From Indpaedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Hindi English French German Italian Portuguese Russian Spanish

This article is an extract from


Ethnographic Glossary.

Printed at the Bengal Secretariat Press.
1891. .

NOTE 1: Indpaedia neither agrees nor disagrees with the contents of this article. Readers who wish to add fresh information can create a Part II of this article. The general rule is that if we have nothing nice to say about communities other than our own it is best to say nothing at all.

NOTE 2: While reading please keep in mind that all articles in this series have been scanned from a very old book. Therefore, footnotes have got inserted into the main text of the article, interrupting the flow. Readers who spot scanning errors are requested to report the correct spelling to the Facebook page, All information used will be duly acknowledged.




The origin of the Bengali Brahmans is hidden in obscurity. It is, however, generally traced to the introduction of five Brahmans from Kanauj by Adisura, King of Gaur, about A.D. 900; but there are grounds for believing that the Vaidika and Sapt-Sati were earlier immigrants, ans it is probable, as Dr. Hunter thinks, that the first Aryan settlers in Bengal claimed to be the aristocracy of the new country, and as a natural consequence to be Brahmans, an idea inseparable (in the Aryan mind) from the rank of an aristocracy. This supposition acquires additional probability from the surviving tradition that Adisura applied to the Rajah of Kanauj for priests capable of performing certain Vedic ceremonies, as the false Brahmans of Bengal were incapable, through ignorance, of doing so.

The names, and gotras, of the five Kanauj Brahmans were:�

Bhuttanarayana of the Sandily Gotra. Daksha. of the Kasyapa Gotra. Chhandara. of the Vatsya Gotra. Sriharsa. of the Bharadvaja Gotra. Vedagarbha. of the Savarna Gotra.

Of the personal history of these men we know little,1 but it is related that they intermarried with their Bengali neighbours, and the issue became the progenitors of the Varenda tribe, while the children by their Hindustani wives became the founders of the Rarhi. The Yarendra Brahmans, on the other hand, maintain that they are the legitimate branch, the Rarhi the illegitimate.

During the two following centuries the Brahmans increased so fast by births, and the influx of other settlers from Hindustan, that Ballal Sen, in the eleventh century, found the Rarhi Brahmans domiciled in fifty-six Gains, or communes, isolated from many Sapta-Sati, Vaidika, and low caste Brahmans, who in contradistinction were designated Nau-gains, or outsiders, from residing beyond the limits of the communes.2

The exact number of descendants of the five Kanaujuja Brahmans, who were raised to pre-eminence by the reforms of Ballal Sen, is a subject of lasting dispute between the Rarhi and Banga Ghataks. The following particulars derived from the Banga genealogists must therefore be received cum grano.

Ballal Sen, under Brahmanical influence, it is supposed, organised a Samachara, or enquiry, to ascertain which families possessed special religious qualities, entitling them to the first rank in the sacred order, and to classify the rest, according as they had lost one or other important faculty, in subordinate ranks. The nine personal endowments qualifying for the highest position were:�

1. Achar, faith in the performance of appropriate duties, 2. Vinaya, modesty, or moral training, 3. Vidya, learning, 4. Pratishtha, devotion in consecrating a temple, 5. Tirthadarsana, the regular visitation of holy places, 6. Nishtha, piety, 7. Avritti, observance of legal marriages, 8. Tapasa, devotion, 9. Dana, liberality.

1 Fragments of moral poems attributed to them, and called Pancha-ratni, are still extant. A translation is to be found in the "New Asiatic Miscellany," vol. i, p.. 62. Calcutta, 1789.

2 "Orissa," by W.W. Hunter, vol. i, p.249. Nineteen families found to have preserved untarnished these nine cardinal virtues were enrolled as the eight Mukhya, or superior, Kulins; families who had neglected Achar were included in fourteen classes, called Gauna, or secondary, Kulins; while the large majority, though regular students of the Vedas, having lost Avritti, and formed alliances with families of ignoble birth, were divided into thirty-four Srotriya1 septs.

These classes of Mukhya, Gauna, and Srotriya were honorary distinctions attached to a hereditary hierarchy, who received from the reigning monarch grants of villages and arable lands. Further, no personal misdemeanour could deprive them of the privileges of their order but to ensure a pure and aristocratic race it was enacted, that an unequal, or irregular, marriage caused loss of prestige, and forfeiture of rank.

The eight Mukhya Kulina families were;�

Vandya (Banarji), Putitunda, Chatta (Chatarji), Ganguli, Mukhuti (Mukharji), Kanjilala, Goshala, Kundagrami. These names were taken from the village, or commune, where the greatest number of approved reputation were found.

Of the inhabitants of Vandya, only six families were enrolled, namely those of Gahlana, Mahesvara, Devala, Vamana, Isana, and Makaranda. The descendants of the Kanaujiya Brahman Daksha were found residing in the village of Chatta, and five families, namely, Bahurup, Sucha, Aravinda, Halayudha, and Vangala, were deemed worthy of admission. The Mukhuti returned two families, Utsaha and Garuda; the Goshala one, Sira; the Putitunda one, Govardhanacharya; the Ganguli one, Sisa; the Kanjilala two, Kanu and Katuhala; and the Kundagrami one, Roshakara.

The fourteen Gauna, or secondary, Kulins were:�

Dirdhangi, Kesari, Pariha, Ghanteswari, Kulabhi, Dinsai, Podari, Pitamundi, Pipalai, Mahinta, Hada, Guda, Rai, Gadagadi. The status of these families was fixed in accordance with their moral characters. Four were inscribed as "Siddha," or perfected; seven as "Suddha," or pure: and three, including Pipalai and Dinsai, as "Kashtha," excellent, or "Ari." The designation "Ari," or enemy, was given because a Kulin marrying a daughter of one of them was disgraced.

The thirty-four Gains of Srotriyas were as follows:�


According to some authorities, the Srotriya were the descendants of the Kanaujiya Brahmans by Sapta-Sati wives, being esteemed inferior to their fathers, but superior to their mothers, maternal grandsires, and to all relatives of the Sapta-Sati class. Again, the Banga Ghataks give three more Srotriya gains, namely Ghantesvari, Bhattesvari, and Digal; but the Rarhi Ghataks do not recognise more than thirty-four in all.

