Bengali Kayastha المصدر: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bengali_Kayastha

Bengali Kayastha
A Kayastha of Calcutta, from a 19th century book
Regions with significant populations

A Bengali Kayastha is a Bengali Hindu who is a member of the Kayastha community. The historical caste occupation of Kayasthas throughout India has been that of scribes, administrators, ministers and record-keepers;[1] the Kayasthas in Bengal, along with Brahmins and Baidyas, are regarded among the three traditional higher castes[2][3] that comprise the "upper layer of Hindu society."[4] During the British Raj, the Bhadraloks of Bengal were drawn primarily, but not exclusively, from these three castes, who continue to maintain a collective hegemony in West Bengal.[5][6][7]


The social and religious patterns of Bengal had historically been distinctively different from those in the orthodox Hindu heartland of North India and this impacted on how the caste system developed there. Bengal, being located east of the traditional Aryavarta (Aryan) region between the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, remained insulated from the full impact of Brahminical orthodoxy for many centuries, and the impact of Buddhism remained strong there. During the reign of the Gupta Empire beginning in the 4th century AD, when systematic and large-scale colonization by Aryan Kayasthas and Brahmins first took place, Kayasthas were brought over by the Guptas to help manage the affairs of state. But the influence of Buddhism continued under the Buddhist rulers of the Pala dynasty from the eighth through the eleventh century CE.[8][9] Of note, the Kayasthas had not yet crystallised into a caste, and represented a professional group.[10]

According to Tej Ram Sharma, an Indian historian, the office of Kayastha in Bengal was instituted before the Gupta period (c. 320 to 550 CE), although there is no reference to Kayastha as a caste at that time. He says that

The names of brahmanas occurring in our inscriptions sometimes end in a non-brahmanic cognomen such as Bhatta, Datta and Kunda, etc., which are available in the inscriptions of Bengal. Surnames like Datta, Dama, Palita, Pala, Kunda (Kundu), Dasa, Naga and Nandin are now confined to Kayasthas of Bengal but not to brahmanas. Noticing brahmanic names with a large number of modern Bengali Kayastha cognomens in several early epigraphs discovered in Bengal, some scholars have suggested that there is a considerable brahmana element in the present day Kayastha community of Bengal. Originally the professions of Kayastha (scribe) and Vaidya (physician) were not restricted and could be followed by people of different varnas including the brahmanas. So there is every probability that a number of brahmana families were mixed up with members of other varnas in forming the present Kayastha and Vaidya communities of Bengal.

Sharma also mentions that D. R. Bhandarkar "has pointed out that identical surnames are used by the Nagara-brahmanas".[10] Referring to some medieval literature, Rabindra Nath Chakraborty mentions that according to such medieval texts, "the Kayasthas were descended from Nagara Brahmin who had a large settlement in Bengal in the eighth century AD".[11]

According to André Wink, another historian, the caste is first referred to around the 5th–6th century CE, and may well have become so identified during the period of the Sena dynasty. Between that time and the 11th–12th century, this category of officials or scribes was composed of "putative" Kshatriyas and, "for the larger majority", Brahmins, who retained their caste identity or became Buddhists. As in South India, Bengal had lacked a clearly defined Kshatriya caste. The Pala, Sena, Chandra, and Varman dynasties and their descendants, who claimed the status of Kshatriya, "almost imperceptibly merged" with the Kayastha caste, "which also ranked as shudras". However, Richard M. Eaton opines that, after absorption of remnants of these dynasties, Kayastha became "the region's surrogate Kshatriya or warrior class".[4][12]

