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1. Origin and traditions

Lodhi, Lodha. - An important agricultural caste residing principally in the Vindhyan Districts and Nerbudda valley, whence they have spread to the Wainganga valley and the Khairagarh State of Chhattisgarh. Their total strength in the Province is 300,000 persons. The Lodhis are immigrants from the United Provinces, in whose Gazetteers it is stated that they belonged originally to the Ludhiana District and took their name from it. Their proper designation is Lodha, but it has become corrupted to Lodhi in the Central Provinces. A number of persons resident in the Harda tahsil of Hoshangabad are called Lodha and say that they are distinct from the Lodhis. There is nothing to support their statement, however, and it is probable that they simply represent the separate wave of immigration which took place from Central India into the Hoshangabad and Betul Districts in the fifteenth century. They spoke a different dialect of the group known as Rajasthani, and hence perhaps the caste-name did not get corrupted. The Lodhis of the Jubbulpore Division probably came here at a later date from northern India. The Mandla Lodhis are said to have been brought to the District by Raja Hirde Sah of the Gond-Rajput dynasty of Garha-Mandla in the seventeenth century, and they were given large grants of the waste land in the interior in order that they might clear it of forest. The Lodhis are a good instance of a caste who have obtained a great rise in social status on migrating to a new area. In northern India Mr. Nesfield places them lowest among the agricultural castes and states that they are little better than a forest tribe. He derives the name from lod , a clod, according to which Lodhi would mean clodhopper. Another suggestion is that the name is derived from the bark of the lodh tree, which is collected by the Lodhas in northern India and sold for use as a dyeing agent. In Bulandshahr they are described as “Of short stature and uncouth appearance, and from this as well as from their want of a tradition of immigration from other parts they appear to be a mixed class proceeding from aboriginal and Aryan parents. In the Districts below Agra they are considered so low that no one drinks water touched by them; but this is not the case in the Districts above Agra.” In Hamirpur they appear to have some connection with the Kurmis, and a story told of them in Saugor is that the first Lodhi was created by Mahadeo from a scarecrow in a Kurmi woman’s field and given the vocation of a farmservant But the Lodhis themselves claim Rajput ancestry and say that they are descended from Lava, the eldest of the two sons of Raja Ramchandra of Ajodhya.

2. Position in the central Provinces

In the Central Provinces they have become landholders and are addressed by the honorific title of Thakur, ranking with the higher cultivating castes. Several Lodhi landholders in Damoh and Saugor formerly held a quasi-independent position under the Muhammadans, and subsequently acknowledged the Raja of Panna as their suzerain, who conferred on some families the titles of Raja and Diwan. They kept up a certain amount of state, and small contingents of soldiery, attended by whom they went to pay their respects to the representative of the ruling power. “It would be difficult,” says Grant, “to recognise the descendants of the peaceful cultivators of northern India in the strangely accoutred Rajas who support their style and title by a score of ragged matchlock-men and a ruined mud fort on a hill-side.” Sir B. Fuller’s Damoh Settlement Report says of them: “A considerable number of villages had been for long time past in the possession of certain important families, who held them by prescription or by a grant from the ruling power, on a right which approximated as nearly to the English idea of proprietorship as native custom permitted. The most prominent of these families were of the Lodhi caste. They have developed tastes for sport and freebooting and have become decidedly the most troublesome item in the population. During the Mutiny the Lodhis as a class were openly disaffected, and one of their proprietors, the Talukdar of Hindoria, marched on the District headquarters and looted the treasury.” Similarly the Ramgarh family of Mandla took to arms and lost the large estates till then held by them. On the other hand the village of Imjhira in Narsinghpur belonging to a Lodhi malguzar was gallantly defended against a band of marauding rebels from Saugor. Sir R. Craddock describes them as follows: “They are men of strong character, but their constant family feuds and love of faction militate against their prosperity. A cluster of Lodhi villages forms a hotbed of strife and the nearest relations are generally divided by bitter animosities. The Revenue Officer who visits them is beset by reckless charges and counter-charges and no communities are less amenable to conciliatory compromises. Agrarian outrages are only too common in some of the Lodhi villages.” The high status of the Lodhi caste in the Central Provinces as compared with their position in the country of their origin may be simply explained by the fact that they here became landholders and ruling chiefs.

