The myth of Brahmin supremacy!

By Razib Khan 63 Comments

It seems in this globalized world many intellectual movements deploy the same abstractions. For example, the terms “Brahmin privilege” and “Brahmin supremacy” are clearly constructed as perfect analogs to “white privilege” and “white supremacy.” Brahmins cannot have their own independent history, but operationalize a general model of power relations predicated on the white-black dynamic in the United States that developed in the 19th-century (nevermind that Brahmins were in existence long before this).

This piece, Anti-Blackness Goes Back To Ancient Times, has this passage which I know to be promoting ideas which are false:

Other scholars, such as Harvard’s Suraj Yengde, whose research focuses on the solidarity between Dalits and blacks, say that it wasn’t just outsiders — India gave birth to the original color-based social class system that dates back to the ancient Rig Veda texts, to around 1200 B.C. “The Varna system literally means ‘color’ system, so it’s not surprising that Indians in America have maintained these racist dogmas,” he said. Dalits and the black American experience have strong ties because they are the most disenfranchised people in their communities. “This whole situation is having a global ripple effect. I don’t know if it will bring about much change, but people are definitely talking about it.”

Yengde adds that the caste system and skin color are very much linked. “Oftentimes, we’ll see Brahmins push ideas of colorism, racism, casteism on British and Muslim invaders,” he said. That’s why Yengde doesn’t see the inherent bias of some South Asians going away anytime soon.

Within the piece itself, the author notes that there are early Hadith that express racism against dark-skinned people, presumed to be descended from African slaves. Racial attitudes were an issue in the early Islamic period, with a Turkic scholar making the case for the value of his own people, and Arab commentaries on Indians refers somewhat negatively upon their “black” complexion. This persists down to the period of Turkic rule when prestigious “white” Muslims (often born in Central Asia) were distinguished from local “black” Muslims (often descended from converts). Modern colloquial color categories in the Gangetic plain date to this period.

As far as the British, their ideas of race, color, and caste, were shaped by the Atlantic trade and slavery, as well as contacts with Native Americans, long before the rise of the Raj. There was a history of the British Empire long before intense engagement with Indian Brahmins.

I do knot know Yengde’s work, but he seems of a type of modern scholar, taking a meta-narrative, and fitting all of history into that meta-narrative, no matter how absurd. Ultimately this is not a scholarship, but a form of polemic and propaganda.

I stand against this. I will always will.

Addendum: I should note, though there are poor Brahmins, all across India Brahmins tend to be placed nearer the top of the social scale. In a literal sense “Brahmin privilege” is real. But this phenomenon should be explored in the context of Indian history, not a meta-narrative derived from the American context.

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63 Replies to “The myth of Brahmin supremacy!”

  1. The word ” Varna” literally means color : Idk where did they get this from?
    Its like saying “Every Muslim is a Terrorist” similarly ” Brahmin supremacy is the Norm in India”.
    The ideal beauty standards in Indian society are affected Considerably by the Whiter( sahib/badshah ) rule rather than the intermingling with Brahmins( which are different than Indians than average but similar in other).
    Even if Brahmins are poor they are proud to be Brahmins.
    The British rule have degraded in some sense the Status of lower caste people so much so they call themselves ” Dalits” instead of their Tribe/Gotra/Caste. In other sense they aren’t proud of their Caste etc.

    Well other landowning groups in Villages have the same attitude towards lower caste is not very different from a Village Brahmin.

    1. The British rule have degraded in some sense the Status of lower caste people so much so they call themselves ” Dalits” instead of their Tribe/Gotra/Caste. In other sense they aren’t proud of their Caste etc.

      But it’s not like Dalits got much respect in India when they used their caste names? Words like Chamaar have been used as pejoratives in our society forever.

