The story of the Citpavan Brahman

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TENSING RODRIGUES

If the battle between the karhade and the sarasvat was fought in the court of Shivaji, the battle between the citpavan and the sarasvat was fought in Bombay, the seat of British administration and the emerging centre of trade and industry. In the beginning, the western education, the liberal ideas and the growing opportunities in trade and administration overwhelmed the brahman – citpavan, karhade, and sarasvat, who flocked in large numbers to the city; and their internal differences remained under wrap. But as the competition heated up, the instinct for survival revived the rivalries. The desasth kept to their orthodoxy and remained largely out of the competition. The two classes of brahman who clashed headlong for a share of the pie were the citpavan and the sarasvat. A bitter debate erupted, first in the vernacular press, and then in the English press; the matter even went to the police and court. But we leave the polemic aside and try to dig for the roots of the citpavan elsewhere.

According to the Sahyadrikhand (SHK), Parsuram settled sixty families of citpavan brahman in the new land he had ‘created’ to attend to the Vedic rituals like sraddha-paksa. The place where they were settled, was at the feet of the Sahyadri, and was named Cittapolan (Ciplun). This is all that Gaitonde lets come out in his Marathi edition [SHK, 2.1.40, SHKG 123]. But the original SHK has a more barbed tale of the citpavan to tell. In the land newly reclaimed from the sea by Parsuram, there were no brahman to be found. He invited all the brahman for carrying out sraddha-paksa; no one showed up. Angry Parsuram decided to produce new brahman. As he was wandering along the bank of the ocean, he saw some men gathered around a funeral pyre and asked them about their caste and dharm. These were fishermen, and Parsuram purified their sixty families and offered them brahmanhood. Since these fishermen were purified at the location of a funeral pyre (cita), they received the designation of citpavan [SHK, 2.1.31, SHKD 303]. As SHK presents it is neither for nor against the citpavan; their ‘creation’ in Ciplun is blessed by Parsuram himself; but it comes with a barb, their fisherman origin.

Probably different texts, probably different manuscripts of SHK, relate the story differently. We find one such version in Crawford’s ‘Legends Of Konkan’. As the District Collector and Magistrate of Southern Konkan, Crawford spent many years in Ciplun around 1860, and during this tenure befriended a citpavan ‘bhutt’ by name Raghoba Mahadevrao for the purpose of learning Sanskrt and Marathi. This bhat read out to him tales from some tattered books he called pothi. One of these was a manuscript titled ‘The True Chitpawan Legend’, printed by a Poona desasth brahman around 1812. The copies of this are nowhere available, as they were ordered to be destroyed by the Peshwa. According to Crawford, the story he related to him was from supposedly a fragment of SHK; according to him SHK was “clandestinely printed about the middle of the eighteenth century”, in retaliation for the citpavan ‘lies’ about the origin of sarasvat [Crawford, 1909: Legends Of The Konkan, ii].

Here then is bhat’s legend of the citpavan. ‘Several eons rolled by before the Konkan or lowlands won by Pareshram were explored by the dhangurs of the ghautmala with their buffaloes. … But, with the exception of a few brahmins occasionally summoned by the ryots to officiate at religious ceremonies, none of the deshast Brahmins ventured to make their permanent residence in the Konkan.

‘… The whole of the hard won Konkan was still but sparsely populated when Shri Pareshram, then in distant Burmah, received constant reports from the birds of the air, ever his messengers, that it were well that his godship should visit the region he had won from Samudra which sadly lacked governing and guiding, especially a guiding priesthood. … Descending the Koombharli Ghaut easily, they (Pareshram) came to a large expanse of fertile land but half cultivated, though there were seven adjacent talaos from which a large area could be easily irrigated with small labour. A crowd of the aborigines came out to meet the god brothers, worshipping them. Half-naked, with matted locks, nearly black were they, and their women and children following them at a distance, were as abject in look as they were. … Shri Pareshram accosted them “Where are your gods? Where are your temples? Where are your priests?” The trembling creatures cried: “We have neither gods, nor temples, nor priests! We beseech thee to be our God henceforth and protect us. Oh Shri Pareshram we know thee now! Thou didst win this Konkan from Samudra! Thou art he who should come, whom the Deshast Brahmins, when they come sometimes to perform ceremonies for heavy fees, declare hast deserted thy kingdom! Leave us not, thy people, we beseech thee! Give us priests of our own! Teach us to pray, Deoba!”

‘… Pareshram was deeply moved by this appeal. He dispatched Luxman forthwith with guides to the sea-shore, telling him to gather and bring back with him in earthen jars some of the spume or dried foam of the ocean. This was soon done. Pareshram poured it out and shook it over the ground around him, when, behold, a goodly band of handsome young men, fair in complexion, with green grey eyes, clad in saffron coloured robes, arose miraculously from the ground and prostrated themselves before him crying “Jey ! Shri Pareshram; Pareshram deo ki jey!”.’

‘Shri Pareshram addressed these holy ones, and blessing them said: “Be ye for ever my chelas. Ye are, with the aid of these poor people, to build a shrine to me on yonder hill. Ye are to be the spritual guides of the Konkani people, to teach them and to protect them from other gods. To you I give these sat malas and sat tulaws from which to irrigate them. Obey my behests religiously, honestly, and ye shall never die, like those deshast brahmins who have neglected and oppressed these my poor people. My spirit will always be at my shrine to appeal to. We shall often visit it unknown to you and all men”’[Crawford, 1909: 28].

That’s the story of the citpavan according to the old bhat from Ciplun.