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Old September 10th, 2017, 04:51 AM   #11

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While there is some point to what you say but Brahmin supremacy is very conspiciously differant from other "spiritual elites" as this was position inheritated by birth. A priestly class that were qualified by their birth is quite unlike Christian religious leaders.
Unlike Christian tradition yes, but not necessarily unlike other pantheistic cultures.

Early Japanese tribes were ruled by shaman queens, who were the direct line to the gods for the tribe. Even today, priesthood is often passed down through families.

Once the spiritual and temporal authorities were merged into a single position, it then became inheritable by birth.
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Old September 10th, 2017, 07:58 AM   #12

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While there is some point to what you say but Brahmin supremacy is very conspiciously different from other "spiritual elites" as this was position inheritated by birth.
True and that is what is known as 'Samskaras' - in short, training. The training started very early and along with it came restrictions, especially in case of brahmins - vegetarian food, no liquor, long hours of study, observances of rituals. And all that did not result in riches, brahmins mostly remained poor, often proverbially so, depending on the munificence of the society. In mythological tmes, brahmins and their students subsisted on 'bhiksha' (alms). It was a daily routine for the students to go around the town begging for food. It was tough life. Most brahmin stories start with the sentence 'At one time there lived a poor brahmin ..'. So, they were compensated with respect. Of course, things degenerated later.

Now it is just a ritual, in olden times, this heralded some 18 years of hard life in a hermitage.
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Old September 10th, 2017, 10:34 AM   #13

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True and that is what is known as 'Samskaras' - in short, training. The training started very early and along with it came restrictions, especially in case of brahmins - vegetarian food, no liquor, long hours of study, observances of rituals. And all that did not result in riches, brahmins mostly remained poor, often proverbially so, depending on the munificence of the society. Now it is just a ritual, in olden times, this heralded some 18 years of hard life in a hermitage.
Thanks for that info. I have always imagined Brahmins as a privilaged elite who lived it good like royalty.
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Old September 10th, 2017, 06:48 PM   #14

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Yes, a few who might have been advisers to the rulers would have been prosperous, but most were poor. Their advantage came in the British period with education. They were the first with that. Those who lagged in education and continued with the traditional occupation are still poor.
The image above (Bhiksha - alms) is the concluding part of the sacred thread ceremony (Yajnopavita/Upanayan), with that the child would not come back to the family till he completed his education.

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Old September 11th, 2017, 12:35 AM   #15

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We have become conditioned to look at the world in a certain way.
In a way correct. West of Iran is sort of impure for us. We can adjust with about that much. I checked 1,800 miles as the crow flies from Moyan-jo-dero to Washikunni, the Mittani capital on River Khabur.
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Old September 11th, 2017, 03:29 AM   #16
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Yes, a few who might have been advisers to the rulers would have been prosperous, but most were poor. Their advantage came in the British period with education. They were the first with that. Those who lagged in education and continued with the traditional occupation are still poor.
The image above (Bhiksha - alms) is the concluding part of the sacred thread ceremony (Yajnopavita/Upanayan), with that the child would not come back to the family till he completed his education.
How does this tally with the East India Company's preference for recruiting Brahmins for its Bengal Army?

I was under the impression that this was due to them being larger and fitter than the average of the population of Bengal.
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Old September 11th, 2017, 04:19 AM   #17

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In a way correct. West of Iran is sort of impure for us. We can adjust with about that much. I checked 1,800 miles as the crow flies from Moyan-jo-dero to Washikunni, the Mittani capital on River Khabur.
I find this concept of "impure line" west of Iran as strange. Where does this come from?
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Old September 11th, 2017, 04:31 AM   #18

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How does this tally with the East India Company's preference for recruiting Brahmins for its Bengal Army?

I was under the impression that this was due to them being larger and fitter than the average of the population of Bengal.
I also have this impression of Brahmins being larger and for lack of better word more Caucasoid then the "indigenous" peoples of India. Maybe this comes from the controversial Aryan migration theory as Brahmins are a elite vestige of that.

On the subject of preferance by British in their recruiment of what they called "classes" [ethnic groups] to the British Indian Army three groups stand out. First, the Punjabi Muslim who provided the "backbone of the British Indian Army" ~ Sepoy in Trenches Gordon Corrogan. Rawalpindi District in what is now Pakistan provided more men than any other district to BIA.