Sekhar Bandyopadhyay also places their emergence as a caste after the Gupta period. In the eleventh century, Bengal was in the grip of Brahminism. The Kayastha evolved into a caste (from a professional group) in the 10th-11th century CE. Ancient scripts and inscriptions record a class of royal officials of writers or accountants, denoted as Karana or Kayastha.[13][14] Lexicographer Vaijayanti (11th century CE) appears to consider Kayastha and Karana as being synonymous and depicts them as scribes.[14] Two early scriptures of Bengal also note a caste group called Karana. Some scholars consider Karana and Kayastha castes as identical or equivalent.[15][16] Other scholars claim that the Karana and Kayastha castes eventually fused to form a single caste in Bengal like other parts of India.[14] Referring to the linkages between class and caste in Bengal, Bandyopadhyay mentions that the Kayasthas along with the Brahmins and Baidyas, refrained from physical labour but controlled land, and as such represented "the three traditional higher castes of Bengal".[3] Eaton mentions that the Kayasthas continued as the "dominant landholding caste" even after the Muslim conquests on the Indian subcontinent, and absorbed the descendants of the region's old Hindu rulers. [12]

In Bengal, between 1500 and 1850 CE, the Kayasthas were regarded as one of the highest Hindu castes in the region.[17]

Varna status[edit]

The Hindu community in Bengal was divided into only two Varnas: Brahmins and Shudras. Hence, although the Bengali Kayasthas and Baidyas had a high social status along with Brahmins, their ritual status was low, according to Edmund Leach, S. N. Mukherjee,[18] though it seems their ritual status is a subject of dispute as per other historians.

Colonial era[edit]

A survey of Indian writers and observers suggests that many of those acquainted with the Kayasthas considered them as Dvija or twice-born. According to Bellenoit, Rabindranath Tagore supported the claims of Kshatriya origin, because of their "respectability and prominence in adminsitration and overall rates of literacy". Abdul Sharar, who was well acquainted with them also supported their claims of twice-born origin citing their high literacy rate which a Shudra caste could not have achieved. However, the claims of Bengali Kayasthas of having Dvija status was not supported by Indian observers like Jogendra Nath Bhattacharya who cited their rituals to refute their claims.[19] The Report of the 1931 census of Bengal noted that, the 'better-placed' Kayastha community claimed Kshatriya status.[20]

Modern views[edit]

Professor Julius J. Lipner mentions that the varna status of the Bengali Kayasthas is disputed, and says that while some authorities consider that they "do not belong to the twice-born orders, being placed high up among the Shudras; for other authorities they are on a level with Kshatriyas, and are accorded twice-born status."[21] According to John Henry Hutton, Kayastha is an important caste in Bengal, the caste is now "commonly regarded as 'twice-born', and itself claims to be Kshatriya, though it was perhaps more often regarded as clean Sudra a hundred years ago".[2] Sanyal mentions that due to the lack of Vaishya and Kshatriya categories in Bengal, all non-Brahmin castes of Bengal, including the so-called "higher castes" are considered as Shudras; the Bengali Kayasthas are considered among the three uchchajatis or higher castes as their social standing has been high.[22] Lloyd Rudolph and Susanne Rudolph mention that Ronald Inden (an anthropologist), after spending part of 1964-'65 in Bengal, states in his dissertation on Kayasthas that inter-caste marriages are increasing among the urban educated "twice-born castes", Kayasthas, Brahmins, and Baidyas.[23]


Kulin Kayastha and Maulika Kayastha[edit]

According to Inden, "many of the higher castes of India have historically been organised into ranked clans or lineages".[17] The Bengali Kayastha was organised into smaller sub-castes and even smaller ranked grades of clans (kulas[24]) around 1500 CE.[25] The four major subcastes were Daksina-radhi, Vangaja, Uttara-radhi and Varendra. The Daksina-radhi and Vangaja subcastes were further divided into Kulina or Kulin ("high clan rank")[17] and Maulika or Maulik, the lower clan rank. The Maulika had four further "ranked grades". The Uttara-radhi and Varendra used the terms "Siddha", "Sadhya", "Kasta" and "Amulaja" to designate the grades in their subcastes.[24]

Origin myths[edit]

Bellenoit states that the Bengali Kayasthas are "largely seen as an offshoot of the main north Indian Kayasthas, they claim lineage from migrations into Bengal from the ancient capital of Kanauj at the request of Hindu Kings (900s) to settle the countryside. These Kayasthas took on the well known names of Ghosh, Mitra and Dutt. Over time they fashioned themselves as a Gaur subdivision of a broader Kayastha group, who claimed north Indian origins".[26]

