Research and Articles about the origins of the Chitpavan (or Kokanastha/Konkanastha) Brahmins of Western India
Gopal Krishna Gokhale
The political guru of Mahatma Gandhi
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Eastern Shores of the Western World - an exploration of the thread that connects Europe to the Indian sub-continent via Linguistics, Genetics, Astronomy, and faith systems
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The Chitpavan Brahmins - A Social and Ethnic Study ... more
Chitpavan Konkanastha Brahmins' History (Pre and Proto) - Yogeshwar Kutir Publications (2018) - Vibhakar Lele
Chitpavan Brahmin Origin and History by Arun Joglekar
Sonali Gaikwad and VK Kashyap
National DNA Analysis Center, Central Forensic Science Laboratory, Kolkata -700014, India
"Chitpavan brahmin demonstrates younger maternal component and substantial paternal gene flow from West Asia, thus giving credence to their recent Irano-Scythian ancestry from Mediterranean or Turkey, which correlated well with European-looking features of this caste. This also explains their untraceable ethno-history before 1000 years, brahminization event and later amalgamation by Maratha."
"... non-recombining uniparental contributions in Chitpavan-brahmin Mediterranean or East European type as shown by 20% (HV, U3) mtDNA lineages and highly frequent (R1a and L) Y-haplogroups. The admixture and PC analyses (Figure 3a, b) reflected genetic association of Chitpavan-brahmin with Iranian, Ashkenazi-Jews (Turkey), Greeks (East Europe) and to some extent with Central Asian Turkish populations elucidating their distinct Nordic, “Scytho-Iranian” ancestry.
The Caucasian link of Chitpavan-brahmin has also been inferred from biparental microsatellites variations (Figure 3c). The observed genomic analyses asserted the ethnographical fact that Chitpavan-brahmin share ancestry with conspicuously European-looking Pagan or Alpine group, who under religious pressure had migrated from Anatolian Turkey or East Europe to Gujarat coast probably via sea-vessel. Besides, their documented history is untraceable beyond 1000 years, further indicating that they were not part of the original Vedic migrations (early Indo-European) on the west coast. Therefore, the present genome analyses provide conclusive evidence of their recent migration, genesis, and expansion after they migrated from “Sopara” (India’s western trade zone) to geographically isolated Konkan-region, where they adopted “Konkani” language, and cultivated cash crop. Their considerable genetic affinity with Maratha caste further corroborated the prevalent norm that few of the dynamic and intelligent Chitpavans were “Brahmanized” for performing religious rituals in King Shivaji’s court (elite Maratha group) and some members were given the title of “Peshwa” or Minister for managing the administration of Maratha kingdom, which was extended farther north after King’s death under their rule. We observed 15% similar HVS -1 sequence motif (M4 lineage) between Chitpavan-brahmin and Bene-Israeli (or Indian Jews), probably suggesting similar indigenous Paleolithic contribution. Compared to Desasth-brahmin, Kokanasth-brahmin showed lowest biparental diversity, younger age of population based upon Tau value, larger genetic affinity with West Asians plus East Europeans suggesting their recent descent, in absence of bottleneck effect.
By-Ways of Bombay (http://www.fullbooks.com/By-Ways-of-Bombay.html)
