Live Blogging – Brahmin Identity in Modern India

Im officially an idiot I thought the reception started at 5 and the lecture at 5.30 (I ended up there at 5.40) but I still managed to hit a few points.

Im running 10mins late; like all brown lectures it’s happening in a rather obscure part of the college (mind my gripe I’m getting old).

(1.) the slide is interesting so I’ve taken a pic of it. I’ll post it later on as 3G network is weak here.

(2.) she’s quite a chap called Pense, who argued in 1949(?) in a book that the histories of Leles, Gokhales and other Marathi brahmins mirror the National history of their own.

(3.) she’s showing what looks like a Gokhale family album. It’s showing the pictures and histories of the various members of the family. It’s showing the education and lineage of 5 generations (engineer – post office – engineer – builder). It’s interesting that we see the shift in the Male outfits circa 1940s; the men start wearing shirts and suits.

(4.) “we might see Brahmins as the ultimate form of traditional elite like the samurai or junkers.” This is in fact of some Brahmins who cling on to traditional occupation.

(5.) for those willing to accept the transition; their important social capital enables them to take advantage to proceed further in society

(6.) “Brahmin double” – which disarms criticism from castes below by identifying with it. TamBrams have done that by identifying with classical Tamil

(7.) Marathi Brahmins could not do the same because Marathi non brahmin caste leaders had a strong grip/link to Marathi language leadership.

(8.) she ended on a page from

now on to questions (I got the time wrong I thought the reception preceded the lecture).

moderator asked a question

(9.) In the pre-print age writing is a fundamental material pursuit since the idea of writing “family histories” is a very labour intensive process

(10.) Maratha Brahmins had to travel much more than any other Brahmin community (TamBrams).

(11.) There are much deeper class cleavages within the Maratha Brahmin community because they are much more mobile. Deccan upland much poor and not many Mughal-type courts to provide patronage.

(12.) Early Brahmins members of the RSS were lower middle class (small town backward types founded in Nagpur). They were forced back into priestly duties after losing patronage.

(13.) her hypothesis as to why Maratha Brahmins were responsible for Hindutva is because of these class divisions.

(14.) question on poor Brahmins and state formation. Role of upper caste poor for recruitment on state structures in colonial Maharashtra. She answered with an example about Brahmin cooks (always make a living being a Brahmin cook).

(15.) Brahmins were kept out of jobs in Independent India (Maharashtra). Colonial government saw all Maratha Brahmins as seditious trouble makers hence reluctant to recruit them into police.

(16.). Question by Indian Cambridge lady academic. West & south india are the hubs of anti-Brahmins. Answer Brahmin families who don’t make the transition to new type of expertise gravitate towards Hindutva. Less successful Brahmins are the engine ..

(17.)  another question / are family genealogies exclusive to Maratha. The questionnaire looks at caste in Bengal and how does gender fit into the dynamic. Answer it’s interesting how prominent Brahmin women were in family histories. They are very much a part of the pictures and central to the family albums / genealogies

Family and caste. Family connections and self-presentations were crucial for large (and nuclearish) family groups to navigate modernity. There is an assumption that there is something modern and mobile about these family genealogies.

(18.) editor of the Modern asian studied asking a question. White American Chap. (Slapstick will love this question)

why weren’t Tamil Brahmins as involved as Kashmiri Pandits in the Independence Movement?

answer her focus on TamBrams because Marathi Brahmins and TBs has to navigate with non-Brahmin groups. KP’s much less socially contested than Brahmins south of the Vindhyas.

Marathis Brahmins imbibe a lot of the Mughalo-Persian and they engage in lots of competition with Kayasths.

KP’s don’t have “major scribal rivals” not do they have major upswelling from castes below. The identification of the caste identity with the national identity is absolutely there and much less problematic.

15 thoughts on “Live Blogging – Brahmin Identity in Modern India”

  1. “why weren’t Tamil Brahmins as involved as Kashmiri Pandits in the Independence Movement?”


