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Countering Anti-Brahminism - I

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This article is the compilation of the posts in the forum. I had
called it why? This article is an attempt to analyse the history
of the Tamil Brahmin Community, their role in history and how we
can attempt to overcome the false propaganda unleashed by vested

This is basically an exploration of ideas for countering the
prevalent anti-Brahminism in Tamil Nadu and how we can live at
peace with other communities. This is not about political power.

These questions concern the entire Tamil Brahmin community.

I was born in a village in Tamil Nadu where anti-Brahminism has
never been known. The relationship with the other communities
remains unchanged. But that is an exception.

I have spent a number of years in Tamil Nadu in recent times
interacting with people from different communities/religions and
different strata of society. I have had detached intellectual
discussions about Brahmins and anti-Brahminism with a number of
people. This article is based on that and on my research into my
roots as a Tamil Brahmin.

Now when we talk about Tamil Brahmins, we have to understand that
we are talking about a community living in different places under
different conditions.

1. The living condition of the Brahmin depended on

a. Place of stay: A Brahmin living in the fertile Cauveri delta
would have had a better living condition than the Brahmin in
Karaikudi (Ramnad district) or in Madurai, Thirunelveli,
Kanyakumari or Coimbatore.

Even here living conditions would have varied from village to

b. The sect you belong to. Some of the sects were traditionally
better off.

What I have summarized is a general statement.

Actually when we come to the political reasons and the way it was
handled we will see that these made a lot of difference.

First question:

1. Tamil Brahmins have an identity problem in the sense that the
other Tamilians are reluctant to accept them as Tamilians.

Some vague reasoning given is the claim of the Brahmins to have
migrated from North India( there is absolutely no historical
data). This claim is made by almost all the South Indian

If you look at the Bengali Brahmins most of them claim to be from
Kanyakubja or Kannauj in Uttar Pradesh. They have historical
records about the migration. Most of them came during the Sena
period. The Senas were South Indian Brahmins who ruled Bengal
through the 11th and 12th centuries.

They even have a sub sect called Daksinatyas who have historical
records to prove that they are South Indian in origin. Their
religious practices are typically Smarta. They send their
children to the Vedic schools in Tamil Nadu for learning Vedas.


All these Brahmins are accepted as Bengali.

Then why are we not accepted as Tamilians?

We can not blame the political parties alone for this. During the
December katcheris many a time I have wondered why only Telugu
songs are being sung? Many of our Carnatic musicians seem to
avoid singing in Tamil. Our community has contributed a lot to
the development of Tamil. U. V. Swaminatha Iyer, Bharathiar to
name a few.

But as a community are we committed to our Mother Tongue in

Is there any other reason?

Second Question:

Tamil Brahmins are accused of dominating the society and
practicing casteism.

The state which had the worst form of untouchability was Kerala.
The Kerala Brahmins considered even other Brahmins as
untouchables. This is accepted by them. The Kerala Brahmins were
feudal landlords who owned more lands than the Tamil Brahmins
ever did. They learnt the Vedas and still practice Mimansa
rigorously. They also claim to be Aryans from North India.

But the anti Brahmin movement which was founded by a Malayali had
no effect there. The Brahmins are held in respect there even now.

Why is it?

Third question:

Maharashtra is the Birth place of Mahatma Phule who started a
social reform movement which was basically Anti-Brahmin.


It is also the place where Babasaheb Ambedkar started his

Though the political system has seen struggle between Brahmins
and others there is no anti-Brahmin feeling in Maharashtra like
we have in Tamil Nadu.

Why is there a general anti-Brahmin feeling in Tamil Nadu?

In most of the cities we have a Maharashtra Nivas, Malayali
Samaj, and Bengali association where all the Maharashtrians,
Malaylis, and Bengalis gather irrespective of caste. How come the
Tamilians are not able to do it?

Tamil Brahmins and Tamil.

The Tamil Brahmins are called Tamil Brahmins because their mother
tongue is Tamil. We are first Tamils and then only Brahmins. The
Bengalis, Malayalis, Maharashtrians, Telugus, Kannadigas are
first Bengalis, Malayalis, Maharashtrians, Telugus, Kannadigas
and then only their caste.

