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Bhumihar or Babhan or Bhuin-har is a upper caste mainly found in the Indianmarker states of Biharmarker, Jharkhandmarker, Uttar Pradeshmarker and Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradeshmarker. The Bhumihars are classified in the Brahmin varna of Hinduism but this claim has been contested by some. Bhumihars have been land-owning Brahmins who came to own land in different periods of History through land grants by kings or during the rule of Brahmin kings.

According to M. A. Sherring some of the Bhumihars belong to the Saryupareen Brahmin division of Kanyakubja Brahmins. In the 19th (held at Prayagmarker) and 20th (held at Lucknowmarker) national convention of Kanyakubja Brahmins by Kanyakubja Mahati Sabha, in 1926 and 1927 respectively, it reiterated Bhumihars to be Kanyakubja Brahmins and appealed for unity among Kanyakubja Brahmins whose different branches included Sanadhya, Pahadi, Jujhoutia, Saryupareen, Chattisgadhi, Bhumihar and different Bengali Brahmins. Bhumihars have been the traditional priests at Vishnupad Mandirmarker in Gayamarker as Gayawar Pandas and in the adjoining districts like Hazaribaghmarker. The Kingdom of Kashi belonged to Bhumihar Brahmins and big zamindari like Bettiah Raj, Hathwa Raj and Tekari Raj belonged to them. Bhumihars were well respected Brahmins in the courts of Dumraonmarker Maharaj, King of Nepalmarker and Raj Darbhanga. The Bhumihar population of Uttar Pradesh had an average literacy of less than 12% in 1911 Some Mohyal Brahmins migrated eastward and became as some sub-divisions of Bhumihars, some of whom are also descendants of Hussaini Brahmins and mourn the death of Imam Hussain. There is also a significant migrant population of Bhumihars in Mauritiusmarker, Surinamemarker, Trinidad and Tobagomarker, Guyanamarker and others.

Bhumihars are commonly called Babhans which is the Pali word for Brahmins and is used to refer to Brahmins in Buddhist sources. In recent times, Bhumihars have been in the forefront of casteist violence in some places of Bihar state.

Origin and history

Mythology

The Bhumihars claim that when Parashurama destroyed the Kshatriya race, and he set up in their place the descendants of Brahmins, who, after a time, having mostly abandoned their priestly functions (although some still perform), took to land-owning. They also claim that Lord Parashurama was the first Bhumihar.

History

By the sixteenth century, Bhumihars known as karm kandi pandit controlled vast stretches of territory, particularly in North Biharmarker. In South Biharmarker, their most prominent representative was the Tekarimarker family, whose great estate in Gayamarker dates back to the early eighteenth century. With the decline of Mughal Empire, in the area of south of Avadh, in the fertile rive-rain rice growing areas of Benaresmarker, Gorakhpurmarker, Deoriamarker, Ghazipurmarker, Balliamarker and Biharmarker and on the fringes of Bengalmarker, it was the 'military' or Bhumihar Brahmins who strengthened their sway. The distinctive 'caste' identity of Bhumihar Brahman emerged largely through military service, and then confirmed by the forms of continuous 'social spending' which defined a man and his kin as superior and lordly. In 19th century, many of the Bhumihar Brahmins were zamindars. Of the 67000 Hindus in the Bengal Army in 1842, 28000 were identified as Rajputs and 25000 as Brahmins, a category that included Bhumihar Brahmins. The Brahmin presence in the Bengal Army was reduced in the late nineteenth century because of their perceived primary role as mutineers in the Mutiny of 1857, led by Mangal Pandey. Now, a majority of them are farmers with some big land-holders.

Some Bhumihars had settled in Chandipur, Murshidabadmarker during late nineteenth and early twentieth century where they are at the top of the social hierarchy. Before independence, it was the custom of the Bhumihar Brahmins to stage an elaborate Kālī puja, during which annual payments were made to servants and gifts of cloth were distributed to dependents, both Hindu and Muslim.

