Who the hell Bhumihars are?
Bhumihar or Babhan or Bhuin-har is a upper caste mainly found in the Indian states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh. The Bhumihars are classified in the Brahmin varna of Hinduism but this claim has been contested by some. Bhumihars have been land-owning Brahmins who came to own land in different periods of History through land grants by kings or during the rule of Brahmin kings.
According to M. A. Sherring some of the Bhumihars belong to the Saryupareen Brahmin division of Kanyakubja Brahmins. In the 19th (held at Prayag) and 20th (held at Lucknow) national convention of Kanyakubja Brahmins by Kanyakubja Mahati Sabha, in 1926 and 1927 respectively, it reiterated Bhumihars to be Kanyakubja Brahmins and appealed for unity among Kanyakubja Brahmins whose different branches included Sanadhya, Pahadi, Jujhoutia, Saryupareen, Chattisgarhi, Bhumihar and different Bengali Brahmins. Bhumihars have been the traditional priests at Vishnupad Mandir in Gaya as Gayawar Pandas and in the adjoining districts like Hazaribagh. The Kingdom of Kashi belonged to Bhumihar Brahmins and big zamindari like Bettiah Raj, Hathwa Raj and Tekari Raj belonged to them. Bhumihars were well respected Brahmins in the courts of Dumraon Maharaj, King of Nepal and Raj Darbhanga. The Bhumihar population of Uttar Pradesh had an average literacy of less than 12% in 1911 Some Mohyal Brahmins migrated eastward and became as some sub-divisions of Bhumihars, some of whom are also descendants of HussainiBrahminss and mourn the death of Imam Hussain. There is also a significant migrant population of Bhumihars in Mauritius, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and others.
Bhumihars are commonly called Babhans which is the Pali word for Brahmins and is used to refer to Brahmins in Buddhist sources. In recent times, Bhumihars have been in the forefront of casteist violence in some places of Bihar state.
The Bhumihars claim that when Parashurama destroyed the Kshatriya race, and he set up in their place the descendants of Brahmins, who, after a time, having mostly abandoned their priestly functions (although some still perform), took to land-owning. They also claim that Lord Parashurama was the first Bhumihar.
By the sixteenth century, Bhumihars known as karm kandi pandit controlled vast stretches of territory, particularly in North Bihar. In South Bihar, their most prominent representative was the Tekari family, whose great estate in Gaya dates back to the early eighteenth century. With the decline of Mughal Empire, in the area of south of Avadh, in the fertile rive-rain rice growing areas of Benares, Gorakhpur, Deoria, Ghazipur, Ballia and Bihar and on the fringes of Bengal, it was the ‘military’ or Bhumihar Brahmins who strengthened their sway. The distinctive ‘caste’ identity of Bhumihar Brahman emerged largely through military service, and then confirmed by the forms of continuous ‘social spending’ which defined a man and his kin as superior and lordly. In 19th century, many of the Bhumihar Brahmins were zamindars. Of the 67000 Hindus in the Bengal Army in 1842, 28000 were identified as Rajputs and 25000 as Brahmins, a category that included Bhumihar Brahmins. The Brahmin presence in the Bengal Army was reduced in the late nineteenth century because of their perceived primary role as mutineers in the Mutiny of 1857, led by Mangal Pandey. Now, a majority of them are farmers with some big land-holders.
Some Bhumihars had settled in Chandipur, Murshidabad during late nineteenth and early twentieth century where they are at the top of the social hierarchy. Before independence, it was the custom of the Bhumihar Brahmins to stage an elaborate Kālī puja, during which annual payments were made to servants and gifts of cloth were distributed to dependents, both Hindu and Muslim.
M. A. Sherring in his book Hindu Tribes and Castes as Reproduced in Benaras published in 1872, mentions, “Great important distinctions subsist between the various tribes of Brahmins. Some are given to learning, some to agriculture, some to politics and some to trades. The Maharashtra Brahmin is very different being from the Bengali, while the Kanaujia (Kanyakubja Brahmins) differs from both. Only those Brahmins who perform all six duties are reckoned perfectly orthodox. Some perform three of them, namely, the first, third and fifth and omit the other three. Hence Brahmins are divided into two kinds, the Shat-karmas and the tri-karmas or those who perform only three. The Bhumihar Brahmins for instance are tri-karmas, and merely pay heed to three duties. The Bhumihars, of whom many, though not all, belong to the Saryupareen Brahmin division, are a large and influential body in all that province (United Province).”
Bhumihars were referred to as “Military Brahmin” by Francis Buchanan and as “Magadh Brahmin” by William Adam in 1883. William Crooke in his book, Tribes and Castes of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, has mentioned Bhuinhar as an important tribe of landowners and agriculturists in eastern districts and that they are also known as Babhan, Zamindar Brahman, Grihastha Brahman, or Pachchima or ‘western’ Brahmans.