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Bramhan: The battle within


Going by the names of places and the gotr (families) of all the bramhan that Parsuram ‘brought’ and settled in Parsuramksetra, leaving out the sarasvat, and possibly the citpavan, all were the Kuru-Pancal bramhan. Inclusion of sarasvat in this list seems to be an aberration. Sarasvat parted ways with the Kuru-Pancal bramhan very early; even before the latter moved out of the Sarasvati basin and towards the head waters of the Yamuna. Most probably, assuming that the bramhan initially sojourned in the Sarasvati basin, while the sarasvat moved towards Komkan and Kasmir, the others moved eastwards into the Yamuna-Ganga doab. It is very unlikely that the sarasvat could have ever come from Trihotr or Gaud or Ahichchhatra. C V Vaidya puts it very categorically: “We disbelieve the tradition of the Gauda Sarasvatas of Goa coming from Bengal because there is no historical reason why they should have left Bengal” [Vaidya, 1926: History Of Medieval Hindu India, Volume 3, 380]. If it be so, how is it that SHK (Sahyadrikhand, which is part of the Skandapuran texts) weaves this story of Parsuram having brought them to Komkan from Trihotr?

The clue probably lies in the way the panc gaudv/s panc dravid classification was made, and how, over time, it underwent subtle changes ‘at the boundary line’. Sahyadrikhand seems to be the most quoted source of the classification; it appears that the classification began with SHK; or at least SHK formalised the classification as it existed loosely in the oral traditions then. According to Vaidya, the panc gaud v/s panc dravid classification of the bramhan does not appear in inscriptions until 1,200 CE; it is no wonder then that it does not appear even in the Skandapuran, which is dated to the ninth century CE; “ … the distinction arose even later than 1,200 AD” [Vaidya, 1926: 377]. Vaidya even proffers a basis for the distinction: “This main division is probably based on the flesh food of the former (panc gaud) and the vegetarianism of the latter (panc dravid).” But this does not seem to be applicable presently to any gaud bramhan other than sarasvat; but Vaidya holds that “many of the subcastes of Brahmins especially in northern India were then non-vegetarian and they continue to be so down to this day” [Vaidya, 1926: 381]. The case of the kasmiri bramhan, better known as kasmiri pandit is well documented. Kuttanimata by Damodaragupta mentions ‘consuming meat, mamsarasa and fish consumption as a desgun of Kasmir’ [Witzel, 1991: The Brahmins Of Kashmir]. Buhler writes: “Another peculiarity of the acara of the Pandits is the universal consumption of meat. All eat mutton, goats’ flesh and fish. But they obey the usual restrictions of the Sastras as to beef, pork and the meat of other forbidden animals. … A natural consequence of the practice of eating meat is that at the annual varsikasraddha, the anniversary funeral sacrifice, the pindas offered consist of meat” [Buhler, 1877: A Detailed Report Of A Tour In Search Of A Sanskrit MSS TO Kashmir, Rajputana And Central India, in The Journal Of The Bombay Branch Of The Royal Asiatic Society, 23]. SHK provides for the differences in the diet of bramhan inhabiting in different ‘countries’; it calls it the desdos, what Kuttanimata calls desgun. And it confirms Vaidya’s contention that panc gaud bramhan ate ‘flesh food’; according to SHK the Trihotr bramhan were fish eaters (matsyabhaksak) and those from Kannauj were meat eaters (mamsbhaksak) [SHKG, 121; SHKD, 302].

There seem to be essentially three stages in this dietary transformation of the bramhan. They entered in the Indian sub-continent with their dietary habits from the Central Asian steppes; coming from a cold region they were obviously meat eaters. Then, probably due to the slow drying up of the numerous ephemeral rivers that had gained flow due to the melting ice caps at the end of the Ice Age, the bramhan decided to move out of the Sarasvati valley, in search of greener pastures. A group sailed down to Komkan and another trekked to Kasmir. But the bulk of the bramhan probably headed for the upper reaches of Yamuna [The Harappan Timeline, May 5, 2019]. From there they slowly moved down into the Yamuna-Ganga doab. Here a major cultural upheaval awaited them; Yuga Purana called it the ‘beginning of the Kali Yuga’, the end of the bramhanic culture as it had existed till then [Yugapurana, December 24, 2017]. That was the result of their encounter with the ksatriya of the Greater Magadha. That is where, under the influence of the jaina culture, that the diet of the bramhan changed to exclude meat [Who Are The Jaina, December 17, 2017]. The change was slow; perhaps some clans/groups of bramhan adopted the pure vegetarian diet early, some persisted in meat eating for some time. This was also the time when the bramhan penetrated into the peninsula carrying with them new culture. These ‘reformed’ bramhan settled in the entire south up to the Tamilakam. These constitute the dravid bramhan; the gurjar, maharastr, tailang, karnatak and dravid; no wonder they had come to shun the flesh food by then. The sarasvat were twice too far from them.

But why does SHK toil so much to trace the ancestry of the Komkni sarasvat to the Trihotr? Because by the time SHK came to be composed, the northern bramhan were looked upon as a purer race; their bramhanic religion was considered superior. Many southern kings are known to have invited the northern bramhan to their domains [Vaidya, 1926: 379]. In the competitive world of bramhanic performance, the sarasvat were fast losing out. They were not even considered to be bramhan by some other groups; as they ate fish and meat, they were obviously patitya (fallen from the honors and privileges of caste). SHK seems to have been composed for the purpose of restoring the lost dignity of the sarasvat; well forgetting that they were indeed the ‘original’ bramhan, largely uncontaminated by the ksatriya blood and the jaina culture.

But SHK could in no way restore the lost dignity of the sarasvat. Though it was considered more or less the final canon on the bramhan, the attacks on the sarasvat continued; subsequent works like Sataprasnakalpalatika, Syenavijatidharmanirnaya, Konkanakhyan and Dasaprakarana both contradicted SHK as well as weakened it by subtle twists on its premises.

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