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In Bihar there has been a good deal of mixture among the various castes. Though Brahmans and Kshatriyas belong to the same racial stock, the Kshatriyas are more mixed because of their marriage with various stocks of people. The lower castes like the Koiri, Kurmi, Kahar and Ahir represent various racial strains. Caste rivalries and prejudices are numerous in Bihar. The narrow-mindedness of the people is one of the chief causes of the unsatisfactory state of Bihar politics. But now though modern life, better education and above all the efforts of its enlightened youth, are gradually doing away with the prejudices.
Brahman, Bhumihar, Rajput, Banias and Kayastha are the dominant castes. Kayasthas and Banias are the two important caste groups in the cities and towns. The Kayasthas are prominent in all modern professional occupations and are generally given the status of elite castes. The Banias predominate in trade and commerce. Bhumihars are regarded as a caste different from the Brahmans who consider the former inferior in the social hierarchy. Members of all these caste groups have occupied prominent positions in the educational and political life of the state.
The other land owning castes are Ahirs (Yadavas), Kurmis and Koiris in the plains of Bihar. The Ahirs or Yadavas are agricultural caste. Cattle-raising is their hereditary occupation most are settled cultivators. Some still roam about selling milk and ghee. Koiris are agriculturists. They are distinguished from Kurmis and other purely cultivating castes by their skill in growing vegetables and other special cash crops. In the neighbourhood of large towns they work as market-gardeners. Many Koiris are rich land owners. Some of them are still prosperous cultivators, holding occupancy rights.
The most notable among the schedule castes are Bhumij, Chamar (Mochi), Dhobi, Dom, Dusadh, Musahar, Nat and Pasi. Their means of livelihood still being hard manual and menial. About 92 percent of the total population of these castes are confined to the village while those in the towns and cities are slum-dwellers who work on pavements. Although education is free for them, the vast majority of them still continue to wallow in illiteracy.
The Musahars are field labours whose wages are paid in cash or in kind according to the traditional custom in the villages. Most of them live apart from the basti. Only a few have attained the dignity of cultivating on their own account. Another caste, Dusadhs are probably of aboriginal descent. A large number of them serves as watchmen or chaukidars, they are also employed as village messengers, grooms, elephant drivers and wood cutters, punkha coolies and porters.
The Dhanuks are servant class found in every place where there are high caste Hindus. The poor among them perform the menial household duties along with their family. Some Dhanuks are also cultivators while the females act as maid servants.
Insane prejudice which was prevalent against the lower castes is gradually disappearing in Bihar. The rich titled classes in the state are regarded as ordinary mortals. In the country districts the influence of Zamindar (land lords) families is considerable. It depends more on their position as landlords than as persons of title. In small towns they have a certain importance on account of their historic descent. In the larger towns the members of the upper classes are of small account unless accompanied by wealth.
The middle classes in Bihar are mostly caste-ridden. They are mostly professionals and doesn't have caste prejudices. They are the ones who almost monopolize the bar, the bench, the medical profession, trade and industry, the civil service and educational appointments. Many important posts in the secretariat are held by men of humble birth. The middle classes merge imperceptibly into the lower middle class and then into the masses.
Some socially inferior Brahmins in Bihar are connected with the actual ritual of temple worship and include miscellaneous groups such as the pujari who performs the pujas in shrines and temples, the Ojhas of occultist propensities who exorcise demons and evil spirits, the Jyotishis or astrologers who caste horoscopes and determine auspicious occasions, the Pandas who act as guides at pilgrim centres and Mahapatras who conduct ceremonies connected with the funeral rites of the upper castes. The village priests (pujaris) among the masses are usually uneducated. There is a large proportion of hereditary priests. Many of the Brahmin pujaris are men from good families. The average priest knows little beyond reading the Karmakanda and he is often shaky at that. From the point of view of morality, certain priests as a rule lead pure and austere lives. There are also a few Brahmin pandits who devote themselves to teaching. Making gifts of land and cows to Brahmins was at one time considered very meritorious by the Puranas. Brahmins are generally strict about personal cleanliness and begin their private devotions well before sunrise, repeat them at moon and again just before sunset.
