The Utkala Brahmins
BY: SUN STAFF
F.B. Solvyns, c. 1780, Calcutta
Jan 03, CANADA (SUN) An historical study in two parts of the establishment of brahminical communities in Orissa state.
The Utkala Kingdom was located in the eastern portion of the modern-day state of Orissa. The boundaries of the Utkala region are formed by the River Ganga in the north to River Godavari in the south, and Amarkantak Hills in the west to the Bay of Bengal in the east. Mentioned in the epic Mahabharata, the Utkala Kingdom is referred to by the names Utkala, Utpala, Okkal and Okkali.
To this day, Utkala is mentioned in India's national anthem, Jana Gana Mana. At various points in time it has also been known as Kalinga, Dakhina Koshala, Kongada, Odra Desha, Odra Vishaya, Dandabhukti, Odabadi, Matsadesha, Jajnagar, Udisa Subah.
Surya Vamsi emperor of Orissa Gajapti Kapilendra Dev renamed his kingdom from Utakala to Odisha Rastra. Later the British East India Company occupied parts of the state and renamed it Orissa.
Utkala or Utkal Brahmins, also known today as Oriya (Odiya) or Orissa Brahmins, are a Jati (caste) who live mainly in Orissa and the nearby areas of Chattisgarh, Northern Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, and Jharkhand. The Utkal Brahmins constitute the farthest branch of the Panch-Gauda in the east, south of Maithils. Panch-Gauda and Panch-Dravida are two chief divisions of these Brahmins.
South of the Vindhya mountains are the "five Dravidas", a groups of brahmins comprised of the Karnatakas, Tailangas, Dravidas, Maharashtrakas, and Gurjaras. North of the Vindhya mountains are the "five Gaudas", or groups of brahmins comprised of the Sarasvatas, Kanyakubjas, Gaudas, Utkalas, and Maithilas.
Origin of Utkala Brahmins
In the phylogenetic tree, the Orissa Brahmins are said to show a close affinity to populations of North India. The Sanskrit text, Brahmanotpatti-martanda, states that a king named Utkala invited brahmins from the Gangetic Valley to perform a yajna in Jagannath Puri. When the yajna ended, the visiting brahmins laid the foundation of Lord Jagannath worship there, and settled there to continue serving the Lord. The Utkala Brahmins have long been responsible for priestly duties at the Jagannath Temple in Puri, and elsewhere in Orissa.
Slokas in another Sanskrit text mention a king named Sudyumna, who was born of King Ila in the Ikvaku dynasty. Sudyumna had three sons who founded their own kingdoms. One son, Utkala, founded Utkala state, with its capital at Puri. Another son, Gaya, founded Gaya in Bihar, while the third son, Haritasca, founded a state in the east.
Brahminism flourished in Orissa under the Mathara rulers during the fourth and fifth centuries AD. The Sailodbhava rulers made arrangements for the study of Vedic science. An Aswamedha sacrifice was performed by King Madhav Varman in the 7th century AD. During the time of the Keshari rulers, Shaivism gained importance, but in the 9th century, Utkaladhipati Yajati Keshari brought 10,000 brahmins from the Gangetic Valley and Kannauj in an effort to preserve the sanctity and purity of Brahminism in the region. He settled the brahmins in his capital, Jajati Nagar, today known as Jajpur. Over time, Jajpur became well known for the performance of ancestral rites, or Navi Gaya.
In the 11th century AD, the Ganga Vamsi King Chodaganga Dev re-built the Jagannath Temple at Puri, and established brahmin villages around the area known as Sashan villages. He gave the priests land and other endowments for living a simple life, dedicated to serving the Deities. The work including the study of sastra, teaching, performing and organizing yajna, and handling donations.
In the 15th century AD, the Surya Vamsi King Gajapapati Kapilendra established several additional brahmin villages, each of which was devoted to a hundred brahmin families, to whom land was bequeathed. All the monarchs of Orissa and their feudatories have followed this standard, building temples, constructing roads, ghats and tanks, and developing settlements for Brahmin families, who were granted tax-free homestead lands and agricultural holdings.
Source: "Kalhana's Rajatarangini: A Chronicle of the Kings of Kashmir"; "A History of Brahmin Clans"; Wikipedia.
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