Impact of Vedic Culture on Society

by Kaushik Acharya | 2020 | 120,081 words

This page relates ‘Migration of Vedic Brahmanas and communities in Northern India’ of the study on the Impact of Vedic Culture on Society as Reflected in Select Sanskrit Inscriptions found in Northern India (4th Century CE to 12th Century CE). These pages discuss the ancient Indian tradition of Dana (making gifts, donation). They further study the migration, rituals and religious activities of Brahmanas and reveal how kings of northern India granted lands for the purpose of austerities and Vedic education.

Migration of Vedic Brāhmaṇas and communities in Northern India

From a study of the instances of migration, as discussed in this chapter, some conclusions may be drawn. We have experienced that during c. 475-750 CE, at around three hundred years, when most migrations are known to us from the region of Gujarat, the movement was confined to short distances. The majority of the Maitraka charters show that brahmaṇas moved within Gujarat, and most of the brāhmaṇas of Gujarat did not leave Gujarat even after the later medieval period. However, during the 8th to 11th century CE, long-distance migrations became more usual. Mostly Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Odisha, the Kanara district, became the centers of movement. Some distant migration can be seen in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and even in North Bengal as well. Bihar and Assam follow after this, as these regions became places of migration during the eleventh century. Migration from the Bengal region to other parts of India was a common scenario during the 10th century; however, there was a time when Bengal was devoid of brāhmaṇas as discussed earlier. During the later half of the medieval period, we experienced vedic brāhmaṇas traveled from villages in Bengal (Vardhamana, Pundravardhana/ north Bengal, and other places) to the areas of far south towards Karnataka, Madhyapradesh or the Decan. There is the enigmatic mention of cātur-vidyā sāmãnya with the prefix Valabhī. This phrase might have indicated that the place Valabhī was abounding in scholars in all the four Vedas . There is no doubt that the sites mentioned inthe Gujarat region, especially Valabhī, Saurashtra,and others,became one of the major centers of Vedic culture and education at that time. As a result, we may notice, most of the examples of migration confined into the places in Gujarat region. In marked contrast, were brāhmaṇas who went from different parts of Madhyadeśa to villages in Bengal and Odisha in the east, and others who came from Bengal to northern Maharashtra in the Deccan.

Coming to the places from where the brāhmaṇas have emigrated, and those, to which they went. Better living, necessary facilities, the familiarity of surroundings, and othersmay have been mainly responsiblefor the movement of vedic brāhmaṇas from villages towards contemporary cities and villages to advanced villages. It turns out that in most cases, the villages could not be identified. Those unidentified villages maybe were not that popular for migrants or were not good enough for living. Because not only the land donated by the kings, there are also examples of brāhmaṇas asking for the area of their choice. Thus, we are struggling to find those villages, although their names are being mentioned. The names of those less popular villages have not been found in contemporary literary sources, too, so the problem leads to more.In most of the Maitraka charters, brahmaṇas who left the city, moved not to the villages but to important towns like Kaira or the capital town Valabhī.

Most of the brahmaṇas who came to settle in Bihar, Bengal, and Odisha, mostly of them emigrated from villages. They took up brand-new residence in other advanced villages and nearby cities. Some of the immigrant brāhmaṇas left their towns to settle in villages. Some of the grants of the early Gurjaras, and a few of Somavaṃsīs of Odisha, reveal this kind of trend. This phenomenon, however, is very few and difficult to explain.

Not only this, there is also a tendency to move from one city to another. The examples of Gujarat show some other trends. The patterns of migration in Gujarat bear some of these movements from towns to towns-in the early period. For example, we may recall the cases of Magopadatta, who left Ānandapura and came to the capital city Valabhī. Nārāyanamitra and Visṇumitra, both of them have emigrated from Ānandapura to Kheṭaka. These all are ancient cities during the Maitraka rule. These can be explained thus, a city always offers more significant opportunities, better livings as far as earning a livelihood is concerned as we discussed earlier. The brāhmaṇas who left their ancestral homes probably moved to the cities instead of going to the villages for economic reasons.

Besides, since the early centuries, Gujarat had many business centers and ports, which added to the attraction to the towns and contained within themselves the promise of wealth and fortune. The amount of land received from the kings mostly was way too much, and they were utterly tax-free, and with that, the enormous opportunity was given to them; it was convenient to make a decision. If they get the same chance, rights, and privileges as the donees, anyone will want to migrate at present. Besides, the vedic brāhmaṇas have been seen migrating with their whole family, so it doesn't seem to have been a problem. Apart from that, the ruling family brought brāhmaṇas from villages to towns. It is clearly understood from the descriptions of the sources. Leaving their ancestral villages, they migrated to the cities. They later received large grants from the respective provinces like Raṣṭrakūṭas (Govinda-IV), the Somavaṃśis (MahābhavaguptaI), the Paramāras (Vairisiṃha), and among others respectively.

