Thursday, March 15, 2012

Understanding the Bengali Kulin Brahmin Caste

I am posting this so that someday Tara and Kaya have somewhere to look up their maternal heritage. Of course being only half Kulin Brahmin makes you not Kulin (pun intended) at all, nevertheless. Also after having this explained to me I now begin to understand those old bengali movies where a pretty young thing of a girl is forced into marriage to an old doddering man with one foot in the grave, promptly to be followed by the torturous life of a widow at age 15 on! Of course, re-marriage was never allowed for women. joys of being s Kulin Brahmin girl must have been few other than the prestige and education made available at a younger age which was equal by few others.

I am told I am of Sanyal (Vatsav/Vatsya) decent on my father's side whose last name is Chakraborty and on my mothers paternal side I am a Maitra (Kashyap) from Bangladesh and on her maternal side I am a Roy, so a Rarhi Brahmin.

Since we are paternalistic society that makes me a Rarhi Brahmin (east Bengal) of Vatsya (pronounced Bot-so) Gotra. Well thank god for modernity, no one cares that I married a Canadian!

so here it is, the Kulin Brahmin system explained...

Tara and Kaya my beautiful and fortunate little half breeds!
They are hiding out under the couch in this picture as Kaya learns to scooch backwards.



Kulin Brahmins

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Kulin Brahmins are those Brahmins in Bengal who can trace themselves to the five families of Kanauj (Kanyakubja), Uttar Pradesh who migrated to Bengal. They were given immense power during the reign of the Sena/Sen kings who were staunch Hindus and did not encourage the practice of any other religion. The five brahmin families were differentiated by their gotras. The Kanaujiya/kanyakubj brahmins who settled in Bengal had the following gotras: (Shandilya, Bhardwaj, Kashyap, Swavarna and Vatsav/Vatsya); these gotras denote the Rishis whose followers the brahmins were.

Some of these kuleen families settled in Barendrabhoom and some in Rarhbhoom in what is present day Bangladesh. The descendants of these families became known as Rarhi and Barendra brahmins as per their settlement.

The common surnames of Rarhi brahmin family are (ranked equally):

• Mukherjee / Mukhopadhyay (Bharadwaja)

• Banerjee / Bandyopadhyay (Shandilya)

• Chatterjee / Chattopadhyay (Kashyap)

• Ganguly / Gangopadhyay(Shavarna)

• Khanna / (khan)

The common surnames of Barendra brahmin family are (ranked equally):

• Sanyal (Vatsav/Vatsya)

• Lahiri (Shandilya)

• Bagchi (Shandilya)

• Moitra (Kashyap)

Apart from these many others like Chakroborty, Bhattacharya, Ray/Roy, Roy Choudhury, Majumdar, etc., which are, indeed, titles conferred on certain privileged families from among the above mentioned surnames, could also be Kulin if they are Rarhi Brahmins. Khan and Chowdhury are titles awarded to many kuleen brahmin families because of their ancestral rule or profession.

The connection between the saraswat brahmins and kanaujiya/kanyakubj brahmins is this that during the Aryan migration the saraswat brahmins, called thus because they lived along the banks of the river saraswati, which began to disappear underground during Parushurama's time. These brahmins migrated to south, north and northwestern parts of the subcontinent.

Gaud Saraswat Brahmins The kashmiri pandits are of the same lineage as these saraswats and consider themselves to be pure Aryan because their descendants didn't mingle with the indigenous people. Those that settled in north India also went to what is present day Uttar Pradesh, where Kannauj is located From here they migrated to Gaud or Gour. From Gour, a small community comprising about seven families migrated to the South of the subcontinent.They were known as Gaud Saraswat Brahmins.

Kulin Pratha (Kulin System) was initiated by the Sena kings in Bengal whereby the kings gave land and power to the Brahmins to promote vedic principles in the society, leading to a strict and disciplined lifestyle. Simultaneously they also enforced strict rules on family and marriage rules on Brahmins, leading to the birth of Kulin Brahmins, an apex section/class/caste of the society. It was said that a person is Kulin if and only if all the 14 generations on his father's and mother's side were Kulin. This created a very problematic divide in the society. This was also opposed by many Brahmins. Yet it became a norm, probably because the kulin Brahmins got lured by the newly acquired power in the society.

Kulin Pratha was a very strict practice leading to many problems in Bengali society. If a daughter of a Kulin family doesn't wed in a Kulin family then the parent family loses their Kulin identity. These led to several problems like young girls getting married to old Kulin married men out of desperation of finding a Kulin groom. It was not uncommon for Kulin grooms to have several wives, most of which stayed at their parents home, just to be wed (for the sake of the ritual) to a Kulin and hence maintain their Kulin status.

