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Kayasthas-Kshatriyas or Shudras?

                               KAYASTHAS  -  KSHATRIYAS  OR  SHUDRAS

                                  

                             ( By Krishna Murari, President, Mathur Association Bombay)

For Private Circulation Only

                    ( Not  to be reproduced, partly or wholly, without author’s permission)

 

  1. INTRODUCTION:

   

A Kayastha is often asked an age-old question, “ Are you a Brahmin, a Kshatriya, a Vaish or a Shudra, amongst the four specified Varnas of the Hindu mythology. He summarily rules out being a Brahmin or a Vaish. His self pride does not allow him to be called a Shudra by his own choice. So, the only Varan  in which  he  imagines  himself loosely fitting is Kshatriya.

   

 Then the second question comes, “Kshatriyas  are the warriors, the sword-wielding class of Kings and rajas, which you are not. You are, at best, a pen-wielding class for which no fifth  Varna is specified. So, what you are ?” And there the question-answer ends usually, but always inconclusively. Many theories and backgrounds of the origin of Kayasthas have been heard for generations, but without a convincing proof or  legitimacy  which may satisfy the curious mind.

     

Based on my study of Indian History,  Kayastha literature in India and abroad and the verbal but authentic versions  from the 70-80 year old Biradri Buzurgs of the 1940’s, I have been able to gather some material  for a possible answer to the question and to formulate my own views on the subject which I give hereinafter. It is upto the readers to accept or reject them.

 

  1. MYTHOLOGICAL  VERSIONS:

 

We have been hearing various mythological and legendry versions about the origin of Kayasthas, the two most widely narrated ones are as follows:

 

a)       Lord Brahma produced a Brahmin from His mouth, a Kshatriya from His arms, a Vaish from His abdomen and a Shudra from his thighs. Then  He produced a Lotus-flower seated Chittragupt from His navel, gave him a pen and an inkpot (Qalam-Dawaat) to be a writer or chronologist of the Yamlok, recording the good and bad deeds of all earthly human beings for ultimate reward or punishment according to the individual’s Karma.  Shri Chitraguptji Maharaj thus became the first-born doyen of the Kayasthas. It is further stated that he had two wives, one bearing four sons and the other eight, thus Shri Chitragupt having  a total of twelve sons. The twelve sons formed the twelve sub-castes  (Ambhist, Asthana, Balmik, Bhatnagar, Gaur, Karan, Kulshreshth, Mathur, Nigam,Saxena, Srivastava, Surajdhwaj - in alphabetical order, not as per birth-seniority ) of the Kayasthas, as they are known today.

 

b)       Sage Parshurama wiped off the Kshatriyas  twentyone  times from the face of the  world. During his last crusade, a Kshatriya king named Bhadrasen and his pregnant queen took refuge in the Ashram of sage Talavaya who took them in his shelter and did not allow Parshurama to kill them, being his “Sharnagat” guests. An agreement was reached that a child born to the queen, if male, will not follow the Dharma of a Kshatriya, give up the sword and take to pen for his livelihood. In course of time the queen delivered a son and his descendents were called Kayastha.

 

c)       According to a similar version, while Parshuram extirpated all the Kshatriyas, he spared all the pregnant women as an act of mercy with a warning that they (now widowed) would not allow their offspring, if male, to touch sword or act in any way like a Kshatriya. This was the women’s pledge while the unborn child was still in the mother’s KAYA (body), i.e., in the womb. So, the unborn child was KAYA-ISTITH, i.e, residing in the Kaya, (the mother’s body)  when the pledge was given These children, after birth came to be called as “KAYASTH”, a slightly corrupted form of “Kaya-Isthith”  

                                                            .

  1. RECORDED  HISTORY  & OTHER VERSIONS / VIEWS:

 

            To  appreciate and grasp these versions / views properly, the following  periods from recorded  Indian History may be kept in mind:

a)       Hindu Kingdom (till Prithviraj Chohan)  : upto year 1192

b)       Muslim Sultanate Period: from 1192 to 1526

c)       Mughal Era – I : from 1526 to 1539 (Babur / Humayun)

d)       Suri Dynasty: 1540 to 1554

e)       Mughal period II:  1555 to 1857 (Humayun – Bahadur Shah Zafar)

f)        British period: 1857 to 1947.