S. M. Edwardes, C.V.O.
XIV. A KONKAN LEGEND.
Legend and tradition have rendered many a spot in India sacrosanct for all time; and to no tract perhaps have such traditions clung with greater tenacity than to the western littoral which in the dawn of the centuries watched the traders of the ancient world sail down from the horizon to barter in its ports. As with Gujarat and the Coast of Kathiawar, so with the Konkan it is a broken tale of strange arrivals, strange building, strange trafficking in human and inanimate freight that greets the student of ancient history and bewilders the ethnologist. The Konkan, in which in earliest days "the beasts with man divided empire claimed," and which itself is dowered with a legendary origin not wholly dissimilar in kind from the story of Rameses III and his naval conquest, offers a fair sample of these semi-historical myths in the tale of the arrival of the Chitpavans at Chiplun in Ratnagiri. For, so runs the tale, on a day long buried in the abyss of Time it chanced that a terrific storm gathered over the western waters; and as night drew on the sky, black with serried ranks of clouds, burst into sharp jets of fire, the rain poured forth in torrents unquenchable, and the shriek of a mighty whirlwind, mingling with the deep echoes of Indra's thunder, drowned even the roar of the storm-lashed seas. Among the ships abroad on that night was one of strange device with high peaked prow, manned by a crew of fair-skinned and blue-eyed men, which was forging its way from a northern port to some fair city of Southern India; and when the storm struck her, she was not many miles from what we now call the Ratnagiri coast. Bravely did she battle with the tempest; bravely did her men essay to keep her on her course, bringing to play their hereditary knowledge of sea-craft, their innate dexterity of brain. But all their scheming, all their courage proved fruitless. As a bridegroom of old time scattering the bridal procession by the might of a powerful right arm, the sea swept away her protectors and carried her, lone and defenceless, on to the surge-beaten shore. And when morning broke Surya, rising red above the eastern hills, watched the hungry waves cast up beside her fourteen white corpses, the remnants of her crew--silent suppliants for the last great rites which open to man the passage into the next world.
Now at the ebb of the tide the dark people that dwelt upon the marge of the sea fared shorewards and found the blue-eyed mariners lying dead beside their vessel; and they, marvelling greatly what manner of men these might have been, took counsel among themselves and decided to bestow upon them the last rites of the dead. So they built a mighty funeral pyre for them with logs of resinous wood hewn in the dark forest that stretched inland, and they fortified the souls of the dead seamen with prayer and lamentation. But lo! a miracle: for as the flames hissed upwards, purging the bodies of all earthly taint, life returned to them by the grace of Parashurama; and they rose one and all from the pyre and praised Him of the Axe, in that he had raised them from the dead and made them truly "Chitta-Pavana" or the "Pyre Purified." And they dwelt henceforth in the land of the arrow of their Deliverer and were at peace, forgetting their former home and their drear wandering over the pathless sea, and taking perchance unto themselves wives from among the ancient holders of the soil. Now the place where they abode is called Chittapolana or Chiplun unto this day.
[Illustration: Parashurama and the Chitpavans.]
* * * * *
And it came to pass in the fulness of time, as the Sahyadri-khand tells, that Parashurama called all Brahmans to a great festival in the new land which he had created between the mountains and the sea. But the twice-born hearkened not to his words; whereas the God waxing wroth determined to create new Brahmans who would not turn a deaf ear to his counsel. Revolving this decision in his heart he walked down to the shore, and there in the seaward-gazing burning-ground he met a stranger-people, white-skinned, blue-eyed, and fair to look upon, and asked them who they were and whence they came. "Fishermen (or hunters) are we," they answered, "and dwell upon the seashore, sixty families of us in all." And the God was pleased with them and raising them to the rank of Brahmans, divided them into fourteen "Gotras," and made them a solemn promise that should they ever call him to mind in any real emergency he would come to their assistance. So they dwelt for many a day, waxing by the favour of God both numerous and learned, until by ill-hap they hearkened into evil counsel and called upon the God without just reason. And He, when he learned what they had done, was exceeding wroth and cursed them, dooming them to sorrow and to the service of other men so long as the sun and moon should endure. Thus the Chitpavans gained their Brahmanhood, but lost their right to superiority in that they flouted the promise of their God.
