Castes and Tribes of Southern India/Khatri

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Khatri. — The Khatris are described by Mr. Lewis Rice †[1] as "silk weavers, who in manners, customs, and language are akin to Patvēgars, but they do not intermarry with them, although the two castes eat together. The Katris claim to be Kshatriyas, and quote Rēnuka Purāna as their authority. The legend is that, during the general massacre of the Kshatriyas by Parasu Rāma, five women, each of whom was big with child, escaped, and took refuge in a temple dedicated to Kāli. When the children came of age, their marriages were celebrated, and their mothers prayed to Kāli to point out some means of livelihood. In answer to their supplications, the goddess gave them looms, and taught them weaving and dyeing. The Katris claim descent from these refugees, and follow the same trades."

The following note relates to the Khatris of Conjeeveram, where most of them trade in silk thread, silk sashes, and dye-stuffs. Some deal in human hair, which is used by native females as a chignon. By reason of their connection with the silk industry, the Khatris are called Patnūlkāran by other castes. The true Patnūlkārans are called Kōshta by the Khatris. The Khatris give Bhuja Rāja Kshatriya as their caste name, and some say that they are the descendants of one Karta Virya Arjuna of the human race. Their tribal deity is Renukāmba, the mother of Parasu Rāma, to whom pongal (boiled rice) is offered, and a goat sacrificed in the month of Thai (January- February). They have exogamous septs, such as Sulēgar, Powar, Mudugal, Sonappa, Bojagiri, etc., and have adopted the same Brāhmanical gōtras as the Bhāts or Bhatrāzus, e.g., Gautama, Kāsyapa, Vasishta, and Bhāradwāja. Attached to them is a caste beggar, called Bhāt, who comes round at long intervals. He is said to keep the genealogies of the Khatri families. He ties a flag to a post of the house at which he intends to claim a meal, and, after partaking thereof, he receives information concerning the births and marriages, which have taken place in the family since his last visit. Girls are married both before and after puberty, and infant marriage is fashionable at the present day. The remarriage of widows is permitted, but a divorced woman may not marry again so long as her husband is alive. A man may not marry the widow of his brother, or of an agnate. The custom of mēnarikam, by which a man may marry his maternal uncle's daughter, is prohibited. Families belonging to one sept may give their daughters in marriage to men of another sept, from which, however, they are not allowed to receive girls as wives for their sons. For example, a man of a Sulēgar sept may give his daughters in marriage to men of the Powar sept, but may not take Powar girls as wives for his sons. But a certain elasticity in the rule is allowed, and the prohibition ceases after a certain number of generations by arrangement with the Bhāt. The marriage ceremonies last over seven days. On the first day, the deity Bharkodēv, who is represented by seven quartz pebbles placed in a row on plantain leaves, is worshipped with offerings of fruit, etc., and a goat is sacrificed. The blood which flows from its cut neck is poured into a vessel containing cooked rice, of which seven balls are made, and offered to the pebbles. Towards evening some of the rice is thrown to the four cardinal points of the compass, in order to conciliate evil spirits. On the second day, the house is thoroughly cleansed with cow-dung water, and the walls are whitewashed. The eating of meat is forbidden until the marriage ceremonies are concluded. The third day is devoted to the erection of the marriage pandal (booth) and milk-post, and the worship of female ancestors (savāsne). Seven married women are selected, and presented with white ravikes (bodices) dyed with turmeric. After bathing, they are sumptuously fed. Before the feast, the bridegroom's and sometimes the bride's mother, goes to a well, tank (pond) or river, carrying on a tray a new woman's cloth, on which a silver plate with a female figure embossed on it is placed. Another silver plate of the same kind, newly made, is brought by a goldsmith, and the two are worshipped, and then taken to the house, where they are kept in a box. The bridegroom and his party go in procession through the streets in which their fellow castemen live. When they reach the house of the bride, her mother comes out and waves coloured water to avert the evil eye, washes the bridegroom's eyes with water, and presents him with betel and a vessel filled with milk. The bride is then conducted to the bridegroom's house, where she takes her seat on a decorated plank, and a gold or silver ornament called sari or kanti is placed on her neck. She is further presented with a new cloth. A Brāhman purōhit then writes the names of the contracting parties, and the date of their marriage, on two pieces of palm leaf or paper, which he hands over to their fathers. The day closes with the performance of gondala pūja, for which a device (muggu) is made on the ground with yellow, red, and white powders. A brass vessel is set in the centre thereof, and four earthen pots are placed at the corners. Pūja (worship) is done, and certain stanzas are recited amid the beating of a pair of large cymbals. On the fourth day, the bridal couple bathe, and the bridegroom is invested with the sacred thread. They then go to the place where the metal plates representing the ancestors are kept, with a cloth thrown over the head like a hood, and some milk and cooked rice are placed near the plates. On their way back they, in order to avert the evil eye, place their right feet on a pair of small earthen plates tied together, and placed near the threshold. The bride's mother gives the bridegroom some cakes and milk, after partaking of which he goes in procession through the streets, and a further ceremony for averting the evil eye is performed in front of the bride's house. This over, he goes to the pandal, where his feet are washed by his father-in-law, who places in his hands a piece of plantain fruit, over which his mother-in-law pours some milk. The bride and bridegroom then go into the house, where the latter ties the tāli on the neck of the former. During the tying ceremony, the couple are separated by a cloth screen, of which the lower end is lifted up. The screen is removed, and they sit facing each other with their bashingams (forehead chaplets) in contact, and rice is thrown over their heads by their relations. The Brāhman hands the contracting couple the wrist-threads (kankanams), which they tie on. These threads are, among most castes, tied at an earlier stage in the marriage ceremonies. On the fifth day, seven betel nuts are placed in a row on a plank within the pandal, round which the bride and bridegroom go seven times. At the end of each round, the latter lifts the right foot of the former, and sweeps off one of the nuts. For every marriage, a fee of Rs. 12-5-0 must be paid to the headman of the caste, and the money thus accumulated is spent on matters such as the celebration of festivals, which affect the entire community. If the fee is not paid, the bride and bridegroom are not permitted to go round the plank the seventh time. On the sixth day, the bride receives presents from her family, and there is a procession at night. On the last day of the ceremonies, the bride is handed over to her mother-in-law by her mother, who says "I am giving you a melon and a knife. Deal with them as you please." The bride is taken inside the house by the mother-in-law and shown some pots containing rice into which she dips her right hand, saying that they are full. The mother-in-law then presents her with a gold finger-ring, and the two eat together as a sign of their new relationship.

