Brahman: Punjab

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This article is an extract from



Being a reprint of the chapter on
The Races, Castes and Tribes of
the People in the Report on the
Census of the Panjab published
in 1883 by the late Sir Denzil
Ibbetson, KCSI

Lahore :

Printed by the Superintendent, Government Printing, Punjab,

Indpaedia is an archive. It neither agrees nor disagrees
with the contents of this article.


The Brahman

Caste No. 3

The Brahman or Levite of the Hindu caste system is the third most numerous caste in the Panjab, outnumbering all but Jats and Rajputs. I shall not attempt to discuss his origin and theoretical position ; much has been written and published concerning him, the first hundred pages of Sherrings first volume and the whole of the second volume of Wilson^s Indian Caste are devoted to him alone, and Cole brookes Essays contain much valuable information on the subject. The figures of Abstract No. 88 showing the distribution of the caste in the Panjab are very striking. The proportion of Brahmans to total population reaches its maximum in the hills of Kangra and Simla, the most Hindu portion of the Province, where it rises as high as from 13 to 15 per cent. Throughout the remainder of the Panjab the proportion steadily changes with the prevailing religion. It is highest in the sub-montane and Jamna tracts where the people are essentially Hindus ; it gradually decreases from east to west, being markedly smaller in the central and Sikh districts ; it is still smaller in the cis Indus Salt-range Tract ; while in the Western Plains and beyond the Indus the Brahmans may be said comparatively speaking to disappear. The Brahmans have no territorial organisation. They accompany their clients in their migrations, settle with them in their new homes, and receive grants of land to hold or cultivate

The function and position of the Brahman in his sacerdotal character have been already described in the Chapter on Religion, section 236. He concerns himself but little with the spiritual guidance of the people, but he is consulted as to omens and auspicious names, dates, and events, and he officiates at all ceremonial functions. These duties however employ, except perhaps in the west of the Province, but a small proportion of the total number ; and the remainder are pure Levites, ready to be fed or receive offerings in the name of God, but their sacerdotal functions being pm'cly passive. These men supple ment the offerings of their clients by practising agriculture very extensively ; and it may be said that wherever the Brahmans are numerous they are, ex cepting only the educated Pandits or Padhas, land-owners and cultivators.

They are poor husbandmen, for their pride of caste and the fact that a large part of their subsistence comes to Them without the necessity of toil render them impatient of manual labour ; and like the Rajputs they look upon the actual operation of ploughing as degrading, in so much that in the hills a Brahman who ploughs is scareely recognised as a brother by the higher classes of the caste. In social position the Brahman is of course pre-eminently first in the Hindu portion of the Panjab, though he is thought but meanly of on the frontier. Yet even where his position is most readily admitted he has failed to make himself beloved. He is grasping, quarrelsome, and overbearing, inflated with pride in his own descent and contempt for that of others, while he holds himself aloof from the clients whose pockets he preys upon, and declines to a associate himself with the community upou which he lives.

A Dum, a Brahman, and a goat are of no avail in time of need Where Brahmans hold any considerable share of a village trouble and disputes are sure to fol low ; and the villages have a proverb : As famine from the desert, so comes evil from a Brahman.So their avarice is expressed in the saying — The Mulla, the Bhat, the Brahman, and the Dum ; these four castes were not born on giving day,and their love of good living by the proverb : Dine with a Brahman and jog along the road with a Kirar (the Kirars being great talkers) . On the whole the Brahman has but little real influence over the Hindu peasant, and the reverence paid him is largely traditional or due to the conservative tendency of the women. The Brahmans of the hills have a social and tribal organisation almost exactly corresponding with that of the hill Rajputs.

The quotations from Mr. Barnes given at pages 175* and 179t bear upon the subject. They too are divided into grades, each grade marrying from the one below and giving their daughters to the one above, while the lower classes will marry Kayath or Banya, and in Kulu even Kanet women. The mixed class of Pahari Mahajans is described below under mer cantile castes. In the hills of Hazara on the banks of the Jahlam these Mahajans, who are also called Dhakochi, seem to include the whole Brahman caste. In the Peshawar division 185 persons are returned as Brahman- Maha jans, and these I have classed as Brahmans. It is probable that some of the Pahari Mahajans also are really Brahmans. The Hill Brahmans universally eat meat, from which the Brahmans of the plains, except perhaps in the ex treme west, scrupulously abstain. Of the total number of Brahmans only about 7,000 are returned as Sikh, the denial of the superiority claimed by the higher castes which distinguished the teaching of Guru Govind not being acceptable to the Brahman. The Sikhs employ Hindu Brahmans as their parohits or family priests in exactly the same way as do the Hindus and Jains. There are also 3,500 Musalman Brahmans, chiefly in the Dehli district. These men are known as Huseni Brahmans, and are said to receive oblations in the name of the Hindu gods from Hindus and in the name of Allah from Musalmans.

