Ancestorage and the Niyogi Brahmins

Source: Umasankar Vadrevu’s Web Page: Ancestorage and the Niyogi Brahmins


Ancestorage and the Niyogi Brahmins

In the ancient world and even in the modern society people usually form cohesive groups based on their language, culture and geographical location. These groups have a common ancestry and are led by chiefs of the families around which they gathered. Such communities are called tribes. There are innumerable tribes in this world. The Indian continent is not different from the rest of the world as far as tribes and the rivalries between them are concerned.It seems there are two kinds of tribes in the Indian continent, the tribes and castes. The tribes are still in the forests and hills and not really part of the modern society. Castes have been living in the villages and cities since ancient times and are civilized. In the Indian Continent, a caste means a modern civilized tribe or clan or group of people that have marital relationship among them. Some castes are further divided into sub-castes. Matrimonial relationship among sub-castes is not acceptable due to differences in religious and cultural practices. It is important to note that the caste or tribe is blood-related and genetic, and hence hereditary. So, one has to be born into a caste or tribe to belong to that tribe or caste. Again, this is not unique to India. These ancient tribal traditions are slowly disappearing in this modern age. One among such communities in the Indian continent is the Brahmin caste. For consistency in this article, Brahmins are referred to as a caste.

Brahmin Population

The census of 1881 enumerated 1,929 castes. Brahmins, Kunbis and Chamars accounted for approximately 10 million each. Of these 1,929 castes, 1432 (74 per cent) were geographically localized groups and each caste or tribe is unique to a particular place. Only few castes like Brahmins had an all-India presence.

Brahmins are one of many minority groups in India. In 1931, Brahmins were 4.32% of the total population. The so-called Muslim minority in India is approximately 20 to 25 percent of the total population, even after Muslim Pakistan and Muslim Bangladesh separated from India. However, registered Muslim percentage is only ~15%, less than the real percentage of the total population, due to misrepresentation. Brahmins even in Uttar Pradesh, where they are most numerous, constitute just 9 percent. In Tamil Nadu they form less than 3 percent and in Andhra Pradesh they are less than 2 percent.

During the Islamic conquests in India, it was a typical policy to single out the Brahmins for slaughter, after the Hindu warriors had been bled to death on the battlefield. Even the Portuguese in Malabar and Goa followed this policy in the 16th century, as can be deduced from Hindu-Portuguese treaty clauses prohibiting the Portuguese from killing Brahmins.

Geographical Location

Brahmins are Vedik people. The Vedas describe the landscape of northern India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Over and over the Vedas mention a mighty river called the Sarasvati where Brahmin communities flourished, where the Indus Valley civilization flourished and dispersed when the Saraswati River dried up around 1900 BCE. Long before, during the Ramayana period Brahmins migrated to Dandakaranya (Dandaka Forest) in the south with Viswamitra, the author of several hymns in Rigveda including Gayatri mantra, and practiced Vedik religon performing yajnas under the protection of Lord Rama and Lakshmana. Long before Rama went south, Agastya, a prominent Brahmin sage and writer of several hymns of Rigveda, crossed Vindhyas and established Vedik religion in south India. Sage Agastya appeared to Rama when he was despondent at the impending war with Ravana and instructed him in the use of Aditya Hridayam, a hymn praising the Sun God. Brahmins have been migrating to various regions within the Indian Continent since time immemorial and recently to other continents as well.

Meaning of “Brahmin”

The word Brahmin means many things to many people resulting in confusion. One of the reasons for this confusion is Sanskrit language. Many words in Sanskrit have many meanings. Depending upon the context one has to take the meaning of the word. The word Brahmana (herein after “Brahmin”) means the God, one who knows God, one who has the knowledge of God, one who has the knowledge of Vedas, an intellectual, a priest, a teacher, a professor, a person belonging to Brahmin caste, a superior person, a text related to Vedas, and so on. Accordingly, priests in a mosque, church, a synagogue, a gurudwara etc. are all Brahmins because they are all, obviously, priests. They are also Brahmins because they are supposed to have the knowledge of God. They are also Brahmins because they are intellectuals. However, none of them are God and at least a couple of them would consider it blesphemous to say so. They may not have the knowledge of the Vedas and they may not belong to the Brahmin caste. And certainly, they are not the texts related to Vedas. To add to this confusion there are Boston Brahmins who are Americans and have nothing to do with the Vedas or vegetarianism. They are not even remotely related to the Indian Continent.

There are hundreds of religions, practices, traditions, castes, tribes etc. dubbed as Hinduism. One among those religions is the Brahminism8 practiced by the Brahmin caste. Brahmins have distinct traditions, culture and religion and follow certain principles and practices. This religion may also be called Sanatana (ancient) Dharma or Vedic religion. However, there is a lot of confusion as to the definition of Hinduism, which encompasses everything indigenous to the Indian Continent, e.g., some groups of Indians like Busddhists, Jains, Sikhs, dalit Christians, Muslims, and people like Iliah Kanche, a Kuruma Christian, confuse Brahminism with Hinduism (Indigenous Religions of Indian Continent). Iliah Kanche declares that he is not a Hindu, because he does not follow any of the principles of Brahmins such as vegetarianism etc. However, Brahminism is only one of the many religions of India that are collectively called Hinduism. Yet, almost all other Indian (Hindu) religions also respect the Vedas because they are essentially the human heritage and the most ancient texts. The Rig Veda was declared by UNESCO as part of the world heritage.