Brahman-Kokanastha: Deccan

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Brahman-Kokanastha: Deccan

This article is an extract from






Of Merton College, Oxford, Trinity College, Dublin, and

Middle Temple, London.

One of the Judges of H. E. H. the Nizam's High Court

of Judicature : Lately Director of Public Instruction.




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Kokanasthas, as the word indicates, are the residents of the Konkan, the narrow strip of land lying between Broach on the north and Ratnagiri on the south, and bounded on the west by the Arabian sea and on the east by the Sahyadri ghats. The sub-caste is also known by other names — Chittapavan, meaning ' pure in heart ' (chitta — heart, and pdoan — pure) ; Chitapavan, or ' pure from pyre ' (chita — funeral pyre, and pavan — pure), and Chitpol, or ' residents of Chitpolan ', the ancient name of Chiplun, in the Ratnagiri Collectorate, which has been regarded as being their original settlement. Being created by Parsharam, they are also called Parsharam Srishti, or the creation of Parsharam. Regarding the origin of the Kokanasthas a variety of opinions prevail.


Popular tradition locates their original home at or near Ambajogai in the Bhir District of the Nizam's territory, where they have their titulary deity, Yogeshwari. It is said that fourteen Deshastha Brahmans of different family stocks or gotras accompanied Parsharam to the Konkan and settled at Chiplon, or Chitpolan of the Pauranik times, and hence afterwards came to be called Chitpols or (in its modified form) Chitpavans.

A legend gives another account of their origin. The Sahyadri Kand relates that Parsharam, defiled by the slaughter of Kshatriyas, could not obtain Brahmans for the performance of the Vedic ceremonies for him. He, thereupon, recovered from the sea ^ the strip of land now forming the Konkan and made it over to Brahmans, whom he resuscitated from fourteen corpses washed ashore at the foot of the Sahyadri hills after a ship-Wreck. Since the corpses were purified on the funeral pyre before being restored to life, the Brahmans received the name of Chitpavans {child — pyre, and pawan — pure), pure from pyre. This legend no doubt revilingly indicates that the first ancestors of this caste came to the Konkan by the sea, and was probably suggested by the physical characteristics of this community, their light complexion, gray eyes and fine delicate features, which distinguish them remarkably from the other Maratha Brahmans. Writing about the Kokanasthas Dr. John Wilson says, " Perhaps it was under the patronage of the Sinhas of Gujerath, before the Christian era, that they began to settle in their present habitat. They are among the fairest (probably the fairest) of the Hindu races. They are greatly distinguished for their talents and administrative capacity and are often the ministers of the native states." A similar testimony is given by Grant Duff (" History of the Marathas," Vol. I., p. 77), and by Sir George Clark, who thinks them the cleverest class of men in the country.

The importance of the Kokanasthas in modern history dates from the rise of Balaji Vishwanath Peshwa, and as the Peshwa's power advanced many families of the Kokanastha Brahmans emerged from their Konkan recesses and settled in provinces brought under the Peshwa's rule. During the whole of the 17th century they constituted a prominent factor in the political history of India. f '-

Internal Structure

The exogamous divisions or goiras of the sub-caste, with the families belonging to each, are given below : —


These 60 ancient families have now developed into 352, some deriving their names from the occupations they subsequently adopted, such as Vaidya (physician), Kapse (cotton-dealer), Jamdar (treasurer), Desh-mukh and Bhascime (sacred-ash dealer), and others from the localities they resided in, such as Kelkar Kashiker, Shivnekar. A few of the family surnames were probably based upon the personal characteristics of the foundess, such as Mahabale (mighty), Vinode (funny fellow), Manohar (charming), also Khule, Aglawe, Vidwansa, Khare, &c., &c.

The following table compares the present and past number of families belonging to each gotra or family stock :—

The Kokanasthas have no endogamous subdivisions. They belong to two shakhas — Shakal of Rigveda, of which the sutra is composed by the seer Ashwalayan, and Taitirya of Black Yajurveda, with the seer Hiranya-keshi as its sutra composer. Members belonging to these two shakhas intermarry. Intermarriage is for- bidden between families who have the same gotra and the same praWara (founder's name). Each gotra (family stock) is sub- divided into a number of praWards. The following table shows the gotrds having the same prawara : —


Marriage is also prohibited between those who bear the rela- tionship of sapindas, which extends to seven degrees if the common ancestor, be a male and to five degrees if the common ancestor be a female. Thus marriage is only permitted if the common progenitor, being male, is beyond seven degrees either from the bridegroom or the bride, and beyond five degrees from either of them if the same be a female.