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The second group was Pakhtuns of NWFP who provided more men per unit of population to BIA. And then we have the third group that is more well known - the Punjabi Sikhs.
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Old September 11th, 2017, 05:06 AM   #19
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I also have this impression of Brahmins being larger and for lack of better word more Caucasoid then the "indigenous" peoples of India. Maybe this comes from the controversial Aryan migration theory as Brahmins are a elite vestige of that.

On the subject of preferance by British in their recruiment of what they called "classes" [ethnic groups] to the British Indian Army three groups stand out. First, the Punjabi Muslim who provided the "backbone of the British Indian Army" ~ Sepoy in Trenches Gordon Corrogan. Rawalpindi District in what is now Pakistan provided more men than any other district to BIA.


Click the image to open in full size.





The second group was Pakhtuns of NWFP who provided more men per unit of population to BIA. And then we have the third group that is more well known - the Punjabi Sikhs.

But the preference for Sikhs and Punjabi Muslims came in the later stages.

I doubt that there was any idea of an Aryan connection at the time of Clive of India when the Army was restricted to Bengal.

As we know the East Indian Company was a bunch of avaricious, grasping traders aiming to acquire as much wealth as quickly as possible and adding a military arm to support this. I would have thought they would choose the most effective fighting material they had available in Bengal and hence the preference for Bengali Brahmins.
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Old September 11th, 2017, 06:55 AM   #20

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But the preference for Sikhs and Punjabi Muslims came in the later stages.
Thank you. I was going to write this, but I noticed you've mentioned it already.
You are correct about this. People forget that there was significant reorganization in the Bengal Army following 1857. The Punjabi dominance started before it, but was solidified afterwards since the regions which saw the strongest revolts were subsequently purged from Recruitment. This was also why the British created the myth of a compliant Punjab during the Revolt, both to undermine its character and also to suggest that the Punjabis were "loyal" during the revolt. As K.C Yadav (see his essay in Rethinking 1857 by Sabyasachi Bhattacharya) has recently shown, this is far from true. Except for the narrow Princely State territories gained by the British through treaty in the early 19th century, the Punjab territories gave no soldiers to the British and infact saw many revolts in the camps. Because Punjab was significantly more militarized with a ratio of 100 civilians to a soldier as opposed to a couple of thousand civilians to soldiers in other parts of the Bengal Army controlled regions, the revolts were easier to put down.
Nonetheless Punjab was far from compliant.

Post 1857, there isn't as much clarity about religious composition. Recruitment was pretty strict though. Infact even customs played a role in who was recruited. In the case of Sikhs for instance, if a certain community did not perform certain rituals, they weren't considered Sikh by the British, and thus their members weren't recruited.
At its most basic, the recruitment policies were about power, since communities from which the Bengal Army recruited gained community power, even though service conditions remained quite poor after 1857, though not as bad as they were before. Still, it created a level of access for communities on par for what the other upper caste communities gained by becoming lower order civil servants. It kept them loyal as well, since it was through cleaving to the British and denying other communities access that their power was retained. Atleast that's how the British conceptualized it. To some extent they were correct, but they couldn't properly account for popular sentiments and feelings which eventually coalesced into the National Movement. Kept them pretty stable for quite a few decades though.

I'm not as certain about the Religious component though. Yes some communities of Punjabi muslims were favoured, but equally other communities such as the Kashmiri Dogras, the Gurkhas, the Sikhs and a few other Rajput communities remained important. It was only the Biharis and Bundelkhand region troops (ie Awadhi and Gwalior area troops) that were purged. Whether one community formed the backbone or not would ideally require a careful regimental analysis of the Bengal Army. Care should be taken when evaluating sources such as British reports on characterization because we know that playing up community feelings was practiced by British administrators at various points in time. Thus we need to pair expressions by officials with recruitment data. I know there's material out there, but I don't remember it off-hand. Generally you should check Rethinking 1857 and Mutiny at the Margins (Multi Volume set edited by Crispin Bates. I forget which volume deals with the military - I'm sure you can google it)

