Kayasthas: Past and Present
Written by Jogendra Saxena
by Chitragupt Pariwar (Hum Kayasth) on Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 2:49pm
. Kayasthas through the ages have formed an important and influential group among the Hindus. They have contributed highly to the history and culture of India. A mere mention of Kayastha tells of a community which is highly intellectual and which has produced benevolent kings, reputed statesmen, gallant warriors and revolutionaries, able administrators, renowned scientists, revered philosophers ...
Kayasthas through the ages have formed an important and influential group among the Hindus. They have contributed highly to the history and culture of India. A mere mention of Kayastha tells of a community which is highly intellectual and which has produced benevolent kings, reputed statesmen, gallant warriors and revolutionaries, able administrators, renowned scientists, revered philosophers, reformists, religious preachers, distinguished educationists, writers, poets, dramatists and novelists, top jurists, journalists and industrialists, and over and above, splashed the film industry from its inception with singers, composers, actors and actresses.
Even today the contribution of Kayasthas to modern India, in every walk of life is very significant. It is not very much to claim that they are the mainstreams of the national life, and that India without Kayasthas would be like a body without soul.
Kayasthas trace their genealogy from Shri Chitragupta, one of the fourteen Yamas mentioned in the Rig Veda. The legend of Chitragupta is that he sprang out of the body of the Supreme Being. Brahma the creator, sought for a complete administrator and he found the object of his imagination in the person of Chitragupta, the preserver of Mankind to record the good and evil actions of all sentient beings. He is, thus, the highest executing angel of the Hindu Pantheon; a function suggested by the fact that besides being kings themselves for a long time, the Kayasthas have from tradition, occupied key positions in administration and have remained there delivering justice guiding good and bad actions.
As the history of Kayasthas goes, Shri Chitraguptaji had two wives Shobhamati alias Airavati, daughter of Rishi Susharma (Brahman) and Nandini alias Sudakshina, daughter of Shradha Deva and grand daughter of Surya Deva (Sun God-Manu Vaivasvata). In course of time Shobhamati gave birth to eight sons, viz. 1.Charu, 2.Sucharu, 3.Chitra, 4.Matiman, 5.Himvan, 6.Chitracharu, 7.Arun, and 8.Jitendriya; and Nandini Devi to four, viz..Bhanu, 2.Vibhanu, 3.Vishva Bhanu and 4.Virya Bhanu.
These twelve sons are popularly known today, as: Suryadhwaj, Gour, Ambastha, Asthana, Karna, Valmik, Kulshreshtha and Nigam; and Mathur, Bhatnagar, Saksena and Shrivastava. These twelve names have been derived from the twelve regions which they colonized, and they are: Madhupuri, Gourdesha, Brahmavarta, Ahistan, Karnatak, Chitrakoot, Alkapuri, Surjupar desha, Mathura desha, Bhata Nadi Desha, Shakya Desha and Shrinivas Nagar respectively.
Shri Chitragupta’s twelve sons, as the story goes, had their thread ceremony and were placed under the care of twelve rishis for education and training. Having thus attained perfection in all branches of learning they were married to twelve Naga Kanyas and were then bidden to fan out in all directions to colonise the earth. Possessed of keen intellect, great physical prowess and high ideals and characteristics required to attain perfection and acquire qualities of leadership, they became symbols of perfect human beings.
According to Rig Veda (Sukta 164, Mandal 46) Shri Chitragupta is one of the fourteen Yamas. He is further described theirin as Chitra or Chitragupta, the progenitor of the Kayasthas and a Kshatriya of great prowess. He is called the king while others only Rajkah i.e. little king. Maitrayani Samhita of Krishna Yajurveda describes Chitraguptaji as a wonderful king and gives an account of his coronation. Whereas Yajurveda Shatpath Brahmana declares that Yama, Indra, Varun, Soma, Rudra, Parjanva all these are Kshatryas. He is called the son of Brahma, of extraordinary prowess, even greater than Indra, for Indra changes while he is unchangeable.
Ashvalayan Grihya Sutra of Rig veda gives the following invocation made to Shri Chitragupta before making a sacrifice: "I invoke Chitragupta clad in the attire of people living in the country of north and west of Saraswati river, who is beautiful in appearance and possessed of pen and paper, who has two hands and whose opposition deity is ketu”.
