111. The figures of religion show that Hindus constitute
84 per cent. of the population, Muhammadans 8 per cent. and Animists 5 per
cent. In 1901 the District had also 5252 Jains, and 1127
Christians. The proportion of professed Animists is large
as compared with other Berar Districts, owing to the
inclusion of the Melghat. The Hindu religion of Berar is
in no way different from that of the rest of Maharashtra, and
it would be difficult if not impossible to calculate its precise
indebtedness to the pantheism of the Aryan invaders, the
local animistic fetish worship of early tribes, and the
philosophical and moral revivals of Buddha and the Jains,
Probably the strongest element has been the latest, that of the Brahmanic counter reformation. Among Brahmans and other high castes the Vedas, Puranas and Shastras carry the same authority as elsewhere in the
Deccan. Among Kunbis and other Sudras, and among the more completely Hinduized castes below the Sudras, the same deities, the same temples and shrines, the same beliefs, rites and observances will be found. As throughout India, the popular dogmas are a mixture of gross superstition, metaphysical speculation and high religious philosophy. Among the lower castes Islam has had some slight influence, though it is easy to exaggerate this. The spread of Islam in Berar probably dates from 1294 A.D. when Alauddin made his first expedition to the Deccan. Strict upholders of the faith are to be found among those who can claim descent from the invaders, but in the villages laxities have crept in. ' Here, as elsewhere in India, the Musalman villager has borrowed or inherited from his Hindu neighbour or ancestor many practices which precisians would condemn as superstitious.' [Draft Imperial Gazetteer of Berar, page 23.] One may compare the customs of Goanese Christians. Living side by side with his Hindu brethren in the same or the next village, sharing property in the same land, and forming a part of the same family with them, it would have been impossible for the Musalman convert completely to cast off his old religious customs and ideas. The women especially are offenders. A Musalman woman who had not made an offering to the small-pox goddess, would feel that she had deliberately risked her child's life.
112. As usual each village has a number of petty deities
at whose shrines worship is offered on
special occasions. ' Of all the gods
of the Hindu pantheon Mahadeo and Maroti (Hanuman)
probably receive the most attention. [Ibidem.] Mahadeo or Siva
is represented by his symbol the Linga or phallus, typical
of reproduction. A representation of his sacred animal, the
bull Nandi, is usually placed before him. The cult of Siva, says Dr. Barnett, [Hinduism (Religions Ancient and Modern Series), page 40.] affects the two poles of society. He is favoured by many high class Brahmans and ascetics who are devoted to metaphysical studies; for the history of Siva in this connection shows him growing from a wild mountain-devil,
patron of goblins and thieves, into a mystic sorcerer-god, and thence into a
type of the Yogis and cognate orders of philosopher-saints. For the same reason he is popular with the lowest classes; the Yoga system in its practical side is largely based upon vulgar ideas of magic and Shamanism, and hence many of its professors have always been vulgar charlatans, and worse. Maroti is the monkey-god whose shrine is found in every village. If a large number of temples and shrines were any test of the popularity of a god, Maroti would certainly bear off the palm.' He is represented by an image of a monkey coloured with vermilion. The face of the image must always be to the south because Lanka (Ceylon) is situated on the south of India. Maroti's services to Rama as related in the Ramayana were great and many. He acted as his spy, and fought most valiantly in the great expedition against Rawan the demon king of the island for the recovery of Sita. The exploits of Maroti are favourite topics among Hindus from childhood to age, and paintings of them are common. On Saturdays people fast in his honour. Vermilion mixed with oil is applied to the image, a garland of rui (Calotropisgigantea) flowers placed on its neck and urad grains on its head. In almost every village of Berar in connection with Siva stands closely united, his son Ganesh, locally known as Ganpati, as presiding over the troop of deities attendant on Siva. Ganesh is represented by a figure, half-man and half-elephant, in a sitting posture, with a large belly. He is called Lambodar,' pendant-bellied.' He is the god of good luck and of learning and remover of difficulties and obstacles. He is addressed by orthodox Hindus at the commencement of all undertakings, and at the opening of all compositions. Even the
yearly account books commence with his sacred symbol and with the phrase ' Shri Ganeshaya namah
' (I bow to the illustrious Ganesh). Khandoba is also held in much reverence by Kunbis, as also by Dhangars and many lower castes. The Waghyas beg in the name of Khandoba and the Murli girls are dedicated to him. In many houses there is a small silver image of the god, mounted and sword in hand, before which on the Champa Shasti is waved a copper platter bearing cocoanut, jaggery, turmeric and sixteen small lamps made of wheaten flour. His votaries also offer him brinjals and onions, his favourite diet, which they may not use themselves before this day. The black dog of Khandoba is also worshipped. Sunday is the day sacred to this deity (who is also known as Martand), and alms are solicited on this day in his name.
