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UNIT 27 'RURAL CLASSES AND LIFE-STYLE
27.0 27.1 27.2 27.3 Objectives Introduction Structure of Rural Society Standard of Living 27.3.1 Clothing 27.3.2 Housing 27.3.3 Food 27.4 Social Life 27.4.1 Family Life 27.4.2 Social Institutions and Customs 27.4.3 Festivals aqd Amusements 27.5 Let Us Sum U P 27.6 Answers to Check Ycur Progress Exercises
India has traditionally been an agricultural coun'try, having most of its population located in the rural areas. Any worthwhile study, therefore, of Indian society has perforce to rake into account the life of the rural classes. This Unit will introduce you to the following :.. the groups of population residing in rural areas in the 16th-18th century; their life-styles and the standards of living; and the customs and social institutions prevalent in rural areas.
India is a land of villages. Even today the bulk of its population resides in villages. And what is true today H;ould be even truer for those periods of history when industrial production was small, never going beyond a few scattered artisan and handicraft industries, and agriculture was the major vocation for a very large part of its population. How, then did the Indians live in villages? This is a big question that can itself be split into a ntkmber of smaller questions, a few of which could be : Was rural India a homogernous group or did several groups together comprise rural society? How was production organisect i n this society? What was the nature of interpersonal relationships?
We shall in the following pages seek to answer theseproblems with reference to the developments from the 16th to mid-18th century.
27.2 STRUCTURE OF RURAL SOCIETY
The basic unit of rural society in India, as observed above, was the village. A village had two principal physical features :
It consisted of a group of families and a collection of dwellings and cultivated land also. The system cf the ownership of cultivated land in the villages has been described in Unit-17 (Block-5) earlier.
If we say that the primary inhabitants of the village were the peasants, we shall be making an obvioiis statement. Peasants were one unit of rural population on whose productive efforts iested the survival o f all other rural (and indeed also non-rbrcll) classes. Bul rhcv were divided by the inequalities of wealth and social status. There
Thus. Wearing of shoes among rural folk was not quite common. regional variation in their use of the blouse. khwudkasht. Caste associations and kinship ties (bhaichara) were also sohrces of divisiveness among the peasantry. Women have been described as generally wearing cotton saris.3 STANDARD OF LIVING The rural society in medieval India was highly segmentcd. carpenters. like Surdas and Tulsidas.3. who visited India during Jahangir's time. blouse was not common. Geyl. rezariaya. Vol. except some earthenware pots to hold water and for cooking.ica1 tradition. or perhaps two. and two beds. both made of quilt. the zamindars were considerably fragmented on the lines of caste associations and social ties. they were entitled to a percentage of the total revenue collected. too. You have read about their rights and privileges in detail in Unit-17 (Block-5). Furniture there is little or none.Society and Culture-I were rich (viz. 1925) . Pelsaert. Menfolk in rural areas have been described by Babur as wearing only a short cloth (lungi) about the loins. In parts of the western and central India. women wore lahangas (skirts) in place of sari. We reproduce his account below : "Their houses are built of mud with thatched roofs.H. This significant part of the rural population of India consisted of groups like weavers. and the rural population is generally treated as a monolithic block. These commpnities rendered valuable services. But in other regions blouse known as choli or angiya was worn by rural women. Perhaps shoes were used by the richer section in the villages. but add that during the winter men wear cotton-gowns and caps..1 Clothing The quantity of clothing is an index of the poverty of rural classes.. 460). barbers and washermen. gharuhala. has given a graphic description of the rural housing. Alongside the peasants. 