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Chitpavan/Kokanastha Brahmins
LanguagesPrimary mother tongue is Chitpavani (a dialect of Konkani) and Konkani but also have proficiency in native languages,[1]
Populated statesKonkan (Coastal Maharashtra, Goa and coastal Karnataka); some parts of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat

The Chitpavan Brahmin or Kokanastha Brahmin (i.e., "Brahmins native to the Konkan") is a Hindu Maharashtrian Brahmin community inhabiting Konkan, the coastal region of the state of Maharashtra in India. The community came into prominence during the 18th century when the heirs of Peshwa from the Bhat family of Balaji Vishwanath became the de facto rulers of the Maratha empire.[2] Under the British Raj, they were the one of the Hindu communities in Maharashtra to flock to western education and they provided the bulk of social reformers, educationalists and nationalists of the late 19th century.[3] Until the 18th century, the Chitpavans were held in low esteem by the Deshastha, the older established Brahmin community of Maharashtra region.[4][5][6]

The upper castes, that is, Marathi Brahmins, Saraswat Brahmins and Prabhus (CKPs and Pathare Prabhus) were only about 4% of the population in Maharashtra. A majority of this 4% were Brahmins.[7][8] As per the 1901 census, about 5% of the Pune population was Brahmin and about 27% of them were Chitpawans.[9]


The Chitpavan are also known as Konkanastha Brahmin.[10][11] They have two common mythological stories of origin, of which the more contemporary story is based on the etymology of their name, meaning "pure of mind", while an older belief uses the alternate etymological meaning : "pure from the pyre" and is based on the tale of Parashurama in the Sahyadrikhanda of the Skanda Purana.[12][13]

The Parashurama mythological story of shipwrecked people is similar to the mythological story of the Bene Israel Jews of Raigad district.[14][15] The Bene Israel claim that Chitpavans are also of Jewish origin.[16][17]

The Konkan region witnessed the immigration of groups, such as the Bene Israel, and Kudaldeshkars. 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 the least fertile and had few good ports for trading. While the other groups generally took up trade as their primary occupation, the Chitpavans with the rise of the Peshwa in the 18th century became known as military men, diplomats and administrators.[6]


Rise and fall during the Maratha rule[edit]

Peshwa Madhavrao II with Nana Fadnavis and attendants, at Pune in 1792

Very little is known of the Chitpavans before 1707 A.D.[6] Around this time, Balaji Vishwanth Bhat, a Chitpavan arrived from Ratnagiri 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. Balaji's work so pleased the Chhatrapati that he was appointed the Peshwa or Prime Minister in 1713. 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.[18][19]

With the ascension 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[20][21] where the Peshwa offered all important offices to his fellow castemen.[6] The Chitpavan kin were rewarded with tax relief and grants of land.[22] Historians cite nepotism[23][24][25][26][27][28] and corruption[26][28] 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.[21]

Treatment of untouchables under Peshwa rule[edit]

The Peshwa rule forced untouchability treatment on the Mahars and other communities such as Mang. Specifically, they had to walk with a broom tied to their loincloth to wipe off their foot prints and an earthenware pot tied to their neck so their spit could not fall on the ground thereby polluting the road for upper castes. They were not allowed to move in public places in the mornings or evenings as their long shadows could defile caste Hindus. They were not allowed to read and write.[29][30]

Essay by Mukta Salve on atrocities[edit]

A 15 year old female student of Jyotiba Phule called Mukta Salve from the Mang community, another untouchable caste, wrote in an essay in 1855 that during Peshwa rule untouchables were often murdered using oil containing toxic red lead and then buried in the foundations of mansions of upper castes.She further wrote that Passing the Talimkhana (local gymnasium) by a Mahar or Mang often resulted in the person's head being cut off and played with. Those resisting any sanctions could be trampled under an elephant on the grounds of the Peshwa's palace.[29][30]

Battle of Koregaon[edit]

Many Mahars enlisted in the armies of the British East India Company and served the British in their war against the Peshwas. On 1 January 1818 in the Battle of Koregaon between forces of the East India Company and the Peshwa, Mahars soldiers formed the biggest contingent of the Company force. The British won the battle and this effectively ended Peshwa rule.[29][citation needed][30][31]

Role in Indian politics[edit]

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.[22]

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,[32] Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade,[33] Vinayak Damodar Savarkar,[34][35] Gopal Ganesh Agarkar,[36] Vinoba Bhave.[37][38]

Some of the strongest resistance to change came from the very same community. The vanguard and the old guard clashed many times. D. K. Karve was ostracised. Even Tilak offered penance for breaking caste or religious rules. One was for taking tea at Poona Christian mission in 1892 and the second was going to England in 1919.[39]

