Every group had a leader. They needed grasslands for their cattle. C.N. Luniya says: “The cattle was the real wealth of the Aryans. The wealthiness of a person was decided on the basis of the amount of cattle with him.” (Indian Culture by C.N. Luniya, page 38). The Gors had similar tradition. The Tandas were used to settle at places in the plains where there is enough source of water and rich water absorbent soil. The place was known as Gor Tanda. Even today the settlements of Gor Banjaras are known as Tandas. The Tandas were having temporary structures made up of wood and grass. When the source of fodder was shortened the Tandas move to another place. This practice later on turned to become a primitive culture. And it is still thriving today. The settlement near the mountains and forest is known as ‘Toda’ in Nemadi. The word Tanda was originated in Gor Boli from this word. In Marathi the same word i.e. Tandu is used. Other parallel words with same meaning are Sthan, Thano etc. Owing to its nomadic nature the phrase ‘Tanda Ruka, Tanda Chala’ (Tanda halted, Tanda moved on) came into vogue.
Every group (Toli) had its own chieftain. Gor Banjaras called this chieftain as ‘Naik.’ The Tanda moves as per the orders of Naik. He had total control over the Tanda. All activities including trade, internal dealings were carried out with his approval only. In a way he was the king of the Tanda. The Naikship was handed over through specific generations only. The Naik was responsible for taking care of his Tanda which included avoiding any kind of blame, nobody should suffer from any thing and there should be a cordial relationship among the Tanda members. In a given situation it was the Naik who would provide succour to the needy. His characteristics included dharma, forgiveness, truthful and justice-loving. On the basis of these virtues only the whole Tanda respected and honoured the Naik completely. The Naik maintained humanitarian approach so that members of other Tandas should also join his Tanda due to his worthy behaviour. The Tanda members had a feeling of pride about the Naik. The Tanda was known by the name of the Naik only. The matrimonial relations were also fixed on the basis of the Naik’s reputation instead of the bride and groom’s name and personality. Naiks also fulfilled all the responsibilities as the supreme. In every linage (e.g. Rathod, Chavan, Pawar, Jadhav etc.) the same family was entitled for Naikship and it went to next generation. Naik used to marry 2 women as a matter of prestige. The Tanda equally respected his wives.
The second important person in the Tanda was the Karbhari i.e. the Manager. He was keeping an eye on all the activities of the Tanda. He was responsible to see whether the Naik’s orders were being followed or not. It was also an honorable post. He was to report all activities to the Naik and discuss the matter with him. He was expected to be striving for spreading the popularity of the Tanda and make it an ideal one with its overall development. If the Naik and Karbhari failed to fulfill their duties then the senior most person from their linage was appointed to the post.
Every Tanda had a servant known as Dhaliya. He used to fulfill all the assignment given by the Naik and the Karbhari. He was also responsible for handing over the messages to other Tandas. On the occasion of marriages he was engaged in playing an instrument called ‘Duf.’ All his familial needs and food were taken care of by the Tanda. Naik and Karbhari gave him clothes to wear. He was also given prizes on the occasion of festivities. He greeted the Tanda members with ‘Ram, Ram’ and people reciprocated it with equal honor and blessed him for his well-being. Kolam tribals also have this custom in their tribe (Adivasi Evam Upekshit Jan, A.H. Inamdar, Hindi Tr. Page 67).
Two families of Goldsmith accompanied the Tanda. They designed special ornaments for the Gor Banjara women. He also took some order for other Tandas but never left the Naik with whom he resided. As an artist the Tanda members honoured him. The craftsmen engaged in women ornaments like ‘Mathiya and Bodalu’ were known as Malenda. He followed Muslim religion though he lived with the Tanda.
Gor Banjara men have a penchant for hairstyles. Their unique hair cutting style is known as ‘Zalpa.’ The barber’s family resided with the Tanda. He was paid according to his job. Naik & Karbhari solved any of his financial needs. His family helped others on special occasions. He was an integral part of the Tanda.