27. but the bitter cold nights are miserable indeed. &ti and kunbi). There was. For the service so rendered. W. I. and mirasdar) and poor peasants (viz.3. and they try to keep warm over little cowdung fires which are lit outside the doors. to mention panahi and upanaha as the two words in vogue for shoes. p." (Francois Pelsaert. blacksmiths. They claimed a share in the agricultural produce and exercised control over the village by virtue of a histor.. There were permanent (mirasdar. Delhi. serving both as under and over-sheet. thalkar) and the temporary residents (paikasht. Satish Chandra uses the works of the Hindi poets. Moreland & P. They also acted as a cheap source of labour for a ricultural work. the other for his wife : ' " Their bedclothes are scanty. this is sufficient in :he hot weather. 27. (Cambridge Economic History of India. one for the man. As a social group. The travellers testify this description. uniformly known as zamindars. because the houses have no fires-places or chimneys . merely a sheet. The references in our sources do not highlight these inequalities. too) wore nothing above their waist. We have made an attempt ir: the following sub-sections to draw as detailed a picture of rural life in medieval India as is permitted by our sources. Jahangir's India tr. Above the ieasants there existed a category of rural population which can be described as intermediate proprietors. Here it will suffice to note that the zamindars as a constituent unit of rural population were recognised by medieval rulers as they assisted the government in the task of collecting revenue from the peasants. In eastern India. a large population of craft and service communities also resided in the villages. with a blouse above. potters.2 Housing A major segment of the rural population lived in houses made of mud with thatched roofs. They were generally single-room 'wellings. however. 8 27. upari). one would expect considerable inequalities within the same village. The Malabari women (and men.
Bengal. it was the staple diet of the rural masses. Sindh.of the people in rural areas. 2) Give an assessment of the standard of living'prevalent at the rural level in Medieval India. The very poor among the rural population had to remain satisfied with boiled rice. Rural Classes and LifeLStyle 27.4 SOCIAL LIFE Social life in rhral India is sparsely documented. Likewise. however. The house of the ordinary peasant was deprived of any furniture save a few cots and bamboo mats.3. the material used was wc+od. millet and grass-roots only. Fish was popular in t. 27.3 Food The diet of the common people in most parts of India consisted mainly of rice. only a lighter meal was served.. in the wheat-producing Agra-Delhi region. However.bamboo and straw. in Rajasthan and Gujarat millets such as juwar and bajra were the main food. There was only one major meal for most. even. In addition to foodgrains. Bengali poet Mukundarama mention3 a few delicacies made of curd. gur seems to have been commonly consumed in the villages. wheat was not apparently a part of the diet of the common people. but was not eaten regularly or in large quantity. The commonly used pots. Huts in Kashmir were made of wood. In the South the huts were covered with Cajan leaves. even for cooking purpose. space for stcring foodgrains a@ an enclosed courtyard. and in north and central India the principal building material was mud thatched with straw. Thus. which the poor could afford only on occasions of marriage and festival. Bengal and Western India. Pelsaert says. were made of earth. ' . millets and pulses..the huts in Bengal were made by roping bamboos upon a mud plinth. viz. "They know little of the taste of meat. a taboo on beef. Kashmir and parts of south India. milk and jaggery (gur). In Assam.I I There was. However. While !he poor sometimes shared their dwellings with their cattle. There was. the rich in the rural areas had houses having several rooms. Orissa.he coastal regions of Bengal and Orissa. the rural people used beans and vegetables. It was taken at midday or earlier. At sunset. According to Satish Chandra. It also did not have any metal utensils barring iro'n pan used for making breads. considerable vcriation in these houses due to the availability of local material. Interestingly ghi was apparently a-staple part of the d ~ e t in Northern india." In regions where rice was the major crop. Check Your Progress 1 1) Analyse the structure of rural society in Medieval India. however. a reconstruction may be attempted on the basis of scattered information gleaned from contemporary literature as also from stray references in the chronicles of the oeriod .
