Kulin System Of Bengal Was Meant For Supremacy Of Brahmins

Dr. K. Jamanadas

The idea of this Kulin System was only to create the population who accepts the domination of brahmins and observe strict caste rules. 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.

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. : [p. 110 ff. Benoy Ghose: "Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar", 1965, Publication Division, Govt. of India.]

"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]

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. 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.


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.


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.

Kulin System

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-sires of "Shiva" are 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 ksatriyas. That way, the place of Kayasthas in Bengal's varna system is among the sudras, 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 brahman 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 made 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.

I am aware that this is not the complete picture. If any one can elaborate further, I shall be thankful.

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