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Caste

Bihar Caste Survey: The Who’s Who in the Data | Donwar

Why was the community disowned by Brahmins?

Beyond politics, the Bihar caste survey is a revolutionary document.

A public document, the first ever after 1931, allowing for people to stand up and be counted.

We go down to the wire, on what each of the numbers unveiled mean.

Who are the people referred to by percentages in the survey?

Today we look at Donwar (1,361 people).

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Whoever created castes initiated a system which allows a particular group to maintain monopoly over a society for generations. This is not only unjust but it is also not an easy task and has harmful effects for those in power, too. Many a time, those who want such a monopoly become its victims themselves. How else would it be possible for a community which was part of a dominant group to become extinct? 

The caste group we are going to discuss today – Donwar – is a prime example. The residents of this caste group in Bihar once extended from Patna, Chhapra, Siwan, Gopalganj, Muzaffarpur to Darbhanga, Sitamarhi, Madhubani and Supaul. But now the area in which they live has shrunk to Madhubani and Supaul.

According to the recently released caste-based survey report released by the Bihar government, only 1,361 people in Bihar say that they belong to the Donwar caste.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

Looking at this figure one wonders where the community has all but vanished and why its population is limited to a minuscule 0.0010% of the total population of Bihar. Were all of them killed in some war?

This last question arises because they were a community of fighters and were part of the Mughal army. They are even mentioned in the Aain-e-Akbari

In fact, it is believed that they are related to Mahabharat hero Dronacharya and that is how the caste group got its name. Some people may call this a myth but it is not so, according to Swami Sahajanand Saraswati who was considered a prominent leader of land reform movement in Bihar. He was an influential leader in Bihar before independence. When the country gained independence, the first chief minister of Bihar was not a Brahmin, Rajput or Kayashtha, but a Bhumihar, and this is believed to be largely thanks to Swami Saraswati’s influence.

Swami Saraswati wrote in his book The Expansion of Brahmarshi Dynasty:

“Now, listen to the meaning of words like Donwar, etc. In reality, Donwar Brahmins are Kanyakubj Brahmins, Pandeys of Dekuli or Devkali belonging to Vatsa Gotra. This is clearly inscribed in the vast genealogy records still present with the Donwar Brahmins who are residents of Darbhanga district, mainly Narhan, Namgarh, Vibhutpur and Gangapur.

“It is mentioned that two Brahmins of Pandey Vatsgotri of Devkali appointed by some military authority during the time of Mughal emperors came from Delhi for the protection of Magadha and Tirhut and stayed at the fort of Patna-Danapur. They permanently settled here and also earned royal prestige and pension.

“One of them had no children while the other, Samudra Pandey, had two sons – Sadhoram Pandey and Madhoram Pandey. The descendants of Sadhoram Pandey especially reside in Saraisa Pargana of Darbhanga province, though they can be found in other places for some reason as they are spread outside Darbhanga district as well.

“In fact, in Hisar village of Darbhanga (near Janakpur), Donwar Brahmins are still called Pandey. The descendants of Madhoram Pandey are found throughout the Ikil pargana of Magadha. Raja Abhiram was Sadhoram Pandey’s son and his son was Rai Gangaram who established Gangapur. He was a brave man and had two wives both of whom hailed from Maithil caste. One of his wives, Bhagarani, was the daughter of Rajasingh Maithil of Chak and the other was the daughter of Pt. Gopithakur Maithil of Muktarani Tishkhora. Rai Gangaram had nine sons – three from one and six from the other wife – who established their respective kingdoms in nine places like Narhan, Ramgarh, Vibhutpur and Gangapur in the same province. One of his descendants, whose name is not recorded, settled at Raini in Azamgarh district, near Tons river west of Mau, whose descendants are spread over 12 kos around the area.

“From there, two men arrived and settled in Zamaniya Pargana of Ghazipur district and later spread over many villages. Some of them also arrived from Banaras province and settled in places like Madhopur and spread across villages. For some reason, people who arrived from Raini and settled in three or four villages like Jirabasti and others near Ballia began to be called Tiwari instead of Pandey which continues even today such as, Pt. Nagina Tiwari and others. In this way the descendants of Sadhoram Pandey multiplied and spread across places. But the descendants of Madhoram Pandey are found only in Magadha though they have a sizable population there. The Donwar people of Babhangaon near Dighwara (Chhapra) and two other such places are still called Pandey.

