(Last Updated on : 26-02-2011)
Barai caste is the cultivator caste and also the sellers of betel-vine leaf. Tamboli and Pansari are the other names used for recognising the caste. This caste is mainly spread over the central region of India. However, there are some shades of variation in the meaning of these terms. Like for instance, the term Barai signifies especially one who grows betel vine, the term Tamboli indicates the seller of prepared betel vine; while the term Pansari means a dealer of betel-vine leaves. However, in the provinces of Bengal, Barai and Tamboli are considered as distinct castes as because the occupations of growing and selling of betel-leaf are practised separately. Barai caste mainly resides in the regions of Amraoti, Buldana, Nagpur District
, Wardha District
, Saugor and Jabalpur District
. Moreover, the betel leaves are mainly cultivated in the northern districts of Saugor, Damoh
and also in the plains of Nagpur
No probable derivation has been obtained for the name Barai. It is believed that the name comes from bari, meaning an enclosure, and it simply signifies gardener. Another derivation of the name is from barana, to prevent hailstorms, a calling that is still practised in northern part of India. Barai caste holds a significant position in the society owing to the fact that they produce one of the most esteemed luxuries of the diet of the higher classes. In the central provinces of the country, the cultivation of betel vine has probably flourished to a considerable extent over three centuries. The Barai caste appears to be mainly a functional caste, including a number of settlers from northern India and different classes of population. The population of this caste includes a large proportion of the non-Aryan immigrants.
Barai caste has several endogamous divisions namely Chaurasia, from Chaurasi pargana of the Mirzapur District
; Panagaria from Panagar in Jabalpur; Mahobia from Mahoba District
; Jaiswar from Rai Bareli District; Gangapari, and Pardeshi or Deshwari, meaning foreigners. All these divisions have territorial names. These sub-divisions are an indication that a large proportion of Barai caste have come from northern region of the country and the diverse batches of immigrants constituting the distinct endogamous divisions on their arrival. Other sub-castes of Barai caste are Dudh Barais, the Kunbis who have adopted this profession and became Barais; the Jharia and Kosaria, the Purania or old Barais; the Kumhardhang, said to be the descendants of a potter on whose wheel a betel plant grew; and so on. The Barai caste is also categorised into a large number of exogamous groups which may be classified as per their names as territorial. Some examples of the territorial names include Kanaujia of Kannauj
, Burhanpuria of Burhanpur
, Chitoria of Chittorgarh city
in Rajputana, Deobijha, name of a village in Chhattisgarh
, and Kharondiha from Kharond. If the group is named after another caste it indicates that a man of that caste eventually became a Barai and formed a family.
In their society, marriage within the same exogamous group is prohibited. Girls get married before reaching the stage of adolescence. Polygamy is also allowed in their society. Barai castes celebrate a number of festivals and are very religious by nature. They religiously observe the festival of Nag Panchami. They are known for their indigenous culture and traditions.