Thursday, February 3, 2011

Brahmanism in Bengal - 03 - Origin of Organized Brahminism in Bengal

How exactly did organized Brahminism originate in Bengal?

As I had mentioned in one of my previous posts, the presence of Brahmins in Bengal can be traced to as early as 400 C.E.

As per traditional accounts (epigraphic evidence indicates otherwise), however, the number of Brahmin families in the period upto ~1000 C.E was quite low.  In fact some traditional stories tell us that the number of Brahmins in Bengal decreased to such an extent that by the time of reign of King Adisura (about whom we will talk a bit later) only 700 Brahmins lived in Bengal. These 700 Brahmins were known as Sapta-sati Brahmanas. However traditionally, the Sapta-sati Brahmins are not the forefathers of the numerous Radhiya Brahmins (like the Mukherjees, Banerjees etc) or the Varendra Brahmins (the Sanyals) who now populate  West Bengal (and to some extent Islamic Bangladesh).

In order to study the details regarding origin and mass colonization of the Radhiya and Varendra brahmins, one has to rely on genealogical treatises (sometimes of mythological nature ) called Kulagrantha or Kula-panjika which may or may not be completely accurate historically as they may have undergone multiple round so of interpolations.

Here is how the traditional story goes for rADhi brahmins - there are different versions of the story as available in different Radhiya and Kayastha kula-granthas, so what I present below is one such version.

King Adisura, was the ruler of Bengal (sometime between 700 C.E to 1100 C.E). He wanted to perform a ceremony (Yajna) and required specialized Brahmins who could officiate the ceremony. Different books attribute different reasons behind the yajna and I present below three of the most common reasons:
a. to overcome a prolonged drought in Bengal
b. to learn the Truth as enjoined in Vedas and Tantras
c. to gain Happiness

The local Sapta-sati Brahmins (700 Brahmins) were however not upto the task - most of them could not even read the Vedas in Sanskrit, let alone officiate an important yajna. In fact they are described in the Vangaja Kayastha genealogy as one whose "bodies were dwarfed and minds were deformed".

The King then heard of 5 great Brahmins of Kolancha (a.k.a Krodancha, some people also say Kanauj). Adisura then requested King Vira Singha (Virsimha) of Kolancha to send him those 5 Brahmins.

The 5 Brahmins along with their 5 Shudra (Kayastha) servants traveled to Bengal disguised as Kshatriyas. They rode a bull and carried swords and shields - they were apparently well trained in weaponry also. King Adisura was disappointed and decided to send them back, however the best among the Brahmins, Sri Harsha took a dead piece of wood and brought it to life. The King was convinced of their power, and asked them to introduce themselves.

They were:
1. shrIharsSa of bharadvAja gotra and his servant virata guha of kAshyapa gotra
2. bhaTTanArAyaNa of shAnDilya gotra and his servant makaranda ghosha of saukAlina gotra
3. dakSha of kAshyapa gotra and his servant dasharatha vasu of gautama gotra
4. vedagarbha of sAvarNa gotra and his servant kAlidasa mitra of vishvAmitra gotra
5. chAndaDa of vAtsya gotra and his servant puruShottama datta of mauDgAlya gotra

The 5 Brahmins performed the said Yajna successfully, and King Adisura was extremely pleased. He gave the 5 Brahmins and 5 Shudra (Kayasta) servants land, gold and cows. These 5 Brahmins settled in the region of Radh and are known as Radhi Brahmins and are the progenitors of the Mukherjee/ Mukhopadhyay, Banerjee/ Bandhopadhyay, Chaterjee/ Chattopadhyay, Ganguly/ Gangopadhyay and Ghoshal of Bengal. The 5 Brahmins became the "ancestral seed males" of the 56 clans of Radhi brahmins.

There are many variants to this version. Similar stories also exists for vArendra brAhmanas, vaidikas etc.

1. It is difficult to believe that Kolancha is same as Kanauj, as Kolancha has been positively identified as a place in the northern part of Islamic Bangladesh. As per Shri Nagendranth Basu's reading of kula granthas (in Banger Jatiya Itihash), the ancestors of present day Radhi and Varendra brahmins migrated from this Kolancha to Gauda. In fact he uses the term Kolancha and Kanuj interchangeably in many place. On the other hand, tradition uses the term "kanojAgata" (one who has arrived from Kanauj, UP) to described Radhi Brahmins.

2. The original Sapta Sati brahmins of Bengal referred to above, does not actually mean 700 brahmins. In fact, as per Shri Nagnedranth Basu, it is derived from the word sAtasatI which in turn is derived from sarasvatI. The sapta-sati in fact refers to the original sArasvata brAhmaNas of Bengal - those who used to reside around sarasvatI river in north-west Indian subcontinent and around 3000 - 4000 years back started migrating eastwards when the river Sarasvati started drying up and eventually reached Bengal.

3. The migration from Kolancha to Gaudamandala, actually took place a generation earlier i.e., it was the parents of shrIharsha, bhaTTanArAyaNa etc who actually came to Gauda.

4. The migration alluded to above is probably a migration from Gauda to Radha.

5. Adisura has been identified variously as jayanta who ruled parts of Gauda in ~730 C.E, Adisimha who ruled parts of Magadha etc

1. Marriage and Rank in Bengal Culture - Ronald B. Inden
2. Jogendranath Bhattacharya's treatise
3. Traditional stories
4. The History and Culture of Palas in Bengal and Bihar - Jhunu Bagchi

1 comment:

  1. Hi! Im researching Adisura and gotta admit you did do a good roundup on him. Just want to know your sources. Is it possible for you to share them?