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Kulinism


Kulinism Hindu social institution asserting social and religious superiority over others. Any race or community or caste or eminent family which enjoys social dignity is traditionally known to have been eager to defend its socially respectful position as well as status as a kula. This eagerness is known from the days of the Ramayana (c 2nd century BC-c 2nd century AD). Thus Kulina means belonging to a noble, good family, and according to Vachaspati Mishra, marked with the qualities of achara (ceremonial purity), vidya (learning), vinaya (discipline), pratistha (reputation for purity), tirtha-darxana (pilgrimage), nistha (piety), tapasya (ascetic meditation), avrtti (marriage among equal ranks) and dana (liberality). Such qualities were usually in the Brahmin family, though the kayasthas and Vaidyas acquiring these qualities together with wealth, education, good deeds etc were also considered to be kulinas. Marriage relations with such qualified families caused jatyutkarsa, and that might open to an individual of a particular caste the door to become kulina socially. This might have introduced the social institution of Kulinism.

Kulinism was prevalent among the Brahmins of Radha and Varenda. They are supposed to have been the descendants of the five Kanyakubja Brahmins-Ksitisha, Medhatithi, Vitaraga, Sudhanidhi and Sambhari - who are said to have been invited by king Adishura. It should be noted here that the historicity of Adisura is not beyond doubt. shashanka, the king of Gauda and Harivarman, the Varman king, are also known to have brought Sakadvipi Brahmins and Vedic Brahmins respectively. It is said that the establishment of social relations with such Brahmins resulted in the introduction of Kulinism in Bengal. The Sena king Vallalasena is also credited to have introduced Kulinism in Bengal though there are no Sena records, literary and epigraphic, to support this claim. The Bangaon copperplate of Vigrahapala III points to his officer Ghantisa's ancestral connection with the Kolancha (Kanyakubja) Brahmin Kachchha through his great great-grandmother. Thus Kulinism is traced during the Pala rule.

Brahmanas, belonging to various gotras, pravaras and branches of Vedic school and performing shrauta rites, had settled in large number all over Bengal by the 6th and 7th centuries AD. Their number constantly increased by fresh immigrants from northern India for which there is abundant epigraphic evidence. A large number of inscriptions from the 8th to the 12th century AD refer to the settlement in Bengal of Brahmanas hailing from Lata (Gujarat), Madhyadesha and such individual localities as Krodanchi or Krodanja (Kolancha), Tarkari (in Shravasti), Muktavastu, Hastipada, Matsya-Vasa, Kuntira and Chandavara. In course of time the Brahmanas in Bengal were divided into various branches such as Radhiya, Varendra, Vaidika and Shakadvipi.

The Kulaji texts or the genealogical books of the ghatakas (matchmakers) of Bengal, which refer to this importation of Brahmanas, form a class of literature by themselves. These are variously called Kulaxastras, Kulagranthas or Kulapanjikas. Though this literature is considered to be a separate xastra, scholars have generally expressed grave doubts as to its antiquity and authenticity as sources of sober history. Most of the Kulaxastras, however, agree in stating that king Adishura brought five Brahmanas from Kanauj or Kolancha. The Brahmanas of Radha, known as Radhiya, and those of Varendra, known as Varendras, put forward their claim of regarding the five immigrants as their own ancestors. Sandilya Narayana, Vatsya Dharadhara, Kashyapa Susena, Bhardvaja Gautama and Sabarna Parasara, whom most of the Kulapanjikas claim to be the ancestors of the Varendras, appear to be the sons of the five predecessors of the Radhiyas. It is possible that some of the sons of the Brahmana immigrants moved over to northern Bengal. The emergence of these two separate endogamous groups was not, however, sudden and various causes might have contributed to this. In course of time different social customs and usage grew up in two parts of Bengal and from that point of view inter-marriages between these two groups were not encouraged.

It is difficult to say when these two sections got separate denominations in spite of their common ancestry. The existence of the Radhiyas and Varendras as two separate sections is definitely known for the first time from the Brahmana-sarvasva of Halayudha, the chief judge of laksmanasena. He takes both the groups to task for their ignorance of the proper meaning of the Vedic verses. After the Muslim occupation of western and northern Bengal, many Brahmanas of these localities migrated to eastern Bengal, which, however, remained under the Hindu kings for about a century.

The Palas were tolerant towards other religions, the fervour of the Brahmanical religion was not very much noticeable during their rule. The assurances in the Mongyr and Amgachi plates that Dharmapala and Vigrahapala II regarding the preservation of the four Varnas in their proper order bear clear indication of the official policy of the Palas towards the Brahmanical society. Samalavarman of the Varman dynasty invited the Vaidik Brahmanas to settle in Bengal. vallalasena of the Sena family is also credited to have brought Brahmans from Kanauj. It appears that both the Varmans and Senas came from outside Bengal and these families played important roles in the Brahmanisation of Bengal. It may be mentioned here that the story of importation of five Brahmanas from Kanyakubja was already current in South India. The Senas originally came from South India and the same story of importation of the Brahmanas from Kanyakubja became popular in Bengal with the establishment of the Sena kingdom in eastern India.