113. The favourite incarnation of Devi is probably
Bhawani, to whom large temples at,
Amraoti and Mahur are dedicated, and
in whose service the Gondhalis are enrolled. She is worshipped for the nine days, Bhawani Naoratra, preceding the Dasahra, the idol being placed on a basket crowned every day with fresh flowers. The basket rests on a pot full of water, and for the whole period of nine days a light is kept burning on a stand before the image. On the tenth day or the Dasahra, the head of the village slays a buffalo in remembrance of the victory of Devi over the demon god Mhaisoba or Mahishasur. On this day also an unmarried girl used to be placed beside the image of Bhawani and worshipped, the ceremony being possibly a relic of the ' left-handed ritual ' of the panchmakar. Bhawani is also worshipped on the new and the full moon. [Berar Census Report, 1881 page 45,] Sitala or Mata Mai is the goddess of small-pox. She is represented by a few stones rubbed with vermilion and worshipped only during an attack of small-pox. Cooked rice and curds are offered to the goddess when the Small-pox has subsided. Sometimes fowls or goats are sacrificed to her. Meskai is a deity enshrined on the boundary of a village. He-buffaloas are sacrificed to her annually on Dasahra
day. She must be propitiated at the time of marriage by the offer of turmeric
and vermilion, the remainder of the former article being brought home and applied to the bride or bridegroom. ' Mhaisoba is a buffalo god known to live under the water of large rivers, and requiring propitiation;
Waghdeo must be appeased by those who run risks from tigers; Satwai is a goddess who cures children; and Marai Mata regulates the spread of cholera in accordance with the attentions which she receives. A heap of stones daubed with red, under a tree fluttering with rags, represents Chindia Deo, or the divinity of tatters; if you present a rag in season you may chance to get good clothes.' [Berar Gazetteer 1870, page 190,] Asra is the goddess of water inhabiting tanks, rivers and wells. She is represented by a stone rubbed with vermilion. Chand Shah Wali, or Chand Khan Wall as he is also called, is a Jinn who resides in mud forts. He is enshrined in a platform over which a white flag waves. The flag must be renewed on the day of Dasahra by the village patel, otherwise stones are thrown on the houses at night time by the annoyed wali and the safety of the village is endangered. The story goes that Chand Shah Wali was a great magician in times gone by. He used to take away the daughter of a king for days together and nobody, knew who took her away and where she was taken. The king, therefore, offered a great reward to the man who would detect the thief. It is said that one aspirant instructed the princess to take with her some cotton and to throw its pieces on the way while she was being thus rudely abducted. The magician was thus traced and brought before the king who ordered him to be buried alive in the foundation of a mud fortress. The wizard besought the king for his life and the courtiers also interceded for him, but the king was inexorable. As his last prayer the magician requested that the king should do some-thing whereby his name would be perpetuated. The king granted his request and ordered that on every Dasahra day a new flag should be raised near the village chawri to perpetuate
the magician's memory. The tradition is reminiscent of the Arabian Nights and even the name of the magician is typically Muhammadan; and that the
wali should have become a Hindu god honoured at Dasahra is but one of many instances that might be given to show the intermingling of the lower forms of the two faiths. The tomb of Chilam Shah Wali at Amraoti Camp is an object of reverence to both alike: so are also the shrine at Uprai, the rock of Bairam, and the Makbara
of Dulha Rahman,' the mythical headless Ghazi of Ellichpur. In many villages of the District will be found the grave of some local ascetic who made himself dear to the villagers. To the Hindus he is a guru and they paint one side of his tombstone vermilion and do puja in his honour accordingly; but to the Musalmans he is a pir and the other side is therefore whitewashed and covered at the Great and the Lesser Id with a cloth of bright green.
