Mana Sanskriti (Our Culture)
Meaning of “Brahmin”
Brahmin Sages and Branches
Major Brahmin Castes
Various Brahmin Communities
Brahmins of Andhra Pradesh
Notes and References
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 tribes1. There are innumerable tribes in this world. The Indian continent is not different from the rest of the world1b 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 castes2. 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 subcastes. Matrimonial relationship among subcastes 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 age3. One among such communities in the Indian continent is the Brahmin caste. For consistency in this article, Brahmins are referred to as a caste.
The census of 1881 enumerated 1,929 castes. Brahmins, Kunbis and Chamars accounted for approximately 10 million each. Of these 1,929 castes, 1,432 (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.(http://sarvadharma.org/Museum/Articles/islamicgenocide.htm)
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 language5. Many words in Sanskrit have many meanings6. Depending upon the context one has to take the meaning of the word. The word Brahmana (hereinafter "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 on7. 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 religion9 may also be called Sanatana (ancient) Dharma or Vedic religion. However, there is a lot of confusion as to the definition of Hinduism10, 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.
Most of the practicing Brahmins adhere to the principles such as acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation and realization of the truth are diverse; God is one, but has innumerable names and forms to chant and worship due to our varied perceptions, cultures and languages; that a Brahmin works for the welfare of the entire society and so on. Daily practices of Brahmins include sandhyavandana (prayers to Gayatri and Sun God), prayer to ishtadaiva or ilavelpu (personal God), yoga, non-violence, vegetarianism etc. Everything in the daily life of a Brahmin is a ritual. However, special rituals include marriage, ritual conception and consummation of the wedding, rituals of childbirth, naming ceremony, first feeding ceremony, the child’s first tonsure, upanayana (the sacred-thread ceremony - initiation into vedic learning and ritual), ritual baths, cremation rituals, shraaddha, etc. All of these rituals are very important for a practicing Brahmin.
The Vedas are the primary source of knowledge for all Brahmin traditions, both orthodox & heterodox. All religions of Brahmins and all traditions, in one way or other, take inspiration from the Vedas. Traditional Brahmin accepts Vedas as apaurusheyam (not man-made), but revealed truths and of eternal validity or relevance and hence the Vedas are considered Srutis that which have been heard and are the paramount source of Brahmin traditions and is believed to be divine. These Srutis include not only the four Vedas (the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda and the Atharvaveda), but also their respective Brahmanas. Brahmins also give tremendous importance to purity of body and mind and hence attach importance to ritual baths and cleanliness.
Brahmin Sages and Branches (Gotras and Subcastes)11:
In general, gotra denotes all persons who trace descent in an unbroken male line from a common male ancestor. Panini defines gotra for grammatical purposes as ' apatyam pautraprabhrti gotram' (IV. 1. 162), which means 'the word gotra denotes the progeny (of a sage) beginning with the son's son. When a person says ' I am Kashypasa-gotra' he means that he traces his descent from the ancient sage Kashyapa by unbroken male descent. According to the Baudhâyanas'rauta-sûtra Vishvâmitra, Jamadagni, Bharadvâja, Gautama, Atri, Vasishtha, Kashyapa and Agastya are 8 sages; the progeny of these eight sages is declared to be gotras. This enumeration of eight primary gotras seems to have been known to PâNini. The offspring (apatya) of these eight are gotras and others than these are called ' gotrâvayava '.
The gotras are arranged in groups, e. g. there are according to the Âsvalâyana-srautasûtra four subdivisions of the Vasishtha gana, viz. Upamanyu, Parâshara, Kundina and Vasishtha (other than the first three). Each of these four again has numerous sub-sections, each being called gotra. So the arrangement is first into ganas, then into pakshas, then into individual gotras. The first has survived in the Bhrigu and Ângirasa gana. According to Baud, the principal eight gotras were divided into pakshas. The pravara of Upamanyu is Vasishtha, Bharadvasu, Indrapramada; the pravara of the Parâshara gotra is Vasishtha, Shâktya, Pârâsharya; the pravara of the Kundina gotra is Vasishtha, Maitrâvaruna, Kaundinya and the pravara of Vasishthas other than these three is simply Vasishtha. It is therefore that some define pravara as the group of sages that distinguishes the founder (lit. the starter) of one gotra from another.
There are two kinds of pravaras, 1) sishya-prasishya-rishi-parampara, and 2) putrparampara. Gotrapravaras can be ekarsheya, dwarsheya, triarsheya, pancharsheya, saptarsheya, and up to 19 rishis. Kashyapasa gotra has at least two distinct pravaras in Andhra Pradesh: one with three sages (triarsheya pravara) and the other with seven sages (saptarsheya pravara). This pravara may be either sishya-prasishya-rishi-parampara or putraparampara. When it is sishya-prasishya-rishi-parampara marriage is not acceptable if half or more than half of the rishis are same in both bride and bridegroom gotras. If it is putraparampara, marriage is totally unacceptable even if one rishi matches.
Due to the diversity in religious and cultural traditions and practices, and the Vedic schools which they belong to, Brahmins are further divided into various subcastes.
The Beginning of Divisions among Brahmins: sutra Period: During the sutra period, roughly between 1000 BC to 200 BC, Brahmins became divided into various Sakhas or branches, based on the adoption of different Vedas and different readings and interpretations of Vedas. Sects or schools for different denominations of the same Veda were formed, under the leadership of distinguished teachers among Brahmins. The teachings of these distinguished rishis are called sutras. Every Veda has its own sutras. The sutras that deal with social, moral and legal precepts are called dharma sutras, whereas those sutras that deal with ceremonials are called Srauta sutras and domestic rituals are called gruhya sutras. sutras are generally written in prose or in mixed prose and verse. These sutras are based on divine Vedas and are manmade and hence are called Smritis, meaning “recollected or remembered.”
There are several Brahmin law givers such as Angirasa, Apasthambha, Atri, Brihaspati, Boudhayana, Daksha, Gautama, Harita, Katyayana, Likhita, Manu, Parasara, Samvarta, Sankha, Satatapa, Usanasa, Vasishta, Vishnu, Vyasa, Yajnavalkya and Yama. These twenty-one rishis were the propounders of Dharma Sastras. There is a lot of contradiction among theseDarmasastas, even within one Smriti. These differences in the rules and rituals resulted in the rigid stratification of subcastes among Brahmins. None of these smritis is supreme and universally applicable throughout the Indian Continent. The oldest among these Dharma Sutras are Apasthambha, Baudhayana, Gautama and Vasishta Sutras.
Apasthambha: Apasthambha, a native of Andhra Country, belonged to Krishnayajurveda School. He belonged to fifth century BC. Apasthambha’s teachings are called Apasthambhasutra or Apasthambhasmriti.
Baudhayana: Baudhayana also belonged to Krishnayajurveda School and was an inhabitant of Andhra Country. Baudhayana’s teachings are called Baudhayanasutra or Baudhayanasmriti.
Brihaspati: Brihaspati was probably the first jurist to make a clear distinction between civil and criminal justice. Yajnavalkya referred to Brihaspati. However, Brihaspati is considered to belong to 200-400 AD. Brihaspatismriti has a lot of similarities with Dhammathats of Myanmar (Burma).
Gautama: Gautama was the most ancient sage of all Brahmin lawgivers. He was quoted by Baudhayana and belonged to Samaveda School. Gautama’s teachings are called Gautamasutra or Gautamasmriti.
Harita: Baudhayana and Vasishta in their Dharmasutras quote Harita. Haritasmriti or Haritasutra is an extensive work.
Katyayana: Yajnavalkya mentions Katyayana. Katyayanasmriti is quoted in several works of Viswarupa, Mitramisra etc. Smriti Chandrika cites 600 verses of Katyayanasutras. He may belong to the same period as Narada and Brihaspati.