  2. Within India itself the phrase ‘Brahmin oppression’ is rather reductive because data shows that most of the violence against Dalits is carried out by other castes. Many of the news reports carry descriptions of attacks on Dalits by Bhumihars in Bihar, Gujjars in Rajasthan, Jats and Rajputs in Haryana, Vanniyars in Tamil Nadu, and non-dalit peasant farmer castes throughout India. There are even cases of Muslims occasionally harassing Dalits. This information is out there and yet many authors in academia keep making statements about oppression being specifically from Brahmins while this is empirically not the case.

    The reason caste is so difficult to subdue in India from a policy-making perspective is because while many castes want the benefit of those castes above them, they want to prevent the castes below them from getting the same benefits.

    For example, most of the caste-based social justice aka family parties throughout India call for equality, socialism and secularism. This only applies so that their own caste grouping gets the benefits at local and state levels, whereas their relationship with other caste leaders is limited for the purpose of votes. Someone like Mulayam Singh or Lalu Yadav wouldn’t raise opprobrium if their sons find Brahmin wives, but you can bet they’ll cause a fuss if their daughters get Dalit fiancees. So even backward caste leaders discriminate notwithstanding their calls for equality.

    1. Data shows that most of the violence against Dalits is carried out by other castes
      […]
      This information is out there and yet many authors in academia keep making statements about oppression being specifically from Brahmins while this is empirically not the case.

      The reasoning is the same as in the West re: Whites. Brahmins are indirectly responsible for all this violence because they created and maintain the system at the top. All others are just responding to its incentives.

      It’s nonsense, of course, but this is how they square the circle.

  3. Can i just say i am happy that Juggernaut is aggressively trying to corner the “woke” desi space. I mean if we are going to be woke and monetize woke guilt y let NYT and Post profit from it , rather than have have our own folks Juggernaut get the Benjamins.

    Also how soon can we expect Priyamavada Gopal write for Juggernaut? I mean she is the resident desi woke expert, must be editor at large at Juggernaut.

    Also has anyone noticed the reason y there are more woke folks from certain regions of India.

  4. While i agree with the core argument Razib is making i would like to add the following.
    Some Sanskrit scholars (often of the RW persuation) argue that base of word Varna is वृणोति (vṛṇoti, “to choose, select”), from profession or choosing. So directly comparing with colorism is incorrect in my view
    Brahmin privilege exists especially in a way where Brahmins 5-6 generations below were quickly able to educate themselves in the British system of education. There must be Brahmin families in Pune whose Great-Great Grandparents were more educated than most other castes. But i must add Brahmins do not control large swathes of land or industries disproportionately more than other Well off castes.
    What many Dalit actitives complain often is Urban Brahmins often are in Denial of Caste and Rural Brahmins still believe in the Varna Hierarchy – this complain is often not without reason.

    Though its imperative to point out that in some places – Brahmins also tend to be targeted in Anti Brahmin politics. This targeting no way comparable to Atrocities faced by less privileged but these exist nonetheless – Similar to the attacks whites tend to face from liberals

  5. @Razib
    I must say: You are a good person. Very few follow or adhere to any kind of principles, but you seem to.

  6. By and large, the jAti-s that took to British education first became the most successful. Brahmin jAti-s are over-represented among them, but so are Kayasthas, Khatris and other castes in various parts of India (Tamizh Nadu is exceptional in this respect, and that explains a lot of the Dravidian movement). Conversely, there are Brahmin jAti-s who did not do so, and are not among the most successful.

    Caste discrimination of course had much causal impact on who got to take to British education first, but those who focus only on the discrimination part and not the historical trajectory, or single out Brahmins from other privileged savarNa groups because it is easier to whip up hatred against a soft and concrete target, are preventing clarity and hence delaying the remedy; such people cause incalculable harm to the Dalits, in addition to poisoning the society.

  7. By and large, the jAti-s that took to British education first became the most successful. Brahmin jAti-s are over-represented among them, but so are Kayasthas, Khatris and other castes in various parts of India (Tamizh Nadu is exceptional in this respect, and that explains a lot of the Dravidian movement). Conversely, there are Brahmin jAti-s who did not do so, and are not among the most successful.