From the above discussion, we can make a Density Map, which can give an overall idea about the migration of Vedic brāhmaṇas at that time. This Density Map shows which regions have seen the most examples of immigrationduring the early and earlymedieval period (4th to 12th century CE) in Northern India in terms of the present location. Needless to say, it will be helpful to understand the spread of the vedic brāhmaṇas in northern India and where most immigration has taken place during the 4th to 12th century. It was on this varied pattern that brāhmaṇas in Northern India migrated from one part of the country to another. There must be other reasons besides the ones mentioned behind the migration of vedic brāhmaṇas. The reasons why they moved, and how they fared in the lands to which they went will now be assessed.

It must be remembered that just a change of residence can not be termed as migration. Migration can occur in a variety of scales. However, the epigraphs coming from the area under study reveal no particular migration patterns. Perhaps the reason for immigration was not the same everywhere. There may be urban migration from the countryside in search of opportunities, but at the same time, one can go from one village to another for specific reasons.

It is stated in detail that a large number of vedic brahmins continued to move throughout the period under discussion. It is seen frequently in almost every charter that these vedic brāhmaṇas were bestowed those properties by the king to initiate vedic teachings or to perform sacrifices on behalf of the donor king and those activities would bring religious merit and fame to the king and his parents. So, it seems the king brought qualified brāhmaṇas from different parts of the country for that reason. However, we cannot consider it as the only reason behind the migration of vedic brāhmaṇas. But, contemporary inscriptions are entirely silent on the factors which prompted these migrations.

We witnessed from the land grant charters that the brāhmaṇas either moved from one place to another or, permanently left their home and migrated to new areas. In some cases, it refers to the original habitat of donee brāhmaṇa along with the donated village, which helps us determine the direction of their movements and the distances they covered. Sometimes one brāhmaṇa is seen to have been awarded two plots in two separate areas through a single charter. It is often seen that the same brāhmaṇa is getting different places situated in various locations as a donation at a different time. It is not possible for him to be in two or more areas alone. Even they not needed to move and settled down every time to the donated locations. Still, revenues and remunerations from the tenants and payouts from the crops of the donated villages or lands made them carry on the expenses of their own and those expensive sacrifices.

For example, a set of Kaira Plates of Gurjara King Dadda-II (Praśāntarāga), issued in c. 629-630 CE[1] refers to the grant of a village named Śirīṣapadraka situated in the Akrureśvaraviṣaya. This grant, with usual rights and privileges, was given collectively to forty brāhmaṇas belonging to the different branches of the Vedas , and they enjoyed together the income earned from the donated village. Another grant of the time of Indra-III from Chinchani dated c. 926-927 CE[2] mentions that an endowment was made consisting of a village Kanaduka and some land in Devihara village so that the income accruing from it could be utilized for the maintenance. However, they haven’t moved there to donated communities permanently, and the inscriptions must include their whole identity, from where they emigrated, where they were residing at that time, and among others to reduce further confusion about those properties. It was meant to protect his land in the future. Yet, no one knows him in an unfamiliar place, so it was necessary to mention his proper identity so that the grant could be enjoyed without any disturbances.

Moreover, many of the donations were made to maintain vedic sacrifices like the pañcamahāyajña (five great sacrifices) viz. bali, caru, vaiśvadeva, and atithi-tarpaṇa and for the maintenance of the alternative, essential, and occasional rites viz. kāmya-nityanaimittika-karmas. In other words, the money earned from the donated lands will help to maintain those sacrifices. In this regard, we may quote Cambay Plates of Govinda-IV[3] in c. 930 CE. This grant carried with it certain rights like udraṅga, etc, and it was made for several purposes,[4] including the purpose of maintaining those sacrifices as mentioned above. Moreover, this grant was made to various highly qualified vedic priests such as Maitrāvaruṇa, Adhvaryu, Hotṛ, Brāhmaṇacchaṃsī, Grāvastuta, and Agnīdhra; etc. As we see, several donations were made to well qualified brāhmaṇas to promote the yajña-centric vedic culture.