Kulin Kayasthas, a subcaste of Bengali Kayasthas have an associated myth of origin stating that five Kayasthas accompanied the Brahmins from Kannauj who had been invited to Bengal by the mythological king Adisur. Multiple versions of this legend exist, all considered by historians to be myth or folklore lacking historical authenticity.[27] According to Swarupa Gupta this legend was

... fitted into a quasi-historical, sociological narrative of Bengal and deployed to explain the realities of caste and sub-caste origins and connections during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.[28]

According to this legend, the five original Kayastha clans are Bose/Basu, Ghosh, Mitra, Guha, and Datta,[29] the first four of whom became Kulin Kayasthas.[30][8]

Notable people[edit]



  1. ^ Arnold P. Kaminsky, Roger D. Long (2011). India Today: An Encyclopedia of Life in the Republic. ABC-CLIO. p. 404. ISBN 978-0-313-37462-3. Retrieved 4 March 2012.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  2. ^ a b Hutton, John Henry (1961). Caste in India: Its Nature, Function, and Origins. Indian Branch, Oxford University Press. p. 65.
  3. ^ a b Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004). Caste, Culture, and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. Sage Publications. p. 20. ISBN 81-7829-316-1.
  4. ^ a b Wink (1991), p. 269
  5. ^ Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004). Caste, Culture, and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. Sage Publications. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-761-99849-5.
  6. ^ Chakrabarti, Sumit (2017). "Space of Deprivation: The 19th Century Bengali Kerani in the Bhadrolok Milieu of Calcutta". Asian Journal of Social Science. 45 (1/2): 56. doi:10.1163/15685314-04501003. ISSN 1568-4849. JSTOR 44508277.
  7. ^ Ghosh, Parimal (2016). What Happened to the Bhadralok?. Delhi: Primus Books. ISBN 9789384082994.
  8. ^ a b Hopkins (1989), pp. 35–36
  9. ^ Banu, U. A. B. Razia Akter (1992). Islam in Bangladesh. Brill Academic Publishers. pp. 3–6. ISBN 978-90-04-09497-0. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
  10. ^ a b Sharma (1978), p. 115
  11. ^ Chakraborty, Rabindra Nath (1985). National Integration in Historical Perspective: A Cultural Regeneration in Eastern India. Mittal Publications. p. 124.
  12. ^ a b Eaton (1996), p. 102
  13. ^ Sarma, Jyotirmoyee (1980). Caste Dynamics Among the Bengali Hindus. Firma KLM. pp. 19–20. ISBN 978-0-8364-0633-7.
  15. ^ Sanyal, Hitesranjan (1971). "Continuities of Social Mobility in Traditional and Modern Society in India: Two Case Studies of Caste Mobility in Bengal". The Journal of Asian Studies. 30 (2): 317–319. doi:10.2307/2942917. ISSN 1752-0401. JSTOR 2942917. S2CID 163001574.
  16. ^ From the Margins of Hindu Marriage. OXFORD University Press. 1995. pp. 146–148. ISBN 978-0-19-508118-3.
  17. ^ a b c Inden (1976), p. 1
  18. ^ Leach, Edmund; Mukherjee, S. N. (1970). Elites in South Asia. Cambridge University Press. p. 55.
  19. ^ Hayden J. Bellenoit (2017). The Formation of the Colonial State in India: Scribes, Paper and Taxes 1760-1860. Taylor & Francis. p. 178,176. ISBN 978-1134494293. Retrieved 19 April 2021.
  20. ^ Sircar, Jawhar(2016).THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE HINDU IDENTITY IN MEDIEVAL WESTERN BENGAL.Institute Of Development Studies Kolkata. pp.68
  21. ^ Lipner, Julius J. (2009). Debi Chaudhurani, or The Wife Who Came Home. Oxford University Press. p. 172. ISBN 978-0-19-973824-3.
