Bengali Brahmins

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Bengali Brahmin)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Bengali Brahmins are Hindu Brahmins who traditionally reside in the Bengal region of the Indian subcontinent, currently comprising the Indian state of West Bengal, Tripura and Bangladesh and parts of Assam. When the British left India in 1947, carving out separate nations, 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.

Bengali Brahmins are categorized as Pancha-Gauda Brahmins (the Brahmins who traditionally lived to the north of the Vindhyas).[1]


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.[2] 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.[3] 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)varendra brahmins known as bhumihar brahmins and they both landlord parts of kanykubj . 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.[4] Medium to large scale migrations of Brahmins from various parts of India like Mithila, Kanyakubja region mostly powerful Bhumihar brahmins(landlord parts of kanykubj ) migrated for war, Kolancha, southern India and Pushkar in Rajasthan, among other places, occurred from time to time, especially during Pala and Sena periods.[5]

Traditionally, Bengali Brahmins are divided into the following categories:[3][6][7]

  • Rādhi from Radh (region south-west of the Ganges)
  • Varendra, from Vārendra region (North-East) or Puṇḍra. Vārendra originally meant rain-maker magicians.[8]
  • 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.[3]

  • Radhi and Varendra

The traditional origin of both Radhi and Varendra Brahmins has been attributed to a king named Adi Sura who is said to have invited five Brahmins from Kolancha (as per Edu Mishra and Hari Mishra[9]) and/or from Kanyakubja,[10] (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.[11] 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, Kularnaba and others attribute various dates like 942 C.E, 932 C.E and others.[3]

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.[12] However some scholars have identified Ādiśūra with Jayanta, a vassal chief of the Gauda king around middle of 8th century C.E.[3] and is also referred to as a contemporary of Jayapida (779 to 812 C.E) of Kashmir (grandson of Lalitaditya) in Kalhana's Rajatarangini.[13]

  • 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 like Shyamal Barman, who used to rule in various parts of Bengal during the Muslim ascendancy.[14]

  • Dakshinatya Vaidikas

Traditionally it is believed that during his reign, Vijaya Sena (1097 − 1160 C.E), brought Brahmins from regions south of Bengal (most likely, Odisha), who integrated themselves with the varendra brahmins and came to be known as Dakshinatya vaidika barahmins.[15]


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:

  • The Kulin Brahmins form the first rank amongst the Bengali Brahmins.
  • 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.[16]

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').[17]

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.[18]

Pirali Brahmin[edit]

A Pirali Brahmin is any member of a subgrouping of Brahmins found throughout Bengal, which is split between India and Bangladesh. Notably, Rabindranath Tagore and the Tagore family are members of this group. The term "Pirali" historically carried a stigmatized and pejorative connotation amongst Brahmins; its eponym is the vizier Mohammad Tahir Pir Ali, who served under a governor of Jessore. Pir Ali was a Brahmin Hindu convert to Islam; his example resulted in the additional conversion of two Brahmins brothers. As a result, Brahmin Hindu society shunned the brothers' relatives (who had not converted),[19] and the descendants of these Hindu relatives became known as the Pirali Brahmins — among whom numbered the Tagores.[20] This unorthodox background ultimately led the Tagore family to dispense with many of the customs followed by orthodox Brahmins[citation needed] and subsequently they embraced the Brahmo sect of Unitarianism.


  1. ^ A History of Brahmin Clans, p.288
  2. ^ cf. Some Historical Aspects of the Inscription of Bengal, page xii
  3. ^ a b c d e cf. Banger Jatiya Itihash, Brahman Kanda, Vol 1
  4. ^ cf. History of Brahmin Clans, p. 281
  5. ^ cf. Banger Jatiya Itihash, Brahman Kanda, Vol 3, Chapter 1
  6. ^ cf. Hindu Castes and Sects, Jogendranath Bhattacharya, Part III, Chap 1, Pg 35
  7. ^ cf. Samaj Biplab ba Brahman Andalon, Dinabandhu Acharya Vedashastri
  8. ^ Vāri+indra, Vāri meant water : cf.A History of Brahmin Clans , p. 283.
  9. ^ cf. Harimishra, कोलांचदेशतः पंचविपरा ज्ञानतपोयुताः। महाराजादिशूरेण समानीताः सपत्नीकाः॥
  10. ^ cf. History of Brahmin Clans,page 281−283
  11. ^ cf. History of Brahmin Clans,page 281 : this book quotes Krishna-Charita by Vidyāsāgar for dating.
  12. ^ cf. D.D. kosambi, p. 123.
  13. ^ cf. Rajatarangini, Tarang 4, Verse 421
  14. ^ cf. Hindu Castes and Sects, Jogendranath Bhattacharya, Part III, Chap 1, Pg 36
  15. ^ Samaj Biplab ba Brahman Andalon, Dinabandhu Acharya Vedashastri
  16. ^ Kuladīpīkā quoted in History of Brahmin Clans,page 283
  17. ^ Jāti-Bhāṣkar quoted in History of Brahmin Clans,page 285
  18. ^ History of Brahmin Clans,page 287
  19. ^ Thompson, Jr., E (1926), Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Dramatist, Read, p. 12, ISBN 1-4067-8927-5, The [Tagores] are Pirili Brahmans [sic]; that is, outcastes, as having eaten with Muslims in former times. Orthodox Brahman were forbidden to eat or inter-marry with Muslims.
  20. ^ (Dutta & Robinson 1995, pp. 17–18).


  • 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.
  • Dutta, K; Robinson, A (1995), Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man, St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0-312-14030-4