This was quite obvious that, for different vedic sacrificial ceremonies, vedic brāhmaṇas were invited and sometimes given lands as sacrificial fees as the performance of five great sacrifices and others are often mentioned as the reason for which a brāhmaṇa receives the donation. Apart from the inscriptional shreds of evidence, Ādisūra legend can be an elegant example here. According to the legend, five brāhmaṇas returned to their homeland Kanauj from Bengal after performing a sacrifice for Ādisūra. After treated as degraded brāhmaṇas by their relatives, they again returned to Bengal, where the King Ādisūra granted them five villages to live.[5]

However, scholars like R. Chandra,[6] N. Basu,[7] R.D. Bandyopadhyaya,[8] P. Niyogi,[9] B.N. Sharma,[10] D.C Sircar,[11] R.C Majumdar,[12] and others have accepted more or less the story and did not doubt on the existence of Ādisūra. Still, most of them refused to accept and doubted the historicity and authenticity of it. However, we won’t discuss their opinions about the Ādisūra legend here. Still, by reading their views and analyzing the pattern of land grant charters, we may draw a picture regarding this issue. Of course, these movements did not take place as a result of the invitation from the respective provinces.Thus, some other factors were undoubtedly responsible for the migration of the brāhmaṇa

The location of the donated lands, rather than any other intention in some cases, points to political issues, as being responsible for such movements. The grant of one village to a group of migrant brāhmaṇas may have been prompted by a desire to colonize new areas that the king conquered or occupied a few months or a year ago. The king felt that it would be easier to rule the new areas if he settled a large number of brāhmaṇas there. Furthermore, the social position of the brāhmaṇas could guarantee their protection from the attacks of the neighboring kings, and their presence in the border areas could protect the border guards of the state. That is why sometimes they were asked to settle in newly acquired areas or border areas. For example, by the Bonda Plates,[13] MahāśivaTīvara-rāja orders to the residents of Bondaka and Avaḍika in Piharāja-bhukti that the village has been granted in favor of twenty-five brāhmaṇas belonged to Yajurveda, and Sāmaveda. Mahāśiva-Tīvara-rāja is known to have flourished in South Kośala, which comprising the Raipur-Bilāspur-Sambalpur areas.

On the other hand, D.C. Sircar identified the Bondaka with modern Bonda, which is situated in about two miles from the bank of the Mahānadī in Raigarh district of Madhya Pradesh. It shows that the purpose behind the grant and settlement of these twenty-five brāhmaṇas was to protect and consolidate the newly acquired places. So, there may have been an invitation from the donor king himself in the case of the collective land grants. Śilāditya-I of Maitrakas of Valabhī dynasty, by his Navalākhī Plates, (c. 605-606 CE or, c. 545-546 CE)[14] granted the village Bhoṇḍānaka included in Vaṭanagara-sthālī, to forty-four migrant brāhmaṇas, probably in the Baroda region. All forty-four brāhmaṇas had emigrated from Saṃgapurī. At the time when Śilāditya-I was in charge, the Maitrakas was gradually consolidating their power from Malwa to the oceans of Kutch in western India.[15] Introducing brāhmaṇas might be the first step in ruling the new place.

Similarly, by his Gaonri Plates,[16] in c. 981 CE, Paramāra King Vākpati-II settled twenty-six brāhmaṇas in the Hūṇamanḍala which is identified with the northern part of the Malwa plateau. Probably Hūṇamanḍala formed the boundary of his kingdom. The brāhmaṇas can be used to create moral pressure on the new people and to ensure their allegiance to the king. So, it seems in all these cases, and the kings served their political motives behind the propagation of the Brahmanical religion. Among the vedic brāhmaṇas, some had emigrated from other regions, but, these migrations had taken place sometime before the date of the grant, and the brāhmaṇas were already living somewhere in the vicinity of the donated villages, which is evidenced by the land grant charters as the inscriptions describe the brāhmaṇas was migrated from a certain place (ancestral location). He was residing in a specific area (likely known places) at the time of receiving the grant. The grant was made after the brāhmaṇas had already moved there and started living in a particular area nearby the donated locations.

Needless to say, a natural desire for security and a more settled life might have prompted several brāhmaṇas to leave the politically disturbed region. This political instability was maybe another reason behind some of those movements to some extent. At its height in the early 9th century, the Pāla dynasty was the dominant power in the northern Indian subcontinent, and they brought stability and prosperity to Bengal.[17] It is to be noted that most of the emigrations of vedic brāhmaṇas from Bengal occurred during the years, which marked the growing weakness and instability of the Pāla Empire.