Nowadays many Brahmins have shunned their Kulin identity and have mixed equally with all the Brahmins and non Brahmins in Bengal and other parts of India. It is hard to state the current stand of these families on Kulin Pratha. It may surface during the marriage process, but the young are not concerned.

Marriages and gotras

Marriages within the gotra ("swagotra" marriages) are banned under the rule of exogamy in the traditional matrimonial system. People within the gotra are regarded as kin and marrying such a person would be thought of as incest.

A much more common characteristic of south Indian Hindu society is permission for marriage between cross-cousins (children of brother and sister). Thus, a man is allowed to marry his maternal uncle's daughter or his paternal aunt's daughter, but is not allowed to marry his father's brother's daughter. She would be considered a parallel cousin who is treated as a sister.

According to strict Hindu tradition, the term gotra is used only for the lineages of Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya varnas. Brahminical Gotra relates directly to the original seven "saptarishis" Rishis of the Vedas. Later, the term "gotra" was associated with broader meanings of any lineage, Brahmin or otherwise.

A common mistake is to consider gotra to be synonymous with clan or kula. A kula is basically a set of people following similar cultural rituals, often worshipping the same God (the Kula-Devata - the God of the clan). Kula has nothing to do with lineage or caste. In fact, it is possible to change one's kula, based on one's faith or Ishta-deva.

It is common practice in preparation for Hindu marriage to inquire about the Kula-Gotra (meaning Clan-Lineage) of the bride and bridegroom before approving the marriage. In almost all Hindu families, marriages within the same gotra are prohibited, since people with same gotra are considered to be siblings. But marriage within the kula is allowed and even preferred.

57 comments:

  1. This seems to be one of my most visited posts. I wonder if the traffic wanders in for matrimonial research?

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  2. Came here searching for something but nice work because me being a Kulin Brahmin(originally Ganguly but got Chakrabort-my grandfather got it fromZaminder).But Imust tell you that renaissance of Bengal happened because of these Kulin Brahmins started by Rammohan Roy(originally Bannerjee.

    Even today most of our intellectuals are coming from these Brahmin communityalong with Vaidya-Brahmin community.

    WE were discussing it in a blog-Indian/Chinese IQ puzzle where average IQ of Indian Hindu is 86 but Kulin Bengali Brahmin with 115-122,more than Ashkenazi Jewish.Considering our tiny population we are producing more laurels in USA compared to Ashkenaziwith Pulitzer winners,one of the greatest Biologist and inventor Anandamohan Chakraborty,A.Bannerjee(Nobel laureate signature award winner),inventors etc.
    Even Tagore or IVF pioneer Subhas Mukherjee came from Kulin Brahmin sect.

    Nice article.

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  3. Sampan, though I understand your pride in belonging to the kulin caste, I have to say that the high IQ and the genesis of the bengali renaissance at the hands of Kulin men, all have a direct relation to their access to education over the generations. Other castes were never given the opportunity for an education and thus they never developed a culture of learning. Even today MOST Brahmins fall in the category of educated middle class as opposed to industrialists or farmers or military.

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  4. I will not be posting comments here that I feel are racist/caste-ist. As this is MY blog, I get to make these "judgement" calls! There is a thin line between expressing pride in a communities' achievements and implied disrespect for those not belonging to said community. Cheers.

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  5. All Chakraborty are not brahmin surname. Few kshatriya family is having the surname Chakraborty, are rajput kshatriya, the surname Chakraborty given by the Bengal Rajas. Like we are kshatriya and our surname is Chakraborty. We brought from Rajasthan as senapati to protect the Bengal Raj from outside enimy. So all Chakraborty are not brahmin.

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  6. Chakraborty means king of the king , the ruler of the country. So Chakraborty surname belongs to kshatriya of upper class. I am Chakraborty but belong to a kshatriya family not brahmin. Chakraborty surname given by the Raja of vardhaman (Bengal).

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    1. Chakraborty, in my case is an honorific from the British times, I believe my paternal ancestry originally went by the name Sanyal as mentioned in the article.

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  7. I did not know that all Chakrabortys were not Brahmins! I know there were non-Bengali Chakrabortys though :- )

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  8. Tina, apt reply to the obviously "caste supremacist " remark by "Sampan". Basically he is hinting that all intellectual work in in Bengal is by the Brahmins as they are genetically predisposed to having a higher IQ than other castes !. Obviously this guy is in US now and is desperately trying to find reasons to "justify" his own perception of the Brahmin caste being superior to other humans as the most intelligent of all the immigrants .

