Sunday, September 23, 2012

Investigation of Brahmins of Bengal in Gupta Period - Epigraphic Evidence

A significant number of copper plate grants dated 4th century C.E and onwards have been discovered all over Bengal (West Bengal and Islamic, Bangladesh).  While new discoveries have continued till the present day in both West Bengal and Islamic Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan), we shall only deal with those evidences as presented in pre-partition findings. Inscriptions typically deal with grant of land to Brahmins with various objectives as given below:
a. to enable Brahmins to perform the agnihotra and pañcamahāyajña (five great oblations)
b. to build the temples of various Brahmanical gods,
c. and make endowments for defraying expenses of daily worship, repair of temples, continuance of bali, cham, satra, the supply of cow's milk, incense, and flowers, and the maintenance of madhuparka, lamp etc
Villagers also purchased lands with the object of settling some prominent Brahmins for the enhancement of merits (puNya) of themselves and their parents.

Dhanaidaha copper plate inscription [Northern B.D] of the reign of Kumaragupta I, dated in the (Gupta) year 113 (433 C.E.)
The inscription mentions that a royal officer ( āyuktaka ) bought some land and gifted it to a Brahmin named Varāhasvāmin of the Sāmvedic school.

Kalaikuri cooper plate [Northern B.D] dated Gupta Year 121 (441 C.E)
"The Copper·plate bearing the inscription had originally been preserved for a very long time as heir-loom in a Muhammadan family originally settled in the village of Kalaikuri in the district of Bogra, about 8 miles from Naogaon town in the Rajshahi district. Thf plate is now deposited in tbe Varendra Research Museum. This is a single plate inscribed on both sides. Tbe seal which appears to have originally been attached to the top, is now lost. The insriptino consists of 34 lines of which I6 are engraved on the obverse ....
It records the purchas of 9 kulyavApas of land at the rate of 2 dinAras for each kulyavApa distributed in the village of hastishIrsha, vibhItaka, gubhyAgandhika and dhAnnyapATalikA, for being granted, free of revenue, under the term of perpetual endowment, to tbe Brahmins Devabhaṭṭa, Amaradatta and Mahāsendatta for the purpose of enabling them to perform the five daily sacrifices." They blonged to the shuklayajur veda vājasaneya school and were learned in the four vedas ( chaturvedi ).

Damodarpur copper plate of Kumargupta I,dated 111 the (Gupta) year 124 ( 444 C.E)
Records purchase of land by a Brahmin called karppaTika in connection with the performance of agnihotra rites.

Baigram copper-plate inscription of the (Gupta) year 128 (448 C.E. )
Records purchase of lands by the two brothers Bhoyila and Bhāskara, to meet the cost of occasional repairs to the temple of Govindasvāmin, founded by their father śivanandin, and also for the daily worship of tlle deity witb perfumery, incense, lamp aand flowers.

Paharpur Copper Plate Inscription of the (Gupta) Year 159 (479 C.E)
Records purchase of lands hy the Brahmin Nāthasarman and his wife Rāmī for the conduct of the worship, with perfumery, incense, flower, and lamp, of tbe Arhats in the monastery (vihāra), established by the disciples and the disciples disciples of the Jaina Guhanandin.

Damodarpur copper plate of the reign of Budhgupta dated in the (Gupta) Year 163 (483 C.E)
Records purchase of land near vāyigrāma by the grāmika nābhaka whose object was to provide some Brahmins with a dwelling place.

Nandapur inscription of the (Gupta) year 119 (489 C.E)
( From Munger, Bihar)
Records purchase of land in the village ja~NgoyikA by the Vishayapati Chhattramaha, presented to a Brahmin of the Sāmvedic school, belonging to the kāshyapa gotra, an inhabitant of the agrahāra of khaTapurANa comprised in the nandavithI to enable him to perform the the five daily sacrifices.

Observations and Conclusions
From the 7 copper plates described above, we observe the following:
a. Brahmmins were not only present in old Bengal (WB, Islamic Bangladesh, parts of Bihar and Jharkhand)in the period from 350 to 500 C.E, but also thrived amidst the adoration of the people and the royal patronage
b. They belonged to the following vedic schools:
 - sAma veda
 - shukla yajur veda vājasaneya
c. Some of the Brahmins were quite learned in that they were chaturvedins (knower of the four veda)
d. Rites were typically pañcamahāyajña (five great sacrifices) or agnihotra
e. Some Brahmins were also employed in Jain vihAras.

1. The History of Bengal Vol 1 ed by R.C. Majumdar / University of Dacca, 1943
2. Some Historic Aspects of the Inscriptions of Bengal by Benoychandra Sen / University of Calcutta, 1942
3. Select Inscriptions Bearing on Indian History and Civilization ed by Dines Chandra Sircar  / University of Calcutta, 1965

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