Zamindar - a
landowner; in pre-modern India, a zamindar might own a village and all its
lands or even many hundreds of villages. He was entitled to raise revenues
for the British, keeping a percentage for himself. Some of the great
zamindars called themselves raja (king) and conducted themselves like
kings. The Maharaja of Darbhanga was one of these.
The Castes of
The various hereditary, endogamous
castes, called jati, are ranked on a scale of superior to inferior,
marked by traditional rules of interaction and sanctions against certain
kinds of interactions, especially intermarriage and interdining. The
principal castes of Mithila are as follows:
are the highest ranking caste and also, in political terms, the dominant
caste. Because the Maharaja of Darbhanga was a Maithil Brahman, other
Brahmans came to control much of the land; thousands of villages were in
Brahman control, and they are still the largest landowners in Mithila. The
other castes are described in rank order according to their traditional
occupations as expressed by Brahman informants:
are small landlords who claim to be
Brahmans but are considered lower because they have taken up agricultural
pursuits and given up priest craft. Maithil Brahmans serve as their
priests for domestic rites.
are record-keepers for landowners and village surveyors and accountants.
The 100,000 Rajputs in Mithila are
not native to the area, but came during the Mughal era and became
zamindars. This is why Brahmans count them as lower than Kayasthas, even
though Kayasthas are technically a superior type of Shudra.The next few
castes are the middle agricultural castes, "clean castes" in ritual terms,
upwardly mobile in political and economic terms, now pushing against
Brahman dominance and getting power in local and state government.
are by far the largest caste in the
region at one-eighth of the total population. They are herdsmen and
cultivators and consider themselves kinsmen to the god Krishna, who was
also a cowherd. The Chief Minister of Bihar, Rabri Devi, is a Yadava.
is another large agricultural caste,
though originally they were archers; they are considered a "clean" caste
from whom Brahmans can take water, and therefore they often are employed
as servants by Brahmans.
are considered industrious
cultivators and among the best tenants in the area, but Brahmans will not
take water from them, and therefore their status is lower than the Dhanuk.
are boatmen and fishermen, and thus
are considered lower than the chief agricultural castes, although there is
a slight anomaly here, for Brahmans will take water from them, but not
are among the most stigmatized of the
large castes, but are also economically very important as agricultural
laborers and are gaining real political power in North Bihar because they
form a large voting bloc with increasingly powerful leaders. The British
knew them as a "caste of thieves" and in some of the larger villages
posted special police stations to keep a curfew over them at night.
carry away the carcasses of dead
animals and make sandals, drums, soccer balls, and bicycle seats out of
the leather. Musahars are negatively stereotyped by upper castes as
"eaters of rats, snakes, and lizards," who are "expert at getting hidden
crops from rat holes." Mali make garlands for temple worship, and have a
special relationship to the smallpox goddess, Sitala.
are basket-makers and assistants at
cremation grounds. There are also many other important but smaller castes,
This is not the end of the story of rank
among the Maithil Brahmans. For more information please visit