CASTE AND VARNA – PART 5: MOBILITY OF ONE CASTE INTO ANOTHER

210. Even After Castes were formed, mobility in Hierarchy Remained:

211. Indian castes were not rigid like Jewish, Medieval European, Japanese and Iranian Castes

212. During the ancient period, when caste did not exist, it was an individual which moved up and down in the varna frame.

213. Such movement up and down varna frame was possible because varna was neither hereditary nor endogamous.

214. But once caste had been formed during the last millennium, the individual got bound up with his caste.

215. Caste had a hierarchical level relative to other castes. Let’s examine them.

216. Now it was the caste which could move up or down in the scale of hierarchy depending on many things.

217. The caste could claim brahmana or kshatriya status, and usually such claims were granted by consensus of other castes of the locality, depending on customs followed by the caste i.e. level of Sanskritization (Srinivasa:45), land holding, profession (like trade, military profession etc.).

218. Thapar wrote, “With caste becoming hereditary, and the close connection between occupation and jati, there was an automatic check on individuals moving up in the hierarchy of castes.

219. Vertical mobility was possible to the jati as a whole, but depended on the entire group acting as one and changing both its location and its work.” (Thapar 2003:125).

220. Thapar says:

“Intermediate castes sometimes claimed high status. Among these were the kayasthas, the scribes of the administration who were responsible for writing documents and maintaining records.” [They claimed to be degraded kshatriyas, although most of others regarded them to be shudras.] “But contact with rulers improved their social standing and those who received grants of land and made donations became part of the elite. Kayastha ministers were mentioned in association with Chandellas, Kalachuris and Gangas.” (Ibid: 464, brackets supplied)

221. Thapar writes:

“The khatris, an established caste of traders in northern India, claimed kshatriya origin in recent times, maintaining that their lower status was purely a result of having had to work in commerce. Gurjaras, Jats and Ahirs also claimed kshatriya origin and conceded that they had lost this status. The emergence of new jatis had been a feature of caste society since its inception…” (Ibid :464).

222. Thapar states: “However, the imprint of upper caste model was clear. In the process of claiming higher status, patriarchal requirements would have been insisted upon, particularly in relation to upper-caste laws of marriage and inheritance… These groups would have included the forest-chiefs of central India, or those who assisted in the making of dynasties, such as the Bhillas who had associated with the Guhilas in Rajasthan, or the Gonds who were linked to the Chandellas.” (Ibid:465)

223. Premendra Priyadharshi writes on Lower Origins of many Brahmana Castes of today during Medieval Period:

224. Even until the nineteenth century, caste was quite fluid, and not as closed as European or Persian classes.

225.The British officers recorded lower or menial origins of many of the Brahmanas.

226. Ojha Brahman is a successor of Dravidian Baiga. (Crooke: 202).

227. Trigunait Brahmana, Pathak (Amtara), Pande Parwars (Hardoi) and Sawalakhiya Brahmana (Gorakhpur and Basti), Mahabrahmana, Barua, Joshi and Dakaut had originated from lower castes.

228. The Mishra Brahmanas of Arjhi were descendants of a Lunia who was conferred Brahmanhood by a Raja in the eighteenth century.(ibid )

229. Ahir, Kurmi and Bhat were once converted into Brahmanas on record. (Nesfield: 139)

230. Often rich persons aspiring to become higher caste paid fees to some Brahmana, and got their lineage constructed descending from some ancient hero.(Stuart: 183-4.). Srinivas refers to similar instances from United Provinces.(Srinivas 1972:101-2).

231. According to Skanda Purana,Parashurama conferred Brahmanahood to many Kaivartta (fisherman) families as well as several other people. (Nath:33).

232. Prof.Nath refers to another Puranic story which states that “Lord Rama on his return from Lanka in order to perform a sacrifice, collected eighteen thousand hill-tribes and made them Brahmanas.” (Nath:33). Prof Nath opines that such Pauranic myths might have been added to facilitate entrance of marginal tribes into the brahmana varna. As such transformation was possible and therefore Nath mentions that Malvika Brahmins originally belonged to the Malava tribe.
Similarly, the Boya Brahmanas mentioned in the Koneki grant of Chalukyan king Vishnuvardhana II, actually belonged to the Boya tribe of Andhra. (Ibid:33).

233. The PadmaPurana mentions Parvatiya Brahmanas who were of tribal origin. (Ibid:33)

234. “Large number of tribal and aboriginal priestly groups appeared to have gained entry into its fold as a low grade Brahmana.” (Ibid:33).

235. It is to be noted that Panini had also mentioned Brahmana among the Nishadas (fishermen) as Nishadagotra Brahmana. (Nath:32).

236. Romila Thapar too mentions how a section of Boya tribe of Andhra Pradesh got converted into Boya Hindu caste after getting job of temple servants, and with time were able to rise in the hierarchy in the temple establishment, reaching highest positions. (Thapar 2003:390)

237. Some Boyas eventually entered Brahmana Caste is documented by other authors (supra).

238. Romila Thapar also notes that forest tribals have entered into Kshatriya and Rajput fold quite late. (Thapar 2003:422-423)

239. In Muslim dwelling houses, such an arrangement is essential because of purda system, where women cannot go out of home for natural acts.