    Caste discrimination of course had much causal impact on who got to take to British education first, but those who focus only on the discrimination part and not the historical trajectory, or single out Brahmins from other privileged savarNa groups because it is easier to whip up hatred against a soft and concrete target, are preventing clarity and hence delaying the remedy; such people cause incalculable harm to the Dalits, in addition to poisoning the society.

  8. https://youtu.be/9Om4vGgCAIA

    Modi and a beer

    I think I found the perfect video encapsulating everything we discussed on the last few days. Caste, Dravidian, hindutva, Muslim, Tam-Brahms, arriange/love marriage , community pride and finally woke-ness

  9. FWIW, a few of the Marathi leftist and Bahujan activists I follow on twitter seem to hold Yengde in contempt if not straight up mock him, not least for some of the reasons you articulate.

  10. Razib have you tested some other comment systems. The current one is simple but if possible it could do with more features for linking, taking quotes, formating and esp. parent-child comment hierarchies which are easier to follow.

    Stumbled upon this Remark42 Maybe something you can test on 1-2 posts to see how things go or maybe another system.

  11. I guess Varna comes from Vrun which means to work or to choose. I may be wrong.
    My old 500 line comment has mysteriously stuck in moderation.

    1. There is one other meaning of varna that’s in context of devnagri alphabets -Svara Varna and Vyanjan Varna.

  12. Related, why does Suraj Yengde have that awful afro? Is he physically appropriating black culture and identity just like in his work?

  13. Related, why does Suraj Yengde have that awful afro? Is he physically appropriating black culture and identity just like in his work?

  14. In India, English speaking Dalit writers and intellectuals are held at arms length by Dalit political parties. They speak inconvenient truths which run counter to the facilitation of political mobilization. Very few ideologues survive and this is not only true for Dalit politics but for any other caste politics. The various OBC parties (Samajwadi, DMK, RJD) have been remarkably intellectual-free.

    They can only flourish in sanitized environments like a university, facebook, twitter or the US where there is no political pressure to conform for a greater cause. I can bet that Suraj Yengde will have a good run in the US.

    I wish him good luck and wisdom to stay away from Dalit politics. If he ever joins them (which in my opinion are the real change-makers), he will find that the Dalit cause requires practicality more than rigid positions.

  15. “The Varna system literally means ‘color’ system”
    — ROFL.

    Q: Why is the arrangement of alphabets called Varna mala (mala – garland)?
    Suraj: Because Brahmins were so racist that they saw color even in the alphabets! 😀

    Q: Why is describing something called “Varnan”?
    S: Because the only reasons Brahmins want to describe humans is to impose a color hierarchy on people. 😀

    James Lindsey has an exemplary description of the core principles behind these grievance studies. After seeing several “scholars” making such absolute bullshit statements, I am convinced that they are fully aware of what they are doing. They are willfully complicit in peddling nonsense because it helps them in their career.

  16. In India”s reform movements, the Dalits did not end up benefiting as much as the so called ‘OBC’s’ – not in any land reform, not so much in education and not so much in jobs and promotions. This extreme dilution of the reservation system and it’s intent of upliftment of Dalits was at the expense of the both extremes of the caste system by the middle. The Brahmins of course coped well enough by mostly migrating and emigrating. The Dalits still suffer. We need to do better. It’s an imperative. Let this handsome young man speak his thoughts and search for the right words and expressions on his journey to seek justice.

