|Languages||Marathi, Kannada,Chitpavani (a dialect of Konkani), Konkani |
|Populated States||Maharashtra, Konkan (Goa and coastal Karnataka); some parts of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat|
The Chitpavan or Chitpawan, part of the Konkanastha Brahmins (i.e. "Brahmins native to the Konkan"), are a Brahmin community of Konkan, the coastal region of western India. The community is predominantly Hindu, Until the 18th century, however, the Chitpavans were not esteemed in social ranking, and were indeed considered by other, older Brahmin tribes as being an inferior caste of Brahmins.
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 Parashurama myth of origin 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.
The Konkan region has witnessed the immigration of various groups, such as the Bene Israeli, Parsis and Kudaldeshkar Brahmins. Each of these settled in distinct parts of the region and there was little mingling between them. The Chitpavans were apparently the last major community to arrive there and consequently the area in which they settled, around Ratnagiri, was both the least fertile and that with a relative scarcity of good ports for trading. While the other groups generally took up trade as their primary occupation, the Chitpavans became known as administrators.
Rise during the Maratha rule
Very little is known of the Chitpavans 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 Prime 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 Bhat family.
With the accession of Balaji Baji Rao and his family to the supreme authority of the Maratha Empire, Chitpavan immigrants began arriving en masse from the Konkan to Pune where the Peshwa offered all important offices his fellow-castemen. 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 Chitpavans is a classic example of social rank rising with political fortune. The alleged haughty behavior by the upstart Chitpavans caused conflicts with other communities which manifested itself as late as in 1948 in the form of anti-Brahminism after the killing of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, a Chitpavan.
Role in Indian politics
After the fall of the Maratha Empire in 1818, the Chitpavans 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.
Some of the prominent figures in the Hindu reform movements of the 19th and 20th centuries came from the Chitpavan Brahmin community. These included Dhondo Keshav Karve, Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, Vinoba Bhave, and Gopal Krishna Gokhale. These reforms preached against the Hindu caste system establishment. 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 includes two major politicians in the Gandhian tradition: Gopal Krishna Gokhale whom Gandhi acknowledged as a preceptor, and Vinoba Bhave, one of his outstanding disciples. 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. Gandhi's assassins Narayan Apte and Nathuram Godse, drew their inspiration from fringe groups in this reactionary trend.
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 the Deccan.
The Hindu 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 inordinate frugality, untrustworthiness, conspiratorialism, phlegmatism, hard work, cleanliness and intelligence among 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.
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.
This usurping of power by Chitpavans from the Deshastha Brahmins resulted in intense rivalry between the two Brahmin communities which continued in late Colonial British India times. The 19th century records also mention Gramanyas or village-level debates 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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