It may be pointed out in this connection that the Senas were the champions of Brahmnical religion and their rule gave great impetus to the development of Brahmanical culture. The power and position of Brahmanas in the society grew considerably, and this was initially felt necessary for the consolidation of the power of the kings who came from outside Bengal. But the growth of the power of the Brahmanas at one stage became matters of a serious concern for the rulers. Hence, the promulgation of Kulinism may be considered as a fine excuse for dividing the Brahmanas and thereby weakening their power as a potential challenge to the authority of the king. In other words, this proved to be very effective method of wooing an influential section of Brahmanical community to the side of the royal power. The defiant attitude of the Brahmanas can be seen in a story recorded in the Radhiyakula'Manjuri, where Vikartana, the leader of a section of the Brahmanas (Shotriyas), boldly chastised the king and questioned the royal prerogative to judge the qualifications or disqualification of the Brahmanas.

According to the Radhiya Kulajis, the descendants of the five Brahmanas brought by Adishura numbered fifty-nine during the reign of his grandson Ksitishura. To each of them the king gave a village for residence, and hence originated the gain of the Radhiya Brahmanas. In other word, each Brahmana and his descendants were known by the name of the village in which they lived, which became their gain (belonging to a village) and later developed into surname. For example the residents of Mukhati village had Mukhati gain, and had the surname Mukhati or Mukhopadhyaya, by the addition of upadhyaya (teacher) to the village name. The other well-known titles Bandyopadhyaya and Chattopadhyaya originated in the same way. The Varendra Brahmanas also had one hundred gains. As usual, the Kulajis differ about the number of these gains, and their names. King Dharashura, the son of Ksitishura, made further innovations by dividing the Radhiya Brahmanas of fiftynine gains into three grades, viz., Mukhya-Kulina, Gauna-Kulina and Shrotriya.

Gradually the system of Kulinism influenced the Vaidyas and kayasthas also. The Vaidyas were classified into the Radha Vaidyas, Varendra Vaidyas and Sylheti Vaidyas and the Kayasthas into the Daksina Radha Kayasthas, Uttara Radha Kayasthas, Varendra Kayasthas, Sylheti Kayasthas and Golam (slave) kayasthas. The Radha Brahmins were divided into kulina, Siddha-Shrotriya, Saddha- Shrotriya and Kastha-Shrotriya. The rule in respect of marriage among them allowed a kulina male to marry a female of his own class or of the two higher Shrotriya groups. A Siddha-Shrotriya male was allowed to marry a woman in his own class. A Saddha-Shrotriya female was allowed to marry a male within her class or one belonging to two classes above. Thus the rule was framed with a view to defend the kulina status of a caste.

The institution of Kulinism appears to have been gradually standardised by the Samajapatis and the Ghatakas (professional matchmakers) who were the custodians of the family traditions. This led them to introduce kulapanjika works divided mainly into three such classes as (a) Adikulakarika and Dakas, (b) kulapanjika, Dhakuri, Samikaranakanika and Kulakula vichara and (c) Kaksanirnaya, Bhavanirnaya, Dhakura and modern Kulapanjika. Chandrapabha Kulapanjika (1675 AD) by Bharata Mallika and Sadvaidya kulapanjika (1653 AD) by Kavikanthahara were two important Kulapanjika works.

The system of Kulinism led to the practice of polygamy among the kulina Brahmins. For the sake of defending the kulina status and of having social status Shrotriya girls were given in marriage to kulina males. This resulted in the dearth of the Shrotriya girls for arranging marriage within the same class. This situation was utilised by the Ghataka Brahamins who by taking bride prices arranged their marriage with Shrotriya males. On the other hand, marriage among the kulinas became a profitmaking job. For the sake of defending the kulina status a girl was given in marriage to an old male or a minor male was given in marriage to an old female. Again many kulina women remaind unmarried throughout her life. Such abominal practice began and continued for a long time. Even today some families try to maintain their kulina status at the time of negotiating marriage though the system of Kulinism has lost its edge much.

The Institution Kulinism rose in Bengal to meet certain socio-political ends, but, whatever be its objectives, the system lingered, diluted and distorted beyond recognition towards the18th and 19th centuries. It not merely became a social malady, it vitiated the entire social fabric of Bengal. Vidyasagar had to fight relentlessly against this social evil. [PK Bhattacharyya and Krishnendu Ray]

Bibliography NN Vasu, Vanger Jatiya Itihas (Bangla), 2 vols, Calcutta, 1321 BS; Atul Sur, Banglar Samajik Itihas (Bangla), Calcutta, 1976; NN Bhattacharyya, Bharatiya Jati Varna Pratha (Bangla), Calcutta, 1987; RC Majumdar, Vangiya Kulashastra (Bangla), 2nd ed, Calcutta, 1989.