The brāhmaṇas are seen to have been emigrated from one or two particular places. We may name those places as migration centers. For example, Ānandapura or modern Vaḍnagar in Gujarat was one of them that has been attested by seven Maitraka grants as mentioned above viz. Grant of Dharasena II (c. 589-590 CE), Vāla Plates of Śilāditya-I (c. 606 CE), Amreli Museum Plates (c. 642 -643 CE), Alina Plates of Dharasena-IV (c. 649–650 CE), Alina Plates of Kharagraha-II (c. 656–657 CE), Grant of Śilāditya-III (c. 666 CE) and Lunsadi Plates of Sīlāditya II–B (c. 671–672 CE). This may be due to over-population by brāhmaṇas of equal educational qualifications and intellect, or perhaps the brāhmaṇas of that place had so much skill and ability that everyone eagerly invited them.

In addition to these socio-political and religious issues, Natural disasters can also be considered a cause in a few cases, although not in all cases. A story depicted in Kathāsaritasāgara, where driven by famine, Brāhmaṇa Govindasvāmin and Yaśaskara were moved to Benares and Visālā as discussed earlier.

Apart from the above factors, some scholars have mentioned other probable reasons that prompted those movements. Ramendra Nath Nandi[18] in his book ‘Social Roots of Religion in Ancient India’ has mentioned several more causes that include, nonconfirmation of the previous grants, the urge to gain the patronage of the dynasty, disputes between different groups of donees coming from different places and belonging to different vedic branches of learning, the underlying nature of the riots in the donated areas, the decay of cities, and other causes of the migration of brāhmaṇas.

Our present study carries valuable information about the migration of vedic brāhmaṇas and testifies that the vedic tradition was quite popular in the country. Whatever the reason behind this migration, it was the reason for spreading vedic culture all over the country. We may now draw another Density Map, which can be easily guessed by looking at the places where most of the vedic brāhmaṇas lived during the early and early medieval period (4th to 12th century CE) in Northern Indiain terms of the present location.

These incidents of migration of vedic brāhmaṇas can be a handy element in identifying the centers of vedic practice and notable for understanding the spread of vedic culture and tradition in all parts of northern India. Where vedic culture exists as an essential part of society, there is no doubt that the vedic scriptures and rituals were then practiced with great care.

[The Movement of Vedic Brāhmaṇas During Early and Early-Medieval Period in Northern India]

The migration of vedic brāhmaṇas and communities in northern India during early and early medieval periods presents a fascinating story of social mobility.The movement of the vedic brāhmaṇas in Northern India has been recorded in inscriptional shreds of evidence, mostly in those land grant charters, as discussed earlier. However, some scholars like P. Niyogi, in her ‘Brahmanic Settlements in Different Subdivisions of Ancient Bengal,’ S. Datta in ‘Migrant Brāhmaṇas in Northern India,’ B.N. Sharma in ‘The Social and Cultural History of Northern India, gathered a handful of instances of migration and others have tried to shed light on this topic under discussion. However, our present survey deals with the migrant vedic brāhmaṇas in Northern India during 4th to 12th centuries on the basis of select north Indian Sanskrit Inscriptions with reference to contemporary literary sources, e.g., the Rājatarañgiṇi, Kathāsaritasāgara, Harṣacarita, Bālrāmāyaṇa, Daśakumāracarita, and others that record instances of migration in a literary way as we discussed earlier. A study of these sources reveals most of the factors that were responsible for such immigrations. Encouraged by findings from the different sources and views of such scholars, we have tried to make a compact study of the same in this chapter.

The inscriptions of northern India do not contain any hint regarding the reason for such migrations. Yet an examination of the political situation of the time, together with social and economic factors and descriptions found in these inscriptions, and critical studies made by scholars help usspeculate some probable causes.

It is way too impossible to find out the number of vedic brāhmaṇas who migrated during a century, but a broad idea of the number of migrants can be gathered from the land grant charters, and we tried to show them on several maps.

Generally, most of the cases the land granteed to a vedic brāhmaṇa in any period used to be free from all individual taxes. Those lands were either cultivable or barren. Besides, it came with certain privileges and a guarantee that the donee could enjoy the grant hereditarily without any disturbance (these will be discussed in another chapter later in detail). Interestingly, the donees had the right to collect various types of taxes from the lands later, which were cultivable. Naturally, the financial status of the migrants depended on the geographical location and nature of the donated property and the opportunity to collect taxes from the tenants. Attempts have been made in the first chapter to highlight their position and contribution to the social life and culture of northern India.

