DECLINE AND FALL OF BUDDHISM
(A tragedy in Ancient India)


Chapter 9
KULIN SYSTEM OF BENGAL WAS MEANT FOR SUPREMACY OF BRAHMINS
Traditional Account of Kulinism

The following is the extract taken from the book "The Caste System of the Hindus", by Rajah Comm: Sourindro Mohun Tagore, publ. Indilogical book house, Varanasi. (1963), pp.17 ff.

During the reign of Adisura, a Vaidya King of Bengal, the celebration of a yajna (sacrifice) became necessary owing to a drought, but there having been at that time no Brahmana so learned as to perform it, Adisura requested Virsinha, the King of Kanya Kubjya (Cononj), to send him some Brahmanas versed in the Veda and competent to perform the intended yajna. Five Brahmanas were accordingly sent, viz:-

1. Bhattanarayana [f.n.: The Tagore family has sprung from Bhatta-narayan] who was said to be of Sandilya Gotra, being descended from the sage Sandilya; 2. Sriharsha of Bharadwaja Gotra, from the sage Bharadwaja; 3. Vedagarva of Sawarna Gotra, from the sage Sawarna; 4. Chhandara of Vatsya Gotra, from the sage Vatsya; and 5. Daksha of Kasyapa Gotra from the sage Kasypa. These five Brahmana brought five Kayastha servants with them, viz.: 1. Makaranda Ghosh; 2. Kali Dasa Mitra; 3. Dasaratha Guha; 4. Dasartha Basu and 5. Purushottama Datta. These five Brahmanas as well as their servants the five Kayasthas were afterwards honored as the Kulina. Of these, those who lived in the Barendra land of North Bengal were called the Barendra Brahmanas and thosse who lived in West Bengal were called Rarhi Barhmanas. Those who are not Kulinas among the Rarhis are called Banysagas and among the Barendras are called Kafs. Although the Barendra and the Rarhis have sprung from the same origin, still owing to their living in different localities, they cannot socially mix with each other, e.g. marriage cannot take place between a Barendra and a Rarhi; a Rarhi does not take food cooked by a Barendra and so forth.

Shyamal Varma, a Kshatriya King also brought five Brahmanas from Konouj, viz :- 1. Sanaka; 2. Bhardwaja; 3. Savarna; 4. Sandilya; 5. Vasistha; many years after Adisura. Five willages viz.:-

1. Samahtasar in Furreedpur; 2. Navadwip in Nuddea; 3. Chandradwip in Backergunj; 4. Kotaliparah in Furreedpur; and 5. Joyari in Rajshahi; were granted to the five above-mentioned Brahmanas respectively. The descendants of these Brahmanas are called the Vaidik Brahmanas. They are divdided into two classes, viz,:- 1. Paschtya, i.e. those who lived in West Bengal; and 2. Dakshinatya, i.e. those who lived in South Bengal. Those two classes of the Vaidiks cannot socially mix with each other. There is no system of Kulinism among the vaidiks.

The five above mentioned Kulin families lived in 56 different villages. They were therefore called Chhappanna Grami (i.e. of 56 village). The word Grami has been corrupted into Gai.

The Kulins may again be distinguished into four Thaks (orders), viz.:- Phule, Vallabhi, Kharda and Sarvanandi. Any of these can take food prepared by any other; but no marriage can take place between them.

This pernicious system of Kulinism is prevelaent only in Bengal. No trace of it whatever can be found in any other country of India. Kulinism has produced immense evil in this country. Owing to this system, a Kulin Brahmana is often obliged to keep his dauthter a maid for ever for want of a bridegroom of the ssame rank of Kulins as he himself is. Sometimes one Kulin Brahmana marries some 300 wives or else those poor girls would not have been married, for there might not be another person of the same social position among the Kulins as their fathers were. The result is that the country is being filled with horrible crimes.

Those Brahmanas who do not follow up their Brahmanical duties, e.g. who act as spiritual guides or as priests of the lowest classes, such as Suvarna vanika, Chandala, &c., are called Patita (degenerated or fallen) Brahmanas.

