The origins of the Konkanastha (Chitpavan) Brahmin community of
has long held my fascination. Maharashtra, India
I recently had the opportunity to read a book ‘Greek origins of Konkanastha (Chitpavan) Brahmin community from
Maharashtra’ by Shri Pratap V.Joshi (IPS). The book (or rather, a booklet) is nothing impressive both in terms of the logical faculties or the logical flow of ideas in the book or systematic research etc. But nevertheless it did communicate one more theory about the origin of these ‘foreign’ people on the West Coast of India. A theory which does not seem extremely absurd prima facie.
So who are the Chitpavans? Refer to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maharashtrian_Konkanastha_Brahmins
Well known for their 'European-like' features of light skin and grayish to green eyes, these people seems to be recent migrants to the Konkan region : perhaps around 1000 ACE or so. They are firs t mentioned in a literary book around the 15 th century of so.
Theories about their origin abound: That they came from
Egypt, or were Persians or Phoenicians or of Greek origin.Or that they migrated from the North of India to the Konkan, fleeing the Yadavas. That they are of Jewish or Parsi origin. Palestine
To come back to the theory this book propounds
- There was a Greek colony in
Egyptsince the days of Alexander the Great when was part of his empire Egypt
- These Ptolemaic Greeks started a new Cult of Seraphis similar to the worhip of Shiva and Nandi in
- Around the year 639 ACE, the Arabs invaded
and began to overrun it. All around the Greek colony had to face hostile Egyptian Coptic Christian population or the Arab Islamic forces. Their homeland too had either converted to Christianity or were belonging to a competitor cult and hence was not an option to migrate-to. Egypt
- Because of the strong maritime tradition among this Greek colony and their trade links with Western India, they chose to migrate to
- The author tries to prove the etymological link thus: Egyptan ……..>Jiptaan ……..> Chiptaan ……..> Chitpaan ……..> Chitpavan
In this connection, I must mention another book: an impressive looking ‘Chitpavinism – A Tribute to Konkanastha Brahmin Culture’ by Jay Dixit M.D. Having done a lot of research including genetic analyses, he has come to the following conclusion
- Chitpavans appear to be recent settlers in the Konkan area as compared to surrounding
- Their ancestors may have a common origin with people such as Ashkenazi Jews and some other ancient idol worshipping Jewish or pagan tribes in the Baltic or
- They most likely migrated from their ancestral land around the Black Sea and modern day
Turkeyto Konkan……and marched from the North Punjabarea to the south over the last few centuries
The following article by Linda Cox forms a good background reading to this topic
The following adds another dimension to the mystery: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roopkund
- In the extreme north of
Himalayasat a very high altitude, you have the Roopkund lake (at 5029 metres (Mt.Everest or Sagarmatha is 8000+ metres)) which is scattered with bones and skeletons of 300-600 people. There are no proper approach roads to this lake and it’s a 3-4 days trek to reach it
- These skeletons are divided in 2 groups: a short group (probably local porters) and a taller group of people who were closely related
- Radiocarbon dating puts the date of the event in the 9th Century ACE
- National Geographic aired a 1-hour documentary on this lake. Their investigations reveal that
- These folks were killed by a very lethal hailstorm
- The size of skeletons indicates people from the plains, probably Hindu pilgrims and
- That the group was very closely related: with females and children too
- Now here’s the catch: The group’s DNA analyses indicates that they are Konkanastha Chitpavan Brahmins. If that’s not eerie, what is?
- What were a group of Chitpavan Brahmins doing in the 9th century ACE up in
Himalayas? Even the first literary mention of ‘KoBras’ is in the 15th century or so and that too localized in West Indiain a very small area. Hmm….food for thought!!!!
- Also refer to
Update on 26-Mar-2010
from the Maharashtra Gazette at http://www.maharashtra.gov.in/english/gazetteer/RATNAGIRI/people_food.html
Citpavans are also known as Citpols, Ciplunas and Konkanasthas. The names Citpavan, Citpol and Ciplunas appear to come from the town Cipluna, their original and chief settlement, the old name of which is said to have been Citpolan. They began to call themselves Konkanasthas in about 1715 A. D. when Pesva Balaji Visvanath, their casteman rose to importance in Maratha kingdom. They worship Parasuram, the legendary slayer of the Ksatriyas and the coloniser of the Konkan. Of their early history or settlement in Ratnagiri no record remains. The local legend makes them strangers descended from fourteen shipwrecked corpses who were restored to life by Parasuram. The Citpavans have a tradition that they came from Amba Jogai about 100 miles north of Sholapur. They say they were originally Deshasths and that fourteen Brahmins of different gotras (family stocks) accompanied Parasuram to Konkan and settled at Cipluna. This does not seem probable as they differ greatly from Deshasths in complexion and features. Fair and pale with, in most cases greenish gray (ghare) eyes, they are a well-made vigorous class, the men handsome with a look of strength and intelligence; the women small, graceful and refined, but many of them delicate and weak-eyed. In their homes they use a peculiar dialect, which is now fast dying out. Out of doors they speak pure Marathi with more marked pronunciation of anusuar, the nasal sound. Many of the west coast villages, owned and held by Citpavans, are for cleanliness and arrangement a pleasing contrast to the ordinary Indian village. Their houses, built of stone, stand in cocoanut gardens or in separate enclosures, shaded with mango and jack trees, and the village roads, too narrow for carts, are paved with blocks of laterite and well shaded. Ponds, wells and temples add to the general appearance of comfort. The Citpavans are very clean and tidy. Though not superior to Deshasthas and Karhadas in rank, they are held in much respect by most Ratnagiri Hindus, who believe that the mantras (sacred texts) repeated by a Citpavan have a special worth. They are either Apastambas or Rgvedis and belong to the Smart sect. They are followers of Sankaracarya. They have fourteen gotras. Unlike most castes of the Deccan, a Citpavan is not allowed to marry his maternal uncle's daughter. They have over all India a good name for their knowledge of Hindu lore, and in Bombay and Poona, some of the most distinguished native scholars in Sanskrit, mathematics, medicine and law, are Ratnagiri Citpavans. A very frugal, pushing, active, intelligent, well-taught, astute, self-confident, and overbearing class, they follow almost all callings and generally with success.
