May 27, 2012

Ethnic Indian Economy

The occupational caste of oil-pressers and sellers. The Telis numbered nearly 900,000 persons in 1911, being the fifth caste in the Province in point of population. They are numerous in the Chhattīsgarh and Nāgpur Divisions, nearly 400,000 belonging to the former and 200,000 to the latter tract; while in Berār and the north of the Province they are sparsely represented. The reason for such a distribution of the caste is somewhat obscure. Vegetable oil is more largely used for food in the south and east than in the north, but while this custom might explain the preponderance of Telis in Nāgpur and Chhattīsgarh it gives no reason to account for their small numbers in Berār. In Chhattīsgarh again nearly all the Telis are cultivators, and it may be supposed that, like the Chamārs, they have found opportunity here to get possession of the land owing to its not being already taken up by the cultivating castes proper; but in the Nāgpur Division, with the exception of part of Wardha, the Telis have had no such opening and are not large landholders. Their distribution thus remains a somewhat curious problem. But all over the Province the Telis have generally abandoned their hereditary trade of pressing oil, and have taken to trade and agriculture, the number of those returned as oil-pressers being only about seven per cent of the total strength of the caste. The name comes from the Sanskrit tailika ortaila, oil, and this word, is derived from the tilli or sesamum plant.
Teli's oil-press
It is a local belief that, if an earthen pot is filled with salt and plastered over, the rains will stop until it is opened. This device is adopted when the fall is excessive, but, on the other hand, if there is drought, the people sometimes think that the potter has used it to keep off the rain, because he cannot pursue his calling when the clay is very wet. And on occasions of a long break in the rains, they have been known to attack his shop and break all his vessels under the influence of this belief. The potter is sometimes known as Prājapati or the ‘The Creator,’ in accordance with the favourite comparison made by ancient writers of the moulding of his pots with the creation of human beings, the justice of which will be recognised by any one who watches the masses of mud on a whirling wheel growing into shapely vessels in the potter’s creating hands.
Potter and his wheel
The potter is not particular as to the clay he uses and does not go far afield for the finer qualities, but digs it from the nearest place in the neighbourhood where he can get it free of cost. Red and black clay are employed, the former being obtained near the base of hills or on high-lying land, probably of the laterite formation, and the latter in the beds of tanks or streams. When the clay is thoroughly kneaded and ready for use a lump of it is placed on the centre of the wheel. The potter seats himself in front of the wheel and fixes his stick or chakrait into the slanting hole in its upper surface. With this stick the wheel is made to revolve very rapidly, and sufficient impetus is given to it to keep it in motion for several minutes. The potter then lays aside the stick and with his hands moulds the lump of clay into the shape required, stopping every now and then to give the wheel a fresh spin as it loses its momentum. When satisfied with the shape of his vessel he separates it from the lump with a piece of string, and places it on a bed of ashes to prevent it sticking to the ground. 
The wheel is either a circular disc cut out of a single piece of stone about a yard in diameter, or an ordinary wooden wheel with spokes forming two diameters at right angles. The rim is then thickened with the addition of a coating of mud strengthened with fibre. The articles made by the potter are ordinary circular vessels or gharasused for storing and collecting water, larger ones for keeping grain, flour and vegetables, and surāhis or amphoras for drinking-water. In the manufacture of these last salt and saltpetre are mixed with the clay to make them more porous and so increase their cooling capacity. A very useful thing is the small saucer which serves as a lamp, being filled with oil on which a lighted wick is floated. These saucers resemble those found in the excavations of Roman remains. Earthen vessels are more commonly used, both for cooking and eating purposes among the people of northern India, and especially by Muhammadans, than among the Marāthas, and, as already noticed, the Kumhār caste musters strong in the north of the Province. An earthen vessel is polluted if any one of another caste takes food or drink from it and is at once discarded. On the occasion of a death all the vessels in the house are thrown away and a new set obtained, and the same measure is adopted at the Holi festival and on the occasion of an eclipse, and at various other ceremonial purifications, such as that entailed if a member of the household has had maggots in a wound. On this account cheapness is an indispensable quality in pottery, and there is no opening for the Kumhār to improve his art. Another product of the Kumhār’s industry is the chilam or pipe-bowl. This has the usual opening for inhaling the smoke but no stem, an impromptu stem being made by the hands and the smoke inhaled through it. As the chilam is not touched by the mouth, Hindus of all except the impure castes can smoke it together, passing it round, and Hindus can also smoke it with Muhammadans.

Throwing stilts into the water at pola festival

The sowing of the Jawaras, corresponding to the gardens of Adonis, takes place during the first nine days of the months of Kunwār and Chait (September and March). The former is a nine days’ fast preceding the Dasahra festival, and it is supposed that the goddess Devi was during this time employed In fighting the buffalo-demon (Bhainsāsur), whom she slew on the tenth day.


The cultivator then goes to his field, and covering his hand with wheat-flour and turmeric, stamps it five times on the plough. The mālguzār takes five handfuls of the seed consecrated to Thākur Deo and sows it, and each of the cultivators also sows a little. After this regular cultivation may begin on any day, though Monday and Friday are considered auspicious days for the commencement of sowing.


People who do not cultivate with their own hands have only two daily meals, one at midday and the other at eight or nine in the evening. Agriculturists require a third meal in the early morning before going out to the fields. Wheat and the millets juāri and kodon are the staple foods of the cultivating classes in the northern Districts, and rice is kept for festivals.

Weaving: sizing the warp

Winding thread
While the development of the economic anthropology of South Asia since Neale's Polanyian essay of 1957 has shown the severe limitations of his substantivist perspective, it has retained the central idea of the embedding of economic activity in social, political and cultural structures. Putting it a little more precisely, economic anthropology studies the inter-relations of formal intitutions with the informal social order in which they are embedded, and hence it shows the importance for the economy of shared patterns of throught and behaviour, or culture. At present in South Asia these commonly have to do with caste and religion; they are not satisfactorily explained by mainsteam economics and they remain exogenous in the currently fashionable new institutional economic. 

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