I sometimes wonder whether the Tamil Brahmins have placed their
Brahminhood before being a Tamilian. Once you move out of Tamil
Nadu you are classified as Tamilian whatever may be your caste.

Tamil is the oldest spoken living language in the world. I feel
proud to be a Tamilian. I took part in the old anti-Hindi
agitation ( I was on leave from a college in North India) and
took a caning by the police too. I can speak Hindi and many other
Indian languages fluently. But my mother tongue is Tamil.

We all know very well that Tamil Brahmins have contributed and
continue to contribute to the development of Tamil. We may not
agree with the so called Tamil culture enunciated by some groups.
But that does not make a difference.

The first thing we have to accept and emphasize that we are
Tamils first and then only Brahmins. Fact is you do not speak any
other language and very few are conversant with Sanskrit which is
not spoken anywhere.

So if we want acceptance we have to unequivocally state to
everyone that we are Tamilians first and then only anything else.

In simple terms we have to think on the question whether we
consider ourselves a Tamilian first or a Brahmin first.

We should think of ourself as a Tamilian first.

This is the first step in countering Ant-Brahminism in Tamil

We have to understand the relationship between Tamil and
Hinduism. And why some of the Tamil Brahmins show indifference to
Tamil. Tamil language has been associated with Hinduism from
ancient times. Kamba Ramayanam is one of the important Hindu
texts through which Valmiki's Ramayana was brought to the common

There is a Puranam in Tamil. Peria Puranam. And then we have the
great Nalayira Dhivya Prabhandam. The Bhakti movement in India
was started by the Nayanmars and Azhwars.

Bhakti movement rejuvenated Hinduism and lead its resurgence
among the common people. Bhakti movements were rooted in local
languages. The traditionalists had opposed the Bhakti movement
calling it non-Vaidhik. Though most of the Hindus today believe
in Bhakti, the opposition still continues as it does not
emphasize rituals. Another reason for opposition to the Bhakti
movement arose because it does not emphasize the Varna division.
Many of the Azhwars and Nayanmars were not Brahmins.

In Tamil Nadu this was projected by the traditionalists as Tamil
versus Sanskrit.

The older generation of Brahmins were more interested in Tamil.
Many of them were scholars in Tamil and Sanskrit. But later on
Tamil came to be associated with the anti-Brahmin movement. This
was an extremely clever strategy to isolate the Tamil Brahmins
from the other communities. We shall see how this strategy was
used to isolate the Brahmins.

Hinduism like all older religions has thousands of divisions. The
Christians call their divisions as denominations. Historians call
our divisions as sects. But this word sect does not convey the
proper meaning.

The Orthodox Hindu Philosophy has six divisions or Dharsanas. The
term Orthodox here means that all of them believe in the Vedas.
In fact it may come as a surprise to some of you that the terms
Aasthika and Nashthika means Believer and non-believer in Vedas.
These terms have nothing to do with belief in a supreme GOD.

Now there is a term which Tamil Brahmins use often. That is
Vaidhika Marga. Some of our Acharyas have the title Vaidhika
Marga Pravartaka. This means the way of the Vedas. An
interpretation of this is that this is the way of the Karma Kanda
or the Ritualistic section of the Vedas. This school of thought
is basically Purva Mimansa.

This school over the period of ages has accepted the thoughts of
the Advaita Vedanta school with a condition that the most
important thing are the Rituals. This ritualistic religion over a
period of time has come to be called Brahminism though it is a
misnomer. It is the emergence of the Smarta religion which lead
to the unification of the numerous sects. But the Smarta
religion's core beliefs were founded on Smiritis and Varnashrama
Dharma. I am not going into details here as it is not really

The Smarta religion also brought into vogue religious
organizations. The different Maths and Peetams emerged. The main
maths for the Smartas are the Sankara Maths. Though originally
only four later on a number of them came up. Today it is
estimated that there are more than fifty. Following this
tradition the Vaishnavas also set up a number of Maths. Though
all these organizations were controlled by Brahmins, the
followers included people from all castes. But at a later stage
some of the other forward castes set up their own Maths. These
non-Brahmin Maths also believe in the Varna system.