Infant marriage is the custom among Kokanasthas, as among other Brahmans, the girls being married between the ages of 8 and 13 and the boys generally between 12 and 20. The duty of the selection of a bridegroom for a girl, or a bride for a boy, devolves upon the parents of each and, in their default, upon other relatives or guardians. A girl deprived of all relations is allowed by the shastras to marry a man of her own choice. Such marriages are, however, obsolete at the present day. A girl attaining maturity before marriage may be married after certain prescribed ceremonies of penance (Nimaya Sindhu). After the jamma patrikds (horo- scopes) of the bridal pair have been found lo satisfy all the astro- logical requirements, and after the bridegroom price (hunda), varying from Rs. 100 to Rs. 5,000, according as to whether the bridegroom is educated, or the son of a or land-holder, has been agreed upon, an auspicious day is fixed for the wedding ceremony in any of the months of Margashirsha, Magh, Falguna, Vaishakha, and Jaishtha. The marriage is celebrated in accordance with the Brahma form, which enjoins "the gift of a daughter, clothed with a single robe, to a man learned in Vedds, whom her father voluntarily invites and respectfully receives." (Manu.)

The actual ceremony comprises the following stages : —

(1) Punyavachana — The recitation of benedictory mantras. ^

(2) Nandi Siddha — The offering of oblations to deceased ancestors, five on the father's and four on the mother's side, in order to procure their blessing on the.touple.

(3) Grahamakha — The propitiation of planets. .

(4) Mandapa Deoatd Praiisbthapan — The consecration of the

marriage god and wedding booth deity on their being deposited in the house at the north-east corner.

(5) A. Vakddn — The verbal gift of the bride by her father or guardian.

B. Vagnishachaya — The formal consent of the _ parents on both sides to the marriage.

(6) Simanta Puja — The bridegroom's welcome and adoration on the outskirts of the bride's village boundary.

(7) Varaprasthdn — The starting of the bridegroom in procession to the bride's house, where the marriage ceremony is performed.

(8) Madhupark—The offering of honey and curdled milk as a token of holy welcome to the bridegroom on his arrival to the bride's house.

(9) Antarpat—The interposition of a silk veil or curtain between the bridal couple, who stand with garlands of flowers m their hands which, on the removal of the curtain at the lucky moment fixed for the marriage, they place round each other's necks, amidst the chanting of mantras, the roar of the tom-tom and the cheer of the assembled, guests and relatives of both sexes.

(10) Kanyddan and Kanya Prittgraha—The formal gift of the bride to her husband, vyith other presents, and his formal acceptance of her from her father.

(11) Kankana Bandhan — in which each party ties a piece of turmeric to the other's wrist.

(12) Vivaha and Lajja Horn — The sacred (ires worshipped by the bridal pair with oblations of ghi and parched grain.

(13) Saptapadi — The pacing of the seven steps. On the north of the sacrificial fire, seven small heaps of rice are arranged and the bride, conducted by her husband, walks over them, placing her right foot on each heap in turn, each step indicating that the matrimonial tie is being J strengthened until, at last, after the seventh step is f)aced, the marriage becomes irrevocable.

(14) Shesha Horn — The concluding fire sacrifice which brings

the regular marriage to an end.

The concluding ceremonies, which are of minor importance, are as follows : —

Sunmukha — The first interview between the bride, decked in jewels, and her mother-in-law.

Varat — The return of the bridal pair in procession to the husband's house.

Laxmi Puja — The worship of the goddess Laxmi — the deity of fortune and wealth.

Devak.othdpan and Mandapothdpan — The dismissal of the mar- riage and wedding booth deities.

The bride remains chiefly with her parents, and occasionally in her father-in-law's house, until she attains puberty. On attaining puberty she has to undergo the Garbhadan Sanskar (impregnation ceremony), which entitles her to enter upon her household and conjugal duties. Cohabitation before maturity is forbidden on pain of prayasaschitta (penance). Polygamy is practised, but only in the event of the first wife proving barren, having no male issue, or being incurably diseased. Divorce is not permitted. If the husband loses caste the wife is permitted to live separately but cannot re-marry. The re-marriage of widows is strictly prohibited, the widow being required to pass an ascetic life, avoiding all sensual pleasures, prac tising ceremonial worship, feeding Brahmans and making pilgrimages to holy places.


The Hindu law of inheritance is followed by the caste.


The religion of the Chitpavans is of the Vedic form and consists, in brief, in performing Sandhya — twilight devo- tion — morning and evening, and repeating the holy Gayatri, the most sacred text of the Vedas. They worship all the gods of the HinA pantheon, preference being given to the worship of Shiva. Their patron deities are Mahakali of Adiwara, Mahalaxmi of Kolhapur and Jogeshwari of Amba, to whom they pay homage Once every year. Every religious ceremony (sacrament) begins with a homa, or sacrificial fire, in which oblations of ghi are offered. Women honour the tuhi plant (the "Sacred Basil") daily. The cow is held in great reverence, as the symbol of Gayatri, and serpent worship prevails in every household on Ndgpanchmi or the lunar fifth of Shravana (July).