    1. “In India”s reform movements, the Dalits did not end up benefiting as much as the so called ‘OBC’s’ – not in any land reform, not so much in education and not so much in jobs and promotions.” —> Care to elaborate a little ? How did OBCs (who, btw, are an extremely heterogenous group of jaatis where in some cases a dalit jati in one state can be OBC in other state) benefit much from the reforms especially in education and jobs when reservation for OBCs came too late and is too little ? One should remember that unlike SCs and STs who have reservation in govt. job promotions and reservations in lesgislative assemblies and parliament in proportion to their ‘population’ , there are no such reservations for the backwards. For god’s sake,SCs & STs now have to pay zero tuition fees(other fees still apply though) in most of the government colleges these days. They receive additional scholarships on that.
      And do remember that the ‘benefits’ are not uniformly distributed across all the dalit jaatis with some jaatis being more well-off than other. An example here is the case of nav-Bauddhas in Maharashtra(most of whom are mahar-converts) who have better literacy rate, better female literacy rare, lower TFR than the rest of marathi population.

      “This extreme dilution of the reservation system” —> What do you mean by this ?

  17. “After seeing several “scholars” making such absolute bullshit statements, I am convinced that they are fully aware of what they are doing.”

    Unfortunately, I have to agree. Sadly, Dr. Yengde’s work is going to hinder Dalit uplifting. I give him a pass on a personal level, as I don’t know what he has gone through (watched an interview with him and a Brahmin from HAF where he said he feels inferior just sitting next a Brahmin). I don’t give him a pass on professional level and his wrongly held ideas will need to be destroyed. You can bet on a lot of support to him from the subcontinent, notwithstanding the few sane voices on the Maharashtrian left.

  18. In an objective sense ‘brahmin supremacy’ is a myth. OTOH, that is not how myths work. Myths are taken as True and nothing but True by myth holders. But the valence of a myth is another matter.
    In earlier centuries Hindus believed in the myth of brahmin supremacy and thought it was a good thing
    Nowadays , myth of brahmin supremacy is taken as bad by many mythholders (like Dravidian movement)

  19. Like a previous commenter pointed out, Brahmin privilege is directly correlated to the early adoption of English education by Brahmin communities especially in TN and Bengal which correlates well to these regions being the first to come under British control in the subcontinent. In contrast, Brahmin communities in MH and the Hindi heartland seem to have been slower in this, which explains why they’re relatively insular.

    I suspect (and others more knwledgeable than me may confirm or deny) that ritual privilege aside, Brahmins were quite marginal in pre-British society except in cases where they held power like the Peshwas. Since they controlled the means of writing and knowledge production, Brahmins play up their centrality to Indian society in pre-modern times, but I could be wrong. They were certainly not the most wealthy or mercantile, hence the provilege was quite narrow the way I look at it.

    However there is still a section of Brahmin society that secretly holds ideas of supremacy, I’m sure the Brahmins among us would know of the odd older relative who would openly say such things. This, rather than the overrepresentation in the elite occupations is probably why the idea of Brahmin privilege is quite prevalent since other successful (or more successful) groups like Jains or Parsis don’t get called out on this.

    Also, what explains the high number of social reformist types (Ambedkar, Phule, Yengde) from MH? Seems that Marathi Brahmins are particularly resented in their society rather than in TN or Bengal where one would most expect it

    1. Siddharth, Very well said
      Couldnt agree more.

      On the calling out of brahmins in MH – I would guess even the Bahujan community of MH has more faculty and power in politics. Brahmins have traditionally not held largelands in MH and hence dont yield political power as Brahmins in say UP or Kolkatta do (i may be entirely wrong here). But lot of Anti brahmin sentiment seems to be a function of certain section of “progressive” politics – be it NCP or Bahujan parties. But i would say that sentiment isnt as strong as some other “Anti” sentiments – its mostly only reserved for calling out BJP/RSS and more often leaders like Devendra Fadanvis

    2. I agree with your larger point about the privilege being narrow.

      “I suspect (and others more knwledgeable than me may confirm or deny) that ritual privilege aside, Brahmins were quite marginal in pre-British society except in cases where they held power like the Peshwas.”

      Seems true to some extent but I think the reason why some Brahmin communities were able to take to English education first was itself complicated and sometimes based on the power they had pre-British.