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 recognised Gokhale as his political guru. However, strong opposition to Gandhi came from the Chitpavan community. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the founder of the Hindu nationalist political ideology Hindutva, was a Chitpavan Brahmin and several other Chitpavans were among the first to embrace it because they thought it was a logical extension of the legacy of the Peshwas and caste-fellow Tilak.[40] These Chitpavans felt out of place with the Indian social reform movement of Phule and the mass politics of Gandhi. Large numbers of the community looked to Savarkar, the Hindu Mahasabha and finally the RSS. , drew their inspiration from fringe groups in this reactionary trend.[41][full citation needed]

Anti-Brahmin violence in the 20th century after Gandhi's assassination[edit]

After Gandhi's assassination by Nathuram Godse, a Chitpawan, Brahmins in Maharashtra, became targets of violence, mostly by members from the Maratha caste. The motivating factor for the violence was not love for Gandhi on the part of the rioters but the denigration and humiliation that the Marathas were subjected to due to their caste status.[42][43]

In the Patwardhan princely states such as Sangli, the Marathas were joined by the Jains and the Lingayats in the attacks against the Brahmins. Here, specifically, advanced factories owned by the Chitpawans were destroyed. This event led to the hasty integration of the Patwardhan states into the Bombay Province by March 1948 - a move that was opposed by other Brahmins as they feared the Maratha predominance in the integrated province. During early 20th century, the ruler of Kolhapur state, Shahu had collaborated with the British against the Indian freedom struggle - a struggle that was identified with Chitpavans like Bal Gangadhar Tilak. He was also instrumental in shaping anti-brahmin attitude in the non-brahmin communities during that period. This led to great violence against Brahmins in Kolhapur.[44]


The Chitpavans have considered themselves to be both warriors and priests.[45] Their involvement in military affairs began with the rise of the Peshwas[46] and their willingness to enter military and other services earned them high status and power in the Deccan.[47]


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, impassive, hard work, cleanliness and intelligence among their attributes.[48][49][50] In their original home of Konkan, their primary occupation was farming and some earned money by performing rituals among their own caste members.[51] During the heydays of the Maratha Empire, the city of Pune became the financial metropolis of the empire with 150 big and petty moneylenders. Most of these were Chitpavan or Deshastha Brahmins.[52] Later, Chitpavans became prominent in white-collar jobs and business.[citation needed]


Most of the Chitpavan Brahmins in Maharashtra have adopted Marathi as their language. A minority spoke a dialect of Konkani called Chitpavani Konkani in their homes. Even at that time,[when?] reports recorded Chitpavani as a fast-disappearing language. But in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts of Karnataka, it is spoken in places like Durga and Maala of Karkala taluk and Shishila and Mundaje of Belthangady Taluk.[citation needed]

The Marathi spoken by Chitpavans in Pune is the standard form of language used all over Maharashtra today.[3] This form has many words derived from Sansrkrit and retains the Sanskrit pronunciation of many, misconstrued by non-standard speakers as "nasalised pronunciation".[53]

Social status[edit]

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 socio-economic class), barely equal to the noblest of dvijas. Even the Peshwa was denied the rights to use the ghats reserved for Deshastha priests at Nashik on the Godavari river.[54][full citation needed][55]

The rise in prominence of the Chitpavans compared to the Deshastha Brahmins resulted in intense rivalry between the two communities.[56] 19th century records also mention Gramanyas or village-level debates between the Chitpavans and Daivajnas, Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhus and the Chitpawans, Saraswat Brahmins and the Chitpavans, Pathare Prabhus and the Chitpavans and Shukla Yujurvedi Deshastha Brahmins and the Chitpavans. These were quite common in Maharashtra.[57]


Traditionally, Chitpavan Brahmins are vegetarian. Rice is their staple food. However, nowadays, some occasionally take non-vegetarian food.[58][59][60]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Collector A. M. T. Jackson, a Sanskrit scholar was affectionately called"Pandit Jackson".Kanhere murdered him for Ganesh Damodar Savarkar's trial and an acquittal of a British Engineer in the death of a farmer caused by rash driving.[86][87][88]