The Kshatriya caste is rare in Bengal. Those Kshatriyas who live here cannot socially mix with those in the North-Western Provinces; for the former on account of their long residence in the Lower Provinces have adopted to a great measure the habits, manners, and customs of the Bengalis, among whom they live. the Kshatriyas generaly take the surnames of Barman and Mal.

No original Vaisyas can be found in Bengal; in fact unmixed Vaisyas are very rare. The jeweller class of Bengal, called the Jaharis, most likely have sprung from the Vaisyas. Almost all the Jaharis have embraced Jainism. They cannot socially mix with any other caste in Bengal. [p. 18]

The Sudras are not of Aryan descent.

Among the castes found in Bengal, besides Brahmana, the highest is the Kayastha. This caste is said to have sprung from the Kshatriya caste. The story about the orign of the Kayastha runs thus: While Parusurama, one ofthe ten avatars (incarnations) of Vishnu (one of the Hindu gods - the Preserver of the universe), was engaged in extirpating the Kshatriyas, a Kshatriya king named Bhandrasena and his wife, big with child, took refuge in the hermitage of the sage Talavya. Parasurama went thither to kill them; but the sage informed him that he would on no account allow Parasurama to kill the king and the queen for they were sage's guests. An agreement was then entered into by which the king was not to allow his child, if male, to follow up the profession of a Kshatriya, but the son should leave the sword and have recourse to the pen for his livelihood. A son was born to the king and his descendants were afterwards called the Kayasthas.

The Kayasthas were divided into the Uttara Rarhis, the Dakshina Rarhis and the Bangajas; the last being the original Kayastha inhabitants of Bengal and they now chiefly live in East Bengal. The Dakshina Rarhis at present have largely spread over this part of Bengal, They are subdivided into two classes, viz :- The Kulins and the Mauliks. The Ghoshes, the Basus and the Mitras (three surnames of the Kayasthas) are the Kulins; all the rest being the Mauliks. The Mauliks again are divided into two classes; the Deys, the Dutts, the Kars, the Palits, the Sens, the Sinhas, the Dasses and the Guhas are of the first class, the rest (which number 72) being of the 2nd class, The Guhas of the Bangaja Kayasthas are Kulins. It is said that the Dattas not acknowledging the brahmanas as their masters and themselves as servants of the Brahmanas were not honoured as Kulins.

The Uttara Rarhis, the Dakshina Rarhis and the Bangajas may take food cooked by one another, but no marriage takes place between them.

There are very important social rules with regard to the Kulinism and marriage of Kayasthas. All the Ghoshes, the Basus, and the Mitras, should be called Kulins, but there are different order of the Kulins. The first three sons of a good Kulin should also be good Kulins; his fourth son would form another class called Madhyansa dvitiyapo; his fifth son, another called Kanisthya, and his sixth and the other sons would be called Bansaja. If any of the sons of a Kulin die unmarried, the next younger brother of the deceased would get his rank.

There is another rule which enforces the first marriage of the eldest son of a Kulin with any daughter of another Kulin of the same rank, or the Kula i.e. the integrity of the social position, will be destroyed. So again the daughter of a Maulik must be married to a son (not the eldest, of course,) of a Kulin, for a marriage between the son and the daughter of the Mauliks lowers both the families, so much so, that no other good Kayastha would ever marry in that family or even take their food.

The Kayasthas have, like the Brahmanas, Gotras of their own; the Gotras of the Ghoshes, the Basus and Mitras are Saukalina, Goutama and Visva Mitra respectively. [p. 20]

In the districts of Bankura, Beerdhoom, Burdwan and Midnapore, Kayasthas are very rare. There the Sadgopas are the chief of all the lower castes. They mostly depend upon agriculture.

Many castes, besides those before mentioned, have sprung up in course of time, by their intermixture, such as the Bagdi, the Poda, the Dule &c.