      For example, in TN, I think pre-British a lot of Iyers were landlords in villages. When opportunities arose in the urban areas, some of them were in a better position to go to the city (leave family in village to take care of land) and then eventually everyone moves and sells the land.

      Not sure how much truth it has, but I’ve also read that other landlord groups often stayed in the villages because they had more of a special connection with the land whereas Brahmins like Iyers did not.

    3. Quote/Brahmin communities in MH and the Hindi heartland seem to have been slower in this, which explains why they’re relatively insular/
      Not sure about that. They not only took to education but they were on all sides of debate from early on. Justice Ranade was for reform, Gokhale was moderate, Tilak was radical. Same is case for founder members of RSS.

      Quote /Brahmins have traditionally not held largelands in MH/
      Also not true. They were large land holders but land reforms took it away.

      Quote /Also, what explains the high number of social reformist types (Ambedkar, Phule, Yengde) from MH?/
      British jobs and christian missionaries.

      I always thought anti brahmin sentiment was strongest in TN, the homeland of calling everything they dont like brahminic. For MH, the society is roughly brahmins, sudra, dalit like anywhere in south. And that explains the similarity with TN
      Other than that, the majority of OBC did consolidate into one large group under maratha caste (in 19th century) making them most dominant demographically. Now there exist 3 labels peshwa, dalit and maratha. The latter two use peshwa as punching bag even when aiming at other. Since it is much easier than calling the dominant group which leads to direct confrontation.

      Quote /On OBC on dalit crimes, of course when Brahmins no longer come in contact with dalits in their day 2 day functions, and its dalits and OBCs who rub against each other , its understandable they are the ones to do with the conflict./
      If they are over represented in civil services and clerical jobs they will come in contact with dalits as a rule. At least in south (maybe also in north) OBC and dalit cannot go about their day without bumping onto each other but they could without meeting the third. So at some point everyone will have to agree that there exist problem between the two even without contribution from skygod or their representatives.

      1. iamVY, on the differences between anti-brahminism in TN vs MH, like others have mentioned, the social order that evolved under the peshwas represented real temporal power for them. Quite a few “maratha” princely states in the deccan in the colonial period had konkanastha brahmin rajas such as the patwardhans. There’s been the idea that brahmins collaborated with the british at the expense of others, and that in the early colonial period shrewdly appropriated land from the gentry by forgery or litigation to become deshmukhs/desais. On the religious front, many of MHs most iconic temples are officiated by non-brahmins, and hence the folk religion is quite robust. The sense of resentment towards brahmins was not a completely subaltern affair, even the kolhapur maharaja was quite the patron of the non-brahmin movement, an active poltical party in the bombay presidency during the first constituent assemblies.
        TN people, at the risk of crudely stereotyping, seem to have this intensely devotional streak. The 20th century saw them elevate their language to an object of worship. If brahmins play that game, then they seem to be accepted and their lineage not interrogated much further. In MH, there is a mistrust of brahmins qua brahmins.

        1. Makes sense. Having temporal power at height of Maratha imperialism does set it apart from TN. And that also brings the inherent contradiction. You cant disown them completely since they are integral to the imperial days but at same time you want to keep their role to minimum. Some of that spills over in the anti brahmin feeling.

          Quote /The sense of resentment towards brahmins was not a completely subaltern affair, even the kolhapur maharaja was quite the patron of the non-brahmin movement/
          Thats true. Shahu (and Shivaji) were mostly on right side of history and most people do acknowledge that!

      2. Most of these dynamics of Shudra vs Brahmin is also a Peninsular India thing. AKA the less Hindu regions. In Gangetic belt and surround areas , Brahmins dont lag behind other castes either in term of land , resource or violence infliction.

