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Countering Anti-Brahminism - II

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You will be surprised to know that the first political agitation
against the appointment of Tamil Brahmins as high officials took
place in 1888. Not in Tamil Nadu.

The Tamil kingdoms of Chera, Chola and Pandya were not able to
make the impact like the other dynasties of South India like the
Satavahanas and Kakatiyas because of incessant infighting. They
rarely fought as a united Tamil kingdom.

There are basic cultural and historical differences between
Pandya Nadu and Chola Nadu. Same could be said about the Tamil
Brahmins of Chola Nadu and Pandya Nadu. These differences have
narrowed down over a period of time and are not so prominent now
as it was earlier. But to get a historical perception we have to
take these two separately.

This kind of division among Brahmins or any other community is
very common. It is mostly based on geographical location. In
Tamil Nadu to take an example Vellala community is called by
different names depending on the region. Gounders in Kongu Nadu
to Saiva Vellala Pillai in Nanchil Nadu.

In Bengal we have the East Bengalis, and the West Bengalis. In
Maharashtra we have the Konknastha and Desastha Brahmins.

The occupation of the community is basically dictated by local
conditions. The conditions in the Cauveri delta with rich
agricultural land is not the same as in Madurai or Thirunelveli
because neither Vaigai nor Thamraparani are perennial rivers. In
Nanchil Nadu it is basically tank irrigation. Then you have
Ramnad district where water is a scarce commodity. In fact it
will not be strictly accurate to club these districts together,
but for our purposes it is sufficient.

Now first the question is whether all the Brahmins in Tamil Nadu
have a common origin? It is difficult to say and there is no
evidence or collective memory of a common origin. It is possible
that some of the Brahmins from Pandia Nadu migrated from the
Cauveri delta. The reasoning is the celebration of Pathinettam
Perukku by some Brahmin villages in Pandya Nadu. Since Adi
Perukku is a purely Cauveri related phenomena, this could show a
common origin. But then again a question. Why did the Brahmins of
Pandia Nadu migrate to Venad and not to Chola Nadu later?
Questions for which there are no satisfactory answers.

Again the Cholas were the last Tamil rulers. Pandiyan Kings had
lost power to the Cholas who ruled for a long time and built up a
strong state and the residents of Chola Desa benefited from that.

Now the question is so how did all this affect the Brahmins? The
Brahmins needed sponsors for carrying on their lives. The
Brahmins need Benefactors. All the communities in Tamil Nadu have
consistently for centuries supported the Brahmins in their
religious activities. They had accepted that in religious matters
the Brahmin was the most Knowledgeable. But they were not Kings.
They had their own limitations. They could not grant land and
money like the Kings. The Tamil Brahmin was not satisfied with
his economic status.

The first changes were felt in Pandya Nadu where the Brahmins
took to trade. They were also helped by the Saurashtrians in
Madurai who were weavers. Brahmins became the traders for selling
the products. Then they took to money lending. Their interaction
with the Chettiar community as employees and friends helped them
in this. With the coming of the British trade expanded and
Brahmins benefited from that. With money from trade they acquired
lands and became landlords in many places.

Again this was done by only a small minority and the majority of
the Brahmins remained poor. But now they had sponsors from their
own community who erected temples exclusively for Brahmins and
helped out the poor.

The most important point is that the Pandya Brahmins broke away
from the Brahminical profession. Veda Patashalas were not many
(though they have a large number now started by Brahmins but
supported by other communities). Their attitude towards other
communities also underwent a change. A Brahmin having an
Abrahminical Guru was not rare. Again the Pandiya Brahmins are
more oriented towards Siva and Subramanya in spite of being
Smartas. They accept the local Gods/Goddesses. Though there are a
large number of Vaishnavite Divyadesams in Pandiya Nadu, there is
no history of any conflict.

When you are in the trading or banking profession, it is not
practicable to rigidly adhere to the caste system. A customer is
a customer whatever may be his caste. This developed a more
tolerant attitude toward other castes.