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  9. Supriyo Chaudhuri. Pune IndiaJune 7, 2014 at 6:29 AM

    Sampan has raised the issue of IQ, and what surprises me is that in a way she has attributed the Bengali Renaissance to the higher IQ of the Kulin Brahmins. Sounds a bit simplistic. The concept of IQ is the product of the white civilisation of the West. Like all ideas it is culture bound. One who does not have a high IQ score cannot be called unintelligent, say a tribal from Africa. There are lots of intelligent people amongst them. We have to free ourselves from these cultural stereotypes Supriyo Chaudhuri, an MBA from IIM Calcutta and an Applied Behavioural Scientist

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  10. My surname is Roy and my father is from Bengal. What caste would Roy belong to?

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    1. Like the post above says, surnames like Roy, Choudhury, Chakraborty etc. were titles granted by the kings of Bengal to prominent (most often Brahmin) family. To find out your gotra you would need to know what surname the family had before the grant of the "Roy" title. But, on a guess, I would say your family probably belongs to the Brahmin (priest) caste, though there is a chance they could be Kayastha (or Kshatriya), the military caste.

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    2. I am not very sure about the Gotra. It could be Bharadwaj or Aladoshi. Could you provide more information on these gotras?

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    3. Not really, I am really no expert. Good luck in your search.

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    4. No problem Tina. Thanks a lot!

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  11. My Surname is Puitandy and my Gotras is Bashyap, I belong Brahmin Family. so what is my Original surname?

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    1. Like I said above, I am no expert and I cannot answer your questions pertaining to the details and history of each name. But best of luck with your search. You might have a ask a real expert at Hindu society or temple.

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  12. I like this site...very nice, I hear one part of my family was Kulins...than was until 1800 A.D.

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  13. Nice explanations. But we should shed this kulin differentiation.

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  14. hi,tina,thanks for the information,i am a choudhury and i came to know that we are snayal(vatsab) and we are from bangaladesh,could it be possible that we rarhi not barendra?
    thanks and regrds
    utsav

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    1. no sanyal is a rari they settled in Barendra bhomi and are all barendra........

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    2. I admit this is confusing for me too. I am told we are Rahri, but my father's of Sanyal (vatsya gotra) decent. He is also definitely from West Bengal not Bangladesh... There is some confusion about the stream. Mostly if anyone wants to share knowledge here and inform us all, that would be just fine.

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    3. barendrabhoom means west bengal,right?But I am pretty sure that my father side is from bangladesh

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    4. barendra bhumi is not part of west Bengal, the barendra bhumi is ancient area of east bengal now bangladesh - - north area of east Bengal as districts of Bangladesh - - pabna, rajshayi etc.

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    5. I am also Sanyal of Vatsav gotra. We are originally from Bangladesh. As far as I know all Sanyals are Barendra Brahmins and not Rahri..

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  15. Hi I found the below interesting....
    there is one confusion in many people who are not really following ancient scripts rather they follow on data compiled during british period.unfortunately in this period many classes of people started ditching each other rather than scholarly discussion. In fact the first attack on "sista kayastha/kuleen kayastha/ brahma kayastha" is by none other than kalhan rajatarangini compiled in kashmir probably in 1100 AD in which it omitted/ disagreed kayasta as part of brahmins then onwards this debate initiated. many attempts are made to tamper the kayastha status by rest of people for nothing. in fact i would like to share some more informtion that sista kayastha has got rishi gotras amd pravara just like rest of brahmins in india where as kshatriya people has got limited rishi gotras and many are prajapati gotras and vysya has neither rishi gotra nor prajapathi gotra. sudra doesn't have gotra as described in our ancient gotra system.

    brahm kayasth/sista kayasth are from eastern part of india that is bangla are descibed in ancient scipts like padma puran,kurma puran&bhavishya puran,brihannaradeeyam,ujwaram etc scripts which are several thosands of years old than "lalhana rajatarangini". these group belongs to father brahmin-mother kshatriya girl clan as described in vipra vamsa clearly confirms there gotras as brahminical sice we follow "pitru-lineage"/father lineage.