 

Now the versions and views:

 

          1. There are reliable hearsay versions of existence of  Kayasthas, a literate class, even in the aforesaid Hindu  period, but recorded history / versions do not appear to mention the word “Kayastha” till quite late. Akbar-nama (Biography of Emperor  Akbar who died in the year 1605) contains the words “Kayasth” in the demography of the various Subas of his empire. In the biographies of his predecessors, i.e., Humayun and Babur there appears to be no specific mention of the word “ Kayasth”.

 

          2. A book “Aquam-Alhind” (Communities of India) in Urdu-Persian language published in India in the early 1900’s, however, gives an interesting, authentic  account of the origin of the word “Kayastha”, which I give below in substance:

 

           Sikandar Lodhi (1498-1517), the founder of Agra city, had established a school at Agra (the then capital of India) in around 1500 AD to impart  regular teaching of Arabic and Persian to Hindus so as to develop a much needed and large cadre of clerks, accountants and petty officials for his empire. A large number of Hindu young men from various parts of India joined this school (some say they were forced to join) year after year. The school thus became a factory, supplying regular batches of Arabic-Persian literate Hindus for the Sultanate and later, even for the Mughals. 

         

The students coming out of the Agra School were called “KATIB”, meaning a writer, which was later corrupted as “KAITH”, or “KAYATH”, and ultimately as “KAYASTHA”

 The version of the book ends here.

 

      It is said that after  passing out of the Agra School, the students  used to go back to their native places (mostly in U.P., Bihar & Bengal) for employment. Sher Shah Suri took many such educated Kayasthas to his native Bihar and to Jaunpur in Eastern UP which resulted in a sizable Kayastha population in these areas. Similarly, during the Mughal period, large number of Kayasthas were employed  at Delhi, and at Agra, Bareilly, Moradabad, and Aligarh in UP which  had Mughal  Nizamats and sub-courts.  Many of them were favoured with Jagirs and Zamindaris at these places  Even today a  lot of Kayasthas  claim their ancestery to these places and to places in Eastern UP, Bihar and Bengal.

        

 Another version from our Bradri Buzurgs of the bygone days is that during the Mughal period when such literate students were taken on Government jobs, it was mentioned in their  service roll whether or not the person is a Katib, i.e, writer, passed out of the Agra School. The relevant entry, in Persian, used to be “KATIB – AST”, i.e., (He) is a writer. In course of time the word got corrupted to “Kai-ast”, and later to “Kayasth”  So all such persons, irrespective of their origin or birth, started being called as “Kayasth”

            .

 

     Mythology and history can, and will  always stay together in their own  respective places and each  enriches a person’s mind in its own way. Mythology states the birth of Chittragupt from Brahma’s naval and the Parshuram episode regarding the word “Kayastha”. Historical versions state their own explanation of  the  origin of the word “Kayastha” which is comprehensible to those not believing in Mythology.  Both are independent of each other and  acceptable as per an individual’s perception.

 

    Shri Chitraguptji Maharaj has always been and will always be a highly revered deity of the Kayasthas. There are Chitraguptji temples in many cities and all Kayastha Sabhas at various places regularly perform Chitragupt  poojas and Aarties alongwith Qalam-Dawaat with due devotion.

 

     

B -  KSHATRIYA – SHUDRA QUESTION:

 

a)      The background:

 

       The Indian War of Independence (the so called Sepoy mutiny) had ended in the year 1857 and in the following  year the control was transferred from the then East India Company to the British Crown, under a Governor General. In the year 1876 the country was formally declared as a part of the British Empire with Queen Victoria as the Sovereign, and the word “Viceroy” added to the Governor General.

      

 The initial period (1857 to say 1880) of the British Raj was of settlement, consolidation and firming of the Raj. As it were the Muslims (i,e, the Mughals) from whom mainly the British had wrested the power, the Indian Muslims were considered by them as a vanquished party and hence a main, natural  foe. As the Kayasthas of the time were in good books of the Mughal rulers, Britishers initially considered Kayasthas as Muslim allys and saw them with some suspicion and reservation, though not unfavourably.. Muslim leaders, notably Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (founder of Aligarh Muslim University) were able to salvage to some extent the situation for the Muslims but the Kayasthas,  having no god-father, were left high and dry.

