|Languages||Marathi, Chitpavani (a dialect of Konkani) |
|Populated States||Maharashtra, Konkan (Goa and coastal Karnataka); some parts of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat|
The mythological origins of the Chitpavan community are explained in Hindu scriptures by referring to the tale of Parshuram in the Sahyadrikhanda of the Skanda Purana. The Satavahanas were great sanskritisers. It is possibly at their time that the new group of Chitpavan Brahmins were formed. Also, a reference to the chitpavan surname Ghaisas, written in Prakrut Marathi can be seen on a tamra-pat (bronze plaque) of the Year 1060 A.D. belonging to the King Mamruni of Shilahara Kingdom, found at Diveagar in Konkan.
However, the recorded history of the Chitpavans begins in the 18th century. V. The Chitpavans gained prominence in the Marathi-speaking region after Chattrapati Shahu appointed a Chitpavan Brahmin Balaji Vishwanath Bhat as the fifth Peshwa (prime minister). During the reign of the successive Peshwas, some of whom enjoyed status as de facto head of the Maratha confederacy, the Chitpavans settled in various provinces under the Peshwa rule. The Chitpavans established themselves firmly in the social hierarchy of the Marathi-speaking region, and played a prominent role in the political history of India. The community remains concentrated in Maharashtra but also has populations all over India and the rest of the world including the USA and UK.
There are two common mythological theories of origin among the Chitpavans. The more contemporary theory is based on the etymology of their name meaning "pure of mind", while an older belief uses the alternate etymology of "pure from the pyre" and is based on the tale of Parashurama in the Sahyadrikhanda of the Skanda Purana.
The Konkan region has been inhabited by several immigrant groups including the Parsis, the Bene Israelis, the Kudaldeshkar Gaud Brahmins, and the Konkani Saraswat Brahmins, and the Chitpavan Brahmins were the last of these immigrant arrivals.
The Parashurama myth of origin of the Chitpavan is identical to that claimed by the Bene Israel of the Kolaba district. According to Bene Israeli legend, the Chitpavan and Bene Israel are descendants from a group of 14 people shipwrecked off the Konkan coast. One group converted to Hinduism as Chitpavan Brahmins, the other remained Jewish or Bene Israel.
Rise during the Maratha rule
Very little is known of the Chitpavan before 1707 A.D. Sometime around this time, an individual of the Chitpavan community, Balaji Vishwanth Bhat arrived from Ratnagari to the Pune-Satara area. He was brought there on the basis of his reputation of being an efficient administrator. He quickly gained the attention of Chhatrapati Shahu and his work so pleased the Chhatrapati that he was appointed the Peshwa or Chief Minister in 1713. Balaji was blessed by his spiritual preceptor Narayan Dikshit Patankar. He ran a well organized administration and by the time of his death in 1720, he had laid the groundwork for the expansion of the Maratha Empire. Since this time until the fall of the Maratha Empire, the seat of the Peshwa would be held by the members of the Chitpavan family. As Peshwa became ecclesiastical head of the state, this was not consequent upon the Peshwa's social position as a Brahman, for the chitpavan sect, to which the Peshwas belonged, was not accounted of much importance by other Brahmanic sects and by some, indeed, was considered ineligible for inclusion in the Brahmanic category. Starting around this time, Chitpavan migrants began arriving en masse from the Konkan to Pune where the Peshwa offered all important offices to the Chitpavan caste. The Chitpavan kin were rewarded with tax relief and grants of land. Historians cite nepotism and corruption as causes of the fall of the Maratha Empire in 1818. Richard Maxwell Eaton states that this rise of the Chitpavan is a classic example of social rank rising with political fortune. This usurpation of power by the Chitpvan Brahmins caused conflicts with other communities which manifested itself as late as in 1948 in the form of anti-Brahminism after the killing of Mahatama Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, a Chitpavan.
Role in Indian politics
After the fall of the Maratha Empire in 1818, the Chitpavan lost their political dominance to the British. The British would not subsidize the Chitpavans on the same scale that their caste-fellow, the Peshwas had done in the past. Pay and power was now significantly reduced. Poorer Chitpavan students adapted and started learning English because of better opportunities in the British administration. The Chitapavan Brahmins such as Vasudev Balwant Phadke, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Bal Gangadhar Tilak played an important role in the Indian independence movement.
Some of the prominent figures in the Hindu reform movements of the 19th and 20th centuries came from the Chitapavan Brahmin community. These included Dhondo Keshav Karve, Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar and Vinoba Bhave. These reforms preached against the Hindu caste system. Yet, some of the strongest resistance to change also came from the very same community. Jealously guarding their Brahmin stature, the orthodox among the Chitpavans were not eager to see the Shastras challenged, nor the conduct of the Brahmins becoming indistinguishable from that of the Sudras. The vanguard and the old guard clashed many times. Ranade and other reformers were forced to offer penance for breaking purity rules. D. K. Karve was ostracised. Even Tilak made a visit to Varanasi so that he may not be excommunicated.