3. Sub-divisions

In the northern Districts the landholding Lodhis are divided into a number of exogamous clans who marry with each other in imitation of the Rajputs. These are the Mahdele, Kerbania, Dongaria, Narwaria, Bhadoria and others. The name of the Kerbanias is derived from Kerbana, a village in Damoh, and the Balakote family of that District are the head of the clan. The Mahdeles are the highest clan and have the titles of Raja and Diwan, while the others hold those of Rao and Kunwar, the terms Diwan and Kunwar being always applied to the younger brother of the head of the house. These titles are still occasionally conferred by the Raja of Panna, whom the Lodhi clans looked on as their suzerain. The name of the Mahdeles is said to be derived from the mehndi or henna plant. The above clans sometimes practise hypergamy among themselves and also with the other Lodhis, taking daughters from the latter on receipt of a large bridegroom-price for the honour conferred by the marriage. This custom is now, however, tending to die out. There are also several endogamous subcastes ranking below the clans, of whom the principal are the Singrore, Jarha, Jangra and Mahalodhi. The Singrore take their name from the old town of Singraur or Shrengera in northern India, Singrore, like Kanaujia, being a common subcaste name among several castes. It is also connected more lately with the Singram Ghat or ferry of the Ganges in Allahabad District, and the title of Rawat is said to have been conferred on the Singrore Lodhis by the emperor Akbar on a visit there. The Jarha Lodhis belong to Mandla. The name is probably a form of Jharia or jungly, but since the leading members of the caste have become large landholders they repudiate this derivation. The Jangra Lodhis are of Chhattisgarh, and the Mahalodhis or ‘Great Lodhis’ are an inferior group to which the offspring of irregular unions are or were relegated. The Mahalodhis are said to condone adultery either by a man or woman on penalty of a feast to the caste. Other groups are the Hardiha, who grow turmeric ( haldi ), and the Gwalhare or cowherds. The Lodhas of Hoshangabad may also be considered a separate subcaste. They disclaim connection with the Lodhis, but the fact that the parent caste in the United Provinces is known as Lodha appears to establish their identity. They abstain from flesh and liquor, which most Lodhis consume.

This division of the superior branch of a caste into large exogamous clans and the lower one into endogamous subcastes is only found, so far as is known, among the Rajputs and one or two landholding castes who have imitated them. Its origin is discussed in the Introduction.

4. Exogamous groups

The subcastes are as usual divided into exogamous groups of the territorial, titular and totemistic classes. Among sections named after places may be mentioned the Chandpuria from Chandpur, the Kharpuria from Kharpur, and the Nagpuriha, Raipuria, Dhamonia, Damauha and Shahgariha from Nagpur, Raipur, Dhamoni, Damoh and Shahgarh. Two-thirds of the sections have the names of towns or villages. Among titular names are Saulakhia, owner of 100 lakhs, Bhainsmar, one who killed a buffalo, Kodonchor, one who stole kodon, Kumharha perhaps from Kumhar a potter, and Rajbhar and Barhai (carpenter), names of castes. Among totemistic names are Baghela, tiger, also the name of a Rajput sept; Kutria, a dog; Khajuria, the date-palm tree; Mirchaunia, chillies; Andwar, from the castor-oil plant; Bhainsaiya, a buffalo; and Nak, the nose.