Manu: Manu is a mythical personality and is the ancestor of the entire humankind. Manu received the code from Brahma, and communicated it to ten sages and requested Bhrigu rishi to repeat it to the other nine. This code of conduct recited by Bhrigu is called Manusmriti. For convenience, the British took Manusmriti as the paramount law of the Indian Continent. Manudharma is not only revered by Brahmins and Hindus, but also by Buddhists in Java, Siam and Myanamar. Manusmriti was composed around 200 BC, around which time a revival of Brahminism took place under the rule Sungas in the North India.
Narada: Sage Narada was probably a native of Nepal around first century AD. Naradasmriti is the first legal code unhampered by the mass of religious and moral teachings. Some authors think that Narada belonged to Gupta period when there was a distinct revival of Brahminism and Sanskrit literature.
Vasishta: Vasishta belonged to 3rd century BC and a native of North India. Vasishta’s teachings are called Vasishtasutra or Vasishtasmriti.
Vishnu: Vishnu belonged to 1st or 2nd century AD. Vishnu’s teachings are called Vishnusutra or Vishnusmriti.
Yajnavalkya: Yajnavalkya belonged to Suklayajurveda School12. He was a native of Mithila City in North Bihar and probably lived anywhere from few centuries before Christ to 200 AD. However, some scholars think he belonged to first or second century AD. Yajnavalkya Dharmasmriti has been subject of numerous commentaries. The most celebrated of all the commentaries of Yajnavlkyasmriti is Mitakshara and is practically the beginning of the Brahmin law and the so-called Hindu law. Passages from Mitakshara have been found practically in every part of the Indian Continent and became an authority. The Yajnavlkyasmriti is concise, more systematic and better arranged than the Manusmriti. From early times, commentators like Viswarupa, Vijnaneswara, Apararka, Sulapani, Mitramisra etc., from every part of India selected the Yajnavalkyasmriti as the basis of their commentaries. Passages from Yajnavalkyasmiriti appeared in Panchatantra.
Other important Brahmins who gave smritis/sutras/laws are: Angirasa, Atri, Daksha, Devala, Laugakshi, Prajapati, Pitamaha, Pulatsya, Yama, Vyasa, Samvarta and Satatapa. Prominent smriti writers of later age include, Devanabhatta or Devanandabhatta of Madras province, who belonged to ~1200 AD and wrote Smritichandrika, and Madhavacharya or Vidyaranya, who was the Prime Minister of Vijayanagara dynasty and pontiff for some time of the celebrated mutth at Sringeri in Mysore province. He wrote Parasaramadhaviya, which is a commentary on Parasarasmriti.
Major Brahmin Castes: Major Brahmin castes in the Indian Continent include Chitpavana Brahmins, Daivajna Brahmins, Deshastha Brahmins, Dhima Brahmins, Gouda Saraswat Brahmins, Havyaka Brahmins, Hoysala Karnataka Brahmins, Iyers, Kandavara Brahmins, Karade Brahmins, Karhada Brahmins, Kayastha Brahmins, Khandelwal Brahmins, Kota Brahmins, Konkanastha Brahmins, Koteshwara Brahmins, Nagar Brahmins, Namboothiri Brahmins, Niyogi Brahmins, Padia Brahmins, Rajapur Saraswat Brahmins, Saklapuri Brahmins, Sanketi Brahmins, Saraswat Brahmins, Shivalli Brahmins, Smarta Brahmins, Sthanika Brahmins, Thenkalai Iyengars, Tuluva Brahmins, Vadagalai Iyengars, Vaidiki Brahmins and Vaishnava Brahmins.
In addition to the above major castes of Brahmins, there are several Brahmin subcastes. The Rev. M.A. Sherring4 had, in the 1860s, compiled some 2,000 of them in the second volume of his Hindu Tribes and Castes. He considered the list incomplete. The Brahmin subcastes are grouped under various gotras13 that are patrilineal groups.
According to some Shashtras and popular belief as mentioned in "Hindu Castes and Sects" (by Jogendranath Battacharya), the Brahmins in the Indian Continent are divided into two major groups: Panch Gaur and Panch Dravida. Panch Gaur (the five classes of Northern India) group constitutes: 1) Saraswata, 2) Kanyakubja, 3) Gaudra, 4) Utkala, and 5) Maithila. In addition, for the purpose of giving an account of Northern Brahmins each of the provinces must be considered separately, such as, North Western Provinces, Gandhar, Punjab, Kashmir, Sindh, Rajputana, Kurukshetra, Oudh, Cetral India, Trihoot, South Bihar, Orissa, Bengal, Assam etc. Panch Dravida (the five classes of Southern India) group constitutes: 1) Andhra, 2) Dravida (Tamil and Kerala), 3) Karnataka, 4) Maharashtra, 5) Gujarat.
According to one legend (according to Sherring), all the chief Brahmin gotras are descended from the Saptarishis (seven sages). Sherring says the Vatsa, Bida, Arshtikhena, Yaska, Mitryu, Shaunak and Bainya gotras claim descent from sage Bhrigu; the gotras of Gautam, Bharadwaj and Kewal-Angiras from sage Angirah; the Atre, Badbhutak, Garishtira and Mudhgala from sage Atri; the Kaushika, Lohit, Raukshak, Kamkayana, Aja, Katab, Dhananjya, Agamarkhan, Puran and Indrakaushika from sage Viswamitra; the Nidruba, Kasyap, Sandila, Rebha and Langakshi from sage Kasyap; the Vashisht, Kundin, Upamanyu, Parashara and Jatukaraniya from sage Vashisht; and the Idhamabahar, Somabahar, Sambhabahar and Yagyabhar from sage Agastya. Other gotras are said to have been derived from these gotras.
Sherring has also listed some chief gotras according to the Veda each one observes. Thus the Bhargaus, Sankritas, Gargs (Chandras), Bhrigus and Saunaks follow the Rig. The Kasyaps, Kaasyaps, Vatsas, Sandilas and Dhananjays follow the Sama. The Bharadwajs, Bhaaradwajs, Angirahs, Gautams and Upamanyus observe the Yajur; and the Kaushikas, Gritakaushikas, Mudhgalas, Galawas and Vashishts follow the Atharva. All others follow the Yajur. The Brahmin subcastes are broadly categorized into two great geographical divisions-the north and the south. The dividing line is the Narmada River. The gaur (white) subcastes, according to Sherring, inhabit the region north of the Narmada and the draviDa subcastes, the south. The chief gaur subcastes are Kanakubja, Saraswat, Gaur, Maithila and Utkala and the chief draviDa subcastes are Maharashtra, Tailanga, Dravida, Karnata and Gurjar. Then there are supplementary subcastes like Mathur (from Mathura), Magadh, Malwa, Kurmachali, Naipali (from Nepal), Kashmiri, Sapt-Shati, Shenevi, Palashe, Sengardaro, Sankahar, Thatiya, Ahwasi (Haiwasi), Byas, Bilwar, Lrikhishwar, Agachi, Bagaria (Parchuniya), Unwariya, Golapurab, Lyariya, Nade, Myale, Dasadwipi, Dehra-dun, the names largely indicating their habitat. Today, many Brahmins don't know and don't care about these distinctions, which are now of historical importance only. Intermarriages are becoming very common among these groups, nowadays. As a matter of fact, Brahmins have been marrying non-Brahmins also.