In general the people in Chola Nadu were more fortunate than
their brethren in Pandya Nadu and other regions. The Cauveri
delta is fertile agricultural land and there was good
availability of water for irrigation. The last Tamil Dynasty to
rule Tamil Nadu were the Cholas and they were great Kings who did
a lot for the populace. Later on the Mahrattas ruled from
Tanjore. They encouraged the Brahmins.

All these factors made the Brahmins prosperous and also powerful.
Many of them were big land holders. Again this prosperity lead to
a development of culture. Music and fine arts flourished.
Prosperity ensured that they did not migrate to other places in
search of livelihood. (Migration to Palghat is an exception.) But
I wonder why the Tamil Brahmins from other parts of Tamil Nadu
did not migrate in large numbers to Chola Nadu.

It is claimed that the Tamil Brahmins form a larger percentage of
the population in Chola Nadu than in other regions. But no
comparative data is available.

One of the most important feature of the Chola Nadu Brahmins
was/is their strict adherence to the traditional Brahminical
norms. Even in 1960s there were many Kudumi Brahmins in St.
Xavier's college, Trichy whereas kudumi had almost disappeared
from the rest of Tamil Nadu.

When it came to English education, they were the pioneers. They
has the added advantages of nearness to Madras and Jesuit
colleges. They took to English education in bigger numbers than
the Brahmins of any other region.

As far as the Brahmins of Chola Nadu were concerned, it was a way
to improve individual social status. Most of the Brahmins even in
Chola Nadu being poor or middle class, they found in English
education a way to improve their economic status.

In a nutshell the Tamil Brahmins were pre-eminent in the society
of Chola Nadu. But I do not think they were ever the majority
community. No such claims have been made by anyone.

It is important that we understand the situation prevailing in
Chola Nadu which was totally different from the rest of the
state. Chola Nadu was an exception rather than the rule. The
Brahmins from here do not constitute a majority among the
Brahmins, though they may be have larger numbers than other
individual regions.

When a Tanjore Brahmin talks about dominance of Brahmins, the
Brahmins from Pollachi and Karaikudi are totally at a loss to

It is necessary to understand the situation prevailing in
different regions to understand how Anti-Brahminism started and
why it was more successful in some regions than others.

I have the advantage of coming from a family whose members hail
from Tanjore, Thirunelveli, Nanjil Nadu, and Palghat. Not the
present generation, but older generation. So this Tanjore versus
Thirunelveli versus Palghat talk used to come up in all family
functions (after the heavy lunch).

The finest and Glorious hour of the Tamil Brahmins and Brahmins
in general was the independence movement. Brahmins played a major
rule in it. The earliest revolutionaries were Va Ve Su Iyer,
Subramania Siva, Neelakantha Brahmachari, Shankar Krishna Iyer
and Vanchi Iyer. Vanchi Iyer who executed collector Ash was the
solitary martyr from the South.

Madame Cama in her Vande Mataram of July 1911. wrote:

When decorated slaves from Hindustan were parading the
streets of London as performers in a Royal Circus (a
ref. to King George's Coronation) and demonstrated
their subservience to the King of England, two young
and brave countrymen of ours proved by daring deed that
Hindustan is not slumbering. The shots that Vanchi
fired did help arouse a slave nation from the
century-old slumbering.
Subramania Bharathi undoubtedly the greatest Tamil Poet of modern
times was again a revolutionary.

It is a pity the the Tamil Brahmin community has forgotten these
heroes of the Freedom movement. The only web site which gives the
biography of these revolutionaries is the Tamil Nation a site of
Tamils from Ezham.


Later on The Tamil Brahmins played a big role in the independence
movement under the Indian National Congress. Prominent among them
were Satyamurthy, Rajaji, G. Subramania Iyer (founder of Hindu

The role of the Tamil Brahmins was significant when compared to
their percentage of population.