Another caste, more properly a religious sect, has sprung up since the time of Chaitanya, the caste people being known by the name of the Vaishnavas. Persons of all castes are permitted to become Vaishnavas among whom there is no distinction of castes. [p. 21]

Why Kulin System had to be started

From the above account, it becomes clear why the system started. It is noteworthy that Tagore, the author of above mentioned account, disposes off the shudras, the 85 percent population, labling them as of non-aryan origin and hence of no concern to him. The idea of this Kulin System was only to create the population who accepts the domination of Brahmins and observe strict caste rules. The brunt of ill effects of fall of Buddhism, here in Bengal, fell upon the forward castes. What this has led to can be seen by the accounts of struggle that was launched by the leaders of Bengal in the last century. Raja Ram Mohun Roy was busy with problem of Sati and could not devote much time for other reforms. It fell upon Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar to "struggle for abolition of polygamy". The English word polygamy, which is used to describe kulin system, does not give clear idea to the readers unacquainted with this kulin system, which is described below. Most of us are acquainted with 'harem' of kings. We also know among hindus in India, till 1956, there was no law against marrying any number of girls, unlike muslims, who could marry only four wives. But Kulin "polygamy" is something peculiar.

Struggle against Kulinism

Vidyasagar, being himself a kulin, was well conversant with the abuses of the kulin polygamy of Bengal, with increasing numbers of child widows and its attendant problems. Excerpts from a petition to the Company Government in 1855, make interesting reading. : [Benoy Ghose: 1965: 110 ff.]

"The Kulins marry solely for money and with no intention to fulfill any of the duties which marriage involves. The women, who are thus nominally married without the hope of ever enjoying the happiness which marriage is calculated to confer particularly on them, either pine away for want of objects on which to place the affections which spontaneously arise in the heart, or are betrayed by the violence of their passions and their defective education into immorality."

There is a vast literature in Bengal, called 'kulaji' or 'kulasastra' dealing with history and genealogy of Brahmins and other important castes. The kulaji of "Radhiya" Brahmins hold them descendants of five families brought in 8th or 9th century by an unidentified king Adisura. The kulaji of "Varendra" hold king Ballalsen (1158-79 A.D.) responsible for founding kulin system. Why this system started? We are told:

"... after the reign of the Pala kings of Bengal, who were patrons of Buddhism, a revival of Hinduism followed during the reign of Sena kings from the 12th century onwards. There was need for reorganizing the social structure of Hinduism based on the caste system, and some rigid rules were formulated to maintain the purity of the higher castes, particularly the Brahmins." [Benoy Ghose, Ibid. p.111]

This system, if it deserves such a term of 'system', led to hypergamy where bridegroom must be from a higher caste or subcaste resulting in surplus of unmarried girls. As sastras ordained that the daughters must be married off before puberty and pronounced curses on defaulters, one man married a large number of brides, who were never supported economically by the husband.

"... Thus marriage itself became a gainful occupation. Among the kulin Brahmins, even septuagenarians and octogenarians, with two or three dozens of wives, were considered good matches by the helpless parents of kulin Brahmin girls. A kind of marriage fees, ranging from Rs. 5/- to Rs. 500/- was usually charged by the kulin Brahmins for marrying a kulin girl. Even teenagers were married to dying octogenarian husbands. The old man's gain, before his death, was a few rupees." [Benoy Ghose, Ibid. p. 112]

Rashbehari Mukhopadhya, a leader of East Bengal, who worked against the system, wrote in 1881, about himself. He was compelled to marry in quick succession to eight girls for

'economic relief of family'. If he was wiling, he would have been forced to marry 'at least one hundred girls within a few years'. As he was unwilling, he was compelled to break away from joint family forcibly with a burden of loan. As a result of this, he had to marry six more girls 'to meet immediate economic needs.' [Benoy Ghose, Ibid. p.113 ff.]

A committee of leading Bengalis, was appointed by the British Lieutenant Governor of Bengal to study the problems of kulin system. Some of the observations of the committee were as follows.

