Wednesday, September 19, 2012

kulashAstras - The genealogical Books of Bengali Brahmins

These notes are based on Chapter 9 (Pg 32 onwards), Vol 2 of the book, " History of Bengal from Earliest Times" by Promode Paul.
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"The genealogical books of the Bengali ghaTakas (match-makers) form a class of literature by themselves and it is a separate shAstra by its special importance like the Srutis and Smrtis. There is an extensive literature on the subject, variously called kulashAstras (কুলশাস্ত্র), kulagranthas  (কুলগ্রন্থ) or kulapa~njikAs (কুলপঞ্জিকা) ... Generally the lists coming from different sources agree with one another."

The purpose of these genealogical books are/ were to:
a. keep a correct record of the lineal descendants of important families, their branches and subbranches
b. to enable to gauge their social rank and status based on documentation of anny social impurities or indignities of any members of these families
c. ceremonial occassions
d. "useful in forming matrimonial relationship, as connection of a pure family with a lower one will degrade the former also."

Issue with these genealogical lists/ texts:
1. "None of them has proved to be old and most of them are based on current traditions, sometimes orally transmitted from generation to generation."
2. "propagandist"
3. ghaTakas "tampering with the Kulapanjikas with not very disinterested or good motives."
4. Distortion of the texts by "even most of the modern writers on the subject (though they profess to be critical and scientific) .. Few would give out the social stigma, if there were any, on their own families and by distorting truths by every possible means they would prove their purity and superiority."
5. "Most of the books arc in MSS and adequate study of the subject has not been made. A critical study of the subject is worth attempting." - Hnece these works are prone to misunderstanding, misuse and misinterpretation.

Usefulness of these Texts
1. "In the kulashAstras are to be found the social organisations and reorganisations in various ranks and grades that were made by great social reformers to meet the needs of the changing circumstances from time to time, and some of them still hold good in case of the majority of the Hindu society of Bengal."
2. "They offer us a glimpse into the Hindu society during the Muslim rule which it is impossible to have from any other source."
3. "Their importance lies in the fact that they give a piclure of the Hindu society which cannot be found elsewhere."

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