We should recall though, that while the Bengal Army (and later that command in the unified British Army in India) was the premier unit of British military force, there were two other Armies in India, which served important garrison duties - the Madras and Bombay armies. They too had composition issues, which changed. Notably for instance the Mahars (Ambedkar's community) was purged from its recruitment as they were declared lower caste and thus non-martial sometime in the 19th century. This prompted petitions from the community - it initially sought to cite its glorious military service, notably in the Maratha Wars. They highlighted the victory memorials erected over it, and some of these have infact remain important commemorative sites to the community even today. Later they changed tack (as the martial races theory became systematized and entrenched) by arguing that they were infact a martial race, claiming that they were of Kshatroya origins and only became lower caste when some primordial ancestor ate beef. Its a fascinating history, really, and has been looked at in the context of power relations, petitions and the like. I'll try and hunt up the source for this if you'd like (We cover a lot of this in our mid century and Mutiny coursework at DU).


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I doubt that there was any idea of an Aryan connection at the time of Clive of India when the Army was restricted to Bengal.
This is correct. The whole Migration stuff came long after. British recruitment policy was driven by physiological ideas and local practices. Thus for instance they sought to recruit the Indian equivalent of "Highlanders", hence preferring troops from hilly and mountainous regions if they could get them. Its worth noting that the Bengal Army never really recruited from Bengal . I would recommend Seema Alavi's The Sepoys and the Company, which engages specifically with your questions of recruitment. You should also look at Dirk Kolff's Naukar, Rajput, and Sepoy if you get a chance, though it deals with slightly different issues.

Long story short is that the British preferred Brahmins and Rajputs for the simple reason that they reasoned that being upper castes they must be the "leaders" of the communities. There was also the attendant logic that upper-class landowing and landholding communities would have higher average fitness. For the second the logic actually holds up if you think about it. Wealthy Upper Caste communities would arguably have had better nutrition, healthcare, etc. They'd have higher average fitness. Racial considerations were also tied into this, sometimes some ideas were driven by just plain randomness. You should read about Robert Orme.

Still, its my understanding that in the broad recruitment pattern, Kshatriya communities dominated over Brahmin. There is ofcourse some contestation over these communities. The Bhumiars for example were a major component in British armies. Since they were also landholders, and as a consequence of British support, they began to claim higher varna status. Alavi discusses this in the context of Varanasi/Benares specifically where they acquired political power in the 18th and 19th century. It is there that they began claiming Brahmin status as I understand it, though a more formal movement emerged in the late 19th early 20th century. Alavi's discussion on this is and Varanasi politics in the context of regional state formation and communities power structures is quite fascinating. Post 1857, so far as I recall, the Bhumiars were not recruited, though i could be wrong.


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As we know the East Indian Company was a bunch of avaricious, grasping traders aiming to acquire as much wealth as quickly as possible and adding a military arm to support this. I would have thought they would choose the most effective fighting material they had available in Bengal and hence the preference for Bengali Brahmins.
That's mostly fair, but the image is perhaps a little more complex than that. Though many in the post 1757 EIC were traders, many weren't (the latter a growing number from 1757-1833). The Covenanted servants of the Company for instance, especially the lot trained in the 19th century first at Fort William College and later at the EIC college at Haileybury were trained as administrators and governors (though you could debate whether they were really "trained"). The EIC did pay attention to governance, if for no other reason as to maximize their earnings from land revenue. Remember in 1813 their monopoly over India trade was ended. In 1833, even the China trade monopoly was closed. The EIC had begun transitioning from being a mercantile company to an administrative entity from 1757 itself. From the 19th century it was more administrative than anything. Private traders operated under its aegis, its own company men could engage in private trade and the company operated certain trade commodities directly (notably Opium) but it had a growing admin component as well. It was fully transformed by 1833, following which it really stopped being a trading company at all. Trade was now completely private, except for a few administrative monopolies it owned. If you're interested, consider looking up H.V Bowen's Business of Empire. You could also look at Dirk's Scandal of Empire and perhaps Nick Robins' The Corporation that Changed the World. That last one is less academic and more popular, but hey its a different perspective. I personally think its a bit too generalized, and definitely too full of platitudes and unsupported vacuous claims, but others could disagree and if I only provided books I exclusively agreed with, I'd be a piss poor academic.

Last edited by tornada; September 11th, 2017 at 06:57 AM.
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