Bridegroom extracts heavy consideration, in addition to usual gifts, from family of bride, at the time of marriage. On the occasion of any visit, presents are given, making marriage a lucrative profession. A kulin Brahmin having, say, thirty wives may find it immensely profitable to pay a monthly visit to each father-in-law's house and spend the whole year enjoying good food and presents, without doing anything for earning his livelihood. This system was making Brahmins a class of 'unproductive parasites'.

Marriage in old age and husband often never sees his wife, or at best visits her once in every three four years or so. As many as three or four marriages are known to have been contracted by one Brahmin on a single day. Sometimes, all the daughters and unmarried sisters are married to same Brahmin.

These married girls, and many who are compelled to remain unmarried, live a very miserable life. The result is the most heinous crimes like adultery, abortion, infanticide, and prostitution.

Cases are known of men marrying 82, 72, 65, 60, and 42 wives and having had 18, 32, 41, 25 and 32 sons and 26, 27, 25, 15 and 16 daughters.

The evils of Kulin system were briefly enumerated by the committee as follows:

"The practical deprivation of the indulgence of natural ties and desires in the female sex in a legitimate manner; the virtual, sometimes the actual, desertion of the wife by her natural and legal protector, the husband; the encouragement of the practice of celibacy amongst the female sex; the non- maintenance of the wife by the husband; the suppression or abandonment of the wife at the mere pleasure of the husband; the formation of the contract of the marriage for merely money considerations; the denial of nuptials except upon special monetary consideration given; the ruin, from a property point of view, of families; the contraction of the marriage tie avowedly without any intention even on the part of the husband of fulfilling any one of the duties of that tie; the binding down of the female sex to all the obligations of the marriage state, whilst yet withholding from that sex every one of the advantage of that state; prostitution; and, lastly, the encouragement of the actual crimes of adultery, abortion and infanticide, and of the habit and practice of the concealment of such crimes." [Benoy Ghose, Ibid. p.119]

In 1871 and 1873, Vidyasagar published two tracts, wherein he gave statistics of kulinism with long list of names giving the number of their wives with their ages. Some of the kulin Brahmins did not even know how many girls they had actually married. Some kept a diary with accounts of marriages and presents received at the time of marriage and further on each visit, being recorded. [Benoy Ghose, Ibid. p. 121 ff.]

Vidyasagar writes in first one of these two books:

"One of the root causes of our social disintegration is the prevalence of the custom of polygamy in the hindu society. It has been eroding the moral foundation of our society for centuries, and breeding many ills and vices. Thousands of married women are being daily thrown into the hell of untold sufferings for the continuity of this inhuman custom. It has let loose all conceivable vices and uprooted the moral anchors of society. It is encouraging all sorts of vices - adultery, debauchery, infanticide and prostitution. .." [Benoy Ghose, Ibid. p. 122]

Why Kulinism?

It must be remembered that all these sufferings were caused by the Brahmins to their own kith and kin, their own women folk, with only one intention, that is to keep the supremacy of their own caste, which was in danger due to Buddhist ideals in the society during the Buddhist kings' rule.

To understand the background of this system we have to go into the History of Bengal and its people. The following information is drawn mostly from Sarita Mukta Reprints vol. 9, p.117 ff. article by Vasant Chatterji - "bangal ke bangali kaun?" sarita July 1968 (II), 262

Vasant Chatterji very aptly remarks:

"Bengal, which now remains as only west Bengal, is a different from other states of India. It is different in many respects like history, casteism, religion, politics, education. What applies to rest of India about social and economic matters does not apply to Bengal. It has got its own separate situation."

Chatterji laments that the knowledge about Bengal is also limited. The popular ideas that Bengalis are "bhuka bangali" or they are "communists" are both wrong ideas. He feels, rather sarcastically, that those who can be called real Bengalis are hardly 30 to 40 lakhs in a total population of about 3.5 crores. As mentioned above, Tagore has disposed off 85% population in one line by calling them as non-Aryans and hence of no importance. According to Chatterjee, the majority of population consists of following groups:

Original inhabitants

1. Old 'mul nivasi' of Austrasiai or Austric origin, which go by the name of 'Kol' (Kolerian). They live in water logged areas and are experts in navigation and cultivation of rice and are brave and able to tolerate hardships.