Various Brahmin Communities15 (Note: The following list does not represent all the Brahmin castes of the Indian Continent)
1) Andhra Brahmins
i) Niyogi Brahmins
ii) Vaidiki Brahmins
2) Chitpavana Brahmins
3) Daivajna Brahmins
4) Deshastha Brahmins
5) Dhima Brahmins
6) Gaur Brahmins
7) Gouda SaraswatBrahmins
8) Havyaka Brahmins
9) Hoysala Karnataka Brahmins: The Hoysala Karnatakas are Smarta Brahmins living in the State of Karnataka in the Indian Union. Many eminent scholars, musicians, philosophers, generals and religious pontiffs belong to this community. (Read more here)
11) Kandavara Brahmins
12) Karade Brahmins
13) Karhada Brahmins
14) Kashmiri Saraswat Brahmins
15) Kayastha Brahmins
16) Khandelwal Brahmins
17) Konkanastha Brahmins
18) Kota Brahmins
19) Koteshwara Brahmins
20) Nagar Brahmins
21) Namboothiri Brahmins
22) Padia Brahmins
23) Rajapur Saraswat Brahmins
24) Saklapuri Brahmins
25) Sanketi Brahmins
26) Saraswat Brahmins
a) The Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins
b) Kashmiri Saraswat Brahmins or Kashmiri Pandits
c) Rajapur/Balawalikar Saraswat Brahmins
d) Haryana Saraswat Brahmins
27) Shivalli Brahmins
28) Smarta Brahmins
29) Sthanika Brahmins
30) Tuluva Brahmins
Brahmins of Andhra Pradesh16
Brahmins have been migrating from time immemorial. The Brahmin families that migrated made an impact peacefully by example rather than converting people by any means.
The Brahmin migration to the South features in the legends of sage Agastya. The Vindhya mountain range in central India continued to grow higher showing its might and obstructed cloud movement causing draught. Sage Agastya decided to solve the problem and traveled south. The Vindhya mountain bowed to Agastya and the sage requested Vindhya to stay prostrated until he returns. Vindhya complied with this request and sage Agastya never returned to north.
The earliest Brahmins to arrive in Andhra were most probably sage Viswamitra's students and progeny around 1200 BC. South Indian kings showed respect and patronage for Brahmins and Brahminism since ancient times, e.g., Satavahana dynasty that ruled for five centuries and extended over Andhra and central India, founded by Srimukha (221-198 BC), supported Brahminism and Vedic tradition.16a One of the most important features of Satavahana dynasty was granting land to Brahmins.16b Sangam era of Chera, Chola and Pandya kings in Deep South also used to grant lands to Brahmins.16c Similarly there have been Brahmin migrations back and forth that continue even today. Due to these waves of Brahmin migrations, perhaps, we see today various sub-castes and traditions among Brahmins.
Most of the Brahmins in Andhra Pradesh belong to smaarta Brahmin group, i.e., the followers of smritis and followers of Adi Sankaracharya. The smaarta Brahmins follow Apastambasmriti or Apastambasutra (not Manusmriti). Apasthamba (~600 BC) was one of the earliest lawmakers of south India who lived on the banks of River Godavari. Boudhayana, Parasara, Yajnvalkya sutras and other laws were also important in the past, e.g., in the courts of Srikrishnadevaraya.16d Pradhamasakha Niyogi Brahmins (see below) follow Yajnavalkya sutras and Kanva sutras. The smaarta Brahmins in Andhra Pradesh can be grouped into two major divisions formed about a thousand to about 700 years ago (most probably during Kakatiya rule), Niyogi and Vaidiki. However, in addition to smaarta Brahmins, there are other Brahmin groups such as Sri Vaishnavas, Madhavas and Aradhyas. I have grouped them in Vaidiki Brahmin group below for convenience only. Today, many Brahmins don't know and don't care about these distinctions. Intermarriages have been very common among theses groups. As a matter of fact, Brahmins have been marrying non-Brahmins also. The following is only of historical importance.
i) Niyogi Brahmins : Niyogi Brahmins are those Brahmins who took up various secular vocations including military activities and gave up religious vocation, especially the priesthood. Niyogi Brahmins depend and emphasize on modern education. They were ministers in the courts of kings and feudatories. Many of them were village accountants/clerks, karanams (Andhra) or patwaris (Telangana), until recently. The Niyogis are considered to be eligible for priestly service. But they will never either accept a religious gift or partake of Sraaddha food (food given to Brahmins duiring the death related rituals). According to Jogendranath Bhattacharya16e, Niyogi name is derived from Yoga, which means religious contemplation or meditation, as opposed to Yaga, which means religious sacrifice. Niyogin in Sanskrit also means "employed" or "appointed" and accordingly, it is probable that they are so-called because they accept secular employment.
They were very rich and influential. Legendary Rayamantri belongs to this group. Niyogi Brahmins include eminent personalities like Veeresalingam Kandukuri, Radhakrishnan Sarvepalli, Venkatgiri Varahagiri, KL Rao, Prakasam Tanguturi, Venkatanarasimharao Pamulaparti (PV), General K. V. Krishnarao etc. PV was the only Brahmin Chief Minister (1971-72) of Andhra Pradesh and also the only Telugu Brahmin Prime Minister (1991-1996) from South India who ruled the modern Indian Union. Over the past millennium the Niyogi Brahmins are divided further into various groups:
a) Pradhamasakha (First Branch) Niyogi Brahmins
b) Aruvela Niyogi
c) Nandavarika Niyogi
d) Karanakamma Niyogi
e) Velanati Niyogi
f) Telaganya Niyogi
g) Dravida Niyogi
i) Sristikaranalu or Sistukaranalu or Sistakaranalu.
j) Kasalanati Niyogi
k) Pakanati Niyogi.
a) Pradhamasakha Niyogi Brahmins: This caste belongs to Sukla (white) Yajurveda School12, while majority of Brahmins in Andhra Pradesh belong to krishna (black) Yajurveda School. In Maharashtra also there is a group of Brahmins called Pradhamasakha Brahmins. The Pradhamasakha Niyogi Brahmins16f are further divided into branches such as Vajasaneyulu, Saivulu, Yajnavalkyulu and Kanvulu.
b) Aruvela Niyogi: Aruvela Niyogi group is the largest Niyogi group. They belong to Krishna Yajurveda School. According to some, the word "Aruvela" is derived from 6000 (Aruvelu) villages in velanadu area of Andhra Pradesh. Some believe that Arvelanadu is an alternate name for Velandu and hence the Niyogi Brahmins of that region are Arvela Niyogis. Aruvela Nioyogi Brahmins are political, worldly-wise, and business minded. They were ministers in the courts of kings and feudatories, and clerks and accountants (Karanalu). Pamulaparti family belongs to Aruvela Niyogi Brahmins.
c) Nandavarika Niyogi
d) Karanakamma Niyogi
e) Velanati Niyogi
f) Telaganya Niyogi
g) Dravida Niyogi
i) Sristikaranalu or Sistukaranalu or Sistakaranalu: These are teachers, officials, village accountants (karanam). They are mostly located in Ganjam and Visakha districts. Famous poet Krishnamurthy Sistu belongs to this group of Brahmins.
j) Kasalanati Niyogi
k) Pakanati Niyogi
ii) Vaidikulu (Vaidiki Brahmins): Vaidiki Brahmins are those Brahmins who practice mainly religious vocation performing various religious activities, in addition to other mainstream secular vocations like agriculture, cooking, teaching, clerical, management, administration, architecture, science etc. They perform various religious activities including performing rituals and prayers to please Gods, planets and stars as priests for both Brahmins and non-Brahmins, at homes and in temples. However, they are not the priests for many Hindu temples in which animal sacrifices are common. The priests in such Hindu temples are non-Brahmins. Vaidikis also perform rituals for every occasion in life such as birth, giving solid food to the infant for the first time (annapraasanamu), initiation into education (upanyanamu), female puberty, marriage, consummation of marriage, several stages of pregnancy, death, carrying the dead bodies, cremating the dead, etc. Many of these rituals are very important and limited to Brahmins, except a few ceremonies like marriage. They also take up even begging as ascetics. This ascetic life of Brahmins was the inspiration for the Buddhist ascetics.
The majority of Vaidikulu belongs to krishna Yajurveda School. However, there are Rigvedis, Samavedis etc. also. Some Brahmins had proficiency in several Vedas, e.g., Dvivedi is one who has proficiency in 2 Vedas, Trivedi in 3 vedas and Chaturvedi in 4 vedas and are known by those titles as such. However, these titles became family names, even though the family members may not know any Veda at all today. While Niyogis embraced western education, Vaidikulu had shunned Western education and as a consequence many Vaidikulu are poor and not well educated in Western education, contrary to the notion that Brahmins are rich and well educated.
