Castes and Tribes of Southern India/Koraga

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Koraga. — The Koragas are summed up, in the Madras Census Report, 1901, as being a wild tribe of basket-makers and labourers, chiefly found in Mudbidri, and in Puttūr in the Uppinangadi tāluk of South Canara. They are, Mr. M. T. Walhouse writes,*[1] "a very quiet and inoffensive race; small and slight, the men seldom exceeding five feet six inches; black-skinned, like most Indian aborigines, thick-lipped, noses broad and flat, and hair rough and bushy. Their principal occupation is basket-making, and they must labour for their masters. They live on the outskirts of villages, and may not dwell in houses of clay or mud, but in huts of leaves, called koppus. Like many of the wild tribes of India, they are distinguished by unswerving truthfulness. The word of a Koragar is proverbial."

The Koragas rank below the Holeyas. In some towns, they are employed by the sanitary department as scavengers. They remove the hide, horns, and bones of cattle and buffaloes, which die in the villages, and sell them mainly to Māppilla merchants. They accept food, which is left over after feasts held by various castes. Some are skilful in the manufacture of cradles, baskets, cylinders to hold paddy, winnowing and sowing baskets, scale-pans, boxes, rice-water strainers, ring-stands for supporting pots, coir (cocoanut fibre) rope, brushes for washing cattle, etc. They also manufacture various domestic utensils from soapstone, which they sell at a very cheap rate to shopkeepers in the bazar.

"Numerous slave-castes," Mr. Walhouse continues, "exist throughout India, not of course recognised by law — indeed formally emancipated by an Act of Government in 1843 — but still, though improved in condition, virtually slaves. Their origin and status are thus described. After the four principal classes, who sprang from Brahma, came six Anuloma castes, which arose from the intercourse of Brāhmans and Kshatriyas with women of the classes below them respectively. The term Anuloma denotes straight and regular hair, which in India characterises the Aryan stock. After these came six Pratilōma castes, originating in reverse order from Brāhman and Kshatriya women by fathers of the inferior classes. The third among these was the Chandāla, the offspring of Shudra fathers by Brahman women. The Chandālas, or slaves, were sub-divided into fifteen classes, none of which might intermarry, a rule still strictly observed. The two last, and lowest of the fifteen classes, are the Kapata or rag-wearing, and the Soppu or leaf-wearing Koragas. Such is the account given by Brahman chroniclers; but the probability is that these lowest slave-castes are the descendants of that primitive population which the Aryan invaders from the north found occupying the soil, and, after a struggle of ages, gradually dispossessed, driving some to the hills and jungles, and reducing others to the condition of slaves. All these races are regarded by their Hindu masters with boundless contempt, and held unspeakably unclean. This feeling seems the result and witness of times when the despised races were powerful, and to be approached as lords by their now haughty masters, and was probably intensified by struggles and uprisings, and the memory of humiliations inflicted on the ultimately successful conquerors. Evidences for this may be inferred from many curious rights and privileges, which the despised castes possess and tenaciously retain. Moreover, the contempt and loathing in which they are ordinarily held are curiously tinctured with superstitious fear, for they are believed to possess secret powers of magic and witchcraft, and influence with the old malignant deities of the soil, who can direct good or evil fortune. As an instance, if a Brahman mother's children die off when young, she calls a Koragar woman, gives her some oil, rice, and copper money, and places the surviving child in her arms. The out-caste woman, who may not at other times be touched, gives the child suck, puts on it her iron bracelets, and, if a boy, names it Koragar, if a girl, Korāpulu. She then returns it to the mother. This is believed to give a new lease of life. Again, when a man is dangerously ill, or perhaps unfortunate, he pours oil into an earthen vessel, worships it in the same way as the family god, looks at his face reflected in the oil, and puts into it a hair from his head and a nail paring from his toe. The oil is then presented to the Koragars, and the hostile gods or stars are believed to be propitiated." According to Mr. Ullal Raghvendra Rao,*[2] old superstitious Hindus never venture to utter the word Koraga during the night. It is noted in the Manual of the South Canara district,that "all traditions unite in attributing the introduction of the Tulu Brahmins of the present day to Mayūr Varma (of the Kadamba dynasty), but they vary in details connected with the manner in which they obtained a firm footing in the land. One account says that Habāshika, chief of the Koragas, drove out Mayūr Varma, but was in turn expelled by Mayūr Varma's son, or son-in-law, Lōkāditya of Gōkarnam, who brought Brahmins from Ahi-kshētra, and settled them in thirty-two villages."

