Okkaliga



ETHNONYMS: Gangadikāra Okkalu, the peasant caste, Vokkaliga, Wokkaliga


The Okkaligas are the dominant landowning and cultivating caste in the multicaste population of southern Karnataka State in southwestern peninsular India. Among the hundreds of villages in which Okkaligas live is Rampura (population 1,523, 735 of whom are Okkaligas, ca. 1955), which is the focus of this entry and which displays many of the features typical of Okkaliga villages in India.

The village of Rampura is located on the Mysore-Hogur bus road about 32 kilometers from Mysore. The village is a cluster of houses and huts with thatched or tiled roofs; narrow, uneven winding streets running between the rows of houses. Surrounding the village are numerous plots owned by individual landowners. Rampura is an interdependent unit, largely self-sufficient, having its own village assembly ( panchayat ), watch, ward, officials, and servants. In the multicaste village of Rampura the relationship of castes appears to be determined more by the economic positions of the various members than by tradition. As agriculture is the primary way of life the peasants are the dominant caste. The hereditary headman ( patel ) and hereditary accountant ( shanborg ) are both peasants. The headman's responsibility is to represent the village to the government and vice versa. The accountant keeps a register of how much land each head of a family or joint family has and the amount of tax on the land. The elders of the dominant caste are spokespersons for the village and owe their power not to legal rights derived from the state but to the dominant local position of their caste. The elders of the dominant peasant caste in Rampura administer justice not only to members of their own caste group but also to all persons of other castes who seek their intervention.

Agriculture dominates village life. The cultivation of rice is the main activity in the village. Meticulous attention to and irrigation of the rice is necessary throughout the period of cultivation, the rainy season from June to January. The conclusion of the harvest is marked by the festival of Sankranti. During the dry season other social activities such as weddings occur.

Each of the seventeen castes living in Rampura has a distinctive tradition with strong ties with the same caste in Villages nearby. The village has a vertical unity of many castes whereas each caste has a horizontal unity through alliances beyond the village. Other major castes and their traditional occupations include the Kuruba (shepherd), the Musalman (artisan and trader), Holeya (servant and laborer), and the Madiga (Harijans). Although paddy and millet grain were principally used in trade, money is used more frequently today. Maintenance of caste separation was achieved through ideas of purity and pollution. Beliefs and behaviors including diet, occupation, and ritual distinguish higher from lower castes. Two examples of this are the rules governing the acceptance of water or cooked food between castes and the rule of caste endogamy.

At one time it was customary for two families, one belonging to an upper caste and the other to an Untouchable caste, to be linked in a master-servant relationship ( jajmani ).

Independence has begun a process of social change in which many of the traditional forms and orders have been replaced.

The regional language is Kannada and the principal Religion is Hindu. The principal temples in Rampura are the Temples of Rama, Basava, Hatti Mari, and Kabbala Durgada Mari. These are endowed with agricultural land.

The kin group is agnatic with preference for cross-cousin marriage. Traditionally the Okkaligas live in joint families with the wife joining the home of her husband's family. Since Independence the joint families have tended to become smaller.

There is a fairly strict sexual division of labor with few women working outside the home. Boys work on the land early, while girls work in and around the house. An Okkaliga is buried on his or her ancestral land; and the land is an important part of one's life from an early age.


Bibliography

Banerjee, Bhavani (1966). Marriage and Kinship of the Gangadikāra Vokkaligas of Mysore. Deccan College Dissertation Series, no. 27. Poona: Deccan College.


Nanjundayya, H. V., and L. K. Ananthakrishna Iyer (1930). "Gangadikāra Okkalu." The Mysore Tribes and Castes 3:175-185. Mysore: Mysore University.


Srinivas, M. N. (1963). "The Social Structure of a Mysore Village." In India's Villages, edited by M. N. Srinivas, 21-35. Bombay: Asia Publishing House.


Srinivas, M. N. (1976). The Remembered Village. Berkeley: University of California Press.

SARA J. DICK

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