Brahman-Andhra: Deccan

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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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The Andhra or Telugu Brahmans receive their name from Andhra Desha, or Telingana, which extends from Lake Pulicat, north of Madras, as far to the north as Ganjam, and westward to Tripati, Bellary, Kurnul, Bidar and Chanda. The name ' Telingana ' is supposed to be derived from the Sanskrit word ' Tri-Lingam ' or the country of the three Lingas, Daksharam, Shri Shailya, and Kaleshwar (emblems of the god Shiva), the temples of the first two being situated respectively in the Godavari and Kurnul Districts of the Madras Presidency, and that of the last one on the confluence of the Godavari and the Indravati Rivers near Mantahni in the Karim- nagar District of the Hyderabad Territory. In H. H. the Nizam's Dominions the term ' Telingana ' is applied to the country which embraces the Districts of Nalgunda, Warangal, Karimnagar, Adilabad, Atrafi Balda, Medak, Nizamabad and parts of Mahbubnagar, Bidar and Nander.


Very little is known regarding the entrance of Brahmans into Telingana. Traditions say that the country was first colonised by Brahmans under the leadership of Agasti, a cele- brated Vedic sage, who penetrated through the defiles of the Vindhya mountains, which are fabled to have prostrated themselves before him, and advanced as far to the south as Cape Comorin (B. C. 500). The earliest Aryan colonies in Southern India which are supposed to have favoured the spread of Brahmanism and the Brahmanic influence were those of Pandyas, Cheras and Cholas. The Brahmanic immigration into the south was further encouraged by the Sunga and Kanva dynasties, who ruled Magadha (the modern Behar) from B. C. 178 to B. C. 31. On the extinction of the Kanya dynasty the Andhrabhriiyas established their authority in Magadha (B. C. 31) and in course of time extended their sway throughout Andhra Desh, or Telingana. They were great patrons of Brahmanism, although, during the earliest part of their rule, they had supported Buddhism. It was, however, in the time of the Chalukyas, who succeeded the Andhrabhrityas, that Brahmanism received a great impetus. The Chalukyas were Vaishnawas, built many temples of Vishnu and endowed them with valuable gifts. Grants, on copper-plates, assigned by them to the learned Brahmans, are still found here and there all over the extensive country they once ruled. Thii oldest of these existing grants, made by Shri Vijaya Raja Sarova in A. D. 338 to the priests (Adhwaryus) and students (Brahmacharis), was found at Kaira in 1837 A.D. A copper shasnam, recording an assignment of land to Brahmans by Pulakeshi in A. D. 489, is extant in the British museum. The Cholas, to whom the Chalukyas gave way, were Saivaits. They erected magnificent temples to Siva and bestowed liberal endowments for their maintenance upon the priestly class. The largest number of grants to Brahmans were made in A. D. 1078- 1135 by Vira Deva, the last king of the Chola dynasty. After the Cholas came the Kakatiya dynasty of Warangal (A. D. 1150-1325) whose zeal for the sacred order was amply displayed by their munificent grants and the grand ' pagoda ' temple which one of them. Raja Prataprudra, built at Warangal. Under the Vijayanagar sovereigns the power of southern Brahmanism had reached its zenith. Learned Brahmans, such as Madhwacharya (Vidyaranya) and his brother Sayanacharya (the commentator of the Vedas), raised to the throne of Vijayanagaram one Bukka, who afterwards became their great patron. Since the fall of the Kakatiya and Vijayanagar dynasties the influence of Brahmanism in Telingana has been on the decline and the great temples and religious establishments still to be found over the country bear overwhelming testimony to what it was in its palmy days (Princep's "Antiquities," pp. 275, 279-280 ; Sir William Elliot's Paper in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. IV ; Professor Wilton's " Indian Castes," pp. 81-39). For ages the Andhra Brahmfins have been renowned for learning and self-restraint. Kumaril Bhatta, who was a violent opposer of the Buddhists ; Shankaracharya, the great vedantic reformer ; Ramanu- jacharya, who was the first to inculcate the Bhakti doctrine ; Madhwacharya, the founder of Dwaitism ; Vallabhacharya, who originated the worship of Balgopal or the infant Krishna ; and other champions of Brahmanism, were all Andhra or Dravida Brahmans.

Internal Structure

The internal organisation of the Andhra Brahmans is very complex. They may be divided into four main classes : (1) Smarta, (2) Shri Vaishnawa, (3) Madhwa, (4) Aradhi, all based upon their respective sectarian beliefs. The members of these different sub-castes do not eat together. The Smartas are further sub-divided into Vaidiks and Niyogis. They are followers of Shri Shankaracharya.


