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The contested authenticity

TENSING RODRIGUES

The Berber that we need to look for in North Africa is perhaps not the Berber Coast, but the port of Berbera, located on the northwestern Somali coast directly south from Yemen across the Gulf of Aden; it was called Malao by ancient Greek. Periplus (60 Common Era) confirms that it served as a transshipment point for trade between west coast of India, Arabia and Egypt [Schoff, 1912: The Periplus of the Erythræan Sea, 79]. According to some authorities it served as a central node linking the Ethiopian highlands, Arabia, Yemen and the Persian Gulf with India as early as 2,300 BCE [Dumper, 2007: Cities Of The Middle East And North Africa]. Beyond this not much is known about its connection with India. There could have been some Indian traders or navigators settled in the port; but, unlike Socotra, we do not have any references to such. Therefore it is difficult to speculate on the connection between this Berbera and the Berber on the west coast of India. But, at the same time, the possibility of such a connection seems to be very strong. What could be true of Socotra could also be true of Berbera. If the Indo-Greeks could have traveled out of Socotra driven by an adverse regime, they could have done so out of Berbera as well. But we have no evidence for that. As of now, Berbera too serves only to suggest a possibility.

It is difficult to prove the Greek origin of the citpavan brahman conclusively, though there is a strong possibility of the same. There is another tradition that links the citpavan to the Ashkenazi-Jews; but this too lacks tenable evidence. Gaikwad’s genetic study of 2005, one of the few that includes citpavan data, does claim that their analysis establishes genetic association of citpavan brahman with Iranian, Ashkenazi-Jews (Turkey), Greeks (Eastern Europe) and to some extent with Central Asian Turkish populations [Gaikwad, 2005: Molecular Insight Into The Genesis Of Ranked Caste Populations Of Western India … , in  Genome Biology]. This acquires significance when seen in the context of the fact that the Y-chromosomes of desasth brahman carry a high frequency of R1a1 lineage which reflects their considerable affinity with Central Asian populations, and that their intermediate mtDNA diversity comprises of low frequency West-Eurasian clades and significant Paleolithic gene pool (M) indicating South-Asian ancestry. What this means in simple words is that the genetic composition of desasth hints at a descent from males with Central Asian origin and females with local gene pool. This is very much in keeping with our history of brahman in Deccan. As against this, the citpavan show a marked genetic affinity to West Asian and Eastern European populations. Though this does not help us to choose between the Greeks and Ashkenazi-Jews, it does substantiate the view that either of the two or both have contributed to the citpavan community, with a significant genetic input from local females, what Gaikwad calls ‘Paleolithic gene pool (M)’, and we have called ‘vadukar’ or ‘kur’.

In a paper published in the Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Volume III (1864-1866), Mandlik writes about a document which describes the establishment of a new village named Murud, in the Ratnagiri district, and settlement of thirteen citpavan families therein sometime in 13th or 14th centuries CE. In this connection the document notes that: “A certain quarter of the village was set apart for the Yavanas. … the sage saw in his mind that hereafter the kingdom of the Yavanas would come; therefore to the north of the village, and beyond the boundary-stone, a Sunyalaya was built. To the east of the Sunyalaya and beyond the boundary-stone, on the west side, a spot was preserved for the Yavana.” Yavana was usually the word used in ancient Indian texts for Greek speakers. Sunyalaya literally means ‘Abode of Nothing’ or a temple where no idol is worshipped [Mandlik, 1864 : Preliminary Observations On A Document Giving An Account Of The Establishment Of A New Village Named Muruda, In Southern Konkana, in Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Volume III, 5]. Could the word Sunyalaya be a reference to a Greek temple? We do not know. But the juxtaposition of citpavan and Greek in a narration of the establishment of a new village seems to suggest some connection between the two.

The citpavan community is usually associated with Ciplun. But in her genetic study Gaikwad says: “the present genome analysis provides conclusive evidence of their recent migration, genesis, and expansion after they migrated from Sopara (India’s western trade zone) to geographically isolated Konkan-region.” This belief does exist in oral traditions. Dhume hypothesises that the padie bhat and citpavan are of Sumerian origin [Dhume, 2009: The Cultural History of Goa, 119].

Though the long and arduous search has not fully revealed the roots of the citpavan, it has revealed to us a more fundamental truth. All brahman may not be brahman according to the definition of brahman we have given to ourselves: descendants from a people who migrated into the Indian subcontinent around 2,000 BCE from the steppes of Central Asia. The kuru-pancal brahman’s exclusive claim for authenticity has been contested by communities of other ethnicities. Conversely, the claim of other ethnicities for brahmanhood has been challenged by the former. In this contest the kuru-pancal brahman as the ‘descendants from a people who migrated into the Indian subcontinent around 2,000 BCE from the steppes of Central Asia’, along with the desasth and Tamil brahmanas their descendants, form the mainstream, with the citpavan and the sarasvat as the outerlies.

If we accept the hypothesis that the citpavan indeed have a Greek or Iranian or Middle Eastern connection, not origin, which is strongly supported by the Gaikwad study, that makes it possible to draw an analogy with the kathiyavadi caddi. The latter have a long history of overseas trading; overseas trading is what seems to have taken the citpavan to the northern coast of Africa. This trade inclination is what sets them functionally apart (laukik as against vaidik occupations) from the mainline brahman. Coincidentally it is this distinction that has been used against the sarasvat too, in the numerous battles fought to challenge their brahmanhood. The history behind this trade inclination of the citpavan and sarasvat needs to be unearthed.

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