In this context Garud Puran describes Shri Chitragupta as: Chitraguptaya namastubhyam ved akshar dataya. That is the giver of letter or the first script to the country. The fact he had in one of his hands, the Vedas and in Others pen and inkpot and mace, displays clearly that Chitragupta was the person who introduced the art of writing, brought and taught Vedas or books of knowledge and became the founder of those kshatriyas who are otherwise called civilians or kayasthas.
As is evident from the Rajatarangini, the Narammal and the Yajnavalkya Smriti, Kayasthas have ever been dutiful and upright, and in their administrative zeal exacting and realizing taxes from all, not exempting even the Brahmans, and thereby incurring their wrath. During the Mohammedan period too, it were the Kayasthas alone, who learnt the Muslim language and freely associated with the new rulers, thereby earning the unbecoming name of half-muslim.
Later on, when the Britishers came and dug firmly into the Indian soil, the kayasthas were quick to learn the English language and be at the helm of affairs. We can very well recall, the name of Shri V.Shankar, who was called back by Shri Morarji Desai, as his Principal Personal Secretary, when he became the Prime Minister during the Janta Rule for his statesmanship. Similarly, Shri B.B.Lal was made the first Governor of Sikkim to give viable government machinery to the new democratic state.
Similarly, long back into the past when Buddha preached his religion, it were the Kayasthas, who were the foremost in accepting and spreading the new faith – Buddha, Ghosh and Nagarjuna are a few example to quote. It is for this reason that they are opposed to the Brahmans and have been described in the pro-brahmanic books as low caste people the Vrashak. ”Even now they profusely represent the anti-Brahmanical sects of Buddhism, Jainism, Arya Samaj, Radha Swami, Mahapurushia and Pranami” and have for this reason earned their wrath and the derogatory position of Shudras. But how ludicrous, the Shudras commanding administratively and intellectually the caste Hindus for times immemorial. And in spite of this low status accorded to them, they have been denied the benefits that should naturally accrue to them.
This position has persisted to the present day and has been instrumental in creating misunderstanding about the caste status of the Kayasthas, particularly in Northern India. And the irony of the situation has been that the Kayasthas too enjoying high position in the body-politic did not take notice of all these persistent injunctions and kept on musing in the names – half-Muslim, shudra, etc., alluded to them.
They had thus developed a complex which kept them silent for a very long time, giving the Brahmans an opportunity to weave a web of misunderstanding about them by interpolating suktas in the scriptures or by defrauding information about them. A recent example is that of Rai Bahadur Shaligram Mathur, the founder of Radha Swami movement. His cast name has been omitted from the Amrit Bachan (introduction, page 2, 1st impression, Agra, 1928) though its compiler, one Brij Basi Lal has mentioned the caste of the first and the present Gurus. Similar is the case with the translators of Rajatarangini in Urdu language and that of the life of Col. Biswas, ex-commander of the Brazilian forces. “Bhavbhuti, a Sanskrit dramatist and a courtier of king Yashovardhan of Kannauj (c. 700 A.D.) has now been made Brahman Kulbhushan in place of the original Kayastha Kulbhushan in the recent edition of his drama Malvikagnimitra.
He had openly declared himself as Kayastha in the introduction of the book as ‘Mata Jamadgni-ki-kokh se utpanna Kulbhushan Shri Bhavbhuti ji maharaj padhar rahe hain; i.e. borne of mother Jamadaghri, Shri Bhavbhutiji, who is a descendant and a decoration of the Kayastha community, is now about to appear on the stage. Similarly, Mahakavi and dramatist Kalidas who flourished during the reign’ of king Vikrama of Ujjain was a Kayastha. As is apparent from the twelve Kayastha families their family deity is shakti in Her various aspects. Kalidas means the servant of Kali. Now as we can very well ascertain from history, that Brahmans haven’t got the appendage, ‘das’ after their names.
However, with the Indian renaissance and particularly under the influence of the western education, when the Kayasthas started showing off themselves outstandingly in various fields of learning and intellectual accomplishments, to quote the singular example of Lala Hardayal, they felt slighted at the mention of ‘shudra’ for them, and this led to rethinking among them.
