Bengali Brahmins are those
Brahminswho traditionally reside in the Bengalregion of the Indian subcontinent, currently comprising the Indian state of West Bengal, Tripura, Assamand Bangladesh. When the British left India in 1947, carving out a separate nation (see partition) of East Pakistan (which became Bangladesh in 1971), a number of families moved to be within the borders of the newly defined secular Indian Republic, and continued to migrate for several decades thereafter.
Bengali Brahmins are generally well-educated, and a number of prominent figures of India belong to this community. They had leanings toward
Shaktismand Tantra. Vārendra, for instance, meant rain-maker magicians [Vāri+indra, Vāri meant water : cf.A History of Brahmin Clans , page 283.] . Historically, they have been the standard bearers of Madhyadeshiya (the historic-cultural region of the upper Ganga-Yamuna doab which was the seat of Panch-Gauda brahmins) Indo-Aryan culture in Bengal. Panch-Gauda and Panch-Dravida are two chief divisions of Brahmins, as per the ślokafrom Rājatarangini of IAST|Kalhaṇa / Kalhana:
कर्णाटकाश्च तैलंगा द्राविडा महाराष्ट्रकाः ,गुर्जराश्चेति पञ्चैव द्राविडा विन्ध्यदक्षिणे |
सारस्वताः कान्यकुब्जा गौडा उत्कलमैथिलाः,पञ्चगौडा इति ख्याता विन्ध्स्योत्तरवासिनः |
Meaning :(The-) Karnātakas, Tailangas, Dravidas, Mahārāshtrakās and Gurjaras; these five(-types who-) live south of Vindhya (- mountains) are (called-) "five Dravidas" (- brahmins); (whereas-) Sārasvatas, Kānyakubjas, Gaudas, Utkalas, and Maithilas, who live north of Vindhya (- mountains) are known as "five Gaudas" (-brahmins) [cf.
Kalhana's Rajatarangini in reference for English version.] . Dorilāl Śarmā says that the 'Five Gaudas' mentioned above were settled in region around Indus (Sārasvata brahmins), Kannauj and its territories (Kānyakubja brahmins), Mithila( Maithil Brahmins)and Orissa ( Utkala Brahmins); the fifth branch Gauda brahmins settleed in the remaining areas north of Vindhya mountains ,in two distinct regions (1)Haryana and adjacent districts of Rajasthan and western Uttar Pradesh, and (2) northern Kosala around ancient Śrāvasti; he quotes Matsya Purana (chapter-12, śloka 30) in which Śrāvasti is said to be seat of Gauda brahmins [(A History of Brahmin Clans, p.41-42)] . According to this view, South Bihar, Bengal, Assam, etc were not inhabited by any of the brahmins mentioned by Kalhana. Hence, at the time of Kalhana, Bengali brahmins had not emerged as a distinct branch of Panch-Gauda. But all Bengali brahmins are descendants of Panch-Gauda, excepting some IAST|Dākṣiṇātyas Vaidikas who came from South India originally but are now part and parcel of Bengali brahmins [A History of Brahmin Clans, p.288] . Gauda meant the region from western Uttar Pradesh to Rajasthan, but it was also used for Bengal in mediaeval age. Entire North India was also called Gauda country, which is the reason why five north Indian branches have received the common name Panch-Gauda ["Ādi Gauda Dipikā" quoted in A History of Brahmin Clans, p.100] .
A large scale migration of Brahmins from
Kanyakubjaregion occurred during Palaand Senaperiods. However historical evidence attests significant presence of Brahmins in Bengal since the Mauryaperiod. The Jain Acharya Bhadrabahu, regarded to be the preceptor of Chandragupta Mauryais said to have been born in Brahmin family of Pundravardhana( or IAST|Puṇḍra , the region north of Ganges and west of Brahmaputra in Bengal, later known as Vārendra). A copper-plate grant from the Gupta period found in the vicinity of Somapuramentions a Brahmin donating land to a Jain vihara at Vatagohali. Such evidences suggest IAST|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 [cf. History of Brahmin Clans,page 281 ] ..
The three main divisions among Bengali brahmins are :
* Rādhi from
Radh(region south-west of Ganga).
Varendra, from Vārendra region (North-East) or IAST|Puṇḍra.
* Vaidika (migrants, originally experts of Vedic knowledge).
The traditional accounts of the origin are given in texts termed Kulagranthas (e.g., Kuladīpīkā), composed around the 17th century. They mention a ruler named Ādiśūra who invited five Brahmins from
Kanyakubja[cf. History of Brahmin Clans,page 281-283 ] , so that he could conduct a yajña, because he could not find Vedic experts locally. Traditional texts mention that Ādiśūra was ancestor of Ballāl Sena from maternal side and five brahmins had been invited in AD 1077 [cf. History of Brahmin Clans,page 281 : this book quotes Krishna-Charita by Vidyāsāgar for dating.] .
Historians have located a ruler named Ādiśūra ruling in north
Bihar, but not in Bengal Facts|date=August 2007. 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 Mithilafor performing a yajña, because Mithila was a strong base of brahmins since Vedic age [cf. D.D. kosambi, p. 123.] .
Another account mentions a king Shyamal Varma who invited five Brahmins from Kānyakubja who became the progenitors of the Vaidika Brahmins. A third account refers to five brahmins being the ancestors of Vārendra brahmins as well. From similarity of titles (e.g., upādhyāya), the first account is most probable.
Divisions among Bengali Brahmins
The three main divisions of Bengali Brahmins are
* (1) Rādhi from
Radh, modern West Bengal south of Ganges.
Varendra, from Varendra region (North-East)
* (3) VaidikaOther minor divisions are :
* (4) Saptaśati
* (5) Pirāli
* (6) Patita
It is believed that the Brahmins of Bengal adapted kulinism from a similar hierarchical system used by the Brahmins of Mithilā, although Kānyakubja and more especially Saryupāriya were also highly scrupulous. The five original Brahmins belonged to five gotras : Śāndilya, Kāśyapa, Vatsa, Bhārdvāja, IAST|Sāvarṇa [cf. History of Brahmin Clans,page 282 : it quotes Kula-dīpīkā, a mediaeval text. ] .
Both Brahmins and Kayasthas in Bengal have followed a system that ranks the clans hierarchically. The Kulinas formed the higher ranking clans.
Rādhi (also IAST|Rāṭhi in some old texts) is the major branch of Bengali brahmins . The descendants of these five Pancyājñika brahmins were hierarchically organised into three categories :
(1) "Kulin" comprised the most noble brahmins among these, who possessed all the nine qualities fixed by Ballāl Sena (nine qualities or "navadhā lula IAST|lakṣanam" were :āchāra, vinaya, vidyā, IAST|pratiṣṭhā, tirtha, darśana, karma, IAST|niṣṭhā, IAST|śreṣṭha-vritti, tapa, dāna) [Kuladīpīkā quoted in History of Brahmin Clans,page 283] . (2)"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).
(3)"Vamśaja" is the third rank which was a result of kulinas marrying outside kulinas [Kuladīpīkā quoted in History of Brahmin Clans,page 283] .
Major titles adopted by the high Rādhi brahmins :
*Vandopādhyāya and its adaptation
*Mukhopādhyāya and its adaptation
*Chattopādhyāya and its adaptation
*Gangopādhyāya and its adaptation Ganguli /
Jāti-IAST|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') [Jāti-IAST|Bhāṣkar quoted in History of Brahmin Clans,page 285] .
Mukhopādhyāya means chief Vedic teacher. Vandopādhyāya is a Sanskritized form of 'Vanodha + upādhyāya' , Vanodha being the ancient name of Raebareli-Unnāva whence their ancestors had come from [History of Brahmin Clans,page 287] .
Other titles of Rādhi brahmins include Bhattāchārya (or Bhattacharya or Bhattacharjee). Bhattāchārya meant 'expert of Vedic rituals'. This was an honorary title awarded to a Rādhi or Vārendra brahmin who excelled in spiritual and vedic matters.
These brahmins also claim descent from five original brahmins, although four out of five names are different, and they are also hierarchically organised into three groups :
(1) "Śri Kulin" comprising of Maitra(Moitra), Lāhiri, Bāgachi, Bhāduri, Sānyal, etc.
(2) "Śrotriya" have Nanda, Bhato Shāstri, Karanja, Laduli, Navasi, etc.
(3) "IAST|Kaṣṭa Kulin" compride of 85 "gains" (villages given in grant by Sena kings).
Another intermediate order is called Kāpa(originally Kulin but "negligent in duty") which is between first two.
Other famous titles of Vārendra brahmins are Bhattāchārya, Majumdāra, Rāi, Choudhary, Jovādāra,Mishra,Tāluqdār, etc. There were many big landlords among Vārendra brahmins. Literally , Bhattāchārya meant 'experts of Vedic rituals'. Rāi and Choudhary were administrative titles.
These are of two types :
*IAST|Dākṣiṇātyas (coming from South India originally but now part and parcel of Bengali brahmins.
*Pāschātyas, coming from western and northern India originally but now part of Bengali brahmins.
These were experts of Vaidika knowledge who were invited to Bengal in different ages, later than the original five brahmins from which Rādhi brahmins originated.
Before the coming of Five Brahmins, there were 700 houses of brahmins in Bengal, but now they are few. They were less learned than the migrants and therefore were deprived of patronage. Some of them mixed with the immigrants, which explains their decline in relative population. Many Saptaśatis became priests of lower castes and were labelled as Agradāni and grahavipra. Main titles are Arath, Bālkhāvi, Jagāye, Pikhoori, Mulkajoori, Bhagāye, Gāi, etc.
*Pirāli : literally, "boycotted" brahmins. Some kulin brahmins mixed with muslims in eating and other activities and were therefore boycotted by the orthodox sections. Prominent among these were Thākurs, anglicised as Tagores. Thākurs literally meant lords and were big landowners.
*Patita : Some Bengali brahmins were publicly declared to be "fallen" brahmins.
Chakraborty(Chakravarti) is essentially a IAST|kṣatriya title suitable for emperors adopted by some Bengali brahmins.
Another peculiar title is "Chir Kori" or "IAST|Chir Koḍi".
Impact of British occupation
The kulinist system degenerated during the 18-19th century and is no longer popular. The British occupation of Bengal radically transformed the Bengali culture. Bengal has now gone through two century of missionary efforts and a quarter century of a Marxist government. Eastern Bengal became an Muslim majority region in mid-19th century which resulted in the first partition of Bengal in 1905, and then final partition in 1947. Although the interaction with the British resulting in what is termed the
Bengal Renaissance, it altered the hold of traditional mainstream Hinduism in the region.
Many Bengali Brahmin family names are written in two different ways. For example,
Chattopadhyay(compound of village name "IAST|Chaṭṭa" and "upādhyāya" denoting "priest, teacher" originally granted with the village named IAST|Chaṭṭa) is the Sanskritized form of the local Prakrit word "chaturjye", anglicized to Chatterjee.
Similar analyses may be performed on Mukhurjye/
Mukherjee/Mukhopādhyāya and Banurjye/ Banerjee/Bandyopādhyāya. Bhattāchārya which is made by two words Bhatta and Achārya which means teacher also called as Bhattāchārjee. Tagore is the anglicized form of Thakur, meaning "lord". Other Bengali Brahmin family names are anglicized in particular ways that have become the standard English spellings over time. Other Bengali Brahmin surnames are Chakraborty, Sanyal, Ghoshal etc. Bengali VaidBrahmin surnames include Gupta, Sengupta, Dasgupta, Roy etc.
Famous Bengali Brahmins
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu(1486 - 1534), ascetic, founder of Gaudiya Vaishnavism
Raja Ram Mohan Roy(1772-1833), Hindu reformer and founder of Brahmo Samaj
Debendranath Tagore(1817-1905) A leading proponent of Brahmo Samaj
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar(1820 - 1891) Polymath
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay(1838-1894), author and one of the founders of Indian nationalism
Kisari Mohan Ganguli, one and only translator of the Mahabharatato English.
Sarat Chandra ChattopadhyayAuthor of famouls novels like Devdas, Parineetaetc. and one of the most popular Bengali novelist and story-teller
Rabindranath Tagore(1861-1941), poet, philosopher and nationalist
Abanindranath TagoreAuthor, Painter.
* Jatindra Nath Mukherjee (
Bagha Jatin) (1879-1915), revolutionary leader
* Gadadhar Chattopadhyay (Ramakrishna Paramahansa) (1836-1886), Revered Religious leader, led Hindu revival
Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee
Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay(1876-1938) popular and sometimes controversial novelist
Shyama Prasad Mukherjee
Rakhal Das Banerjee(1885-1930) archaeologist, Mohenjo‑daro excavations
Manabendra Nath Roy(1887-1954), a founder of Indian Communism
Dwarkanath Tagore(1794-1846) One of the earliest entrepreneurs from India. Founded the first Indo-British agency house from India, Carr, Tagore and Company.
W C Banerjee. Founder of Indian National Congress
Upendra Kishore Roychoudhuri. Famous Children's littérateur-- whose grandson Satyajit Roy went on to win the Oscar for lifetime achievement in film direction.
Vibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyay. Novelist, author of 'Pather Panchali'.
Kishore KumarGanguly , Great Singer, Actor
Ashok KumarGanguly, Actor
* First Air Chief Marshall of India
* Sitar Player
Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, founder president, Bhartiya Jana Sangh
Buddhadeb BhattacharyaChief Minister of West Bengalsince 2000.
* Famous Comedian/Actor
Uttamkumar(Arun Kumar Chatterjee)
* film actresses
* biologist Eric Mukherjee
Benode Behari Mukherjee
* music director Hemanta Mukhopadhyay
* popular singer
* Calcutta's mayor
* Sitar Player
* police commissioner
* tennis player
* India's current External Affairs Minister
* Music Director
* Music Director
Sourav Ganguly, former captain of Indian cricket team
Satyajit Ray, Oscar-winning film director
Jhumpa Lahiri, Pulitzer Prize Winning author of "Interpreter of Maladies" and acclaimed novel 'The Namesake'
* Upamanyu Chatterjee, Civil Servant and author of 'English, August'
* Mashumi Chatterjee, Film Actress
* Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, American author
Subroto Bagchi, cofounder of MindTree ConsultingLtd., an IT Services company based in Bangalore
Sanjay Bandopadhyaya a Civil Servant.
*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 (IAST|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).
*IAST|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.
*NN Vasu, Vanger Jatiya Itihas (Bangla), 2 vols, Calcutta, 1321 BS.
*Atul Sur, Banglar Samajik Itihas (Bangla), Calcutta, 1976
*NN Bhattacharyya, Bharatiya Jati Varna Pratha (Bangla), Calcutta, 1987
*RC Majumdar, Vangiya Kulashastra (Bangla), 2nd ed, Calcutta, 1989.
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