Such are the legends, popular and Puranic, of the coming of the Chitpavans to Western India. That some historic truth lies below the garbled tale of shipwreck and resurrection is partly proved by the physical traits of their descendants, of those men, in fact, whose immediate ancestors, employed at first as messengers or spies of Maratha chieftains, by innate cleverness, tact, and faculty for management gradually welded together the loose Maratha confederacy and became directors of the internal and external politics of the Peshwa's dominions. For to this day the true Chitpavan perserves the fair skin, the strange grey eyes, the aspect of refined strength and intelligence, which must have characterized the shipwrecked mariners of old fable and marked them out in later years as strangers in a strange land. But whence came they, these foreign immigrants, who after long sojourn in the country of their adoption moved upwards to the Deccan and stood within the shadow of the Peshwa's throne? Much has been written of their origin, much that is but empty theory: but, as 'Historicus' has remarked in the columns of a local journal, the lesson to be learned from their home dialect and from their strange surnames,--Gogte, Lele, Karve, Gadre, Hingne and so on,--is that the Chitpavan Brahmans of Western India came in legendary ages from Gedrosia, Kirman and the Makran coast, and that prior to their domicile in those latitudes they probably formed part of the population of ancient Egypt or Africa. That they were once a seafaring and fishing people is proved by the large number of words of oceanic origin which still characterize their home-speech, while according to the authority above mentioned the "Chandrakant" which they recognize is not the sweating crystal of Northern India and ancient Sanskrit lore, but a fossil coral found upon the Makran coast. Forty years ago Rao Saheb V. N. Mandlik remarked that "the ancestors of the tribe probably came by ships either from some other port in India or from the opposite coast of Africa;" and in these later days his theory is corroborated by General Haig, who traces them back to the great marts on the Indus and thence still further back to the Persian Gulf and Egypt. Why or at what date they left the famous country of the Pharaohs, none can say: but that these white-skinned Brahmans are descendants of such people as the Berbers, who belonged of right to the European races, seems the most plausible theory of their origin yet put forward, and serves as an additional proof of the enormous influence exercised upon posterity by the famous country of the Nile.
Thus perhaps the legend of storm and shipwreck is not false, but records in poetic diction the arrival on these shores of men who presumably had in some degree inherited the genius of the most famous and most civilized country of prehistoric ages, and who had by long trafficking in dangerous waters and by the hardships of long migration acquired that self-reliance and love of mastery which has been bequeathed almost unchanged to their Brahmanised descendants. The Chitpavans were indeed the children of the storm, and something of the spirit of the storm lives in them still. Some trace is theirs of the old obstinacy which taught those pale ancestors to fight against insuperable forces until they were cast naked and broken upon the seashore. And peradventure the secret lesson of the ancient folk-tale is this, that the God of the Axe, despite the curse, is still at hand to help them along the path to new birth, provided always that their cause is fair, that they invoke not his aid for trivial or unjust ends, and that they have been truly purified in the pyres of affliction.
"THE CHITPAVANS" - ILLUSTRATED WEEKLY OF INDIA
Linda Cox, Flosmoor, IL
Unheard of before 1700, the Chitpavan Brahmins of Maharashtra had come to dominate the fields of social reform, law, scholarship, goverrunent service and the arts by the nineteenth century. Their two names, Konkanasth and Chitpavan, suggest their origins. The first indicates the rocky, unyielding land in the Ratnagiri district of the Konkan, which they have traditionally farmed. All Konkanasths can trace their history as far as the Konkan. The name, Chitpavan, would seem to have come from the Konkan town of Chitpol. When you spot a Maharashtrian with blue or green eyes, ten to one he is a Chitpavan. And his fair colouring suggests a foreign origin. A history of the Bene Israelis, who settled in the Kolaba district of the Konkan, claims the Chitpavans as fellow Jews who became separated from their shipmates. Other accounts have guessed at a homeland anywhere from Iran to just north of Sholapur.
