Brahmins

From Encyclopedica Indica

Brahmins

The Brahmins in India were divided into two major groups based on the geographical origin of the people. The Brahmins that lived to the north of the Vindhyas were referred to as the Gowda Brahmins, whereas the Brahmins which lived to the south of the Vindhyas were referred to as the Dravida Brahmins. Each group was divided into five sections according to the regions of their settlement. The five Gowda Brahmin groups were: Saraswat Brahmins those who lived to the west of the Saraswati river and the region of land became known as the Saraswat Desha; Kanyakubja Brahmins from Kanauj; Gauda Brahmins from the banks of the South Ganga or Bengal; Utkal Brahmins from Orissa; Maithila Brahmins from Mithila in Bihar. The 5 Daxina or Dravida groups were: Andhra Brahmins; Konkanstha Brahmins; Dravida Brahmins from Tamil Nadu; Karnata Brahmins from Karnataka; Gujarati Brahmins from Gujarat. Major Brahmin Castes: Andhra Brahmis (include Niyogi Brahmins (warriors) and Vaidiki Brahmins), Daivajna Brahmins, Deshastha Brahmins, Dhima Brahmins, Gaur Brahmins, Saraswat Brahmins (including Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins, Gouda Saraswat Brahmins, Haryana Saraswat Brahmins, Kashmiri Saraswat Brahmins, Rajapur/Balawalikar Saraswat Brahmins), Havyaka Brahmins, Hoysala Karnataka Brahmins, Iyers (includes Thenkalai Iyengars, Vadagalai Iyengars, Namboothiri Brahmins), Jambu, Kandavara Brahmins, Karade Brahmins, Kannada Brahmins, Karhada Brahmins, Khandelwal Brahmins, Kota Brahmins, Konkanastha Brahmins (include Chitpavana Brahmins), Koteshwara Brahmins, Marwari Brahmins, Nagar Brahmins, Padia Brahmins, Saklapuri Brahmins, Sanketi Brahmins, Shenvis, Shivalli Brahmins, Smarta Brahmins, Sthanika Brahmins, Tuluva Brahmins and Vaishnava Brahmins etc.

