One caste amongst the Hindus is Kayastha. Out of the 12 acknowledged sub-castes of Kayasthas (please see foot note), one is MATHUR. Various theories and beliefs about the origin of Kayasthas in general and of Mathurs in particular have been handed down to us from generation to generation and each theory is equally entitled to its claim of authenticity. However, the most widely accepted and popularly known belief is that Mathurs originated from MATHURA, a present day district in Western U.P. In ancient times Mathura used to be a big kingdom (remember Kansa, the king of Mathura and the Krishna legend) which may then have consisted of parts of the adjoining areas of today’s Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, M.P., U.P., etc. The boundaries of the Mathura kingdom may have fluctuated from time to time, but Mathura continued to be a kingdom or a state of size from ancient days to more recent times.
Around 1000 AD, Mehmood Ghaznavi (who, as per recorded history, attacked and plundered temples of India 17 times during a 25 year period, including the famous Somnath temple) had annexed Punjab and had come upto Mathura, followed by large scale looting of Mathura temples and killing and enslaving of a good portion of its population. Some reliable versions of presence of Mathurs in Mathura during Ghaznavi’s aforesaid attack period had been known to knowledgeable Mathur Buzurgs of the past century and that is perhaps the earliest to which the verbal history of Mathurs is imaginably and understandably tracked.
All same “AL” Mathurs originating from one particular village, to start with, would have been as if from one big joint family and hence brothers or sisters or cousins amongst themselves. Though the distance of such relationship in same “AL” Mathurs has widened enormously today, their earlier generations would have had strong family relationship and feeling of oneness and brotherhood. This is the root of the age-old custom that the same “AL” Mathurs usually do not marry amongst themselves because they think that once upon a long time their elders belonged to one clan and, therefore, even today they are theoretically members of one and the same original family and hence blood related brothers and sisters.
When this “AL” system, based on the names of the 84 villages came into existence is difficult to say, but the system got established and became the basic guiding factor for interaction amongst Mathurs of those days. In due course some Mathurs who were in particular professions or service changed their AL name from village to profession. Thus a Mathur employed as a jeweller’s Store Keeper changed his AL to “Manak Bhandari”, one engaged as a cashier changed his AL to “Naqdidhar”, one employed in a Government mint changed himself to “Taksalia”, and so on. Further, some Mathurs conferred with titles and honors by Kings preferred to be identified with these titles which gave birth to changed AL’s of Sadiqia, Kataria, Munshi, Chobeesay, Tilakdhari, etc. Towards the end of the Mughal period, some oppressed Mathurs of various AL’s had migrated to Narnaul ( a town in today’s Haryana, but then a part of the erstwhile Patiala state) and in gratitude of being sheltered there amalgamated themselves in one AL of Narnaulia.
However, the total number of AL’s remains the same 84 even today, most of them still with the village based names and some changed to professions or titles, as mentioned above, and the spellings of some twisted or anglicized at will.
It may be mentioned here that the “AL” system is not peculiar to Mathurs alone – it is prevalent amongst other castes and sub-castes also. Johri, Moria and Raizada are some of the AL’s amongst Saxena Kayasthas, so also they are found amongst other communities of Brahmans, Vaishs, etc., may not be as AL’s but some other type of groupology.
It was a rigid custom that if a boy had joined a particular Gurukul or Ashram, his future generations will also join the same Ashram. They and their descendents down the line were always to be identified with the particular Ashram which had been the fountain head of knowledge and learning for them. So, all students coming out of the same Gurukul or Ashram were “Guru-bhais” and the Ashram’s name became their GOTRA – something like students coming out of St.Xavier’s College and Wilson College being called Xavierites and Wilsonites respectively. Gotra indicated their particular school of thought and learning – their Alma Metre. They could be from different castes and different walks of life, the only thing common amongst them being the teaching and learning style of the particular Ashram.
The subtle difference in the system of the various Gotras was (and even today is) in the modalities of performance of certain rituals, prayers, offerings, etc. This is why during a Katha or marriage ceremony being performed at your house by a Pundit, the Pundit asks you to name your Gotra, implying that the rituals are being conducted as prescribed in the syllabus of the particular Ashram – your GOTRA. Most Mathurs, incidentally belong to Vashishta, Kashyap, Bharadwaj, Shendelya or Atri Gotras. Almost invariably, same AL Mathurs would have same Gotra.
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NOTE:- The twelve acknowledged Kayastha sub-castes (based on 12 sons of Shri Chitragupt Maharaj) in alphabetical order are: