Sunday, January 16, 2011

Brahmanism in Bengal - 01 - The Earliest Historical Evidence of Brahmin presence in Bengal

Bengal had been very ancient center of Vedic settlement in India, but not in the conventional sense. The codes of Manu, while including Bengal under "Aryavarta" distinctly forbade all contact with Hindu's of this region who were known as "Rakshasas" and "Pischasas". Moreover given the fact that Bengal had been under Buddhist, Jain, Islam, Christian influence, as well as under the influence of indigenous Tantra-school and Nature-worshippers, Brahminism evolved in Bengal under rather challenging circumstances. More so, given that a continuous influx of people of different races and beliefs from different parts of the Indian sub-continent, South-East Asia and other places, was taking place continuously.

The earliest verifiable historical references to Brahmins from Bengal can be found during the Gupta empire period (320 - 550 AD), which is much before the traditional date of establishment of the Radhi and Varendra Brahmin clans of Bengal in around the 10th Century AD.

Most of the data-points mentioned below are based on various copper-plate inscriptions found in different parts of Bengal.

432/ 433 AD
The Dhanaidaha copper plate inscription states that a royal officer (ayuktaha) bought some land annd gifted it to a Brahmin named Samavedi Varahasvamin. (during the reign of Kumaragupta I (414 - 455 AD))

440 AD
Three vAjaseneYa brahmins (Vajasaneyacarana) - Devabhatta, Amaradatta and Mahasenadatta find mention in the kalAikuri grant. They were all versed in the four Vedas.

445 AD
Karpapatika, who applied for the grant of a piece of land to the administration of Pudravardhana bhakti stationed in Kotivarsha vishaya, as per the Damodarpur plates

~500 AD - chAndogya sAmavedI brahmavIrasvAmin in the malliA plate

~500 AD - bRhaccaTTa mentioned in the Pharidpur plate

~590 AD - Supratikasvamin, who applied for land grant during the reign of King Samachardeva (late 6th century AD) as mentioned in the Ghugrahati copper plate

~660 AD
The Tippera Copper plate of Lokenath records a grant to over 100 Chaturvedi Brahmins at the request of a mahasamanta.
Also has a reference to the establishment of 211 Brahmanas versed in the Vedas in "atavi-bhu-khanda in Suvaingu Visaya".

~800 AD
Vandya Debbhadra from bengal is mentioned as the writer of the Charter in the Russelkonda plates of Nettaabhanja (King Nettaabhanja of Orissa).

Apparently Brahmins had been migrating to Bengal from IATa, madhyadeza (Madhya-desha), kolAJca (Kolancha), muktAvasu and others during the pAla period.

Sources:
1. Traditional stories of Brahmin origin in Bengal - Dr. Tanmoy Bhattacharya http://tanmoy.tripod.com/tradition/
2. a, c, f, g - A social history of early India By Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya - Pg 172
3. g. Discovery of North-East India: geography, history, cutlure ..., Volume 1 By Suresh Kant Sharma Pg 54
4. b - http://www.jatland.com/home/Kalaikuri
5. h - Inscriptions of Orissa: Circa 5th-8th centuries A.D - Pg 33, 148

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