pots, brahmin names, and potters

Artur Karp hart at POLBOX.COM
Sun Dec 20 08:47:33 EST 1998

At 01:33 18.12.98 EST, Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan wrote:

>When the mahAbhArata potter is called bhArgava, there is no "disguise". As
>will note from the above postings, the bhRgus were Dravidian potter-priest-
>warriors  who adopted IA culture quite early.>

We may safely accept that what is alluded to in the SvayaMvaraparvan rather
confirms the supposition that certain groups of potters (in different
localities and different periods) may have succeeded in obtaining high
ritual status. It seems again safe to see such succesful groups as
reference groups and models for those that had been "left behind", or late
entrants - everywhere where the local caste structure was flexible enough
to allow for upward mobility.

Both the epic and Buddhist narrators seem to know well the range of
instruments available to all those groups that decided to signal "claims to
certain ritual statuses". In his classic paper on "Little Communities in an
Indigenous Civilization" (in: Village India. Studies in the Little
Community, Edited by McKim Marriott, Chicago 1955, p. 190) McKim Marriott
comments on that:

"Hocart points out that many of the kinds of ritual relationships which
exist among Indian village castes today may be regarded as results of a
"degradation of the royal style" (Hocart 1950:155 [Hocart A.M., Caste, A
Comparative Study, London 1950]). [...] Even a poor hoseholder in Kishan
Garhi today retains six or seven servants of different castes mainly to
serve him in ceremonial way demonstrative of his own caste rank.
Householders and their servants formally address each other by courtly
titles. Thus the Brahman priest is called "Great King" (MahArAj) or
"Learned Man" (PaNDitjI), the Potter is called "Ruler of the People"
(PrajApat), the Barber "Lord Barber" (NAU ThAkur), the Carpenter "Master
Craftsman" (MistrI), the Sweeper "Headman" (Mehtar) or "Sergeant"
(JamAdAr), etc. About half of the twenty-four castes of Kishan Garhi also
identify themselves with one or another of the three higher varNa, thus
symbolizing their claims to certain ritual statuses in relation to the
sacrifice or the sacrificer of Sanskrit literary form."

I wish I could hear the word "bhArgava" as it was pronounced in the
original context. Wouldn't it have ironical undertones? Similar to those
that usually accompany some of the above high-falutin 'courtly titles'? Or
like these produced by the narrator's sudden shift from the simple
kumbhakArasya zAlAyAM (potter's compound) to pompous bhArgavavezma
(BhRguid's abode)? And then on to funny bhArgavakarmazAlAM (BhRguid's

It's clear that heroic epithets cannot be always treated literally. Their
character points oftentimes to a conscious use of irony - especially if
they are found out of heroic context. Whenever such accents are lost in the
process of translation, we as the readers cannot see the narrator giving us
the wink - as if telling us: "look, these are pretensions, appearances,
disguises - but this here is reality".

The Pandavas are of course in the rules of the game, and so they do not
seem to be fooled by mere appearances. It's quite possible that they take
to collecting alms in order to complete their disguise as brahmins
[I,176.7]. But it is also possible that they have to do it - because they
do not wish to accept food from their "bhArgava" host.

Disguises seem to play an important role in the Indian literary tradition.
Is there any monograph dedicated to this question?

>Please also check the following postings of mine in the Indology archives.
>There are other related postings as well.
>97/11/06 Question on bhRgus
>97/11/08 Re: Question on bhRgus
>98/04/25 Leiden plates, other inscriptions, and potters>

As a late comer to the List I am very much grateful for the directions to
your earlier postings. But I would  have to master the art  of using the
archives yet (my first attempt ended in a failure). If it's not too much
trouble, could you please forward the relevant postings to my private
address (hart at polbox.com)?

With highest regards,

Artur Karp, M.A.

University of Warsaw

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