Vishwakarma (caste)

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The Vishwakarma (or Visvakarma) community refer to themselves as the Viswabrahmin, and are sometimes described as a caste. The community comprises five sub-groups - carpenters, blacksmiths, bell metalworkers, goldsmiths and stonemasons - who believe that they are descendants of Vishwakarma, a Hindu deity. They worship various forms of this deity and follow five Vedas: Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, Atharvaveda, and Pranava Veda.[1]

Name

The communal name of Vishwakarma is of fairly recent usage.[2] The British Raj misunderstood the Indian caste system as being an inflexible concept based on varna, ignoring all evidence of caste creation and disintegration caused by processes of social fission and fusion. This flawed interpretation, formed in part by heeding the work of Brahmin scholars, resulted in many communities aspiring to official recognition of a higher social status than was traditional, based on claims of descent from elite groups such as the Brahmins or Kshatriyas. Among the changes that occurred during this period, the census administrator John Henry Hutton recorded in 1931 a caste called the Vishwakarma, which was an administrative creation defined as a community of artisans who were geographically disparate but shared fairly similar occupations. Like the similarly-created Yadavs, who were an administrative grouping of grazers, herders and dairymen, the Vishwakarma comprised numerous previously diverse castes.[3]

The community prefer the new name, which has evidential support in 12th-century inscriptions that refer to smiths and sculptors belonging to the Vishwakarma kula, although Vijaya Ramaswamy notes that "... the Vishwakarma community is obviously cutting across caste lines" and "... comprises five socially and economically differentiated jatis". Prior to the Raj period, these communities were referred to names such as Kammalar in present-day Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Panchalar in Karnataka and Panchanamuvaru in Andhra Pradesh, while there are also medieval inscriptions that refer to them as the Rathakarar and Kammala-Rathakarar.[4]

Origin

The god Vishwakarma is considered by followers of the Hindu faith to be the divine architect or engineer of the universe. He had five children - Manu, Maya, Tvastar, Shilpi and Visvajna — and these are believed by the Vishwakarma community to have been the forebears of their five sub-groups, being respectively the gotras (clans) of blacksmiths, carpenters, bell metalworkers (metal casters), stonemasons and goldsmiths.[2] It is not known whether these five subgroups historically practiced endogamy, which is a frequently-found feature of the Indian caste system.[4]

History

While many sources refer to the five sub-groups of the Viskwakarma as artisans, Ramaswamy believes that the Vishwakarma of the medieval period should be distinguished as craftsmen, arguing that "... while every craftsman was an artisan, every artisan was not a craftsman". Ramaswamy notes that the socio-economic and geographic stability of a medieval village-based maker of ploughs differed considerably from that of the various people who banded together as Vishwakarma and lived a relatively itinerant lifestyle that was dependent on the "temple economy" that waxed and waned as dynasties such as the Vijayanagar empire were formed and disintegrated. The latter group, who did work in proximity to each other while constructing and embellishing temples, had opportunities for socio-economic advancement but also bore the risks of withdrawal of patronage and changes in religious focus.[4]

Position in society

They have claimed a higher social status for many years and believe that the trades which they traditionally follow are superior to the work of a manual labourer because they require artistic and scientific skills as well as those of the hand. According to George Varghese, their claim to high status is "one of the mainstays of Viskwakarma identity" in what is otherwise a fragmented, incoherent community that has often suffered from internal differences of opinion.[2]

Their claim has been voiced by Edava Somanathan, a member of the community and its only historian in the written word. Somanathan's works, according to Varghese, "... are written from a pro-community perspective. Therefore, there are a lot of exaggerations and anti-brahmin tirades in them". Somanathan argues that the artisanal groups were a part of the Indus Valley Civilisation, pre-dating the arrival of Brahmins and their caste-based division of society. He claims remarkable achievements are evidenced in both the arts and sciences during that egalitarian pre-Brahmin era, including the construction of aeroplanes.[2]

This claim to Brahmin status is not generally accepted outside the community, despite their assumption of some high-caste traits, such as wearing the sacred thread, and the Brahminisation of their rituals. For example, the sociologist M. N. Srinivas, who developed the concept of sanskritisation, juxtaposed the success of the Lingayat caste in achieving advancement within Karnataka society by such means with the failure of the Vishwakarma to achieve the same. Their position as a left-hand caste has not aided their ambition.[5] They have been included in the list of Other Backward Classes in some states of North India.[6]

Distribution

The Vishwakarma are largely found in the South of India: Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Goa and Konkan. In Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat.[7] Other Indian Vishwakarma populations are in: Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bengal, Delhi, Haryana, Bihar, and Orissa.

