While travelling from the landing place on the
Madras "Buckingham Canal" to Nellore, we were made to experience
the novel sensation of a transit of fifteen miles in comfortable modern
carriages each briskly dragged by a dozen of strong, merry men, whom we
took for ordinary Hindus of some of the lower or Pariah caste. The contrast
offered us by the sight of these noisy, apparently well-contented men to
our palankin-bearers, who had just carried us for fifty-five miles across
the sandy, hot plains that stretch between Padagangam on the same canal
and Guntoor as affording relief was great. These palankin-bearers, we
were told, were of the washerman's caste, and had hard times working night
and day, never having regular . hours for sleep, earning but a few pice
a day, and when the pice had the good chance of being transformed
into annas, existing upon the luxury of a mud-soup made out
of husks and damaged rice, and called by them "pepper-water."
Naturally enough, we regarded our human carriage-steeds as identical with
the palankin-bearers. We were speedily disabused, being told by one of our
Brother members Mr. Kasava Pillai, Secretary to our Nellore Theosophical
Society that the two classes had nothing in common. The former were low
caste Hindus, the latter Yanadhis. The information received about
this tribe was so interesting, that we now give it to our readers, as we
then received it.
WHO ARE THE YANADHIS?
The word Yanadhi is a corruption of the word "Anathi"
(Aborigines), meaning "having no beginning." The Yanadhis live
mostly in the Nellore District, Madras Presidency, along the coast. They
are divided into two classes: (1) Cappala or Challa, "frog-eaters,"
"refuse-eaters"; and (2) the Yanadhis proper, or the "good
Yanadhis." The first class lives, as a rule, separated from the Sudra
population of the district, and earns its living by hard work. The Cappala
are employed to drag carts and carriages in lieu of cattle, as horses
are very scarce and too expensive to maintain in this district. The second
class, or Yanadhis proper, live partly in villages and partly in
the jungles, assisting the farmers in tilling the land, as in all other
Yet both classes are renowned for their mysterious knowledge of the occult
properties of nature, and are regarded as practical magicians.
Both are fond of sport and great hunters of rats and bandicoots. They
catch the field-mouse by digging, and the fish by using simply their hands
without the usual help of either angle or net. I They belong to the Mongolian
race, their colour varying from light brown to a very dark sepia shade.
Their dress consists of a piece of cloth to tie around the head, and of
another one to go round the waist. They live in small circular huts of about
8 feet in diameter, having an entrance of about 1½ p. in width. Before
building the huts they describe large circles round the place where the
huts are to be built, muttering certain words of magic, which are supposed
to keep evil spirits, influences and snakes from approaching their dwelling
places. They plant round their huts certain herbs believed to possess the
virtue of keeping off venomous reptiles. It is really astonishing to find
in those little huts two dozens of persons living, for a Yanadhi rarely
has less than a dozen of children. Their diet consists chiefly of rats,
bandicoots, field mice, cangi, guano, and little rice even wild roots often
forming part of their food. Their diet, in a great measure, explains their
physical peculiarities. Field-mice account partly for their having so many
children each. They live to a good old age; and it is only very seldom that
one sees a man with grey hairs. This is attributed to the starch in the
cangi they daily drink, and the easy and careless lives they lead.
Their extraordinary merit consists in the intimate knowledge they possess
of the occult virtues of roots, green herbs, and other plants. They can
extract the virtue of these plants, and neutralize the most fatal poisons
of venomous reptiles; and even very ferocious cobras are seen to sink their
hoods before a certain green leaf. The names, identity and the knowledge
of these plants they keep most secret. Cases of snake-bite have never been
heard of among them, though they live in jungles and the most insecure places,
whereas death by snake-bite is common among the higher classes. Devil possession
is very seldom among their women. They extract a most efficacious remedy,
or rather a decoction from more than a hundred different roots, and
it is said to possess incalculable virtues for curing any malady.
In cases of extreme urgency and fatal sickness they consult their seer
(often one for 20 or 25 families), who invokes their tutelary deity by sounding
a drum, with a woman singing to it, and with a fire in front. After an hour
or two he falls into a trance, or works himself into a state, during which
he can tell the cause of the sickness, and prescribe a certain secret remedy,
which, when paid and administered the patient is cured. It is supposed that
the spirit of the deceased, whose name they have dishonoured, or the deity
whom they have neglected, tells them through the medium of the seer, why
they were visited with the calamity, exacts of them promise of good behaviour
in future, and disappears after an advice. It is not unfrequently that men
of high caste, such as Brahmins, have had recourse to them for such information,
and consulted with them with advantage. The seer grows his hair and lets
no razor pass his head. The Yanadhis shave their heads with the sharp
end of a glass piece. The ceremonies of naming a child, marriage and journeys,
and such other things, are likewise consulted.
They possess such an acute sense of smell, or rather sensitiveness, that
they can see where a bird they require is, or where the object of their
game is hiding itself. They are employed as guards and watchmen for the
rare power they have in finding and tracing out a thief or a stranger from
his foot-marks. Suppose a stranger visited their village at night, a Yanadhi
could say that the village was visited by him (a stranger) by simply looking
at the footsteps.