How to tell a Chitpavan
A typical Chitpavan is usually fair of complexion, has a sharp nose and steel-grey eyes. He can be called handsome. Nanasaheb Peshwa (18th century), from a portrait that is available may be called best specimen of Chitpavan manhood. Nanasaheb's son Vilasrao, when 18, was killed in the Third Battle of Panipat (1761). Kashiraj has described him as the most handsome among the Marathas; even in death he looked so handsome that Ahmedshah Abdali ordered his dead body to be brought before him - in order to have a look at his handsome person. The Chitpavans cannot be classed among the well-built communities of Maharashtra. Chitpavan girls possess good physical features but tend to took pale. A few historians and anthropologists are of the view that the Chitpavans came to India from Egypt, while others say they came from Greece. The Chitpavans are generally extremists, hence their behaviour is full of contradiction. A Chitpavan may sacrifice his life for his country but he will not easily part with his purse. That is why perhaps the Chitpavan community has produced a number of fiery patriots but not a single saint. Tidy, clean and industrious, the average Chitpavan has a rather inflated opinion of himself. Typical Chitpavan surnames are R., Tilak, Gokhale, Ketkar, Paranjpe, Karve and Chitale.
IN SEARCH OF ROOTS OF CHITPĀVANS
by Arun V. Joglekar …
Until 1700 A.D. Chitpāvans were practically unknown to the world outside. Around 1690 one Chitpāvan named Balāji Bhat left Konkan and went to Pune in Central Mahārāshtrā in search of a job. He was a hard working and intelligent person. Starting as a clerk he rose to the post of Peshawa (‘Foremost’ in Persian) in 1713. Like Persia it was common in India to employ priests as administrators. For the next 105 years Balāji’s descendents continued to work as Peshawa and were de facto ruler of half of India.
The first written reference mentioning the community name as Chitpāvan Brahmin is found in the statement4 of a Brahmin named Raghunāth from Kānshi (Vārānashi) in his book on astrology titled “Muhurtmālā” written in October 1661. He states he is a Shāndilya gotri Chitpāvan Brāhmin from Pālshet in Konkan and his grandfather Nrusimha, a well known astrologer, was conferred the title of “Jyotirvitsaras” by the Moghul Emperor Akbar in 1599 A.D. Raghunāth must have learnt his caste name Chitpāvan from his grandfather Nrusimha who had migrated to Kashi from Konkan. Nrusimha must have learnt it from his father. Therefore the name Chitpavan must have been in use as back as 1570.
The next reference is in a letter dated 19 February 1677 written by a clerk in service of king Shivāji. The letter mentions that “Deshstha, Karhāde and Chitpāvan brāhmins live in Kokan area and should be honored on the basis of their merit”. After 1700 A.D. one finds many documents in which the word Chitpāvan is used. The first document mentioning Chitpāvan surnames Ganapule, Rānade and Parānjape is dated 1600 A.D.
The Chitpavan Brahmins -- A Social and Ethnic Study
Author: Irawati Kane
Degree: MA (Dept. of Sociology, University of Bombay) / Year of Submission: 1928 / Guide: G.S. Ghurye
The first plausible hypothesis of the ethnic origin of the Chitpavans was put forth by V.N. Mandlik. There are various studies in existence today, and the present study is an attempt at tackling the same problem. In the history of the people there are no indications of their racial affinities. Very probably they were in the Konkan as farmers but little known to the other Brahmin communities in the Deccan.
The author begins the study by offering a brief history of the land. The western coast was well known for its trading and commercial relations and was dominated by Hindu dynasties, by Mohammedan, Portuguese, Maratha and finally by British rule.
The Parashurama myth is widely accepted in Maharashtra as explaining the origin of the Chitpavans. In this chapter the author, therefore, traces the myth through its different stages of development. The popular version of the myth recognizes the fact that the Konkan is a gift of the sea, a fact verified by geologists. In it Parashurama is everywhere the hero, and the father of the people. The next point in the myth is the story of a shipwreck and the creation of fourteen Brahmins from the corpses of the dead resulting from the shipwreck. Accordingly, interpreters point to Persia, Africa and other distant areas as the place of origin of the Chitpavans. But the most that can be inferred from the myth is that the Chitpavans were immigrants.