An ancient tribe named Dhadhi lived with the Tandas. They were lyricists who praised Naik and Manager and wrote lyrics on brave men. In a way they were like ‘charan bhats’ and lived their life. Dhadhis were born artists and intelligent. They wondered in all the Tandas of the region and had every information about them. A Dhadhi was instrumental in establishing matrimonial relations in ancient times. He was a honourable person. He used to sing a song written by him, which included ballads and story-songs on an instrument called Kingari. He was given prize for his performance. He traveled to different Tandas on special occasions and earned money. He was equally regarded as a poet in King’s court. Some Naiks gave a refuge to these people as a status symbol. Apart from them Jogi Banjara, Shingada Banjara were also part of the Tandas. There was a king named Bhratari during the regime of Nine Naths (Navnath). He gave up all worldly pleasures and became a sage. This king moved with the Tanda as a sage. He made some followers too. The people of this linage started calling themselves as Jogi Banjara. Gor Banjara still sing the story of King Bhratari in their folk songs.
During the regime of Gorvamshis an instrument called Turahi was played during the war to energize the soldiers. Some people were engaged in this job and they were later came to be known as Shingada Banjara. They were also singing war songs with the sound of war bugle. They also fought with a war bugle in one hand while sword in the other. This tribe was also engaged in giving training to use swords, javelin and other instruments. Shingada Banjara has a huge Tanda near Killari village in Maharashtra. Some families also reside in Pusad Tehsil. The Hajam Banjara has their independent Tanda in the Kannad Tehsil.
The above mentioned castes cannot keep matrimonial or other transactions with the Tanda though they are living with the Tanda for generations. The dialect of Dhadhi, Dhalia, Sunar, Malenda, Hajam, and Jogi is the Gor Boli. Only the Dhadhi men and women have clothing styles like the Gor Banjaras. The women of Dhalia, Hajam, Jogi and Shingad caste wear blouse and nine yard saris. The Dhadhi, Jogi, Hajam and Sunar have some similar surnames. But Dalit surnames like Gaikwad, Mane, Kamble etc. are found among Shingada Banjara. Dhadhi, Jogi, Shingada and Hajam call themselves as Banjara. Such is the classless system in any Tanda. Though these people speak Gor dialect still some independent words are in their vocabulary. Their festivals and other traditions have similarities. When asked about their caste by Gor Banjara these people do not proclaim themselves as Gormati instead tell their own caste’s name. The All India Banjara Sewa Sangh report says that the Banjaras are known by 27 different names in different regions of the country (All India Banjara Study Team, Convener-Ranjit Naik, page 9). Among them Laman is a Gorvamshiya Banjara caste. They were known as Lamani only since 100 years in Vidarbha. The word Lawan means salt. The people engaged in the trade of salt (Lavan) thus came to be known as Lamani. This caste is known as Lambada or Lambadi in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. There are different castes like Lamani and Mathura Lamani. But they are not Gors. They can be differentiated on the basis of their dialect, rituals and clothing. Only on the basis of similarities in the dialect and profession the other sub-castes cannot be called as Gorvamshiyas. Only those people who proclaim themselves as Gor are the Gorvamshiyas.
The Structure of the Tanda
The Tandas used to halt at a place in the plains where there is provision of water at the bottom of the mountains and the soil is fast drying and water absorbent in the rainy season. The homes in the Tanda were built with wood like a hut. It is divided in 2 portions. The roof is covered with grass. The door of the house is directed towards East. The rows of the houses in the Tanda were erected in a semi-circular fashion. The house of Naik and Karbhari was also like others. There is an open space in front of the house, where the cattle shade was built; it was called as ‘Damani’. The houses were having no windows and had only one door. The kitchen was on the left side while the sitting and sleeping place was to the right. In the center there was a place called Tagadi, where the statues of gods were kept. The valuable items were also kept in the Tagadi. There used to be homes for all types of class in the Tanda. But the rows of the houses were different according to the linage and the clan. In the open ground in front of the Tanda, rituals like Ori and Samanka and community functions were conducted. Normally the Tandas used to settle at a distance of 1-2 Kilometers from other community or village. The principle was not to get involved too much in the affairs of the village. One should look after its own work and the Tanda was the practice.
Bhoomi Puja (Worshipping the Land)
The worship of Nature (Nisarga Pooja) was performed wherever the Tanda stopped. Also in order to pacify the spirits people used to collect money and sacrifice a goat for them. This is called as Samank Pooja. The goat was sacrificed in the open space in front of the Tanda in the evening and its blood was offered to the earth. Then a small fireplace is prepared at the same place, the meat was cooked and the Tanda used to eat the offering there only. The same procedure was repeated when the Tanda was dismantled for migration.
