They are related to the ethnic Koch people found in Meghalaya but are distinguished from them as well as from the Hindu caste called Koch in Upper Assam that receives converts from different tribes. Rajbanshi (of royal lineage) alludes to the community's claimed connection with the Koch dynasty.
The Rajbanshi (literal meaning: of the royal lineage) community gave itself this name after 1891 following a movement to distance itself from an ethnic identity and acquire the higher social status of KshatriyaHindu varna instead. The kshatriya identity was established by linking the community to the Koch dynasty. The Rajbanshis were officially recorded as Koch till the 1901 census. The name Rajbanshi is a 19th century neologism.
In ancient times, the land which the Rajbanshi inhabit, called Kamarupa, was considerd an 'unclean' frontier zone, where people of varying ethnic backgrounds mixed on the edge of Aryavarta. Its inhabitants spoke Tibeto-Burman languages. There is no mention of 'Rajbanshi' in Persian records, the Ahom Buranjis or the 18th-century Darrang Raja Vamsavali: the geneological records of the Koch Bihar royal family, although there is mention of the Koch as a distinct social group.
Starting from 1872 to 1891, in a series of social movements, a section of Koch who were at tribal or semi-tribal form in present North Bengal and Western Assam in an effort to promote themselves up the caste hierarchy tried to dissociate themselves from their ethnic identity by describing themselves as Rajbanshi (of the royal lineage). This attempt of social upliftment was a reaction against the ill treatment and humiliation faced by the community from the caste Hindus who referred to the Koch as mleccha or barbarians. The term Rajbanshi was used to connect the group with Koch royalty who called themselves Shiva-banshi or Rajbanshi under Biswa Singha, the founder of the Koch dynasty and a tribal who was Hinduised and promoted to Kshatriya varna in the early 1500s.
By 1891, the Koch who came to be known as Rajbanshi claimed a new status of Bhanga Kshatriya to proof themselves to be a provincial variety of the Kshatriyas, the movement of Bhanga Kshatriya was undertaken by Harimohan Ray Khajanchi who established the "Rangpur Bratya Kshatriya Jatir Unnati Bidhayani Sabha" for the upward mobility of the community in the Hindu society.
To justify this, the group collected reference from Hindu religious text such as the Kalika Purana, Yogini Tantra etc and created legends that they originally belonged to the kshatriya varna but left their homeland in the fear of annihilation by the brahmin sage Parashurama and took refuge in Paundradesh (currently in Northern bengal and Rangpur division of Bangladesh) and later came to be known as Bhanga Kshatriyas. The story so created was to provide a convincing myth to assert their Kshatriya origin and perform as an ideological base for the movement but this failed to make any wider effect on the community and were denied the Kshatriya status.
In 1910, the Rajbanshi who were classified as the member of the same caste as the Koches claimed a new identity of Rajbanshi Kshatriya, this time under the leadership of Panchanan Barma who established the Kshatriya Samiti in Rangpur, it separated the Rajbanshis from their Koch identity and was also successful in getting the Kshatriya status after getting recognition from different Brahmin pandits of Mithila, Rangpur, Kamrup and Koch Bihar. Following this, the district magistrate gave permission to use surnames like Roy, Ray, Barman, Sinha, Adhikary etc. to replace the older traditional surnames like Sarkar, Das or Mandal and the Kshatriya status was granted in the final report of 1911 census. The movement manifested itself in sankritising tendencies with an assertion of Aryan origin and striving for higher social status by imitating higher caste customs and rituals.
With this lakhs of Rajbanshi took ritual bath in the Karatoya river and adopted the practices of the twice born (Dvija), like the wearing of the sacred thread (Upanayana), adoption of gotra name, shortening in period of 'asauch' from 30 days to 12. They gave up practices that were forbidden in the Hindu religion like the drinking of liquor (Teetotalism) and rearing of pigs. From 1872 to 1911 in an effort to be a part of the higher caste, the Koch went through three distinct social identities in the census, Koch to Rajbanshi (1872), Rajbanshi to Bhanga Kshatriya (1891), Bhanga Kshatriya to Rajbanshi Kshatriya (1911).
