Chitpavan/Kokanastha Brahmins Classification Brahmin Religions Hinduism Languages Marathi, Chitpavani Konkani Populated States Maharashtra, Konkan (Goa and coastal Karnataka); some parts of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat Migration to India Unknown in India before the 18th century Population 1.5 million  Endogamous Traditionally endogamous
The mythological origins of the Chitpavan community are explained in Hindu scriptures by referring to the tale of Parshuram in the Sahyadrikhanda of the Skanda Purana. The Satavahanas were great sanskritisers. It is possibly at their time that the new group of Chitpavan Brahmins were formed.
However, the recorded history of the Chitpavans in India and Hinduism begins in the 18th century. Various theories of origin have been suggested, indicating primarily a Jewish, Turkish or Iranian origin. The Chitpavans gained prominence in the Marathi-speaking region after Chattrapati Shahu appointed a Chitpavan Brahmin Balaji Vishwanath Bhat as the fifth Peshwa (prime minister). During the reign of the successive Peshwas, some of whom enjoyed status as de facto head of the Maratha confederacy, the Chitpavans settled in various provinces under the Peshwa rule. The Chitpavans established themselves firmly in the social hierarchy of the Marathi-speaking region, and played a prominent role in the political history of India. The community remains concentrated in Maharashtra but also has populations all over India and the rest of the world including the USA and UK.
Several historical descriptions of the Chitpavans describe their distinct physical features such as fair skin and light-brown or greenish-brown eyes, which set them apart from the other natives of Konkan and Maharashtrian Brahmins. The Konkan region has been inhabited by several immigrant groups including the Parsis, the Bene Israelis, the Kudaldeshkar Gaud Brahmins, and the Konkani Saraswat Brahmins, and the Chitpavan Brahmins were apparently the last of these immigrant arrivals.
Dr. Jay Dixit investigated the origin of Chitpavans using genetic analyses including that of mitonchodrial DNA, a first for the Chitpavan community, in 2002-03. The genetic samples of more than 20 Chitpavans of different surnames indicate northern European origins for both male and female Chitpavans. They were probably residents of northern Europe about 2000 years ago, that is at the beginning of the Christian Era. The findings of the genetic study have conclusively disproved several ancient beliefs about Chitpavans. Dr. Dixit has presented the findings in his comprehensive book "Chitpavanism", along with extensive details about the history and culture as well as achievements of Chitpavans.
A 2005 study conducted by Sonali Gaikwad and VK Kashyap for National DNA Analysis Center, Central Forensic Science Laboratory, Kolkata, suggests that the Chitpavans may have roots outside of India, in either Iran or Turkey. The authors state that the Chitpavan were amalgamated and Brahminized at a late date in the Indian society.
“ Chitpavan brahmin demonstrates younger maternal component and substantial paternal gene flow from West Asia, thus giving credence to their recent Irano-Scythian ancestry from Mediterranean or Turkey, which correlated well with European-looking features of this caste. This also explains their untraceable ethno-history before 1000 years, brahminization event and later amalgamation by Maratha... ”
Interestingly, in 2004, the genetic analyses of several human bodies from the 9th century mass grave discovered at Roopkund, a lake at 5054 m (16500 ft) in the Himalayas of Uttaranchal's Garhwal region have shown presence of genetic mutations which are specific to Chitpavan Brahmins. The National Geographic-led investigation also involved scientists from Universities of Heidelberg, Oxford, Delhi, Deccan College, Pune, as well as Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, India. It seems many Chitpavan Brahmins were part of the unfortunate entourage of several hundred people buried in the lake due to hailstorm. Incidentally, the location of Roopkund does not fall on any trade route or pilgrimage. How and why Chitpavans went to the Roopkund area is still a mystery. Roopkund's skeletons were featured in a National Geographic documentary "Riddles Of The Dead: Skeleton Lake". 
Link Between Chitpavan and Bene Israel
A link between the Chitpavan and the Bene Israel has also been suggested. The Parshuram origin of the Chitpavan is identical to the story of origins of the Bene Israel from the Kolaba district. The Bene Israel claim that they share a common origin with the Chitpavan. According to Bene Israeli legend, the Chitpavan and Bene Israel are descendants from a group of 14 people shipwrecked off the Konkan coast. One group converted to Hinduism as Chitpavan Brahmins, the other remained Jewish or Bene Israel.
Sir Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar has criticized such Etymologies. There is no title of evidence to show that these people were admitted to exclusive Hindu community and assigned the highest place. The Jews came to India in very early times but they have not been incorporated; taken Hindu Gotras; and become student of Vedas.
Origin as explained in Hindu mythology
According to historian Irawati Karve, the origin of the Chitpavan is explained by referring to the tale of Parshuram in the Sahyadrikhanda of the Skanda Purana. There are multiple theories about the etymology of the word Chitpavan:
- The word means "pure from pyre" and is derived from the Sanskrit words Chita ("pyre") and Pavan ("pure")
- The word means "pure-hearted" and is derived from the Sanskrit words Chitta ("heart") and Pavan ("pure")
- Chit-pavan i.e. "a corpse saved from the funeral pyre", a figurative epithet probably condensing in a word the long history of their almost miraculous survival from the fire of Buddhistic persecution. Also it is claimed that they are far purer Aryan blood than any other Hindu people east of the Gandak and Son, or south of the Krishna.
