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Yogis under the British Raj
Having freed myself of all attachments, I roam about the world fully established in the knowledge and freedom of my own Self. It is therefore impossible to build a comprehensive and stable knowledge from only one teacher – Dattatreya quoted in Srimad Bhagavata, IX
After the British occupied the whole of India, they were keen to find out who exactly lived in their conquered territories in the sub-continent. To this end, they organised mass censuses and also produced encyclopaedias or gazeteers of their findings. The following is from one such publication for the Bombay presidency and describes two “castes” related to the Nath sampradaya the officers found in their district. Ed.
Jogi, Yogi (Sanskrit) – a class of religious mendicants whose principal object of worship is Siva, under the form of Bhairava. The sect was founded by Gorakhnath, a contemporary of Kabir, who flourished early in the fifteenth century and is now recognised as an incarnation of the god Mahadev. It is said to include twelve orders of disciples, who are to be distinguished from one another by rings of different materials, which they wear in their ears as religious symbols. Of these twelve groups, only two, as being numerous in these Dominions, have been treated in this article. They are: (1) Davre Jogis, who belong to the Navanath Sect, and (2) Ravals, who are Adinath Siva Jogis. Both of these sects seem to have been originally recruited from among the Maratha Kumbis and have, at the present day, developed into independent castes.
Davre Jogi, Davre Gosavi, Bharadi — derive their name from the dabara, a small drum shaped like an hour glass, on which they play when begging or singing religious hymns in honour of Bhairava. Their name ‘Bharadi’ comes from bharad, a sort of gondhal dance, which they are called upon to perform at the commencement of the marriage ceremony of their Kunbi disciples, and in which the ‘Trident’ of Nath is worshipped, under their superintendence, by the house-holder and songs are sung in honour of the saint. The Davre Jogis admit to their community only Maratha Kunbis and members of those castes higher than themselves in social standing. These are mostly children, dedicated by their parents to the god Bhairava in fulfilment of a vow. The ceremony of initiation is performed generally at the temple of Bhairava, at Sonari, when the novice, male or female, is eight years of age. A pious Bharadi is called in and the neophyte, squatting before him, has his ear-lobes bored with a knife and mudras or brass rings, inserted in them. The guru gives to the convert a shinghi or hornpipe, and a dabara or small drum, and enjoins him not to eat with low-caste people, to collect alms by singing hymns in honour of Bhairava, and to perform the bharad dance only in the houses of their spiritual disciples. At the same time he whispers in his ear the mantra or sacred word, which is to guide him through life and which must never be divulged to any one.
Internal Structure — The Davre Jogi caste has three endogamous divisions: (1) Davre proper or Bharadi, (2) Mend Jogi and (3) Sali Mali; the members of these can neither intermarry nor interdine. Each of these is further divided into a number of exogamous sections which, as shown below, are of the Maratha type:-
(1) Wagha (2) Jadhava (3) Shinde (4) Charan (5) Gaikwad (6) Dharde (7) Devgune (8) Kasar (9) Wable (10) Rajle (11) Wamane
As a rule, a man may not marry a woman who belongs to his own section. He may marry the daughters of his paternal aunt, his maternal uncle, and his sister, but he cannot marry the daughter of his maternal aunt. Two sisters may be married to the same man, provided that the elder is married first. Polygamy is permitted, in theory, but the extent to which this is practised depends on the means of the individual concerned.
Marriage – The Davre Jogis profess to marry their daughters as infants; but adult marriage is by no means unknown among the poorer classes. The marriage ceremony in use among them differs little from that of the Maratha Kumbis, except that Haldi-lavane, or the smearing of the bride and bridegroom, is performed under a bower made of arandi leaves (Ricinus communis) and the bridal pair are made to stand, each in a basket or iron, at the time when the antarpal is held between them. Widows may marry again and are in no way restricted in the selection of their second husband. The ritual in use is very simple. The bride and bridegroom are seated opposite to each other and, their foreheads being made to touch, their garments are tied in a knot. Divorce is permitted at the option of either party and divorced women are allowed to marry again by the same rite as widows.
Religion — Bhairava is the tutelary deity of the caste. They also worship Jotiba of Ratnagiri, Khandoba of Jejuri, Bhavani of Tuljapur and Renuka of Mahur. Brahmans are employed for religious and ceremonial purposes. Their gurus (spiritual advisers) are Kanphata Jogis, so called because of their custom of slitting their ears and wearing a small cylindrical object in the incision. They make pilgrimages to holy places and observe all the fasts and festivals of the local Hindus.