Concerning the power, and eventual degradation of the Koragas, the following version of the tradition is cited by Mr. Walhouse. " When Lokadirāya, whose date is fixed by Wilks about 1450 B.C., was king of Bhanvarshe in North Canara (a place noted by Ptolemy), an invader, by name Habāshika, brought an army from above the ghauts, consisting of all the present Chandala or slave-castes, overwhelmed that part of the country, and marched southward to Mangalore, the present capital of South Canara. The invading host was scourged with small-pox, and greatly annoyed by ants, so Habāshika moved on to Manjeshwar, a place of ancient repute, twelve miles to the south, subdued the local ruler Angarawarma, son of Virawarma, and reigned there in conjunction with his nephew; but after twelve years both died — one legend says through enchantments devised by Angarawarma; another that a neighbouring ruler treacherously proposed a marriage between his sister and Habāshika, and, on the bridegroom and his caste-men attending for the nuptials, a wholesale massacre of them all was effected. Angarawarma, then returning, drove the invading army into the jungles, where they were reduced to such extremity that they consented to become slaves, and were apportioned amongst the Brahmans and original landholders. Some were set to watch the crops and cattle, some to cultivate, others to various drudgeries, which are still allotted to the existing slave-castes, but the Koragars, who had been raised by Habāshika to the highest posts under his government, were stripped and driven towards the sea-shore, there to be hanged, but, being ashamed of their naked condition, they gathered the leaves of the nicki bush (Vitex Negundo) which grows abundantly in waste places, and made small coverings for themselves in front. On this the executioners took pity on them and let them go, but condemned them to be the lowest of the low, and wear no other covering but leaves. The Koragas are now the lowest of the slave divisions, and regarded with such intense loathing and hatred that up to quite recent times one section of them, called Andē or pot Koragars, continually wore a pot suspended from their necks, into which they were compelled to spit, being so utterly unclean as to be prohibited from even spitting on the highway; and to this day their women continue to show in their leafy aprons a memorial of the abject degradation to which their whole race was doomed." It is said that in pre- British days an Andē Koraga had to take out a licence to come into the towns and villages by day. At night mere approach thereto was forbidden, as his presence would cause terrible calamity. The Koragas of those days could cook their food only in broken vessels. The name Vastra, by which one class of Koragas is called, has reference to their wearing vastra, or clothes, such as were used to shroud a dead body, and given to them in the shape of charity, the use of a new cloth being prohibited. According to another account the three divisions of the Koragas are (1) Kappada, those who wear clothes, (2) Tippi, who wear ornaments made

(Upload an image to replace this placeholder.)

of the cocoanut shell, and (3) Vanti, who wear a peculiar kind of large ear-ring. These three clans may eat together, but not intermarry. Each clan is divided into exogamous septs called balis, and it may be noted that some of the Koraga balis, such as Haledennaya and Kumērdennaya, are also found among the Māri and Mundala Holeyas.

On the subject of Koraga dress, Mr. Ullal Raghvendra Rao informs us that "while the males gird a piece of cloth round their loins, the females cover their waist with leaves of the forest woven together. Various reasons are assigned for this custom. According to a tradition, at the time when the Koragars had reigned, now far distant, one of these ' blacklegged' (this is usually the expression by which they are referred to during the night) demanded a girl of high birth in marriage. Being enraged at this, the upper class withheld, after the overthrow of the Koragas, every kind of dress from Koraga women, who, to protect themselves from disgrace, have since had recourse to the leaves of the forest, conceiving in the meantime that god had decreed this kind of covering." Mr. Walhouse writes* [3]further that the Koragas wear an " apron of twigs and leaves over the buttocks. Once this was the only covering allowed them, and a mark of their deep degradation. But now, when no longer compulsory, and of no use, as it is worn over the clothes, the women still retain it, believing its disuse would be unlucky." " The Koragas," Mr. H. A. Stuart tells us,†[4] "cover the lower part of their body with a black cloth and the upper part with a white one, and their head-dress is a cap made of the areca-nut spathe, like that worn by the Holeyas. Their ornaments consist of brass ear-rings, an iron bracelet, and beads of bone strung on a thread and tied around their waist." The waist-belt of a Koraga, whom I saw at Udipi, was made of owl bones.

