihs) , suoh as Larwar, Narhan, Pataiwar, Parah• war, and others; while the Bahiots have no such sections, and regulate their marriages by the less arohaio system of prohibited degrees. Marriage between persons descended in a direot line from the same parents is of course forbidden; and in addition to this the desoend¬ants of the paternal and maternal unoles and aunts, and of the maternal grandmother, are barred ordinarily for seven generations, and even beyond that, so long as they reside iu the same place and the praotice of asoch or mutual oeremonial impurity on the occurrence of death is kept up.
These rules are also observed by Gharbait Amats, so far as they are not inoluded in the rule of exogamy, which with them, as with many other castes, is one-sided in its operation, the name of the section following the male line. There is no definite rule to prevent a man from marrying two sisters, both living, but no instance of this is known to have ocourred. A man may marry the younger sister of his deceased wife, but not her elder sister. It is unusual for Amats to marry outside the distriot in whioh they reside; and with them, as with other Behar castes, the fact of a family having emigrated to Bengal puts a oertain slur upon its members, and renders it diffioult for them to procure wives from their original home .
Aruats praotise both infant and adult-marriage according to their means, infant-marriage being deemed the more' respectable, and arlult-marriages being confined to those whose parents cannot afford to get them married earlier in life. Widows are allowed to marry again. It is con¬sidered right, if possible) for the widow to marry her late husband's younger brother or younger cousin; and, in the case of Gharbaits, for her to marry within the the or section to which her husband belonged; but there is no positive rule against her marr.ying an outsider, and she incms no social penalty by doing so. Under no circumstances can she mary her husband's elder brother. The ritual in use at the marriage of a widow is far less elaborate than at that of a spinster. Brahmans are not employed; only the simplest mantras are recited; a small present of cloth, sweetmeats, and cash is given to the woman; and the bridegroom completes the ceremony by smearing vermilion (sindw') on her forehead with his left hand.
Polygamy is permitted, but the conditions are not strictly defined, and, so far as rules go, there is nothing to prevent a man from marrying as many wives as he can maintain. Custom, however, and the normal standard of living among the caste, combine in practice to limit the number of wives to two, and it is unusual for a man to take a second wife unless the first is barren. In cases of proved iufidelity a man may put away his wife with the sanction of the pancba.yat or council of elders, and may marry again. There seems, however, to be no regular ceremony appointed for the purpose of divorce, and resort to it is far less frequent than among the lower castes. Many Amats, indeed, deny that they allow divorce in any form, and the caste, as a whole, sets a high value on female chastity.
The religious observances of Amats do not cliffeI' materially from . . those in vogue among orthodox Hindus of about the same social standing. Most of them belong to the Sakta sect, and worship Kali with the usual sacrifice of a he-goat. Maithil Brahmans are employed as priests, and iucm DO special degradation by serving in this capacity. Among the di minores so numerous in Behar, the Amats worship the five goddesses (panch clevali), a form of Bhavani, with offerings of betel, areca-nut, anoa rice boiled in milk with sugar, cakes boiled in ghi, plantains, etc.; Goraiya is propitiated with a pig; Sokha with pit/tel, " a kind of boiled pudding made of saUlt or meal;" and Bandi with unleavened bread and sweetmeats. No special days are set apart for this worship. It is conducted by the members of the household without the intervention of Brahmans, and the worshippers eat the offerings with the exception of the pig sacrified to Goraiya, which is carefully bmied. Bahiot Amats have also a special ancestml deity of theil: own, called Pheku Ram, to whom kids, goats, sweetmeats, and betel-nut are offered, and afterwards distributed among the members of the sub-caste who happen to bo present.
Disposal of the dead
The dead are bmned in the ordinary hindu fashion , the ashes being thrown into the Ganges or into any . sacred river that may happen to be handy. In the case of persons who die at a distance from a river, this duty is usually neglected, and the asbes are collected under a small platform. (chautra) , upon which a tulsi-tree is planted. Infants under eight months are buried. Srciddh is performed according to the stan lard ritual on the fourteenth day after death. Ancestors are propitiated in the first half of Asin (September-October) by offerings of water poured from the palms of the hands.
Social status and Occupation
The social standing of Amats is much the same as that of Kurmis, Koiris, and Gofilas, and they belong Social status and occu• to the group of castes From whom a Brahman can take water. This indeed is a matter of necessity for a caste largely employed in personal service. They will eat sweetmeats with, and take water from, members or the acharctni group of castes and of the higher castes. Oooked food they will eat only with men of their own caste, and some Amits are so particular that they will eat only with members of their own sub-caste. Formerly they would smoke with members of the acharani group, but of late years they have become more strict, and the question is governed by the rule applicable in the matter of cooked food. They indulge in all kinds of clean animal food, such as goats, both male and female, deer, hares,pigeons, wild fowl, and fish, with the exception of some scaleless varieties, which are supposed to bear a resemblance to snakes; but some of them abstain wholly from meat and fish, and are held in special respect for this abstinence.
Spirituous liquors are not forbidden. Some Amats say that they have no obj ection to eating the leavings of Brahmans, while others resent the suggestion. The point is an obscure one, 011 which accurate iniormation is not readily to be had; but it seems likely that Bahiot Am6ts, serving high-class Brahmans, would in practice eat what was left of their master's food, while Gharbait Amats would of course not be exposed to this temptation, and would therefore deny the possibility of such a thing taking place. In PlITneah cultivating Amc'tts take credit to themselves for not ploughing with cows-a practice common in some parts of that district. Their status as agriculturists appears to vary somewhat in different districts, but the bulk of the ca te appear to be fairly prosperous rayats, usually possessed of occupancy rights; some havo sunk to the position of landless day¬labolITers, receiving wages in kind, while a very few have risen to be tenure-bolders and proprietors of small estates.
The following table shows the clistribution of Amats III 1872 and 1881:¬