Disposal of the Dead — The Davre Jogis bury their dead in a sitting posture, with the face turned towards the east. The corpse is taken to the burial ground in a zoli or bag of cloth, the funeral procession being accompanied with music made by the beating of drums and the blowing of shingis or horn pipes. Before burial, the body is smeared with vibhuti (cowdung ashes), bel (Aegle Marmelos) leaves and flowers are offered to it, and water is poured into its mouth. It is then lowered into the grave and ganja (Indian hemp), tobacco, wine, or whatever object or food the dead person was fond of when alive is placed by its side. Led by the chief mourner, the relatives throw earth into the grave, which is then filled up. After further offerings of bel leaves and flowers have been made to the departed soul, the relatives and friends forming the funeral procession march three times round the grave and return to the house of the deceased person. On their arrival, they chew nim (Melia Indica) leaves, wash their mouths and retire to their homes.
On the third day after death, offerings of flowers, bel leaves and vibhuti are again made at the grave and a feast, known as bhundara is given to caste brethren. No regular Sradha is performed, nor is mourning observed by the members of the caste.
Social Status — In point of social standing, the Davre Jogis rank immediately below the Maratha Kunbis. They cannot, however, eat kachi or pukki with men of any caste lower than Marathas in social position. They eat fish, fowl and mutton and indulge occasionally in strong drink.
Occupation — The Davre Jogis are professional mendicants, wandering from village to village, collecting alms and performing bharad at the marriage of their disciples and also on other ceremonial occasions. Their services are specially called in by the Maratha cultivators during Navratra, or the first nine nights of Aswin (September), which are sacred to the goddess Bhavani. The bharad usually beings at sunset and lasts throughout the night. The performers first sing pavadas or ballads, in honour first of Bhavani and then of Bhairavanath, to the mingled sounds of drums, cymbals and a fiddle (tuntune). The audience is, at the same time, entertained with humour episodes regarding the Hindu gods and heroes. When the rainy season sets in they return to their homes and spend the wet months in weaving kachas or girdles. A few have recently taken to agriculture, as their hereditary calling is not found to be sufficiently paying. They form part of the village community, being the 7th of the 12 alutedars, or village servants, entitled to a share in the produce.
Raval, Raul, Shiv Jogi, Kanialanath Raval — a very numerous sect of Jogis, extending as far as the Karnatic in the south and Gujarath in the north. The etymology of the name ‘Raval’ is obscure, and the meagre traditions of the Ravals throw no light upon their origin. The Maratha Ravals, like the Davre Jogis, appear to have been mainly recruited from the Maratha Kunbis, as most of their exogamous sections are purely of the Maratha type. Some of the section names, given below, will illustrate this point —
Shinde, Petkar, Lakhe (lac), Bhopale (gourd), Jirekar (cummin seeds), Keskar, Yadav, Sukale, Chaturbhuj, Bhise, Bhot, Diwale, Unode, Narwade, Chavan, Jadhav, Pawar, Kavade.
Outsiders are freely admitted into the community, provided that they are Kunbis, Malis, Rajputs, or members of castes higher than these in social status. The ceremony of initiation slightly differs from that of the Davre Jogis. A square of limestone powder is traced on the ground and is surrounded by nine burning lamps made of wheaten flour. The nocie, with his head shaved and after having bathed, is seated within it on a low wooden stool. His body is smeared with ashes of burnt cowdung and two necklaces, one of a black woollen string of nine threads and another of rudraksha wood (Eleocarpus Ganitrus), containing a hundred and eight beads, are hung about his neck. The guru then gives to the convert a ‘Trident’, a piece of cloth (koupin) and a zoli (alms bag) and whispers in his ear the mantra or sacred word. Their ears are not necessarily bored, but, when they are perforated, mudras or earrings made of conch shell, are inserted in them.
The Rawals profess to have one gotra, ‘Shastra’ only, which is of course inoperative in the regulation of their marriages, which are governed by the exogamous sections mentioned above. Marriage between persons belonging to the same section is forbidden. A man may marry the daughter of his sister, his paternal aunt or his maternal uncle, but he cannot marry his maternal aunt’s daughter. Polygamy is permitted, but is rarely resorted to in practice.