114. Among Hindus the sights and occurrences of the
early morning are believed to foreshadow the fortunes of the day ' The sight of a corpse or of flesh is a lucky omen, except with Lads and Sonars. To Gosawis and Bairagis, salt, earth and a potter are inauspicious, but not to other castes: while a Brahman with his headcloth on his head and his caste marks painted brings good luck, but if he should be encountered bare-headed, misfortune is the result. A married woman is lucky to meet; a widow unlucky. A pot full of water is a good thing to see; an empty pot is not so. If a man has a twitching in his right eye the omen is good, but not so if it occurs in his left eye: while with the woman the case is reversed. A sweeper bearing nightsoil is a lucky man to meet: a Teli with an oil pot is unlucky. Should a spider cross one's hand it is a good omen, but a house lizard falling on one's body is bad. A single sneeze when a person is speaking denotes bad luck to him, but an additional sneeze will change it. A deer, blue jay, peacock, or ichneumon on the left hand side are all harbingers of good; as are also a mongoose, a cow with calf, and an ox; but woe to the man
whose path is crossed by a crow, a jackal, or a cat, or who
hears a dog howling, or an owl hooting. A wild parrot perching
on the head or shoulder, the sound of joyful music, dreaming
a good dream, or meeting a corpse borne by four men are
all omens of good import; while a lamp falling, a man's pagri or a woman's toe ring coming off, or a ringdove entering
the house are events fraught with evil consequences. If a
ringdove enters the house, the occupants forsake it for three
days: on the third day a cow is brought into the house, and
food and alms are given to Brahmans, after which it is again
habitable. [Berar Census Report, 1881, page 45.] If a child is born with the umbilical cord
round its neck like a halter it is believed that he ended his former
life a prisoner in some jail; the analogy to the possible
method of his last death is obvious.
115. When a village is threatened by an epidemic of cholera the people raise a
public subscription and purchase a he-buffalo. It is worshipped by the village patel and taken round the village. The patel then sacrifices the animal in the name of Marai (goddess of cholera) in the presence of all the villagers. The head is buried on the boundary of the village. Till the worship is complete no fire should be kindled in the village. People will also cook their food outside the inhabited portion of the village. Another device to avert an epidemic of cholera is that a widow Mangni is dressed in yellow cloth and marked with turmeric and kunku. She is seated in a small cart newly prepared for the occasion and taken round the village. A spinning wheel, a winnowing fan and similar things are placed in the cart. She is sent out of the inhabited portion of the village and she must live in the fields for one whole night. She is considered a Marai and the villagers will not allow the personated Marai Mata to enter their village. The idea in giving her a spinning wheel and other things is to keep her engaged in domestic work and not to allow her leisure for playing havoc in the village. A
method of divining whether rain will fall or not in vogue among cultivators, especially Kunbis, is that on the day of Akshaya-tritiya the enquirer will arrange nine clods of white earth in the name of the asterisms and on top of the clods place an earthen pot full of water. He worships the earthen pot in the name of his deceased ancestor and examines the clods of earth next day. If any of them remains dry it is believed that in the asterism, the name of which the clod bears, there will be no rain. But as the pot is naturally porous, the omen has every chance of being favourable. Another device is that on any Sunday in the month of Poush a pot full of milk and rice is placed on fire and the direction in which the milk boils over will be the direction from which the next monsoon should be expected. If a river is in flood and the safety of a village situated on its bank seems to be endangered, the patel with his wife will go to the river and propitiate the river goddess by the offer of turmeric, kunku, and a choli. He will then commence measuring the waters of the flood by pailis to cause the flood to subside. [Compare our English saying, "measuring the Atlantic with a thimble."]