These people were involved in the trade of goods by loading the same on oxen. This profession is termed as Balad in Malawi Nimadi. In Gor dialect it is called as Ladeni. Lakhs of oxen were involved in this trade. There are historical references to the fact that lakhs of oxen were seen laden with goods and going places. The Tandas were working for 6-7 months and before the start of the rainy season they were returning to their home. After practicing agriculture for 4 months then again after the Diwali festival Tandas were starting their ‘ladeni’ profession. The women did not accompany the ladeni. The old men and women would look after the remaining cattle and prepare sacks for the ladeni. Spinning while maintaining the cattle and making of the special sack called ‘Gunli’ in Gor dialect were their main works. The men had the Dhero Suo (big needle) while the women would make designs on clothes with small needle. On the return of Ladeni, first the marriages were arranged before the onset of monsoon.
Method of allowing into the Caste
During the course of Ladeni, Gor people used to take along children of other community or sometimes forcibly abduct the children and took them along with them. They were treated as servants and were asked to do all the chores in the Tanda. When a person from another caste enters a Tanda he was not allowed to leave it. When they would grow up they were included in the caste after performing a special ritual called ‘Bheler’ (to assimilate). The whole Tanda was given a feast on the occasion. The man from other caste was called as Jangad. After he was allowed to dine with the people Tanda he would become one of the Gor tribe. Then he can marry with a girl from the Tanda. With such inclusion he would become an integral part of the Tanda. The label of being an outsider (Kamsal) would be erased during his three generations. After that he would become a Gor Banjara. As the number of such people grew, they had matrimonial relations among them. This ancient ritual was prevalent in the Tanda till recently.
Jati Panchayat (Juries)
Tribal Kshatriya Vamshas had an important system of Jat Panchayat. The community was living in groups. It was quite natural that some issues might crop up among them. In order to solve the disputes this Jati Panchayat would decide on the matters. Jat Panchayat is still in vogue among the Gors. The main objectives of the Panchayat were to keep the Tanda safe from any blasphemy, maintain peace, defeat any enemy feelings and solve the internal disputes within the four walls. It was considered as a sin to approach courts and offices for settling the dispute. But most of the disputes were concerned with women. The aggrieved person would go to the Naik with his complaint. Then Naik would call the Karbhari to decide a date to hear the matter. The Panchayat then would meet on the scheduled date outside the Tanda. It was called as ‘Nasab or Malav.’ Naik, Karbhari and the aged, experienced persons of the Tanda work as jurists. They are known as ‘Daisane.’ The meeting would start with an informal dialogue; some anecdotes were shared and then the Nasab would begin. The complainant stands up and explains the injustice meted to him. Naik is the chairman of the Panchayat and moderates the process of the hearing. The accused then stands up and refutes all the charges made by the complainant and tries to prove himself innocent. After arguments from both sides are over the root cause of the dispute is examined. Then both the persons are asked some questions in front of the people and asked to reason with the dispute. In the end the convict is decided by the Daisane with due consultation. Pin-drop silence prevails over the meeting. Naik declares the name of the convict. Depending on the nature of the crime he is sentenced. The Daisane decide the quantum of the sentence in privacy a little distance away from the meeting. Then they again join the meeting and tell their decision to the Naik who declares it. Normally the punishment is in the form of monetary fine. If the punishment is not acceptable to the convict then he may approach the Naik and Nasab of another Tanda for justice. But such events were rare. If the convict refused to undergo the punishment the Panchayat would declare him as an outcast. It was considered as the highest form of punishment. The Tanda would boycott the whole family of the convict. Whoever stands by the family would also be treated as outcast.
In ancient times the route taken by the Gor Banjara for trade was known as Laman Route. The distance of this route would be shortest and passing near water facilities. “In the absence of common roads and highways people in those times would load the goods in bullock carts or on the back of oxen to reach the places. Banjaras were in the forefront in this profession. They are called as Laman in Bundelkhand. Laman used oxen for carrying the goods. The routes undertaken by them would later on become passenger routes. The biggest trade route of the Lamans was from Mirzapur to Nagpur. Two European travelers viz. T. Motle and J.T. Blunt had traveled on this route in 18th Century (Shabda Bhugol Siddhant Prayog by Hiralal Shukla, page 22). The map of this route has been given by Banjara Study Team. Owing to the independent systems of the Tanda, they were away from the civic life for many years. Slowly they came into contact with other people.
