For the town in Tajikistan, see Kamar (Tajikistan). For the villages in Iran, see Kamar, Iran and Kamar, Mazandaran.
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The Kamar are a metal-working caste of Bengal and Bihar distinguished from the Lohar by not confining themselves to the fabrication of iron implements, and by having no scruples about working with any kind of metal.
1 Legendary origin,
2 Eight classes,
6 Social position,
The Kamars or Karmakars of Bengal are popularly believed to be descended from an intrigue between a woman of the Sudra caste and the celestial artificer Viswa-karraa. In the Midnapur district they have a legend curiously like the myth of the destruction of the Asuras quoted in the article on the Munda tribe. Once upon a time, they say, there was a demon called Lohasura (Lohd + asura), who obtained by his austerities the gift of immortality, and warred successfully with the gods. Wearied with constant defeat, Indra at last appealed to Siva for help. As the demon was proof against all the weapons of the gods, a man was created to be their champion and armed by Siva with a set of blacksmith's tools. His hammer was formed from Siva's drum (damaru), a skull was converted into an anvil, pincers were made out of the snake girdle worn by the god, while the sacred bull parted with a piece of his skin to furnish the bellows. Thus equipped the first Kamar went forth to meet Lohasur, who laughed and declined to fight any one so small. On this the Kamar asked the Asura to give a proof that he was really immortal by getting into his furnace and letting him blow the bellows. With stupidity worthy of a giant in a fairy tale, the Asura complied; but the Kamar worked the bellows so hard that before the demon could turn he had become red hot and had run out of the furnace as molten iron. From this were forged eight different kinds of iron, corresponding, it is said, to the eight classes of Kamar known in Midnapur.
Lohar-Kamars, who work in iron;,
Pitule-Kamars, who make brass utensils;,
Kansaris, who work in bell-metal;,
Sarna-Kamars, or working goldsmiths;,
Ghatra, Kamars, who make imitation fruits, iron figures of owls and other birds used in the worship of Lakshmi, and kajlnutis or iron snuffer-shaped vessels for collecting lampblack ;,
Chand-Kamars, whose specialty is the manufacture of brass mirrors;,
Dnokras, and Tamras, two lower classes of Kamars found in the Jungle Mahals in the west of the district, who eat fowls, are reckoned unclean, and are served by a' degraded class of Brahman.,
Of these groups the first two intermarry, while all the rest are endogamous. It is impossible at the present day to determine whether all of them are really derived from the Kamar caste; and it seems probable that some of them may be separate castes, which have been classed as Kamars on account of some real or supposed resemblance in their occupations. It is, however, undoubtedly the case that in other districts besides Midnapur the internal divisions of the Kamar caste are unusually intricate and multifarious.
Thus in the 24-Parganas three sub-castes are recognised: Uttar-Rarhi, Dakhin-Rarhi, and Anarpuri, the members of which do not intermarry; while the first two are further subdivided into the hypergamous groups Kulin and Maulik. In Eastern Bengal we find Bhusnapati, Dhakai, and Paschima, the first being again broken up into Naldipati, Chaudda-Samaj, Panch-Samaj, between which intermarriage is permitted. The Kamars of Murshedabad again reckon four groups--Rarhi, Barendra, Dhakawal, and Khotta. The last two are composed respectively of emigrants from Dacca and Hindustan, who have settled in Central Bengal. The Rarhi and Barendra sub-castes are found also in Pabna under the names Das-Samaj and PanchSamaj, while in Noakhali the caste is divided into Jati-Karmakar and Sikhu-Karmakar, who do not intermarry. Belasi, Mahmudpuria, and Kamla-Kamar are met with in Bardwan. In Manbhum there are four sub-castes--Magahiya, Dhokra, Lohsa, and Basuna, and the same number in the 8antil Parganas--Ashtalai, Churalai, Belalai, and Sankhalai. In Singbhum and throughout Behar no sub-castes seem to exist.