“However, Brahmins named Donwar are found in Bihar and United Provinces while Kshatriya Donwar found only in a few villages. Therefore, it undoubtedly proves that what was mentioned above is true in the case of Kshatriyas too.”

Hence, it is clear that Donwars are ayachak Brahmins, who perform rituals only for themselves. They do not extort money from any jajmaan in the name of performing rituals. They are involved in farming and landholding. However, the Brahmins distanced themselves from this caste.

But why were the Donwars disowned by the Brahmins? Swami Saraswati discussed it in his above-mentioned book and wrote, “Many Britishers have raised the question at many places as to why when several Bhumihars (Brahmins) and Rajputs have the same gotra, like Kinwar or Donwar, why should they not be considered the same? But this is a mistake because generally foreigners do not know what gotra or mool is. Secondly, they believe that since many people are known by their gotras, like Bhardwaj, Gautam and Kaushik, Donwar and Kinwar are also names of gotras. As a result, they made such stupid remarks and the half-witted lot of today is blindly following them. But in reality, nouns like Kinwar and Donwar have been derived from the places of first residence or Dih, also called Mool in Mithila.”

In this description cited by Swami Saraswati appeared a word – Dih – which was explained as the first place of residence. Dih basically means a high place, where there is no fear of water. It is common knowledge that water is one of the three hazards in Bihar that Buddha talked about. It is because Bihar has always been a land of rivers. The most important among them are the rivers flowing down from the Himalayas, whose immense waters inundate Bihar every year, even today. Therefore, settling down at higher ground was a necessity for life. It may not be mentioned in history, but on the basis of available facts it can be said that the first battle was fought for Dih and the one who won became the ruler.

From the above excerpt, it is clear that Donwar were residents of Dih. In other words, these people lived in the north of the village and the rest in the southern hamlet.

However, Swami Saraswati may be accused of trying to portray Bhumihars as a superior group in his book The Expansion of the Brahmarshi Dynasty and also depicting them as separate from the Brahmins. That is perhaps why he stated that when a Brahmin marries a girl from a Kshatriya clan, the son begotten from such an alliance is a great Kshatriya. According to the indications of Swami Saraswati, not only Bhumihars but the ancestors of Donwars were also the same “great Kshatriyas”.

In the words of Swami Saraswati, “The most reliable and authentic fact is that the Kshatriyas with names like Donwar and Kinwar were the first Ayachak Brahmins. But for some reason they were separated from the Brahmin society. Gautam Kshatriyas near Banaras-Rameshwar still call themselves the descendants of Kithu Mishra or Krishna Mishra, whose descendants are all Gautam Bhumihar Brahmins. According to them, the reason for their separation from Bhumihar Brahmins is that Gautam Brahmins stopped giving their share (in the earning from land holdings, etc.) to the ancestors (of Bhumihar Brahmins) who, in turn, got angry and sought help from some powerful Kshatriya king. But in exchange for helping them fight for their share, he asked one of them to marry his daughter. They accepted the condition and from then onwards Bhumihars parted from Brahmins and joined Kshatriyas. It sounds reasonable because as has already been shown in this episode, the principle of all the Maharishis like Manu, Yajnavalkya, etc is that if a Brahmin marries a Kshatriya’s daughter, then his son will be a pure Kshatriya.”

Swami Saraswati further wrote, “The summary is that Kshatriyas with names like Donwar, etc. are very few, but Bhumihar Brahmins bearing such names are more. This makes it clear that these ayachak Brahmins became a separate group for some reason. That is why their surnames, like Donwar, and gotras are the same as those of Brahmins with names like Donwar and so.”

Can the Donwar forget their assumed superiority and become one community?

Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman. Read the Hindi original here.

Read earlier parts of the series on the following communities by clicking on their names: Ghasi | Santrash | Madaria | Koeri/Kushwaha | Chaupal | Nai/Hajjaam | Pasi | Rangrez | Chamar | Gorkan | Jutt | Yadav | Kamar | Chik | Bari and Bauri | Dhuniya.

The series is available in Hindi here and in Urdu, here.