Different customs of marriage were followed among the Muslim and non-Muslim segments of rural population. On the whole. popular songs and scattering of red powder. the availability of additional lands in a family contributing to the agkicultural production had an added economic significance.4. Families gave distinct preference to male over female. Holi. the family system developed the feeling of mutual dependence and joint relationship and thus the consciousness that without each other's help life would be difficult.e. Basant was the time of spring and was celebrated by singing and dancing. For instance. Dancing and singing were the most popular forms of amusement among the rural masses. Women members were generally subject to the dictates of the males of the family. But we are not certain about the execution of this order. by this time (i. a more important festival. '"The distinguishing features of popular celebration". p. Shivratri was more of a religious festival observed in night-long prayers.4. As compared with Shabbarat and 'Id.1 Family Life You are awarc of the fact that in India joint family has tradiiiorlally been the most important institution of domestic life. Huge bonfires. Members enjoyed only a right of maintehance from the property.4. this attempt of Akbar remained confined on paper only. Blochman.27. 9 . 16th-18th century). the common practice was in favour of an early marriage. Though there did not exist any fixed limit for the age of marriage. Deepavali was a festival of lights and was celebrated soon after the harvesting of the kharif crops. was celebrated just before the onset of harvesting season. Shabbarst and Muharram were the most popular festivals among the Muslims in the rural areas. Ashraf (Life and Conditions of the People of Hindustan. 241 & n . Some of the broad features of family system may be listed as below : In most parts of India. preference was given to the first-born. the tazias (imitation of their mausoleums) were taken out in procession and buried in local graveyards. "were the extensive use of fireworks and the illumination of homes and mosques".2 social Institutions and Customs Marriage was the most notable social institution in rural India.. the family system was mainly patriarchal in character. Their timing was such that the peasantry was in a state of comparative leisure. Holi. New Delhi. 27. Vol I. had become influenced by the Indian environment. Most of the festivals of the non-Muslims coincided with particular seasons. says he. were the conspicuous features of this festival. For the peasants. The s e n i o ~ male member was the head of the family. Similarly.3 Festivals and Amusements Among the rural folk. 27. Thus a son was preferred to a daughter. there is no reason to believe that these two segments of rural population did not participate in each other's festivities. 195). The most popular of these festivals were Basant Panchami. If references to marriage in contemporary literature are any index. Muharram was observed with modesty. The Muslim festivals. a variety of festivals and amusements were popular. 3rd Edition. 'Id. We know on the authorityof Bbul Fazl that Akbar attempted to fix a minimum age for marriage-sixteen years for males and fourteen years for females (Ain-i Akbari tr H. p. was one festival probably copied from the Shivratri. 1988. However. The first ten days of Muharram were spent in reading the account of the raattyrdom of Imam Husain. and among the sons. 'There was no individual property within the family. and thus in a mood for enjoyment. Shabharat. . marriage among the Hindus was a sacrament as against a contract among the Muslims. Later. The responsibility of marrying sons and daughters vested primarily with the parents. in the opinion of K. girls in both cases were unable to exercise their own choice. Deepavali and-Shivratri. Occasions like the festivals of Holi called for gatherings at common places * in the villages where 9opular ballads weresung and folk dances performed.M. Although based on different religions affiliations different kind of festivals were celebrated by the Muslim and non-Muslim population. dowry was a bane common to both the segments. too.
social institiltions and cusloms.4 and Sub-Sec. 27. The standard of living. viz. viz. family. food.3.6 ANSWERS TO CHECK YOUR PROGRESS EXERCISES I) See Section 27. clothing and housing of the rural classes has been taken into account.Check Your Progress 2 1 ) Enumerate the broad features of the family system which existed at the village level. festivals and amusements have also been dealt with. - 27.1.1 2) See Section 27. 27.3 . festivals and amusements practised in rural India? 27. Rural Clarnes and LIA-Style 2) What were the major customs.4.4. the overall constituent structure of rural society has been outlined. 27.2 and 27. Various aspects of social life.3 Check Your Progress 2 1 ) See Section 27.2 Check Your Progress 1 2) See Section 18.104.22.168 and 27.3 and Sub-Sec... 27.4 and Sub-Sec.5 CET US SUM UP In this Unit.3.
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