Introduction / History
A small caste of pedlars and hawkers.1 In northern India the Manihārs are makers of glass bangles, and correspond to the Kachera caste of the Central Provinces. Mr. Nesfield remarks2 that the special industry of the Manihārs of the United Provinces is the making of glass bangles or bracelets. These are an indispensable adjunct to the domestic life of the Hindu woman; for the glass bangle is not worn for personal ornament, but as the badge of the matrimonial state, like the wedding-ring in Europe. But in the Central Provinces glass bangles are made by the Kacheras and the Muhammadan Turkāris or Sīsgars, and the Manihārs are petty hawkers of stationery and articles for the toilet, such as miniature looking-glasses, boxes, stockings, needles and thread, spangles, and imitation jewellery; and Hindu Jogis and others who take to this occupation are accustomed to give their caste as Manihār.
What Are Their Lives Like?
In 1911 nearly 700 persons belonging to the caste were returned from the northern Districts of the Central Provinces. The Manihārs are nominally Muhammadans, but they retain many Hindu customs. At their weddings they erect a marriage-tent, anoint the couple with oil and turmeric and make them wear a kankan or wrist-band, to which is attached a small purse containing a little mustard-seed and a silver ring. The mustard is intended to scare away the evil spirits. When the marriage procession reaches the bride's village it is met by her people, one of whom holds a bamboo in his hands and bars the advance of the procession. The bridegroom's father thereupon makes a present of a rupee to the village panchāyat, and his people are allowed to proceed. When the bridegroom reaches the bride's house he finds her younger sister carrying a kalās or pot of water on her head; he drops a rupee into it and enters the house. The bride's sister then comes holding above her head a small frame like a tāzia3 with a cocoanut core hanging inside. She raises the frame as high as she can to prevent the bridegroom from plucking out the cocoanut core, which, however, he succeeds in doing in the end. The girl applies powdered mehndi or henna to the little finger of the boy's right hand, in return for which she receives a rupee and a piece of cloth. The Kāzi then recites verses from the Korān which the bridegroom repeats after him, and the bride does the same in her turn. This is the Nikāh or marriage proper, and before it takes place the bridegroom's father must present a nose-ring to the bride. The parents also fix the Meher or dowry, which, however, is not a dowry proper, but a stipulation that if the bridegroom should put away his wife after marriage he will pay her a certain agreed sum. After the Nikāh the bridegroom is given some spices, which he grinds on a slab with a roller. He must do the grinding very slowly and gently so as to make no noise, or it is believed that the married life of the couple will be broken by quarrels. A widow is permitted to marry the younger brother of her deceased husband, but not his elder brother.
The caste bury their dead with the head to the north. The corpse is first bathed and wrapped in a new white sheet, with another sheet over it, and is then laid on a cot or in a janāza or coffin. While it is being carried to the cemetery the bearers are changed every few steps, so that every man who accompanies the funeral may carry the corpse for a short distance. When it is lowered into the grave the sheet is taken off and given to a Fakīr or beggar. When the body is covered with earth the priest reads the funeral verses at a distance of forty steps from the grave.
Feasts are given to the caste-fellows on the third, tenth, twentieth and fortieth days after the death. The Manihārs observe the Shabrāt festival by distributing to the caste-fellows halua or a mixture of melted butter and flour. The Shabrāt is the middle night of the month Shabān, and Muhammad declared that on this night God registers the actions which every man will perform during the following year, and all those who are fated to die and the children who are to be born. Like Hindu widows the Manihār women break their bangles when their husband's corpse is removed to the burial-ground. The Manihārs eat flesh, but not beef or pork; and they also abstain from alcoholic liquor. If a girl is seduced and made pregnant before marriage either by a man of the caste or an outsider, she remains in her father's house until her child has been born, and may then be married either to her paramour or any other man of the caste by the simple repetition of the Nikāh or marriage verses, omitting all other ceremonies. The Manihārs will admit into their community converted Hindus belonging even to the lowest castes.
* Scripture Prayers for the Kachera (Hindu traditions) in India.
1 This article is based on papers by Rai Sāhib Nānakchand, B.A., Headmaster, Saugor High School, and Munshi Pyāre Lāl Misra of the Gazetteer office.
2 Brief View, p. 30.
3 The tāzias are ornamental representations of the tomb of Hussain, which the Muhammadans make at the Muharram festival.
The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India, Volume 4 by R. V. Russell - http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20668/20668-h/20668-h.htm
R. V. Russell