The migrant brāhmaṇas took up residence in brāhmaṇa villages that may be noticed only in the context of the boundaries mentioned in those charters. Brāhmaṇas with common gotra, vedic branch of specialization, affiliation and origin, often tended to live together in the same place. In most of the cases, the donee brāhmaṇas had the same specific qualifications (vedic). Naturally, migrant brāhmaṇas were selected-beneficiaries of the Rulers and their feudatory kings. During the early phase of the period under discussion, the brāhmaṇas received plots of land of various sizes. One or more villages were donated to them later. And in a much later period they have been seen to receive one or more plots like 100 Padavaṭṭas, 120 Nivartanas etc. (simultaneous measurements of land properties that will be discussed in another chapter) of the concerned villages.

It is noteworthy that as per the inscriptional records in the early period, the instances of migration of vedic brāhmaṇas were few, and before the 6th century they were confined to Gujarat mostly. Later they became more frequent in number and moved to several places. During these years, particular regions appear as centers of emigration, and the mainstream of movement was towards western and eastern areas from middle India. However, in our study, we may notice that the migrations were mostly intraprovincial. Whatever it is, there is no doubt that vedic culture spread to major regions and gradually established itself at every level of the society.

Footnotes and references:


USVAE, vol. IV, part I, pp. 355-366.


EI, vol. XXXII, p. 53.


USVAE, vol. VII, pp. 156-166.


Bali, caru, vaiśvadeva and atithi-tarpaṇa and for the performance of the optional, indispensable and occasional rites viz. kāmya-nitya-naimittika-karmas, śrāddha, Darśapūrṇamāsa, Cāturmāsya, Ashṭakā and Āgrayaṇa rites; for the purpose of preparing the caru, puroḍāśa, sthālīpāka and others; for the purpose of granting priestly fees and gifts (dāna-dakṣiṇā) in connection with homa, niyama, the study of one’s own Veda (svādhyāya) and religious service; for the purpose of providing accessory assistance for the rites concerning Rājasūya, and the seven forms of the Soma sacrifice (sapta-soma) such as the offering garments, ornaments, entertainment, gift, sacrificial fees, etc. (vastrlaṃkārasatkāradānadakshiṇādi) and finally for the purpose of supplying the requisite materials for preparing sattra, prapā, pratiśraya, vṛshotsarga, reservoirs, wells, tanks, orchards, temples.


Ādisūra Legend: It was Ādisūra of Bengal who requested the king of Kanauj to send five learned brāhmaṇas who had enough knowledge of the Vedas and vedic rituals. Unfortunately, the request was rejected. This story is depicted in the tradition in the Kulajis and Kulapañjikās, of the Rādhiya and Vārendra brāhmaṇas of Bengal. When the king of Kanauj refused, Ādisūra sent seven hundred brāhmaṇas of Bengal against him on horseback, because he knew that his opponents would not ride on the bulls and take up arms against the brāhmaṇas. As expected, the king of Kanauj refrained from fighting and sent five brāhmaṇas at the request of Ādisūra. In Bengal, these five brāhmaṇas returned to Kanauj after a sacrifice. But at home, their relatives treated them as degraded brāhmaṇas, as they had made a journey to Bengal, and asked them to perform penances. At this, they, with their wives and servants, returned to Bengal, where the king granted them five villages to live. The Rādhiya and Vārendra brāhmaṇas of Bengal is described as the descendants of these five brāhmaṇas. Those seven hundred brāhmaṇas who had gone to fight for Ādisūra later came to be known as Saptaśati.


R. Chanda, Gauḍa-Rāja-Mālā, pp. 68-71.


N. Vasu, Baṅgera Jātīya Itihāsa, pp. 92-112.


R.D. Bandyopadhyay, Bāṅgālāra Itihāsa, p. 103.


P. Niyogi, Brahmanic Settlements in Different Subdivisions of Ancient Bengal. p. 24.


B.N. Sharma, The Social and Cultural History of Northern India, p. 16.


D.C. Sircar, op. cit., pp. 12-30.


R.C. Majumdar, History of Ancient Bengal, pp. 442, 413, 409-415.


USVAE, vol. IV, part I, pp. 47-48.


Ibid., pp. 159-166.


Krishnakumari J. Virji, Ancient history of Saurashtra: being a study of the Maitrakas of Valabhi V to VIII centuries A. D. Indian History and Culture Series.


USVAE, vol. VII, pp. 344-352.


Sailendra Nath Sen, Ancient Indian History and Civilization, pp. 277–287.


Ramendra Nath Nandi, Social Roots of Religion in Ancient India, pp. 40-44.

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