As I go through my annotation project, I have the chance to review at my leisure many details that I took for granted when translating. In DN 14, I notice that three of the past Buddhas are said to have belonged to the Koṇḍañña clan, namely Vipassī, Sikhī, and Vessabhū. Notably, these are the same three past Buddhas who are identified as khattiyas.
Now, in recent years there has been a welcome discussion as to the role of brahmanism in the Buddha’s time, and among the questions that have been raised regards the Buddha’s clan name, Gotama. He too was a khattiya, yet Gotama is one of the names of the famous rishis of the past, and thus closely associated with the brahmins.
So I wonder what the name Koṇḍañña signifies. It is most famously the name of the Koṇḍañña who, as one of the five ascetics, was first to see the Dhamma and first to attain arahantship. After that time, it seems, he kept a low profile in seclusion, only returning occasionally to the Sangha. He was formerly a practitioner of either Jainism or a Jain-like sramana system, which does not tell us what his caste was (since all the sramanas, like the Buddha, accepted those from any caste).
The Sanskrit dictionaries speak of certain Kauṇḍinyas. Let’s see what we can dig up on them!
It seems that the name is a patronymic stemming from the town Kuṇḍina, the capital Vidarbha. The presence of retroflexes in the name suggest it may have a non-Indo-European origin, but I haven’t been able to confirm this.
It seems this is nearby, or perhaps an alternate name for, the city of Bhoja or Bhojakata, a city on which I have written before. Kuṇḍina is famous for the story of how Krishna abducted and married by the Rākṣasa (demonic) vows the beautiful princess Rukmini, incurring the wrath of the dread king Bhishmaka. It’s all very dramatic!
This is the northern part of the Deccan, i.e. just a little to the south of the Buddha’s regular orbit. If it is the case that the Koṇḍaññas hail from this city, then it seems likely they were leading landowners of the region, i.e. khattiyas rather than brahmins. The Bṛhadāraṇyaka (2,6.3) mentions a certain vidarbhīkauṇḍinya, which confirms the connection of the Koṇḍaññas with Vidarbha.
As that reference shows, however, if it was the case that the Koṇḍaññas originated as khattiyas, they were soon absorbed in the brahmanical fold. The Bṛhadāraṇyaka attributes the famous "honey knowledge) (madhuvidya) to a lineage that includes the above vidarbhīkauṇḍinya as well as another kauṇḍinya. This is one of the earliest and most important of the Brahmanical lineage lists, and includes Koṇḍañña alongside other famous Brahmanical names, including Gautama.
Kauṇḍinya crops up also in the Taittirīya Prātiśākhya, an ancient book of phonetics. There (5.38) he is cited (alongside Gautama) as an authority on Sanskrit grammar ; another time (17.4)—although it seems this is in the commentary (?)—he is called sthavira (“elder”).
As background, there were various branches of brahmanical learning, each influential in a different region. This grammar belongs to the Taittirīyaśākhā.
The related Brahmana text was said to be:
prevalent in southern India in areas such in Andhra Pradesh, south and east of Narmada (Gujarat), and areas on the banks of the Godavari river down to the sea.
In fact, the city of Kuṇḍina lies beside the bounteous Wardha river, which is a tributary of the Godavari.
So this tracks. Kuṇḍina was a prominent city at the north of the Deccan, or in other words, on the gateway to the south of India. Its leading clan was known as Kauṇḍinya, which is spelled Koṇḍañña in Pali. They were missionized by the brahmins at some point before the Buddha, becoming part of the broader Taittirīya branch. One or more of their members were acknowledged as experts in old Brahmanical texts, although the paucity of details makes it hard to say much about them.
We have identified three ancient sources for them: the EBTs, the Bṛhadāraṇyaka, and the Taittirīya Prātiśākhya. This is based solely on the references in the dictionaries, and there may well be more. But it is rather curious that in all three cases their name appears in a list alongside Gautama/Gotama. Probably it’s just coincidence, I guess.
In any case, it does speak to the apparent paradox of the name Gotama being used for both brahmins and khattiyas. I’ve always felt that the boundaries between the two are nowhere near as clear as we might think.