The dead are cremated, and, when a married man dies, his corpse is carried on a palanquin to the burning-ground, followed by the widow. Near the pyre it is laid on the ground, and the widow places her jewelry and glass bangles on the chest. The corpse should be carried by the sons-in-law if possible, and the nomination of the bearers is indicated by the eldest son of the deceased person making a mark on their shoulders with ashes. On the third day after death, the milk ceremony takes place. Three balls of wheat-flour, mixed with honey and milk, are prepared, and placed respectively on the spot where the deceased breathed his last, where the bier was laid on the ground, and at the place where the corpse was burnt, over which milk is poured. The final death ceremonies (karmāndhiram) are observed on the seventh or tenth day, till which time the eating of flesh is forbidden.

The headman of the Khatris, who is called Grāmani, is elected once a month, and he has an assistant called Vanja, who is appointed annually.

The Khatris are Saivites, and wear the sacred thread, but also worship various grama dēvatas (village deities). They speak a dialect of Marāthi. The caste title is Sā,e.g., Dharma Sā.

Kethree is described, in the Vizagapatam Manual, as "the caste of the Zamindar's family in Jeypore. It is divided into sixteen classes. They wear the paieta (sacred thread), and the Zamindar used formerly to sell the privilege of wearing it to any one who could afford to pay him twelve rupees. Pariahs were excluded from purchasing the privilege."

The Khatri agriculturists of the Jeypore Agency tracts in Vizagapatam are, Mr. C. Hayavadana Rao informs me, entirely distinct from the weaving Khatris of the south. They are divided into four septs, viz.,Surya (Sun), Bhāg (tiger), Kochchimo (tortoise), and Nāg (cobra). Girls are married before puberty, and an Oriya Brāhman officiates at their marriages, instead of the customary Dēsāri. They do not, like other castes in the Agency tracts, give fermented liquor (madho) as part of the jholla tonka or bride-price, which consists of rice, a goat, cloths, etc. The marriage ceremonies are performed at the bride's house. These Khatris put on the sacred thread for the first time when they are married, and renew it from time to time throughout life. They are fair skinned, and speak the Oriya language. Their usual title is Pātro.

  1. † Mysore and Coorg Gazetteer.