Update on 11-Jul-2010
From INDIAN UNREST By VALENTINE CHIROL
The Chitpavan Brahmans are undoubtedly the most powerful and the most able of all the Brahmans of the Deccan. A curious legend ascribes their origin to the miraculous intervention of Parashurama, the sixth Avatar of the god Vishnu, who finding no Brahmans to release him by the accustomed ritual from the defilement of his earthly labours, dragged on to shore the bodies of fourteen barbarians that he had found washed up from the ocean, burnt them on a funeral pyre and then breathed life and Brahmanhood into their ashes. On these new made Brahmans he conferred the name Chitpavan, which means "purified by fire," and all the land of the Konkan from which, by a bolt from his arrow, he caused the sea for ever to recede. Every Chitpavan to-day claims descent from one or other of the fourteen divinely Brahmanized barbarians, whom some believe to have been hardy Norsemen driven in their long ships on to the sandy shores of what is now the Bombay Presidency. At any rate, as has been well said of them, Western daring and Eastern craft look out alike from the alert features and clear parchment skin and through the strange stone-grey eyes of the Chitpavan. It was not, however, till about two centuries ago that the Chitpavan Brahmans began to play a conspicuous part in Indian history, when one of this sept, Balaji Vishvanath Rao, worked his way up at the Court of the Mahratta King Shahu to the position of Peshwa, or Prime Minister, which he succeeded even in bequeathing to his son, the great Bajirao Balaji, who led the Mahratta armies right up to the walls of Delhi. Bajirao's son not only succeeded as Balaji II., but on the death of King Shahu disposed of his Royal master's family by a bold Palace conspiracy and openly assumed sovereign powers. The crushing defeat of Panipat brought him to his grave, and though the dynasty was still continued, and regained some of its lustre under Madhao Rao I., the Peshwas subsequently became little more than rois fainéants in the hands of their Ministers, and especially in those of the great Regent Nana Phadnavis. He, too, was a Chitpavan Brahman, and it was under his reign that his fellow caste-men acquired so complete a monopoly of all the chief offices of State that the Mahratta Empire became essentially a Chitpavan Empire. The British arms ultimately defeated the dreams of universal dominion which, in the then condition of India, the Chitpavans might well have hoped to establish on the ruins of the great Moghul Empire. But British rule did not destroy their power. They were quick to adapt themselves to new conditions and above all to avail themselves of the advantages of Western education. Their great administrative abilities compelled recognition, and Chitpavans swarm to-day in every Government office of the Deccan as they did in the days of Nana Phadnavis. They sit on the Bench, they dominate the Bar, they teach in the schools, they control the vernacular Press, they have furnished almost all the most conspicuous names in the modern literature and drama of Western India as well as in politics. Of the higher appointments held by natives in the Presidency of Bombay, the last census tells us that the Hindus held 266 against 86 held by Parsees and 23 held by Mahomedans, and that out of those held by the Hindus, more than 72 per cent. were held by Brahmans, though the Brahmans form less than one-fourteenth of the total Hindu population of the province. All Brahmans are not, of course, Chitpavans, but the Chitpavans supply an overwhelming majority of those Government officials, and their ascendency over every other Brahman sept in Maharashtra is undisputed. From the Deccan, moreover, their influence has spread practically all over India and, especially, in the native States, which have recruited amongst the Chitpavans some of their ablest public servants. Amongst Chitpavans are to be found many of the most enlightened and progressive Indians of our times and many have served the British Raj with unquestioned loyalty and integrity. But amongst many others—perhaps indeed amongst the great majority—there has undoubtedly been preserved for the last hundred years from the time of the downfall of the Peshwa dominion to the present day, an unbroken tradition of hatred towards British rule, an undying hope that it might some day be subverted and their own ascendency restored. Not to go back to the exploits of Nana Sahib, himself a Chitpavan, and his followers during the Mutiny, or to the Ramoshi rebellion round Poona in 1879, it was in Poona that the native Press, mainly conducted by Brahmans, first assumed that tone of virulent hostility towards British rule and British rulers which led to the Press Act of 1879, and some of the worst extracts quoted at that time by the Government of India in support of that measure were taken from Poona newspapers. It was in Poona that some years later the assassination of two English officials by a young Chitpavan Brahman was the first outcome of a fresh campaign, leading directly to political murder. It was by another Chitpavan Brahman that Mr. Jackson was murdered last December at Nasik; his accomplices were with one exception Chitpavan Brahmans, and to the same sept of Brahmans belong nearly all the defendants in the great conspiracy trial now proceeding at Bombay.