These are what could be called organized Hindu religion. The
organized Hindu religion has been responsible for the survival of
Hinduism. When there was a protest against Varna system it was
basically a protest against these organizations.

Now zooming to the last two hundred years with specific reference
to Tamil Nadu. The Brahmins in Tamil Nadu are mostly affiliated
to Shringeri Math, Kanchi Math and the various Vaishnava Jeers.
They all swear by the Varna system though a section of the
Vaishnavas are exceptions. Again here the hold of the Shringeri
math is not rigid because of its situation in Karnataka. Its
influence among the common Brahmins is rather limited. The
followers are mostly from the southern districts of Tamil Nadu.
Kanchi Math being situated earlier in Kumbakonam and then in
Kanchipuram has a direct influence among the Brahmins. It has
also gained adherents from the Shringeri math followers in the
last five decades.

The largest Non-Brahmin Maths of Tamil Nadu are the Saiva
Siddhanta Adheenams. These arose because of the large following
for Saiva Siddhanta in Tamil Nadu. They have a number of
different Maths spread all over the state. These are called
Adheenams. Though there are a number of followers of Saiva
Siddhanta among the Brahmins, they are a very small minority
among the Brahmins and a much smaller minority among the
followers of Saiva Siddhanta. These Maths are very powerful as
they control many of the Siva temples in Tamil Nadu.

There are many Brahmins who believe that Brahmins controlled the
temples in Tamil Nadu. The fact is that even in Tanjore and
Trichy districts most of the important temples were under
Dharmapuram Adheenam (28 temples allover Tamil Nadu Example:
Thiruvaiyaru, Thiruvidaimarudur, Thiruvarur, Sirkali,
Vaitthisvaran koyil, Thirukkadaiyur, Mayiladuturai),
Tiruvavaduthurai Adheenam and the family of the last Tanjore king

Now we come to the crucial point. The organized Brahmin Maths
have refused to accept the Saiva Siddhanta religion. Saiva
Siddhanta is a very old religion based on Saiva Agamas. The
Agamas are theological treatises and practical manuals of divine
worship. You can read about them here.


The temples are constructed according to Agama Sastra and the
worship is also according to Agama Sastra.

Saiva Siddhanta has over the years has all the religious texts in
Tamil which they follow. Many of these texts were written by the
Nayanmars many of whom were Brahmins. The Vaishnavas also have
the Tamil texts from the Azwars. Over a period of time
Subramanya/Muruga has assumed the role of Thamizh Kadvul.

Again a large population of Tamil Nadu worship Gods/Goddesses
like Madan, Isakki, Muniappan, Karuppanna swamy, Mariamman, Kali
and others. Though many Brahmins also worship these
Gods/Goddesses the organized religion does frown on worship of
these deities. The worship in many of these temples are done by
Pujaris who are not Brahmins. They also worship in Tamil.

When the DK launched their rationalist movement they were careful
not to attack Siva and Muruga or Mariamman. They attacked only
the so called Brahminical Gods. The rationalist movement failed
because the believers were not only Brahmins but also other

But the DMK chose to place more emphasis on Tamil than atheism.
Initially this got them a lot of support among all the castes
including Brahmins. A number of Brahmins did take part in the
Anti-Hindi agitation and are Tamil lovers/fanatics (I am). We
should remember that the first person who changed his name from
Sanskrit to Tamil was Suryanarayana Sasthiri a Brahmin to
Paruthimal Kalaignan. The purest Tamil ( you could call it
Chenthamizh or kadumthamizh) in recent Tamil literature was
written by the great Na. Parthasarathy.

But basically DMK projected all Brahmins as anti Tamil. Thus they
got the support of the Saiva Siddhanta Sannidhanams and the other
castes who worshipped Shiva and the village deities. They
supported and continue to support the Dravidian parties mainly
because of the Brahmin's refusal to accept their religion as
Hinduism. Thus we find that anything about Hinduism in Tamil Nadu
is restricted to Brahmins.