But again here like in many good and bad things, this was
restricted to a very small percentage. The majority of the
educated Tamil Brahmins preferred to serve the British

But their role in the freedom movement led to some thinking on
the part of the British government which paved the way for the
Anti-Brahmin movement later.

The Brahmins were classified as a "Priestly Class" by the early
westerners and that tab has stuck. What a difference between this
definition and the definition of "Intellectual Aristocrats"?

Let us look at the Vedic history. The great Brahmins were Rishis
like Yagnavalkya, Vashishta, Parasara and host of others. Did
they become great because they were Priests. No. We remember them
because they were great Teachers. The ritviks who conducted the
Vedic Homas are forgotten. But we remember the Seers who wrote
the Vedic hymns.

It is the primary duty of the Brahmins to educate others, impart
knowledge. The Tamil Brahmins are remembered with gratitude by
all communities not because of the mirasudars, ICS officials or
the priests. But it is because of the large number of Brahmin
teachers who taught the basics in school. They were not highly
paid. They just eeked out a living. But they were respected.

In our family circles in the past a teacher or a Professor had
more value than an official in the government.

The Tamil Brahmins should take pride that the community's members
include Bagavan Ramana Maharishi and Swami Sivananda.

Great teacher like Adi Sankara and Ramanujacharya were not
produced by the rigid system. They broke away from the system and
gave the world new ideas.

There was some discussions about Gunas and Brahmins. If only
people with Satvik Guna can be classified as Brahmins, I am
afraid we have to give up Lord Parashurama and Dronacharya among

Again "Seeking Alms" is a practice to be followed only by the
advanced spiritual seekers both in Hinduism and Buddhism. It was
a practice to be followed by only those who had given up all
their attachments.

The Brahmins constituted the Court of Justice even in the ancient

Yagnavalkya says

1. Let the monarch, free from anger or thought of gain,
in conjunction with learned brahmans, adjudicate
law-suits, according to the Dharma Sastras.

2. He shall appoint judges perfect in the Vedas and in
science, versed in the Dharma Sastras, such as speak
truth and bear themselves alike to friend and foe.

3. If the monarch, from press of other business, cannot
adjudicate, he shall appoint a brahman versed in the
whole law, [to preside] with the judges. The Brahmins
who were carrying on the tradition of the preservation
of Vedas were to be housed and taken care of by the
Yagnavalkya says

[Men] are to be honoured in the gradation following, in
respect of learning, conduct, years, family, property.
Even a Sudra, if he excel in these respects, is worthy
of honour.

The monarch shall erect in the city a mansion and shall
settle therein brahmans learned in the three Vedas, and
endow them, giving them injunction to discharge their
duties. We tend to have a narrow definition of a
Brahmin which is at variance with what is written in
the Dharma Sastras.
There is ample evidence in the Dharma Sastras and the Puranas
that the Brahmins had taken up other professions even in ancient
times. The Dharma Sastras are basically law books dealing with
religious and secular law. It is amazing to see the span of
coverage of these law books written by Brahmins.

The range of books by Brahmins

1. Artha Sastra by Kautilya

2. Mathematics by Arya Bhatta and a host of others.

3. The Nyaya texts dealing with Logic.

4. Sanskrit literature and so on.

Inheriting the tradition of the Nyayikas and Yagnavalkya, it is
no wonder the Brahmin lawyers proved to be the best.

I will expand this further later. But let us ask ourselves as

Are we not the inheritors of Chanakya, Arya Bhatta,
Dronacharya, or Lord Parasurama who defeated
Karthaviyarjuna of the Kaikeya tribe?

In fact the Brhu Brahmins were known as the fighting Brahmins.

The Tamil Brahmins were only following the tradition of their
ancestors which had been forgotten for a long time by the
Brahmins during the invasions from outside. We rediscovered the
glory and greatness of the Brahmins.

To be continued in Part III
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