This derogatory position of the Kayasthas had ostensibly, gone so far that it enraged a sanyasi like Swami Vivekanand, who was a Bengali Kayastha. When his fame, from across the seven seas, started echoing Bengal some reformists could not contain themselves. They began fuming and spitting venom against him, shouting that the one whom the Americans had been regarding so much and holding in such a high esteem was considered only a Shudra in India and that he had no right to propagate religion or deliver religious discourses.
On his return from America and in one of his historic speeches at Madras the Swami with a view to clear the insinuating stigma had said:”….. I read in the organ of the social reformers that I am called a Shudra in India and am challenged as to what right a Shudra has to become a Sanyasi. To which I reply: I trace my origin descent to one at whose feet every Brahman lays flowers when he utters the words: ‘Yaman Dharmarajaya Chitraguptaya Vai Namah’. And whose descentents are the purest of Kshatriyas. If you believe your mythology or your Puranic Scriptures, let those so called reformers know that my caste, apart from other services in the past, ruled half of India for centuries. If my caste is left out from consideration, what will there be left for the present day civilization of India? In Bengal alone, my blood has furnished them with their greatest philosopher, the greatest poet, the greatest historian, the greatest archaeologist, the greatest religious preacher; the greatest of her modern scientists of thi
s age. The derogators ought to have known a little of our history…..”.
And the claim put forward by the great Swami with such a force of conviction is further borne out clearly by the history and archaeology of the country. Up to the tenth century A.D. the word Kayastha had been used in the sense of God, the Almighty. Kshemendra, the author of Narmmala Deshopdesha and other works has used this word in this sense. As is evident from the quotation cited below, the word Kayastha used to be applied to those masters and leaders of the Hindu society who really knew the secrets of their people. They were the controllers of the destinies of the mankind. Among the Hindus their Raja is God and hence the appellation of Kayastha signifies Raja as well as God: Yenedam Svechchhaya Sarvam Mayaya Mohitam Jagat Sa Jaytyarjtah Shrimankayasthah Parmeshvarah.
Kayastha then, as a class, ruled the country, governed the destinies of their countrymen and guided them through the thick and thin for ages. In a report, published in newspapers originating from Andhra Pradesh where the Shakyasenas had once ruled, it had been pointed out that six inscriptions of the Kayastha rulers have been found in Nalgonda district. According to Dr. Venkatramnayya, Deputy Director of Archaeology of Andhra Pradesh and a veteran scholar, the Kayasthas ruled during the 13th century. Their capital was Valluru in Cuddappa district. The first Kayastha ruler, Rangayya Sahi was a commander of Ganapati Deva, the powerful Kakatiya, who carried his armies to many parts of the Southern India. Five Kayastha rulers have been mentioned in the newly discovered epigraphs. It may be pointed out here that Kakatiya (kikatya) is a family name of the descendant of the Karnans of Tamilnadu, claiming their origin from Shri Chitragupta. Prataprudra of Warrangal and the founder of Kakatiya dynasty was a solar ksha
As the history records the early kings of Patal, Ajodhya, Kapilvastu, Mithila, Vaishali, Magadha, Khandesha, Dwarika and Kashmir were Kayasthas, claiming themselves to be the descendents of Surya, the father of Shri Chitragupta. Mandhata, Sagar, Gautam Buddha, Vardhman Mahabir, Srivasta, Nikumbha, Asvapati, Kanaksena, Ram Chandra and Madhuriputra were the most important kings of the Solar lineage. Puranas mention Kings Mandhata and Suratha as Kayasthas, whereas Pal kings of Bengal were the lineal descendents of king Sagar in the same way as Shakyasenas are those of the Shakya Gautam Buddha, the Lichchivi sect of the Prabhoos, the Shrivastavas of the Srivasta, the Nigams of King Nigam, Patan Prabhoos of king Asvapati, the Vallabha or Valmik Kayasthas of Kanaksena and the Andhrawala Kayasthas of the Andhras. Sashankdeva or Narendragupta is mentioned by some authorities to be a descendent of King Karan of Mahabharat, who is mentioned as a Kayastha in Tarikh Nadri. King Ajatshatru a lineal descendent of Jayadrath
a of Mahabharat and the founder of the mighty kingdom of Magadha, passing through the Nandas, the Mauryas and the Gupta, was a Kayastha.