    ” Question by Indian Cambridge lady academic.West & south india are the hubs of anti-Brahmins”

    By any chance does the lady academic herself is from West,South India and a brahmin? 😛

    1. No idea – she was an important professor though.

      Cambridge is probably one of the most significant hubs for South asian studies in the world. Oxford is more into Islamic studies and Orientalism.

  2. At a few places this post speaks of “Maratha Brahmins” which is an oxymoron. You cannot be both Maratha and Brahmin – which are two different non-overlapping castes/communities. You probably mean Marathi Brahmin.

    1. I’ve bugged him about this before in a previous thread. Let’s give him the benefit of the typo 😉

      1. Ugh. I just realized that the poster for this talk (photo in the previous thread) has a photo on it captioned “Group of Maratha Brahman men from central India.”

        Did Prof. Hanlon herself refer to “Maratha Brahmins”? If so, that’s a big red flag.

        1. Marathas as a demonym for all Marathi speakers is a bit of an archaic usage but still works somewhat.

        2. And even more so if the ethnic group was originally from konkan and not upland deccan . The archaism maratha brahmin was largely applied to deshastas.

        1. I suggest to open new Open Thread as soon as the previous get out from the Recent Posts list.

  3. Thanks for transcribing this Zach. Grew up around lots of Leles and Gokhales on the Konkan coast :).

  4. I think the lecture – as reported by zach – quite superficial

    \we might see Brahmins as the ultimate form of traditional elite like the samurai or junkers.” This is in fact of some Brahmins who cling on to traditional occupation.\

    Samurai or Junker is a combination of land owning classes plus strong military ethos. Many brahmins were poor in Tamilnadu , even though there were some landowning brahmins too- Military ethos of brahmins ? hahahhahhaha. Clinging to traditional occupations means nothing as that that is characterisric of pre-modern societies anywhere.

    \West & south india are the hubs of anti-Brahmins\

    Don’t know the extent of anti-brahminism in western India. In southern India , outside Tamilnadu it was just a scramble for modern jobs and occupations that caused caste friction . In Tamilnadu, it assumed a peculiar racist tone , notwithstanding the fact that racial division is bogus, The lecturer did not take a granular approach to anti-brahmin movements.

    \why weren’t Tamil Brahmins as involved as Kashmiri Pandits in the Independence Movement?\

    Don’t know how the lecturer got these idiotic impressions. The TN brahmins were heavily involved in the Independence movement , in Congress Party or ‘extremist ‘ elements or journalist or poets. Subramania Bharathi – possbly the greatest 20th century Tamil poet was an Iyer The Congress presidents of 1890,1920,1926 were Tamil brahmins – incidentally they were Iyengars to which yours truly belongs.

    \“Brahmin double” – which disarms criticism from castes below by identifying with it. TamBrams have done that by identifying with classical Tamil\

    Again misinformed. IN fact these two have co-existed i.e. brahmin dedication to Classical Tamil and anti-brahmin movement with racial overtones.

    Not an enlightening or incisive marshaling of facts or analysis.

  5. equating all south indian brahmins with tambrams is at times irritating. kannada and telagu brahmins have had fair successes in their domains and had reasonably harmonious relationships with others.

  6. I think from bajirao mastani people have gotten a very wrong impression of brahmin.

    Maratha brahmins (deshastha) developed military and political instict by initially serving for Nizam and Adil shah and later shivaji.

    chitpavan/kokanastha brahmins(initially from narrow strip of konkan coast in west india) were largely small farmers and priests upto late 17th century. They tried their fortune in maratha administration and military during peshwa rule. Marathi brahmins rise in indian history is remarkable but calling them some elites would be taking it too far.

    Were they self-reliable and frugal unlike other nobility – yes
    Could they be trained to make a good soldier – yes

    but, military/political acumen – No Sadly I would have to disagree here.


    This clip from a film gives a rather realistic portryal of common south indian brahmins (atleast konkanastha) in old times.

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