Rise during the Maratha rule
Very little is known of the Chitpavan before 1707 A.D. Sometime around this time, an individual of the Chitpavan community, Balaji Vishwanth Bhat arrived from Ratnagari to the Pune-Satara area. He was brought there on the basis of his reputation of being an efficient administrator. He quickly gained the attention of Chhatrapati Shahu and his work so pleased the Chhatrapati that he was appointed the Peshwa or Chief Minister in 1713. He ran a well organized administration and by the time of his death in 1720, he had laid the groundwork for the expansion of the Maratha Empire. Since this time until the fall of the Maratha Empire, the seat of the Peshwa would be held by the members of the Chitpavan family. As Peshwa became ecclesiastical head of the state, this was not consequent upon the Peshwa's social position as a Brahman, for the chitpavan sect, to which the Peshwas belonged, was not accounted of much importance by other Brahmanic sects and by some, indeed, was considered ineligible for inclusion in the Brahmanic category. Starting around this time, Chitpavan migrants began arriving en masse from the Konkan to Pune where the Peshwa offered all important offices to the Chitpavan caste. The Chitpavan kin were rewarded with tax relief and grants of land. Historians cite nepotism and corruption as causes of the fall of the Maratha Empire in 1818. According to the author Anand Teltumbde, the Chitpavan Peshwa rule was infamous for its casteist character under which the oppression of the Dalits reached legendary heights. By late 18th century Chitpavans had established complete political and economic dominance in the region. Richard Maxwell Eaton states that this rise of the Chitpavan is a classic example of social rank rising with political fortune. This usurpation of power by the Chitpvan Brahmins caused conflicts with other communities which manifested itself as late as in 1948 in the form of anti-Brahminism after the killing of Mahatama Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, a Chitpavan.
Role in the Indian politics
After the fall of the Maratha Empire in 1818, the Chitpavan lost their political dominance to the British. The British would not subsidize the Chitpavans on the same scale that their caste-fellow, the Peshwas had done in the past. Pay and power was now significantly reduced. Poorer Chitpavan students adapted and started learning English because of better opportunities in the British administration. The Chitapavan Brahmins such as Vasudev Balwant Phadke, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Bal Gangadhar Tilak played an important role in the Indian independence movement.
Some of the prominent figures in the Hindu reform movements of the 19th and 20th centuries came from the Chitapavan Brahmin community. These included Dhondo Keshav Karve, Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar and Vinoba Bhave. These reforms preached against the Hindu caste system. Yet, some of the strongest resistance to change also came from the very same community. Jealously guarding their Brahmin stature, the orthodox among the Chitpavans were not eager to see the Shastras challenged, nor the conduct of the Brahmins becoming indistinguishable from that of the Sudras. The vanguard and the old guard clashed many times. Ranade and other reformers were forced to offer penance for breaking purity rules. D. K. Karve was ostracised. Even Tilak made a visit to Varanasi so that he may not be excommunicated.
The Chitpavan community produced two major politicians in the Gandhian tradition: Vinoba Bhave and Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Gandhi describes Bhave as the Jewel of his disciples, and recognized Gokhale as his political guru. However, strong opposition to Gandhi also came from within the Chitpavan community. V D Savarkar, the founder of the Hindu nationalist political ideology Hindutva, was a Chitpavan Brahmin. Several members of the Chitpavan community were among the first to embrace the Hindutva ideology, which they thought was a logical extension of the legacy of the Peshwas and caste-fellow Tilak. These Chitpavans felt out of place with the Indian social reform movement of Mahatama Phule and the mass politics of Mahatama Gandhi. Large numbers of the community looked to Savarkar, the Hindu Mahasabha and finally the RSS for inspiration resulting in the likes of Narayan Apte and Nathuram Godse, who assassinated Gandhi on January 30, 1948. V D Savarkar's nephew Vikram Savarkar was the ideological guru of Godse, and Narayan Apte endorsed the murder of Gandhi by saying the samaj or community has realized the significance of Nathuram's act. Many members of the Pune's close-knit Chitpavan community supported Gandhi's murder, prompting Rafiq Zakaria to compare them with the neo-Nazis in Europe.
The Chitpavan Brahmins celebrate several festivals according to the Hindu Calendar.
Traditionally, the Chitpavan Brahmins were a community of astrologers and priests who offer religious services to other communities. The 20th century descriptions of the Chitpavans list frugality, hard work, cleanliness and intelligence as their attributes. The population of the Chitpavan is around 1.5 million. Agriculture was the second major occupation in the community, practised by the those who possess arable land. Later, Chitpavans became became prominent in various white collar jobs and business.
Chitpavans are traditionally strict vegetarians. The staple cereal is rice, while pulses include tur dal. The cooking media include groundnut oil and sunflower oil. They consume dairy products; take both tea and coffee, while consumption of tobacco products and betel leaves is prevalent.
