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Laksmikanta and Kulinism

It was only in the 19 th century that Europe began to perceive that it has yet a great deal to learn from Asia. The European idea that all knowledge and enlightenment were confined to the west and that east was steeped in dark ignorance was despelled with researches of Max Mueller, Monier-Willams, Rhys Davis and other well known German, French and British oriental scholars. It is no longer startling to Europeans to be told that the science of breeding were better known in ancient India than they are in modern Europe. The self-fertilization is harmful, and cross fertilization beneficial, to the species is a biological truth which has been demonstrated in the west only in the 19 th century, and in-and-in breeding among domesticated animals and human beings have been stopped though not completely, at a much later date. Cousin marriages are still prevalent in many parts of the world, but the ancient Hindu sages stopped this custom thousands of years ago. Not only they stopped the marriages between cousins but also prohibited marriages between members of the same historical or traditional stock. Indeed they went several steps further. If a family is known to be descended from the combined blood of three or more ancient stocks on the father side, marriage between descendants any of the stocks was entirely forbidden. Thus the Sabarna Gangly family is descended from the combined blood of five pravars (renowned men) in its lineage (Gotra) namely, Uru, Chyabana, Bhargava, Jamadyagni, and Apnubat. No member of a Gangly family can marry a Gangly nor can marry into any other family in which the names of any of the aforesaid five Rishis appear in its Gotra or lineage.This rule was called prohibition of swagotra (same family) and swaprabar( same ancestry ) marriage. The Hindu sages further ruled that no marriages could take place into a consanguine family on the side of the mothers father upto five generations in the ascending series of the latter s genealogy. These ancient laws were sought to be improved upon at the renaissance of ancient Brahminical learning after the decay and downfall of Buddhism in Bengal. The Vedic Brahmans who were dominant in the courts of its Hindu kings super-added the highest law of eugenics to the aforesaid laws of scientific breeding and established what is known as Kulinism in Bengal.

That kulinism came to be abused later on when ignorant Mohammedan kings, whose religion supported cousin marriages reigned in Bengal, was no fault of theirs. Excessive aggrandizement of any class or sect in society always leads to abuses by that sect, and eventually these abuses bring about their own downfall. This is a natural law and the Bengal kulins after their divisions into Mels, could not be an exception to the rule.

No one could either become a kulin or continue to be such without the possession of nine attributes which were- purity of conduct, humility, learning, prestige, pilgrimage to holy places, rectitude, strict observance of marriage rules, prayers and munificence.

The agency employed by the Hindu government for the ascertainment and enforcement of these qualities in individuals were the state recognized family heralds, kulacharyas or Ghatakas ; the recommendations of the Ghatakas who recited the various qualities of their own nominees at a conference in open court were examined and weighed by the king and his ministers they selected those whom they deemed best amongst the nominated persons to be or to remain as kulins, whilst they degraded others who were proved to have lost one or more of the qualities. This was called samikaran (levelling). So long the Hindu kings reigned, the election took place at regular intervals of seven years. As in all elections of the world, bribery and corruption were ofcourse inevitable. They were often resorted to for obtaining the Ghatakas recommendations. The power of the Ghatakas went on increasing and their influence over the Brahmans and kayasthas of Bengal became supreme.

As kulinism conferred the royal badge of aristocracy it was deemed to be high honour by every aspirant to royal favour. Men vied with one another to get the better of their equals and opponents and Ghatakas rapidly rose in power and wealth. It was no longer the king who conferred Kulinism but the demoralized agency of the Ghatakas that did so.

One of these named Devibara, a contemporary of Laksmikanta became towards the latter part of the 16 th century, the real arbiter of the destinies of Bengal Kulins. Whoever failed to please him got degraded ; and those who managed to win his favour were ennobled. There was no check to his autocracy. No body dared to utter a word of protest against him. Unopposed and all powerful, Devibara abolished the system of election and called together a conference of Ghatakas, most of whom were his creatures, whenever it suited his purpose to do so. In course of time he essayed to do what the kings had not dared. He created what is known as the Mel system. By this he perpetuated in certain families only the highest dignity of Kulinism regardless altogether of their future degradation and misconduct. Thus the object of the Hindu kings which was the betterment of the species in accordance with the rules which in recent times been developed into the laws of eugenics came wholly to be frustrated. Devibara ruled that once a kulin, the family would always remain Kulin, no matter whether in subsequent generations its members lost all the nine qualities. Thieves, dacoits, drunkards, persons with gross immortality belonging to his Kulin Mels would no longer be de-Kulinised. For generations together it had been the aim and object of the Bengal Brahmans and Kayasthas to marry their daughters to Kulins of higher repute, regardless of the expenses involved in such marriages. Devibara took advantage of this habit and created an unchangeable system by which he divided Kulins into various Mels or sects. The chief of these were the Fulia, Khardaha, Vallabhi and Sarbanandi. These again were sub divided into different strata in accordance with comparative wealth and social qualities of the leaders of each Mel. He laid down certain hypergamic rules for regulating the marriage of sons and daughters of each sub sect of each of the Mels. Non-Kulins were also classified into sects such as Srotriyas and Bansajas who were again sub-divided.