Marriage — The Rawals profess to marry their daughters as infants, but cases of girls being married after puberty are not uncommon, when the parents are poor, or if for any other reason there has been a difficulty in finding a husband. Their marriage ceremony is of the standard type. At the Mangani or betrothal, the girl is presented with clothes by the father of the bridegroom and liquor is provided for the panchas and other caste brethren present on the occasion, in confirmation of the match. Their marriage guardian, or devak, consists of leaves of the mango, rui (Calotropis gigantea) and saundad (Prosopis spicigera) trees. On the wedding day, the boy is conducted on a horse or a bullock to the girl’s house where, on arrival, he is received at the door by the girl’s mother. The bridal pair stand facing each other under the wedding booth, the antarpat, or curtain, is held between them and mangalashtak, or sacred texts, are repeated by the Brahman officiating as priest. This ritual is deemed to be the binding and essential portion of the ceremony. After this ceremony, the garments of the wedded couple are tied in a knot and they bow down before the family gods and elders; the caste people and relatives are entertained at a feast and the ceremony is brought to an end.
Widow-Marriage and Divorce — Widows are allowed to marry again by the meagre form of Mohatar, which consists in tying the garments of the bridal pair in a knot and in bringing their foreheads into contact. A Brahman officiates as a priest. The caste council clain Rs. 12½ at the marriage of a widow and Rs. 7½ at that of a virgin. Divorce is permitted with the sanction of the caste Panchayat and is symbolised by the breaking of a straw. Divorced women may marry again by the same form and in the same manner as widows.
Religion — In matters of religion, the Ravals differ very little from the Davre Jogis. Their favourite deities are Bhairav, Khandoba, Jotiba, Bhavani and Renuka. They observe all the fasts and festivals of the local Hindus and make pilgrimage to holy places. Reverence is paid to Gorakhnath, the founder of the sect, Machindranath, and also to the ‘Trident’ and linga of Siva. Like the Maratha Kunbis, they worship images of departed ancestors, especially of those who have died childless or as bachelors. They employ Brahmans on religious and ceremonial occasions.
On the eighth of the light half of Aswin (October) they perform their chief religious ceremony, known as Bija Hom. On that day a goat is sacrificed in honour of Bhairav. Its blood is thrown on the sacred fire kindled for the occasion and its flesh is cooked and offered to Bhairav. The cooked flesh is afterwards eaten by the members of the family. This ceremony is performed by the house-holder himself.
Disposal of the Dead — When a Raval is on the point of death, a few drops of Ganges water and some cow’s urine are poured into his mouth. After death the corpse is washed, smeared with vibhuti (ashes of burnt cowdung) and covered with clothes of an ochre colour (bhagava). The body is then placed in a sitting posture, with its legs crossed, and frankincense and camphor are burnt before it. After this, it is carried to the burial ground in a zoli (bag of cloth) by four men, a fifth one holding the top knot of the corpse and a sixth man leading the funeral procession and blowing a conch shell.
The grave is three sided and about four feet deep, and in the bottom an arched niche is cut for the reception of the corpse. On arrival, the body is lowered into the grave and seated in the niche with the face pointing to the east. After a sufficient quantity of salt has been thrown over the dead body, the grave is filled in with earth and a mound is raised over it. Finally, a Raval stands over the mound, blows the conch shell and recites mystic hymns (mantras) for the benefit of the departed soul. On the utterance of the last syllable, each member of the funeral party throws a handful of dust on the mound and they all return home. The mourners besmear their foreheads with vibhuti, signifying that they are free from impurity. No reglar Sradha is performed, but on the third day after death, and on the eleventh, a garland of flowers is hung from the roof of the house so that its free end may be just over a water pot and a dough lamp fed with ghi. A goat is killed and its flesh is offered before the emblem. The funeral rites terminate with a feast to the caste brethren. Souls of departed ancestors, in general, are propitiated on Nagapanchami or the 5th of the light half of Shravana (August) and also in the dark half of Bhadrapad (September).
Social Status and Occupation — The Ravals rank socially below the Maratha Kunbis, from whose hands they accept kachi or uncooked food. Only the lowest unclean classes will eat food cooked by a Raval. The members of the caste eat all flesh, except beef and pork, and indulge in strong drink. Their characteristic occupation is the collecting of alms in the name of Bhairava. Many of them have now taken to cultivation and trading and a few have adopted the profession of tailors. They also weave coarse cloth and tape.
Artwork is © Jan Bailey, 1975-2021. Translations are © Mike Magee 1975-2021.Questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org