Evolution of the figure of the Brahmin in early Muslim writings


  • Dunkin Jalki CIRHS, SDM PG Centre


Al-Biruni, Brahmin, brahmanism, indology, India, Islam, medieval India, caste system, brahmán, brahmanismo, indología, islam, India medieval, sistema de castas


When we talk about the caste system today, among other things, we talk about the wily, crafty and the boasting Brahmins who founded and maintained a set of self-serving rules that effectively took the form of the caste system. How do social scientists know about these Brahmins? As a set of new scholars are demonstrating today, the ancient Indian texts - such as the Vedas or the Mahabharata - do not talk about the caste system or the rule-setting priestly class of Brahmins. These texts do not even exhibit an impulse to put into place a system that even remotely resembles the so-called caste system. Whence is this idea of Brahmin then? Ever since Wilhelm Halbfass’s Imagining India (1990), a growing but a small number of Indologists talk about the 11th century Al-Bīrūnī as one of “the greatest scholars ever” to speak about the Indian caste system. There is, however, neither a comprehensive study to show what his contributions measure up to nor any attempt to dig into the Islamic culture that culminates in Al-Biruni’s quite detailed picture of the Brahmin and the caste system. This paper sifts through the earliest available Islamic writings on India, from the early 8th century to Al-Biruni’s time, to chart a genealogy of the figure of the law-making crafty Brahmin that we confront by the 11th century in Muslim writings.

Cuando se habla hoy del sistema de castas, se habla, entre otras cosas, de los astutos, taimados y ostentosos brahmanes que fundaron y mantuvieron un conjunto de normas de interés propio que adoptaron efectivamente la forma del sistema de castas. ¿Qué saben las ciencias sociales sobre estos brahmanes? Como están demostrando hoy un conjunto de nuevos estudiosos, los antiguos textos indios –como los Vedas o el Mahabharata– no hablan del sistema de castas ni de la clase sacerdotal dominante de los brahmanes. Dichos textos ni siquiera muestran un impulso para poner en marcha un sistema que se asemeje siquiera remotamente al llamado sistema de castas. ¿De dónde surge, entonces, esta idea del brahmán? Este artículo examina los primeros escritos islámicos disponibles sobre la India, desde principios del siglo VIII hasta la época de Al-Biruni, para trazar una genealogía de la figura del brahmán legislador y astuto que surge en los escritos musulmanes del siglo XI.

Available from: https://doi.org/10.35295/osls.iisl/0000-0000-0000-1318

Author Biography

Dunkin Jalki, CIRHS, SDM PG Centre

Dr. Dunkin Jalki is currently running a research centre in a rural college in India: SDM College, Ujire, Karnataka. Besides his recent co-edited volume, The Western Foundations of the Caste System (Palgrave 2020, II ed.), he has spent most of his time working on the issue of the caste system and the Bhakti traditions of India. His forthcoming work will deal with the Ancient Greek, Christian and the subsequent Muslim picture of the Brahmins.


04-10-2022 — Updated on 01-02-2023

How to Cite

Jalki, D. (2023) “Evolution of the figure of the Brahmin in early Muslim writings”, Oñati Socio-Legal Series, 13(1), pp. 29–57. Available at: https://opo.iisj.net/index.php/osls/article/view/1418 (Accessed: 27 March 2023).