    "teshaam vai satrastra bhedena datta sarmeti chochyateh" - bhavishyottar puran means those learned people in astra vidya/dhanurveda(part of yajurveda) call them selves as datta and/or sarma
    it is also clear that they are literate people in ancient india and worked as feuderators,ministers,accountants,and other revenue posts for a long time in history.this also supports that they are educated (means those time education is "ashram education with veda,khagola satra,maths,jyothish etc specialities" where sudra are not permitted to enter in ashram education). as an example i can use kalinga dynasty belongs to 700AD where kayasythas are very active in all key positions in kingdom many times better than other castes including so-called brahmins.
    i hope you understand this and i also want to mention that i am no way connected with this group of bengalis and am a south indian brahmin hence no specific interest in upgrading brahm kayastha/sista kayashth group.

    i also request people to go by old texts than books compiled during british india period(in which most of the data mis-represented/mutilated/under-rated aimed to decrease indian heritase and culture as well as to hit certain learned classes in India

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    1. Thanks, feel free to share info here if you find it. I no longer live in India and since I am a woman, I no longer belong to the caste either since I married a Canadian.

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  16. @Tina nice article thank you.Please add Bhaduris under Barendra heading.Thank you once again

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  17. Nice article... Will definitely encourage my family to read about their own ancestry.

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  18. Hi can you please tell me what caste is Ray in bengal...

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    1. Refer to a query above regarding Roy surname. Roy and Ray are likely the same name spelled differently in English... But an honorific and thus not indicative of a gotra or clan.

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  19. Do all mukherjees have same gotra ie bharadwaj??

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    1. I think so. Perhaps ask some older relatives for confirmation. Since that surname is not an honorific, it does indicate a clan (gotra).

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  20. Great post @Tina. My last name is Roy, and this blog certainly provides more clarity around the debate that my brother and I always have. He claims that my father (who passed away a few yrs ago) told him that we are chakroborthys, although my father had told me that we are Sanyals.. This blog basically means we could be both!

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    1. Isn't Internet great! It's totally possible. The only way to check for sure would be to check temple marriage records. I hear Puri Jaggannath temple kept very detailed records over generations... Not sure how.

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  21. Dear all, Namaste to everybody!
    I am a Brahman from Maharashtra (one of the Pancha-Dravida) but researching on Brahmins is my pastime.
    I first of all congratulate the lady who runs this blog for her help in rediscovering the heritage of our Brahmin Varna in particular and Hindus in general.
    The views of most of you are quite accurate and I also feel that older texts are to be followed, not British time records.
    My enquiry:
    1. Where could the Assamese Brahmins originate from? They also call themselves Kannujiyas / meaning, Kaanyakubja of the Pancha Gauda. Assamese Brahmins have surnames that sound both Sanskrit-based (Bhattacharya / Bhattacharjee, Sarmah, Gosain, Panda, Chakravarti, etc.) and Ahom-origin (Barua, an upadhi from the tai-Ahom language).
    2. The classes of Manipuri Brahmins is also originally Bengali Brahmin. Manipuri Brahmins have surnames like Sarma (Sharma) and Chakravarti.
    3. Who are the Vaidya / Boidya Brahmins? Their gotra is Dhanvantari. Aren't they with the surnames like DasGupta (not Das though), SenGupta, Sen, SenShrama (as in Konkona SenSharma), Sharma, Barat, Gupta, DuttaGupta, etc... This means th Boidyos and King Balla Sen shared the same surname, so was the king Ballal Sen a Boidyo?The Sens were Baidya - right? Why were they called untouchable-yet-Brahmin? I was told that the Boidyas considered themselves the first important to be symbolically eligible to have their feet touched by others, but not actually allowing the touching to happen because of the so-called untouchability (they treated patients), to maintain notions of purity. Of course, today, many Boidya people are often seen to be the most Communist.
    4. What are the classes of the Kulin Benglai Kayasthas? What are the origins of the non-Kuleen Kayasthas?? Do they share caste affinity with the Assamese kalita?
    5. What is the case of upadhis surnames like Biswas, Dey, Nag, Dam, Das? In adjoining Odisha, the title Das or Dash could belong to any caste.
    6. Who are the Bengali Kshatriyas? The Kayasthas? The Manipuri Bishnupriya community has the syrname Singha, also adopted by the Manipuri Meiteis, and they call themselves Kshatriya, but the Bishnupriyas aren't from outside India they are Indo-Aryan. They migrated to Eastern Bengal; many still maintain the distinctness of their language and traditions, but some have started calling themselves Bengali. Many Bishnupriyas use the Singha surname. I met a Bengali Rajput from East Bengal; he was a Singha. COuld these Bengali Rajputs be the Bishnupriyas Manipuri Kshatriyas who started identifying themselves with Bengalis?
    7. What connection do Bengali Brahmins have with Arakanese Brahmins of the Arakan province annexed to Myanmar and later separated from India in 1935? Many Arakan Brahmins are poojaris in Burmese Buddhist temples.
    8. A Barendro person told me that their origin is from Rajasthan. While another Chakravarti told me, they are originally from SOuth India. Hema Malini was a Chakravarti Iyengar Brahmin, while Mithnun Da was a Bengali Chakravarti. I belive Chaitanya Mahaprabhu did ghar-wapasi of Bengali / other Hindus and made them acquire their original pre-conversion Hindu banes / jaati. I think it was a good thing.
    9. To which Jaati of Varna did the Hindu king of Jessore belong to? My respects to his Hindu resurgence.