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  4. ^ Pran Nath Chopra (1982). Religions and communities of India. Vision Books. p. 49.
  5. ^ H. H. Dodwell. The Cambridge History of India: British India, 1497-1858. p. 385.
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  7. ^ Rajendra Vora (2009). Christophe Jaffrelot; Sanjay Kumar, eds. Rise of the Plebeians?: The Changing Face of the Indian Legislative Assemblies (Exploring the Political in South Asia). Routledge India. p. 217. While Brahmins are found in all the districts of the state, the Saraswats and Prabhus,the two other literate castes of this category,are in significant number only in Mumbai city
  8. ^ Vijaya Gupchup. Bombay: Social Change 1813-1857. p. 166. The other intellectual class, the Prabhus were once again subdivided in the Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu and the Pathare Prabhus
  9. ^ Cashman, Richard I (1975). The myth of the Lokamanya: Tilak and mass politics in Maharashtra. University of California. p. 19,20,21. ISBN 978-0-520-02407-6. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  10. ^ Conlon, Frank F. (1999). "Vishnubawa Brahmachari: A Champion of Hinduism in Nineteenth Century Maharashtra". In Dossal, Mariam; Maloni, Ruby. State Intervention and Popular Response: Western India in the Nineteenth Century. Popular Prakashan. p. 163. ISBN 978-8-17154-855-2.
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  30. ^ a b c Sangharakshita(Dennis Philip Edward Lingwood) (January 1, 2006). Ambedkar and Buddhism. p. 43. ...and the Mahars themselves were forced to go about with a broom tied to the end of their loincloth and an earthenware pot hanging from their neck. The broom was for covering up their footprints and the pot for spitting in, so that the feet of caste hindus using the same road might not come into contact with anything polluting. Those Mahars who dared to rebel against the restrictions imposed on them, or even raise their voice in protest were liable to be trampled to death by elephants in the courtyard of the Peshwa's palace. Mahars could also be buried alive ...
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  86. ^ "Organiser, Volumes 35-36". Bharat Prakashan. 1983. THE NASIK ASSASSINATION - By : Mrs. Sunanda Swarup ...Anant Kanhere, who actually killed Jackson, was a sixteen-year-old chitpavan Brahman youth...The whole episode will not be complete without mentioning about Jackson, who was assassinated. Ironically enough the records show that he was a popular Collector and liked by many. He was a Scholar of Sanskrit and was even known as Pandit Jackson. He was very fond of the theatre, dramas...Even On the eve of assassination, he had gone to watch the play “Sharada” which was organised in his honour
  87. ^ Bimanbehari Majumdar (1966). Militant Nationalism in India and Its Socio-religious Background, 1897-1917. p. 94. On December 21, A. M. T. Jackson was murdered at Nasik by Anant Laxman Kanhere. Jackson was a learned Indologist. He contributed many interesting papers on Indian history and culture and was popularly known as Pandit Jackson. His fault was that he had committed Ganesh Savarkar to trial and acquitted an Engineer named Williams of the charge of killing a farmer by rash and negligent driving. He was not harsh in punishing people charged with sedition. W. S. Khare, a pleader of Nasik delivered some seditious speeches. Jackson ordered him to execute a personal bond of Rs. 2,000 and to be of good behaviour for one year with two substantial and respectable sureties of Rs. 1,000 each.
  88. ^ Pramod Maruti Mande (2005). Sacred offerings into the flames of freedom. Vande Mataram Foundation. p. 27. At that time an Englishman named Jackson was the Collector of Nashik District. A cruel man by nature, he greatly harassed the people. He used to hold public assemblies to hear the people's grievances, but this was just a show, meant to put a gloss on his despotic administration. There was no justice for the people. Rather,they were subject to great tyranny.
  89. ^ Maloni, edited by Mariam Dossal, Ruby (1999). State intervention and popular response : western India in the nineteenth century. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan. p. 87. ISBN 9788171548552.
  90. ^ Amur, G.S. (1994). Dattatreya Ramachandra Bendre (Ambikatanayadatta). New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi. p. 7. ISBN 9788172015152.
  91. ^ Maloni, edited by Mariam Dossal, Ruby (1999). State intervention and popular response : western India in the nineteenth century. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan. p. 79. ISBN 9788171548552.
  92. ^ a b Alex Damm, ed. (2017). Gandhi in a Canadian Context: Relationships between Mahatma Gandhi and Canada. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. p. 54. Moreover, the two principal conspirators behind Gandhi's assassination, who were hung for their actions – Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte – were both Chitpawan Brahmins from Maharashtra as was Savarkar, their ideological mentor. The Chitpawans had a long history of supporting violence against the alleged enemies of Brahminical Hinduism.
  93. ^ Thomas Blom Hansen (1999). The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India. Princeton University Press. Gandhi's assassin Naturam Godse, a Chitpavan brahmin from Pune, had been a member of the RSS for some years, as well as a member of the Hindu Mahasabha. In the early 1940s Godse left the RSS to form a militant organization, Hindu Rashtra Dal, aimed at militarizing the mind and conduct of Hindus, to make them “more assertive and aggressive” (interview with Naturam Godse's brother Gopal Godse, still a member of the Hindu Mahasabha, in Pune, 3 February 1993)
  94. ^ Nadkarni, M.V., 2009. Social change through moral development?. Journal of Social and Economic Development, 11(2), pp.127-135.
  95. ^ "Shah Rukh is not a good dancer but has charisma: Madhuri". Times of India. Also, we both come from similar backgrounds and are Kokanastha brahmins and have had typical Maharashtrian upbringing that makes us culturally similar.

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