It is regrettable how the colonial writers could make contradicting versions on the Brahmins. They used to start the report with an admonition of the Brahmins as perpetrators of Manu neethi and caste discrimination but proceeded to record the details of other castes designated as lower than Brahmins, doing their rituals with the assistance of the Brahmins. How did the writers miss the point of how the supposedly superior- most caste, could go to the houses of lower castes and do a job for a fee, if he was indeed prejudiced against them?
To cite an example, in the context of enumerating the people of Berar, the 1881 Census Report says as follows:
" Mr. Kitts writes: " "The Brahman stands first. 'By right he is,' says Manu, 'the chief of this whole creation; 'he is born above the world the chief of all creatures.' (1-a) "
Then it proceeds to arrange the other castes in a social order that the British thought right. The irony is that many of them claimed higher status as having come from kingly class and so on. There was a mention of Bel or Beldar – the equivalent of VEl of Tamilnadu who ruled Tamil lands and were praised for their philanthropy by the Sangam poets.
Yet another dignitary in the list of castes "degraded" by the British was Salivahana, the progenitor of the current Era. (sahaptha)! The British had collected the information from the people about Salivahana but hardly thought it fit to consider as a historical fact. Salivahana was born to a Kumbhar, (potter) and a Brahmin female but rose to become a legendary king. What could possibly be the social status of the caste of Salivahana? (1-b)
Grouping every citizen under some caste bracket was done by the British. Who comes before or after who was decided by the British. Even the 'caste' of "Gandhi" was discussed in the Notes written in 1883. The Gandhi was a Gandha Banik, a trader in perfumes. They came in the lineage of Koteeswaras, millionaires. They traced their lineage to 2 sources, one from Padma Purana and another to Krishna's times.
" This caste claims to be the same as the Banya of Hindustan, and traces its descent from Chandra Bhava, commonly called Chand Saudagar, "an accomplished man, the son of Kotis-Vara, the lord of crores," and Saha Saudagar, mentioned in the Padma Purana. Although this ancient lineage is assumed, the caste no longer wears the Brahamical thread; and instead of mourning like the Agarwala Banyas for thirteen, mourns like pure Sudras for thirty days." (2-a)
There is yet another story of their origins from a girl who worked for Kamsa. She was carrying sandalwood when she first met Krishna. From that time onwards she and her lineage started trading in perfumes only. (2-b)
Gandha – Banik became a caste, identified so by the British who found Gandhi to be a perfumer of any caste or religion. (3)
Like this numerous listings were made by the British with the label of superior or inferior to others. But the Brahmins always continued to occupy the top of the social ladder because Manu said so! The British also noticed that many Brahmins were poor, but that was not an issue for the British. They were only keen on identifying who were 'degraded' and how to group them as a caste.
As far as the Brahmins are concerned, the Census Reports reveal that Brahmins had conducted the functions for the so called depressed classes and even the aboriginal tribes. The situation is the same throughout India. It was also recorded that Brahmins followed "Desachar" – the customs of the country they resided. The generally catered to the needs of the people in their immediate vicinity.
In a system of self –contained village life, everyone fulfilled the needs of everybody else within their capacity. It must be noted that until half a century ago, only the females of certain castes which the British termed as degraded castes worked as mid-wives. All the babies, anywhere in India, including Brahmins babies were born with the assistance of these females during delivery. The Census Reports make a mention of them as hailing from Cobbler and Drummer castes. It was a case of division of labour and specialization in a particular job. Like them, the Brahmins also had rendered their help to others as Purohits and for fixing auspicious times for marriage and other functions.
To quote a few examples from the census reports, even the castes mentioned as Shudras, such as the Ahirs and Gauriya people of Bengal had engaged Patit Brahmins in their religious ceremonies. This shows that Shudras did follow Vedic customs. (4)
The various sub divisions of potters, Chhatris and out casted Mags were helped by Brahmins in their religious ceremonies. The Chhatris of East Bengal employed Saraswati Brahmins! The Kandho people, a sub division of Chandalas did their rituals with the help of Brahmins! (7)
Within the depressed classes there are further differences, like one caste not sitting on par with others or not partaking food from others. But the Brahmin had not differentiated them nor treated them as untouchables and had acceded their request to officiate the rituals. The report also says that Brahmins officiated the ceremonies of Chandals!
What is more, even the Muslims – most of whom were converts against their wishes were conducting their Hindu ceremonies until the beginning of the 20th century.
" (3) Rajputana and Baluchistan.
656. In Rajputana the Muhammadans of local origin "still retain their ancient Hindu customs and ideas. The local saints and deities are regularly worshipped, the Bráhman officiates at all family ceremonial side by side with the Musalman priest, and if in matters of creed they are Muhammadans, in matters of form they are Hindus." (10-a)