The Vaidiks are so called because they devote their lives to the study of the Vedas, strictly adhere to the vedic rites in the performance of their ceremonies and try to live up to the standard laid down by the shastras, never accepting service nor performing any menial .occupation. The spread of education and the consequent innovations of the times have compelled them to change their course of living and many of the Vaidik Brahmans are now found in Govern- ment service and in other respectable occupations. Their know- ledge of the Vedas is, however, limited to committing to memory certain portions of these scriptures and reciting them at various ceremonies. They never pretend to know their meaning. They recite and teach the Vedas and are greatly respected as authorities in matters of law and religion. They do not intermarry with the Niyogis, as the seculeirised Brahmans are called.

The Vaidik Brahmans are either Rig Vedis of the Shakal Shakha, or Krishna Yajurvedis of the Taitariya Shakha. There are also Shukla (white) Yajurvedis among them, both of the Madhyandin and Pratham, or Kanva Shakhas, the latter being called Yadnyawal- kyas in Telingana. These classes are subject to the same restrictions of intermarriages as the Deshastha Brahmans of the Maharashtra. The origin of the Yadnyawalkyas is thus described in a legend in the Vishnu Puran : — Vaishampay^na, a disciple of Vyasa, once failed to attend the meeting of Munis, and was, in consequence, guilty of the crime of Brahmahatya (Brahman murder). He desired his dis- ciples to help him in the performance of the necessary penance ; but one of them, by name Yadnyawalkya, refused to take part in the expiatory rites ; Vaishampayana, enraged at this wilful disobedience of his disciple, pronounced upon him a curse the effect of which was that Yadnyawalkya disgorged the Yajna texts he had learned from Vaishampayana. The other disciples having been meanwhile trans- formed into partridges (tittiri) picked up these blood-stained texts and retained them. Hence these texts are called Taitireya Sanhita of Black Yajurveda. Deprived of them Yadnyawalkya devotedly prayed to the sun, who appeared to him in the form of a horse and granted him his wish "to possess such texts as were not known even to his teacher." Because they were revealed by the sun, in the form of a horse (vaji), the Brahmans who study this portion of the Yajus are called Vajis (Vajaseniya). Fifteen branches of this school sprung from Kanva and other pupils of Yadnyawalkya. There are thus two Yajurvedis to this day, the black being considered the older of the two.

The Vaidik Brahmans have the following sub-divisions : (l) Telga Nadu, (2) Wei Nadu, (3) Murki Nadu, (4) Vengi Nadu, (5) Kasal Nadu, (6) Warna Salu, etc., deriving their names from the localities in which their ancestors had settled. These distinctions of Vedic Brahmins into nadus (localities) are said to have been introduced, in quite recent times, by learned men, the chief among whom was Eleshwar Upaadhyaya. The Nadus are prohibited from intermarry- ing among themselves, though rules regarding prohibitions of inter- dining are not so strictly observed.


Niyogis (occupied) are the secularised Brahmans of Telingana, many of whom are engaged as writers and village account- ants. They are almost all Black Yajurvedis of Taitireya Shakha. In point of social standing they rank below the Vaidiks, with whom they eat but do not intermarry. They are divided into four classes : (1) Nanda Warik, (2) Aharayani, (3) Arwelu and (4) Pasarwailu. Of these, the Arwelu sub-caste forms the bulk of the Niyogis in these Dominions. The word ' Arwelu ', means ' six thousand ' and it is said that the primary ancestors of the Arwelus were invested in one day with patawarigiriships of six thousand villages, by Abu! Hasan, the last Kutub Shahi King of Golconda (A.D. 1672-1687), through the Influence of Akanna and Madanna, the Hindu Ministers of the king. In those days the office of a village accountant was looked down upon, and intercourse with them in matters of food and matrimony was en- tirely stopped by other members of the sacred order. This account probably relates to the Golconda Vyaparis, a branch of the Niyogis, separated from the parent stock by reason of their conversion to the Shri Vaishnawa faith, for the Arvelus, as a sub-caste, have been in existeace for a considerable lime and appear to be a territorial group deriving their name from Arvelp Nadu, an ancient division of Vengi Desh, the southern Telingana. Some of the Niyogi Brahmans are distinguished for their learning and are advancing in culture and civilisation.