Monogamy is practiced by Konkanastha Brahmins. At present adult marriage is practiced, while child marriage was acceptable in the past, requiring the release of children to their marital partners at the coming of age. Marital matches arranged by parents, with the consent of the individuals, is the most widespread mode of acquiring a mate. The symbols of marriage include a spot of vermillion on the forehead, a mangal sutra and toe rings. The bride is often expected to reside at the groom's family home after marriage. Remarriage is allowed for widows, widowers and divorcee. Equigeniture is the rule, as Women also inherit paternal property. The marriage is fixed by consulting the horoscopes of the bride and groom. The marriage takes place at brides place. Haldi (turmeric paste) is applied to both the bride and groom by married women. After kanyadaan, malabadal is done where in the bride and groom put garlands around each other's neck, along with the observance of offering worship at sacred fire(hom). The groom ties the mangal sutra around the neck of the bride.
On child birth, Shastipujan is done on the sixth day. On the 12th day the name giving ceremony is performed. The 'jawal' (head shaving) is performed both for male and female children after attaining the age of one year. At eight years a male child undergoes another shaving of his head for his Upanayana, Munja or sacred thread ceremony. The shaving is done by a barber and the rituals are officiated over by a Brahmin priest. Mundan is not performed for girl child, it is a sanskar that is performed on boy child.
Most of the Chitpavan Brahmins in Maharashtra have adopted Marathi as their language. Till the 1940s, most of the Chitpavans in Konkan spoke a dialect called Chitpavani Konkani in their homes. Even at that time, reports recorded Chitpavani as a fast disappearing language. There are no inherently nasalized vowels in standard Marathi whereas the Chitpavani dialect of Marathi does have nasalized vowels.
The Chitpavan Brahmins have two sub-groups: the Rigvedi Konkanastha and the Yajurvedi Konkanastha. They belong to the Smartha Sect. The community comprises fourteen gotras (clans) which as one of the regulators of marriage the gotras are linked with mythical sains and sages and are not hierarchically arranged. The gotras are Atri, Kapi, Kashyap, Kondinya, Gargya, Kaushik, Jamadagni, Nityundana, Bhargava, Bharadwaj, Vatsya, Vashistha, Vishnuvruddha and Shandilya. All the fourteen gotras are clustered into seven groups which are known as the gana. A gotra belonging to a particular gana cannot be considered for marriage with another gotra of same gana. The gana are as follows:- Atri-Kapi, Gargya-Bhardwaj, Koundiya-Vashistha, Kashyap-Shandilya, Kaushik-Bhargava, Jamadagni-Vatsa, Nityundana-Vishnuvruddha. Besides gotra and gana, konkanastha Brahmins observe the Tri (three) and Panch (Five) Pravara system. Chitpavans also revere deities connected with gotras known as the devakas and each family worships its devaka at the time of marriage, while individuals with the same devaka can marry. There are four hundred and forty surnames amongst Konkanastha Brahmins.
Earlier, the Deshastha Brahmins believed that they were the highest of all Brahmins, and looked down upon the Chitpavans as parvenus (a relative newcomer to a socioeconomic class), barely equal to the noblest of dvijas. Even the Peshwa was denied the rights to use the ghats reserved for Deshasth priests at Nashik on the Godavari. This has been quoted as a proof of the low position Konkanasths hold among Brahmans. But it seems more probable that it was the result of a fend between Bajirao and the Yajurvedis. There is now no difference between the treatment of Konkanstha and other Brahman pilgrims at Nashik.
Most of the administrators in the Maratha kingdom of Shivaji were Deshastha Brahmins and Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu. However, the Deshastha influence waned during the rule of Nanasaheb Peshwa, except for the post of “Panditrao” (Minister related to Religious issues) and Chief Justice. Other valuable posts like Phadanvis (Finance Secretary), Kotwal (Home Secretary) and various military rank were dominated by Chitpavans.
Though not superior to Deshasths and Karhadas in rank, they are held in much respect by most Ratnagiri Hindus, who believe that the sacred texts, mantras, repeated by a Chitpavan have special worth. A very frugal, pushing, active, intelligent, well-taught, astute, self-confident, and overbearing class, they follow almost all callings and generally with success.
This usurping of power by Chitpavans from Deshastha Brahmins resulted in intense rivalry between the two communities in the later days. The 19th century records mention Gramanyas between the Chitpavans, the Daivajnas, and the Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhus, which lasted for about ten years. Since Independence the rivalry between the groups has waned, as evident by the inter-community marriages and inter-mixing of them at social, professional and political level.
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Ethnic groups, social groups, and tribes of Goa and Konkan region Saraswats Daivajnas Karhades KonkanasthasChitpavan Brahmins Maratha Bhandaris Gomantak Maratha VaishyaVaishya Vani VishwakarmasVishwakarma Manu Maya Brahmins · Kansar KulvadiGauda and Kunbi · Kunbi KharviKharvi Others Roman Catholics Islam Related articles
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