240. There used to be a room at the back of house. On the floor, there used to be a hole though which human excreta fell down in a large pot.The pot was later cleared away at a distant place. In Muslim countries, slaves were employed to do this job of cleaning. In India, Muslim arrival and settlements caused requirement of such a force of cleaners. It is likely, that many of the Hindu slaves might have been given option to do this job to preserve their religion and freedom both, which later became their hereditary caste.

241. The leather-workers’ caste chamar or Jataw were also needed to fulfill the needs of shoes etc for the Muslim army. Consumption of beef by large Muslims in India must have generated enough cow-leather for making shoes etc. It may be noted that Hindus generally used canvas, wooden or flax foot-wears.

242. Before conversion into chamar, members of this caste possibly pursued midwifery, pediatrics and surgery. This can be suggested because the alternative name of the caste Jatawa is derived from Sanskrit jataka which means ‘new-born’, and even today wives of chamars perform the delivery and minister the umbilicus-cutting samsakara of the new born of all castes in the rural area.

243. Mobility of One Caste into Another is now being examined in detail.

244. At a lower plane Sadgope of Bengal were Yadavas who established themselves as Rajas in Gopphum in the 17th century.

245. The Rajas of Amragarh, Valki, Dignagar, Kanksa, Karnagarh, Balrampur and Narayanagarh were Sadgopes during 16th to 18th century. (Anjali Chatterji, p.213).

246. The Bhumija families of Purulia, who were again from lower castes, established control over tracts of districts in Purulia, Birbhum, Bankura, Hoogly, Midnapore and became “taraf sardar” of the area under their control.(Anjali Chatterji, p. 214)

247. “Between 13th and 15th centuries a greater number of such pastoralists succeeded in achieving and passing on to their heirs some measure of landed status. Possibly agricultural expansion and demographic growth during the sultanate period helped them to emerge as important local groups. They did not constitute endogamous castes but formed largely open status groups of clans, lineage or even families and individuals some of which were connected to each other by exogamous connubial ties. Inevitably a certain groups identity grew amongst these families and they have been given the name Rajput. Literally meaning of the word is Rajputra but it used to denote various individuals who achieved such status as ‘horsesoldiers’, ‘troopers’, or headman of a village. In course of time it became a generic term for this military or landed class as a whole” (Chatterji, Anjali; “Aspects of Medieval Society: Gleanings from Contemporary Literature”, Sectional President‘s Address, Section I, Medieval India, Indian History Congress Proceedings, 61st (Millennium) Session 2001, p.204; see also: Habib, Irfan; “The Social Distribution of Landed Property in Pre-British India”, in ed. R.S. Sharma, Indian Society: Historical Probings. New Delhi, 1974, p. 297.).”The result was to foster marriages across state boundaries and in consequence, to build important inter-clan and inter-state links of an effective interest and even of political kind by uniting families, property and dynastic interests.” (Chatterjee, Anjali, op. cit., p. 205).

248. During the Medieval age also many castes other than Brahmanical castes were working as priests in many temples throughout India.

249. One such example is Gurava caste of Maharashtra, which although was a lower caste, officiated as temple priest in Maharashtra.

250. According to Alfred Master, “Gurava is a shudra employed in the temples of Shiva.” (Prachin Marathi Koriv Lekh, Ed. S.G. Tulpule, Pune, 1963, p. 137; also see Ranade, Anuradha K.; Temple Priests in Early Marathi Inscriptions, 11-15th Centuries, Indian History Congress Proceedings,61 (Millennium) session, 2001, p. 434-439)

251. About mobility (movement) of a caste from one level of hierarchy to other, Srinivas writes, “It is interesting to note that the mobility of a caste is frequently stated in varna terms rather than in terms of local caste situation. This is partly because each caste has a name and a body of customs and traditions which are peculiar to itself in any local area., and no other caste would be able to take up its name. A few individuals or families may claim to belong to a locally higher caste, but not a whole caste. Even the former event would be difficult as the connections of these individuals or families would be known to all in that area. On the other hand, a local caste would not find it difficult to call itself brahmin, kshatriya or vaishya by suitable prefixes. Thus the Bedas of Mysore would find it difficult to call themselves Okkalingas (Peasants) or Kurubas (Shepherds), but would not have difficulty in calling themselves Valmiki Brahmins. The Smiths of South India long ago, in pre-British times,changed their names to Vishvakarma Brahmins. In British India this tendency received special encouragement during the periodical census enumerations when the low castes changed their names in order to move up in the hierarchy.‖ (Ibid. p. 69).

252. Not only lower castes or tribes entered the Rajput fold, but Brahmanas also entered into the Rajput fold possibly because of the repeated foreign invasions from the North-west. “Firstly, a major part of the influential Brahmanas had adopted political and military career and as time rolled on, they came to be recognized as Rajputs. Dr Dashrath Sharma tells us that the origin of Solankis, the Parmaras, the Guhilas and the Chahamanas was from the Brahmanas.” (Nigam, Shyamsunder; Social Change in Rajsthan and Malva, The Journal of the Bihar Puravid Parishad, Vol. XI-XII, Patna, 1987-88, p. 101.) Before 7th century A.D. Malvas, Aulikaras, Arjunayanas, Abhiras (Ahir), Yaudheyas, Nagas, Mauryas, Hunas etc. dominated the scene in political art. But all of a sudden these communities disappeared. It is possible that many of these merged with emerging Rajput caste, although those who could not merge can be traced down to present day OBC castes. (p. 106, Ibid).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s