The Brahmins of Maithila are divided into five hypergamous groups -Shrotriyas, Yogyas, Panjibadhs, Nagars and Jaiwars. The religion of the average Brahmin is a curious mixture of Hinduism and Animism, in which belief in both evil spirits and godlings is the principal element. Most of the Brahmins have their idols to which they make simple offerings in the open air. A few of the Maithil Brahmins are Shaivites who believe in the unity and immanence of god and have a deep consciousness of personal sin.
Among the Brahmins in Bihar there are hundreds of Agradanis or Kantahas who conduct ceremonies when Hindus are burned and who receive the offerings made on the eleventh day after a person's death. Bihar is also the ancient place of settlement of the Sakaldwipi Brahmins and they continue to be one of the most numerous classes of this order. Some of these Sakaldwipis act as a purohits for people and explain to them the decree of fate with the help of an almanac. Many of them are of the Shakta sect and are guided by the tantras. Among the Brahmins of Kanoj greater part live by acting as purohits. Many are in service and some live by trade, the greatest part have lands which they cultivate by the help of servants, but they do not work with their own hand. They are mostly of the sect of Rama, a few worship Krishna or the Shaktis. The worshippers of Rama have no objection to repeat the ceremonies used in the adoration of Shiva or of any other god. Some of Saraswat Brahmins were formerly land lords. Now some of them are merchants while others are priests. The Kanyakubjas act as teachers, priests, cultivators, soldiers, messengers, clerks and accountants, traders or cooks.
The Muslims in Bihar are commonly seen in Purnia, Darbhanga, Muzaffarpur and Champaran districts. In the Purnia districts Hindus and Muslims live together and has imbibed each others religious beliefs. Many of the Hindu and Muslim festivals are celebrated with equal zeal. The Muharram ' Tazias' are usually borne on the shoulders by the Hindus and the Durga puja ' Akharas' are filled up by the Muslims.
Caste system was foreign to Islam, it appears to have entered the Muslim social system as a result of the contact with the Hindus. The Muslims are divided into two main classes, the Ashroff and Ajlaf. The Syeds, who belong to the first category claim descent from the prophet himself, others in this category are Mughals, Iranis, Afghans, Pathans etc. The Momins, Kunjras and the Muslim castes-Julaha, Dhunia, Dhobe, Kulal, Chik, Lalbegi and others belong to the second group. The Mulick of Shahabad are all Ashroff and live by reciting poetry describing the love of Radha and Govindha; they worship certain saints and make offering at tombs and dargahs. In pre-Mughal Bihar, all the Ulema, Mullas and Sufis were Sunni Muslims, there were no sectarian differences between Shias and Sunnis.
The Christians are commonly seen in Ranchi district, Singhbhum district and in the district of the Santhal parganas. Their missions, which are found throughout the state not only engage themselves in evangelistic work but also maintain schools and colleges, manage several well equipped hospitals and have many orphanages at Patna and else where. At Patna alone, the Roman catholic Mission has five boarding schools, two for boys and three for girls, and a woman's college. The first Jesuit priest to have come to Patna was father Simon Figuieredo. The Capuchins followed early in the eighteenth century and succeeded in establishing stations in Bengal and Bihar. The most fruitful field for missionary activities has not been the plains of Bihar but the hilly region of Chotanagpur-especially in Ranchi. The aboriginal races of Chotanagpur, especially in Ranchi have shown greater sensitiveness to Christian influences.
The Santhals still preserve two features inherited from an earlier stage of civilization. They excel in clearing forests and show considerable skill in converting jungle and waste lands into fertile rice fields. Their harmonious flutes sound sweeter, their drums find deeper echoes and their bows and arrows utilized effectively. They are excellent hunters. Their happiest day in the year is the one, on which they have a common hunt, when armed with spears, axes, bows and arrows, clubs, sticks and stones, they beat through the jungle in thousands, killing every beast and birds they come across. There was a time when in their ordinary dealings they displayed a cheerful straight forwardness, open bluntness and simple honesty which were refreshing to those accustomed to the gloomy and secretive inhabitants of the plains.