Such was the classification of Ballal Sen, rendered, it was thought, complete by stringent laws regarding marriage. It was the prerogative of the Gauna and Srotriya to provide wives for the Mukhya Kulins, and to get wives for themselves from their own class equals. The marriage of a daughter into a good Kulin family raised, in public estimation, the character of the father's household, whence arose the strange custom, known as Kula-gotra, by which the reputation of a family depended on the daughter's suitable marriage.

As years rolled on, and families became extinct, the difficulty of obtaining an unexceptionable husband immensely increased. Kulin fathers accordingly often gave away their daughters to Gauna, Srotriya, and even to Sapta-Sati families, thus forming the "Vansaja"1 class. Again, the daughters were often married to the sons of Vansaja parents, in which case the character and dignity of the family were forfeited, and it became "Sukriti-bhanga," from whom were descended in the next generation the Dvipurusha, in the third the Tripurusha, and in the fourth the Chaturpursha, after which, as among the Varendras, the branch was blended in the Vansaja class. It was, moreover, the practice in the various grades for the daughters of the lower lineage to marry with their cousins of the elder branch. If the Sukriti-Bhanga Brahman married into a Kulin family it was dishonoured and degraded; or, if a Kulin married a Vansaja maiden, similar results followed, and he became a Bhanga, or ruined, Brahman..

With the Muhammadan invasion of AD. 1199, the Hindu Empire was overthrown, and the artificial structure of Hindu society underwent a complete revolution. Kulins sold their family rank and honour for money; they increased the number of their wives, without regard to the respectability of the families from which they came, and they enhanced their demands as the supply of suitable wives diminished. But it was not only the selfish and unprincipled behaviour of the Brahmans in the matter of marriage that lowered their characters in popular estimation. The system from its birth bore the seeds of decay, and was doomed to certain destruction. Purity of life, piety, knowledge, and sympathy with the lower orders, were disregarded, or discouraged, and the sacred order sank demoralized beneath a load of vices, unpitied by the people.

A fortunate thing would it have been for Bengal if the scandal had been swept away, and a radical reform introduced on sounder and more equitable principles; but the evils were increased and the vices diffused among a larger circle, by the classification of an obscure Ghatak. This rise and unquestioned influence of a Brahman reformer is one of the most puzzling incidents in the domestic annals of Bengal. His rank and position were plebeian, yet he acquired such a commanning station as to dictate his own terms to the proudest Kulin, and enforce their observance on the most contumacious.

Tradition has preserved a few events of his career, but none of them indicate the policy by which he overcame the discontent and disobedience of a haughty and still dominant oligarchy.

Devi Vara, a Jessore Ghatak, lived ten generations after Ballal Sen, in the fourteenth century.1 He is said to have been a man of eccentric habits, with a strong, though wayward, will. As a young man he visited Kamakhya, and became a Siddhavak, or a person who had only to express a wish and it was fulfilled. On returning to Bengal he wandered about the country, like any demented Bairagi, shouting out "Akulam! Akulam!" the Kul, or family honour, is gone! It is probable that this "antic disposition" was asssmed, for it is a popular belief that his subsequent classification of the Brahmans turned upon the hospitality and favour shown to him during his peregrinations. A story in point is narrated of him. One day entering the house of Yogisvara Pandit, head of the Khardadaha Mel, who was from home, the inmates treated him with curt civility.

Incensed by their rudeness, he began shouting "Akulam! Akulam!" and Yogisvara became an outcast. On returning home Devi Vara was implored to remove the curse, but as this was impossible, he compensated the sufferer by the following prophecy, worthy of Thomas the Rhymer.

"When Sasamriga1 returns home, when the sky produces fruit, when the barren woman conceives, then, and then only, shall Yogisvara lose his Kul."

The following story is told to explain why a good Brahman like Devi Vara left no children. At a great meeting of Brahmans convened to reorganise the order, Devi Vara was tormented by his Guru, Prabhakara, to explain why he was born a Ghatak, and not a Kulin Brahman. Provoked beyond endurance, Devi Vara exclaimed "Prabhakara is Akulam!" The Guru retorted, "The house of Devi Vara shall not remain, he shall be 'ultimus suorum.'"

The reorganising scheme of Devi Vara was confined to the Rarhi Kulins of the Mukhya grade, and did not embrace the Gauna or Srotriya, who had already united to form a homogeneous order with certain trivial limitations regarding precedence. In conformity with the new classification the Kulin Brahmans were included in three grades:�

Svabhava, or original Kulins,



Furthermore, a most important innovation was introduced, in the creation of thirty-six Mels, or septs, named after the home or chief man of a family. The thirty-six Mels were:�


1 The constellation Lepus.

1 Another account states that he lived twelve generations ago.

1 Literally, belonging to the family. 1 Literally a Brahman versed in the study of the Vedas.

The cardinal point, in the new reorganisation was the law restricting the marriages of Kulins to their own Mel. This limitation led to evils far greater than those of previous times. Claims of superiority were advanced and resisted, and families of the highest rank were disgraced, and their places filled by plebeian houses. Whether this innovation was the work of Devi Vara, or introduced subsequently, is uncertain, but the monstrous absurdity known as Palti-Prakriti1 was intended to restrain the social anarchy. By this contrivance marriages in certain corresponding families of equal rank were enjoined, and any violation of the law was visited by dishonour and degradation. For example, the Mukhuti family were obliged to marry their sons to Chatarji daughters, and the Chatarji sons to Mukhuti daughters.