M. A. Sherring in his book Hindu Tribes and Castes as Reproduced in Benaras published in 1872, mentions, "Great important distinctions subsist between the various tribes of Brahmins. Some are given to learning, some to agriculture, some to politics and some to trades. The Maharashtramarker Brahmin is very different being from the Bengalimarker, while the Kanaujia (Kanyakubja Brahmins) differs from both.Only those Brahmins who perform all six duties are reckoned perfectly orthodox. Some perform three of them, namely, the first, third and fifth and omit the other three. Hence Brahmins are divided into two kinds, the Shat-karmas and the tri-karmas or those who perform only three. The Bhumihar Brahmins for instance are tri-karmas, and merely pay heed to three duties.The Bhumihars, of whom many, though not all, belong to the Saryupareen Brahmin division, are a large and influential body in all that province (United Province)."

Bhumihars were referred to as "Military Brahmin" by Francis Buchanan and as "Magadh Brahmin" by William Adam in 1883. William Crooke in his book, Tribes and Castes of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, has mentioned Bhuinhar as an important tribe of landowners and agriculturists in eastern districts and that they are also known as Babhan, Zamindar Brahman, Grihastha Brahman, or Pachchima or 'western' Brahmans.

The Brahmins and Kshatriyas look down upon the Bhumihars whom they claim to have descended from Brahmin men and Kshatriya women. Pandit Jogendra Nath Bhattacharya says that according to legend prevalent among Brahmins, the Bhumihars were non-Brahmin Hindus who were conferred the status of Brahmins by a Raja who wanted more Brahmins in his kingdom in order to celebrate religious festivals.Herbert Hope Risley holds the view that Bhumihars are an offshoot of the Rajputs as their clans and septs are closer to that of the Rajputs. A widely prevalent belief is that they had descended from the Bhuyans, a tribe which acquired land and claimed to be Brahmins.

Pandit Jogendra Nath Bhattacharya in his book Hindu Castes and Sects published in 1896, went on to write about the origin of Bhumihar Brahmins of Biharmarker and Banarasmarker as: "The clue to the exact status of the Bhumihar Brahmans is afforded by their very name. The word literally means a landholder. In the language of the Indian feudal systems, Bhoom is the name given to a kind of tenure similar to the Inams and Jagirs of Mohammedan times. By a Bhoom, according to the Rajputana Gazeteer, an hereditary, non-resumableand inalienable property in soil was inseparably bound up with a revenue-free title. Bhoom was given as a compensation for bloodshedin order to quell a feud, for distinguished services in the field, for protection of a border or for the watch and ward of the village. The meaning of the designation Bhumihar being as stated above, the Bhumihar Brahmans are evidently these Brahmans who held grants of land for secular service. Whoever held a secular fief was Bhumihar. Where a Brahman held such a tenure, he was called a Bhumihar Brahman....Bhumihar Brahmans are sometimes called simply Bhumihars..." The Bhimihars are Brahmins who are also great fighters and warlike.

In 1889, Pradhan Bhumihar Brahman Sabha was established at Patnamarker "to improve moral, social and educational reforms of the community." The social reformation among Bhumihar Brahmins had two streams — one led by Sir Ganesh Dutt, and the other by Swami Sahajanand Saraswati.Bhumihars were officially recognized as Brahmins by the government of British India in 1911 census (second all India census report) of British India.

Swami Sahajanand Saraswati, a Bhumihar himself, wrote extensively on Brahmin society and on the origin of Bhumihars. He stated that the Bhumihars are among the superior Brahmins. Some Bhumihar Brahmins are also known for their secular and unorthodox practices, where some of them are also descendants of Hussaini Brahmins. On the social scale, although the Bhumihars are known to be Brahmins, on account of the fact that they were cultivators they were not given the ritual status of Brahmins.

Siyaram Tiwary, the former dean at Visva Bharati University, stated that the Bhumihars are "landed Brahmins who stopped taking alms and performing pujas and rituals", comparing them with Tyagis of Western UP, Jamindar Bengali Brahmins, Niyogi Brahmins of Andhra Pradesh, Nambudiri Brahmin of Kerala, Chitpavans of Maharashtra, Anavil Desais of Gujarat and Mohyals of Punjab. Bhumihars are classified in the Brahmin varna in Hinduism and hence use the designation Bhumihar Brahmin, but some other communities dispute this claim.

Acharya Tarineesh Jha, himself a Maithil Brahmin scholar has attested how from ancient times to modern all great Brahmin scholars like Maithili Manishi Mahamahopadhyay Chitradhar Mishra, Mahamahopadhyay Balkrishna Mishra; Saryupareen Brahmin scholars Mahamahopadhyay Dwivedi, Mahamahopadhyay Shivkumar Shastri, Dr. Hazari Prasad Dwivedi; Kanyakubja Brahmins scholars Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi, Pandit Laxminarayan Dixit Shastri, Pandit Venkatesh Narayan Tiwari and others have mentioned about Bhumihar Brahmins as their fellow Brahmin brothers.

