Bahun/Brahmin: A Respected and Controversial Caste

Bahun/Brahmin: A Respected and Controversial Caste
Bahun or Hill Brahmins or Khas Brahmins are one of the most controversial groups of people in Nepal.

Bahuns or hill brahmins originated from the Indo-Aryan Khasa tribe of Nepal and South Asia. Bahuns were members of the Khas community together with Chhetris and Hill Dalits. Due to the political power of the Khasa Malla kingdom, Khas Bahun and Khas Rajput had high social status like plain Brahmins and Rajputs in present-day western Nepal. So let us know more about the caste and the people who have dominated Nepalese politics for so long and are both respected and hated by the Nepalese population:

Bahun A Respected and Controversial Caste
Khas Kingdom (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

Origins and History:

Bahuns were regarded as an upper-class Khas group and Chhetri were associated mostly with the Gorkha Kingdom. They were original inhabitants of the Karnali region of Nepal. The immigration of Brahmins into Nepal increased significantly from 1324 and continued up to 1769 due to the Islamic invasion of the western portion of the Indian subcontinent.

Bahun/Brahmin: A Respected and Controversial Caste
Islamic Invasion

Clans of Bahuns:

Initially, Bahuns were divided into two clans on the basis of their residency. The residents east of the Mahakali river were known as Purbiya Bahun and west of the river were known as Kumai Bahun.Kumai or Kumain is a direct derivative of Kumaoni, meaning residents of Kumaon.

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Bahun/Brahmin: A Respected and Controversial Caste
Present day Kumaon

Current Demographics of Bahuns in Nepal:

According to the 2011 Nepal census, Bahuns are the second most populous group after Chhetri with 12.2% of Nepal’s population (or 32,26,903 people). They are the second largest Hindu group with a population of 3,212,704 (99.6% out of 100%). They are the largest ethnic group in 15 districts of Nepal. Kathmandu has the largest population with 410,126 people (23.5%).

Bahun/Brahmin: A Respected and Controversial Caste
Demographics of Nepal (Image Source: Dorge Gurung)

Present Day Situation:

They have the highest civil service representation with 39.2% of Nepalese bureaucracy while having only 12.1% of Nepal’s total population. The civil service representation to population ratio is 3.2 times for them which is fourth in Nepal. Chhetris represent 5.6 times in civil services to their percentage of the population, which is the highest in Nepal. As per the Public Service Commission, Brahmins (33.3%) and Chhetris (20.01%) were two largest caste groups to obtain governmental jobs in F.Y. 2017-18 even though 45% of governmental seats are reserved for women, Madhesis, other castes, and Tibetan tribes, people with disability and those from the backward regions.

Bahun/Brahmin: A Respected and Controversial Caste
Public Service Commission (Image Credit: Kathmandu Post)

Probable Reason Behind the Controversy:

Due to their access to superior education and special status mentioned in religious textbooks, Bahuns were awarded high posts in palaces and they kept their knowledge and skills to themselves which deprived other ethnic groups a chance to rise up and using this ignorance Bahuns were able to keep them in dark and exploit them for a long time. This helped to grow resentment and foster ill will towards this particular caste which was supposed to use their education and skills to help the needed persons but instead was using it to exploit others through the means of the caste system and political machinations.

Bahun/Brahmin: A Respected and Controversial Caste
A Brahmin Kid Studying while holding his Janai

Read More:

Chhetri: The Most Populous Caste of Nepal

Ethnicity in Nepal: A Complex Diversity in Making