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The Bengali Brahmins are those Hindu Brahmins who traditionally reside in the Bengal region of the Indian subcontinent, currently comprising the Indian state of West Bengal, Tripura, Assam and Bangladesh. When the British left India in 1947, carving out separate nations (see partition), a number of families moved from the Muslim-majority East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) to be within the borders of the newly defined Republic of India, and continued to migrate for several decades thereafter.
In the 19th (held at Prayag) and 20th (held at Lucknow) national convention of Kanyakubja Brahmins by Kanyakubja Mahati Sabha, in 1926 and 1927 respectively, it appealed for unity among Kanyakubja Brahmins whose different branches included Sanadhya, Pahadi, Jujhoutia, Saryupareen, Chattisgarhi, Bhumihar Brahmins and different Bengali Brahmins. Historically, the Bengali Brahmins have been the standard bearers of Madhyadeshiya culture in Bengal (Madhyadesh is the historic-cultural region of the upper Ganges–Yamuna doab which was the seat of Panch-Gauda Brahmins).
The earliest historically verifiable presence of Brahmins in Bengal can be ascertained from Dhanaidaha copper-plate inscription of Kumargupta 1 of the Gupta Year 113 (433 C.E.) which records the grant of land to a Brahmin named Varahasvamin of the Samavedi school. A copper-plate grant from the Gupta period found in the vicinity of Somapura mentions a Brahmin donating land to a Jain vihara at Vatagohali. Literary sources like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Jain and Buddhist works, however record the presence of Brahmins in various parts of Bengal during earlier periods. Historical evidence also attests significant presence of Brahmins in Bengal during the Maurya period. The Jain Acharya Bhadrabahu, regarded to be the preceptor of Chandragupta Maurya is said to have been born in Brahmin family of Pundravardhana ( or Puṇḍra, the region north of the Ganges and west of Brahmaputra in Bengal, later known as Vārendra). Such evidences suggest Puṇḍra or Vārendra and regions west of Bhagirathi (called Radha in ancient age) to be seats of Brahmins from ancient times; Rādhi and Varendra are still chief branches of Bengali Brahmins settled in these regions. Medium to large scale migrations of Brahmins from various parts of India like Mithila, Kanyakubja region, Kolancha, southern India and Pushkar in Rajasthan, among other places, occurred from time to time, especially during Pala and Sena periods.
- Rādhi from Radh (region south-west of the Ganges)
- Varendra, from Vārendra region (North-East) or Puṇḍra. Vārendra originally meant rain-maker magicians.
- Vaidika (migrants, originally experts of Vedic knowledge)
- Paschatya Vaidika (Vedic Brahmins from west of Bengal)
- Dakshinatya Vaidika (Vedic Brahmins from south of Bengal)
- Madhya Sreni (Brahmins of the midland country)
- Shakdvipi(migrant Brahmins of Shakdvipa in Central Asia)
- Grahavipra (Brahmins associated with practice of Astrology) (a major surname: Acharya − although all 'Acharya's do not benlong to Grahavipra class)
The different Brahmin communities of Bengal have their own traditional accounts of origin, which are generally found in various genealogical texts known as kulagranthas or kulapanjikas. Other details may also be obtained from court chronicles of various kings of Bengal. Important writers are Harimishra (13th century C.E), Edu Mishra (13th century C.E), Devivara Ghatak (15th century C.E), Dhruvananda Mishra (post 15th century C.E), Vachaspati Mishra, Rajendralal Mitra among others.
- Radhi and Varendra
The traditional origin of both Radhi and Varendra Brahmins has been attributed to a king named Ādiśūra who is said to have invited five Brahmins from Kolancha (as per Edu Mishra and Hari Mishra) and/or from Kanyakubja, (as per Dhruvananda Mishra) so that he could conduct a yajña, because he could not find Vedic experts locally. Some traditional texts mention that Ādiśūra was ancestor of Ballāl Sena from maternal side and five Brahmins had been invited in 1077 C.E. Other texts like Varendrakulapanjika, Vachaspati Mishra's account and Edu Mishra's account attribute a date of 732 C.E for the migration. Additionally, other sources like Sambandhanirnaya, Kulanrava and others attribute various dates like 942 C.E, 932 C.E and others.
Historians have located a ruler named Ādiśūra ruling in north Bihar, but not in Bengal. But Ballāl Sena and his predecessors ruled over both Bengal and Mithila (i.e., North Bihar). It is unlikely that the Brahmins from Kānyakubja may have been invited to Mithila for performing a yajña, because Mithila was a strong base of Brahmins since Vedic age. However some scholars have identified Ādiśūra with Jayanta, a vassal chief of the Gauda king around middle of 8th century C.E. and is also referred to as a contemporary of Jayapida (779 to 812 C.E) of Kashmir (grandson of Lalitaditya) in Kalhana's Rajatarangini.
- Paschatya Vaidikas
Traditionally they are believed to have migrated from Kanyakubja (or Kanauj), the traditional origin of both Radhi and Varendra Brahmins, to Bengal via Tirhoot, during the commencement of Muslim rule in India. Most of the vaidikas were invited by Hindu chiefs and rajas who used to rule in various parts of Bengal during the Muslim ascendancy.
