Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Kashmiri Brahmins of Francis Frith, 1875


I first came across this image some years ago on columbia.edu site who in turn had picked it from ebay. Cited as 'Kashmiri Brahmans' and photographed by Francis Frith in around 1875, the image offered an enigma in the sense that its subjects seemed out of place, all the other photographs of Kashmiri Pandits taken during that era has pandit in his usual place, handling scrolls or roaming around temples. So who were these Brahmans and what were doing with those bundles of cloths?

 I have finally managed to get through to the answers that this image demanded. The photograph is used and explained in 'The Jummoo and Kashmir Territories: A Geographical Account' (1875) by Frederic Drew. An excerpt:


First, standing out marked and separate from the rest, are the Pandits. These are the Hindu remainder of the nation, the great majority of which were converted to Islam. Sir George Campbell supposes that previously the mass of the population of Kashmir was Brahman. An examination of the subdivisional castes of both Pandits and Muhammadans, if it were made, might enable us to settle this question. Whatever may be the case as to that, we certainly see that at this day the only Kashmiri Hindus are Brahmans. These whatever their occupation-whether that be of a writer, or, may be, of a tailor or clothseller - always bear the title "Pandit" which, in other parts of India, is confined to those Brahmans who are learned in their theology. 
The Kashmiri Pandits have that same fine cast of features which is observed in the cultivating class. The photograph given, after one of Mr. Frith's, is a good representation of two cloth- sellers who are Pandits, or Brahmans. When allowance has been made far an unbecoming dress, and for the disfigurement caused by tho caste-mark on the forehead, I think it will be allowed that they are of a fine stock. Of older men, the features become more marked in form and stronger in expression, and the face is often thoroughly handsome. In complexion the Pandits are lighter than the peasantry; their colour is more that of the almond.
These Brahmans are less used to laborious work than the Muhammadan Kashmiris. Their chief occupation is writing : great numbers of them get their living by their pen, as Persian writers (for in the writing of that language they are nearly all adepts), chiefly in the Government service. Trade, also, they follow, as we see ; but they are not cultivators, nor do they adopt any other calling that requires much muscular exertion. From this it happens that they are not spread generally over the country; they cluster in towns. Sirinagar, especially, has a considerable number of them; they have been estimated at a tenth of the whole of its inhabitants.
Reader may make allowance of Drew's 'i believe because I believe' assertion that Pandits were not cultivators.

Kashmiri Pandit women working the fields, 1890.  [Update: They appear to be working in  field, dying cloth and yarn here]




Reader may also make allowance of the fact the Drew didn't get into the breakdown of Kashmiri Pandits into Karkun Bhattas (Working Class Pandits, into Govt. Jobs, into Persian, the one described by Drew) and Basha Bhattas (Language Class Pandits, into Religious affairs, into Sanskrit, the one usually photographed with scrolls, Gors, Pandits, the ones that much later often derogatorily referred at Byechi Bhattas (?) or Begging Class Pandits). Besides that there were minority called Buhur, or the Trader Class, someone more likely to take up a trade like clothselling.

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2 comments:

  1. Very true. I would also suggest you to check the dates of pictures. While going through some pictures, like the one with Brahmans up here, the dates contradict. As per "The northern barrier of India A popular account of the Jummoo and Kashmir territories' (1877) by Frederic Drew", the picture dates to 1877, however, according to this post, it is 1875.
    Please help.

    ReplyDelete
  2. In 1850s Francis was active in exploring Egypt and middle east. He was primarily a Business Man and not just a photographer. There's a good chance he never even visited this part of the world. It's just that his firm employed a lot of photographers. The vast series of images came to be known as 'Francis series' in which Indian images came out between 1865 and 1875. This particular photograph is probably by an unknown photographer in around 1865.

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