There are three kinds
of books:
panjis - the actual
genealogies
the "
curse panji" -
recording offenses
against the community
for which people were
outcasted; and
chhapa, a book
outlining precedence

First Lesson of the Genealogist

Everyone said that the person to talk to if I wanted to understand the genealogies and the lineages was Pandit Harinandan Jha. He became my principal informant, the priest-expert who is the keeper of the genealogies of the Khandavala Dynasty and all the Srotriyas. Only he has a complete understanding of the system of patrilineages and the rules of marriage which determine the rank of the offspring. No Srotriya can marry without his permission. He maintains the genealogical records which proves a family's good bloodlines going back 24 generations

I became Panditji's student, spending every evening for three months on the floor of his small house with only a kerosene lantern for light. He taught me about the lineages of the Brahmans, how their records are maintained, how he goes about certifying that a proposed marriage is not incestuous, and how he writes the certificate on behalf of the maharaja which allows a marriage to proceed.

 

I am the panjikar (genealogist) to the Srotriyas. Srotriyas are found in forty villages in Mithila, in Bengal, and other places, even America.

I began my work as panjikar to the Srotriyas in 1941. I have their genealogies since viji purusha [the founding ancestor], for 1000 years. It has been 670 years since the beginning of the panjis (panji prabandha). That was Sake 1232, or 1310 AD. Sixteen years after the beginning of Maharaja Harisingh Dev's reign he went to Nepal, so some say it started in 1248. For 18 generations my family has done this work. My son is the 19th generation. Harisingh Dev gave responsibility for this work to Gunakar Jha, and I am the 18th generation since then.
 
In the genealogies gotra [clan] and mul [lineage] are recorded. There are 19 gotras. Shandilya gotra has 43 muls. Seven of these have remained in one place and retained their status. They never left. The others migrated off.
 
Chhapa is the book defining rank. It was written 80 or 90 years ago. At first my father couldn't get the right to it. When his father died my father applied to the king and said, "I must have the right to Chhapa. Then Hajur Nabis, a Kayastha, an official of the Maharaja's, was ordered by Maharaja Rameshwar Singh to give a copy to my father. So father got the copy to copy. This was about 90 years ago in 1882 or 1884.
 
The Curse Panji (Dukhan Panji) is another book. The panjikar is always trying to protect this. It shouldn't be seen. This is parampara--customs coming down from generation to generation.
 The book of panji, or genealogy, of one clan of the Srotriyas
 

When panji began, the histories were written. Gotra Panji is the name of this work. It was commissioned by Harisingh Dev. Gunakar Jha, my ancestor, wrote it. Panjis contain information about their origin. [One particular panji has details about origins. He brings a copy of it to show me. Opening the book, first he prays:]

Om, Durga. Shiva is always worshipping you for auspiciousness. Therefore I draw near to you. Therefore Ambika, Gauri, and Narayani I do namaskar to you.
The world originated from Vishnu's body. Brahmans came from the mouth, Ksatriyas from his arms, Vaish from his stomach, Sudra from his feet. There were allotted work for the good of society. The vyavahar [which he translates as "rules and regulations" for making society work] were made. It is my thought that originally there was no caste system. But in Vedic Yug, the slok of the origin of castes was spoken and this is when it began. Afterward the varnavyavastha [varna system] was organized. The activities were made differently according to varnavyavastha.

There is a slok that says: "At birth all men are Sudra but if they do good samskar then they would be Brahman." Due to exercize of Vedas a man becomes Bipra, i.e., Brahman. Therefore he who knows Brahma is Brahman. According to my thinking there was no caste system until Vedic times. From the womb until the time of sacred thread a man is Sudra. At the sacred threadceremony he receives dvijetva, the quality of Brahmanness. [dvijetva - "twice-bornness"] When he exercizes the Vedas he is Bipra. When he knows the mystery of the Vedas, if he does sandhya (daily puja), chants Gayatri, and does Vishnu puja and related things then he will be Brahman.

So there are four stages in the development of the Brahman: 1) Sudra, 2) Dvijatya, 3) Bipra, 4) Brahman. Also there is: Muni, Rishi, and Maharishi.

Originally there was no distinction between Brahmans. All Brahmans were Brahmans. But afterward those who lived in Gaur Province were Gaur, those in Dravida were Dravida, etc. Dravida is divided into five kinds: Karnatak, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Dravida

All those are South of the Vindachal mountains. North of the Vindachal there are: Saraswati, Kanyakubja, Gaur, Uttkal, Maithil. Of these, the munis certified that the Maithil are the best.

At first, all ten married together; but then they dispersed across India and formed separate communities. The Maithils in thinking (vichar) and activities (acharya) and learning were the best Brahmans. All Brahmans were involved in Vedic and Sruti activities and griha (customary) activities. In every way they have tried to preserve their Brahmanness.

In different places, they have adopted different kinds of acharya or activities, and prolonged them over generations; and tried to speak Vedas in regional languages but preserved the basic content. In this way their activities and methods became different. Accordingly in each country the customs of Brahmans varied. In Mithila they have adapted their own methods. Up to today our customs have been preseved.