The divisions of the Brahmans

The Brahminicial gotras have already been described in section 353. The Brahman caste or class is divided into ten great sections, all based upon geographical distribution, which differs in customs and standing and do not intermarry. They again are divided into two groups each containing live sections, as follows ; —

A. — The Jive Dravidas (south of the Vindhyas).

1. The Maharashtra (of the Mahratta country).

2. The Tailanga or Audhra (of the Telugu country) .

3. The Dravida (of the Tamil or Dravida country).

4. The Karnata (of the Caruatic).

5. The Gurjara or Gujarati (of Gujarat in Sindh)

B. — The Jive Gaurs {north of the Vindhyas).

6. The Gaur (of Gaur, probably not Bengal, see below).

7. The Saraswat or Sarsnt (of the Panjab, beyond the Saruswati).

8. The Kanyakubja (of Kanaup.

9. The Maithila (of the Mithila country).

10. The Utkala (of Orissa).

The Gaur Brahman

There has been much dispute about tbc position of the Gaur from Which this section is named. Their traditional place of origin is Hariana, and their present home is the portion of the North-West Provices lying west of Aligarh and Mathra. and the part of the Panjab defined above ; and they are separated from Bengal by other sections of the caste. General Cunningbam suggests that Gaur is the old name of Gonda, while Sir George Campbell would make it another foim of the word Ghaggar. The Gaur Brahmans are far more strict in all caste observances than the Sarsnt Brabmaus, fiom wboae hands they will not eat broad, and upon whom they look down.

The Sarsut Brahman

is the Brahman of the Panjab Proper, and takes his name from the Saruswati which lies near his eastern boundary. He is said to be less grasping and quarrel some Than the Gaur, and he is certainly much less rigid in his observance of caste rules, eating and smok ing with mobt of the stricter Hiudu castes, such as Bauyas, Khatris, Suds, and Kayatbs. He gats flesh in the hills, and perhaps in some parts of the plains also.

The Gujarati and Dakaut Brahmans

These men are scattered in small numbers all over the Province. Tb.e Gujarati lirahmans probably belong 1o the Gurjara section already mentioned. The Dakaut or Dakotra Brahmans are fortune-tellers and astrologers, and came from Northern Rajputana. They belong to the Panj Gaur group, of which they are sometimes, in Rajputana which is their home, reckoned as a separate section. The following description is taken Rrom my Karnal Report : —

Offerings to Brahmans are divided into bar graha for the days of the week, and two gvahin for Rahu and Ket, the two demons who cause eclipses by attacking the sun and moon. These parts of a jin (Raksbas), who, when sitting at dinner with the gods and jins, drank of the nectar of the gods instead of the wine of the jins. The sun and moon told of him aul Bhagwan cut him into two parts, of which Rahu, including the stomach and therefore the nectar, is the more worthy. When anybody wishes to offer to Brahmans from llness or other cause, he consults a Brahman who casts his horoscope and directs which offering of the seven yraA'is should be made. The gi-ahins Ave most commonly offered during an eclipse, that to Rabu being given at the begiuning, and that to Ket at the end of the transit. The Gaur Brahmans will not take any black offerings, such as a buffalo or goat, iron, sesame {tib or urad, black blankets or clothes, salt, &c., nor oil, second-hand clothes, green clothes, nov gatnaja, which is seven grains mixed with a piece of iron in them ; these belonging to the grahe whose offerings are forbidden to them. An exception, however, is made in favour of a black cow.

