Introduction / History
The Gahoi Bania live in central India. This Hindu subcaste belongs principally to the Saugor, Jubbulpore and Narsinghpur Districts. Their home is the Bundelkhand country, which these Districts adjoin, and they say that their original location was at Kharagpur in Bundelkhand, from which they have spread over the surrounding country.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The Gahoi Bania tell a curious story of their origin to the effect that once upon a time there was a certain schoolmaster, one Biya Pande Brahman, who could foretell the future. One day he was in his school with his boys when he foresaw that there was about to be an earthquake. He immediately warned his boys to get out of the building, and himself led the way. Only twelve of the boys followed, and the others were still hesitating, when the earthquake began, the school fell in, and they were all buried in the ruins. The schoolmaster formed the boys who had escaped into one caste, calling them Gahoi, which is supposed to mean that which is left or the residue; and he determined that he and his descendants would be the priests of the new caste. At the weddings of the Gahois an image of the schoolmaster is painted on the house wall, and the bridegroom worships it with offerings of butter and flowers. The story indicates clearly that the Gahois are of mixed descent from several castes.
The subcaste has twelve gotras or sections, and seventy-two al or Anken, which are subsections of the gotras. Several of the al names appear to be of a titular or totemistic character, as Mor peacock, Sohania beautiful, Nagaria a drummer, Paharia a hillman, Matele the name of a village headman in Bundelkhand, Piparvania from the papal tree, Dadaria a singer.
The rule of exogamy is said to be that a man must not marry in his own gotra nor in the al of his mother or either grandmother. Their weddings are held only at the bride's house, no ceremonies being performed at the bridegroom's. At the ceremony the bridegroom stands in the centre of the shed by the marriage-post and the bride walks seven times round him. At their weddings the Gahois still use the old rupees of the Nagpur kingdom for presents and payments to menials, and they hoard them up, when they can get them, for this special purpose.
What Are Their Beliefs?
The rupee is sacred with the Bania, and this is an instance of the preservation of old accessories for religious ceremonies when they have been superseded in ordinary use. Polygamy is permitted, but is rare.
The Gahois employ Bhargava Brahmins for their priests, and these are presumably the descendants of the schoolmaster who founded the caste. At the thirteenth-day feast after a death the Brahmins must be fed first before the members of the caste. On this occasion thirteen brass or earthen vessels are filled with flour, and a piece of money, and presented to thirteen Brahmins, while the family priest receives a bed and piece of cloth. The priests are said to be greedy, and to raise quarrels over the value of the presents given to them.
At the Diwali festival the Gahois worship the implements of their trade, pen and ink, and their account-books. The Gahois are Vaishnava Hindus, and abstain from all flesh and alcoholic liquor. They trade in grain and groceries, and are bankers and moneylenders.
* Scripture Prayers for the Bania Gahoi in India.