- Dakshinatya Vaidikas
Traditionally it is believed that during his reign, Vijaya Sena (1097 − 1160 C.E), brought Brahmins from South India to Bengal, who integrated themselves with the varendra barhmins and came to be known as Dakshinatya vaidika barahmins.
Divisions among Bengali Brahmins
Both Brahmins and Kayasthas in Bengal have followed a system that ranks the clans hierarchically. The Kulinas formed the higher ranking clans.
Rādhi (also Rāṭhi in some old texts) is the major branch of Western Bengali Brahmins. The descendants of these five Pancyājñika Brahmins were hierarchically organised into three categories:
- Śrotriya is the second rank among the descendants of these five Brahmins because they were deft in Vedic knowledge but were considered to be somewhat inferior to the Kulina Brahmins (possessing 8 out of 9 noble qualities).
- Vamśaja is the third rank which was a result of kulinas marrying outside kulinas.
Jāti-Bhāṣkar mentions that those who were given grants along the Ganges by Ballāl Sena were called Gangopādhyāya (literally 'the Vedic teachers in the regions around the Ganges').
Mukhopādhyāya means chief Vedic teacher. Bandopādhyāya is a Sanskritized form of 'Banodha + upādhyāya', Banodha being the ancient name of Raebareli-Unnāva whence their ancestors had come from.
Notable Bengali Brahmins
- Acharya Bhadrabahu (4th and 3rd centuries BC) Jain religious teacher, preceptor of the Mauryan emperor Chandragupta, author of several important texts like Upsargahara Stotra and Kalpasutra.
- Sridhara (870−930) mathematician.
- Krittibas Ojha (1381−1461) composer of the Bengali Ramayan.
- Nityananda Ojha (b. 1474 CE), was a Vaishnava saint
- Raghunatha Siromani (1477−1547) a noted Nyaya philosopher.
- Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486–1534) Hindu religious teacher of the cult of Bhakti yoga, ascetic, social reformer, humanist, supporter of universal brotherhood, rejected caste-system, founder of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.
- Nityananda (1478−1532), companion and disciple of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
- Advaita Acharya (1434–1539), companion and disciple of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
- Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1774−1833) socio-religious reformer (mostly remembered for the abolition of sati), educationist.
- Dwarkanath Tagore (1794−1846) one of the first Indian industrialists and enterprueners
- Niharranjan Ray (1903-1981)Indian historian
- Kisari Mohan Ganguli first translator of the Mahabharata to English in prose form
- Ramtanu Lahiri (1813−1898) Young Bengal leader, teacher, and social reformer
- Debendranath Tagore (1817−1905) socio-religious reformer, leader of the Brahmo Samaj, educationist
- Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820–1891) polymath, writer, social reformer (mostly remembered for the introduction of widow remarriage) and educationist
- Harish Chandra Mukherjee (1824−1861) journalist, associated with the Hindu Patriot, supported the Indigo Revolt and fought against the indigo planters for the rights of the peasants
- Ramakrishna (Gadadhar Chattopadhyay) (1836–1886) Hindu religious teacher and saint, humanist, one of the earliest advocaters of universal brotherhood and equality of world religions, responsible for Hindu revival through the efforts of his disciple Swami Vivekananda
- Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (1838–1894), writer and novelist who coined Vande Mataram which became the war-cry of the Indian revolutionaries
- Dwijendranath Tagore (1840−1926) poet, lyricist, philosopher, mathematician, and a pioneer in Bengali shorthand and musical notations
- Satyendranath Tagore (1842−1923) author, lyricist, linguist social reformer
- Dwarkanath Ganguly (1844−1898) social reformer, writer
- Womesh Chandra Bonerjee (1844−1908) politician, one of the founders of the Indian National Congress
- Sivanath Sastri (1847−1919) scholar, writer, historian, educationist and socio-religious reformer
- Troilokyanath Mukhopadhyay (1847−1919) author
- Surendranath Banerjee (1848−1925) one of the founders of the Indian National Congress
- Jyotirindranath Tagore (1849−1925) playwright, lyricist, musician, editor and painter
- Sarada Devi (1853–1920) "Holy Mother", religious leader, wife of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
- Swarnakumari Devi (1855−1932) writer, poet, novelist, musician and social-worker
- Nabin Chattopadhyay (d. 1930) philosopher, saint, advocater of an amalgamation of Advaita Vedanta and Mahayana doctrines
- Rabindranath Tagore (1861−1941) polymath, writer, poet, novelist, lyricist, musician, painter, playwright, educationist, social-reformer, the first Nobel Laureate of Asia. He was also a follower of Brahmo Samaj.