The Brahmins of Haryana are divided into four main groups: Gaurs, Saraswats, Khandelwals and Dhima. The Khandelwals came into this region after Saraswats and Gaurs, most probably from neighboring Rajasthan. The Gaurs of Haryana claim that they come to Haryana originally from Bengal. The name is perhaps derived from their residence at Ghaggar. It is believed they came as Purohitas along with various immigrant farming tribes. The Brahmins themselves had a ranking system between them with the Gaurs being on the top followed by the Saraswats, the Khandelwals and the Dhima. The Gaurs used to consider themselves to be superior to the other Brahmins and neither ate, drank nor intermarried with them. Tyagis or Tagas are of Brahmin origin who gave up priestly profession and took to agriculture. Tyagis wear the sacred thread but the other Brahmins will not inter marry or eat with them. Tod took the Mohil (Mohyals / Mohi(l)/ Mahipal) to a Rajput clan and listed them in his top 36, but Mohyals are a class of Brahmins who claim ancestry from Parasurama. It goes on to say that the Punjab,extending beyond the confines of Peshawar,was ruled by Brahman and Kshatriya Rajas,while all the hilly tract from the Indis to the siwalik was in the possession of the Ghakkars, who are,as usual,mistaken for the Khokkars.From these rulers the Muhials are believed to be descended, and it is not impossible that the Brahmin dynasty of Kabul sprang from a class of secular Brahmins from which the Muhials may be descended.It is als osuggested that the name Muhial is derived from mahi,’land’, s that it means ‘land holder’;and a connection is claimed with the Bhunhr or Bhumihar community of Bihar and the united Provinces on the somewhat slender ground that they,like the Chhibars,claim descent from Parsu Rama. They are probally of mixed Rajput Brahmin descent., divided in clans: Datt, Bali, Chibber, Vaid, Mohan, Lau and Bhimwal. Any authentic history of their origin is not available. However, mention about them is made in historical records from the earliest times. TP Russell Tracey made a serious effort and wrote the history of this class. He mentions that the Mohyals are primarily a military class, divided nto seven clans claiming their origin from the Raj Rishis, who figured long before the Mahabharat, they have been prominently associated with the government of the country whether military or civil, in the days of universal Hindu rules. They have also figured at some early period of history in the affairs of Central Asia Afghanistan and Persia . At the time of his writing he states that they were spread from Afghanistan, Punjab to Bihar. In UP and Bihar the Bhumihars also claim their descent from Parasu Rama fromwhom the Chibbers also claim descent. Being of pre-vedic origin the ancient Mohyals paid homage to their spiritual leaders like Parshu Ram. Their basic religion was the belief in the laws of morality as enunciated by the sages Vyasa and Vashishtha. In fact, Parshu Ram was the first Brahmin in history to wear arms and to conquer territories. Mohyals are paragons of valor and virtuosity and are always ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of dharma or the nation. Mohyals abhor 3 things : 'the taking of charity', 'the handling of scales(trading)' and 'living a life of laziness'. Though numerically unimportant, they are a stirring and enterprising race, and frequently rise to prominence in the service of the government which they enter in large numbers. The word Mohyal comes from the Prakrit form of the Sanskrit word 'mahipal' and does not seem to be more than 6-7 centuries old. It was a custom in those days that government servants were paid their wages in the form of land grants. The land given remained with the recipient family in perpetuity which led to the evolution of a new social order of the landed aristocracy. The Mohyals and the Bhumihars of East-Up were an off-shoot of this phenomenon. The word Mohyal is accepted as being the corrupted form of 'Mahiwal' or 'Mahipal' meaning 'the owner of land'. There is another interpretation of its being derived from the word 'Muhin'. 'Muhin' symbolizes the 7 castes into which the community is divided. In ancient dialect 'Mohi' or 'Mahi' denoted land while 'al' meant respectable man. Mohyals were the masters of the land and their deity was 'Hal Ram' alias 'Bal Ram' alias 'Bal Dev'. He is the Aryan God of agriculture; in one hand he holds the plough and in the other the pestle. From times immemorial till the partition of Bharat in 1947, the main habitat of the Mohyals was northern India, notably West Punjab (now part of Pakistan) , the erstwhile NWFP and Jammu & Kashmir. There were many districts like Rawalpindi, Jhelum, Gujrat, Sargodha and Gurdaspur in West Punjab which had large concentration of the community. There were villages in these districts in which a certain caste of the Mohyals dominated and the place was known with that caste as a suffix (e.g. 'Kanjrur Dattan', 'Tehi Balian' , 'Dera Bakshian' and so on..). Kanjrur itself was a conglomeration of half a dozen villages. Each one of them had a good number of Mohyals. The river Ravi was regarded as the limit of Mohyal country as there were very few Mohyals living on the east-side of the river. In the ancient abodes, the 7 castes of the communities lived a closely knit life. Many families shared a common terrace or a balcony and their members lived on first-named terms with each other. In the early decades of this century, when the reclaimed 'Bar' area was being colonized many Mohyal families settled down in districts of Shekhupura, Lyallpur and Montogomerry and became owners of large agricultural farms and orchards. Lahore which was the seat of govt. and center for education drew hordes of Mohyals and they distinguished themselves in diverse professions. The city even boasted of a 'Kucha Balian'. The Mohyals believed in the joint family system. The grandfather was the chief patriarch and the grandmother, the source of all inspiration. The women carried on with the traditions, observed fasts and represented the family in the community weddings and mourning. When a boy is 5 years old the Jhand ceremony is performed. The Jhand ceremony derived its name from Jhand tree which was the focus of the function. When the Pandavas were defeated by the Kauravas and exiled, they hid their weapons in the hollow of the Jhand tree. Ever after, the tree has been an object of worship by warrior tribes. Every Mohyal family had its own Purohit,a Bhat and a barber (Nai). The Purohit solemnized all religious ceremonies, the Bhat used to recite ballads recalling the valiant deeds of the family's ancestors while the Nai was the traditional envoy for carrying messages. During the Mughal and Sikh rule, they were bestowed with titles like Bakshi, Dewan, Mehta etc. in reward for their bravery. Maharaja Ranjit Singh appointed many Mohyals to his famous Vadda Risala-the Life Guards of the Lion of Punjab. During the British period, fifty percent of the Mohyal commisioned officers, were decorated with awards for their distinguished services. All castes of Mohyals have the rare privilege of using certain titles with their names that were bestowed on them by the Mogul and Sikh rulers for their bravery and unimpeachable loyalty. These appellations which are still in use are:- Bakshi, Bhai, Chaudhri, Dewan and Malik These epithets have a Persian connotation and imply status. 'Bakshi' means benevolent, 'Chaudhri' means head of the family or village, 'Dewan' means a landlord. The title of 'Bhai' was specially conferred on the Chibbers of Karyala by the Sikh Gurus for their great sacrifices and devotion to dharma. The Dewans (prime ministers) of all the ten Gurus were Chibbers of Karyala. The title of Chaudhri was a mark of distinction of the Datts of Kanjrur, Veeram and Zaffarwal. The title of Dewan was used by the Datts hailing from Guliana and certain other places, Raizada was used mostly by Balis and occasionally by Vaids. The prefixe Bakshi is commonly used by the various castes of Mohyals. As some of the titles currently used by the Mohyals are also used by certain non-Mohyal communities, it is desirable to mention both the courtesy title as well as the caste with the name, to clearly denote the Mohyal identity. A few centuries ago, the family of Mohyals was part of a conglomeration of 52 castes although they fraternized with only have a dozen castes apart from their own guild of seven castes. Even in their own circle of seven castes, the Mohyals in the past were rather cool towards the Laus and Bhimwals, in the matter of marriages, but this attitude is now wearing off


In Tamil nadu we have the Iyers or Gurukulu, which includes Iyers, Iyengars and Nambudris.

Tuluva Brahmins: The ancient Tulu nadu extended from Gokarna in the north, all along coastal Karnataka up to Kasargod in the south. This included both coastal Uttara Kannada district as well as all of Dakshina Kannada district. Over many centuries the principal language of Tulu nadu was Tulu. Today Tulu is spoken only south of River Kalyanpur in Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka. This is the heartland of Tulu nadu today. While Udupi is the religious center of Tulu nadu, Mangalore is the commercial hub. Innumerable smaller towns and villages comprise of a green landscape within the mountainous range of the Western Ghats as well as along the coastal Karnataka with access to Arabian Sea. Here Tulu language, one of the five main Dravidian languages of the South, with its extinct script is spoken. For historical purposes the regions settled by Brahmins are three in number. Haige or Haive (Uttara Kannada), Taulava (Dakshina Kannada) and Kerala.

Sarasvat Brahmins: The Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins represent a relatively small group of Brahmins who firmly established their identity as a unified group in the year 1708. The history of migration of their ancestors from Kashmir to a variety of places all over the country of India serves to demonstrate how their strong religious and cultural beliefs developed into the present century. Today, members of this group are in Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, and Tamilnadu. Kashmiri Saraswat Brahmins or Kashmiri Pandits: According to accepted traditions in the rest of the country, Kashmiri Brahmins are believed to be a branch of the Saraswat Brahmins who were so called because they were believed to have settled along the course of an ancient river called Saraswati. When this river dried up, these Brahmins migrated. A large section of this uprooted community was settled in the Western Konkan coast of the present state of Maharashtra. Others moved further North into the Valley of Kashmir. Rajapur/Balawalikar Saraswat Brahmanas Rajapur/Balawalikar Saraswat Brahmanas,as they are known, belong to the "Pancha (five) Gauda Brahmana" groups or "Gaudadi Panchakas". The Saraswats of all subsects of today are said to have originated from the Saraswath region, from the banks of river Saraswati. In Rigveda, references to river Saraswati has been frequently made in the shlokas praising the river as the most mighty river and describe her as "limitless, undeviating, shining and swift moving". But the Saraswati vanished from the region. Haryana Saraswat Brahmins The Saraswats of Haryana are original settlers of this region, taking their name from the Saraswati river. It is believed that the Kadamba kingdom had many Kshatriyas and Havyakas were brought in to perform the royal rituals and the related functions of the empirical government. Thus the first few families were settled in Banavasi, the beautiful capital of the Kadambas and the place so adored by Pampa. Since the very purpose of bringing these Brahmin families was to perform Havana (Havya) and Homa (Gavya), they were aptly named as Havyaga or Haveega, which has transcended to the present day "Havika" or "Havyaka." This functionality of naming even extended to the specific role played by families in the whole gamut of rituals. Thus originated the seven family names given by Raja Mayooravarma. The Havyakas are the only Brahmins who derive their surnames from the job they perform rather than by their origin (e.g., Kota, Shivalli) or by the preacher (e.g., Madhva) or by God worship (e.g., Shivite, Vaishnavite). Thus came the names "Hegade (Hegde)" for the head of the village who sponsors the ritualistic activities. Chitpavan brahmins are basically from Konkan, the coastal belt of western Maharashtra. Since they are from Konkan they are known as Konkanastha. Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj appointed Balaji Vishwanath Bhatt as his Peshwa or Prime Minister. It was the first time a person from Konkan appointed to an important post in Deccan. Eventually, many people from Konkan migrated to join the service of Marattha kingdom. Chitpavan Brahmin folks are easily recognised by the certain characteristics suc as fair skin, light coloured eyes (blue, green or grey), sharp nose, distinct jawline, and some have light or blonde hair. The Brahmins in Andhra Pradesh were separated into two major divisions about a thousand to about 700 years ago (most probably during Kakatiya rule), Niyogi and Vaidiki. They are further divided into 49 +1 (Visvamitra) main gotras. They are didvided into 7 main gotras after the 7 main rishis, each further divided into another 7 gotras of his descendents. According to one legend all the chief Brahmin gotras are descended from the Saptarishis (seven sages).


Sherring says the Vatsa, Bida, Arshtikhena, Yaska, Mitryu, Shaunak and Bainya gotras claim descent from sage Bhrigu; the gotras of Gautam, Bharadwaj and Kewal-Angiras from sage Angirah; the Atre, Badbhutak, Garishtira and Mudhgala from sage Atri; the Kaushika, Lohit, Raukshak, Kamkayana, Aja, Katab, Dhananjya, Agamarkhan, Puran and Indrakaushika from sage Viswamitra; the Nidruba, Kasyap, Sandila, Rebha and Langakshi from sage Kasyap; the Vashisht, Kundin, Upamanyu, Parashara and Jatukaraniya from sage Vashisht; and the Idhamabahar, Somabahar, Sambhabahar and Yagyabhar from sage Agastya. Other gotras are said to have been derived from these gotras Brahmin Surnames: Andhra (Sarma, Sastri, Somayajulu); Bengal (Banerjee, Bhattacharya, Chatterjee, Ganguli, Mukherjee); Bihar (Jha, Mishra);Gujarat (Bhatnagar, Pandya, Trivedi, Tiwari); Kashmir (Kar, Pandit, Sharma); Karnataka (Adiga, Aithal, Bhat, Deshpande,Hebbar, Iyer, Iyengar, Karanth, Somayaji, Sharma, Shastri, Bendre); Maharashtra (Athavale, Bhat, Bhave, Datar, Datey, Deshpande, Dixit, Gokhale, Joshi, Mahajan, Pandit, Patwardhan, Pashwa, Vartak, Saranjame); Orissa (Kanungo, Kar, Mishra, Satpati); Punjab (Sharma); Rajasthan (Sharma, Vyas); Tamilnad/Kerala (Iyer, Iyengar, Nambudri); Uttar Pradesh (Chaturvedi, Dwivedi, Joshi, Mishra,Sharma, Tripathi, Vajapayee).