An equal degree of diversity prevails among the exogamous divisions of the caste. The Kamars of Bengal have adopted the standard Brahmanical gotras; in Singbhum and the Santal Parganas totemistic sections are in vogue; while in Behar the corresponding groups are of the local or territorial type. In Bengal the gotra is looked upon as a sort of ornamental appendage testifying the respectability of the caste, but persons of the same gotra are allowed to marry provided that they are not of kin within the fifth degree on the mother's and the seventh on the father's side. In Behar and Chota Nagpur the usual rule that a man may not marry a woman belonging to his own section is still observed. These facts, taken in connexion with the prevalence of several different types of section-names seem to point to the conclusion that many distinct castes of metalworkers have sprung up in different parts of the country to meet local wants; that each caste has been formed out of recruits from the surrounding population; and that the name Kamar, so far from indicating a common origin, is merely the functional designation of an extremely heterogeneous group. In other words, the profession of metal-worker in its various branches has been adopted from time to time by Aryans, non-Aryans, and people of mixed race; but the fact of their following the same occupation, though it has led to their being called by a common name, has not welded them into a uniform group, and the component elements of the caste still remain entirely distinct. The caste, in fact, is a caste only in the loose popular sense of the word, and its multifarious internal divisions afford an excellent illustration of the general rule that while diversity of occupation undoubtedly leads to differentiation, community of occupation does not necessarily or generally bring about integration.
The Kamars of Bengal marry their daughters as infants, between the ages of five and ten years. The amage' usual maximum limit of age in Behar is twelve for a girl and fifteen for a boy; but it is essential that the bridegroom should be taller than the bride, and this poiat is ascertained by actual measurement. In Bengal, however, the marriage of a son is sometimes delayed till he is twenty-five or so by reason of the necessity of paying a pan or bride-price in order to obtain a wife Among the Kamars of Chota Nagpur adult marriage still holds its ground even for girls, though it is considered more proper for them to be married before attaining puberty. The Kamars of Midnapur, though regarding infant-marriage as essential, do not permit consummation to take place immediately after the ceremony, but keep their girls at home until they have reached puberty and may fairly be deemed aptce viro. Another custom prevalent in that district is kdparpardna, or presenting a piece of cloth and certain spices to the bride elect before the marriage. The acceptance of this cloth is hold finally to bind the bride's family to keep faith with the bridegroom, so that if the girl were afterwards given to another man her father would run the risk of being turned out of the caste. In Bengal the marriage ceremony is of the standard type, while in Behar it closely resembles that described in the article on the Kewat caste. One curious practice, known as ghdskdti, or cutting grass, is peculiar to Kamars. On the day after the marriage the wedded pair, followed by a number of women singing, are taken outside the house, and the bridegroom is given a sickle, with which he cuts a handful of grass. After this a maid-servant or one of the female members of the bride's household plants a stick in the ground at some distance off, and the bridegroom and his brotherin-law race for the stick, which the winner pulls up. In this contest it is an understood thing that the bridegroom must be allowed to win, and if the bride's brother seems to be getting the best of it he is headed back by the bridegroom's friends, so as to let the latter come in first. Polygamy is permitted in Bengal and Chota Nagpur, but is strongly disapproved of in Behar, where the rule is that a man may only take a second wife in the event of the first being barren or Buffering from an incurable disease. Widow-marriage is forbidden in Bengal and Behar, but is still practised in Chota Nagpur by the Magahiya Kamars, who probably left Behar before the Kamars of that province had taken to orthodox ways. Divorce is recognised only in Singbhum and the Santal Parganas, where a sal leaf is torn in two before the panchayat as a symbol of separation, and divorced wives are allowed to marry again. In other districts a faithless wife is turned out of the caste, and either becomes a regular prostitute or joins some religious sect of dubious morality. Such measures, however, are only resorted to in extreme cases, and intrigues within the caste are usually condoned by the husband.