The Kokanasthas are Smarthas (upholders of Smriti) and are the followers of Shri Shankaracharya, the great expounder of Adwailism (monism), which recognises " Prabrahma," or the supreme self, as the sole cause or supreme ruler of the universe and which identifies ' Parmatma ' with ' Jivatma,' the supreme with the individual soul.


A woman in child-birth is ceremonially impure for ten days. When labour begins she is taken into a room rendered artificially warm. The midwife, who is a woman of any caste, cuts the umbilical cord, removes the puerperal impurities, bathes the mother and the child and lays them on a cot. Both the cord and the impurities are enclosed in an earthen pot and buried. The mother is given a mixture of saffron and ghi. During the first two days the child is maintained on cow's milk, castor oil and honey | being given to it at intervals. On the third day after birth the mother is presented with cocoanuts and red powder and for the fifsl time gives her breast to the child, When the child is six days old the father worships Sasto or Satwai, who is supposed to assist at child- birth and to be the guardian of young children. The goddess is , represented by two dolls of wheat flour and a sickle with its blade painted with strips of chunam (lime). Offerings of flowers, betel- leaves and nuts, sweetmeats and roasted gram, are made to the goddess, and a vigil is kept during the night in her honour. On the 1 1th day the mother bathes and is free from child impurity. The child is named on the 12th day, when friends and relations are enter- tained at a feast.

Funeral Ceremonies

When a Chitpavan is on the point of death he is removed from his bed and laid on a blanket on the floor, with his feet pointed to the south. Immediately after death his sons, if any, jare bathed and have their moustaches shaved clean. The corpse is 'then washed, wrapped in cloth and carried on a bamboo bier to the burning ground. A funeral pyre is made and the body is placed upon it in a lying posture, with its head turned towards the south. The pile is lighted by the chief mourner, at the head if the deceased be a man, but at the feet if the same be a woman. Agnatic relatives, within seven degrees, observe mourning for ten days. The tones and ashes are gathered on the third day after death and consigned to a sacred stream. Funeral obsequies for the benefit of the departed are performed during the first thirteen days. Oblations of cooked rice are offered daily to the disembodied soul, to enable it to assume a subtle form which, developing limb by limb, attains full perfection on the 13th day, and is able to start on its journey to the region of the Manes. The journey is accomplished by twelve stages, extending over twelve months, and as each stage is reached Srddha is performed to impel the forlorn spirit onward. Srddha ceremony is celebrated on an extensive scale on the anniversary of the day of death, in honour of the spiritual body getting to its destination (Garud Puran). The ceremony is annually repeated afterwards. The departed Manes of ancestors are propitiated in the dark half of the month of Bhadrapad (August-September) by the performance of Mahdla^a or Paksha, the leading procedure in which is the offering of balls of cooked rice — three to the three paternal ancestors and three to the three maternal ancestors ; th<i rest of the ancestors receive small balls, while the remote ancestors receive only oblations of water. Besides these, daily oblations of* water are offered to the dead after Sandhya Wandanam. Children dying before teething are buried without ceremony. The dead bodies of Sanydsis, or anchorites, are buried in a sitting posture, and the funeral ceremonies are per- formed by their sons or disciples, no mourning being observed in that case.

The practice of sati was in full force among the Kokanasthas until its total discontinuance in the administration of Lord William Bentinck. One of the victims of the horrid practice was Ramabai, the wife of the Peshwa Madhaorao.


The traditional occupation of the sub-caste was believed to be the one assigned by Manu to Brahmans Yajan and Yajana (sacrificing and assisting in sacrifices) ; (2) 'Adhydyana and Adhydpana (learning and teaching the Vedas) ; (3) Ddn and Pratigraha (giving and receiving largesse). The Kokanasthas follow, at present, any respectable profession that does not entail social disgrace. Many of them have entered Government service and hold high and responsible posts under the British Government and Native States. Among them there are eminent lawyers, doctors, eEgineers and journalists.

As agriculturists they are khots, or hereditary farmers holding land on permanent tenure ; there are other tenure holders, such as Deshmukhs, Deshpandes, Patels, Mirasdars, Inamdars, Jagirdars and Mokashis and occupancy and non-occupancy ryots. They have also prospered in other professions and are village accountants, money- lenders, cloth-merchants, bankers, native physicians, Shastris, Puraniks, Vaidiks and Bhikshuks (priests).

They are strict vegetarians and eat kachi only from the hands of the members of their own caste or of castes of the same social footing as their own. Kokanastha women, like other Brahman women, do not touch servants of inferior castes and if they do they afterwards bathe.

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