During spare time the Tanda members would go for hunting. It was known as ‘Yed Ramer.’ Hunter dogs were used for this purpose. Almost every household had a pet dog. The weapons used for hunting included spears and sticks. If the animal gets alerted and starts running the dogs would be ordered to chess it. The hunting of wild boar was considered as most important. The person hunting the wild boar was called as ‘Surama Mati.’ The wild boar is called as Sur in Gor dialect. Rules of hunting were also prescribed. The one who located the animal and hunted it on the spot would get the head of the animal as an honour. All members were given equal share of the hunt. The Naik would get a share of honour if a wild boar was killed. The first day of the New Year i.e. Chaitra Shukla Pratipada was celebrated with a hunt.
The trait of tattooing on the body is in vogue in all the Tandas. Women, girls and males were fond of tattooing on the body. The girls tattooed names of their brothers while women tattooed circles; men tattooed designs of Jambiya, Talwar etc. on their arms. There was a blind faith behind it. Most of the people get tattooed to preserve the memory of their loved ones (Handli, Chintali). Earlier the women used to tattoo each other with a needle. “The custom of tattooing on the body is prevalent among the tribals on large scale.” (‘Adivasi Samudaay mein Swasthya Ke Kuchh Paksha’ by Markandeysinh Yadav, page 130).
Health concerns and Measures
The Tanda people deeply believed in magic, ghosts and spirits. Their overall health was good owing to their habitat in forests and mountain region. For treatment of both humans and animal they used to depend on the wild herbs and medicines. They had a wild herb for medication on all types of illnesses. Among the two main types of illnesses, the first one i.e. physical (danger) is treated with the forest herbs and juice of leaves. Another type of illness i.e. ‘Barer’ was considered to be an effect of outside forces like black magic. In order to diagnose these ‘Barer’ ailments a ritual called ‘Samal’ was performed. Samal means to predict future or favour. It included overturning the grinding stone, attaching a coin to a plate, sitting on a small water container and moving of necklace and through these acts the illness was understood. Specific men and women in the Tanda used to perform this ritual of ‘Samal.’ They were called as Jaanies (Bhagat). The patient was treated according to their instructions.
The Tanda also included people who were expert in black magic. Among them such woman was called Dakan and male a Daki. If a snake or a scorpion bites any person then they chant mantras and use medicines to treat him. Even the attack of ghosts and spirits would also be treated with mantras and medicines. They were ignorant about hospital facilities for many years. The Bhagat would give ash and water treated with mantras and ask the patient to drink it. A thread made up of Seven knots of hair of a cow is tied around the waist of the patient. Then an egg, a hen, a lemon are moved over the body of the patient and thrown away. He is asked to observe a day’s fast in the name of the Goddess. The other acts of witchcraft included Bhanamati, Chetaki, Fisting, Fasal Siyama, Parir Zapate, Munja, Aghori Kheler, Bhoot Kadher, and Walandya etc. Everyday bath was taken to cleanse the body (Adivasi Samudai, page 219).
Gor Banjaras practiced transport of goods by loading them on lakhs of oxen. On such occasions, before starting off the Tanda, old timers say, human sacrifice was given. Normally a person from another caste was sacrificed for the purpose. Small children were abducted and later engaged as servants (Jangad) the Tanda. Such small children only were made to sacrifice. The child would be buried in a ditch outside the Tanda in standing position and lakhs of oxen loaded with goods made to run over him. They believed that such a sacrifice pacifies the spirits. “The tribes from Nimad area believed that by performing human sacrifice and offering the meat to the goddess she blesses all.” (Nimad Ka Samskritik Itihaas by Ramanarain Upadhyay, page 221).
Widow Remarriage System
Custom of Polygamy and widow remarriage was prevalent among Kshatriya Gors. The younger brother would marry his own sister-in-law after the death of his elder brother. Evidence has it that an elder brother married his younger brother’s would be wife when the young brother died before his marriage. One Raimal’s young brother Kanj’s marriage ceremony was in progress. The rituals had almost come to an end when Kanji was killed in an internal skirmish. It was a very grave situation. The bride refused to marry with her would be brother-in-law. She was forcibly married to him. There is one folk song, which mentions this story:
In ancient times there was a custom of abducting the women and bring them to Tanda. If a woman left her husband and marries to another man then she was called as ‘Bhangali’ woman. The expenses of the marriage are paid to the first husband. This is called as ‘Mamala Toder’, meaning divorce. (Continued...)