        1. Could be right. Difference between peninsular brahmins and north indian ones is huge in every way from attitude to genetics.
          In which case UC (north) = brahmins (south)
          but OBC(north) !=OBC (south)
          Many a times this gets lost in translation …

          1. yeah i feel the Peninsula brahmins are cowed down bunch. That’s y this sort of de-racinated folks similar 2 Kashmiri Pandits, who try to make do with loss of power with being more ritualistic and traditional.

        2. “In Gangetic belt and surround areas , Brahmins dont lag behind other castes either in term of land , resource or violence infliction.”

          Not sure that’s correct. Brahmins are definitely behind Thakurs, Jats, and Bhumiars as far as land and violence infliction is concerned. They might have resource parity, though, due to institutional over-representation and ritual status.

          Gangetic Brahmins lag way behind Kashmiri, Bengali, and peninsular Brahmins in terms of modern day intellectual contributions. And even score lower on a per capita basis on that front than other northern communities like Khatris, Kayasthas, Jains. Even baniyas.

        3. Agreed that most of these dynamics of Shudra vs Brahmin is also a Peninsular India thing. AKA the region with Hindus who haven’t been broken.

  20. First thing to note:

    Varna can mean colour, but not in the way we understand colour. Look at ancient literature, from wine-grey skies, to candida (shining white) and albus (colour white), and even Russian (two word for blue based on lighting)

    Second,

    It is completely unscientific, since we know Brahmins are heterogenous. They may have elevated levels of West Eurasian ancestry in comparison to neighbouring groups, but do not share one common West Eurasian lineage to them all.

    There is a Brahminical hegemony that exists in India in terms of prestige, but the western construct of privilege does not apply

  21. While i get what progressives like Yengde are trying to do with calling out Brahmanism( essentially a sophisticated hit at UC Hinduism, Brahmin-ism is just the name), lets not move totally in a different direction and portray Brahmins are some sort of power less community in India.

    They were neither marginal in pre British India nor are they today. Among all castes they still hold the highest social capital in India, and yes its just not to do with money, so comparisons with baniyas and Jains are meaningless (forget the parsis), since they don’t hold political power. There still have over representation in civil services, legislative services etc as well. On OBC on dalit crimes, of course when Brahmins no longer come in contact with dalits in their day 2 day functions, and its dalits and OBCs who rub against each other , its understandable they are the ones to do with the conflict. On Marathi Brahmins resentment there are historical reasons for it , which doesn’t justify, but gives u perspective.

    So lets have some perspective, and not swing one way wildly.

    1. What are the historical reasons that Marathi brahmins are so despised by lower castes?

      1. Briefly

        1) Peshwas usurping Chatrapati’s power, and especially Peshwas’s role during Anglo times when they were sort of open conflict with Chatrapati
        2) Phule, Ambedkar;s dalit assertion which Marathas co-opted
        3) Closer to Independence, Savarkar and Godse.

        1. Weren’t brahmins a pretty important part of the Maratha empire? Like wasn’t one of their best generals a brahmin (Baji Rao)? Also, aren’t Marathas a pretty high caste?

          1. Success leads to envy (on Marathas part) and delusion (on brahmins part ). Marathas are OBCs.

          2. Marathas were claiming high caste when it had benefits. Now they are firmly OBC since the rules of game have changed.

          3. That’s history of most of the dominant castes in India. In Tamil Nadu apart from Brahmins, the whole population has declared themselves backwards, constitutionally.

        2. Saurav
          Brahmins are in no way marginalized in MH.
          They hold substantial public sway and important non government positions.
          There are lot of Brahmin entrepreneurs too.

          But that doesn’t mean they’re not mildly marginalized in the political discourse owing to being Brahmin.
          Unlike the Patidar agitation where BJP GJ didnt cave in, BJP MH had to cave in to Maratha agitation – especially as it has a Brahmin CM.

          Additionally
          There is a really pernicious campaign by some allied by political parties aligned to the left to paint a very Anti Brahmin picture of the history which is a gross exaggeration of some truth.

