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they consider to be their unquestionable right, by established and immemorial custom, had not been paid. At the mess-room there were two sentries stationed, whom they had eluded, a matter of no difficulty to a Bheel on a dark night, as will be duly shown.
" In some parts of Guzerat the Bheels are not only numerous but formidable. Neither their interest nor inclination induces them to attack an armed force, though probably a large booty would prevail on them to incur danger; but if revenge was to be gained, they would risk the chance of an encounter. To follow them into their wilds is impracticable, for if driven from one spot they would retire to another. A herdsman by necessity, a freebooter by profession, and a hunter by choice, the Bheel cares for no one, but makes mankind and the soil subservient to his wants and caprices.
“ Travelling with my wife (adds Major Seely) in a palanquin carriage, or shigrumpo, towards Baroda, the capital city of Guzerat, at which place we had a subsidized force stationed, amounting to about two thousand men, when within a few miles of the city we were stopped by two Bheels, who demanded tribute. I had a pair of pistols, and instantly cocked one. It appeared to me, at the moment, an insult to the British flag, flying but a few miles off, to submit to the impost. Remonstrances were unavailing; and having a lady with me whose fears were excited, I paid the required amount; and, singular as it must appear, although I had a dozen rupees in my hand, the Bheels only levied one out of that number.
“At one time, passing through a Bheel district between the villages of Ittola and Meagaum, to avoid any alarm at night, or the probability of being plundered, I hired a Bhaut and two Bheels as a night-guard. As it got towards the evening, the Bhaut and one Bheel only arrived, the remaining one was shortly to follow them. At the usual hour I retired to my couch, perfectly secure from insult or depredation; nor had I taken any precaution to repel the one or protect me from the other; the security of the Bheels being a sufficient guard against attack.
“ It being a hot night, I got up about one o'clock to enjoy the cool air outside of my tent. I had not stepped a few yards out when the Bheel on watch instantly and rudely seized me, exclaiming, 'what business have you there ?' This noise awoke the other two, who rushed to the spot. They seeing who it was, informed the Bheel (for it was the man who arrived after I had gone to bed) of his mistake. He, hearing this, fell down with his face to the ground, beseeching me to place my foot on his neck and kill him. He then began, while prostrate, touching my feet with his forehead, nor would he quit his position until I forcibly withdrew myself into the tent, when the other Bheels pacified his feelings.
“ The other instance of the watchfulness, daring, and honour of the Bheels is as follows: Major F- , afterwards my commanding officer, having some supplies coming to Baroda, in their journey they passed by a post where thirty-five of his own siphauees were stationed. These men having just been relieved from that duty, they returned with the supplies, which were in charge of a Parsee servant. On the road they were met by the Bheels, who wanted the usual tribute for the bullocks. This exaction the Parsee, with the approbation of the siphauees, refused to pay. Whether the Bheels found the party too strong for them, or had orders from their Raj not to engage in any affray, I know not, but the party escaped without paying or being molested, and the Parsee did not a little pride himself on his address and achievement. Some considerable time after this period, Major F and his wife taking their evening ride, had gone beyond the prescribed limits of the British cantonment, and heedlessly were pursuing their course, when some Bheels came upon them and claimed the money owing by the Parsee for himself and bullocks. Major F-having no rupees about him, they took him, his wife, horse, and vehicle together. After some consultation, and a promise on the Major's part to pay the tribute demanded, he and his lady were allowed to depart, and an agreement entered into to send seven rupees (the sum required) by a servant unarmed and alone. This stipulation was carried into effect, and at the appointed time and place the cash was paid, and the gig and horse returned uninjured, with the Bheels' compliments.
“We were cautioned by those who had suffered on the spot from Bheels, against their depredations. The trunks belonging to each officer were chained together, and the chain fastened round his tent-pole. There being about two hundred of our siphauees on guard round our camp that night, we apprehended no danger, and in consequence did not hire any Bhauts, or the Bheels deputed by them, for our protection. When, as before stated, the precaution is taken, money, effects, and life are safe. It costs but a trifling sum; half a rupee for a man, or when they keep a regular nightwatch, two rupees for three. On the first night no molestation occurred, and the next day (as is too often the case when we are in security) we grew a little careless, in opening trunks, and making arrangements for a large dinner-party that evening. Our servants also were getting careless, and laughing at the idea of a corps, having two hundred sentries mounted, being robbed by a few wretched, dastardly Bheels or Coolies; and I believe among ourselves such an idea was scouted. We thought ourselves valiant fellows, and fancied ourselves cunning ones. Night came and we sought our repose. Perhaps some few of us, from having drunk a little more than usual of very good wine in very good company,' slept rather soundly. Be that, however, as it may; when the morning broke forth, every officer had been robbed, save one, and he had a priest (Bhaut) and a Bheel guard. Nor did the poor siphauees escape; for when they gave the alarm of 'thief! thief !' they were sure to get a blow or wound in the leg or thigh, from a Bheel lying on the ground, or moving about on all-fours, wrapped in a bullock's hide or a sheep-skin, or carrying a bush before or over him ; so that the sentries were deceived; and if they fired, they were as likely to hit some of the women or children, or the followers, or the officers, as the Bheel himself; and, had they fired, the Bheel, in the dark, thus placed in a populous camp, had every advantage, his weapon making no noise, and his companions being ready to shoot the siphauee through the head.