5. Marriage customs

A man must not marry in his own section nor in that of his mother. He may marry two sisters. The exchange of girls between families is only in force among the Bilaspur Lodhis, who say, ’Eat with those who have eaten with you and marry with those who have married with you.’ Girls are usually wedded before puberty, but in the northern Districts the marriage is sometimes postponed from desire to marry into a good family or from want of funds to pay a bridegroom-price, and girls of twenty or more may be unmarried. A case is known of a man who had two daughters unmarried at twenty-two and twenty-three years old, because he had been waiting for good partis , with the result that one of them went and lived with a man and he then married off the other in the Singhast year, which is forbidden among the Lodhis, and was put out of caste. The marriage and other ceremonies of the Lodhis resemble those of the Kurmis, except in Chhattisgarh where the Maratha fashion is followed. Here, at the wedding, the bride and bridegroom hold between them a doll made of dough with 21 cowries inside, and as the priest repeats the marriage texts they pull it apart like a cracker and see how many cowries each has got. It is considered auspicious if the bridegroom has the larger number. The priest is on the roof of the house, and before the wedding he cries out:

‘Are the king and queen here?’ And a man below answers, ‘Yes.’

‘Have they shoes on their feet?’ ‘Yes.’

‘Have they bracelets on their hands?’ ‘Yes.’

‘Have they rings in their ears?’ ‘Yes.’

‘Have they crowns on their heads?’ ‘Yes.’

‘Has she glass beads round her neck?’ ‘Yes.’

‘Have they the doll in their hands?’ ‘Yes.’

And the priest then repeats the marriage texts and beats a brass dish while the doll is pulled apart In the northern Districts after the wedding the bridegroom must untie one of the festoons of the marriage-shed, and if he refuses to do this, it is an indelible disgrace on the bride’s party. Before doing so he requires a valuable present, such as a buffalo.

6. The gauna ceremoney. Fertility rites

When the girl becomes mature the Gauna or going-away ceremony is performed. In Chhattisgarh before leaving her home the bride goes out with her sister and worships a palas tree. Her sister waves a lighted lamp seven times over it, and the bride goes seven times round it in imitation of the marriage ceremony. At her husband’s house seven pictures of the family gods are drawn on a wall inside the house and the bride worships these, placing a little sugar and bread on the mouth of each and bowing before them. She is then seated before the family god while an old woman brings a stone rolling-pin wrapped up in a piece of cloth, which is supposed to be a baby, and the old woman imitates a baby crying. She puts the roller in the bride’s lap saying, ‘Take this and give it milk.’ The bride is abashed and throws it aside. The old woman picks it up and shows it to the assembled women saying, ‘The bride has just had a baby,’ amid loud laughter. Then she gives the stone to the bridegroom who also throws it aside. This ceremony is meant to induce fertility, and it is supposed that by making believe that the bride has had a baby she will quickly have one.

7. Widow-marriage and puberty rite

The higher clans of Lodhis in Damoh and Saugor prohibit the remarriage of widows, but instances of it occur. It is said that a man who marries a widow is relegated to the Mahalodhi subcaste or the Lahuri Sen, an illegitimate group, and the Lodhis of his clan no longer acknowledge his family. But if a girl’s husband dies before she has lived with him she may marry again. The other Lodhis freely permit widow-marriage and divorce. When a girl first becomes mature she is secluded, and though she may stay in the house cannot enter the cook-room. At the end of the period she is dressed in red cloth, and a present of cocoanuts stripped of their shells, sweetmeats, and a little money, is placed in her lap, while a few women are invited to a feast. This rite is also meant to induce fertility, the kernel of the cocoanut being held to resemble an unborn baby.

8. Mourning impurity

The higher clans consider themselves impure for a period of 12 days after a birth, and if the birth falls in the Mul asterism or Nakshatra, for 27 days. After death they observe mourning for 10 days; on the 10th day they offer ten pindas or funeral cakes, and on the 11th day make one large pinda or cake and divide it into eleven parts; on the 12th day they make sixteen pindas and unite the spirit of the dead man with the ancestors; and on the 13th day they give a feast and feed Brahmans and are clean. The lower subcastes only observe impurity for three days after a birth and a death. Their funeral rites are the same as those of the Kurmis.