The evils resulting from Devibaras rules very soon manifested themselves in the society. A system originally based on the highest laws of eugenics with the noble object of improving the breed, was converted into one of gradual degeneration and deterioration of the species. In course of time, men of very high status were often compelled to marry their daughters and sisters to the most depraved characters, simply because of the latter s descent from a particular kulin ancestry. Often the same man was required to marry a number of wives, sometimes 150 to 200 or more and he naturally extorted money in each such marriage. Marriage was no longer a sacrament as enjoined in the Shastras but a mere mercenary means of levying blackmail. Devibara acted as an uncrowned king of Bengal Brahmans. His convoy was much more than of an emperor and whichever village he crossed the inhabitants thereof were bound to find provisions of the best sort of Devibara and his retinue. And no body dared a word against this atrocities.

But a protest had to be made. It required no small courage or power to make it. It was Laksmikanta who rose superior to his environments and made the protest. With the courage of a skilled soldier and the foresight of the experienced statesman he was neither lacking in boldness nor wanting in active sympathy for the sufferings of his fellow citizens. He stopped Devibaras processions and altogether prohibited all extortions within the area allotted to his administration, by Man Singh. Altough a descendant bof sishoo ganguly, a prince among kulins , during king vallal sens reign and a scion of the amati ganguly family, he was, owing to his fathers de- kulinisation by devibara on account, it was alleged, for marrying into an inferior srotriya family, and his own upbringing by a non brahman wet nurse married the daughter of laksmi kanta chatterjee to a brahman of inferior rank. He was therefore not well disposed towards devibara. The anarchical misgovernment of social bengal by devibaras hard and fast rules , some of which produced bitterest results and the bribery and corruption which not but accompany their enforcement moved him in action. A man of wide culture and educatio, his heart revolted at the sight of the frightful misery, degradation and immortality wrought. With the development of his power, and wealth he attached to himself a number of the highest families and determined with their help to stem the tide of the growing social evil. He stopped by a royal mandate the holding of Devibaras conference under his nose at Kanchan palli (modern Kanchrapara). Furious at this rebuff, Devibara vowed vengeance against him , prohibited all Kulins from marrying Laksmikanta s four daughters. Laksmikanta in his turn called together the whole of his friends, admirers, retainers, adherents and state servants and invited the highest Kulins to that meeting. Here he publicly declared his fixed resolve to undo the mischief Devibaras rules were doing. He knew that Devibaras Mel system had taken deep routs and any attempt to abolish or eradicate it would be hopelessly futile. So he proposed and offered terms for his daughters' marriages which were far too tempting to be refused by the highest Kulins. The best men in the front rank of the four highest Mels were selected as bridegrooms and their marriage with his daughters was solemnized and performed and proclaimed with considerable pomp and eclat. Others followed his example, and a tug of war ensued between the Ghatakas one side and the reformer Laksmikanta and his adherents on the other. Eventually after a long tussle, a compromise was arrived at. Devibara withdrew his threat of absolute de-kulinisation of laksmikanta s sons-in-law and their progeny, and agreed to recognize them as broken-Kulins. Laksmikanta accepted the terms as they suited his purpose and achieved the object he had in view. Thence forward this system of breakage of Kulinism which brought wealth and influence to the impoverished kulin families of high degree came into vogue in the Sabarna and other de-Kulinised Brahman families of Bengal.

It should be observed that Laksmikanta had no objection to Kulinism itself but that he objected to the abuses created by Devibaras Mel system. He wanted to destroy the rule of perpetuity under which the various blackguards came to be recognized as high Kulins merely because of their birth into a particular Mel- a rule which made it possible for these blackguards to marry a large number of wives and extort money from parents of the brides, and take no further notice of the majority of the wives. So Laksmikanta attacked the system of perpetuity and broke the highest Mels. By their marriage into his family the four broken Kulins of the highest Mels became rich and had therefore no incentive to marry again and incur his displeasure. Indeed, the marriage of a kulin into his family necessarily involved his abandonment of polygamy. Laksmikanta thus killed two birds with one stone. He destroyed perpetuity and also polygamy in the four highest Mels.

It is thus evident that Laksmikanta apart from being an able administrator, was also a great social reformer who cleared off the tears from the eyes of the sufferers and offered his subjects an example what is so-called as Ram Rajya. What Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, Raja Rammohon Roy did much later in the 19 th Century as reformists, Laksmikanta did much more way back in the 16 th Century Bengal. Thus Laksmikanta is unquestionably the real Father of the land- Kolkata, and also the first social reformer of Bengal.


Adapted from: Laksmikanta- A chapter in the social history of Bengal By Atul Krishna Ray.