Shri Vaishnawa Brahmans are the followers of Ramanujacharya, the great founder of the Vaishnava sect. They are so much in- fluenced by sectarial feelings that they have formed themselves into a separate sub-caste. They have two sub-divisions : (1) Vadhal, Vadahal or Vadgal, and (2) Thingal, Tenhal or Tengal, who eat together, but do not intermarry. They are distinguished from each other by the different sectarian marks on their foreheads. The Tenhals follow the precepts of Manavala Manumi and the Vadhals are the followers of Vedantacharya, both these preceptors being the disciples of Ramanujacharya. Their mantras differ slightly in their initiatory letters. Thus the mystic formula of the Vadhals begins with the name of Ramanuja, while that of the Tenguls with the name of Shri Shailu. The Vadhals have their principal monastery at Narsinha Kshetra (Agobilam) and the chief matha of the Tenguls is at Shri Shailya. Each of these sub-divisions has eight branches : (1) Madamba, (2) Andhrola, (3) Natapuram, (4) Gandi Gota, (5) Pancharatriya, (6) Ashta Gotri with eight gotras, (7) Vighas with seven gotras, and (8) Niyogi Vaishnawas. The first four are terri- torial and the others social groups.

The Madambas are further jub-divided into eight classes, the Andhrola into five and the Niyogi Vaishnawas into seven.

The Shri Vaishnawa sect was founded by Ramanujacharya, styled Shri Bhasyakar, about the middle of the twelfth century. According to the Divya Charitra, he is said to have been the son of Shri Keshava Achar and Bhuma Devi and an incarnation of Sesa. He was born at Perambatur, 25 miles west of Madras, and studied at Kanchi or Conjeveram, where he taught his system of the Shri Vaishnawa faith. He afterwards resided at Sri Ranga, worshipping Vishnu as Shri Ranganath, and there composed his principal works and spent his life in devout exercises and religious seclusion.

The worship of the followers of Ramanuja is addressed to Vishnu and his consort Laxmi and their incarnations, jmages of those deities in stone and metal are set up in houses and are 'worshipped daily. The principal characteristic of this sect is the scrupulous secrecy with which they prepare and eat their meals, being clad at the time in woollen and silk garments.

The Shri Vaishnawa Brahmans officiate as Gums, or spiritual advisers, to the higher classes of Hindus and initiate disciples by the performance of five sacraments (Sansfiaras), of which the two most important are (I) Mudhra Dharana, or the marking of 'both the arms with the shanl^ha (conch) and chakra, the emblems of Vishnu, and (2) Mantropadesh, or the communication to the disciple of the 8-syllabical mantra of Vishnu. The sectarian marks of the Rama- nujas are two longitudinal streaks of gopichandan drawn from the roots of the hair to the commencement of the eye-brows. In the case of the Vadahals (Vadagais), the streaks are connected by a transverse straight line at the root of the nose, while the Tenahals, or Thinguls. connect the perpendicular streaks by a lotus-like design upon the upper part of the nose. In the centre is a perpendicular streak of red sanders. They also besmear their breasts and arms with patches of gopichandan, for which wooden stamps are used. Women have only a single upright line from the nose to the hair.

Ramanuja was the propounder of the Vishishta Dwait philo- sophy (qualified monism) as contrasted with Shankara's Adwaitism or absolute monism (non-duality), or the doctrine of the absolute identity of the individual soul with Brahti]a. Ramanujas hold the individual soul as not due to the fictitious limitations of Ma^a (illusion), but as real in itself, whatever may be ihe relation in which it stands to the highest self.

The Aradhi Brahmans are Shaivaits and worship the god Shiva, symbolised by a lingam which both men and women wear about their necks. An Aradhi on attaining the 7th or 8th year of his age is invested with the sacred phalic emblem when horn is per- formed and oblations of ghi are offered to the god Shiva. Though Lingayits, they adhere to the caste system. In other respects, they entirely conform to the Brahmanical rites and practise the wearing of the sacred thread and the performing of the SandhyaWandan, or adora- tion to the Gayatri, and observe all the Brahmanical sacraments. They bury their daad, a practice which is condemned by the Shastras, and it is on this account that they are not admitted by other Brahmans to the community of food or matrimony. They minister to the spiritual, needs of the lower classes, by whom they are highly respected.

The few Madhwas who are to be found in Telingana are emigrants from the Carnatic. Like the Shri Vaishnawas they are extremely bigoted in their devotion and cannot bear even the mention of the name of Shiva. They are mostly Rigvedis.