The majority of the Kumars in Bengal are Vaishnavas, but follow the Sakta ritual. Their favourite deity is Viswakarma, who is worshipped on the last day of Bhadra with offerings of sweetmeats, parched rice, fruits, molasses, flowers, sandal-wood paste, Ganges water, cloth, silver ornaments, etc. At the same time they worship the hammer, anvil, and other tools used in their handicraft. In Behar they reverence as minor gods Hanuman, Bandi, Goraiya, Kali, Jawala Mukhi, Jalpa, Bhairab, and two Muslim saints-- Miran or Shaikh Sadu and Saiyad. Cocks, khii; and puri are offered to the latter, and afterwards given away to poor Muslims. In Bengal the women perform the Ananta, Savitri, Sasthi, and Panchami bratas, and Nistarini, and Mangal Chandi are worshipped by the women and children with offerings of sweetmeats, milk, fruit, etc. For the service of the greater gods and in the performance of brata* the caste employ Brahmans, who are received on equal terms by other members of the sacred order. The dead are burned, and a regular trdddh performed on the thirty-first day after death.
Among the Kamars of Dacca, says Dr. Wise, there exists a tradition that they were brought from Upper India by the Muslim Government. In the 'Ain-i-Akbari it is stated that there was an iron mine in Sarkar Buzuha, which included Dacca, and in later times jagirs called 6/iangar were granted to the skilled workmen employed in smelting iron from the red lateritesoil of the Dacca district. At the present day, however, the Kamars are unacquainted with the art of smelting iron, and they procure pig-iron from Calcutta when a local supply is not to be had. Iron-smelting, indeed, seems to be practised only by the aboriginal Lohars and Asuras of Chota Nagpur and Western Bengal. Kamars work in all metals, including gold and silver, and being themselves members of the Nava-Sakha group affect to despise the professional goldsmith or Sonarbanik, who is considered unclean. Most Sekr&s or working goldsmiths are Kamars, and more than half of the caste are employed as blacksmiths. The regular village blacksmith, whether Kumar or Lohar, is usually paid in kind, receiving four drhis (about a maund) of paddy per plough. Some Kamars, again, are employed to slaughter the animals offered in sacrifice to Sakti. In Dacca, where the Kansari or brazier caste is no longer met with, the manufacture of the brass utensils solely used in Hindu households devolves on the Kamars, their only competitors being the Ghulam Kayasths, many of whom engage in this trade. They make an alloy (bharri) with three parts of copper and four of zinc, and with it manufacture cups, lotas, and other vessels. The Panni-wala, or tin-foil maker, is always a Kamar. The tin is obtained in bars from Calcutta, and being run into moulds, is, while still soft, beaten out until thin enough to be out into strips, which are then stained with lac and turmeric so as to counterfeit the colour of gold. The foil so produced is then sold to the Muslim Churi-wala to ornament his glass bracelets, and to the Malabar to embellish chaplets, tiaras, images of gods and goddesses, and the platforms paraded on gala days. A small number of Kamars have taken to agriculture and trade, and among these a few hold the position of zemindars or tenure-holders, while the majority are occupancy raiyats. The caste has always been an illiterate one, and very few of its members have made their way into Government service, or the learned professions. It is, in fact, a common allegation that they only learn enough reading and writing- to enable them to keep accounts.
The social standing of Kamars is respectable. In Bengal they rank among the Navasakha, and in Behar they Social status belongs to the group of castes trom whose hands a Brahman can take water. Except in Singbhum and the Santal Parganas, where fowls are deemed lawful food, they observe the same rules regarding diet as the higher castes, but do not consider themselves bound to abstain from spirituous liquors. Like the Ekadas Telis, Kamars pride themselves upon not allowing their women to wear nose-rings. This prohibition is said to have been introduced by a paramanik (headman) of the caste because a Kamar woman dropped her nose-ring on his plate while serving him at a feast. In Midnapur the pardmaniks hold a very high position, and marriages with their families are eagerly sought after. All questions bearing on the usages of the caste are laid before them for decision, and disregard of their orders may in the last resort be punished by excommunication. Ordinarily, however, a fine is inflicted, of which the paramanik himself gets the largest share, while the rest is spent in giving a feast to the Kamars who live within his jurisdiction.
Portions of this article are taken directly from "The tribes and castes of Bengal: Ethnographic glossary", an 1892 work in the public domain.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license