The Brahmins also helped their cause by propagating the Aryan
Myth. This enabled the DMK to project everyone other than the
Brahmins as Dravidian. The Brahmins of South India were called
Dravida Brahmins in the Puranas. Even today the surname of Dravid
is that of a Brahmin. Caldwell chose this term from the Puranas.
Lokamanya Bala Gangadhara Tilak was one of the exponents of the
Aryan theory. Though Phule tried to use this in his anti Brahmin
movement, he was not successful because of lack of support from
the Mahrattas with whom the Brahmins had good relationship.

The Tamil Brahmins had a lot of influence in the press owning
most of the major newspapers. But unfortunately they have allowed
the Aryan/Dravidian myth to continue. One of the reasons could be
that many of them believe in it.

If we want live in peace in Tamil Nadu the racially charged Aryan
myth has to be exploded. We are all Dravidians. Yes. That is what
the Puranas say.

Tamil Brahmins and the then prevalent social and economic

We have very little factual information about the status of the
Tamil Brahmins before the English came to India. There were
Brahmin Ministers and officials in under the Kings. There were
also landlords who had inherited lands which were in most cases
donated by the Kings. But a vast majority of them were middle
class or poor. They stayed in Agraharams and were mostly
dependent on the temples for their livelihood.

The most important thing is that they were not considered a
threat by the other castes in the pursuit of money and power.

When the East India company came as traders, the first people to
benefit were the trading community from the other castes. They
made tonnes of money as Dubashis, custom agents and middlemen.

In an agricultural society like India it is the landowners who
are the bosses. The caste based hierarchy never represented the
balance of power. In a feudal system the Kings rule. They appoint
people to look after their interests. They were called by many
names. In most cases these people were also responsible for
collection of revenue.

Though there were some Brahmin land lords, they were very few. In
the village it is the landlords who were/are the real power. They
got the farming done by labourers who were from all castes. The
services were provided by iron smiths, carpenters and others.

But in the day to day life of the people the Brahmin was not
involved. All of them accepted that the Brahmins were the final
authority in respect of religion. But even in the day to day
running of the temples, the Dharma Kartha who was mostly from one
of the land owning castes decided all issues.

The Rishis/Seers never envisaged Brahmins as a ruling class. That
was left to Kshatriyas. Trading was left to Vysyas. Only in
respect of religion Brahmins were supreme. If the Brahmins wanted
to rule India they could have had the caste system with the
Brahmins as rulers. The fact that they did not do it shows that
they were not interested in power.

I do not understand why this basic fact has not been highlighted
by any of the Brahmin scholars.

Conditions in Tamil Nadu and Migrations

Again there are many who believe that everything was honey and
milk in Tamil Nadu before the advent of the British. An ideal
society. I only wish it were true.

But history reveals otherwise. I had done some research about the
migration of Tamil Brahmins to other states. But it is very
difficult if not impossible to obtain information about the state
of affairs in Tamil Nadu before the British. Especially with
regard to Tamil Brahmins.

There is historical evidence of migration of Tamil Brahmins from
Tanjore district to Palghat. The Palghat king had fallen foul of
the local Malayali Brahmins. He invited the Tamil Brahmins from
Tamil Nadu and gave them lot of land. I was able to trace some
families back to Raja Mannargudi.

But the question is why did they leave Mannargudi? Palghat is not
a neighbouring town. We could find some plausible reasons for the
Tamil Brahmins from Thirunelveli and Ramnad district going to
Travancore. These two districts are drought prone and Travancore
was part of the then Pandi Nadu. It is also not very far.

But from Mannargudi to Palghat. Mannargudi is fertile land of the
Cauveri delta. We have had a better presence there than in most
places. Then WHY? Again why from Tanjore and not from the
neighboring Kongu Nadu?

Again it was not an easy decision. Even after more than a couple
of centuries they are being called Paradeshi Brahmins. So you can
imagine their situation when they originally migrated.

And the number of people involved were not small as they had set
up a number of villages.

The only possible reason is that it was a question of survival.

About our position the very fact that no other community migrated
in India like we did speaks volumes.

Tamil Brahmins and English education. Its effect.

Some of the Tamil Brahmins had learnt Telugu earlier to please
the Telugu rulers and get employment. Have you ever wondered why
the great Carnatic musicians wrote their compositions mainly in
Telugu and Sanskrit. Because they needed patronage and wrote in
languages understood by the then rulers.

