Brahman divisions

S Krishna mahadevasiva at
Sun Jun 8 03:16:36 UTC 1997

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>From: Frank Conlon <conlon at>
>To: Members of the list <indology at>
>Subject: Brahman divisions
>A poster earlier today cited Arthur Crawford's _Our Troubles..._ in
>connection with some comments and descriptions of Maharashtra brahmans,
>and in particular, the characteristics of Konkanastha or Chitpavan
>May I urge the utmost caution in relying upon Arthur Crawford's
>"ethnographic" reportage; along with numberous other British officers,
>officials and journalists, the Konkanastha jati was a constant bete 
>for the bulk of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Although
>Mountstuart Elphinstone's initial policies in the desh following its
>conquest in 1818 tended toward conciliation of the previously powerful
>elites of the late Maratha raj, by the 1840s the "brahman menace" was
>pretty much a set piece of the colonial view of the Maharashtrian 
>The predominance of brahmans taking up new educational opportunities 
>their many leading roles in a variety of public activities during the
>period of colonial rule in nineteenth century Maharashtra was explored 
>the late Ellen McDonald Gumperz about thirty years back, although
>relatively little of her work ever got published.
>On an earlier post concerning various bits of "folklore" about the 
>of various brahman castes, I can only report that in sorting through 
>of these bits of "folklore" I never found a shred of verifiable 
>Frank F. Conlon
>Professor of History
>Director, South Asia Center
>University of Washington
>Seattle, WA 98195
>Co-editor of H-ASIA
><conlon at>

   I would like to add a point here with respect to Dr Conlons comment
about the authenticity of using Arthur Crawfords work as a reference.
Arthur Crawfords commenting about anybody being dishonest, in my
considered opinion, is akin to Joseph Goebbels or Martin Bormann
lecturing about the importance of Ahimsa. It has been documented by
any number of historians that Crawford himself was a first class
scoundrel( pls do excuse me for using this kind of a word, I am
not sure if I've violated decorum but this IS the most apt way
of describing him). His involvement in the Ratnagiri Saw Mill Scandal
and his intrigues against the Patwardhan states reveal him to be
an intriguer of the same high "quality" as Machiavelli or Tzu Hsi,
the last Chinese empress.
 I  also do realise that the Brits by and large were Anti-Brahman and 
Anti-Konkanastha and came out with the worst stereotypes of the 
Konkansthas. But, isn't this kind of sterotyping that we are essentially 
discussing? When Iyers make fun of Iyengars, or Desasthas make fun of 
Konkansthas, they are essentially STEREOTYPING. All that
Crawford has done is that he has collected all the prevalent
STEREOTYPES in one place and written a chapter about it. In other
words, if one were to research stereotyping among Maharashtrians
, one CANNOT come accross a better starting point than Crawfords book.
His Britishness and inability to understand local sentiment take
away nothing from the value of his tract as far as STEREOTYPING is
concerned. I do realise that Crawfords stuff is NOT good HISTORY, but
it is very good STEREOTYPING( which as I mentioned earlier, is exactly
what we are discussing).
     Before departing, I must say another thing about Crawfords writings 
in the book "Our troubles in the Deccan and Poona". If 
had disparaging things to say about the Konkansthas, he also has
positive things to say about them in the same tract. He says
that they are extremely sharp, brainy and well versed in traditional
lore. He goes onto mention that a very high proportion of the college
students in Poona belong to the Konkanastha community.Anybody familiar 
with Poona would very much agree with all the above mentioned facts. I 
do find his writings very much more balanced than that of other British 
commentators i.e. Monstuart Elphinstone, for example who attributes 
cunning and shallow thoughts ( two seeming antonyms) in the same breath 
while refering to the Konkanastha community. 
  I am not sure if it is the proverbial British sense of fairplay
that prompts Crawford to write about both the *good * and the *bad*
aspects of the Konkansthas, but in conclusion I must say that he
has been more fair to the Brahmins of Poona than many of his brethren.


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