According to Sri Sri Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi MahaSwamiji, the Brahmins who perform priestly duties and other religious activities should follow certain rules:
The Brahmin has to wake up at four in the morning and bathe in cold water, rain or shine, warm or cold. Then, without a break, he has to perform one rite after another: sandhyavandana, Brahmayajna, aupasana, puja, vaisvadeva and one of the 21 sacrifices. If you sit before sacrificial fire for four days you will realise how difficult it is with all the heat and smoke. How many are the vows and the fasts the Brahmin has to keep and how many are the ritual baths....
.... Other castes do not have to go through such hardships. A Brahmin cannot eat "cold rice"in the morning like a peasant - he has no "right" to it. The dharmasastras are not created for his convenience or benefit, nor to ensure that he has a comfortable life. He would not have otherwise imposed on himself the performance of so many rites and a life of such rigorous discipline. When he has his daytime meal it will be 1 or 2. (On the day of a sraddha it will be three or four). This is the time the peasant will have his rest after his meal under a tree out in the field where he works. And the Brahmin's meal, mind you, is as simple as the peasant's. There is no difference between the humble dwelling of the peasant and that of the Brahmin. Both alike wear cotton. The peasant may save money for the future but not the Brahmin. He has no right either to borrow money or to live in style. ...
In the "Yaksa-prasna" of the Mahabharata the simple life of Brahmin is referred to:
pancame' hani saste va sakam pacati svegrhe
Anrni ca' pravasi ca sa varicara modate
If daytime is divided into eight parts, the Brahmin may have his food only in the fifth or sixth part after performing all his rites. Before that he has neither any breakfast nor any snacks. And what does he eat? Not any rich food, no sweets like almonds crushed in sweetened milk. "Sakam pacati" - the Brahmin eats leafy vegetables growing on the banks of rivers, such areas being no one's property. Why is he asked to live by the river side? It is for his frequent baths and for the leafy vegetables growing free there and for which he does not have to beg. He should not borrow money: that is the meaning of the word "anrni", because if he developed the habit of borrowing he would be tempted to lead a life of luxury. Poverty and non-acquisitiveness (aparigraha) are his ideals. A Brahmin ought not to keep even a blade of grass in excess of his needs. ...
The Brahmin must be conversant with the fourteen branches of the Vedic lore. He must be proficient even in Gandharva-veda or music and must be acquainted with agricultural science, construction of houses, etc. At the same time he must give instructions in these subjects to pupils from the appropriate castes. His own vocation is the study of the Vedas and he must have no other source of income. ...
If the Brahmin is asked, "Do you know to wield a knife? " he must be able to answer, "Yes, I know". If he is asked, "Do you know to draw and paint" again he must (be able to) say, "Yes". But he cannot wield a knife or become an artist to earn his livelihood. All he can do is to learn these arts and teach others the same according to their caste. He is permitted to receive a daksina to maintain himself and he must be contented with it however small the sum may be. The Brahmin's specialty is his true vocation is Vedic learning.
... The goal of Vedic works is the happiness of all mankind, indeed the happiness of all the worlds ("Lokah samastah sukino bhavanthu"). The sound of the Vedas creates universal well-being, so too Vedic sacrifices. … Brahmins would be committing a sin if they gave up Vedic rituals and earned money by doing other types of work.
However, it is important to realize that the successive secular governments in the Indian Union are determined to destroy the Hindu religions, in favor of non-Hindu religions. The modern Indian democracy tends to support Abrahamic religions to appease the rich and powerful global proselytizing religions. The ancient tradition of rulers protecting Brahmins is an obsolete tradition. Accordingly, it is upon the individual citizens to step up to help and protect Brahmins, temples and their traditions. As the times have changed, even Vaidika Brahmins should earn money to protect the Dharma, despite the traditional ban on earning money. That was one of the main reasons for the existence of Niyogi Brahmins. However, many Brahmins in India are Naxalites, communists and atheists. Thus, it is incumbent on all Brahmins, who believe in their culture, to rise to the challenge of protecting the Vedik culture. Otherwise, the extinction of Hindu culture and Brahmin tradition is not far away. See a review of Brahmin Poverty in Andhra Pradesh: http://www.vepachedu.org/brahmana-tribe.html.
There are many subcastes in Vaidiki Brahmins as well:
o) Velanati Vaidikulu
p) Telaganyulu or Telaganadu Vaidikis
q) Venginati Vaidikulu
r) Kasalnati Vaidikulu
s) Muraknati Vaidikulu
l) Vaishnava: Pancharatra and Vaikhanasa Brahmanulu: Among the Vaishnavities, the strict vegetarians and highly educated people also are given the approximate status of brahmins in Andhra Pradesh. They adhere to either the medieval Tenkalai or Vadakalai and Agaama scriptures. One section follows Vaikhanasa scriptures and other the Pancharaatra, dealing mainly with temple ritual. They run large temple establishments very efficiently. They rose to prominence during Vijayanagar times. They are followers of panchasanskara, ekayanayajussakha and katyayanasutra. These Vaishnavite Brahmins are spread mainly in Karnataka and Andhra, and to some extent in Tamilnadu also. Vaikhanasa subcaste belongs to this group. The great Vaishnavite reformers like Ramanujacharya, Ramananda (north India), Madhva (all over south India), Vallabhacharya (found among velanadu, gujarat, rajasthan and UP), Nimbaarka, etc. Not all the followers of these Vaishnavite reformers are Brahmins. Some of these Vaishnavites include Acharis, Iyengars and velanadu vaideekulu. These Vaishnavas are also known as Andhra Vaishnava.
They rely on the doctrines laid down in the medieval scriptures (agamas). Many of the famous temple establishments like Tirupati and Ahobilam are run per vaishnavite agamic canons. The big hearted Raamanuja fought against caste distinctions and gathered under his doctrine, people from all walks of life and caste and religion and occupation and said henceforth they shall be known as one community. Thus he created the Iyengar community, and told them to always work for reform of society. Some of the earlier vaishnava and bhagaavata adherents also merged into the iyengars. Later there was a large immigration of Ramaanandi vaishnavas from north India and another large migration from Gujarat. While they too merged, slight differences arose.The great Raamanuja specifically included among his followers sc's, tribals, immigrant foreign soldiers, arabs and turks, destitutes women, jains, etc. Raamanuja's efforts are glossed over by modern pseudo-secular writers. Ramanuja and his later disciples running the movement, certainly saw to it that there was no more exclusivism of caste groups inside the community. All the same it appears they made sure that the brightest were selected as iyengars, evangelizers of vaishnavism, without any regard to their former caste or other origins. It is however true, after some centuries this reformist movement became just another caste, not quite sure about its place in the hierarchy.
The immense and lasting influence of Raamanuja is probably not realised by many Indians. Here are some direct and indirect descendants of his thought: ---the entire actual live vaishnava tradition of today, and including offshoots and modifications and the movements heavily influenced like those of Raamananda Kabir Ravidas Nanak Tulsidas Vallabhacharya Nimbaarka Madhvacharya Raghavendra Chaitanya Ramdas. ...even recent reformers like Phule and isckon and others
One characteristic method used by the gurus was community dinners, where everybody sat together without distinction. This went a long way towards reduction of old discriminations. As a consequence there are expert cooks who easily handle very large scale cooking among them. Old tribal cult spots and medieval pilgrimage centers like the Varaaha shrine at Tirupati were modernised, along with the new scriptures and new rituals invented by Ramanujacharya to foster a cooperative spirit. He also kept in mind the weaning away of simple tribal people from blood sacrifices. It seems many jains also merged with vaishnavites, just like in an earlier era buddhists shifted to various sects of saivism. His followers also took up the spread of education, whose effect which lasts to this day. The vaishnavite communities in Andhra Pradesh have a marked bent towards education, literature and performing arts like music and dance.
