Jatav - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. In general, Jatavs and other Chamars are Hindus. They reject, however, the Hindu teaching that makes them Untouchables, as well as the Brahman priests who wrote the sacred texts so defining them. Most major Hindu festivals, particularly Holi, are observed, as are major life-cycle ceremonies. In postindependent India Jatavs may enter major Hindu temples and visit pilgrimage spots. Some Chamars are devotees of the Chamar saint Ravi Das. A number of Jatavs have followed Dr. Ambedkar and converted to Buddhism as a rejection of the caste system and as an assertion of the equality of all individuals. Buddhism for them is a political ideology in religious form. Ambedkar himself has been apotheosized as a bodhisattva; his birthday is the major public Jatav festival. Belief is in the major deities of Hinduism, especially in their localized forms. The Buddha and Dr. Ambedkar have become part of the pantheon. Ghosts of those who died before their time ( bhut ) and other spirits are believed to be able to possess or harm living people; fear of the evil eye is also widespread.

Religious Practitioners. Brahman priests traditionally have not served Jatavs and other Untouchables. Instead local headmen have officiated at rituals. Shamans ( bhagat ), who are sometimes Jatavs, have been known to be consulted in cases of spirit possession and other illnesses.

Ceremonies. Life-cycle ceremonies at birth, first hair cutting, marriage, and death are the major public ceremonies. Marriage is the most important ritual as it involves public feasts, the honor of the girl's family, cooperation of neighbors and specific kin, and gift giving over years to the families of married daughters. Death rituals also require participation of agnates and male neighbors to cremate the corpse immediately and of women to keen ritually. Very small children are buried. Memorial feasts or meals for the dead are given over a period of a year.

Arts. The verbal arts, particularly the composition of various forms of poetry, are cultivated, as is the skill in singing various forms of song.

Medicine. Folk remedies are used and practitioners of Ayurvedic, Unani, and homeopathic medicines are consulted. Modern medicines and physicians are used when affordable.

Death and Afterlife. Belief in transmigration of souls is widespread, and some believe in an afterlife in Heaven (Svarg) or Hell (Narak). A son to perform the funeral obsequies is essential. The dead soul lingers after death but passes on after a number of days.

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