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    1. chakravartis are basically sanyal - - barendra kulin brahmin - - vats / batsab gotra no south connection

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  22. nice post ,i also never paid attention to this factors until my marriage time when my mom pointed on this factors ,very well researched article ..

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  23. to which caste surname bose belongs to?

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    1. Bose is usually Kayastha. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kulin_Kayastha

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  24. Hi everyone...my surname is Chakraborty but my original surname Shanyal,gotra vatsav...can u plz tell me am I a kulin Barendra Brahmin ???? thank you.

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  25. I am trying to find out about my family lineage. My dad's name is Moitra. He's always said we were Brahmins but I gather we may be Kayastha which is an undefined caste...anyone can help?

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    1. My mother's maiden name was Maitra (just a different spelling) and they were most definitely kulin bramhan afaik.

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    2. Thanks - do you know how i can research the family tree in India? I have been very curious to understand this side of the family :)

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    3. asking older family members works especially ones that were married in the traditional style with astrological charts, also sometimes referred to as Gotras.
      Asking at temples like Puri-Jagganath temple in Odisha.

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  26. can you tell me NATH surname is which general caste

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  27. es known as very wel, majumdar is brahmin surname due to one upon time they were landor of barendra bhumi exp pabna and majumdar is Barendra Srani Shyam Veda vatsa Gotra brahmin

    From ancestors it come to know that,long ago Jamidar of Jamalpur Myemansingh was of Majumder surname ( Brahmin) one part of family celebrated Durga puja and the other majumder brahnin celebrated Jagadhatri puja.But at present ,the said families are very limited.Some of their descendants are most probably living at Kolkata , some are found North Bengal and Cachar dist. in Assam

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  28. Please only post your comments ONCE. They have to be moderated and will not appear here till moderation is completed. If they are found offensive, they won't appear at all.

    Comments submitted anonymously will no longer be published.

    Also please proof read your comments before submitting them. Let's keep the discussion civilized, thanks.

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  29. I am Tarun Kr.Mazumder and I am belongs to Vatsa Gotra Shaya Vede Barindra Brahmin

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  30. Hi!! nice article.. could you plz help me in providing knowledge regarding dasgupta. Are they also brahmins? If yes, then what are their gotras?

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  31. Haii Tina...I want to know about majumdar surname with kashyap gotra, will you please explain anything about it... This title belongs to which category...

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  32. Haii... Tina I want to know about majumdar surname with kashyap gotra, will you please explain anything about it from which category they belong?

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  33. Like I have said before, I'm not an expert on caste or got rats... The questions are best asked to Google.

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  34. in this blog I've found so many confusion regarding caste system in Hindu Bengali though in this Internet's era they are several research papers are available for removing doubt, just ask to Google in this way, origin of Bengali Brahman, Bengali surnames and their history,history of Bengali Brahman,whats rarh or barendra bhumi their geographical ancient existence, etc. or any question you can get lot of reply from various web sites

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  35. If you are not a professor/scientist/philosopher/academic , your are no Brahman. It is as simple as that. All these don't mean shit

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  36. Hi Tina, a good well-researched article. Thanks.

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  37. To feel pride of one's purity to Aryanism means to feel no remorse towards the millions on non-Aryan that were subjugated. Did they not families? Did they not give birth? Did they not have a little boy or a girl whose parents had to watch them be subjugated? Perhaps this is the reason why Islam managed to convert nearly 40% of the Subcontinent (160 milion in Banglades, 170 million in Pakistan and 180 million in India = 510 million) in just a few hunder yeas despite Hinduism being there for 40000 years! Keep in mind the Mughals were Turk/Mongol mixed, the Turk being from the same Central-Asian super-tribe as the Aryans

    Mati

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About Me

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Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
I am a forty something mom of two girls, an architect by profession and an avid sci-fi and My Little Pony fan. I love to cook, but only occasionally and am in the middle of rediscovering my heritage through food.