          EG: Jitendra Avhad the NCP MLA from Mumbra and his ilk are often found propagating the conspiracy theory that Shambhaji Maharaj was tortured and murdered as a conspiracy of Brahmins as per the rules of Manusmriti.
          This not only solves the problem of complicated history with Aurangzeb and by extension muslims and also paints Brahmins are conspirators in killing of the Chattrapati

          And wrt to the comments about MH/TN being Brahmins + OBC + Dalits – I wonder where are all the Kshatriyas ?
          or are the Maratha community as fusion of old Kshatriyas and Bahujans ?

          1. “Brahmins are in no way marginalized in MH.
            They hold substantial public sway and important non government positions.”

            Thats’ y i said to swing the other way of Brahmins being this deprived folks is wrong. Social capital is much more than just economic power. And y just marathi Brahmins, Tam brahms themselves have done well exceptionally in non poltical role in Tamil Nadu and wider India.

            On BJP caving in to Marathas is still a complex thing, since BJP wanted their support as well (unlike GJ-patels, since patels already vote BJP, Marathas don’t), and it was just not pressure from one side. Both the NCP and Congress had in a way pushed for the quota but faced legal setbacks. The lack of legit Kshatriyas is Deccan thing. The Brahmins were imported from N-India precisely to legitimize whichever Bahujan caste were in power. Same thing happened with Marathas as well.

  22. Within india, I don’t see anyone taking the transposition of white to brahmin supremacy angle seriously. With some notable exceptions, they aren’t seen as the ones holding the whip. The more accurate mapping might be to jews and conspiracies about an influential cabal . Even so, many also charge marwaris/baniyas similarly.
    I’m sure there are regional flavours, and this may not make sense everywhere, but in the south the agrahara is analogous to the eastern eurpoean shtetl.

  23. “I suspect (and others more knwledgeable than me may confirm or deny) that ritual privilege aside, Brahmins were quite marginal in pre-British society except in cases where they held power like the Peshwas.”

    ritual privilege can easily be translated into power and wealth. this is true of all clerical classes.

    1. My theory is that the shaman and the chief work together. The shaman gives the chief authority to rule (from god) and in return the chief places the shaman in an exalted position which gives the shaman financial and privilege benefits he wouldn’t have on his own.

      The same thing plays out with the church and the ruling class in medieval Europe. You see it in brahmin/kshatriya relationships. The brahmin will not be the ruler but rather the beneficiary of ordaining the king as the legitimate ruler.

      I suspect the same pattern plays out in many cultures.

  24. it’s not a theory. it’s pretty straightfwd.

    buddhism has the same thing as western european with clerical caste accumulating lands, etc.

    islam has been slightly different, though shia have it too

    1. “islam has been slightly different, though shia have it too”

      to give credit where it is due, sunni islam has been admirably successful in keeping its godmen to their station.

      in contrast, heterodox shia islam sects like dawoodi bohra and ismalis shias have raised their leaders to aristocratic richness and opulence ( think agha khan).

    2. buddhism has the same thing as western european with clerical caste accumulating lands, etc.

      Not true of Kandyan Kingdom* before its capture by the English. All land belonged to the king and distributed as he wished. The title holders/feudal Lords, special temples got large tracts. Like everyone else, the clerical class were mainly farmers and occasionally did some clerical work.
      Can still tell from there their ge (pronounced gay) names or surnames often with a village town suffix. eg Galle Liyanage Liyana=writing ge=house or of.

      Most villagers laid low, like brer rabbit and said nuffin. So often, no change in their lands and considered almost hereditary. One reason the average villager did not carry arms for any of the never ending wars among rival contenders to the throne. If one sided the looser, then one lost all lands, maybe even wife and children banished to outcaste (Rodiya) communities.
      So, kings had to hire mercenaries (velakkara), mainly South Indian to fight their wars. Obviously some/many married into villages and fresh mercenaries had to be found.