Like the Smartas, the Shri Vaishnawas and the Aradhi Brahmans, they are either Rigvedis of the Ashwalayan Shakha or Yajurvedis of the Wajaseniya or Taitiriya Shakhas. No intermarriages are allowed between the members of these sub-castes, although they are not uncommon between Smarta and Madhwa Brahmans. There are also some Samavedis among them.

The Andhra Brahmans are broken up into 161 gotras, which are supposed to have branched from the seven primeval sages, viz., (1) Bhrigu, (2) Angirasa, (3) Kasypa, (4) Atri, (5) Vashistha, (6) 1 Agastya, (7) Vishwamitra. These gofras are grouped under eighteen ganas, as illustrated in the following table : —


Each gotra is sub-divided into a number of pracaras and inter- marriages are prohibited, not only between the members of the same gotra, but of the same praoara. The gotra rule is supplemented by prohibited degrees and a man may marry two sisters, provided he marries the elder first. A second wife may be taken only in the event of the first wife being adulterous, barren or incurably diseased. In essential respects, the marriages of the Andhra Brahmans are celebrated on the lines followed by the Maratha Brahtrians, Sapta- padi, or the seven steps taken by the bride with her husband along the sacrificial fire, being deemed the binding portion of the ceremony. Some divergencies, which are purely local in character, may be described as comprising : —

Ankur ropanam

On the first day after the Kanyaan, Antarpat and other Shastri ceremonies have been completed, nine different kinds of seeds (Naoadhanya) are mixed up and sown in small earthen vessels filled with earth. These are watered by the married couple during the whole of the marriage ceremony and thrown into a lank or river when the ceremony is over.


Performed on the 3rd day after the wedding, in which all the gods and planets are worshipped and Brahmans are fed.


In which the couple invoke the blessings of thirty- three crores of gods, represented by 33 pots arranged in lines under the booth and encircled with cotton thread. Close to the pots is traced a figure of an elephant designed in wheat flour. In front of this, two pots filled with water and thirty-three lamps are placed. The couple go three times round this polu, as it is called, worship the elephant figure and the thirty-three pots, and view, in a cocoanut shell filled with oil and ghi, the reflection of their faces. The elephant is then removed and the earthen pots forming the polu are presented to the married women whose husbands are living.


A sort of patomime of wedded life. The bride and the bridegroom are made to enact the parts of a mother and a father with a doll for their child. The mock infant is placed in a cradle of cloth and the young couple are made to talk over various topics regarding the care of the child. This incident is attended with great fun and mirth among the assembled guests.


In which a barber and a washerman, bearing the young coupte, dance to the strain of music and, when they meet, the bride and bridegroom sprinkle each other with bukka (red powder) I and other scented powders.

No bride price is claimed in theory, but it is said that exorbitant sums are paid for girls by bridegrooms who are old, or cannot other- wise get wives.


As has been described under the articles on the Maratha'and the Carnatic Brahmans, the Andhra Smarthas worship Panchayatanam, or the five gods Narayan, Shanker, Ganpati, Surya and Devi. They believe that all deities are only different manifesta- tions of Para Brahma, or the supreme soul. The Andhra Madhwas, like their Carnatic brethren, stamp themselves with gopichandan, or a kind of mud of a sandal colour obtained in the Gopi Talao, the tank of the Gopis in Kathiawar, in which it is believed Shri Krishna bathed with gopikas (cowherd damsels). They are partial to the worship of Vishnu. As has been already mentioned, the different sub-castes of the Shri Vaishanava Brahmans are distinguished by the different sectarian marks of sandal which they put on their foreheads. Besides worshipping Vishnu, as Narayen, Shri Vaishanavas pay devotion to twelve of their patron saints. These latter are designated by the name ' Alwars ' and are each said to have written a portion of the Dravida Pradhan, or Tamil Veda, chiefly designed for Sudras and women. Ramanuja is supposed to be the same as Yembiru Manaru, the last of the Alwars.

These are worshipped on the anniversary days of their births : besides these there are other alwars, or saints, respected by the Shri Vaishanavas.

Minor deities, such as Pochamma, Potraja, Yelamma, Mutyal- ama and others, are propitiated by the whole caste, a Kumbhar or Bhoi being employed as priest on the occasion of their worship.

There are some Shaktas (Shakti worshippers) among the Andhra Brahmans who carry on their abominable practices in strict privacy.

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