When it happened that the Mukhuti had only' one son, and the Chatarji ten daughters, the former was compelled to marry the whole ten, or all remained spinsters. The Kulin boy with hundreds of rich offers of marriage must decline all, until he had fulfilled this obligation. Again, the Bhanga, Vansaja, and Srotriya septs were in eager quest of Kulin husbands to preserve their reputation, and as the total number of Kulins, even before the absorption of the Gauna, never equalled the numbers of the Srotriya, the competition was great. When the Kulins became still further reduced by the loss of many, who departed from amongst them, and formed the Bhanga and Vaansaja, the competition became extravagant. The polygamy of Kulins was countenanced, and prescribed. They had not only to marry a maiden of their own Mel, but also a Srotriya wife, and as their pecuniary value rose, the temptation to live by the wages of polygamy became irresistible.

At the present day the classification of Devi Vara is preserved, and the evils of the system have grown so intolerable that legislative interference is solicited by enlightened Hindus. Kulin girls, for want of husbands, are living and dying unmarried, being know as Yamavara, or wedded to Pluto. Svabhava Kulins, yielding to the attractions of a Pana, or marriage fee, of two thousand rupees, are breaking their Kul, and marrying Vansaja girls, who are immediately resigned to the charge of their parents; but as the Pana diminishess ten per cent with each new wife, it is no uncommon thing for the fee to fall to fifteen or even ten rupees.

As soon as a Svabhava Kulin is degraded to the rank of a Sukriti-Bhanga, he adopts matrimony as a profession, and finds no limit to the number of suitors for his hand from among Bhanga and Srotriya families. As his Haram enlarges from a few up to hundreds, the Bhanga and Srotriya, ruined by the large marriage fees they have paid, and by the paucity of marriageable girls of their own class, live and die unmarried.

The honour of marrying one's daughter to a Bhanga Kulin is so highly valued in Eastern Bengal, that as soon as a boy is ten years of age, his parents, or guardians, begin discussing his marriage, and before he is twenty he frequently becomes the husband of many wives, of ages varying from five to fifty. The bride, unless of a rich and influential family, rarely sees her husband after marriage, and thus a wide field is opened for adultery and immorality. In a list drawn up by Babu Ubhaya Chunder Das, the names of two Kulins in Eastern Bengal, each of whom possesses a hundred wives, are given; two with sixty; three with fifty; and three with thirty. This gentleman further asserts, that each Kulin has a register containing the names of the villages where their fathers-in-law reside, and that every cold season he makes a connubial tour, visiting each wife, and after fleecing the foolish parent of as much money as he can, transports himself to another village where he does the same thing. At the end of his tour he returns to his home, living in ease and sensuality until another marriage rouses him to temporary activity.

It is only among Brahmans of the Rarhi Sreni that this infamous system exists, for the Varendra Kulins, unreformed by Devi Vara, are said to have as few wives as any other order of high caste Hindus.

The amount of immorality developed by Kulinism is incalculable. Young wives deserted by their husbands, and often living in penury, children brought up without a father, and parents madly ruining their heirs to obtain a licentious polygamous husband for the daughter, is a picture without a redeeming point. Within the last ten years various petitions have been presented to Government urging the necessity of blotting out this hideous crime, but as yet no legislative action has been taken. The two main obstacles to reform are, the opposition of the Ghataks, an influential body, whose existence depends on the continuance of the system, and the selfishness of the Kulins themselves, who prefer certain wealth and ease to the precariousness of a learned, or the exertion of a mercantile,It is a remarkable fact, that in spite of inbreeding, sloth, and debauchery, and notwithstanding the damp and malarious climate of their homes, the Brahmanical race of Eastern Bengal has preserved its physique and talents, impaired, it is impossible to doubt, but still on a par with the higher Bengali castes.

Sanskrit is still their favourite language, and the chief family can read enough to guide them through the intricate ceremonials of their worship. Few Kulin boys attend the more advanced Government schools, as the obligations of the Mel system call them away while still young; but boys are either instructed in village schools, or at home by a Pandit.

The tedious ceremonies connected with the marriage of a Rarhi Kulin are for the most part correctly detailed by Mr. Ward, but there are several points requiring mention which the vicissitudes of the last seventy years have effected. Before any steps can be taken to marry a Kulin, the Ghatak must ascertain first, whether the girl has at anytime been engaged, or divorced; second, whether she is younger than the bridegroom elect; third, whether her name differs from his mother's, and fourth, whether her Gotra is different from his. Owing to the extinction of corresponding Mels a Kulin is nowadays permitted to violate the second and third enactments.

A Kulin father, again, can only preserve his Kul intact by one of three ways:�

1. By giving his legitimate daughter to one of equal rank. 2. By making an effigy of his child with Kusa grass (Kusa-Kanya), and giving it in marriage to a Kulin male of equal rank. 3. By saying before Ghatak witnesses "I would give my daughter, if I had one, to you," addressing a Kulin present, and by making a Tilak, or symbol of marriage, on his forehead.

This last rite, called Karana, still observed in Eastern Bengal, but fast falling into disuetude in other parts of the country, was lately celebrated by a Zamindar of Mymensingh, who paid twenty-two thousand rupees to the Brahmans for permission.

Many Mels having died out, a son of a family whose Palti-Prakriti is dead, must marry the only daughter of a widow, while in the case of an only daughter of a Kulin widow, for whom no eligible husband is procurable, the mother may marry her to a Srotriya, and accept "pana" without endangering the family prestige.

In Dacca the Kulin bridegroom is married from the bride's house, while the Srotriya parents bring their daughter to the bridegroom's village, and she is married in the house of a friend.The marriages of Kulins are invariably arranged by Ghataks; those of Srotriyas usually by relatives, but as a Srotriya family is dishonoured if it does not marry a daughter to a Kulin, the Ghataks must negotiate with his parents.

From the foregoing remarks it is obvious that the position of a Kulin parent with a large family of daughters is a most unenviable one. The Sastras insist on the early marriages of girls, and censure those who are dilatory. The Kulin therefore, must either pay a large "pana" to a Kulin boy, or, if too poor to do so, bribe an octogenarian, or dying Kulin, already possessing a bevy of wives, to condescend to marry his daughter just come of age. Immorality is the natural result, and the number of illegitimate children in Kulin villages is believed to be excessive. The illegitimate son of a Brahman woman by a Sudra, is facetiously known as Krishna-paksha,1 and generally becomes a Vairagi, while the bastard of a widow by a Kulin is secretly adopted, and the breath of scandal hushed. The occurrence of such an event in a Srotriya family, however, cannot be concealed, and its effects are disastrous to its respectability.