In 1937, various members of the Rajbanshi Kshatriya Samiti were elected to the Bengal Legislative Council from Rangpur, Dinajpur, Malda, and Jalpaiguri. These MLAs helped form the Independent Scheduled Caste Party. Upendra Nath Barman became a minister-in-charge of forests and excise in the Fazlul Haq government. However, the reservations provided to them also increased conflict within organizations representing Scheduled Castes, and many leaders of the Kshatriya Samiti left for the Congress party, while much of the masses were drawn to the Communists. In 1946, several Rajbanshi candidates were elected on reserved seats from North Bengal, with only one Rajbanshi candidate from the Kshatriya Samiti and Communist Party being elected. This division of Rajbanshi leadership meant they were in little position to have a say in the Partition of Bengal, although Jogendra Nath Mandal attempted to organize lower castes against Partition and then for a separate state of North Bengal.
After Partition, the Kshatriya Samithi lost its headquarters at Rangpur and attempted to reestablish itself at Dinhata. However, a variety of new organisations to represent the Rajbanshi were being created. In Assam, the Rajbanshis were classified in a special category of OBC called MOBC. In North Bengal, the various new Rajbanshi organisations began to see the Rajbanshi identity as ethnolinguistic in nature rather than a caste, since the various other communities living in North Bengal and Lower Assam also spoke the Rajbanshi dialect. This linguistic awareness was heightened in 1953, when the government decided to reorganise the states on linguistic basis. Many of these organisations, such as Siliguri Zonal Rajbanshi Kshatriya Samiti agitated for the merger of Purnia division of Bihar and Goalpara district of Assam into West Bengal since these regions were largely populated by Rajbanshi speakers. This was continued into the 1960s with Rajbanshi activists frequently demanding for their speech to be recognized as separate from Bengali.
The Rajbongshis were traditionally agriculturalists, but due to their numerical dominance in North Bengal there were significant occupational differences among them. Most were agricultural labourers (halua) or sharecroppers (adhiar). These often worked for landed cultivators, called dar-chukanidars. Above them were the chukandiars and jotedars, and at the top were the zamindars. Some Rajbongshis were zamindars or jotedars.
According to a 2019 research, the Koch Rajbongshi community has an oral tradition of agriculture, dance, music, medical practices, song, the building of house, culture, and language. Ideally the tribe transfer the know-how from one generation to another.
The Koch Rajbongshi community had traditionally been a largely agricultural community, cultivating mainly rice, pulses, and maize. Rice is the staple food for the majority of the population. Even in the 21st century, a large portion of this community still adheres to a rural lifestyle, though urbanization is on a constant rise. The food consumed and the diet pattern is similar to all the Koches of Assam, West Bengal, Nepal, Bangladesh, Meghalaya. Rice and Pulses are consumed on a regular basis along with vegetables and bhajis (fries- mainly potatoes). Typical is the Dhékir sāg and naphā sāg, two types of leafy vegetable preparation, mostly boiled with very little added oil, out of newly born shoots of fern leaves. In lower Assam, a vegetable preparation of bamboo shoots is also consumed. Consumption of stale rice or pantha bhāt is common within Koch Rajbongshi. Cooking is mainly done using mustard oil, though sunflower oil is sometimes used. As far as non-vegetarian foods are concerned, the Koch Rajbongshi population consumes a large amount of meat and eggs unlike other neighborhood populations from the Bengal region, who consume a large amount of fish. Goat meat and sheep (if available) is generally consumed, and consumption of fowl meat is discouraged as a result of Sanskritization, though these taboos have eroded over time. There were rituals involving sacrificing pigs in Ghordew puja, and ducks in Laxmi puja. Eggs of ducks and poultry are consumed. Ducks and Fish are also consumed but not in very large numbers. The rivers of northern Bengal does not sustain large varieties of fishes because of its non-perennial nature. However, in lower Assam areas, large rivers like the Brahmaputra sustain large varieties of fish which becomes an important part of the dietary habit of the Koch Rajbanshi living there.