The Madhvaas date from the recent reform activities of
Madhvacharya (somewhere in the 12th century) also of the vaishnava
sampradaya , and they were prominent in the last days of Vijayanagar
(1500's) . A famous guru of the line was Raghavendraswami. (They
are found all over karnataka, south Maharashtra, Tamilnadu as well
as Andhra). Their roots include a strong marathi one, and a north Indian
connection as well.
n) Madhvulu: Madhvas are the followers of Sri Madhvacharya, (a k. a. srimad Anandateertha), the 13th century saint-philosopher of Karnataka, India (see also http://www.madhva.org and http://www.madhva.net). They were prominent in the last days of Vijayanagar (1500's). Raghavendraswami was a famous guru of this caste. They are found all over Karnataka, south Maharashtra, Tamilnadu and Andhra and have very strong roots in Maharashtra and the north.
o) Velanati Vaidikulu16e: The Velnadus are most numerous class of Vaidiki Brahmins. Vallabhachari, who in the 15th century attained great success as prophet, and whose descendants are worshipped almost as gods still Rajputana, Gujarat and Maharashtra was a member of this caste. The Velnadus are most numerous in the Godavari and Krishna districts. Colonies of this caste are found in the erstwhile Mysore State (Karnataka), except Kadur.
p) Telaganyulu or Telaganadu Vaidikis: The Telaganya Vaidikis are as numerous as the Velnadus and found mostly in Telangana, chiefly in the Northeaster part of erstwhile Hyderabad Kingdom.
q) Venginati Vaidikulu: The Venginadus are chiefly found in the districts of Godavari and Vizianagaram, formerly known as the Vengi Country.
r) Kaasalnati Vaidikulu: The Kasalanadu derive their name from Kosala, the ancient name of Oude, from where they migrated to Kalinga Country, where they are found now.
s) Muraknati Vaidikulu: Murakanati Vaidikis are found mostly in the country sounth of the River Krishna. They are numerous in Karnataka.
t) Gouda Brahmins are teachers and priests. They belong to Sukla Yajurveda and Kanva madhyandina sakha and have the family names such as Joshi, Ojjhulu etc.
u) Adisaivulu: They belong to Krishna Yajurveda school. These Saiva Brahmins are further devided into several castes such as Kanchisaivulu, Antarvedisaivulu, Balajipetasaivulu, Tiruvalngadusivulu, Sakteya Brahmins etc.
v) Saivulu: The Saivite Brahmins follow the Saiva aagamas. However, they study Vedas also and belong to Krishna Yajurveda school. One of the sects of these saivite Brahmins is called Aradhyas, related to Panditaradhyas of Sivakaviyugamu (Era of Saiva poets) of 12th century. They generally run Saiva and Shakti shrines, often very large, and famous ones like Kalesvaram, Vemulavada, Srisailam, Kalahasti, etc. They have a link to Kashmir Saivism, Varanasi and Jyotirlinga shrines all over India like Kedarnath. The rituals they follow are different from the smaartas. Aradhyas are in fact semiconverted Lingayats. They following Basava and attach great importance to Linga worship. However, they adhere to Brahminism, recite Gayatri prayers and marry Smaarta Brahmins. Although Lingayat Saiva religion attempted to dismatle the tribal differences, the Lingayats adhere to their original castes naturally. Thus Aradhyas remain designated to be Brahmins, just like other castes in Lingayat religion (followers of Basava) today, e.g., various Jangamas.
2) Chitpavana Brahmins: Konkanastha Brahmins17
Chitpavan brahmins are basically from Konkan, the coastal belt of western Maharashtra. Since they are from Konkan they are known as Konkanastha. Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj appointed Balaji Vishwanath Bhatt as his Peshwa or Prime Minister. It was the first time a person from Konkan appointed to an important post in Deccan. Eventually, many people from Konkan migrated to join the service of Marattha kingdom. Chitpavan Brahmin folks are easily recognised by the certain characteristics suc as fair skin, light coloured eyes (blue, green or grey), sharp nose, distinct jawline, and some have light or blonde hair.
3) Daivajna Brahmins
4) Deshastha Brahmins
5) Dhima Brahmins
The Brahmins of Haryana14 are divided into four main groups: Gaurs, Saraswats, Khandelwals and Dhima. The Khandelwals and Dhima came into this region after Saraswats and Gaurs, most probably from neighboring Rajasthan. The Brahmins themselves had a ranking system between them with the Gaurs being on the top followed by the Saraswats, the Khandelwals and the Dhima. The Gaurs used to consider themselves to be superior to the other Brahmins and neither ate, drank nor intermarried with them.
6) Gaur Brahmins
The Gaurs of Haryana claim that they come to Haryana originally from Bengal. It is believed they came as Purohitas along with various immigrant farming tribes. The Brahmins themselves had a ranking system between them with the Gaurs being on the top followed by the Saraswats, the Khandelwals and the Dhima. The Gaurs used to consider themselves to be superior to the other Brahmins and neither ate, drank nor intermarried with them.
7) Gouda Saraswat Brahmins
8) The Havyakas18
It is believed that the Kadamba kingdom had many Kshatriyas and Havyakas were brought in to perform the royal rituals and the related functions of the empirical government. Thus the first few families were settled in Banavasi, the beautiful capital of the Kadambas and the place so adored by Pampa. Since the very purpose of bringing these Brahmin families was to perform Havana (Havya) and Homa (Gavya), they were aptly named as Havyaga or Haveega, which has transcended to the present day "Havika" or "Havyaka." This functionality of naming even extended to the specific role played by families in the whole gamut of rituals. Thus originated the seven family names given by Raja Mayooravarma. The Havyakas are the only Brahmins who derive their surnames from the job they perform rather than by their origin (e.g., Kota, Shivalli) or by the preacher (e.g., Madhva) or by God worship (e.g., Shivite, Vaishnavite). Thus came the names "Hegade (Hegde)" for the head of the village who sponsors the ritualistic activities, "Dixit" for one who is the head of the Yajna, "Bhat", who actually performs the rituals and so on.
9) Hoysala Karnataka Brahmins
10) Iyer19: The earliest group of Brahmins to come to Tamil Nadu is largely known as Gurukuls. They have been here from very ancient times and were primarily invited to be temple priests in the early Chola period. Many of them were great Vedic scholars. They conducted the coronation of the kings and acted as their spiritual advisors and Gurus. They also acted as the Gurus to the villages and the towns where the temples were located. They advised people on various matters including fixing of auspicious time for commencing important ventures. Many of them were the great exponents of Vedic Astrology and Ayurvedic Medicine. They are supposed to be followers of Baudhyana sutra and are divided as 'Kanchipuram', 'Tiruvalangadu' and 'Thirukazhakundram' Gurukuls. It is interesting that all the three are the names of ancient towns and temples around Kanchipuram. This clearly indicates that the earliest migration was to Kanchipuram. Kanchipuram is one of the two most ancient cities of India, the other being Varanasi (Kashi). The linkage between the Varanasi (Kashi) and Kanchi has existed from earliest times and has been facilitating the migration of priests between the North and the South. It is possible that Kanchipuram, Tiruvangadu and Tirukalikundram were the first destinations for the Gurukuls who arrived. They stayed and worked there till they were redeployed to other interior temples and towns.
11) Kandavara Brahmins
12) Karade Brahmins
13) Karhada Brahmins
14) Kashmiri Saraswat Brahmins
15) Kayastha Brahmins
16) Khandelwal Brahmins
The Brahmins of Haryana14 are divided into four main groups: Gaurs, Saraswats, Khandelwals and Dhima. The Khandelwals came into this region after Saraswats and Gaurs, most probably from neighboring Rajasthan.