So the Kayasthas are so tightly woven in the fabric of India, enriching it so lavishly in its many faceted achievements in every field that can be thought of, that it is hardly possible to separate them from the Indian thought and culture. Right from the days of Shri Chitragupta, other names that focus of the screen of the past are Vishwamitra (he was a Lunar Kshatriya), Dhanvantri Shukhen, Buddha Ghosh, Amar Singh, the compiler of Amarkosh and his son Lachman, believed to be the author of Lachman Samhita; Nagarjuna, the Buddhist monk and a chemist; kalhan, a Prabhoo Kayastha (1148 A.D.) the compiler of Rajatarangani, and the great poet Ratan Singh (year 1164 A.D.) who was the pride of the Srivastava family. He was unrivalled in his mastery of the Nvayas of Gautam and Kashyapa. His son Devagana was also an equally great poet of versatile accomplishment and the equal of Parasurama in Dandaniti or law. Ram Das Srivastava was the Head Court Pandit of King Karibrahmandeva (his inscription 1314 A.D.) Dhirundha Bh
im, a Sakyasena is reported to have erected an image of Buddha at Gaya. Earlier the kinsmen of Vakataks are reported to have built the caves of Ajanta, while Mahidhar Saksena (Godwa inscription of Samvat 1616 of Bhattagram was as an anointed sacrificer i.e. the performer of Vedic rites. King Muktapid, also known as Lalibaditya (773 A.D.) a descendent of Durlabhvardhana, perpetuated his memory by erecting the famous Martand temple of Kashmir. King Jayapida had compiled the grammar of the Vedas.
Some of the grandest temples of khajuraho were built by Dhanga Deva (950-99 A.D.) a Chandelia King. There also stands a Chitragupta Mandir in complex. One important point about this temple (commonly known as a Suryo Mandir) that came to light in a talk with Shri R.L.Saxena, a Senior Architect of Delhi, who is also collecting all available information about Kayasthas in a library at his residence, is of importance. According to Shri Saksena there stands a colossus 12 ft high, having 11 faces and four hands, in the interior of this temple. He believevs it to be the statue of Shri Chitraguptaji faces representing Kayastha families, one that of Suryadhwajes having defected and now merged with the Brahmans.
However, this point needs further investigation, because placement of this statue inside the Surya mandir may lend support to what Shri Saxena believes it to be. It would have been much better if he had photographed it for use.
Similarly, the Sun temple of Konark in Orissa, built by Raja Narsimha, in the thirteenth century A.D., is also in line with the above two temples. This continues an incessant pageant of Kayastha’s glorious contribution in the realism of art and learning which to this day is overwhelming. A census, if it were taken, may very well reveal that among the present galaxy of men of art and letters at least 75% are Kayasthas. It is well worth mentioning here the epoch making luminories, like Mahadevi Verma, Dr Ram Kumar Verma, Raghupati Sahai Firaq Gorakhpuri, Dharma Vir Bharti, Kamleshwar, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Bhagwati Charan Verma M.P., besides Jagatdesh Chandra Mathur, Late Vrindaban Lal Verma, Sumitra Kumari Sinha all now late and so on. Prem Chandra whose Birth centenary we recently celebrated was the father of the Hindi fiction. Justice K.B.Asthana created history when he delivered his first ever judgement in Hindi as Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court. Although the Kayasthas are known for their Urdu
Zaban (Urdu language) they are today the main builders of Hindi literature. They have been the main supporters of the Hindi cause – Dr Sampurnanand (late) and Dr. Satya Prakash’s names are enough to quote.
Kayasthas, particularly women, are very much religious minded and tradition bound. Despite high education and modern thinking and the way of life they are full of enthusiasm and take due care in celebrating festivals with all sincerity and due reverence. Festivals also provide an occasion for displaying artistic talents. On every occasion a chowk is invariably drawn before puja. On Naga Panchmi, Nagas are drawn while on Janamashtmi, Ahoi ashtmi, Karvachoth and Deepavali, big pictographa are worked on walls, telling the story connected with the festival. Deepavali pictograph is meant for depicting the Virat swarup of Vishnu.
[For information relating the history of Kayasthas, the author is grateful to Mr. Gopi Nath Sinha whose book, “A Peep into the History & Status of Kayasthas”, Part I & II have been consulted.]