The Puranic version of the myth states that Parashurama, after settling in the new land, invited Brahmins from other parts of the country to assist him in his sacrifices. They refused; therefore, Parashurama resolved to create new Brahmins, and, decrying some people crossing the beach, he found that they were fisherman with sixty families in their caste. He made them all into Brahmins, and as the initiation took place in the cremation ground they were called Chitpavans. The Puranic version regards the Chitpavans as aborigines converted to a new faith and gives them accordingly a higher social status. There is no suggestion of an immigration.
The first attempt at tracing the origin of the Chitpavans was that of R.S. Mandlik who maintained that the ancestors of the people must have come from the sea in a ship, possibly from eastern sea-board of south Africa and were probably Berbers. They were then assimilated into the Dravida Brahmins. Sir R.G. Bandarkar also thought that the Chitpavans were Nordics confirming Mandlik's view, but asserting that they came from Palestine.
V.K Rajwade bases his interpretation on the Parashurama shaka (era) and maintains that Parashurama means Rema belonging to the country of the Parsus of Parsis. He also connects the name Parashurama with the Bhrgus, and the Bhrgus with the Phrygians or Persians. Rajwade also attempts to explain the name Chitpavan and affirms that the colonisation of the Konkan by Parashurama and his followers took place after the battle of the Mahabharata. Rajwade, furthermore, describes the economic condition of the Chitpavans and traces the growth of population among them. Rajwade then tries to show that many of the surnames of the Chitpavans are in reality the names of ancient Rishis prevalent as gotras before Bauddhayana. He concludes from this that the Chitpavans must have come into the Konkan long before Bauddhayana.
The next interpreter is Sane. He criticises Rajwade in some directions and goes on to state that the Chitpavans came originally from Cutch or Kathiawar as their language show points of similarity with the Cutchi language. The author devotes chapter to see how far and in what degree the hero Parashurama is connected with the rest of the western coast. Gujarat, the northern part of this coastal strip, is linked with the name of Bhrgu and not with that of Parashurama. In Kerala, to the south, Parashurama occurs in frequent association with persons, populations and occurrences. There is a tradition in these parts of Brahmins being brought from north India. From a survey of this material the author concludes that it is the Chitpavans and not the other Brahmin groups who are most closely connected with the Parashurama myth. The working hypothesis which emerges from the myth is as follows: Parashurama with a few others plotted to kill the Haihaya princes. From their home on the Ganges these heroes travelled all the way to the Narmada where the Haihaya princes were killed; but the party had to flee in haste and went to the lonely western coast either via Nasik or by sea-route via Prabhasa. In the perilous journey, all save a handful were killed. Parashurama brought women from the south and got them married to his followers. It is these political refugees who were the forefathers of the Chitpavans.
The Chitpavans of today thus seem to be a mixture of the northern Indo-Aryans and the southern Dravidians. And Rajwade's interpretation of the name Chitpavan seems most plausible. The Bhrgus were noted as fire-priests and one way of arranging the fire was the construction of chiti, bricks laid out in a certain way to contain the sacred fire. The Brahmins led by Parashurama probably arranged their fire in this way, and therefore, blessed by Chityagni and hence got the name Chityapavan, later corrupted to Chitpavan. As for the ship-wreck and curse in the story, they may signify the infusion of some foreign blood. Concerning Parashurama's divinity, it should be noted that it was only at the beginning of the Christian era that his name was included in the list of octants and the honour of divinity bestowed on him. As for the matricide, it must have actually taken place and hence recorded by all the chroniclers, but the account of the revival must have been added later. The author then attempts to explain a few other aspects of the myth, trying in the process to iron out inconsistencies in it.
Turning to the question of the period when Parashurama lived, the author examines the evidence and concludes that he must have lived somewhere between 2000 and 2500 B.C.