Home design of a typical Koch Rajbanshi home is essential for the rectangular pattern, with an open space (egina/aingna) in the middle. This is done mostly for protection against both wild animals and strong winds. A Thakurghor of Manasha or Kali Thakur at the entrance is must in every Koch-Rajbongshi house. The north side holds the betel nut and fruit gardens, the west contains Bamboo gardens while the east and the south is generally left open to allow sunshine and air to penetrate into the household. Though such a pattern is more prominent among the landed gentry.
Traditional attires of Koch-Rajbongshis are mainly Patani, Agran, Angsha, Chadar, Lifan, Phota, and various other traditional costumes being weaved at their traditional handloom in their home. The traditional clothing for men is Angsha and Jama , while for women is Bukuni-Patani, Phota, Agran, Angsa, Lifan; Chadar a piece of cloth tied around the chest that extends up to the knee. Lifan or Phota are worn like a wrapper. The Koch Rajbongshi Tribe has still preserved their age-old ethnic attires and is being used on a regular basis as their common costumes, The Koch Rajbongshis prefer to wear their traditional attires in-spite of the fact that the modern costumes are widely available.
Music forms are integral part of Koch-Rajbongshi culture. The main musical forms of Koch-Rajbongshi culture are Bhawaiyya, Chatka, Chorchunni, Palatia, Lahankari, Tukkhya, Bishohora Pala among many others. Various instruments are used for such performances, string instruments like Dotora, Sarindra and Bena, double-membrane instruments like Tasi, Dhak, Khol, Desi Dhol and Mridanga, gongs and bells like Kansi, Khartal and wind instruments like Sanai, Mukha bansi and Kupa bansi.
^"In West Bengal and Bihar, they are known as "Rajbongshi and "Rajbanshi"," in Assam as "Koch," "Rajbongshi," and "Koch-Rajbongshi," and in Meghalaya mainly as "Koch." Though the community is known by diverse names in different states, their origin is the same, that is, "Koch." (Roy 2018)
^ abc"(W)hile the asserted identity of the Koch/Rabha complex seemingly shifted a great deal during the colonial period—which is therefore very confusing for observers-some converts formed an assertive ethnic group, the Koch Rajbongshi (“of royal lineage”), that claimed to be linked to the Koch dynasty."(Ramirez 2014, p. 17)
^"The Kamatapur Autonomous Council Act 2020"(PDF). Legislative Department. 19 October 2020. Retrieved 18 July 2022. An Act to provide for the establishment of an Administrative Authority in the name and style of the Kamatapur Autonomous Council and for matters incidental therein and connected therewith
^"The Koch of western Meghalaya also claim relationship with those empire-building Koch. On the other hand, Koch is known as a Hindu caste found all over the Brahmaputra Valley (Majumdar 1984: 147), and receives converts to Hinduism from different tribes (Gait 1933: 43)." (Kondakov 2013:4)
^"From 1891 a section of the Koches were trying to dissociate themselves from their original ethnic stock by describing themselves as Rajbansis or Vratya Kshatriya (Bhanga Kshatriya) their movement ended with getting Kshatriya status, being known as Rajbansis and also enlisting themselves in the list of Scheduled Caste"(Das 2004:559)
^"In fact, the Koches in order to assert their royal lineage used to call themselves Rajbanshis. The term, Rajbanshi was also used as an effective nomenclature to subvert the processes of hierarchical subordination of the community largely by the caste Hindus during the colonial era." (Roy 2014)
^"The Rajbansi Movement gained new momentum during 1901, because in the census the Rajbansis were not treated as distinct caste separated from the Koches and they had not been given Kshatriya status. The district magistrate denied their demand. The Rajbansis were placed with the Koches in 1901 census."(Das 2004:560)
^"But it is interesting to note that neither in the Persian records, nor in the foreign accounts, nor in any of the dynastic epigraphs of the time, the Koches are mentioned as Rajvamsis. Even the Darrang Raj Vamsavali, which is a genealogical account of the Koch royal family, and which was written in the last quarter of the 18th century, does not refer to this term. Instead all these sources call them as Koches and/or Meches."(Nath 1989, p. 5)