Rarhi Brahmans have sadly fallen from the standard of purity enjoined by the Brahmans of Mathura and Brindaban. In accordance with the Sastras any Brahman may accept alms, educate boys in the sacred language, or duties, and instruct mankind generally in virtue and morality. All other occupations are sinful. In Eastern Bengal, however, Brahmans take service as domestic servants, chiefly as cooks, and do most kinds of husbandry, such as cutting corn and brushwood; but holding the plough, though occasionally resorted to by the very poor, is regarded as derogatory, but does not entail loss of caste. Bengali Brahmans are as strict as their Hindustani brethren in expelling individuals found selling milk, ghi, iron, lac, or common salt. A Brahman, moreover, officiating as a temple priest (Pujari) in a shrine erected and endowed by one of the Nava-Sakha, or a Brahman Devala, living on oblations offered to an idol, is at once expelled. The profession of a physician was formerly abhorrent to the priesthood; but nowadays many highly educated graduates of the Calcutta University are Brahmans, who, however, lose caste if they dissect bodies.

The Rarhi Brahmans have diverged still farther from their Kanaujiya brethren in the matter of diet. Ducks, as well as duck's eggs, onions, a variety of the teal (Narkuli) caught by the Bhinds, the spotted rail, or Kahrail (Porzana maruetta), the " Moga" fish, and the flesh of sacrifices, are eaten in Bikrampur, although their stricter brethren are vegetarians.

Salted, or dried, fish and meat, and the flesh of birds trapped by birdlime, are rejected by all Brahmans. The Kamrupi Bahmans, on the other hand, eat the flesh of buffaloes, geese, and pigeons, but neither the Vaidika Brahmans, from whom they are descended, nor any other tribe have as yet followed their example. Furthermore, those Rarhi Brahmans, who conform to certain rules of the Sakta ritual, drink spirituous liquors, although the tasting of "Madhu" causes forfeiture of caste in Hindustan, and the smoking of Indian hemp (Ganjha), also prohibited, is year by year becoming more common in Bengal.

The majority of Bengali Brahmans comply with the Sama-Veda; but a few, chiefly of the Pusi Lal gotra, follow the Yajur-Veda. Brahman boys are invested with the sacred cord when seven years old, or more correctly when seven years and three months old, or eight years after conception. The length of the cord depends on the Veda followed, and Brahmans who obey the Sama-Veda acquire a "paita" either reaching from the top of the right thumb, when the arm is extended, to the tip of the left shoulder, or from the top of the sternum to the right thumb. Those, again, who follow the Yajur-Veda, wear it long enough to reach from the right shoulder to the extended right thumb; and the followers of the Rig-Veda from the navel to the anterior fontanelle.

The "paita" must consist of three plies of three strands joined by knots (ganth), the number depending on the gotra of the Brahman. Thus, the descendants of the Kanaujiya Brahmans belonging to the Sandilya, Kasyapa, and Bharadvaja gotras have three knots in each ply; while those of the Vatsya and Savarna have five.

Brahmans observe the Des-achar, or custom of the particular country in which they reside, if it is not contrary to the Sastras; and high caste Kanaujiya Brahmans living in Bengal do not lose their good name by officiating as Purohits to low caste Hindustani castes, though they would certainly do so in Hindustan. Rarhi Kulins, as a rule, have no Jajman, or communities for whom they perform religious services, but degraded Kulins often, and Srotiyas always, have a circle of families, who remunerate them for attending to their religious wants.

The Guru of the Rarhi Sreni is usually a hereditary office, held by the representative of an old respected Kulin family. Should he die leaving a son, the community take especial care to have him properly educated, and instructed in his duties. The Purohit, too, occupies a hereditary office, and is generally a member of a family living in the immediate neighbourhood of his flock.

Nine-tenths of the Barhi Brahmans either worship Siv, or follow the Sakta ritual of the Tantras. Few Vaishnavas are met with, as it is deemed a misdemeanour for an adult Brahman to forsake the worship of his fathers; but a certain number do join the ranks of the corrupt Vaishnava sects. It is essential in Bengal for a Brahman, who values orthodoxy, to worship Siv and the Saligram, the special deities of the order.

The Rarhi Brahmans assert that the large majority follow the Dakshinachar form of Sakta worship, as being less intricate than the Vamachar, or Kaula, but other classes of natives deny this, maintaining that in Dacca at least the licentious orgies of the Kaula, or Chakra, Pujah, as it popularly called, have more patrons than any other. When the habits of intoxication and licentiousness so prevalent among the higher ranks of the Rarhi Brahmans are considered, it is impossible to resist the conclusion that the popular charge is quite credible. At these impure revels all castes meet on a footing of equality, but at those directed by Sudras, a degraded Brahman presides, while at the worship of Sakti, the living personification of the goddess, a Brahmani girl, is the object adored. The worshippers being bound by an oath not to divulge the mysteries, it is difficult to ascertain what classes, and what numbers, of Brahmans patronise the assemblies.1

The proper deities for a Bengali Brahman to worship are Kali, Manasa Devi, and the Saligram, and this may be done in any temple, or house, of a clean caste, but he dare not officiate at the shrine of any other deity.


The popular story is, that the five Kanaujiya Brahmans, introduced by Adisura, settled on the east of the Ganges, and forming alliances with the women of the country, their offspring became the Varendra Brahmans.

Varendra, or the country north of the Padma, between the rivers Karatoya and Mahananda, and embracing the modem Zila's of Rajshahi, Pubna, and Bograh, is the home of this tribe; but as the Rarhi have passsd beyond the limits of their proper residence into Dinajpur, so the Varendra have crossed into the northern part of Mymensingh, belonging to the ancient kingdom of Kamrup.

