The Trikarmi Brahman



If we accept that the karhade brahman are but a geographically differentiated sub-group of the desasth, the brahman map of Brhatkomkan is populated by just three classes of brahman: desasth, citpavan, and sarasvat.

The remaining part of the Padmapuran story as quoted in the supposed verdict of Shivaji’s court of pundits and in the Syenavijatidharmanirnaya can help us to understand this map better. After separating out the sarasvat from the desasth as chaff from the grain, as bad brahman from the good brahman, as those who did not keep the dharm from those who kept the dharm, the Nirnaya proceeds to deliver the verdict, or report the verdict as delivered by Shivaji’s court-pandits.

According to the Padmapuran story, the surviving brahman returned to their respective regions and expanded their families. However the brahman who had become impure by consuming hawk meat, that is the senvi (sarasvat) brahman, surrendered themselves to the pure brahman (karhade / desasth brahman) from the banks of the river Krsna who had protected their dharm. Out of sympathy, the latter granted the fallen brahman three faculties: yajana (having a sacrifice done for them), adhyayana (learning the Ved) and dana (giving alms). So, they were decreed to be trikarmi brahman; that is, entitled to only three karm. In fact, the sastr does not provide for trikarmi brahman; all the brahman are supposed to be satakarmi, that is having six faculties: yajan (having a sacrifice done on their behalf), yajan (officiating at a sacrifice for others), adhyayan (learning the Ved), adhyapan (teaching the Ved), dan (giving alms) and pratigraha (receiving alms). The ksatriya and vaisya are supposed to be trikarmi. So this decree reduced the sarasvat to the status of ksatriya/vaisya. As a consequence the sarasvat brahman were to practice professions such as trading, writing, agriculture and royal service. The ‘pure’ brahman, that is the karhade brahman, declared that they, and only they, would act as priests to the impure sarasvat brahman, doing the yajan, adhyapan and pratigraha for them [Patil, 2010: Conflict, Identity, and Narratives – The Brahman Communities of Western India from the Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Centuries, 132].

On the basis of the story, the verdict by the Shivaji’s court-pandits concludes that the sarasvat had lost their brahman status; and in conformity with the Dharmsastr, and given the fact that the sarasvat had been engaged in purvaparamparagat acar (traditional occupations) suitable for vaisya, the verdict decrees that the sarasvat belong to the class of vaisya. It further decrees that the sarasvat shall employ a karhade brahman priest to perform the sraddha ceremony. As for the diet it denigrates them as abhojyann, that is those whose food it is forbidden to eat. We need to understand this in the context of the facts that the desasth dominated the ‘administrative core’ during Shivaji’s time and were the most faithful to the Kuru-Pancal code. Though sidelined by the Citpavan during the Peshva era, their ‘prestigious ritual status’ continued to be invoked even later. The Kuru-Pancal brahman had definitely succeeded in impressing their hegemony over the ritual space in the Indian sub-continent for good.

We do not know whether Nirnaya was really based on the verdict delivered by Shivaji’s council of court pandits. We do not even know whether such a verdict was ever delivered, by the council with or without Gagabhat; not even if such an issue had come up before the royal council. But it is very likely that the ideas contained in the Nirnaya prevailed in the Brhatkomkan at least since the time of the Silahar, in the 11th century. Because, it appears from the copper plates and other inscriptions, that the Silahar kings, and the Kadamb kings in the 14th century, utilised the services of the karhade/ desasth as priests. The choice of the Kolhapur Silahar is understandable; they were ruling in the des. But the kings ruling in and around Goa had the choice of the sarasvat. Yet they brought in the karhade as priests. This makes it very obvious that either the sarasvat were not considered worthy of yajan, adhyapan and pratigraha, or chose not to exercise those faculties. If the latter be true, the question arises, why? Why did the sarasvat choose not to assert their status as full-fledged satakarmi brahman? Their matsyabhaksak – mamsbhaksak diet can be easily explained away; unlike the desasth brahman, they did not come under the jaina influence, and therefore continued largely with their original fish-meat diet they had inherited from the steppes of Central Asia. But letting others usurp their basic faculties as a brahman is incomprehensible; so too their preference for trade and commerce over priestly duties. The sarasvat continued with the trade and agriculture, the purvaparamparagat acar of the vaisya; they carried on writing and royal service, and teaching of mainly mundane subjects, but not so much the teaching of the Ved; and, they often employed the ‘purer’ brahman priest for their yajan and sraddha, and in their temples.

We are now fairly better informed about the karhade brahman. Now we can say with a fair amount of certainty that they were the desasth brahman who migrated to the coastal Komkan. They were probably called karhade because they came to the coastal Komkan from Karhad; though they may not be originally from there. Probably some of them migrated to Karhad under the patronage of the Kolhapur Silahar kings. And their further migration to Goa may have been under the patronage of the Kadamb kings. Many of them might have moved to north and south of Goa due to some political or social adverse conditions. That is the reason why one does not find karhade brahman anywhere else now other than coastal Komkan; elsewhere they are desasth brahman. It is not easy to accept that the karhade are but a geographically differentiated sub-group of the desasth brahman, because over more than half a millennium the identity of the former has significantly changed. Their service of the different kings and dynasties and probably even their disputes with the sarasvat, has created a new identity for them.

At this point a simple question nags one’s mind: Why did the karhade have such a long running dispute particularly with the sarasvat? The answer probably is that there were more occasions for their interests and egos to clash, since they operated within a small arena.