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Castes and Tribes in Kadapa District – During 20th Century

Among the castes first in numerical importance are the Kapus (Reddi community), who are the principal landowners of the Deccan. They constitute nearly one-fourth of the total population of the district, and consist of many sub-divisions. Of these the Pedakanti, Motati, Kodide and Pokanati Kapus are chiefly found in the taluks of Jammalamadugu, Proddatur, Pulivendla, Kadapa and Kamalapuram ; while the Velanadu and Yelama Kapus, the latter of whom are vegetarians, seem to be the commonest sub-divisions in the three eastern taluks of the district. The Kapus are good steady farmers, true sons of the soil, andvery conservative. Having no interest in life beyond the welfare of their crops, their natural obstinacy and love of contention finds an outlet in forming factions and fomenting the bitterest quarrels. Though there are factions in every village of the district, and these are by no means confined to Kapus, yet in the black cotton country where this caste largely predominates they are developed to a very high degree of animosity and are a fruitful source of crime, as they not infrequently result in regular blood feuds.

The highest Social ambition of a wealthy Kapu in Jammalamadugu taluk is to become the leader of a powerful faction. Such a man will not leave his village unaccompanied by a body of armed retainers, so that free fights occur with passable regularity. In this part of the district it is a curious custom of the Kapus, and consequently also of the lower castes who all take their cue from them, to bend the head and take off the turban with both hands as a mark of respect when presenting a petition : which appears at first sight to be very similar to the western practice of taking off the hat. It has however been suggested that the action probably signifies the sashtaangamulu, or prostration of eight members, in the performance of which the turban will not stay on the head and so is removed beforehand.

Next to the Kapus, in point of number, come the Boyas, but they are of little importance as a distinct social element and occupy but a low place in the social scale. In old days their proper occupation was that of palanquin bearers. It is also said that the poligars’ forces and Haidar Ali’s famous troops were largely recruited from these people. This may account in part for the tradition, preserved in many stories, that they are blood-thirsty and cruel. They are good shikaris and at the foot of the great hill ranges they trade in forestproduce and are said to be versed in forest lore. In the towns they live by cooly.

Balijas, though fewer in number than the Boyas, have a larger stake in the district. In Rayachoti taluk many of them are landowners. In the rest of the district they are mainly occupied in trade. Many of them are Lingayats.

Next come the Gollas who slightly outnumber both the Malas and the Madigas. The Gollas are herdsmen, and, perhaps from their being accustomed to handle cattle, the pujaris who perform animal sacrifices are generally of this caste. They are also largely employed as agricultural labourers.

The Malas and Madigas are the lowest in the social scale, and, like the Paraiyans of the Tamil country, occupy separate hamlets apart from the rest of the village community. The Malas’ principal occupation is weaving. The Madigas are the leather workers and coolies of the community. In the black cotton country there is a marked antagonism between these two classes, of which the longstanding bitterness is illustrated, if not sufficiently explained, by the currency of various mythological stories which present either Mala or Madiga in a very discreditable light. For example, in one of these stories a Mala is represented as having fled from a Social Madiga, leaving his sword and turban behind. Their enmity Life, is kept alive at the present day by disputes regarding the division of the flesh of dead cattle. The rights of the Malas and Madigas in this respect are immemorial, the Madigas taking the skin and one share of the flesh, and the Malas taking two shares of the flesh. It appears that in some villages the owners of the dead beasts claim to sell the skin, and the Madiga to make up for his loss tries to appropriate part of the Malas’ perquisites. Strife having once arisen, the spark is speedily fanned into a flame by taunting references to the old stories, and the great opportunity comes at the annual Peddamma festival, when the Madigas perform the “Chindhu dance“, wearing red turbans and carrying swords when feeling runs high, in reference to the discreditable story of the Mala alluded to above : which they also sing as they dance, so as to place their meaning beyond reasonable doubt. It is interesting to note that on occasions of ” Chindhu dancing ” the whole village joins in supporting one side or the other. The castes who encourage the Madigas are, principally, Kamsalas, Kurubas and Boyas, while on the other hand those who agree with the Malas in objecting to the dance are the potters, barbers and washermen as well as Balijas and certain sub-divisions of the Kapu caste. So, if the dance ends in a fight, as is not infrequently the case, it involves not only the parties immediately concerned but the whole village : and the Chindhu becomes a ‘ shindy ‘ of the liveliest description.

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Of other communities, the Komatis (Vysya Community) are the principal traders of the district. The trade of the big towns is chiefly in their hands.

The weaving castes, excluding the Malas who only weave coarse cotton stuffs, are represented by the Togatas, Sales and Devangas in the order of their numerical importance. Of the village artisans no special mention need be made. The only notable caste occupied in agriculture outside the Kapus and Balijas, is that of the Kammas.

The Oddes, or navvies, are fairly numerous. The toddy-drawers are Idigas. The Upparas furnish an interesting example of a caste whose occupation is gone. They used to live by making earth-salt. When the manufacture of salt became a Government monopoly, the Upparas took to agriculture, and this is their usual occupation nowadays.

All the wandering tribes known to Kadapa district are returned partly as Hindus and partly as Animists. The former predominate. The most important of these tribes, in point of numbers, are the Yanadis, Yerukulas, Lambadis and Chenchus. The Yanadis reside principally in Nellore district, and have overlapped into the east of Kadapa. There are now less than two thousand in this district. At Sriharikota on the east coast, which is their original settlement, they are said still to be very backward. But elsewhere they are becoming more civilized and some have given up their wandering habits and are found permanently domiciled in towns and villages.