Bengal was outside 'aryavrat' for about thousand years. The aryas going there used to be declared 'condemned' and 'depressed' (bhrashta and patit), and were excommunicated. During those centuries, Mongoloid migration occurred. They all intermixed with original inhabitants, were called as 'kirat' and 'monkhemr' etc., and ruled the country as a powerful non-aryan state for many dynasties.

Presumably, he is referring to kingdoms from the times of Lord Buddha, till the arrival of Brahminical culture to Bengal in the times of Samudragupta - a Buddhist period of history.

In fourth century, Bengal became part of a so called 'hindu' empire. The original inhabitants were now called 'kaivart'. It was an old tradition of Aryas to call any non aryan living near sea or river as 'daasha' or 'daasa' (mallaaha). It appears to be more of an abuse, as can be verified from Manu, who does not consider very highly of them.

This is the main caste of Bengal, and has majority population in villages. They are divided into two sub-castes - 'mazi kaivarta', who catch fish or ply boats and 'haali kaivarta', who do farming. A few families from them got some titles and got rich due to some political service rendered by them at some time in the history, and some were kings, sardars and jagirdars.

Some of them were, due to their power or prosperity, 'elevated' by the Brahmin priests to the 'honourable title' of 'nama shudra', meaning, 'shudra for name sake', and given lowest position in hindu society, or nearly made untouchables. In 1943 famine about 30 lakh people who died were mostly from these castes. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, as is well known, talks of this famine, which was subject of his study.

Muslims

2. Second group is of Muslims. These were also of ancient 'kaivarta' castes. Upto ninth tenth century, here flourished the Buddhist kingdom of Palas. The ancestors of these muslims were Buddhists. But since middle of eleventh century, since Brahmin rule of Sena kings started, there was a period of tremendous atrocities committed against them for about a hundred years. As a result, when Muslims came, these people welcomed them whole heartedly and in a short time, all of them became Muslims. We all know that some brahmanical leaders like Veer Sawarkar, have blamed Buddhists for embracing Islam during this period.

This resulted ultimately in creation of East Pakistan, and now Bangala Desh. Even today Muslims in Bengal are called "Nede", meaning 'bald' because their forefathers were tonsured as Buddhists and were known as "Nede".

Sen dynasty was the first and the last Hindu kingdom, which fell to Bakhtiyar Khilaji, who had a cavalry of only 12 horsemen. How this happened could be the subject matter of another article.

Muslims in Bengal are treated as untouchables. Their condition became worse after Britishers came, because, originally they were dalits, and deprived of education.

Wangals

3. Third group is of Wangals, a name for all people of East Bengal. The separation of East Bengal from rest of Bengal is not because of Muslims, not because of partition of Bengal in 1905, and not because of Indo Pak partition of Bengal in 1947. The credit (?) goes to a valiant Hindu king Ballalsen, who was father of last flee away king Laxmansen.

Reestablishing Brahmin Supremacy

This king Ballalsen, was a learned person. After the fall of Buddhist kingdom of Palas, with an aim of establishing a Brahmin religion from a fresh start, Ballalasen took many new steps including oppression of Buddhists. He divided the country into four areas, with the purpose of establishing kulin system. These areas were

1. "Radha" i.e. western area, the present Vardhaman Division,
2. "Varendra" - Northern area,
3. "Vagadi" - forest lands around the sea in south, and
4. "Vangal" - Eastern Bengal.

The Brahmins in these areas are called Radhi, Varendra, Vangal etc.

Chatterji observes:

"It was the work of the same king, who created four types of Bengalis in Bengal. For this purpose, he did the same thing as every other Hindu king used to do after winning a new territory, to keep his own caste 'pure' or make it so. That is, he called from some famous Brahmin centres like Mithila, Kashi, Prayag or Kanauj a few Brahmin families and settled them in his kingdom, similar to the bull-studs of "Shiva", left by today's pious Hindu devotees to impregnate the cows. So that these people should do their 'work' properly and not interfere in one another's area of interest, he divided the country into four areas as above and settled in each one of them one batch of these 'pure' Brahmins, and relegated the work of increasing the population of 'Arya vamsha' in the three Hindu castes (perhaps meaning - Brahmin, Baidyas and Kayasthas ?). These people had been doing this work for about eight hundred years without any hindrance."