9. Social customs

The caste employ Brahmans for weddings, but not necessarily for birth and death ceremonies. They eat flesh and fish, and the bulk of the caste eat fowls and drink liquor, but the landowning section abjures these practices. They will take food cooked with water from Brahmans, and that cooked without water also from Rajputs, Kayasths and Sunars. In Narsinghpur they also accept cooked food from such a low caste as Rajjahrs, probably because the Rajjhars are commonly employed by them as farmservants, and hence have been accustomed to carry their master’s food. A similar relation has been found to exist between the Panwar Rajputs and their Gond farmservants. The higher class Lodhis make an inordinate show of hospitality at their weddings. The plates of the guests are piled up profusely with food, and these latter think it a point of honour never to refuse it or say enough. When melted butter is poured out into their cups the stream must never be broken as it passes from one guest to the other, or it is said that they will all get up and leave the feast. Apparently a lot of butter must be wasted on the ground. The higher clans seclude their women, and these when they go out must wear long clothes covering the head and reaching to the feet. The women are not allowed to wear ornaments of a cheaper metal than silver, except of course their glass bangles. The Mahalodhis will eat food cooked with water in the cook-room and carried to the fields, which the higher clans will not do. Their women wear the sari drawn through the legs and knotted behind according to the Maratha fashion, but whenever they meet their husband’s elder brother or any other elder of the family they must undo the knot and let the cloth hang down round their legs as a mark of respect. They wear no breast-cloth. Girls are tattooed before adolescence with dots on the chin and forehead, and marks on one hand. Before she is tattooed the girl is given sweets to eat, and during the process the operator sings songs in order that her attention may be diverted and she may not feel the pain. After she has finished the operator mutters a charm to prevent evil spirits from troubling the girl and causing her pain.

10. Greetings and method of address

The caste have some strict taboos on names and on conversation between the sexes. A man will only address his wife, sister, daughter, paternal aunt or niece directly. If he has occasion to speak to some other woman he will take his daughter or other female relative with him and do his business through her. He will not speak even to his own women before a crowd. A woman will similarly only speak to her father, son or nephew, and father-, son- or younger brother-in-law. She will not speak to her elder brother-in-law, and she will not address her husband in the presence of his father, elder brother or any other relative whom he reveres. A wife will never call her husband by his name, but always address him as father of her son, and, if she has no son, will sometimes speak to him through his younger brother. Neither the father nor mother will call their eldest son by his name, but will use some other name. Similarly a daughter-in-law is given a fresh name on coming into the house, and on her arrival her mother-in-law looks at her for the first time through a guna or ring of baked gram-flour. A man meeting his father or elder brother will touch his feet in silence. One meeting his sister’s husband, sister’s son or son-in-law, will touch his feet and say, ‘ Sahib, salaam .’

11. Sacred thread and social status

The higher clans invest boys with the sacred thread either when they are initiated by a Guru or spiritual preceptor, or when they are married. The thread is made by a Brahman and has five knots. Recently a large landholder in Mandla, a Jarha Lodhi, has assumed the sacred thread himself for the first time and sent round a circular to his caste-men enjoining them also to wear it. His family priest has produced a legend of the usual type showing how the Jarha Lodhis are Rajputs whose ancestors threw away their sacred threads in order to escape the vengeance of Parasurama. Generally in social position the Lodhis may be considered to rank with, but slightly above, the ordinary cultivating castes, such as the Kurmis. This superiority in no way arises from their origin, since, as already seen, they are a very low caste in their home in northern India, but from the fact that they have become large landholders in the Central Provinces and in former times their leaders exercised quasi-sovereign powers. Many Lodhis are fine-looking men and have still some appearance of having been soldiers. They are passionate and quarrelsome, especially in the Jubbulpore District. This is put forcibly in the saying that ’A Lodhi’s temper is as crooked as the stream of a bullock’s urine.’ They are generally cultivators, but the bulk of them are not very prosperous as they are inclined to extravagance and display at weddings and on other ceremonial occasions.