They are also called Ajachak Brahmans, i.e., Brahmans who do not take alms (jachak) in contrast to the ordinary Brahmans who are Jachaks or almstakers but there are still some who traditionally take alms as in Gayamarker and Hazaribaghmarker. Like fellow Brahmans, they did not use to hold the plough, but employed labourers for the purpose.

Social Organisation

The census returns give no less than four hundred and fifty-eight sections: but here the territorial sections and the Brahminical gotras are mixed up together. The most important local sections are the Chaudhari, Gautama, and Kolaha in Banarasmarker; the Gautama in Mirzapurmarker; the Bharadwaj, Bhriguvanshi, Dikshit, Donwar, Gautama, Kaushik, Kinwar, Kistwar, Sakarwar, Sonwar in Ghazipurmarker; Bhagata, Kinwar, Benwar, of Balliamarker; the Baghochhiya, Baksaria, Gautama, Kaushik and Sakarwar(Sankritya) of Gorakhpurmarker; the Barasi, Birhariya and Kaushik of Bastimarker; and the Barwar, Bharadwaj, Bhriguvansh, Denwar, Gargbans, Gautama, Purvar, Sakarwar, and Shandilya of Azamgarhmarker. On the Jijhoutia clan of Bhumihar Brahmins, William Crooke writes, "A branch of the Kanaujia Brahmins (Kanyakubja Brahmins) who take their name from the country of Jajakshuku, which is mentioned in the Madanpur inscription."

Domestic ceremonies and Religious Beliefs

The Bhumihar Brahmins follow in every respect the standard Brahminical rules. They are usually Shaivas and Shaktas. There are some Vaishnavas as followers of Ramanujacharya in the Tirhut region of Biharmarker. Bhumihar Brahmins, like all other Brahmins are endogamous, but marital relations are known to exist since ancient times between Bhumihar Brahmins and Maithil Brahmins in Tirhut and Mithila and between Bhumihar Brahmins and Kanyakubja Brahmins in Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradeshmarker where Jihoutia clan of Bhumihar Brahmins live. Bhumihar Brahmin men of Purnea took to Maithil Brahmin wives in Purneamarker and married their daughters to Bhumihar Brahmin/Babhan men.

Political and social movements

Bhumihars are considered a politically volatile community. Bhumihar Brahmins in Champaranmarker had revolted against indigo cultivation in 1914 (at Pipra) and 1916(Turkaulia) and Pandit Raj Kumar Shukla took Mahatma Gandhi to Champaranmarker and the Champaranmarker Satyagraha began.

Although the Bhumihars have always constituted a very small proportion of the Bihar population (around 2.8%), they wielded political strength in pre-Mandal politics of Bihar. With the partition of Biharmarker, their percentage has shot up to 6 percent and all political parties are vying for their votes.

Caste-related violence

Bhumihars, have been involved in many caste-related conflicts . However, it was in reply to the requests made by Yadav peasants in 1927, Swami Sahajanand Saraswati had started the Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha, which led to the largest peasant movement in the country. Bhumihars also gave Bihar its first chief minister in Sri Krishna Sinha who had himself led Dalit’s entry into Baidyanath Dham (Vaidyanath Temple, Deoghar).

Following independence, Naxalite groups began to originate in Bihar in reponse to low wages and alleged illtreatment of Dalit peasants by upper-caste landlords. Some Bhumihars and other upper-caste landlords responded by starting private militias called Senas. These were heavily funded and promoted by some Bhumihar landlords to fight extremist Naxalite groups which supposedly represented low-caste Bihari peasants. Hostilities began to intensify when in 1994, the Ranvir Sena was founded in Belaur village to counter Naxal terrorism. Since its formation, the Ranvir Sena has been held responsible for murder, rape and burglary in Bihar. This outfit, along with the Maoist Communist Centre, has been responsible for large-scale violence in Bihar. Incidents of violence have been reported from the villages of Belaur, Bara, Senari, Ekwari, Chandi, Nanaur, Narhi, Sarathau, Haibaspur, Laxmanpur-Bathe, Shankarbigha, and Narayanpur.

See also



References




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