"It may," Mr. Walhouse states,*[5] "be noted that, according to the traditional accounts, when the invading hosts under Habāshika were in their turn overthrown and subjected, they accepted slavery under certain conditions that preserved to them some shadow of right. Whilst it was declared that they should be for ever in a state of servitude, and be allowed a meal daily, but never the means of providing for the next day's meal. Each slave was ascripted to his master under the following forms, which have come down to our days, and were observed in the purchase or transfer of slaves within living memory. The slave having washed, anointed himself with oil, and put on a new cloth, his future owner took a metal plate, filled it with water, and dropped in a gold coin, which the slave appropriated after drinking up the water. The slave then took some earth from his future master's estate, and threw it on the spot he chose for his hut, which was given over to him with all the trees thereon. When land was transferred, the slaves went with it, and might also be sold separately. Occasionally they were presented to a temple for the service of the deity. This was done publicly by the master approaching the temple, putting some earth from before its entrance into the slave's mouth, and declaring that he abjured his rights, and transferred them to the deity within. Rules were laid down, with the Hindoo passion for regulating small matters, not only detailing what work the slaves should do, but what allowances of food they should receive, and what presents on certain festival occasions they should obtain from, or make to the master. On marriages among themselves, they prostrated themselves before the master and obtained his consent, which was accompanied with a small present of money and rice. The marriage over, they again came before the master, who gave them betel nuts, and poured some oil on the bride's head. On the master's death, his head slave immediately shaved his hair and moustache. There was also a list of offences for which masters might punish slaves, amongst which the employment of witchcraft, or sending out evil spirits against others, expressly figures; and the punishments with which each offence might be visited are specified, the worst of which are branding and flogging with switches. There was no power of life and death, and in cases of withholding the usual allowance, or of punishments severer than prescribed, slaves might complain to the authorities."

On the subject of Koraga slavery, Mr. Ullal Raghvendra Rao writes that "although these slaves are in a degraded condition, yet they by no means appear to be dejected or unhappy. A male slave gets three hanis of paddy (unhusked rice) or a hani and a half of rice daily, besides a small quantity of salt. The female slave gets two hanis of paddy, and, if they be man and wife, they can easily sell a portion of the rice to procure other necessaries of life. They are also allowed one cloth each every year, and, besides, when transferred from one master to another, they get a cocoanut, a jack tree (Artocarpus integrifolia), and a piece of land where they can sow ten or twenty seers of rice. The greater number of slaves belong to the Alia Santānam castes (inheritance in the female line), and among these people a male slave is sold for three pagodas (fourteen rupees) and a female slave for five pagodas ; whereas the few slaves who belong to the Makkala Santānam castes (inheritance in the male line) fetch five pagodas for the man slave, and three pagodas for the female. This is because the children of the latter go to the husband's master, while those of the former go to the mother's master, who has the benefit of the husband's services also. He has, however, to pay the expenses of their marriage, which amount to a pagoda and a half; and, in like manner, the master of the Makkala Santāna slave pays two pagodas for his marriage, and gets possession of the female slave and her children. The master has the power of hiring out his slave, for whose services he receives annually about a mura of rice, or forty seers. They are also mortgaged for three or four pagodas:"