The Chitpavan community produced two major politicians in the Gandhian tradition: Vinoba Bhave and Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Gandhi describes Bhave as the Jewel of his disciples, and recognized Gokhale as his political guru. However, strong opposition to Gandhi also came from within the Chitpavan community. V D Savarkar, the founder of the Hindu nationalist political ideology Hindutva, was a Chitpavan Brahmin. Several members of the Chitpavan community were among the first to embrace the Hindutva ideology, which they thought was a logical extension of the legacy of the Peshwas and caste-fellow Tilak. These Chitpavans felt out of place with the Indian social reform movement of Mahatama Phule and the mass politics of Mahatama Gandhi. Large numbers of the community looked to Savarkar, the Hindu Mahasabha and finally the RSS for inspiration resulting in the likes of Narayan Apte and Nathuram Godse, who assassinated Gandhi on January 30, 1948.
The Chitpavans have considered themselves to be both warriors and priests. The willingness of the Chitpavans to enter military and other services earned them both high status and power in Deccan.
The Chitpavan Brahmins celebrate several festivals according to the Hindu Calendar.
Traditionally, the Chitpavan Brahmins were a community of astrologers and priests who offer religious services to other communities. The 20th century descriptions of the Chitpavans list frugality, hard work, cleanliness and intelligence as their attributes. Agriculture was the second major occupation in the community, practised by the those who possess arable land. Later, Chitpavans became prominent in various white collar jobs and business.
Chitpavans are traditionally strict lacto-vegetarians. The staple cereal is rice, while pulses include pigeon pea. The cooking media include groundnut oil and sunflower oil. They consume dairy products; take both tea and coffee, while consumption of betel leaves is prevalent.
Monogamy is practiced by Konkanastha Brahmins. At present adult marriage is practiced, while child marriage was acceptable in the past, requiring the release of children to their marital partners at the coming of age. Marital matches arranged by parents, with the consent of the individuals, is the most widespread mode of acquiring a mate. The symbols of marriage include a spot of vermillion on the forehead, a mangala sutra and toe rings. The bride is often expected to reside at the groom's family home after marriage. Remarriage is allowed for widows, widowers and divorcee. Equigeniture is the rule, as Women also inherit paternal property. The marriage is fixed by consulting the horoscopes of the bride and groom. The marriage takes place at the brides place. Haldi (turmeric paste) is applied to both the bride and groom by married women. After kanyadaan, malabadal is done where in the bride and groom put garlands around each other's neck, along with the observance of offering worship at sacred fire(hom). The groom ties the mangala sutra around the neck of the bride.
On child birth, Shastipujan is done on the sixth day. On the 12th day the name giving ceremony is performed. The 'jawal' (head shaving) is performed both for male and female children after attaining the age of one year. At eight years a male child undergoes another shaving of his head for his Upanayana, Munja or sacred thread ceremony. The shaving is done by a barber and the rituals are officiated over by a Brahmin priest. Mundan is not performed for girl child, it is a sanskar that is performed on boy child.
Most of the Chitpavan Brahmins in Maharashtra have adopted Marathi as their language. Till the 1940s, most of the Chitpavans in Konkan spoke a dialect called Chitpavani Konkani in their homes. Even at that time, reports recorded Chitpavani as a fast disappearing language. But in Dakshina Kannada District and Udupi Districts of Karnataka, this language is being spoken in places like Durga and Maala of Karkala taluk and also in places like Shishila and Mundaje of Belthangady Taluk. There are no inherently nasalized vowels in standard Marathi whereas the Chitpavani dialect of Marathi does have nasalized vowels.
Earlier, the Deshastha Brahmins believed that they were the highest of all Brahmins, and looked down upon the Chitpavans as parvenus (a relative newcomer to a socioeconomic class), barely equal to the noblest of dvijas. Even the Peshwa was denied the rights to use the ghats reserved for Deshasth priests at Nashik on the Godavari.
Most of the administrators in the Maratha kingdom of Shivaji were Deshastha Brahmins and Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu. However, the Deshastha influence waned during the rule of Nanasaheb Peshwa, except for the post of “Panditrao” (Minister related to Religious issues) and Chief Justice. Other valuable posts like Phadanvis (Finance Secretary), Kotwal (Home Secretary) and various military rank were dominated by Chitpavans.
Though not superior to Deshasths and Karhadas in rank, they are held in much respect by most Ratnagiri Hindus, who believe that the sacred texts, mantras, repeated by a Chitpavan have special worth. A very frugal, pushing, active, intelligent, well-taught, astute, self-confident, and overbearing class, they follow almost all callings and generally with success.
This usurping of power by Chitpavans from Deshastha Brahmins resulted in intense rivalry between the two Brahmin communities in the later days. The 19th century records also mention Gramanyas between the Chitpavans, and two other communities, namely the Daivajnas, and the Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhus. This lasted for about ten years.
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