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Tyagi (Devanāgarī: त्यागी) is a common Hindu surname, derived from the Sanskrit 'tyag', meaning "to sacrifice" or "one who has renounced". [1]

Within Tyagi, a number of gotras co-exist, including Bharadwaj, Vashisth, Gautam, Atri, Kaushik, Vatsyayana, Kashyap, Shandilya and Parashar. [2]

Historical Origins

The surname Tyagi indicates membership in the Brahmin caste of the traditonal Vedic four-tier caste system.

Bhat records hold that the origins of the surname were found in a split between the Tyagis and the Brahmin subcaste Bhumihar. Bhumihar are said to be direct descendants of Parashuram, the sixth avatar of Vishnu. Parashuram requested that the Bhumihar renounce all future bhiksha, and instead impart their knowledge and administration for religious functions without donation and dedicate themselves to the development of agriculture in northern India. Those that obeyed Parashuram were given the surname 'Tyagi' to commemorate their sacrifice. [3]

This assertion is not without debate, however. Other sources maintain that the origins of the surname hold a connection with Janmejay, the first Hindu king during the age of kalyug, approximately 3000 BCE. Janmejay was the great-grandson of Arjuna, the protagonist of the Bhagavad Gita. [4] According to alternate bhat records, Janmejay organized a Nag Yagna, for a bloody war waged against the Nagas. Yagnas were generally performed as a ritual of purification for sins and bloodshed committed during war. At this ceremony, the most learned and reknowned of Brahmins versed in performing the art of sacrifice were invited from across the northern subcontinent to administer the ceremony. According to Vedic literature, the Yajinika of such a ceremony was required to be a master scholar in scripture, mathematics, and astronomy. At the end of the Yagna, a bhiksha was offered to the Brahmins in exchange for their services. Janmejay, per tradition, offered the visiting priests wealth in the form of gold, livestock (particularly cows), houses, horse driven chariots, and clothes, among other things, in gratitude for their services.

Beyond this, however, Janmejay wished that the scholars and priests remained near his capital regions of Indraprashtha, or modern-day Delhi and Hastinapura, the older capital of the Kuru dynasty. Per records, Janmejay offered the visiting Brahmins a total of 2444 villages in exchange for retaining them near his capital cities.

While Brahmins did not traditionally cultivate land, by Vedic tradition the Brahmin priests could not refuse the bhiksha offered at the end of a ceremony. They agreed to cultivate the land, but countered that in devoting themselves to agriculture, they would have to renounce their duties to give Paurohitya Karma. That is to say, they relinquished their duty to perform religious rites. Their progeny, in turn, would never accept any charity for their livelihood, or act as sacrificial priests. These priests were then given the surname 'Tyagi' to acknowledge their renunciation.[2][4]

District Gazetteer

One of the few historical documents to record the evolution of the surname outside of Bhat records is the District Gazetteer, a comprehensive catalogue of Indian subcontinent geography and culture created by the British Viceroy during England's imperialist ventures in the early 20th century. While some academicians maintain that the accuracy of District Gazetteers is suspect, most consider them a valuable record of Indian history outside of parochial tradition.

According to the Gazetteer, the surname 'Tyagi' is equivalent to an earlier form of the word, 'Taga'. If these records are accurate, the Tagas held about five percent of the land in the state at the time--ostensibly inherited from the Dhakshan of Janmejay thousands of years prior to this. The majority of this land was maintained in coparcenary tenure. [5]

The records indicate that Tagas also played a considerable part in the resistance to the Islamic Crusades, most notably those of the sanguine Muslim general Timur the Lame. According to the records, Umra Taga served as Deputy General of the Sarv Khap coalition army and Rampyari Taga served as a female delegate and deputy, a notably progressive choice in light of the patriarchal culture of the time. The major goal of the Sarva Khap resistance was to defend the holy city of Haridwar from desecration by Timur, as he massacred, pillaged, and raped the indigenous Hindu populace during his army's trek. Timur's ultimate goal, incidentally, was to ultimately invade the city of Delhi during the city's internal battle for ascension.[5]

Sadly, four-hundred years later, Tagas in Uttar Pradesh again clashed with Islamic imperialists, and many were forcibly converted to Islam by Aurangzeb, a descendant of Timur and sixth ruler in the Mughal dynasty.[5]

Perhaps most interesting, however, is that the Tagas of the early 20th century Gazetteer records maintained that they had originally arrived in the district from the region now known as East and West Bengal. It is of note that the British authors who compiled the Gazetteer were uncertain as to the veracity of this claim.[5]

Migration of Tyagis

Over time, the Tyagi surname changed according to geographic location, although the majority of Tyagis still reside in western Uttar Pradesh. Other surnames used by Tyagi Brahmins include Rai, Sharma, Kapil, and Sinha. At the same time, not all people of Indian descent with these last names were originally Tyagis--the distinctions have become blurred with time.

Tyagis in Recent Times

Many Tyagis held high positions during the British Raj, as they were considered a martial race by the British Viceroys. Others were quite active during the ensuing Indian independence movement as well. Influential Tyagis in recent history have included Indian Members of Parliament Prakash Vir Shastri and Mahavir Tyagi, as well as Air Chief Marshal Shashindra Pal Tyagi of the Indian Air Force.

In Uttar Pradesh, many Tyagis now live in the upper Doab region between the Ganges and Yamuna rivers--one of the most fertile deltas in the world. Others have also since migrated to the states of Haryana, New Delhi and Rajasthan. In parochial regions, their major occupation continues to be farming.

Similar castes are found across India, including Bhumihar Brahmins in Bihar, Chitpawan Brahmins in Maharashtra, Havyak Brahmins in Andhra Pradesh, Namboothiri Brahmins in Kerala and Anavil Brahmins in Gujarat.


  1. ^ Mahendra Nath Gupta (1908). Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita Volume III. Sri Ma Trust. {{cite book}}: Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. ^ a b Naresh Chandra Tyagi, PhD. "The History of Tyagi Samaj". {{cite web}}: Unknown parameter |accessmonthday= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help)
  3. ^ Singh, K. S. (December 1st, 1995). People of India: Haryana. Manohar Publications. {{cite book}}: Check date values in: |date= (help)
  4. ^ a b "Brahamanotpattimartand Forum Discussion". 2002. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |date= (help); Unknown parameter |accessmonthday= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help)
  5. ^ a b c d Muzaffarnagar District Gazetteer 1901 Census. 1901. {{cite book}}: Check date values in: |date= (help)