Saturday, September 22, 2012

Early Textual and Epigraphic Evidence of Brahmin presence in Bengal

As mentioned time and again by me in these  pages, contrary to popular misconception, Bengal (West Bengal and Islamic Bangladesh) has been the home to a significant Brahmin population from very early times.

Among the earliest textual references, (as per Shri Nagendranath Vasu in Banger Jatiya Itihaash), we learn that Vasumitra (~128 B.C.E), the fourth king of the Sunga Dynasty, brought Brahmins from different areas of Southern India to areas west of Gauda. The Brahmins who migrated belonged to the following gotras – Vatsa, Upamanyu, Kaundinya, Garga, Harita, Gautama, Shandilya, Bharadvaja, Kaushika, Kashyapa, Vashista, Savarna, Parashara and belonged to the Ashvalayan school of Rig Veda. Again, in ~350 C.E, Chandravarman of the Pushkarna dynasty of Radha (western Bengal) is said to have brought a large number of Brahmins from Pushkar in Rajasthan. Pokharna, the capital of Pushkarna country apparently had a large settlement of Pushkar Brahmins at that time.

As far as epigraphic evidence is concerned, the various copper-plate grants found in Bengal (West Bengal and Islamic Bangladesh) , contain the names of a large number of Brahmins settled in Bengal, some of whom are specified as belonging to RRigvedic, yajurvedic (vAjasaneya) and sAmavedic schools, and to bharadvAja, kANva, bhArgava, kAShyapa, agastya, vAtsya, and kauNDinya gotra. A large number of inscriptions from the eighth to the twelfth century A.D. refer to the settlement in Bengal of Brahmans as hailing from lATa (Gujarat), Madhyadesa, and such individual localities as kroDA~nchi or kroDA~ncha (kolA~ncha), tarkAri (in shrAvasti), muktAvastu, hastipada, matsyAvasa, kuNTIra and chandavAra. (1) The inscriptions of the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries A.D. thus fully demonstrate the influx of the Vedic culture in Bengal. Their number was constantly increased by fresh immigrations from Upper India for which there is abundant epigraphic evidence.

Thus we have a continuous presence of Brahmins in Bengal from ancient times - as early as ~ 125 B.C.E, if purANanic evidence is to be trusted (and there is no reason why not to). Else, from the Gupta period (4th century onwards) we have a continuous stream of epigraphic evidence (copper plates, inscriptions etc) right upto the Mohammedan invasion in 12th century.

(1) chandavAra may be identified with Chandwar near Etawa in U.P., well-known in Muhammadan
history (lB. 151).
hastipada may be identified with the village of the same name mentioned in the kudopali grant of the somavaMshI ruler of koshala as the place from which one of the donees had immigrated (EI. IV. 254 ff).
Tarkiri was a famous settlement of the Brahmanas and Karanas, and is referred to as tarkAri,  tarkArika, tarkAra, TakkAra, TakkarI etc ·m. in a large number of inscriptions (EI.I 336, III. 348, 353, IX. 107; lA. xvii. 118, XVI 204, 208). Dr. R. G. Basak while editing the Silimpur inscription, concluded from the expression sakaTI-vyavadhAnavAn that bAlgrAma was separated from Tarkiri by the (river) sakaTi. This places shrAvasti in North Bengal. In support of his suuestion Dr. Basak poinlll out that some of the purANas locate shrAvastIpurA in gauDa. Others opposes this view and identify shrAvasti with the well known city in Oudh.

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