17) Konkanastha Brahmins
18) Kota Brahmins
19) Koteshwara Brahmins
20) Nagar Brahmins
21) Namboothiri Brahmins
22) Padia Brahmins
23) Rajapur Saraswat Brahmins
24) Saklapuri Brahmins
25) Sanketi Brahmins
26) Saraswat Brahmins
a) The Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins20
The Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins represent a relatively small group of Brahmins who firmly established their identity as a unified group in the year 1708. The history of migration of their ancestors from Kashmir to a variety of places all over the country of India serves to demonstrate how their strong religious and cultural beliefs developed into the present century. Today, members of this group are in Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, and Tamilnadu.
b) Kashmiri Saraswat Brahmins or Kashmiri Pandits21
According to accepted traditions in the rest of the country, Kashmiri Brahmins are believed to be a branch of the Saraswat Brahmins who were so called because they were believed to have settled along the course of an ancient river in the North-West Indian Continet (Indo-Pak region) called Saraswati. When this river dried up, these Brahmins migrated. A large section of this uprooted community was settled in the Western Konkan coast of the present state of Maharashtra. Others moved further North into the Valley of Kashmir. The first Prime Minister of the Indian Union, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, belongs to the Pandit community. The Nehru dynasty ruled the Union for almost half a century. Yet, Kashmiri Pandits are subjected to a genocide, which under UN resolution, means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
Main Refugee Camp Sites in Jammu: Muthi Camp, Transport Nagar, Purkhoo Camp, Stadium Camp, Jhiri Camp, Nagrota Camp, Mishriwala Camp, and Battalbalian Camp, Udhampur
Main Camp Sites in Delhi:
Nandnagri, Sultanpuri, Kailash Colony, Maviya Nagar, South Extension, Palika Dham, Lajpat Nagar, Aliganj, Bapu Dham, Amar Colony, Mangol Puri, Patel Nagar, Sultanpuri, Moti Nagar and Begampura.
c) Rajapur/Balawalikar Saraswat Brahmanas22
Rajapur/Balawalikar Saraswat Brahmanas,as they are known, belong to the "Pancha (five) Gauda Brahmana" groups or "Gaudadi Panchakas". The Saraswats of all subsects of today are said to have originated from the Saraswath region, from the banks of river Saraswati. In Rigveda, references to river Saraswati has been frequently made in the shlokas praising the river as the most mighty river and describe her as "limitless, undeviating, shining and swift moving". But the Saraswati vanished from the region.
d) Haryana Saraswat Brahmins
The Saraswats of Haryana are original settlers of this region, taking their name from the Saraswati river.
27) Shivalli Brahmins
28) Smarta Brahmins
29) Sthanika Brahmins
30) Tuluva Brahmins23: The ancient Tulu nadu extended from Gokarna in the north, all along coastal Karnataka up to Kasargod in the south. This included both coastal Uttara Kannada district as well as all of Dakshina Kannada district. Over many centuries the principal language of Tulu nadu was Tulu. Today Tulu is spoken only south of River Kalyanpur in Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka. This is the heartland of Tulu nadu today. While Udupi is the religious center of Tulu nadu, Mangalore is the commercial hub. Innumerable smaller towns and villages comprise of a green landscape within the mountainous range of the Western Ghats as well as along the coastal Karnataka with access to Arabian Sea. Here Tulu language, one of the five main Dravidian languages of the South, with its extinct script is spoken. For historical purposes the regions settled by Brahmins are three in number. Haige or Haive (Uttara Kannada), Taulava (Dakshina Kannada) and Kerala.
(This page is under development and will be updated as and when more information is available. If you have any suggestions or information please email it to the editor)
Notes and References
1Tribe (Lat., tribus: the tripartite division of Romans into Latins, Sabines, and Etruscans), a social group bound by common ancestry and ties of consanguinity and affinity; a common language and territory; and characterized by a political and economic organization intermediate between small, family-based bands, and larger chiefdoms. Some anthropologists believe that tribes developed when more stable and increased economic productivity, brought on by the domestication of plants and animals, allowed more people to live together in a smaller area. A tribe may consist of several villages, which may be crosscut by clans, age grade associations, and secret societies; each of these crosscutting institutions may, at different times and in different ways, perform economic, political, legal, and religious functions. Tribes are popularly believed to be close-knit and parochial, but some anthropologists now argue that they are flexibly defined communities of convenience.
1b Japan: Our Japanese friend tells that there are 4 castes (sections) in Japanese society. It is called Shi - Nou - Kou - Chou system.
1. Byshi (Samurai) = Kings and Soldiers
2. Noumin = Farmers etc. (large section)
3. Kou = Artisans and Workers
4. Choumin = Merchants
A Japanese Male can never change his caste. But, a woman can climb up by marrying a man of upper caste. But, she can be only a 2nd wife of upper caste. May be her children are considered as upper caste, but some difference in minds will be there.
Those who work in Temples are not included in any of these. They are called Bouzu. The bouzus can not marry. They adopt people from other castes (not Samurai in general) and train as Bouzus.
There are UNTOUCHABLES, called Era Hina. This community is called BARAKU. These people are not considered as HUMAN BEINGS. They live far from the society. It seems about, nearly, 150-200 years back, American army captain- Pierre went to Japan. At that time, Japan was closed to outside world by the Emperor for the fear that others spoil their society. But, when American captain went there, the Emperor was not given any choice. He had to obey or fight. So, American army entered and they forced the Emperor to make some system like in UK. King, his family, some Lords as higher section, rest of the society as Lower section. This existed till 2nd world war after which due to American pressure again, the present system came into existence. Source: A friend from Japan.
2According to Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, a tribe is a social group consisting of people of the same race who have the same beliefs, customs, language etc. and usually live in one particular area ruled by a chief. Illustrated Oxford Dictionary defines a tribe as a group of (especially primitive) families or communities, linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, and usually having a common culture and dialect, and a recognized leader. Webster’s dictionary defines a tribe as a system of social organization comprising several local village bands, districts, lineages, or other groups and sharing a common ancestry, culture, language, and name. It is also a group of persons sharing a common occupation, interest, or habit. However, a tribe means, in general, a group having marital social relationship within the group and won’t allow any matrimonial relationship outside the tribe, e.g. Marriage between a Yeruka and a Lambada or other tribe is not common.
Caste (Fr, Pg, Sp, race, breed, lineage, chaste, stock etc.) is a closed group whose members preferred a particular occupation and a degree of social participation. Marriage outside the caste is prohibited. A specialized labor group may operate as a caste within a society otherwise free of such distinctions (e.g., the ironsmiths in parts of Africa).
According to Webster's unabridged dictionary a caste is a race, stock, or breed of men or animals; one of the heriditary classes; a system of social stratification more rigid than class and characterized by hereditary status, endogamy, and social barriers rigidly sanctioned by custom, law or religion; a form of polymorphic social insects that carries out a particular function in the colony.
The Longman Dictionary defines a caste as one of the fixed and unchangeable social classes into which people are born in India. Oxford dictionary defines caste as any of the Hindu hereditary classes, distinguished by relative degree of purity and pollution (of blood), whose members are socially equal with one another and often follow the same occupation. A caste, according to Webster’s New Riverside University Dictionary, is one of the four major hereditary classes of Hindu society, each caste is distinctly separated from others by restrictions placed on occupation and marriage. Apparently, the editors of these dictionaries have no idea of how many thousands of castes are in the Indian continent. Further, one has to wonder why the same kind of group elsewhere in the world is a tribe and in India is a caste. Whatever may be the reason, caste and tribe are distinguished in India. The Sanskrit words like varna, kul, jati etc. are very much confused and as a result words like class, caste and tribe are misinterpreted by the world.
There is another important aspect to this caste. Even though, castes or tribes are not unique to India, caste was invented by Western indologists and Western influenced Indian leftist intellectuals to define the bewildering diversity of the ancient culture. During the colonial and Muslim period it served the interests of foreign rulers to diminish Indian society by instilling a sense of shame and inferiority. In fact, castes are found in the history of every nation in this world. Even today, we find such divisions in the most advanced countries like the United States of America. However, the Western and leftist Indian intellectuals interpret Sanskrit scriptures to fit their agendas and continue to cling on to those interpretations even when they don't make any sense.
