Bengali Brahmins

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Bengali Brahmins
Religions Hinduism
Country Indian subcontinent

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.[1] 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).

Bengali Brahmins are categorized as Pancha-Gauda Brahmins (the Brahmins who traditionally lived to the north of the Vindhyas).[2]

History[edit]

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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6]

Traditionally, Bengali Brahmins are divided into the following categories:[4][7][8]

  • Rādhi from Radh (region south-west of the Ganges)
  • Varendra, from Vārendra region (North-East) or Puṇḍra. Vārendra originally meant rain-maker magicians.[9]
  • 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)
  • Saptaśati

Traditional accounts[edit]

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.[4]

  • 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[10]) and/or from Kanyakubja,[11] (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.[12] 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.[4]

Historians have located a ruler named Ādiśūra ruling in north Bihar, but not in Bengal[citation needed]. 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.[13] However some scholars have identified Ādiśūra with Jayanta, a vassal chief of the Gauda king around middle of 8th century C.E.[4] and is also referred to as a contemporary of Jayapida (779 to 812 C.E) of Kashmir (grandson of Lalitaditya) in Kalhana's Rajatarangini.[14]

  • 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.[15]

  • 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.[16]

Divisions among Bengali Brahmins[edit]

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.[17]

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').[18]

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.[19]

Notable Bengali Brahmins[edit]

Pre-1757[edit]

1757−1947[edit]

Post-1947[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ A History of Brahmin Clans, p.288
  3. ^ cf. Some Historical Aspects of the Inscription of Bengal, page xii
  4. ^ a b c d e cf. Banger Jatiya Itihash, Brahman Kanda, Vol 1
  5. ^ cf. History of Brahmin Clans, p. 281
  6. ^ cf. Banger Jatiya Itihash, Brahman Kanda, Vol 3, Chapter 1
  7. ^ cf. Hindu Castes and Sects, Jogendranath Bhattacharya, Part III, Chap 1, Pg 35
  8. ^ cf. Samaj Biplab ba Brahman Andalon, Dinabandhu Acharya Vedashastri
  9. ^ Vāri+indra, Vāri meant water : cf.A History of Brahmin Clans , p. 283.
  10. ^ cf. Harimishra, कोलांचदेशतः पंचविपरा ज्ञानतपोयुताः । महाराजादिशूरेण समानीताः सपत्नीकाः ॥
  11. ^ cf. History of Brahmin Clans,page 281−283
  12. ^ cf. History of Brahmin Clans,page 281 : this book quotes Krishna-Charita by Vidyāsāgar for dating.
  13. ^ cf. D.D. kosambi, p. 123.
  14. ^ cf. Rajatarangini, Tarang 4, Verse 421
  15. ^ cf. Hindu Castes and Sects, Jogendranath Bhattacharya, Part III, Chap 1, Pg 36
  16. ^ Samaj Biplab ba Brahman Andalon, Dinabandhu Acharya Vedashastri
  17. ^ Kuladīpīkā quoted in History of Brahmin Clans,page 283
  18. ^ Jāti-Bhāṣkar quoted in History of Brahmin Clans,page 285
  19. ^ History of Brahmin Clans,page 287

References[edit]

  • 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.