Later when the British government introduced English education in
India the Brahmins in Tamil Nadu were the first community to go
for it. Why? If the Brahmins were the dominant community like the
Malayali Brahmins, what was the necessity for education in a
foreign language? The Malayali Brahmins never went for it in a
big way. The Tamil Brahmin community was in a poor way. They were
migrating to the neighboring states like Travancore, Cochin,
Palakkad, and Mysore wherever they received any encouragement.

The Tamil Brahmins took to English education as a means of
survival. Even here the rich and the poor did not do it. The rich
did not need it and poor could not even afford this. The middle
class took it up in a big way to improve their lot.

Later when the Independence movement was launched the Tamil
Brahmin community took an active role and thus they also became
politically powerful. They took up social reforms.

They did so well that for the first time in the history of Tamil
Nadu, this community came to be looked upon with envy. There was
a lot of resentment.

As long as the Brahmins kept to their Agraharams and were
bothered only about the temple pujas, no one had any problem. We
all know the status of the Purohitas and Archakas even today in
our community. They are employees of the Yajaman. The Yajamans
who were from other castes were all happy with the Brahmins when
the Brahmins only performed Pujas for them.

The organized religion was also extremely unhappy with the spread
of English education because they were losing their hold. But
they had to be satisfied with the allegiance of the rich (who
were their patrons) and the poor who were dependent on them. But
they could not prevent the Tamil Brahmins from breaking free of
the shackles which had bound them for generations. The middle
class still paid lip service to them.

The other forward castes did not take up the English education in
a big way, because there was no necessity. They were the
landlords and traders.

Take the case of Gujarati and Rajasthani Brahmins. They are
nowhere in the picture in those states. They did not get
themselves educated and ended up as cooks in rich houses. All
Marwaris have only Brahmin cooks. They call them Maharaj. They
have Brahmin Munshis also.

Tamil Brahmins broke this mold.

Again to emphasize a point the other castes did not bother as
long as a few Brahmin landlords were there. What they found
difficult to countenance was the son of the local Brahmin priest
or cook becoming a judge.

Imagine the shock of the Dharma Karta of a temple who is also the
biggest landlord of the place, when he finds that son of the poor
priest in his temple is the local collector.

The Tamil Brahmins also were in the fore front for women's
education, rights, abolition of child marriage and in the
struggle of the deprived section of the society. It was one
Vaidyanatha Iyer who led all the castes into the Madurai temple.

By acquiring English education the Tamil Brahmins changed the
status quo. And to top it all the Brahmins did too well for the
liking of the other castes. Most of you would have heard people
saying "He does not know his place". What they mean is the place
in society. By acquiring English education we toppled the apple
cart. By joining the independence movement and being pioneers in
social reforms, we had started a social revolution.

As long as the Brahmins restricted themselves to only religion
there was no problem. A few Brahmins becoming rulers did not make
much of a difference. But when an entire Brahmin community takes
to English Education and starts competing for the secular space,
it is nothing but a revolution.

The rich and the powerful Brahmins getting English education made
no difference, but poor Brahmins, it created resentment in the
other communities.

I still vividly remember the time when I was in the committee to
interview for a peon's post. One of the candidates was a Brahmin
( not Tamil). He was employed as a junior priest in a local
temple. The custom there is that the priest only throws the
Prasadam and would not even touch you.

When asked why he wanted this job, he replied that "respect and
reverence can not fill empty stomachs."

This is the reason for our migration and taking on English

After all, ritual status alone cannot keep a particular caste in
a particular position in the caste hierarchy. A strong economic
base is equally important.

1. What percentage of Brahmins took up English education?

We say Tamil Brahmins took up English education in a big way. But
what is the percentage of Brahmins who took up this? It is true
that compared to other communities we had more people taking it
up. But because the number of schools and colleges were very
small to start with, the actual number was not very big.

Again it is not true that the majority of the Tamil Brahmins took
it up. If they had done it, the community would not facing the
situation we have today. The fact is that only a small minority
of Brahmins took up English education.

The reasons are not far to seek.

