Read Pardhan of The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India, Volume IV, free online book, by R.V. Russell, on ReadCentral.com.

1. General notice

Pardhan, Pathari, Pañal. - An inferior branch of the Gond tribe whose occupation is to act as the priests and minstrels of the Gonds . In 1911 the Pardhans numbered nearly 120,000 persons in the Central Provinces and Berar. The only other locality where they are found is Hyderabad, which returned 8000. The name Pardhan is of Sanskrit origin and signifies a minister or agent. It is the regular designation of the principal minister of a Rajput State, who often fulfils the functions of a Mayor of the Palace. That it was applied to the tribe in this sense is shown by the fact that they are also known as Diwan, which has the same meaning. There is a tradition that the Gond kings employed Pardhans as their ministers, and as the Pardhans acted as genealogists they may have been more intelligent than the Gonds , though they are in no degree less illiterate. To themselves and their Gond relations the Pardhans are frequently not known by that name, which has been given to them by the Hindus, but as Pañal . Other names for the tribe are Parganiha, Desai and Pathari. Parganiha is a title signifying the head of a pargana , and is now applied by courtesy to some families in Chhattisgarh. Desai has the same signification, being a variant of Deshmukh or the Maratha revenue officer in charge of a circle of villages. Pathari means a bard or genealogist, or according to another derivation a hillman. On the Satpura plateau and in Chhattisgarh the tribe is known as Pardhan Patharia. In Balaghat they are also called Mokasi. The Gonds themselves look down on the Pardhans and say that the word Patharia means inferior, and they relate that Bura Deo , their god, had seven sons. These were talking together one day as they dined and they said that every caste had an inferior branch to do it homage, but they had none; and they therefore agreed that the youngest brother and his descendants should be inferior to the others and make obeisance to them, while the others promised to treat him almost as their equal and give him a share in all the offerings to the dead. The Pardhans or Patharias are the descendants of the youngest brother and they accost the Gonds with the greeting ‘Babu Johar,’ or ‘Good luck, sir.’ The Gonds return the greeting by saying ‘Pathari Johar,’ or ’How do you do, Pathari.’ Curiously enough Johar is also the salutation sent by a Rajput chief to an inferior landholder, and the custom must apparently have been imitated by the Gonds . A variant of the story is that one day the seven Gond brothers were worshipping their god, but he did not make his appearance; so the youngest of them made a musical instrument out of a string and a piece of wood and played on it. The god was pleased with the music and came down to be worshipped, and hence the Pardhans as the descendants of the youngest brother continue to play on the kingri or lyre, which is their distinctive instrument. The above stories have been invented to account for the social inferiority of the Pardhans to the Gonds , but their position merely accords with the general rule that the bards and genealogists of any caste are a degraded section. The fact is somewhat contrary to preconceived ideas, but the explanation given of it is that such persons make their living by begging from the remainder of the caste and hence are naturally looked down upon by them; and further, that in pursuit of their calling they wander about to attend at wedding feasts all over the country, and consequently take food with many people of doubtful social position. This seems a reasonable interpretation of the rule of the inferiority of the bard, which at any rate obtains generally among the Hindu castes.

2. Tribal Subdivisions

The tribe have several endogamous divisions, of which the principal are the Raj Pardhans, the Ganda Pardhans and the Thothia Pardhans. The Raj Pardhans appear to be the descendants of alliances between Raj Gonds and Pardhan women. They say that formerly the priests of Bura Deo lived a celibate life, and both men and women attended to worship the god; but on one occasion the priests ran away with some women and after this the Gonds did not know who should be appointed to serve the deity. While they were thus perplexed, a kingri (or rude wooden lyre) fell from heaven on to the lap of one of them, and, in accordance with this plain indication of the divine will, he became the priest, and was the ancestor of the Raj Pardhans; and since this contretemps the priests are permitted to marry, while women are no longer allowed to attend the worship of Bura Deo . The Thothia subtribe are said to be the descendants of illicit unions, the word Thothia meaning ‘maimed’; while the Gandas are the offspring of intermarriages between the Pardhans and members of that degraded caste. Other groups are the Mades or those of the Mad country in Chanda and Bastar , the Khalotias or those of the Chhattisgarh plain, and the Deogarhias of Deogarh in Chhindwara; and there are also some occupational divisions, as the Kandres or bamboo-workers, the Gaitas who act as priests in Chhattisgarh, and the Arakhs who engage in service and sell old clothes. A curious grouping is found in Chanda, where the tribe are divided into the Gond Patharis and Chor or ‘Thief’ Patharis. The latter have obtained their name from their criminal propensities, but they are said to be proud of it and to refuse to intermarry with any families not having the designation of Chor Pathari. In Raipur the Patharis are said to be the offspring of Gonds by women of other castes, and the descendants of such unions. The exogamous divisions of the Pardhans are the same as those of the Gonds , and like them they are split up into groups worshipping different numbers of gods whose members may not marry with one another.

3. Marriage

A Pardhan wedding is usually held in the bridegroom’s village in some public place, such as the market or cross-roads. The boy wears a blanket and carries a dagger in his hand. The couple walk five times round in a circle, after which the boy catches hold of the girl’s hand. He tries to open her fist which she keeps closed, and when he succeeds in this he places an iron ring on her little finger and puts his right toe over that of the girl’s. The officiating priest then ties the ends of their clothes together and five chickens are killed. The customary bride-price is R, but it varies in different localities. A widower taking a girl bride has, as a rule, to pay a double price. A widow is usually taken in marriage by her deceased husband’s younger brother.