“ Most of the officers were up during the night, but their presence was useless. Lieutenant B—-- did lay hands on a Bheel, but he literally slipped through his fingers, being naked, his body oiled all over, and his head shaved ; and on giving the alarm, one or two arrows were seen to have gone through the cloths of the tent. Were it possible to retain a hold of a Bheel your motions must be quick as lightning; for they carry the blade of
a knife, which is fastened round the neck by a string, and with which, if they find themselves in a dilemma, they will rip up the person holding them. Horses having long tails they take a great fancy to, and some of our's were gone the next morning, but they were of no great value.”
I now turn to an admirable essay on these people, from the pen of one of our ablest writers on Oriental history, Sir John Malcolm, published in the first volume of the Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society. I have been necessarily obliged to render my extracts as brief as possible ; but those who would desire farther information, will find a highly interesting account in the volume just quoted.
Sir John Malcolm states, that the Bheels are a distinct and original race, claiming a high antiquity, and that they were once masters of the fertile plains of India, instead of being confined, as they now are, to the rugged mountains and almost impenetrable jungles. The Rajpoot princes deprived them of the fairest portions of their country, leaving them the wild and uncultivated tracts which they now inhabit.
They ascribe their descent to an intercourse between a celestial and terrestial being. Mahadeo became enamoured of an earthly beauty, and had a family by her. One of his sons, alike remarkable for his deformity and vice, slew the sacred bull of his father; for which sacrilege he was banished to the mountains, where he became the founder of a race inheriting his vices and his turbulence, which took the name of Bheels; an appellation that has been, in the course of time, indiscriminately applied to the Chandala and Nishada (outcasts of spurious birth), many of whom dwell among them.
The Bheels are divided into many tribes, the chiefs of which claim a distinct celestial origin, in addition to their common divine descent. Some of these tribes have been converted to Mahomedanism, but the larger part of them are professedly Hindus. They worship the same deities, but limit their ceremonies to propitiating the minor infernal deities, particularly Sita Maya (Shetula), the goddess of the small-pox, whom they invoke under various names, in the hopes of averting its dreadful ravages. They pay great reverence to Mahadeo.
The names of the other deities principally worshipped are not (excepting Kali) commonly met with in Hindu mythology. The following is a list of them, and the occasions on which the Bheels deem it necessary to propitiate their favour.
“ Kali, on many occasions. Hatipowa, at the Davali and Dusrah feasts, as presiding over village cultivators. Waghacha Kunwer, to protect them against the ravages of wild beasts. Halemata, to protect them in their predatory journies and undertakings. Khorial Mata, for protection to the cattle from sickness and plundering. Devi Kanail, for a good ripening of their corn and for plenty. Behyu Baji, for rain. . Ghora Raja, against attacks and plunderers. Hallam, worshipped by the Malwa Bheels, at the annual pilgrimage to the large hill of Retna Wal in Bariya. Chamconda Mata is the goddess of harvest, and the first of every grain cut is offered to her. Howin Wana Mata, against murrain and lameness among their cattle. Bhulbae Mata, in times of epidemic sickness, cholera, &c. Badri Bae and Ghona, small-pox.” Bullocks are offered to Hatipowa and Waghacha Kunwer; to the others, fowls and he-goats: a male bird to the male deities, and a female to the female ones. “ Their usual ceremonies consist in merely smearing the idol, which is seldom any thing but a shapeless stone, with vermilion and red lead or oil; offering, with prostrations and a petition, an animal and some liquor, casting a small portion of each with some pulse into the fire, and then partaking of the flesh and remaining liquor,” after giving the presiding Rawel or Bhat his share.
Besides these the Bheels have a numerous race of Ruwets, or hill gods, of whom Bhillet is the most reverenced, in consequence of his successes under Bhairava, the son of Siva. The Barwas are votaries of the hill gods, and are imagined to be endowed with the hereditary gift of inspiration. They also act as physicians, and cure trifling complaints by means of simples. When the disease is beyond their cure, they attribute it to the evil influence of dhakans, or witches, of whose power the Bheels entertain a strong and superstitious belief. The Barwas are always consulted previous to the commencement of a plundering excursion. (See Barwas.)
The Bheels have among them the distinctions of white and black (pure