Chitpavan Brahman - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Although there is an image of Parashuram in the temple at Chiplun, this does not seem to have become a pilgrimage center for Chitpavans. Most Chitpavans belong to the Smarta sect of Hinduism, and they consider themselves either Rigvedis of the Ashvalayana Shaka or Yajurvedis of the Taittiriya Shaka. Each family has a special god or goddess (or both), called a kuladaivata or kulaswami(ni), which are ritually important at the household level. The majority of these gods are Shaiva, associated with villages in the Konkan, and the goddess or devi is often Jogai or Jogeshvari or a Konkani goddess. The temple of Jogeshvari is one of the main goddess temples in the older part of the city of Pune (Poona), the capital of the peshwas during the Maratha period. The peshwas also had a special relationship with the elephant-headed god Ganesh, "the remover of obstacles," and in the late nineteenth century the nationalist Bal Gangadhar Tilak raised household Ganesh worship to a neighborhood function, complete with "booths" for public worship and patriotic themes. The Ganesh or Ganpati festival still has special importance in Pune and other Maharashtrian cities.

Ceremonies. Although Chitpavans were known as Sanskrit scholars and teachers and strict observers of religious rights, Deshastha Brahmans, the traditional ritual priests of the Marathi-speaking area, considered them ritually inferior. The Chitpavans never adopted the role of ritualist, except within their own caste. However, they were orthodox in many ways. Suttee, or the immolation of the widow on the pyre of her husband, was a valued ceremony among Chitpavans until it was outlawed in 1830, but it was given up totally at that time. Marriage and funeral rites for Chitpavan Brahmans resemble those for other Brahmans, but there is a special Modern Chitpavan twist to the funeral experience. The elements of the funeral include: water from the Ganges being poured as a last oblation on the dying Brahman's head; the carrying of the corpse to the cremation grounds on a bamboo pyre; the bringing of fire to the grounds in a special earthen pot; the lighting of the fire by the oldest son; and the thirteen days of mourning followed by a feast for neighbors and family. All this is the subject of a very popular, darkly comedic play by a Chitpavan, Satish Alekar's Mahanirvana, translated in English as "The Dread Departure." A practice that is especially important to Chitpavan and other Brahman women is the Mahalakshmi puja, which occurs during the festival of Navratri ("nine nights"). It is a special celebration for the first five years of married life. During this festival, women join in a Ritual of blowing into earthen pots, which induces hyperventilation, possession by a goddess, and at times a generally hilarious party atmosphere.

Arts. While Chitpavans have no particular traditional art or craft, they have been enormously important in bringing modernity to Maharashtrian culture. Vishnushastri Chiplunkar (1850-1882) is called the father of modern Marathi prose. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkande (1860-1936) systematized classical music, established schools for the teaching of music, and facilitated the continuance of Hindustani music under modern systems of patronage. Govind Ballal Deval (1855-1916) was a popular early dramatist, creating plays on social reform themes. Hari Narayan Apte (1864-1919) is considered the father of the modern Marathi novel, and many of the most famous writers in Marathi have come from the Chitpavan caste.

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