1. Traditional Brahminical religion was opposed to it. Many
traditional Brahmins refused to send their children to English
schools till later in the day.

2. Many could not afford it.

A story which was often stressed by my parents was that of Sir.
Sivaswamy Iyer who is reputed to have studied under the street
lamp. Such legends inspired the later generation of Brahmins.


3. Many of the rich were not interested. I have heard statement
"munu thalaimurakku soddhu irukku. paithiyakkaran mari ur vittu
ur poy padikkanama?"

4. Many were not intelligent enough for it.

There is pre-conceived notion that the majority of the Brahmins
were English-educated. I only wish it were true. Brahmins lagged
behind some of the other communities in sending their girls to

There were about 300 Brahmin house in our village. Out of these
in the early 1940s there were hardly 15 to 20 graduates. I would
estimate that the percentage of Brahmins who had the benefit of
English education especially in the early stages would not be
more than 10%. Could be far less.

2. What is the time period?

From my and other family annals I estimate that the English
education especially at the college level started right from
1854. We could get exact dates from college records. But it does
not matter.

But Tamil Brahmins did have education even before the British
started the colleges. India had its own schools. They did very
well there and were employed by the Kings in their service. I was
talking only about English education which helped them secure
employment under the British.

Comparison with Marathi and Bengali Brahmins.

The only Brahmin community in India which was powerful before the
advent of the British were the Chitpavan Brahmins from
Maharashtra. Though the Mahrattas were the rulers the real rulers
were the Peshvas.


The Peshvas built the Maratta empire and undoubtedly were the
most powerful Brahmins India had seen for a long time. But even
here the Chitpavan Brahmins were not prominent till Balaji
Visvanath Bhat came on the scene.

In Bengal the most educated community are not the Brahmins, but
the Kayasthas. (Bose, Ghosh).

Again the Sena Dynasty ruled Bengal through the 11th and 12th
centuries. They were Brahmins from South India. They called
themselves Brahma Kshatriyas. They reintroduced orthodox Hinduism
in Bengal. They brought the Brahmins from Kanya Kubja and South
India and gave them lands. They were one of the last Hindu kings
of Bengal. So there were many Brahmin families with large land
holdings. If you look closely you will find that Brahmins like
Raja Ram Mohan Roy were big landlords. The Brahmins had a lot of
power as Jamindars. I know many Brahmin families in Bengal who
have been rich for centuries.

Their closest competitors in the caste hierarchy in Bengal are
the Kayasthas. Kayasthas are also considered as Brahmins in some
regions. They were called Kayastha Brahmins. Other Kayastha
surnames in North India as Srivastava, Saxena. Dr. Rajendra
Prasad and Lal Bahadur Sasthri were Kayasthas.

A bit confusing, but they were always allied/identified with the
Brahmins. The Brahmins and Kayasthas form a sizable percentage of

Other than the Bengalis the Maharashtrian Brahmins went for
English education. But then they have been ruling for some
centuries with the Mahrattas. They had been working together for
generations in ruling parts of India. The Peshvas were extremely
politically savvy people. That is why in places like Indore (
Holkars), Gwalior (Scindias) they chose local Maratta chieftains
to be Kings and not Brahmins.

Kings in Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu did not even have a Tamil King for centuries.

After the demise of the Vijayanagar empire we did not have any
powerful Hindu Kings in South India. The Muslims had become quite
powerful. The Bahmini Sultans, Sultans of Bijapur and Golkonda,
Nawabs of Carnatic became powerful.

Thirumalai Naik was the last powerful King in Tamil Nadu. The
Mahrattas ruled Tanjore for a long time. These two dynasties did
patronize the Brahmins.

In the absence of powerful and rich Hindu Kings, temples came to
be neglected. The Kings provided patronage when they had the time
and the money. But most of the Kings were fighting for survival.
They had a tough time even paying the soldiers.

The relationship between the Kings and the Brahmins is a strange
one to say the least. In the Mahabharata when Arjuna and gang
went to Drowpathi's Swayamvara dressed as Brahmins, were they
accepted as equal or treated with reverence and respect?

How did king Draupadha treat Dronacharya?

Continued in Part II
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