Ballal Sen classified the Varendra Brahmans under three heads�


Suddha Srotriya,

Kashta Srotriya.

1 For further particulars see Wilson's "Sects of the Hindus," vol. i, pp. 240-263.

1Literally, the dark half of the month.

1 From the Sanskrit Palana, guarding, cherishing, and Prakriti, nature.

The Kulina were subdivied into eight Gains, or village communities, namely�


The Suddha, or stainless, Srotriyas were also separated into eight classes�


Finally, the Kashta, or bad, Srotriyas were resolved into eighty-four families.

A Kap is a Varendra Kulin, who has lost his Kul by making an irregular marriage with a Kashta Srotriya. He retains the same rank among his provincials as a Vansaja does among the Rarhi.

The following story explains the origin of the Kap. One Narasinha Naral, a Brindaban Brahman, having a grown-up but unmarried daughter, came to Bengal, and while crossing the Padma river, the ferryman upbraided him for keeping her so long a maid, and asked in mockery whether he intended wedding her to Madhu Maitra, or Rama-dhana Vagisi, the two chief Kulins of the Varendras. Narasinha, losing his temper, vowed that he would either marry her to Madhu Maitra, or commit suicide. He accordingly put his daughter, a cow, and a Saligram, on board a boat, and proceeded to Guranai, near Nator, where Madhu lived. He met the Brahman by chance at a bathing ghat, and threatened to sink the boat with its contents, unless he agreed to marry the girl. Madhu sent for his sons, and insisted that one of them should marry her; but all refused, so he himself took her to wife.

At the festival, when food is first taken from the bride's hands, she scoffingly sang�

"Who is honourable, and who is not, To whom shall I give Bhaji,1 and Paramanna?"2

The guests believing her to be a Muhammadan damsel in disguise, departed in anger, and declined to hold any further intercourse with the household.

The annual Sraddha in memory of his father coming round, Madhu anxious to pacify his relatives, and to induce them to attend, went to the house of his brother-in-law, Rama-dhana, to ask his advice, but finding him from home, accepted refreshment offered by his sister, and on leaving, gave her this riddle�

"If Rama-dhana comes, he will perform his father's Sraddha; if not, he will never do it!"

On his return, Rama-dhana being unable to solve the puzzle, went to Madhu's house, and learned its meaning. Thereupon he summoned the chief Kulins, and making light of the misunderstanding, told the guests that they had practised a foolish joke (Kap). The anger of the guests was not appeased, and ever after they lived apart, forming the Kap subdivision.

An offshoot, called Chhita Kap, formerly existed, but Rajah Kans Narayana of Tahirpur, got it readmitted into communion with the main body.

Varendra Brahmans have not adopted the extravagant custom of Palti-Prakriti; but among the Kulins eight Pati, or social grades, are distinguished:�


1 Rice gruel.

2 Rice and milk.

Each Gain of Varendra Kulins belongs to a Pati, but a Pati is not always identical with a Gain, for some members of the Maitra are found marrying with the Nirabhil grade, and others with the Janail. Similar conventionalities are observed by the Srotriyas.

The gotras of the Varendra are the same as those of the Rarhi Sreni, namely, Kasyapa, Vatsya, Sandilya, Bharadvaja, and Savarna. Their ordinary titles are, Chakravartti, Parihal, Bhattacharya, Chaudhari, Majumdar, Bhumika, and Sikhdar.

The Varendra differ in many respects from the Rarhi. With the former, a widow remarries, if the husband dies before puberty. This is called "Anupurva Visishta." Again, a Rarhi Kulin boy is often married to an old woman, but this is never allowed by the Varendra. Both tribes, however, agree that a Kulin cannot wed a girl with the same name as his mother (Matri-nama), nor a kinswoman of his own gotra (Sa-gotra).

When a Varendra Kulin takes to wife the daughter of a Kap, he sinks to her level, but the children have special respect shown them, and are therefore more eligible in marriage. On the other hand, when he weds a Srotriya maiden, as is lawful, the children are Kulins. Marriages between the Rarhi, Varendra, and Vaidik Brahmans are strictly forbidden.

When a Kulin cannot get a suitable husband for his daughter he must either marry her to a figure made of Kusa grass with the usual formalities, or, after having the marriage service per-formed, smear red lead on her forehead, which is the symbol of the married state.

Varendra Brahmans usually follow the Sama-Veda, hut a few study the Rig, Yajur, and even the Atharva-Veda. Different creeds (Mata) are obeyed. One, known as Rajah Rai Ka Mata, is the same as that of Rajah Ram Krishna; a second is the creed of Bhinad Rai, a Rajah of Tahirpur, and a third, derived from the second, is called the Mata of Balihar Rajah.

Vaishnavas are more frequently met with among Varendras than in any other class of Bengali Brahmans.

Varendra Brahmins have acquired and retained a more important rank in Bengal than has fallen to the lot of the Rarhi Sreni.

In Rajshahi, there are still the Rajas of Nator, Patiya, Tahir-pur, and Chauganga, and in Mymensingh the Rajah of Susang, all of whom belong to old and respected Varendra families.


This, one of the most honoured and homogeneous divisions of Bengali Brahmans, is distinguished by its adherence to Vedic rites and Vedic literature, by social independence, and abjuration of polygamy. Some authorities have described them as descendants of the original Brahmans of Bengal, who refused to submit to the reforms of Ballal Sen, and sought for freedom in the frontier lands of Bengal beyond his jurisdiction. Whether this be correct or not, it is certain that Silhet and Orissa contain the most important colonies of the tribe, and Buchanan mentions1 a tradition lingering among the Vaidika Brahmans of Dinajpur, that they had been introduced into that district by Advaita Subuddhi Narayana, Rajah of Silhet.

In Orissa, again, the Vaidik, or high, Brahmans are said2 to be immigrants from Bengal or Kanauj, and date their oldest settlements in Puri from about the twelfth century. Others3 conjecture that many fled from Orissa through fear of being made Vamacharis, or left-hand worshippers of the Sakti of Siva.