116. The Manbhaos are a small sect of Hindus whose chief
seat and place of pilgrimage is at
Ritpur or Ridhpur in the Morsi taluka, though they have also an establishment near Poona; and the Jai Kisnya' sect in the Punjab is said to be a branch of the same rule. There is even, it is said, a math in Kabul. Their first acharya is said to have been Nagdeo Bhat, who is supposed to have been born in A.D. 1236, and the name is also given of Kisn Bhat, the spiritual adviser of a raja who ruled at Paithan about the middle of the fourteenth century. His followers believe him to have been the demi-god Krishna, returned to earth. His doctrines repudiated a multiplicity of gods, and the hatred and contempt which he endured arose partly from his insistence on the monotheistic principle, but chiefly from his repudiation of the caste system. He inculcated the exclusive worship of Krishna as the only
incarnation of the Supreme Being, and taught his disciples to eat with none but the initiated, and to break off all former ties of caste and religion. Such is the legendary origin of the order, but from recent scientific enquiries (vide Imperial Gazetteer Vol. XXI, p. 302) it appears that the founder's name was Chakradhara, and that he was a Karhada Brahman who about the middle of the 13th century was regarded as an incarnation of Dattatreya. The oldest composition in the Marathi language, the ' Lila Charitra,' is claimed as the work of a member of this order. It is written in prose and is divided into two portions, a Shruti containing lives of two Mahants Prashanta and Chakradhara, and a Smriti containing biographical notices of the kings of Deogiri from Singhana down to Ramchandra Yadava A.D, 1210-1309. There are also other ancient Manbhao writings including an interesting account of the religious sects prevalent in the early fourteenth century. The head of the sect is a Mahant, with whom are associated a number of priests. The sect is divided into two classes, celibates and gharbaris, or seculars. Celibacy is regarded as the perfect life but matrimony is permitted to the weaker brethren. The celibates, both men and women, shave all hair from the head and wear clothes dyed with lamp-black. The lower garment is a waist cloth forming a sort of skirt, and is intended to typify devotion to the religious life and consequent indifference to distinctions of sex. Marriage being contrary to strict rule, they inform their guru and get his consent before entering upon it. The ceremony is performed in strict privacy inside the temple. A man is wont to signify his choice of a spouse by putting his jholi or beggar's wallet on hers: if she lets it remain there, the betrothal is complete. A woman may signify her desire by weaving a pair of garlands, with one of which she crowns the image of Krishna, and with the other her intended spouse. He may reject the offer if it so pleases him. The marriage ceremony is very quiet and unaccompanied by processions or rejoicings. Widow re-marriage is allowed. Manbhaos evince a great respect for animal life. They all quit their villages at Dasahra, on account of the he-buffalo sacrifice, and remain in the fields
until it is over; when questioned in respect to every-day slaughter in towns and large villages they have no answer to give. They will neither cut nor break down a tree, large or small. They are prohibited from drinking for three days of the water of the village where a man has been murdered or poisoned, or killed by falling down a well; obviously a salutary observance.
The dead are buried in salt, usually in a sitting posture though sometimes the corpse is laid in the grave on one side with feet to the south, head to the north and face to the east. The Manbhaos still proselytise, but restrict their missionary efforts to good castes. Mahars, Mangs, Chambhars, Lohars, Telis, Dhobis, Musalmans and some other castes low in the social scale are excluded.
Brahmans hate the Manbhaos who have not only thrown off the Brahmanical yoke themselves, but do much to oppose Brahman influence among the villagers. The ridiculous tale of Kisn Bhat's magic cap by which he assumed a likeness to the god Krishna, and of the artifice by which the cap was taken from him bears the mark of its origin. It is possible, of course, as has been suggested, that Kisn actually did marry a Mang woman to show his contempt for caste, just as Luther after renouncing his vows married a nun: but it is far more probable that the story was invented as a basis for the spiteful derivation of Manbhao from Mang and bhao (brother). The name is really a corruption of Maha, Anubhava (great under-standing) and is so spelt in all the documents of the sect. The Manbhaos are respectable and respected and a guru is often taken from among them in preference to a Brahman or Gosawi. They are however a declining body numbering only 2566 in Berar in 1901 as compared with 4111 twenty years previously.