       

The Hindu Society  at that time was plagued with a strongly dividing caste system. The so-called upper caste Hindus had a rather indignant and internally harbored dislike for Kayasthas. This could be due to three possible reasons, as is heard. First, they were all along jealous of the Kayasthas (considered as Shudras by them) getting favours from the Mughal rulers, second they considered Kayasthas as “half-Musalman” due to the later’s  social proximity to Muslims and imbibing their culture in eating meat, style of dressing and living etc. and three,  with the change in regime from the Mughals to British they wanted to come up and get positions in the Government,  so far not available to them in the Muslim period. In fact the upper caste Hindus at that point of time lost no opportunity to come in lime light by defaming and down grading the Kayasthas in public eye,  specially  the Britishers.

         

The Kayastha community at that time was, in own turn,  shattered with disunity and ridden with social evils. To counter the damage being caused to the community, one Munshi Kali Prasad Kulbhashkar, a Kayastha lawyer and teacher at  Allahabad had, in the meantime already started a campaign for unity and social reforms amongst Kayasthas. With active support from some other like-minded Biradri people, Kayasth Sabhas came up in U.P., Bihar and Delhi, with the Sadar Sabha at Lucknow. A monthly magazine “Kayastha Samachar” edited by Munshi Sahib himself was started to educate and enlighten the Kayasthas on the need for unity and social reforms.

      (In passing it may be mentioned here that much later, another paper “Kayastha Hithkari”was started by another Kayastha, Rai Sahib Shri Brijballabh Kishore “Sadiq”, and  a regular paper  “Kayastha”-  an official organ of  the All India Kayastha  Conference - from Delhi, is still published today).

       

        In the year 1873 an educational institution named Kayastha Pathshala was established by Munshi Kali Prasad at Allahabad to encourage Kayasthas towards education. The school, since risen in status, is a flourishing institution even today.

 

 

b)      The decisive Law suit:

 

       The same year 1873 saw an organized anti-Kayastha agitation in U.P., Bihar and Bengal aimed at defaming and damaging the dignity of the Kayastha community and to force the notion that  Kayasthas were  Shudras, and hence not fit for any upper class job or status. A law suit was filed in the Calcutta high Court in a bid to get Kayasthas officially declared and  classified as Shudras in the record of  castes and tribes of the British India. Munshi Kali Prasad and others fought the case by providing evidence painstakingly collected from religious scriptures and  historical records procured from England, Germany, Calcutta, Bombay and Kashmir. Written verdicts from more than 600 learned Pundits from all over India were also obtained and produced before the Court.

 

c) The Final Verdict:

        

       Ultimately, after a number of hearings said to have lasted for about four years, the Calcutta high Court dismissed the suit, in the year 1877. The plaintiffs choose not to go in appeal. The aim of getting removed  the ‘stigma’ of  Shudra for a Kayastha, the primary issue at that time, was fully achieved. to the satisfaction of all.  Kayasthas were legally and officially free, once and for all, to catagorize themselves as Kshatriyas amongst the four specified Varnas.           

      Munshi Kali Prasad died in 1886, satisfied after having  freed  his community from the  ‘shudra’ label , and leaving further social reforms and other works to be continued by his dedicated associates.

            

Some years ago when I related this case to a Kayastha friend, he said he wished the Kayasthas had remained classed as Shudras, as today  this would have entitled them for jobs and many other facilities under the present  policy of reservations for SC / ST candidates every where.

This, of course, was in a lighter vein.

 

So dear Kayastha Bhaiyo aur Behno,  Garv se kaho hum Kshatriya hai(n)      

 

C – CONCLUDING  INFORMATION:

 

             I may add here two other  interesting events  to bring this article to a complete and informative end.