For the marriages of the Koragas, Mr. Walhouse informs us that "Sunday is an auspicious day, though Monday is for the other slave castes. The bridegroom and bride, after bathing in cold water, sit on a mat in the former's house, with a handful of rice placed before them. An old man presides, takes a few grains of rice and sprinkles on their heads, as do the others present, first the males and then the females. The bridegroom then presents two silver coins to his wife, and must afterwards give six feasts to the community." At these feasts every Koraga is said to vie with his neighbour in eating and drinking. "Though amongst the other slave castes divorce is allowed by consent of the community, often simply on grounds of disagreement, and the women may marry again, with the Koragars marriage is indissoluble, but a widow is entitled to re-marriage, and a man may have a second, and even third wife, all living with him." Concerning the ceremonies observed on the birth of a child, Mr. Ullal Raghvendra Rao writes that "after a child is born, the mother (as among Hindoos) is unholy, and cannot be touched or approached. The inmates take leave of the koppu for five nights, and depend on the hospitality of their friends, placing the mother under the sole charge of a nurse or midwife. On the sixth night the master of the koppu calls his neighbours, who can hardly refuse to oblige him with their presence. The mother and the child are then given a tepid bath, and this makes them holy. Members of each house bring with them a seer of rice, half a seer of cocoanut oil, and a cocoanut. The woman with the baby is seated on a mat — her neighbour's presents before her in a flat basket. The oldest man present consults with his comrades as to what name will best suit the child. A black string is then tied round the waist of the baby. The rice, which comes in heaps from the neighbours, is used for dinner on the occasion, and the cocoanuts are split into two pieces, the lower half being given to the mother of the child, and the upper half the owner. This is the custom followed when the baby is a male one; in case of a female child, the owner receives the upper half, leaving the lower half for the mother. Koragars were originally worshippers of the sun, and they are still called after the names of the days of the week — as Aita (a corruption of Aditya, or the sun); Toma (Sōma, or the moon); Angara (Mangala); Gurva (Jupiter); Tanya (Shani, or Saturn); Tukra (Shukra, or Venus). They have no separate temples for their God, but a place beneath a kasaracana tree (Strychnos Nux-vomica) is consecrated for the worship of the deity which is exclusively their own, and is called Kata. Worship in honour of this deity is usually performed in the months of May, July, or October. Two plantain leaves are placed on the spot, with a heap of boiled rice mixed with turmeric. As is usual in every ceremony observed by a Koragar, the senior in age takes the lead, and prays to the deity to accept the offering and be satisfied. But now they have, by following the example of Bants and Sudras, exchanged their original object of worship for that of Bhutas (demons)."

On the subject of the religion of the Koragas, Mr.Walhouse states that "like all the slave castes and lower races, the Koragars worship Mari Amma, the goddess presiding over small-pox, the most dreadful form of Parvati, the wife of Siva. She is the most popular deity in Canara, represented under the most frightful form, and worshipped with bloody rites. Goats, buffaloes, pigs, fowls, etc., are slaughtered at a single blow by an Asadi, one of the slave tribes from above the ghauts. Although the Koragars, in common with all slaves, are looked upon as excommunicated and unfit to approach any Brahminical temple or deity, they have adopted the popular Hindoo festivals of the Gokalastami or Krishna's birthday, and the Chowti. In the latter, the preliminaries and prayers must be performed by a virgin." Concerning these festivals, Mr. Ullal Raghvendra Rao gives the following details. "The Koragars have no fixed feasts exclusively of their own, but for a long time they have been observing those of the Hindus. Of these two are important. One is Gōkula Ashtami, or the birthday of Krishna, and the other is the Chowti or Pooliyar feast. The latter is of greater importance than the former. The former is a holy day of abstinence and temperance, while the latter is associated with feasting and merry-making, and looks more like a gala-day set apart for anything but religious performance. On the Ashtami some cakes of black gram are made in addition to the usual dainties. The services of Bacchus are called in aid, and the master of the koppu invites his relatives and friends. A regular feasting commences, when the master takes the lead, and enjoys the company of his guests by seating himself in their midst. They are made to sit on the floor crosswise with a little space intervening between every guest, who pays strict regard to all the rules of decency and rank. To keep up the distinction of sexes, females are seated in an opposite row. The host calls upon some of his intimates or friends to serve on the occasion. The first dish is curry, the second rice; and cakes and dainties come in next. The butler Koragar serves out to the company the food for the banquet, while the guests eat it heartily. If one of them lets so much as a grain of rice fall on his neighbour's plate, the whole company ceases eating. The offender is at once brought before the guests, and charged with having spoiled the dinner. He is tried there and then, and sentenced to pay a fine that will cover the expenses of another banquet. In case of resistance to the authority of the tribunal, he is excommunicated and abandoned by his wife, children and relatives. No one dare touch or speak to him. A plea of poverty of course receives a kind consideration. The offender is made to pay a small sum as a fine, which is paid for him by a well-to-do Koragar. To crown the feast, a large quantity of toddy finds its way into the midst of the company. A small piece of dry areca leaf sewed together covers the head of a Koragar, and forms for him his hat. This hat he uses as a cup, which contains a pretty large quantity of liquid. A sufficient quantity is poured into their cup, and if, in pouring, a drop finds its way to the ground, the butler is sure to undergo the same penalty that attaches itself to any irregularity in the dinner as described above. After the banquet, some male members of the group join in a dance to the pipe and drum, while others are stimulated by the intoxicating drink into frisking and jumping about. To turn to the other festival. The inmates of the house are required to fast the previous night — one and all of them — and on the previous day flesh or drink is not allowed. The next morning before sunrise, a virgin bathes, and smears cowdung over a part of the house. The place having been consecrated, a new basket, specially made for the occasion, is placed on that spot. It contains a handful of beaten rice, two plantains, and two pieces of sugar-cane. The basket is then said to contain the god of the day, whom the sugar-cane represents, and the spot is too holy to be approached by man or woman. A common belief which they hold, that the prayers made by a virgin are duly responded to on account of her virgin purity, does not admit of the worship being conducted by any one else. The girl adorns the basket with flowers of the forest, and prays for the choicest blessings on the inmates of the house all the year round.