Andhra Pradesh

In Andhra Pradesh, Telugu Achari or chari are known as Telugu Kamsali. They are goldsmiths and landlords.[7]

Kerala

Vishwakarmas in Kerala comprise the Tamil and Malayali Kammalar communities.[8]

Tamil Nadu

In Tamil Nadu, Tamil Achari or Asari are known as Tamil Kammalars. They are goldsmiths and landlords.[9]

Karnataka

The Vishwakarma caste of south Karnataka, is composed of several sub-castes: Kulachar, Shiv Achar, Uttaradi (goldsmiths), Matachar (founders), Muulekammaras, and Chikkamanes.[10][verification needed] Most of these sub-castes do not intermarry and have a hierarchy among themselves.[10] These subcastes are varied according to various regions of Karnataka, but all worship the goddess Kali.[citation needed]

Diet

Vishwakarmas in North and South India follow a vegetarian diet and abstain from liquor.[11][12]

Notables

References

  1. ^ "The Panchals are the followers of the five Vedas, the fifth being Pranava Veda."Karnataka (India) (1987). Karnataka State Gazetteer: Belgaum. Printed by the Director of Print, Stationery and Publications at the Govt. Press. 
  2. ^ a b c d Varghese K., George (8–14 November 2003). "Globalisation Traumas and New Social Imaginary: Visvakarma Community of Kerala". Economic and Political Weekly 38 (45): 4794–4802. JSTOR 4414253. 
  3. ^ Bhagat, Ram B. (April–June 2006). "Census and caste enumeration: British legacy and contemporary practice in India". Genus 62 (2): 119–134. JSTOR 29789312.  (subscription required)
  4. ^ a b c Ramaswamy, Vijaya (2004). "Vishwakarma Craftsmen in Early Medieval Peninsular India". Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 47 (4): 548–582. doi:10.1163/1568520042467154. JSTOR 25165073.  (subscription required)
  5. ^ Ikegame, Aya (2013). "Karnataka: Caste, dominance and social change in the 'Indian village'". In Berger, Peter; Heidemann, Frank. The Modern Anthropology of India: Ethnography, Themes and Theory. Routledge. p. 128. ISBN 9781134061112. 
  6. ^ http://www.ncbc.nic.in/User_Panel/GazetteResolution.aspx?Value=mPICjsL1aLvxbegUDuc3MN4eB5E3Ecc1UoeEnKrAsZerMe7TMx8Jm7s91vK6jzsa
  7. ^ By Kondapalli Ranga Rao, M. S. A. Rao, Naurang Rai (1933). Cities and Slums: A Study of a Squatters' Settlement in the City of Vijayawada. Concept Publishing Company New Delhi. pp. 38–39. Retrieved 1933. 
  8. ^ Iyer, L. A. Krishna (1968). Social history of Kerala. Book Centre. p. 6. Retrieved 16 January 2012. The Kammalars are divided into two classes, the Tamil Kammalar and the Malayali Kammalar. 
  9. ^ Ramaswamy, Vijaya (2007). Historical dictionary of the Tamils. Scarecrow Press. pp. 107–108. ISBN 978-0-8108-5379-9. Retrieved 16 January 2012. 
  10. ^ a b Heesterman, J. C.; A. W. van den Hoek, D. H. A. Kolff. "Goldsmiths of Karnataka". Ritual, state, and history in South Asia: essays in honour of J.C. Heesterman. M. S. Oort. pp. 442–455. 
  11. ^ Meera Mukherjee (1978). Metalcraftsmen of India. Anthropological Survey of India, Government of India. pp. 60, 62, 124. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  12. ^ Aashi Manohar; Shampa Shah (1996). Tribal arts and crafts of Madhya Pradesh. Mapin Publishing. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-944142-71-4. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  13. ^ Pillai, R.N. (1991). Veerabrahmam : India's Nostradamus saint. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications. p. 9. ISBN 8170172799. Retrieved 11 Jan 2014. 

Further reading