The famous Varendra families are Sanyal, Bagchi, Ghoshal, Mohotra etc. Among Radhis, five families are famous. They call themselves Kanyakubja, i.e. from Kanauj and are called after titles given by the Sena kings, as Upadhyaya Acharya etc. These names are now corrupted to Chatterji, Mukherji, Banarji, Ganguli and Bhattachari due to English pronunciation in British times.

Chaterji avers:

"As mentioned above, from the time of Sena rule, till the middle of 19th century, the main function of all these Brahmins have been to marry hundreds of girls and raise the progeny according to Manu Smruti. Ballalsen meant only this by 'kulin' system."

As is well known, to curb the Buddhist practice of becoming a bhikkhu and renounce the worldly affairs in young age, it is enjoined by the Brahmanic sastras that out of four ashramas, the grahasta ashram is the most important, and here one has to repay the four debts. One of them is to have a progeny, when man becomes free from the father's debt. But this Kulin system was quite different from method of repaying the 'father's debt'.

Child's caste was decided by the mother's caste. But some times, the progeny of so called low caste Brahmins also could get high caste because of wealth. Many Kayasthas became rich and adored themselves with 'yadnopavita' and became the 'dwijas' calling themselves as Kshatriyas. That way, the place of Kayasthas in Bengal's varna system is among the Shudras, as Chaterji says.

These hundreds of wives of Brahmins used to reside with their parents. Their husbands used to wander from place to place doing bhajan etc. and visit them may be once or twice a year. This was enough for procreation and propagation of race. Thus within a few generations, a vast corps of Brahmin progeny was created, which became the main support of Brahmin religion and became quite distinct from the original inhabitants of Bengal.

During Muslim rule, second work of these people was to prevent the widow remarriage and implement the 'sati' system rigorously. In north India, sati was limited to only royal families, but in Bengal, these Brahmins got it implemented cruelly. The reason was obvious. This strictness was necessary for the safety of husbands, as each of them had hundreds of wives. With the ban on widow remarriage and practice of sati, no dissatisfied wife could dare to poison the husband. No widow could save her property from the clutches of the Brahmins, because only Brahmin could condone the performance of sati. This condonation used to cost a lot.

Kayasthas always learnt language of the rulers. In Muslim rule they learnt their language, and became parts of state machinery. They earned so much money, that though in the eyes of Brahmins they were sudras, still they could employ Brahmins as their servants for worship etc. The Baidyas also followed Kayashthas and Brahmins. But the fact remains, which is well known that, in the brahmanic books of middle ages, a lot of abuse is showered over kayasthas as well as on baidyas.

Every Ambedkarite needs to know the history of these people, for two reasons. Firstly, the mechanisms of Brahmanic atrocities always affects the women and Shudras, and secondly, these were the people to whom we should be grateful for Ambedkar's entry in Constituent Assembly.

Everybody knows how Dr. Ambedkar was prevented from getting into the Constituent Assembly from Maharashtra and he had to go to Bengal and on the votes of these so called 'chandals', he entered the Constituent Assembly. As Ambedkarites, we have a lot of respect for these people because they, under the leadership of Jogendra Nath Mandal, were the people who got Dr. Ambedkar elected to Constituent Assembly. For this 'treacherous' act of theirs, we understand, their area was given to East Pakistan, as a punishment, though a non-Muslim area. We also like to understand more about this aspect. And a research into partition of Bengal needs to be undertaken, and is a subject matter for another paper.

Previous Chapter
Next Chapter

Send e-mail to dalits@ambedkar.org with questions or comments about this web site.
No Copyright 2000 dalit e-forum Last modified: August 21, 2000