The so-called caste system, a complex network of interdependent yet separated, heriditary, endogamous, occupationally specialized, and hierarchically ordered social groups is incomprehensible to leftists and Westerners. Caste as an institution transcends the religion, just like various tribes in Islam, e.g. Kurds, Arabs, Pashtoons, Mohajirs etc. Brahmins, Muslims, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis, Sikhs, Vaishnavites, Shaivites, Veera Shaivites, Shaktites, Christians, Secular humanists, and others in India are all subject to the overarching dictates of caste. Attempts to break the caste system were made time and again from the days of Lord Buddha. Religions like Buddhism, Veera Shaivism, Vaishnavism etc., succeeded momentarily, but the caste always resurrected itself with vengeance, because it is a natural phnomenon. It happens in Christianity and Islam also. Islam not only has tribes like Kurds, Arabs, Pashtoons, Mohajirs, but also many so-called Hindu castes. Christinaity is no different either, e.g., Reddi Chrisitans, Kamma Christians, Mala Christians, Madiga Christians, Kuruma Christians etc.
There is no universal system of caste throughout India. The
belief that the Vedic varnashrama dharma was the “caste
system in embryo,” is flawed. If not, the tribes of Afghanistan
should also be considered originated from this class system, because
Afghanistan was Hindu/Buddhist and didn't know Islam until 700
AD. For that matter, the Hutus and Tutsis of Burundi should
also be a result of Vedic hypothetical class system. The caste system
is different from the ideal vedik varna class system.
Varna is hypothetical and is a class, whereas caste
is real and plays a major role. Varna (the class) allows movement
of people from one class to the other, while tribe or caste does
not. Thus, it is preposterous to say the vedic hypothesis of class
is same as caste.
According to Vedas, in any society in general, there are four underlying
varnas (colors or divisions or groups), the four groups being,
intellectuals and priests (Brahmin varna), rulers and
warriors (Kshatriya varna), agriculturists and business
persons (Vaishya varna), and other workers (Shudra
varna). Without these four classes there is no society
in this world. Thus, if the society is the God, his/her head
is the intellectuals and priests, shoulders are the warriors and
military, the trunk is the business and agricultural community and
finally the legs are the workers who fulfil the basic needs of the
society starting from the work in agricultural fields to the temple
construction, without which society cannot go forward.
Anybody can become a Brahmin varna (intellectual group), but one has to be born into Brahmin caste to be a Brahmin caste. If there is a confusion, it is because the word Brahmin has several meanings including the ultimate God, earthly God, intellectual, teacher, priest, Brahmin tribe/caste.
The castes in Andhra Pradesh can be divided into two distinct categories. Brahmin, Komati, Reddy, Kamma, Velama, Kapu, Nayudu, Relli, Mala, Madiga, Yeraka, Yanadi etc., castes are based on their tribal, cultural and religious differences, while the castes like Chakali (washerman), Kummari (potter), Kammari (smith), Kamsali (goldsmith), Mangali (barber) etc are based on their duties in addition to the above differences. With a few exceptions like the Brahmin caste, all these castes are uniquely localized in Andhra Pradesh. Each caste has a deity and distinct social formalities. The interaction between various castes is difficult because of these religious, cultural and tribal considerations. (Visit for more on caste: http://www.vepachedu.org/caste.htm).3Conversions and adoption are such mechanisms by which a tribal identity of the offspring may be changed. However, one has to remember that changing the labels cannot change genes. Only inter-caste marriage combined with conversion would result in genetic change as well. In the past, inter-caste marriage had resulted in new castes, as conversion was not an option. Indian castes, just like any other tribes, do not appreciate conversion to another tribe or caste, as most of them are non-proselytizing and consider their customs superior to any other customs and caste practices.
Brahmins are also non-proselytizing and do not appreciate tribal-caste conversion in general. However, it may be inevitable when faced with proselytizing forces such as Christianity and Islam, and when there is a need for increasing the numbers in a particular community. Also, in a cosmopolitan civilized world, where there cannot be restrictions on one’s choice of the spouse, conversion is the best compromise. Muslims and Christians follow this method very strictly as a method of increasing their fold. Usually, anyone who marries a Muslim must convert to Islam.
In the past, however, through rigorous courses and tests some non-Brahmins became Rishis, e.g., Kings like Viswamitra, Vishnuvardhana, Radheerga, Veerahavya etc. became Rishis and established their own Vedik schools and new Brahmin branches. (Reference: "Andhra Viprula Gotramulu, Indla Perlu, Sakhalu," by Emmesroy Sastri, Gollapudi Veeraswami Son, Sri Seetarama Book Depot, Rajamandri).
4 "The Risilient Brahmin," The Week, November 10, 2002,
5 The Sanskrit is an ancient language that became irrelvant to Indians in general, and Brahmins in particular. It is the language of Brahmins. However, whenever, Brahmins migrated to lands, they adopted to the local language and customs and adopted local Gods, yet maintained their Sanskrit language, the Vedas, traditions and culture. Unfortunately, today's Brahmin lost this ability to keep the Sanskrit language and the Vedas due to various reasons.
6Many words in Sanskrit have many meanings, e.g., Hari means God, Vishnu, Indra, Yama, the sun, the moon, a monkey, a lion, an eagle, a horse, a frog, a parrot, air, wind, a ray of light, yellow color, the best, etc.
7With hidden agendas and/or without proper knowledge of Sanskrit, many interpreters distort the Sanskrit texts.
8Brahmanism is an ancient non-proselytizing religion and forms the basis for many Indian religions such as Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism, Buddhism, Jainism etc., to a large extent.
9A religion is a belief in and reverence for a supernatural power accepted as the creator and governor of the universe and having a certain organization and tradition in worshipping such Supreme Being. Brahmins believe in such Supreme Being and have a unique way of worshipping with certain rituals, which are different from that of the rest of the world. However, Brahmins have embraced the local religions wherever they migrated and yet maintained their identity and basic Vedic culture.
10 Hinduism is not a religion, but a way of life. It includes traditions, culture, religions and othe practices of various peoples localised in the Indian Continent. Hinduism includes communists, atheists, capitalists and numerous Indian religions. However, the so-called experts also tell us that there is a religion called Hinduism. For example, the Longman Dictionary says, Hinduism is the main religion of India, which includes belief in destiny and reincarnation, while the Oxford Dictionary says Hinduism is the main religious and social system of India, including the belief in reincarnation and the worship of several gods. However, there are many non-Inidan religions in this world that believe in destiny and reincarnation. Some say that rather than a single doctrine or a single system of worship, Hinduism is a broad confluence of ideas and attitudes. Well, of course, then one has to wonder why the ideas and attitudes from Middles East, such as, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, are not included in it!
However, historically, there was never such a thing as Hinduism in the Indian Continent. It is a recent creation by the outsiders to define the myriad religions and cultures that exist in the Indian Continent. Whatever may be the history, the fact is that now there is so-called Hinduism in the minds of people, who cannot comprehend the diversity of the Indian Continent and have no intention of even attempting to understand it. So, even the Brahmin Gurus and Pandits and other so-called Hindus have come to accept the name-the Hinduism, given to them by the outsiders, while denouncing and redefining it again and again.
In an attempt to define Hinduism that exists in India today, the Constitution Bench in Sastri Yajnapurushadasji and Others Vs. Muldas Bhudardas Vaishya and Another, 1996 (3) SCR 242 held: "Then we think of the Hindu religion, we find it difficult, if not impossible to define Hindu religion or even adequately describe it. Unlike other religions in the world, the Hindu religion does not claim any one prophet; it does not worship any one God: it does not subscribe to any one dogma: it does not believe in any one philosophic concept: it does not follow any one set of religious rites or performances; in fact, it does not appear to satisfy the narrow traditional features of any religion or creed. It may broadly be described as a way of life and nothing more." The Supreme Court further opined "Hinduism had originally a territorial and not a cradle significance. It implied residence in a well-defined geographical area. Aboriginal tribes, savage and half-civilized people, the cultured Dravidians and the Vedic Aryans were all Hindus as they were the sons of the same mother. The Hindu thinkers reckoned with the striking fact that the men and women dwelling in India belonged to different communities, worshipped different gods, and practised different rites." Thus Hinduism is a group of religions.