A Koraga woman, when found guilty of adultery, is said to be treated in the following extraordinary way. If her paramour is of low caste similar to herself, he has to marry her. But, in order to purify her for the ceremony, he has to build a hut, and put the woman inside. It is then set on fire, and the woman escapes as best she can to another place where the same performance is gone through, and so on until she has been burnt out seven times. She is then considered once more an honest woman, and fit to be again married. According to Mr. Walhouse, "a row of seven small huts is built on a river-bank, set fire to, and the offender made to run over the burning sticks and ashes as a penance." A similar form of ordeal has been described as occurring among the Bākutas of South Canara by Mr. Stuart. "When a man is excommunicated, he must perform a ceremony called yēlu halli sudodu, which means burning seven villages, in order to re-enter the caste. For this ceremony, seven small booths are built, and bundles of grass are piled against them. The excommunicated man has then to pass through these huts one after the other, and, as he does so, the headman sets fire to the grass " (cf. Koyi). It is suggested by Mr. R. E. Enthoven that the idea seems to be "a rapid representation of seven existences, the outcast regaining his status after seven generations have passed without further transgression. The parallel suggested is the law of Manu that seven generations are necessary to efface a lapse from the law of endogamous marriage."

Of death ceremonies Mr. Walhouse tells us that "on death the bodies of all the slave castes used to be burnt, except in cases of death from small-pox. This may have been to obviate the pollution of the soil by their carcases when their degradation was deepest, but now, and from long past, burial is universal. The master's permission is still asked, and, after burial, four balls of cooked rice are placed on the grave, possibly a trace of the ancient notion of supplying food to the ghost of the deceased."A handful is said *[6] to be "removed from the grave on the sixteenth day after burial, and buried in a pit. A stone is erected over it, on which some rice and toddy are placed as a last offering to the departed soul which is then asked to join its ancestors."

" It may," Mr. Walhouse writes, "be noted that the Koragars alone of all the slave or other castes eat the flesh of alligators (crocodiles), and they share with one or two other divisions of the slaves a curious scruple or prejudice against carrying any four-legged animal, dead or alive. This extends to anything with four legs, such as chairs, tables, cots, etc., which they cannot be prevailed upon to lift unless one leg be removed. As they work as coolies, this sometimes produces inconvenience. A somewhat similar scruple obtains among the Bygas of Central India, whose women are not allowed to sit or lie on any four-legged bed or stool." Like the Koragas, the Bākudas of South Canara " will not carry a bedstead unless the legs are first taken off, and it is said that this objection rests upon a supposed resemblance between the four-legged cot and the four-legged ox." [7]

Of the language spoken by the Koragars, Mr. Ullal Raghvendra Rao states that "it is a common belief that the Koragar has a peculiar dialect generally spoken by him at his koppu. He may be induced to give an account of his feasts, his gods, his family, but a word about his dialect will frighten him out of his wits. Generally polite and well-behaved, he becomes impolite and unmannerly when questioned about his dialect." "All the Hindoos," Mr. Wallhouse writes, "believe that the Koragars have a language of their own, understood only by themselves, but it seems doubtful whether this is anything more than an idiom, or slang." A vocabulary of the Koraga dialect is contained in the South Canara Manual (1895).

  1. • Journ. Anthrop. Inst., IV., 1875.
  2. • Madras Christ. Coll. Mag. Ill, 1885-6.
  3. • Ind. Ant, X, 1881.
  4. † Manual of the South Canara district.
  5. • Journ. Anthrop, Inst. IV, 1875.
  6. * Manual of the South Canara district.
  7. Manual of the South Canara district.