Breaking Bonds

Ashok Sharma
A village is the unit of rural society and the theatre where life unfolds itself. As life evolved and man started living in communities, villages and habitations came into existence. As people started living together in villages,the next step was to satisfy various needs of the people in the village itself.
Farming was the main occupation of the people; So they needed agricultural implements. Therefore various jobs were probably taken up by different people.While the rural carpenters took up the job of making wooden implements such as plough, ground leveller, etc the blacksmith would prepare iron tools and implements.The potters were assigned the task of preparing pots and pitchers ,the bamboo spliter was entrusted with the job of making baskets of various sizes to carry the dung/clay from one place to another. This was how this system came into existence. Thus, various artisans who rendered services to the farmers included carpenter, bamboo splitter, weaver, blacksmith, potter, cook ,cobbler,family history record keeper etc.Under this system, often called Yajmani system, various artisans of the village rendered service to the farmers throughout the year and in return, obtained a certain fixed quantity of farmer’s produce.The amount of service rendered was not fixed -it varied according to the needs of the farmer.But the quantity of grain received from the farmer was fixed. The artisan received neither more nor less irrespective of the fact whether he did more work or less. It was, in fact looked upon as his hereditary right or ‘Weit’ in local parlance. It can not be termed as Barter system as bartar system is an exchange of goods and services against goods and services.But not all the services come under this system e.g.weaver, goldsmiths etc were not part of the system.As and when an artisan made a new article, a separate payment for the job was made.The system owes its origin to the caste system and is prevalent only in India and nowhere else in the world.It was believed that if the artisans were not given foodgrains to enable them to run their families, they would leave their profession and seek another to sustain themselves and their families.So ultimately, it was the farmer who had to suffer in that case.So the farmers would give the artisans their share annually or biannually whether he utilized their services or not.
The carpenter repaired the cart, prepared the plough, made the wooden parts of the agricultural tools and implements such as pickaxe, sickle, axe, scythe and did the job pertaining to the setting of wooden beams and planks in the kucha houses.The carpenter would prepare planquin and allied furniture and split wood for the marriage of girls, split wood for marriages and other functions in the village and join various parts of cot. He was also entrusted with the responsibility of felling trees and splitting the heavy wooden logs into light pieces so that people could carry them to the cremation places and prepare a bier and pyre.
So far the job of the blacksmith is concerned, he would prepare iron tools and implements by beating hot iron in the smithy. He would also prepare iron chains sybolising various deities and sharpen sickles and other iron tools and implements. The job of the bamboo splitter was to prepare baskets of various sizes and shapes. He would arrage to supply sufficient number of baskets to carry clay for covering the roof of the kucha houses and bigger baskets for carrying wheat husk.The job of the bamboo splitter was also to prepare bamboo containers for storing grains. Clay would be appllied on these containers to prevent pests from harming the grains.
Then the important link in this system was the barber or hair dresser.He was entrusted with the job of dressing the hair of all the young and old male persons of the family from whom he would take six monthly share of grains. His another job was to shave off the hair on the heads of boys on the ocassion of Mundan ceremony and the sons or the younger brothers, cousins, etc when an elder member of the family left for the heavenly abode.The barber had an important role at the time of marriage ceremony. He would generally dress the hair or shave off the beard of Baraties in case of marriage of a boy or play keil to indicate the auspicious time of arrival of barat or the time of leaving the maternal home at the time of marriage. He would also tie turbans or Pagdis on the heads of the groom’s father and other male relatives and sehra on the head of the groom. For these rituals, he was paid extra money. Then there was the shoemaker who repaired the shoes on nominal charges and made new ones on order. Then there were some people who would do the job of throwing the dead animals to safe and uninhabited places. They too would be paid fixed share of grains after every six months. They would tie the corpse of the dead animal, take the hide off and through it into a gorge where vultures and other birds and animals would eat it. These days this practice has vanished and they do the job in exchange for cash. Then there was potter who would supply earthern pots such as pitchers, pots to all the families in the village. As the hot summer season set, the potter would supply pitchers to the people so that they could drink cool water in the freshly baked pitchers. The demand of pitchers would rise at the time of the festival of Dhamdey when all people would gift pitchers filled with grains/sugar to their married daughters/sisters etc. This practice is still in vogue in many villages and towns but the earthen pitchers have been replaced by steel pichers, buckets and other containers. Similarly, the family Pandit played an important role in the village.
He used to tell people about main days such as full moon day, dates of festivals, start and end of Panchaks, etc and would also help in fixing and performing rituals associated with the marriage, Mundan and other ceremonies. He was widely respected in the village and whenever he visited various houses in the village,people would touch his feet, offer him food and give him flour, pulses and other produce. Likewise, the family history readers or ‘Pandits’ as they were called would visit various villages once a year and tell people about the names of their forefathers and they or their disciples performed some rituals when the people went to holy places such as Haridwar to offer ‘pind’ to the deceased.
These days, as a result of materialism and fast life, the links between the people through these artisans have almost vanished.As a result of mechanisation of agricultur in many regions, the role of carpenter and the blacksmith has almost reduced to nothing.Similarly, owing to flow of money and availability of shoes of famous brands at showroom and outlets, people hardly go to the shoemaker for getting their shoes made or mended.With the opening of saloons and barber’s shops in cities, towns and villages,no service of barber is required except during marriage and mundan ceremonies.The job of bamboo splitter too has vanished as people have constructed pucca houses and steel granaries are easily available in the market these days.As a result of economic development and rise in social status, these occupations have almost vanished from the rural scene but the informal relations between the rural artisans and their yajmans of yester years is something that one misses these days of fast life.
(The writer is serving as lecturer in English in HSS, Thial (Udhampur)