  22. ^ Malcolm McLean (1998). Devoted to the Goddess: The Life and Work of Ramprasad. SUNY Press. pp. 163–. ISBN 978-1-4384-1258-0. there being no Kshatriya or Vaishya element in the indigenous population of Bengal. Ritually, the rank of the Baidya and the Kayasthas is the same as those of the Nabasakhs with whom they constitute the upper strata of the Bengali Sudras known as satsudra [sat meaning clean]. They are also referred to as jalacharaniya Sudras because of their right to offer drinking water to the clean Brahmans who can minister to them without defilement. However, in the secular context the Baidyas and Kayasthas, who were mostly landholders and professionals, occupy a much higher rank than the nabhasakshs, who are mostly traders, manufacturers, and agriculturists. It is due to this reason that Brahmans, Baidyas, and Kayasthas are usually combined together and referred to as uchchajati, i.e. higher castes
  23. ^ Lloyd I. Rudolph; Susanne Hoeber Rudolph (15 July 1984). The Modernity of Tradition: Political Development in India. University of Chicago Press. pp. 124–. ISBN 978-0-226-73137-7. And Ronald Inden confirms, after spending 1964 and part of 1965 in Bengal preparing a dissertation on Kayasthas, that intermarriage is becoming increasingly frequent among the urban sections of the Kayasthas, Brahmans, and Vaidyas, that is, among those Western-ized and educated twice-born castes dominating the modern, better-paying, and more prestigious occupations of metropolitan Calcutta and constituting perhaps half of the city's population
  24. ^ a b Inden (1976), p. 34
  25. ^ Inden (1976), p. 1–2
  26. ^ Hayden J. Bellenoit (17 February 2017). The Formation of the Colonial State in India: Scribes, Paper and Taxes, 1760-1860. Taylor & Francis. p. 34. ISBN 978-1-134-49429-3. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  27. ^ Sengupta (2001), p. 25
  28. ^ Gupta (2009), pp. 103–104
  29. ^ "Dutta Chaudhuri Ancestry". 14 February 2021.
  30. ^ Inden (1976), pp. 55–56
  31. ^ Aall, Ingrid (1971). Robert Paul Beech; Mary Jane Beech (eds.). Bengal: change and continuity, Issues 16–20. East Lansing: Asian Studies Center, Michigan State University. p. 32. OCLC 258335. Aurobindo's father, Dr Krishnadhan Ghose, came from a Kayastha family associated with the village of Konnagar in Hooghly District near Calcutta, Dr. Ghose had his medical training in Edinburgh...
  32. ^ Chakravarty, Ishita (2019-10-01). "Owners, creditors and traders: Women in late colonial Calcutta". The Indian Economic & Social History Review. 56 (4): 427–456. doi:10.1177/0019464619873800. ISSN 0019-4646. S2CID 210540783.
  33. ^ Gosling (2007). Science and the Indian Tradition: When Einstein Met Tagore.
  34. ^ A. Pelinka, R. Schell (2003). Democracy Indian Style: Subhas Chandra Bose and the Creation of India's Political Culture. Transaction Publishers. p. 32. ISBN 978-07-6580-186-9.
  35. ^ Chakravorty, Reshmi (2016-12-13). "Professor Debapratim Purkayastha: The case study expert". Deccan Chronicle. Retrieved 2020-08-21.
  36. ^ "Dr. Debapratim Purkayastha: Best Selling Case Author". Open The Magazine. 2019-11-08. Retrieved 2020-08-21.
  37. ^ An Indian In The House: The lives and times of the four trailblazers who first brought India to the British Parliament. Mereo Books. 2019. ISBN 978-1-86151-490-5. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
  38. ^ Bachchan, Harivansh Rai (1998). In the Afternoon of Time: An Autobiography. India: Penguin Books. ISBN 9780670881581.
  39. ^ Banhatti, G.S. (1995). Life and Philosophy of Swami Vivekananda. Atlantic Publishers & Distributors. p. 1. ISBN 978-81-7156-291-6. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  40. ^ Sananda Lal Ghosh,(1980), Mejda, Self-Realization Fellowship, p.3