117. Reference has been made above to the mingling of
Hindu and Muhammadan forms of faith
among the lower classes in Berar.
The most noteworthy example of this is furnished by
the cult of Shah Dawal. Dawal, tradition says, was a
Mahar and Shah or Malik a Madari fakir; they came according to the story from Hindustan together some two hundred
years ago, and lived together like Nanak and Farid, the
Hindu and Muslim disciples of Kabir. At their death they
were buried together in the same tomb at Uprai in the Daryapur taluk. Among Kunbis, Telis, Bhois, Dhangars and
similar castes the worship of Dawal Malik is frequent. The custom is to pray
before the shrine previous to any enterprise or when any gift is particularly
desired. Persons wishing to make a pilgrimage to the tomb of the saint dress
themselves in a single white cloth marking its borders with red
ochre. A bottle gourd is split in two and one half serves as a
begging bowl. A wallet is also attached to two small sticks of ber tree which are held on the shoulder. The first alms of
grain must be begged at the house of a Mahar or a Mang
with the words " Dam, Dam, Dam Sahib " and then only can
the worshippers receive alms from the higher castes.
Cakes are prepared from the flour of the grain so
collected. Cooked food is begged from all comers irrespective of caste and creed and eaten at the spot (Uprai)
where it is believed to convey no pollution. But this
is a rule which obtains also in several of the best known
Hindu temples. Indeed it would be impossible to carry on the
worship of a great shrine where all castes meet without some
such relaxation of caste observance. The worshippers put on
also iron hand-cuffs and walk on foot from their houses to the
saints' tomb as a mark of humility. The fakir who officiates
as a priest at the tomb breaks them and receives a fee of five
annas for so doing: he also gives the worshippers a drink
of jaggery and water. After return it is usual to sacrifice a
goat and give a caste feast. A Mahar after his marriage
should go with his bride to offer worship at the shrine.
118. Muhammadans number about 67,500 persons, and are
strongest in the towns of Amraoti,
Ellichpur, Paratwada, Morsi, and
Daryapur. The Vaidyas are a class of Hindu converts to
Islam. They perform the marriage ceremony secretly by
walking round a marriage post and then have the nikah pronounced by the Kazi. Momins (weavers), Satranjiwalas (carpet-makers), Bagwans (gardeners) are all Muhammadans but have continued their Hindu endogamous groups, They will on no account marry outside their circle and retain still a few Hindu marriage customs. These are all low classes of Muhammadans and will not eat food cooked by a Teli, Dhobi, or Lohar. They will also throw away their earthen pots if touched by a member of these castes. Beef also is not eaten.
119. Of the eight hundred thousand persons in the District at the last census, 1127 were Christians, 705 being natives of India and the rest Europeans and Eurasians. The Church of Rome claims the greater proportion of these having 626 members of whom no less than 580 are natives, the Anglican Communion coming second with a total of 323, of whom 70 are natives, though there is no definitely Anglican mission. The Presbyterians and Methodists have 38 converts each, the former having 4 and the latter 3 other followers; there are eleven Baptists, of whom six are natives. No other sect is found, though 63 persons of whom 52 are natives have not returned a denomination and should probably be placed to the credit of the Korku and Alliance Missions, both undenominational bodies, who account also for many of the converts to the Church of England.
As the Church of Rome is by far the most successful in the District so also it was the earliest to commence work, the Rev. Father Thevenet having visited Ellichpur in 1848, before the province came under British Administration. He was the pioneer of Christianity throughout Berar and in the neighbouring portions of the Nizam's dominions and the Central Provinces; and his labours continued for nearly forty years. At the present day the Mission is under the Roman Catholic Bishop of Nagpur and comprises four parishes in Berar, all of which have their headquarters in this District; namely Chikalda, Ellichpur, Amraoti and Badnera. Thepriests, of whom there are six, belong to the order of St.