A whimsical story is told at the present day by the Ghataks of the Vaidik Brahmans to account for their gotras, which is evidently of modern invention, being the counterpart of one related of the Rarhi Sreni Brahmans. A vulture happened to die on the roof of the palace occupied by Shamal Varman, a Chhatri Rajah, ruling over the Banga Desa, in an undetermined era before Adisura, and none of the local Brahmans being able to avert the calamity thus foreboded, the monarch wrote to his friend the Rajah of Ayodhya, and besought him to send five Brahmans, competent to offer the needful sacrifiice, and save the household from the vengeance of the offended deity.

The Brah-mans arrived, and were so successful, that amid the smoke of the burnt offering the embodied spirit of the dead vulture was seen to soar heavenwards! To these five Brahmans the Rajah gave large tracts of land, and to six of their tribe, who subsequently arrived, he allotted other tracts, hence the modern separation into two subdivisions of five and six gotras.

The Kanaujiya are admitted by all Hindus to be the purest stock of Brahmans in Northern India, and each offshoot tries by some extravagant story to prove its genuine relationship with the parent stem. Sherring1 ascertained at Benares that the Vaidika were admitted to be a branch of the Kanaujiya Brahmans settled in Bengal, but in Dacca this is not always conceded.

The Vaidika Brahmans have two great divisions, the Paschatya, or western, and Dakshinatya, or southern; the former, alone met with in Eastern Bengal, point to Kanauj as their home; the latter, chiefly inhabiting Central Bengal, claim to belong to the original Bengal stock.

The Paschatya, as has been mentioned, are subdivided into Pancha ad Shash gotras. The Pancha, or five, gotras are�


1 Vol. ii, 734.

2 "Hunter's Orissa," vol. ii, app. i, p.7.

3 Ward, vol. i, 79.

The Bharadvaja obeyed the Sama Veda, but having become extinct, the first gotra of the Shash has taken its place. The Shash, or six, gotras are�


No two Ghataks, however, repeat the same names, as other gotras have been formed, and usurped a position which cannot be justified. Upamanya, Maitrayali, Ghrita Kausiki, and Tuthikara are names of uncertain standing.

The Paschatya Vaidiks were originally grouped in fourteen Sthans, or settlements, whence fourteen societies emanated. At the present day, owing to the destructive agency of the River Ganges, the sites of these colonies have been in several instances swept away, leaving no trace behind; but the position of the following eleven has been ascertained:�


The sites of Santali, Dadhichigram, and Marichigram have not as yet been determined.

At present many families live beyond the limits of these settlements, intermarrying with aliens like themselves, but, on payment of a heavy fine, they become re-entitled to the full privileges of the Samaj, or association.

Vaidik Brahmans are very exclusive, neither giving their daughters in marriage to Kulins, nor acting as Purohits to any Sudra, or Brahman, family, unless the latter can trace their origin to Kanauj. Furthermore, they do not officiate as Pujaris of temples, and although it is considered undignified to live on the charity of Sudras, a few do so. This sept of Brahmans minister as the Purohits and Gurus of the Rarhi, and Varendra Sreni, and usually have members of these tribes officiating in the same capacity for them. They have no Kulins, and no Ghataks, and their titles are identical with those of other Bengali Brahmans; for instance, Chakravartt, Bhattacharya, or simply, Thakur.

They study the Rig, Yajur, and Sama Vedas, while the large majority are Sakta worshippers, obeying the ordinances of the Tantras. Vishnu is occasionally worshipped, but for a Vaidik to abandon the time-honoured religion of his family, and become a disciple of a Gosain, is regarded as highly derogatory, and disgraceful.

A Vaidik is prohibited from marrying into his own or his mother's gotra, as among Rarhi Brahmans. He can only marry one wife, and it is customary for parents to arrange marriages during infancy, and sometimes before children are born. In the latter case, should either die before puberty, a subsequent marriage is full of difficulties. Formerly, no money was paid for a wife, but of late years the practice has become fashionable. As a rule, the Vaidiks do not touch flesh, even if sacrificed, or fish, and when visiting his disciples he seldom wears shoes, or sandals.

The principal occupation of the Vaidik Brahmans is the celebration of the old and venerated Vedic ceremonies, which their study of the Vedas enables them do, but astronomy, formerly a favourite attainment, is no longer prosecuted. In the Homa and Jaga rites the ministration of a Vaidik is necessary, and even the rarhi and Varendra Kulins require their assistance. No temple is correctly built, no dwelling-house is auspiciously finished, and no tank is properly excavated unless the Vaidik performs the regulated propitiatory rite of consecration; and should an individual be ill he may offer sacrifice for his recovery in the place of the family Purohit.

The Nava-graha Jag, or Graha Pujah, the worship of the nine planets, one of their most ordinary rites, consists in piling nine kinds of sacred woods,1 pouring "Ghi," or clarified butter, over them, and then applying fire, while the Vaidik standing at one side repeats Mantras, or collects, adapted to the particular day of the week.

The Vastu Pujah, or ceremonies observed on laying the foundations of a house, are generally performed by them, but if a Vaidik is not available any Brahman may officiate. On the site of the new building a pit, a cubit square, being dug, and filled in with billets of Bel and Mangos, chips of the nine sacred plants are thrown in, "Ghi" poured on the pile, and a light being applied, wheat, barley, linseed, and honey are after-wards cast into the flames. Until this expiatory rite is completed the laity are not allowed to enter the enclosure.

If a Rarhi Kulin be on friendly terms with a Vaidik he may eat food in the latter's house, without offence, but they cannot eat together in the caste assembly, as in public the Vaidik can only touch food cooked by one of his own caste.

Every Vaidik learns Sanskrit, but a knowledge of English, or Persian, is highly dishonouring. Vaidiks boast that they never accept service with Hindus or Englishmen, but a few of late years have become Pandits in government schools, an innovation, however, very unpopular with the conservative party of elders. Notwithstanding this exclusiveness the Vaidik becomes independent, and resigned to altered circumstances and new influences whenever he quits home, and is untrammelled by family customs, accepting without compunction any re-munerative employment which offers. In Dacca, a Vaidik Brahman from Murshidabad keeps a liquor shop, but this scandalous occupation does not disqualify him from acting as Purohit to numerous families of Dakhin Rarhi Sonar-baniks, who reside in the immediate neighbourhood.