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The Chenchus are often regarded as a sub-division of the Yanadis, but they hold themselves distinct, and claim consanguinity with Narasimha of Ahobilam in Kurnool district, who, so they say, married a Chenchu maid, and gave them the whole of the Nallamalais. They are probably as distinct from the Yanadis as, for example, are the Malas from the Madigas. Between the Chenchu and the Yanadi there is no love lost. They may be seen living close together on the Nallamalai hills, but they do not intermingle, and their social habits differ. To quote an instance, the degree of importance attached to the marriage tie differs very considerably in the two tribes, for while the Chenchu wife is renowned for her fidelity the Yanadi marriage is at best but a loose bond and readily dissolved.

The Yerukulas appear to be more addicted to a life of crime than either of the tribes already mentioned. They are more frequently met with on the plateau than in other parts of the district. They occasionally settle down, and there is a community of them at Mailavaram in Jammalamadugu taluk, where they are known by two names according to their occupations. Those who live by selling baskets, tatties and the like are known as Dabbala Yerukulas, and others, who make ‘ sizing-brushes ‘ (kunchulu) for weavers are known as Kunchugattu Yerukulas, and generally travel round with monkeys. The women tell fortunes from house to house and take notice of their construction and other details with a view to informing their menfolk of likely ‘cribs to crack.’ When a woman of this tribe marries again, the relatives of her first husband have to be indemnified for the expenses of the previous marriage. No woman is allowed to marry more than seven times, though if she accomplishes this remarkable record she is regarded with considerable respect. Their tutelary deity is said to be named Yerukula Nancharamma.

The Lambadis, who are generally known as Sugalis in the Social Telugu country, are commoner in Rayachoti taluk than the Life. rest of the district. They live chiefly by collecting firewood and other forest produce which they sell in towns and villages.

Formerly, it appears, they did considerable business in the transport of merchandise by means of pack-bullocks. With the opening up of communications they naturally lost this trade, and some of them have taken to agriculture or live by cooly. There are several Sugali hamlets to be found in Rayachoti taluk. The women of this tribe, by their dress and appearance, are quite unmistakable. They wear patch-work petticoats and tight-fitting bodices of the same material, with several rows of bead necklaces, while their arms are covered with bracelets up to the elbow. In appearance they are not very dark, and this fact, together with the regularity of their features and the brightness of their costume, reminds one vividly of the Romany gypsies of Europe, with whom indeed they may be allied, if the prevalence of Indian words in the language of the Romanies is the key to their true origin. A curious custom, which is nevertheless extremely widespread and is known to exist in countries so far apart as Greenland and Borneo, obtains among both the Yerukulas and the Sugalis. It is technically known as the couvades (hatching) and is thus described in Brett’s ‘Indian Tribes of Guiana.’ “On the birth of a child, the ancient Indian etiquette requires the father to take to his hammock, where he remains some days as if he were sick, and receives the congratulations and condolences of his friends. An instance of this custom came under my own observation, where the man in robust health and excellent condition, without a single bodily ailment, was lying in his hammock in the most provoking manner, and carefully and respectfully tended by the women, while the mother of the new-born infant was cooking, none apparently regarding her.”

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With the Yerukulas and Sugalis, similarly, the father of a new-born child will take to his bed for fifteen days and observe a very strict diet, being constantly attended by the women of the house asn if he were sick. On the sixteenth day he undergoes a ceremony of purification and gives a feast to his relatives. During all this time the mother pursues her usual avocations, and no particular attention is paid to her.

The district is not remarkable for the frequency of beggar castes, the only one of any numerical importance being of the religious mendicants known as Dasaris. This community is recruited from several castes, such as the Kapus, Balijas, Kurubas, Boyas and Malas, and members of it who belong to the two last of these, being low in the social scale, do not intermingle with the others. All Dasaris are Vaishnavites and admission to the community is obtained by being branded by some Vaishnavite guru. Thenceforward the novice becomes a Dasari and lives by begging from door to door. The profession is almost hereditary in some families. The five insignia of a Dasari are the conch-shell which he blows to announce his arrival ; the gong he strikes as he goes his rounds ; the tall iron lamp he keeps lighted as he begs ; the brass or copper vessel in which he places the alms received; and the small metal image of Hanuman which he hangs round his neck. Of these the iron lamp is at once the most conspicuous and the most indispensable. It is said to represent Venkatesa, and it must be kept burning, as an unlighted lamp is held to be inauspicious. It is also an important function of the Dasaris to officiate at certain ceremonies of the Malas and other low caste communities.

castesOf other beggars mention may be made of the Bhatrazus and Budubudukulas. The Bhatrazus carry a little book but use no musical instrument of any kind. Their practice is to extol the virtues of the principal villagers in extempore verse, and the longer alms are withheld the more persistent and extravagant grow their praises, till the object of them in very shame is compelled to bestow upon them gifts of grain or money. Many of the teachers in the ‘pial’ schools of the district are recruited from this community. The Budubudukulas, so named from the tomtoming of the little drum they carry to announce their presence, are a lower class of people altogether, possibly a sect of Malas originally. They obtain alms by prophesying good fortune to the people, as they travel from village to village, and will accept presents of any sort, such as old clothes and lumber, for which the owners have no further use.

(Source: Gazette- 1914)

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