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1. Origin of the tribe

Rautia. - A cultivating caste of the Chota Nagpur plateau. In 1911 about 12,000 Rautias were enumerated in the Province, nearly all of whom belong to the Jashpur State with a few in Sarguja. These states lie outside the scope of the Ethnographic Survey and hence no regular inquiry has been made on the Rautias. The following brief notice is mainly taken from the account of the caste in Sir H. Risley’s Tribes and Castes of Bengal . He describes the caste as, “refined in features and complexion by a large infusion of Aryan blood. Their chief men hold estates on quit-rent from the Maharaja of Chota Nagpur, and the bulk of the remainder are tenants with occupancy right and often paying only a low quit-rent or half the normal assessment.” These favourable tenures may probably be explained by the fact that they were held in former times on condition of military service, and were analogous to the feudal fiefs of Europe. The Rautias themselves say that this was their original occupation in Chota Nagpur. The name Rautia is a form of Rawat, and this latter word signifies a prince and is a title borne by relatives of a Raja. It may be noticed that Rawat is the ordinary name by which the Ahir caste is known in Chhattisgarh, the neighbouring country to Chota Nagpur in the Central Provinces; and further that the Rautias will take food from a Chhattisgarhi Rawat. This fact, coupled with the identity of the name, appears to demonstrate a relationship of the two castes. The Rautias will not take food from any other Hindu caste, but they will eat with the Kawar and Gond tribes, at least in Raigarh. The Kawars have a subtribe called Rautia as also have the Kols. In Sir H. Risley’s list of the sept-names of the Rautias we find two names, Aind the eel, and Rukhi a squirrel, which are also the names of Munda septs , and one, Karsayal or deer, which is the name of a Kawar sept. They have also a name Sanwani, which is probably Sonwani or ‘gold-water,’ and is common to many of the primitive tribes. The most plausible hypothesis of the origin of the Rautias on the above facts seems to be that they were a tribal militia in Chota Nagpur, the leaders being Ahirs or Rawats with possibly a sprinkling of the local Rajputs, while the main body were recruited from the Kawar and Kol tribes. The Khandaits or swordsmen of Orissa furnish an exact parallel to the Rautias, being a tribal militia, who have now become a caste, and are constituted mainly from the Bhuiya tribe with a proportion of Chasas or cultivators and Rajputs. They also have obtained possession of the land, and in Orissa the Sresta or good Khandaits rank next to the Rajputs. The history and position of the Rautias appears to be similar to that of the Khandaits. The Halbas of Bastar are probably another nearly analogous instance. They were Gonds , who apparently formed the tribal militia of the Rajas of Bastar and got grants of land and consequently a certain rise in status though not to the same level as the Khandaits and Rautias. It does not seem that the Rautias have any special connection with the Gonds , and their acceptance of food from Gonds may perhaps, as suggested by Mr. Hira Lal, be due to the fact that they served a Gond Raja.

2. Subdivisions

The Rautias had formerly three subdivisions, the Barki, Majhli and Chhotki Bhir or Gorhi, or the high, middle and low class Rautias. But it is related that the Barki group found that they could not obtain girls in marriage for their sons, so they extended the privileges of the connubium to the Majhli group after taking a caste feast. Possibly the Barki Rautias formerly practised hypergamy with the Majhli, taking daughters in marriage but not giving daughters, and in course of time this has led to the obliteration of the distinction between them. The different status of the three groups was based on their purity of descent. The Majhli and Chhotki were the descendants of Rautia fathers and mothers of other castes; the offspring going to the Majhli group if the mother was a Gond or Kawar or of respectable caste, while the children of impure Ganda and Ghasia women by Rautia fathers were admitted into the Chhotki group. These divisions confirm the hypothesis previously given of the genesis of the Rautia caste; and it is further worth noting that the Khandaits have also Bar and Chhot Gohir divisions or those of pure and mixed blood, and the Halbas of Bastar are similarly divided into the Purait or pure Halbas, and the Surait or descendants of Halba fathers by women of other castes. In a military society, where the men were frequently on the move or stationed in outlying forts and posts, temporary unions and illegitimate children would naturally be of common occurrence. And the mixed nature of the three castes affords some support to the hypothesis of their common origin from military service.

The tribe have totemistic septs , and retain some veneration for their totems . Those of the Bagh or tiger sept throw away their earthen pots on hearing of the death of a tiger. Those of the Sand or bull sept will not castrate bullocks themselves, and must have this operation performed on their plough-bullocks by others. Those of the Kansi sept formerly, according to their own account, would not root up the kans grass growing in their fields, but now they no longer object to do so. Other septs are Tithi a bird, Bira a hawk, Barwan a wild dog, and so on.

3. Marriage

Marriage is forbidden within the sept, but is permitted between the children of a brother and a sister or of two sisters. Matches are arranged at the caste feasts and the usual bride-price is four rupees with six or seven pieces of cloth and some grain. When the procession arrives at the bride’s village her party go out to meet it, and the Gandas or musicians on each side try to break each other’s drums, but are stopped by their employers. At the wedding two wooden images of the bridegroom and bride are made and placed in the centre of the marriage-shed. A goat is led round these and killed, and the bride and bridegroom walk round them seven times. They rub vermilion on the wooden images and then on each other’s foreheads. It is probable that the wooden images are made and set up in the centre of the shed to attract the evil eye and divert it from the real bride and bridegroom, and the goat may be a substituted sacrifice on their behalf. Divorce and the remarriage of widows are permitted.

4. Funeral rites

In the forest tracts the tribe bury the dead, placing the corpse with the feet to the south. Before being placed in the grave the corpse is rubbed with oil and turmeric and carried seven times round the grave according to the ritual of a wedding. This is called the Chhed vivah or marriage to the grave. The Kabirpanthi Rautias are placed standing in the grave with the face turned to the north. Well-to-do members of the caste burn their dead and employ Brahmans to perform the shraddh ceremony.

5. Inheritance

The tribe have some special rules of inheritance. In Bengal the eldest son of the legitimate wife inherits the whole of the father’s property, subject to the obligation of making grants for the maintenance of his younger brothers. These grants decrease according to the standing of the brothers, the elder ones getting more and the younger less. Sons of a wife married by the ceremony used for widows receive smaller grants. But the widow of an elder brother counts as the regular wife of a younger brother and her sons have full rights of succession. In the Central Provinces the eldest son does not succeed to the whole property but obtains a share half as large again as the other sons. And if the father divides the property in his lifetime and participates in it he himself takes only the share of a younger son.