1 The nine sacred woods are:�


(d.)Sapta-Sati Brahmans

The Sapta-Sati Brahmans are peculiar to Bengal, and extraneous to the then Brahmanical tribes. They occupy a low position, admitting their inferiority to the main branches, and their pedigree, though ancient, is uncertain. Ghataks maintain they are descended from Brahmans banished across the Brahmaputra for resisting the innovations of Ballal Sen; but the popular story is that their ancestors were the seven hundred (Sapta-Sati) ignorant Brahmans sent by Adisura to the court of Kanauj.

Sherring,1 however, mentions a tradition that originally they associated with one of the superior races, but lost their status through the ceremonial delinquencies of the members. At the present day they are still numerous on the north of the Brahmaputra in Tipperah, Silhet, and Mymensingh;2 but few acknowledge the name.

Whatever was their rank in former days, they have relinquished all class peculiarities, and are gradually being absorbed among the Srotriya Brahmans. In Bikrampur, where many reside, they are said to be divided into twenty-seven septs, but as no one of respectability, or education, will confess that he is a Sapta-Sati, it is impossible to arrive at a correct conclusion. Sherring, on the other hand, enumerates sixteen septs, of which only nine correspond with the following list The twenty-seven septs are�


Sherring likewise gives the gotra to which each sept belongs; but in Bikrampur the Ghataks allege that having forgotten the names of their saintly progenitors, the Sapta-Sati assumed those of the Kanaujiya Brahmans. This misstatement, evidence of modern origin, is quite consistent with the claim they at present put forth of being Srotriya Brahmans.

Neither Sapta-Sati Kulins nor Ghataks exist. They, however, give their daughters in marriage to Kulins of the Rarhi Sreni, and by paying a heavy dowry, often amounting to one thousand rupees, obtain brides from Srotriya families. But cases occasionally occur of their being imposed upon by some treacherous Ghatak, who abducts, or buys, a Sudra girl from another part of the country, and palms her upon them as a maiden of aristocratic, and pure Brahmanical, lineage. A Kulin Brahman of the Rarhi Sreni will, it is said, eat and drink with the Sapta-Sati; a Vansaja never.

Srotriya Brahmans usually officiate as Purohits, but in some parts the Sapta-Sati have Brahmans of their own. Formerly the teaching of the Yajur Vedar was followed, but of late years their religious rites, having been assimilated to those of the Rarhi Brahmans, the Sama Veda is obeyed.

The ordinary title of the Sapta-Sati is Sarman, never Dev-Sarmma, as among the ten tribes; but Sirkar, Rai, Chaudhari, and Chakravarti are common appellations.

1 "Hindu Tribes and Castes of Benares," p.112.

2 "Topography of Dacca," by James Taylor, p. 229.


This is a race differing in many respects from the Bhat, or bards, of Hindustan, and repudiating the usually acknowledged descent from a Kshatriya and a Brahman widow. Like the Vaidik Brahmans they chiefly inhabit Silhet and Tipperah, claiming to be the offspring of the aboriginal Brahmans employed as Ghataks for the order generally. They likewise affirm that they retired, or were driven, into the borders of Bengal for refusing to submit to the reforming hand of Balllal Sen. In Silhet the Rarhi Brahmans still eat with the Bhats, but in Dacca the latter are reckoned unclean, and in Tipperah, having fallen in rank, they earn a precarious livelihood by manufacturing umbrellas.

The Bhats are not numerous in any part of Bengal, only 3,372 individuals being entered in the census returns, of whom 44 per cent. reside in Midnapore, and 540 persons in four out of the nine eastern districts.

In January the Bhats leave their homes, travelling to all parts of Eastern Bengal, and, being in great request, are fully engaged during the subsequent Hindu matrimonial season. Each company receives a fixed yearly sum from every Hindu household within a definite area, amounting usually to eight anas.

In return they are expected to visit the house, and recite Kavitas, or songs, extolling the worth and renown of the family. Satirical songs are great favourites with Hindus, and none win more applause than those laying bare the foibles and well-intentioned vagaries of the English rule, or the eccentricities and irascibility of some local magnate. Very few bards can sing extemporary songs, their effusions, usually composed by one, and learned off by heart by the others, being always metrical, often humorous, and generally seasoned with puns and equivocal words.

Their sole occupation is the recital of verses, unaccompanied by instrumental music. They are met with everywhere when Hindu families celebrate a festival, or domestic event, appearing on such occasions uninvited, and exacting by their noisy importunity a share of the food and charity that is being doled to the poor.

Their shamelessness in this respect is incredible. During the Durga Pujah they force their way into respectable houses, and make such a horrid uproar by shouting and singing that the inmates gladly pay something to be rid of them. Should this persecution have no effect on the rich man inside, they, by means of a brass lotah and an iron rod, madden the most phlegmatic Babu, who pays liberally for their departure. The Bengali Bhat is, as a rule, uneducated, and very few know Sanskrit.

They have three gotras, Kasyapa, Sandilya, and Bharadvaja, and are all Sakta worshippers, addicted to intemperance.

A Bhat would be dishonoured by acting as a Pujari, or priest of a temple; or a Purohit.

After residing for six months in Bengal they return to their homes in silhet with a fund of twenty or thirty rupees, which is augmented by the rent of a piece of land cultivated by other members of his family. The head of the house never cultivates land himself, as is done by the Hindustani Bhat, on which account no fraternization between the two is possible.

(f.)Acharj, Acharya

This term is properly applied to the Brahman who instructs the Kshatriya and Vaisyas in the Vedas; but in Bengal it is the name of a low and despised tribe of Brahmans. Persons of this class are known as Lagan-Acharji, Ganaka (astrologer), or Daivajna (calculator of nativities), and, in Purneah, as Upadhyaya, or teachers.