Francis of Sales, and are mainly drawn from the diocese of Annecy in France. The original centre for Berar was Akola, but in 1874 Father Thevenet built a Chapel dedicated to St. Francis Xavier and bungalow at Amraoti, and in 1884 the headquarters were moved here. In 1886 representations having been made to Father Thevenet of the need for a school for European children, the Convent of Daughters of the Cross was opened. The Chapel has been enlarged to a Church of imposing dimensions and there is a fine convent building and a presbytery. The Sisters maintain a European school teaching up to the Final Standard for boys and to the Middle Standard for girls with 48 pupils, and a native school with 23 pupils, also an orphanage for native girls, a school in the city for high caste girls and dispensaries for the poor. They greatly distinguished themselves both in the famine of 1900 and by the prominent part they took in combating the great outbreak of plague at Amraoti in 1903 and they visit various other places in the District, especially Badnera, Ellichpur and Chikalda, where they have a branch station. There is a Church of St. John the Evangelist at Badnera, the priest of which place also visits Akola, Shegaon and various other stations both in and out of Berar. At Ellichpur there is a church of the Sacred Heart and the head-quarters of a Mission amongst the Mahars of this and neighbouring Districts; a namesake and nephew of the first Father Thevenet is in charge. It was from Ellichpur in 1874 that attempts were made to evangelize the Korkus, but these failed and it was not till 1899 when the mission had been established at Chikalda for three years that the great famine gave the Fathers a second chance. A few families and some orphans were then gathered together and formed into a village of about 160 souls to which the name of Marianpur was given. A Chapel of Saint Ann was consecrated. The first efforts however at the evangelization of the Korkus had been not by a missionary but by an officer of Government Mr, J. Mulheran, who about 1860 was deputed to make a survey of the Melghat and to report on its inhabitants; During his tour he used freely to preach to the jungle tribes;
and he appealed to the bishop of Calcutta to despatch a missionary for the work. However, before his appeal could be met, he died suddenly. In 1870 the Rev. H. Haden and his brother were appointed but stayed only a short time, being relieved in 1874 by the Rev. H. Norton. A short sketch of the Korkus as well as a Korku grammar and several translations into that tongue were compiled by the Rev. E. F. Ward, who settled at Ellichpur in 1885. In 1889 the Korku and Central India Hill Mission, organized by the energies of Lieut.-Colonel Oldham (of the Hyderabad Contingent) took over from the Rev. A. Norton the work which he had carried on since 1874. The mission is not sectarian, its preachers being laymen drawn from the English, Lutheran and other communions. It did excellent work in the famine of 1896-97 and was specially praised in the Commissioner's famine report. As a permanent legacy from the famine there remained 3 orphanages and a leper asylum. The latter remains and the former have been consolidated into two, one for boys at Khudawandpur near Ellichpur, and the other for girls at Chikalda. Primary schools have been opened and an Industrial school at Khudawandpur in which carpentry, smith's work and tailoring are taught. The mission has also branches at Ghatang, Dharni and Duni as well as in the Betul District.
The Christian and Missionary Alliance is an American Society which has been in the District for about fifteen years and has stations at Amraoti, Chandur and Daryapur. Like the Korku Mission it is non-sectarian. The United Free Church of Scotland has a mission whose headquarters are in Wardha under the Revd. D. Revie. It is chiefly remarkable in Berar for the honourable part which ordained converts have played in its work. The founders were the Rev. Narayan Sheshadri, D.D., and the Rev. Sidoba Misal, the latter of whom settled in Amraoti about 1870, where he was succeeded in 1888 by the Rev. Timothy Sheoram; and in 1906 the Rev. P. A. Yardi Was ordained. The last report shows 54 baptized Christians; an increase of 10 since the census, and there is a primary school for boys with 130 pupils and for girls with 30.
Amraoti Is in the Anglican diocese of Nagpur, and the
Chaplain of Berar has his headquarters here with outstations at Badnera, Chikalda and Ellichpur. There are churches at Amraoti and Ellichpur and Government cemeteries at these two places and at Chikalda and Badnera.