4. Religion

As the priests of the Gonds , the Pardhans are employed to conduct the ceremonial worship of their great god Bura Deo , which takes place on the third day of the bright fortnight of Baisakh (April). Many goats or pigs are then offered to him with liquor, cocoanuts, betel-leaves, flowers, lemons and rice. Bura Deo is always enshrined under a tree outside the village, either of the mahua or saj ( Terminalia tomentosa ) varieties. In Chhattisgarh the Gonds say that the origin of Bura Deo was from a child born of an illicit union between a Gond and a Rawat woman. The father murdered the child by strangling it, and its spirit then began to haunt and annoy the man and all his relations, and gradually extended its attentions to all the Gonds of the surrounding country. It finally consented to be appeased by a promise of adoration from the whole tribe, and since then has been installed as the principal deity of the Gonds . The story is interesting as showing how completely devoid of any supernatural majesty or power is the Gond conception of their principal deity.

5. Social Customs

Like the Gonds , the Pardhans will eat almost any kind of food, including beef, pork and the flesh of rats and mice, but they will not eat the leavings of others. They will take food from the hands of Gonds , but the Gonds do not return the compliment. Among the Hindus generally the Pardhans are much despised, and their touch conveys impurity while that of a Gond does not. Every Pardhan has tattooed on his left arm near the inside of the elbow a dotted figure which represents his totem or the animal, plant or other natural object after which his sept is named. Many of them have a better type of countenance than the Gonds , which is perhaps due to an infusion of Hindu blood. They are also generally more intelligent and cunning. They have criminal propensities, and the Patharias of Chhattisgarh are especially noted for cattle-lifting and thieving. Writing forty years ago Captain Thomson described the Pardhans of Seoni as bearing the very worst of characters, many of them being regular cattle-lifters and gang robbers. In some parts of Seoni they had become the terror of the village proprietors, whose houses and granaries they fired if they were in any way reported on or molested. Since that time the Pardhans have become quite peaceable, but they still have a bad reputation for petty thieving.

6. Methods of cheating among Patharis

In Chhattisgarh one subdivision is said to be known as Sonthaga ( sona , gold, and thag , a cheat), because they cheat people by passing counterfeit gold. Their methods were described as follows in 1872 by Captain McNeill, District Superintendent of Police: “They procure a quantity of the dry bark of the pipal, mahua, tamarind or gular trees and set it on fire; when it has become red-hot it is raked into a small hole and a piece of well-polished brass is deposited among the glowing embers. It is constantly moved and turned about and in ten or fifteen minutes has taken a deep orange colour resembling gold. It is then placed in a small heap of wood-ashes and after a few minutes taken out again and carefully wrapped in cotton-wool. The peculiar orange colour results from the sulphur and resin in the bark being rendered volatile. They then proceed to dispose of the gold, sometimes going to a fair and buying cattle. On concluding a bargain they suddenly find they have no money, and after some hesitation reluctantly produce the gold, and say they are willing to part with it at a disadvantage, thereby usually inducing the belief that it has been stolen. The cupidity of the owner of the cattle is aroused, and he accepts the gold at a rate which would be very advantageous if it were genuine. At other times they join a party of pilgrims, to which some of their confederates have already obtained admission in disguise, and offer to sell their gold as being in great want of money. A piece is first sold to the confederates on very cheap terms and the other pilgrims eagerly participate.” It would appear that the Patharis have not much to learn from the owners of buried treasure or the confidence or three-card trick performers of London, and their methods are in striking contrast to the guileless simplicity usually supposed to be a characteristic of the primitive tribes. Mr. White states that “All the property acquired is taken back to the village and there distributed by a panchayat or committee, whose head is known as Mokasi. The Mokasi is elected by the community and may also be deposed by it, though he usually holds office for life; to be a successful candidate for the position of Mokasi one should have wealth and experience and it is not a disadvantage to have been in jail. The Mokasi superintends the internal affairs of the community and maintains good relations with the proprietor and village watchman by means of gifts.”

7. Musicians and priests

The Pardhans and Patharis are also, as already stated, village musicians, and their distinctive instrument the kingri or kingadi is described by Mr. White as consisting of a stick passed through a gourd. A string or wire is stretched over this and the instrument is played with the fingers. Another kind possesses three strings of woven horse-hair and is played with the help of a bow. The women of the Ganda Pardhan subtribe act as midwives. Mr. Tawney wrote of the Pardhans of Chhindwara: “The Raj-Pardhans are the bards of the Gonds and they can also officiate as priests, but the Bhumka generally acts in the latter capacity and the Pardhans confine themselves to singing the praises of the god. At every public worship in the Deo -khalla or dwelling-place of the gods, there should, if possible, be a Pardhan, and great men use them on less important occasions. They cannot even worship their household gods or be married without the Pardhans. The Raj-Pardhans are looked down on by the Gonds , and considered as somewhat inferior, seeing that they take the offerings at religious ceremonies and the clothes of the dear departed at funerals. This has never been the business of a true Gond, who seems never happier than when wandering in the jungle, and who above all things loves his axe, and next to that a tree to chop at. There is nothing in the ceremonies or religion of the Pardhans to distinguish them from the Gonds .”