The Gujarati or Bias Brahmans who came from Gujarat in Sindh are in some respects rp the highest class of all Brahmans ; they are always fed first ; and they bless a Gaur when they meet him, while they will not eat ordinary bread from his hands. They are fed on the 12th day after death, and the Gaurs will not eat on the 13th day if this has not been done. But they take inauspicious offerings. To them appertain especially the Rahu offerings made at an eclipse. They will not take oil, sesame, goats, or green or dirty clothes ; but will take old clothes if washed, buffaloes, and satnaja. They also take a special offering to Rahu made by a sick person, who puts gold in gln, looks at his face in it, and gives it to a Gujrati, or who weighs himself against satnaja and makes an off'ering of the grain. A buffalo which has been possessed '• by a devil to that degree that he has got on to the top of a house (no difficult feat in a village) or a foal dropped in the month of Sawan, or buffalo calf in Mag, are given to the Gujarati as being unlucky. No Gaur would take them. At every harvest the Gujarati takes a small allow ance {seori) of grain from the thrashing floor, just as does the Gaur.

The Dakauts came from Agroha in the Dakhau. Raja Jasrat, father of Ramchandar, bad excited the anger of Saturday by worshipping all the other graham but him. Saturday accordingly rained fire on Jasrat's city of Ajudhia. Jasrat wished to propitiate him, but the Brahmans feared to take the offering for dread of the consequences ; so Jasrat made from the dirt of his body one Daka Rishi who took the offerings, and was the ancestor of Dakauts by a Sndra woman. The other Brahmans, however, disowned him ; so Jasrat consoled him by pro mising that all Brahmans should in future consult his cbiUlren. The promise has been fulfilled. The Dakauts are pre-eminent as astrologers and soothsayers, and are consulted by every class on all subjects but the dates of weddings and the names of children, on wlnch the Gaurs advise. They are the scape-goats of the Hindu religion; and their fate is to receive all the unlucky off'erings which no other Brahman will take, such as black things and dirty clothes. Especially they take the offerings of Wednesday, Saturday, and ket. They are so unlucky that no Brah man will accept their offerings ; and if they wish to make them they have to give them to their own sister's sons. No Hindu of any caste will eat any sort of food at their bands, and at weddings they sit with tho lower castes ; though of course they only eat food cooked by a Brahman. In old days they possessed the power of prophecy up to 10-30 A.M.; but this has now failed them. They and the Gujuratis are always at enmity, because, as they take many of the same offerings, their interests clash.

The Pushkarna Brahmans take their name from the sacred lake of Pushkar or Pokhar near Ajmer. One section of them is said to have been origmally Beldars or Ods who were raised To Brahminical rank as a reward frr excavating the tank. They still worehip the pickaxe. They are the hereditary Brahinars of the Rajputara Ehatlas, and are mere strict in caste matters than the Sarsrit. They are found in some rmnthers in the western districts of the Panjab.

The Mahabrahman or Acharj

This is the Brahman who performs the funeral ceremonies. After the cremation he is seated on the dead man's bedstead and the soth lift him up, hedstead and all, and make obeisance to him. He then receives the hedstead and all the wearing apparel of the dead man. He rides on a donkey, and is considered so impure thai in many villages he is not allowed to come inside the gate.

The Muhial, Moyal or Mial Brahmans

This is a sub-section of the Sarsut section, who are said to be so named from the seven Muhins or clans of which they consist. They are almost confined to the sub-montane Salt-range Tract. They say that certain of their ancestors rose to high position under the Mughals, since when they have abandoned all performance of priestly functions or claim to a sacerdotal character, and cultivate laud, but especially take service in the army or as clerks. They object to be called Brahn ans, as the enlistment of Erahmans is said to be forbidden in our army. This is their own account ; but in Haznra proper the Muhials perform priestly functions and receive alms and oblations just like other Brahnmns. Another story derives their name from a place called Mava, ' now deserted.'

Dharukra Brahman

are Gaur Brahmans of the Dehli Territory who have taken to widow marriage, and with whom other Brahmans will not intermarry. They are much the same as the Dasa or Doghla Brahmans.

Chamarwa and Gurra Brahmans

These are the Brahmans who minister to the Chamars, Aheris, and other outcastes. They are not recognized as Brahmans by the other classes ; and though they wear the sacred thread it is perhaps possible that their claim to Brahman origin is unfounded. Yet on the whole it seems most probable that they are true Brahmans by descent, but have fallen from their high position. They are often called Chamarwa Sddhs.

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