Various traditions as to their origin are current. According to one they are descendants of Rarhi Brahmans, and to another, they spring from the degenerate priesthood residing in Bengal anterior to the reforms of Ballal Sen. Others claim to be descended from a Muni, called Devala, and a Vaisya mother, but this parentage gives them no right to the rank of Brahmans, although they are popularly recognized as such by the Sudras who usually address them as "Ganak Thakur."

The caste attributes its insignificance and decreasing numbers to a curse laid on it, and at the present day they have not more than sixteen houses in the city of Dacca. The members are therefore obliged to intermarry with Acharji Brahmans in other district.

This caste recognizes six gotras, namely:�

Sandilya, Madhu-Kulya,

Bharadvaja, Savarna,

Kasyapa, Vachava.

In Eastern Bengal the class is an illiterate one, Sanskrit being rarely studied, but when it is, the Acharji ceases to be a fortune teller, and becomes a Pandit.

At three domestic ceremonies the Acharji attends, and receives presents. At a Sraddha, the offering made to the Sun (Surya-Argha) is his perquisite, when the Anna-prasana, at which a child is first given rice to chew, and when the young Brahman is invested with the sacred thread (Upanaya), his presence is necessary. The offerings he receives on these occasions consist of napkins and clothes, but, if the family be poor, he is content with the former, and a few anas. Strange to say, these despised Brahmans share with the Doms the oblations made during eclipses of the sun or moon.

Their chief occupation is casting nativities, deciphering horoscopes, and drawing up almanacs and ephemerides. In the month of Baisakh, the first of the Hindu calendar, they foretell the peculiarities of the ensuing year to each household, acquainting the members with the good or evil fortune that will befall them, and giving warning of the auspicious and unpropitious regents of the sky, land, and water, and many other astrological signs, which have always found credulous believers among the ignorant and superstitious races of men. All Hindus, and most Muhammadan families of the old school, consult these astrologers on the birth of a son, and as much as a hundred rupees are given for an unexceptionable horoscope.

Like the gypsies, they still pretend to read fortunes by palmistry, and to be masters of other equally occult sciences. With them a circular mark round the tip of any finger presages wealth and power, a perpendicular wrinkle in the centre of the forehead entitles the lucky person to the title of Raj-dand (royal sceptre), or Raj-bhagi (sharer of empire). Although discredited by the higher and instructed classes, these fortune-tellers exert enormous influence over the happiness and well being of the masses. There is usually something displeasing about the physiognomy of these Brahmans.

They are as black as any Sudra, and their pretended sanctity and learning are not belied by their calm and phlegmatic manner. With the greatest presence of mind, they refer any failour in their predictions to some trifling error in the calculations and, by rearranging their figures, prove that the event would necessarily have occurred had it been correctly demonstrated.

The Acharji is frequently a gold or silver, smith, and he is the acknowledged painter and delineator of the different gods and goddesses; the Kumjar fashioning the idol, while the Acharji paints and embellishes it. He also depicts the scenes exhibited on the Misls, or platforms, carried about on great festival days.

Their skill is small, as they have no schools of art, and it is imperative that the portraits of the Hindu gods and goddessses shall be of a stereotyped outline, otherwise the populace would not recognise them; but the background may be designed according to the fancy and taste of the artist. It is here that they fail, and their pictures are, as a rule, the sorriest daubs, without any idea of perspective, or anatomy. They possess, however, a slight knowledge of the composition of compound colours, but their art is subservient to Hindu taste, which demands a profusion of bright and abruptly alternating colours. Their paint-brush, made of goat's hair, is called "Tuli."

The Acharji is also a house decorator, ornamenting cornices, and painting designs of flowers and animals on the walls of rooms..

Astronomy is a sealed book to him, and he has no knowledge of any astronomical books or instruments. Finally, he is often a physician, but his skill is not greater than that of the thousand quacks around; and formerly he inoculated children.

It is a remarkable fact that Acharji Brahmans are generally Vaishnavas in creed, differing in this respect from all others of the sacred order, while their religious ceremonies are identical with those of the Bengali Brahmans. Owing to the paucity of their numbers, a young man has often to pay from two to three hundred rupees for a wife, and many, not being able to meet this expenditure, die unmarried, and their families become extinct.

The Rangsaz, or oil painter, quite distinct from the Muhammadan Naqqash, is usually an Acharji. He is always addressed as Ustadgar. The Rangsaz formerly prepared his own colours, but now English paints, being cheaper and more durable, are procured from Calcutta.


This, the lowest and most unhonoured class of Brahmans, is usually regarded as a degraded branch of the Sawalakhya Brahmans of Hindustan, who became dishonoured from claiming as their perquisite the offerings presented at the Angaprayaschitta, when the next of kin presents offerings at the first Sraddha. In Bengal they are in irony called Maha-purohit, Maha-Brahmana, Maha-Sraddhi, or Maha-putra, and from acting at the funerals of Brahmans, and members of the Nava-Sakha, Marapoda Brahmans. In Hindustan the individual discharging similar duties is known as Maha-patra, or Kantaha.

The services of these men can nowadays be dispensed with, as the family Purohit often reads the Mantras at the burning Ghat.

The Agradana, assuming a higher social rank, refuse to eat with the Acharji; but the latter do not decline alms given by the former. The Acharji again eats with the Sudra, or Patit, Brahman, who would be excommunicated if he held any social intercourse with the Agradana.

According to their own account, these Brahmans are degraded Rarhi, and their gotras still bear the names of the most holy Munis. These are five in number�

Sandilya, Savarna, Bharadvaja, Vachava. Kasyapa,

Their marriages and religious rites are the same as those of the Rarhi Brahmans. A work, called Sraddha-Veda, written in Bengali, is adopted as their guide book. At Sraddhas they receive a day's food and from one ana to twenty-five rupees.

The Agradana is usually as illiterate as the Acharji. When learned in Sanskrit, he assumes, or is given, the title of Pandit. The caste has no established Panchait, but when disputes occur five elders meet and consult together.


Personal tools