- Dwijendralal Ray (1863−1913) writer, poet, lyricist and playwright
- Ramendra Sundar Tribedi (1864−1919) writer, mainly known for his essays on science and philosophy
- Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee (1864–1924) educationist, vice-chancellor of the University of Calcutta (1906–1924)
- Gaganendranath Tagore (1867−1938) artist, painter and cartoonist, one of the founders of the Bengal School of Art
- Abanindranath Tagore (1871−1951) artist, painter, one of the founders of the Bengal School of Art, writer, novelist
- Provatkumar Mukhopadhyay (1873−1932) writer and novelist
- Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (1876–1938) writer, novelist
- Bagha Jatin (Jatindra Nath Mukherjee) (1879–1915) freedom fighter and revolutionary leader
- Sarojini Chattopadhyay (1879−1949) writer, poet, social and political activist
- Virendranath Chattopadhyaya (1880−1937) Indian revolutionary
- Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay (1885–1930) archaeologist, credited with finding and excavating the Mohenjo-daro (Indus Valley Civilization)
- Bipin Behari Ganguli, (1887−1952) freedom fighter
- Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay (1894−1950) writer, novelist (author of Pather Panchali)
- Tarashankar Bandopadhyay (1898−1971) writer, novelist
- Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay (1899-1970) writer, novelist
- Bonophul (Balai Chand Mukhopadhyay) (1899−1979) writer, novelist
- Shibram Chakraborty (1903−1980) writer, humorist and revolutionary
- Satinath Bhaduri (1906−1950) writer, novelist and politician
- Manik Bandopadhyay (1908−1956) writer, novelist
- Radhika Mohan Maitra (1917−1981) musician, sarod player
- Narayan Gangopadhyay (1918−1970) writer, dramatist and novelist
- Narayan Sanyal (1924−2005) writer, novelist, dramatist
- Ravi Shankar, sitar player
- Saraswati, Swami Sahajanand (2003). Swami Sahajanand Saraswati Rachnawali in Six volumes (in Volume 1). Delhi: Prakashan Sansthan. pp. 519 (at p 68–69) (Volume 1). ISBN 81-7714-097-3.
- A History of Brahmin Clans, p.288
- cf. Some Historical Aspects of the Inscription of Bengal, page xii
- cf. Banger Jatiya Itihash, Brahman Kanda, Vol 1
- cf. History of Brahmin Clans, p. 281
- cf. Banger Jatiya Itihash, Brahman Kanda, Vol 3, Chapter 1
- cf. Hindu Castes and Sects, Jogendranath Bhattacharya, Part III, Chap 1, Pg 35
- cf. Samaj Biplab ba Brahman Andalon, Dinabandhu Acharya Vedashastri
- Vāri+indra, Vāri meant water : cf.A History of Brahmin Clans , p. 283.
- cf. Harimishra, कोलांचदेशतः पंचविपरा ज्ञानतपोयुताः । महाराजादिशूरेण समानीताः सपत्नीकाः ॥
- cf. History of Brahmin Clans,page 281−283
- cf. History of Brahmin Clans,page 281 : this book quotes Krishna-Charita by Vidyāsāgar for dating.
- cf. D.D. kosambi, p. 123.
- cf. Rajatarangini, Tarang 4, Verse 421
- cf. Hindu Castes and Sects, Jogendranath Bhattacharya, Part III, Chap 1, Pg 36
- Samaj Biplab ba Brahman Andalon, Dinabandhu Acharya Vedashastri
- Kuladīpīkā quoted in History of Brahmin Clans,page 283
- Jāti-Bhāṣkar quoted in History of Brahmin Clans,page 285
- History of Brahmin Clans,page 287
- Swami Sahajanand Saraswati Rachnawali (Selected works of Swami Sahajanand Saraswati), Prakashan Sansthan, Delhi, 2003.
- Kalhana's Rajatarangini: A Chronicle of the Kings of Kashmir; 3 Volumes > M.A.Stein (translator), (Introduction by Mohammad Ishaq Khan),published by Saujanya Books at Srinagar,2007, (First Edition pub. in 1900),ISBN 81-8339-043-9 / 8183390439.
- A History of Brahmin Clans (Brāhmaṇa Vaṃshõ kā Itihāsa) in Hindi, by Dorilāl Śarmā,published by Rāśtriya Brāhamana Mahāsabhā, Vimal Building, Jamirābād, Mitranagar, Masūdābād,Aligarh-1, 2nd ed-1998. (This Hindi book contains the most exhaustive list of Brahmana gotras and pravaras together their real and mythological histories).
- Jāti-Bhāṣkara by Pt. Jwālā Prasād Misra, published by Khemaraj Shrikrishnadas, (1914).
- An Introduction to the Study of Indian History, by Damodar Dharmanand Kosāmbi, Popular Prakasan,35c Tadeo Road, Popular Press Building, Bombay-400034, First Edition: 1956, Revised Second Edition: 1975.
- Nagendra Nath Basu, Banger Jatiya Itihas (in Bengali), 2 vols, Calcutta, 1321 BS.
- Atul Sur, Banglar Samajik Itihas (Bengali), Calcutta, 1976
- NN Bhattacharyya, Bharatiya Jati Varna Pratha (Bengali), Calcutta, 1987
- RC Majumdar, Vangiya Kulashastra (Bengali), 2nd ed, Calcutta, 1989.
- Benoychandra Sen, Some Historical Aspects of the Inscription of Bengal, Calcutta, 1942.