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Who are they?
The Murao, also known as Mauriya, are an agricultural community of Uttar Pradesh numbering around 1.8 million people. They are similar to the Kacchi and the Koeri, both large agricultural communities of north India, and are at times considered a subdivision of the former. However, they are enumerated as a separate caste in the official decennial census.
The Murao are found in large numbers in the districts of Farrukhabad, Etah, Etawah, Mainpuri, Jhansi, Shahjahanpur, Hardoi, and Agra. They speak Hindi and use the Devanagari script.
The word Murao is thought to be derived from the Hindi word mula, meaning radish; the caste is so named because they predominantly cultivate the radish.
They accept food and water from Brahmins, the highest Hindu priestly caste, the Thakur (a synonym of Rajput, second highest Hindu caste of warriors), the Barai (betel-leaf growers), the Bania (traders), the Yadav (pastoralist), and the Lodh (cultivator) communities but not from the Chamar (tanner) or Bhangi (sweeper or scavenger). The Murao consider they are equal to the Thakur and subordinate to the Brahmin, but this belief is not validated by the higher castes that place them lower in the social order along with the other peasant castes.
The Murao maintain established intercommunity linkages with the Brahmin, Dhobi (washer man), Nai (barber), Mali (gardener), Lohar (blacksmith), Dhanuk (labourer) and Kumhar (potter), all of whom have special roles to perform in their ceremonies. In return those communities receive money, grains and food from the Murao people.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The Murao are traditionally agriculturists engaged in the cultivation of food and cash crops. Some are employed in government and private sectors while others work as unskilled labourers in industry or petty business. The Murao also have some professionals among the educated younger generation. A few work in the defense services.
Though they are in favour of formal education and send their children to schools, the literacy level is still low (especially for females) and many students do not continue tertiary education due to economic or social reasons. They utilise both modern and indigenous medicines. They avail themselves of the facilities of clean drinking water, electricity, nationalised banking and irrigation from tube-wells and canals.
The Murao are vegetarian who eat wheat, rice, maize, millet, seasonal fruits and vegetables, lentils and dairy products. Alcoholic drinks are consumed occasionally by the men, while tobacco is also taken in various forms.
The Murao marry only from within their community. Their community is divided into seven subgroups, namely, Hardiha, Piyjaha, Thakuriha, Kachi, Kannaujia, Bhagta and Manvar. Some of these subgroups are named after the plants they grow; for example, the first two are named after turmeric and onion respectively. These subgroups also maintain a hierarchy to indicate their respective social status.
Marriages are arranged by negotiations between elders on both sides and monogamy is common. A man is allowed a second wife only for exceptional circumstances such as barrenness of the first wife. The marriage symbols for women are sindur (vermilion in the mid-head hair-parting), toe-rings and bangles.
The Murao have three forms of marriage, namely, dhakela, dola and baraat. The dola which literally means “palanquin” signifying the send-off ceremony of the bride is rather plain, and is for the poor among the Murao. The baraat (marriage procession of the bridegroom) is for well-to-do families. In the past, child marriage followed by the ceremonial departure of the bride on attaining puberty or gaona was very common but today adult marriages are preferred as is the practice of dowry.
Divorce is permissible and divorce cases are usually initiated by the woman’s parents and decided upon by the elders of the community. Remarriage of widowers, widows and divorcees is permitted.
All the sons inherit equal shares of the parental property and the eldest succeeds the deceased father as head of the family. Daughters are not allowed any share of the inheritance. The status of women in Murao society is low compared to men. However, they actively participate in social, religious and ritual activities. Folk songs, often accompanied by the dholak, an indigenous, barrel-shaped, double-sided drum, are sung by the women on auspicious occasions like births and marriages. They also perform a special folk dance known as natka.
What Are Their Beliefs?
The Murao are Hindus who worship major Hindu gods and goddesses like Vishnu (Preserver in the Hindu trinity), Krishna (8th and most popular incarnation of Vishnu with pastoral attributes), Shiva (Destroyer in the Hindu trinity), and Kali. They also worship village deities like Visahari (poison destroyer, goddess of snakes, and protector from venomous reptiles) as well as family deities.
The Murao celebrate major Hindu festivals like Holi, Diwali, Janamashtami (Krishna’s birthday) and a festival called Nava.
Brahmin priests perform all their life-cycle rituals connected with birth, marriage and death. They cremate their dead and immerse the ashes in a river, preferably in the Ganges River. After cremation, a ritual is performed in which the head of the corpse is pierced or broken with a bamboo. Post-death purification rituals are performed on the tenth and thirteenth days, respectively. Ancestor worship is prevalent among them. They believe in evil spirits and exorcism.