The Hos have a lot of good qualities and are firm with their manly independent bearing. They are physically and morally superior to the Mundas, Bhumij and Santhals. The Hos waste their stores of rice in making rice-beer for their various festivals and parts with their land for most inadequate price. The Hos are remarkable for their exclusiveness and insensitiveness to outside influence.
The Mundas, found in the south of Ranchi district and the Khunti sub division, are divided into a number of exogamous clans known as Kilis. Though they were gleaners and hunters not long ago, they have entered the maze of industrial economy now. They live in urban surroundings, eat food available from the markets, spend money on jewellery and trinkets, join in demonstrations, shout slogans, strike work and have produced leaders from among themselves. The Mundas worship 'Sing Bonga' - the sun god and also their ancestors, whose spirits are known as the Ora-bongako or the house hold gods.
The Oraons are Dravidian-speaking, short-stature, narrow headed and broad-nosed people living mostly in the Ranchi and Palamu districts. They are divided into several clans or gotras. There are many resemblances between the Oraons and Mundas. The Oraons are much less conservative and exclusive than Mundas. Oraon youths have their hair tied in a knot behind and a small mirror stuck in it and ornaments in their ears. The headman of their village is called the Mahto and the official who presides over their spiritual affairs is the Pahan.
The Oraons employ methods of cultivation which are much advanced compared with those of other tribes in Bihar. Their most important social institution is the Dhumkuria or the boy's youth dormitory, an institution which has put them on the ethnographic map of the world.
The Bhumij Kols who occupy parts of the two Singhbhum districts west and south of the Kasari river, are ethnically related to the Mundas and resemble them in physical appearance. Dark brown in complexion, they have thick noses and lips, broad chests, well developed hands and are short in stature. Since they claim to be Hindus and employ Brahman priests they are accepted as such, but their exact position in the Hindu caste hierarchy is not well defined. They do not appear to have fully assimilated the essential elements of Hinduism and completely jettisoned their tribal religion. Many among them still worship their own village deities. Their totemic exogamous clans are fast being forgotten and they have adopted the surname of 'Singh'. Their agricultural technique is not so advanced.
The Cheros who have Dravidian physiognomy and vary in colour, at one time ruled over the Gangetic provinces and claim to be Rajputs. They are divided into two sections; Barahazar and Tarahazar. The former rank as the higher and include most descendants to the former ruling families in Palamu. The social status of the Cheros was very high even in the Mughal period and they were given the rank of Mansabdars in Akbar's court. Their children were invested with the sacred thread by a Brahman priest at the time of marriage.
Agriculture is their original occupation. Nowadays they keep shop, do carting, work on roads or in coal mines and collect tasar, lac and catechu. They are on the whole, a proud race and have never forgotten that they were once a great people and that their descents are honourable ones. They are also found in the villages of Rohtas and in the Morang region.
The vast majority of the Kharias are found in the Ranchi and Singhbhum districts. The hill Kharias practice a crude type of shifting cultivation and hunt with bows and arrows, sticks and with spears. The Birhors are mostly found in the districts of Hazaribagh and usually live in huts made of twigs and leaves but during the rains in semi-permanent settlements. They sustain themselves by gathering wild forest produce, including honey and beewax, by hunting deer and other animals and by catching birds and monkeys.
The Sauria Pahariyas live in the inaccessible hilly region and are confined to Godda, Rajmahal and Pakur sub divisions. They do not posses any totemic clans. The Mal Pahariyas, a Hinduized section of Pahariya tribe, employ advanced methods of cultivation, invariably using plough and bullocks to till the small tablelands of the plateau on which they raise quite substantial dry crops.