 

1. Formation of the All India Kayastha Conference:

          

       After the successful and encouraging outcome of the Court case in 1877 mentioned above, and coming  up of Kayastha Sabhas in many Indian cities, Munshi Kali Prasad  and his colleagues  started developing the idea that the Kayasthas should be united at an All India level. In the year 1886 the Indian National Congress was formed at Bombay by Dadabhoi Naoroji and others to unite all Indians by creating a platform for social reforms and to prepare the nation for seeking independence from the British. Munshi Kali Prasad had died the same year,  leaving his colleagues  with a firm determination   that uniting the Kayasthas  too should be carried on an All-India basis. After Munshi Sahib’s death  the mantle fell upon one  of his  trusted and dedicated team mate,  Babu Hargobind Dayal, a Mathur Kayastha of Lucknow  Babu Hargobind Dayal met Dadabhai Naoroji and discussed with him the idea of the much needed  formation of Caste-based  Conferences as well.  Dadabhoi’s reply to him was as follows:

           

“ If every caste and community formed its individual association and sincerely worked to foster unity amongst its members, to eradicate social evils, to remove illiteracy, and to spread education, all the communities before long will become national minded. Unity in various communities and improvement in inter-communal relations will automatically follow, greatly accelerating the work of the Congress in converting all Indians without distinction of caste, creed and colour into one strong and united Indian nation.”                                                                 

 

Emboldened  with Dadabhoi’s talks,  B. Hargobind Dayal returned to Lucknow and he and his colleagues set themselves to work of consolidating the Kayasthas at All India level. Kayastha Sabhas were formed in still large number of cities, as far as at Hyderabad, Madras, and Lahore (then in India). Kayastha Pathshalas were opened in some other cities as well..  Ultimately, with the untiring efforts by the dedicated devotees  to the cause, the All India Conference took shape.

 

The first session of the ALL INDIA KAYASTHA CONFERENCE was held at Lucknow in November, 1887 with Dewan Jai Prakash Lal, C.I.E., of Dumraon as President and  Rai Bahadur Babu Sri Ram as General Secretary. From then onwards sessions of the All India Kayastha Conference are regularly held to continue the work of  uplifting the Kayasthas and dealing with the problems still faced by the community.

 

2. Unification of  Kayastha  Sub-castes:

          After the formation of the  All India Kayastha Conference  three main aims were identified ( and they hold true even today ), viz., encouraging the Kayastha men and women towards higher education, to eradicate the social evils in the community ( like dowry) and to introduce reforms in marriages and other social customs. The first requirement for all this was unification of  the twelve sub-castes into a strong, consolidated Kayasth Biradri, with all the sub-castes placed equal and bonded in one brotherhood.. One of the resolutions adopted ( perhaps around 1910) for unifying the Kayasthas  was that  inter-marriages amongst the sub-castes, so far not  socially accepted, should be allowed and the offsprings out of such marriages to inherit fully the caste-label of the father, with full dignity. Sessions after sessions of the Conference these aims were repeated, discussed and developed, but remained mostly on paper. Everybody agreed and promised to support and adopt, but in practice nobody  could come out to  dislodge the age-old, firmly set  traditions. The main problem was  that a boy’s parents were willing not to demand dowry provided somebody guarantees that their daughters would also go without demand of dowry. This became a vicious circle. Secondly, there still was reluctance in the Kayastha  mindset   to take a bride from other sub-caste and to include her in the mainstream of the groom’s sub-caste without any reservations or a sense of social guilt.

          

An instance of an arranged marriage came up at Aligarh (U.P) in 1915 when a Mathur boy was married to a Saxena girl, much to some silent gestures of disapproval from the members of the  groom’s sub-caste. A Kayastha leader of that time, one  Babu Sohan Lal,  (later Rai Bahadur) a member of the A.I.Kayastha Conference Working Committee and  belonging to the groom’s sub-caste stood up boldly in support of the alliance and invited the bride and the groom to his house for dinner. He made his own (Mathur) wife and the said (Saxena) bride to eat from the same Thali, thus establishing equality between the sub-castes, and integration of the bride not only in the groom’s household  but in the entire Mathur biradri of the town. In those days sharing one and the same  Thali for food or a  Huqqa for smoking were considered as symbols of equality and brotherhood.                                       

        

  This was the first trend setting example, in actual practice, after which inter sub-caste marriages amongst  Kayasthas   were taken as acceptable and without any reservations all over the country..                                               

 

                                                                                                                     Krishna Murari                               

                                                                                                em:  murarikm@hotmail.com

                                                                                                            Ph: (022) – 2746 8573

Panvel, (New Mumbai)

December 1, 2005.                                                                                  
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