      *Really dont know much of how average citizens lived , pre 1500’s (Portuguese invasion of coasts)

  25. Also its not strictly true that Brahmins themselves did not rule. The Shaman too became chief many a times.

    1. What are some examples of Brahmin kings? I know about Pushymitra who brought down the anti-Hindu Mauryan empire and Porus who stopped Alexander but who else?

        1. @Saurav, your wikipedia link for brahmin dynasty also includes Gupta empire at entry no 14. The origin of gupta kings is heavily contested and most agree that they were not brahmanas afaik.

          Satvahanas origins are also greatly contested.

          1. yes.
            Guptas are called Sudra Rulers or Vaishya rulers by many.
            The case against Satavahanas as Brahmins is also very weak –
            With the Vakatakas the evidence of them being Brahmins is much stronger-
            With Sungas and some other there seems to be no doubt of their Brahmin origins

  26. @Mohan
    “You see it in brahmin/kshatriya relationships. The brahmin will not be the ruler but rather the beneficiary of ordaining the king as the legitimate ruler”

    In Gujarat, 120-150 types of Brahman groups. Each time a new ruler would come with their own brahmin groups. New ruler would stick to previous falsified ancestry of previous ruler. So rest of groups would become peasants with fake prestige.

  27. I would urge scholars like Suraj Yendge to include tribal groups with dalit groups if they don’t want to bias in real sense (majority of tribals don’t know the beneficiary of the education system exist for them).
    I can understand where they coming from. Their struggle is real in rural areas(but still have their own leaders in area’s like mine). Urban areas have their own prejudice based on fake status of western culture (English importance, festival like Halloween).

    Razib have you read “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.” Its exact same situation for rural brahmin or anybody who didn’t mobilize during British times. Empty gestures have remained in their thinking.

    Brahmins have become poster child/scapegoat in name of religion/caste system.
    Historians better put are ancestors name on each and everything that exists.

  28. I have noticed that recent indie movies/shows based in UP often cast actors from NW communities as Brahmins and actual UP Brahmins as Dalits.

    Mukkabaaz – Jimmy Shergill plays a Brahmin and Ravi Kishen (Shukla) plays a Dalit
    Inside Edge – Amit Sial (Jat) plays a Brahmin and Siddhant Chaturvedi plays a dhobi
    Article 15 – Ayushmaan Khurana plays a Brahmin and Kumud Mishra plays a Jatav

    All the three have caste discrimination as important plots or subplots.

    Should be noted that Amit Sial is from Kanpur and Jimmy Shergill spent part of his childhood in Lucknow. Both get the accents bang on. So no complaints on their acting.

    Pankaj Tripathi is one of the few actors who goes the other way. A Bihari Brahmin who plays the dad in any movie based in/around Delhi. Lol.

    Btw if anyone wants a good taste of student and caste politics in UP then they should watch the movie Haasil. It’s 17 years old so production values are not great. But the writing is brilliant and Irrfan Khan gives one of his breakthrough performances.

  29. “Guptas are called Sudra Rulers or Vaishya rulers by many.
    The case against Satavahanas as Brahmins is also very weak –
    With the Vakatakas the evidence of them being Brahmins is much stronger-
    With Sungas and some other there seems to be no doubt of their Brahmin origins”

    a note of caution. i would caution readers against applying the modern caste monikers anachronistically to historical people. indian caste system is highly fluid in nature, and castes seem to be in a flux when analyzed over a sufficiently long period of time. i know it sounds kind of counter-intuitive, but eminent sociologists like MN Srinivas have noted it.

    when it comes to dynasties like the sungas, we are talking about a period 2 thousand years back in history! there is no evidence that the “brahmins” of that period are the progenitors of modern indian brahmin castes. for all that we know, in the sunga period the label of brahmin could just mean a learned person, and need not be necessarily a inherited at birth.

    even modern genetic research supports this assertiion. current prevailing opinion is that castes crystallized and became endogamous groups only after the end of gupta era. in the period before that people seem to be mixing freely.

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