A story from Panchatantra illustrates the present confusion perfectly. Once there was a Brahmin who used to live on alms provided by generous villagers. One day he was offered a calf by a neighboring villager. The Brahmin was happy and was carrying the calf home. Three cheats saw the Brahmin carrying the calf and thought that it would make a nice meal for them, while it would be useless to the vegetarian Brahmin. They came up with a plan to cheat the poor Brahmin. One after the other all three pass by the Brahmin and tell him that he was carrying a goat, donkey and a dead pig, respectively. Although the Brahmin didn’t believe initially, he came to a conclusion that whatever he was carrying was certainly not a calf and it must be demon because it was appearing to various people as various things. So, he became scared and abandoned the calf. The three cheats happily had a nice meal of the calf. This story tells us that persistent misinterpretation gets credibility over a period of time. And so, now we have Hinduism and everything in India is Hinduism and the tribes and castes in India are due to the Hindu philosophy, contrary to the reality and the interpretation of the Supreme Court. Life is simple that way, otherwise the diversity in India is bewildering.
This Western and leftist definition of Hinduism resulted in attribution of Brahmin customs, traditions, and culture to non-Brahmins. As a result, non-Brahmins like Iliah Kanche, a Kuruma Christian, who had developed a bitter hatred against Brahmins declared themselves as non-Hindus. Many other Hindu religions also declared themselves as separate from Hinduism, e.g., Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism etc.
This Western definition of Hinduism as a single religion, contrary to the above Supreme Court definition, by the Western and leftist Indian intellectuals has resulted, unfortunately, in another SC judgment of far-reaching consequences for Brahmin religion. The Supreme Court has ruled that Brahmins do not have monopoly over performing puja in a temple where Brahmins have been priests for centuries and said a non-Brahmin, properly trained and well-versed in the rituals, could be appointed as a priest. In this decision, the SC has trampled on the freedom of religion enshrined in the constituion as applied to Brahmins. The Brahmins and non-Brahmins are considered part of a single religion called Hinduism and, thereby, a non-Brahmin can take over the temples of Brahmins. This decision was delivered by a Bench comprising Justice S. Rajendra Babu and Justice Doraiswamy Raju, while upholding the appointment of a non-Brahmin as a priest in Kongoopilly Neerikode Siva Temple at Alangad village in Ernakulam, Kerala. The government of India and the Judiciary not only interfere in the religions of Hindus and Hindu institutions, but also actively attempt to destroy the Hindu religions such as Brahminism, while supporting and allowing the growth of Western religions such as Islam and Christianity and those religons that declared to be separate from Hinduism, by all means. This kind of interference by the government would not be tolerated anywhere in the world, including India. It is impossible to have a Kurdish priest in a Turkish mosque or a Catholic priest in a Serbian church or a Muslim in Christian Church; and even the most secular/communist government in the world would not impose such an absurd decision, except in India and that too with regard to Brahmins only.
11Mayne’s Treatise on Hindu Law and Usage, 14th Edition, 14th edition, pp. 1-45.
Pandurang Vaman Kane, History of Dharmasastra (ancient and mediæval religious and civil law in India) -- 2d ed. -- Poona : Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. -- (Government oriental series. Class B ; no. 6.). -- Vol II, Part I. -- 1974. -- S. 483 -486.
12Once upon a time, an assembly of Brahmins was arranged in presence of Lord Brahma. All the Brahmin teachers and professors were invited. It was declared that who ever among the invited fails to attend the Brahmin assembly would be considered to have committed the sin of murder of a Brahmin (Brahmahatya). For some unavoidable circumstances, Professor Vaisampayana could not attend this meeting and acquired the sin of Brahmahatya. He assembled all his disciples and requested them to share the burden of the sin of murder. One of his disciples was Yajnavalkya. He was a great intellectual and was very powerful due to his knowledge. He came forward and suggested that he would take all the sin and manage it with his powers and requested Vaisampayana to let go other disciples. Vaisampayana was enraged at this request. He considered this request as arrogance of Yagnavalkya and completely out of line. Consequently, he ordered Yajnavalkya to give up all the learning that he learned from Vaisampayana and leave his school immediately. Yajnavalkya followed the orders of the professor and discarded all the learning, which immediately evaporated into the solar dimension. And he became poorer in his knowledge and hence in powers and luster.
Yajnavalkya went to the Sun God and requested the Sun to teach him Yajurveda. The Sun God agreed to teach and asked him to follow him in the form a horse during his continuous travel across the skies and learn. Thus Yajnavlakya became a Vajasaneya, one who learned as a horse and a branch formed called Vajasaneya sakha. This Yajurveda learned by Yajnavlkya as a horse from the Sun God is called SuklaYajurveda and the earlier one that was learned from Vaismpayana was Krishna Yajurveda.
According to Vedas, when Yajnavalkya discarded the knowledge of Vedas, other disciples absorbed it like Tittiri birds and hence the branch that came from those disciples is called Tittiriya sakha.
Source: Vayaupuranamu in “Ashtadasapuranamulu,” by Venkataramasastri Kompella, Rohini Publications, Rajamandri, pp. 308-309.
13In Sanskrit, gotram means family, race, lineage, a mountain, a cow-pen and so on!
16 "Andhra Viprula Gotramulu, Indla Perlu, Sakhalu," by Emmesroy Sastri, Gollapudi Veeraswami Son, Sri Seetarama Book Depot, Rajamandri.
16a History and Culture of Andhra Pradesh, Rao PR, pp.viii and 8-22
16b History of India, Herman Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund, p. 102
16c History of India, Herman Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund, p. 104
16d History and Culture of Andhra Pradesh, Rao PR, pp.viii and 8-22
16e "Hindu Castes and Sects," Jogendranath Bhattacharya, 1896.
16f The Pradhamasakha Niyogi Brahmins: Some family names that belong to Pradhamasakha Niyogi are: Adaalatu, Adukuri, Ainaparti, Ainamprolu, Akhandam, Alapattu, Aleti, Alladi, Ambadasu , Ambarukhana, Anantavarapu, Andukuru, Anipeddi, Annavarpu, Anumarlapudi, Attota, Ayinambrolu, Ayinpurapu, Challa, Chittem, Edlapalli, Eedupalli, Errapatruni, , Gangaravula, Gampa, Gatraju, Gaddapalli, Ganapatiraju, Gajulapalli, Gadicharla, Gorijavolu, Kanchikacharala, Kanchugantala,Kathari, Kanakabhattula, Kavulu, Kavuluri, Kakarlapudi, Kakarlamudi, Kamaraju, Karinapati, Kuppila, Khandaladinne, Regadamilli, Srikaram, Sridhara, Sandepudi, Sampatam, Sambaraju, Sattenapalli, Satram, Sannikandlapadu, Samudram, Saripalli, Savidi, Somaasi, Sthaanam, Tammera, Udayagiri, Ullaganti, Uppala, Urakaranam, Uta, Uttaralingamakuntla, Vaddiraju, Vadduri, Vadlamudi, Vaduri, Vahi, Vallambhatla, Valluri, Vanam, Vangipurapu, Vankeswarapu, Varagani, Varahagiri, Vareswaram, Varkhola, Vasa, Velagapudi, Vepachedu, Vissamraju, Vonkamamidi etc. Most of these families belong to "Kanva" or "Kanveeya" branch of Pradhamasakha. Many of these family names are unique to Pradhamasakha, and you may not find the same names in any other Brahmin caste, but some family names are found in various other Brahmin groups as well. Also, some of these family names may be found in non-Brahmin castes due to the fact that many of the family names are derived from the village names and/or due to inter-caste-mixing.
Other sources on the web:
Brahmins of Andhra Pradesh by V. Ramachandrarao
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