^"The social movement of the Rajbanshis is a historical fact. During the Census of 1872, the Rajbanshis of Bengal and some part of Assam were trying to dissociate themselves from the tribal Koches and frantically dependent entry in the Census as a distinct caste i.e "Rajbanshi".(Adhikary 2009:309)
^"In 1901, many Koches in North Bengal were returned as Rajbanshis. Many of the Rajbanshis have taken sacred thread and were prepared to use force in support of their claim to be returned as Kshatriya. He also writes "No part of the Census in 1891, 1901, 1911 aroused so much excitement as the return of caste which caused a great deal heart burning and in some were returned as kshatriya quarters with threats of disturbance of the peace. The Rajbanshis claimed to be included as Kshatriya, Bratya kshatriya, Barua kshatriya"(Adhikary 2009:65)
^ "The immigrants with a strong awareness to caste started interacting with indigenous Rajbanshis [Koch] in differential terms. There are numerous instances of humiliation and objectionable identities of the Rajbanshis by the other caste immigrant. Few such instances of racialism interpretation and social suppression are Nagendra Nath Basu in the early twentieth century while writing his World Encyclopedia (Biswakosh) mentioned the Rajbanshis as barbarians or mlechha and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya in Bango Dar shan moots that the Koch identity."(Adhikary 2009:163)
^The Rajbanshis also faced humiliation and objectionable identification by the caste Hindus. Few such instances of racial misinterpretation and social suppression are: Nagendranath Basu in the early twentieth century while writing his Vishwakosh (World Encyclopedia) mentioned the Rajbanshis as barbarians or (Mlechha) and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay in Bongo Darshan moots that the Koch identity cannot be synonymous with Bengali Hindu identity. The Ranjbanshis were even denied entry into the temple of Jagannath Puri by an Act of the government in the year 1911."(Hazarika 2009:277)
^"So among the mass people the process of Hinduization was slower than in the folds of the royal family. With the embracing of Hinduism, they were left with a somewhat despised name 'Koch' and adopted the name Rajbansi, a Kshatriya status which means literally 'of royal race', confined predominantly within the cultivators and the respectable classes"(Sheikh 2012:252)
^(Sheikh 2012, p. 250):"But it is surmised this was nothing but Sanscritization of the ruling family which spread the Brahminical ideas among the tribes to bring them under the pale of Hinduism. The king Biswa Singha with his tribal origin embraced Hinduism and claim Kshatriya status. He is also known as Bishu succeeded in establishing his authority, styling himself as Raja, he first claimed Rajbanshi Kshatriya status"
^"As both royal families call themselves Sivabangshi, so the mass of the Koches call themselves Rajbanshis as commented with royal families"(Adhikary 2009:63-64)
^"No part of the Census in 1891, 1901, 1911 aroused so much excitement as the return of caste which caused a great deal heart burning and in some were returned as kshatriya quarters with threats of disturbance of the peace. The Rajbanshis claimed to be included as Kshatriya, Bratya kshatriya, Barua kshatriya"(Adhikary 2009:65)
^"The Rajbanshis also used the reference of Yoginitantra, Kalika Purana, and Bhramari Tantra to establish their claim as Bratya Kshatriya or Bhanga Kshatriya."(Adhikary 2009:309)
^"The Rajbanshis [Koch] claimed that they were originally to the kshatriya varna and left their original homeland and took shelter in a region called Paundradesh corresponding to the districts of Rangpur, Dinajpur, Bogra, and the adjacent areas in fear of annihilation of Parasurama, a Brahman sage. In order to hide their kshatriyas identity they gave up their sacred thread and started living with the local people and gradually came to be known as the Bhanga Kshatriyas or the fallen kshatriyas."(Adhikary 2009:167–168)
^" As both royal families call themselves Sivabangshi, so the mass of the Koches call themselves Rajbanshis as commented with royal families. Some of the Rajbanshis are now trying to prove that they are descendants of the Kshatriyas, who have taken shelter in North Bengal, being pursued by a Brahman hero Parsu Ram who extirpated the kshatriyas from the earth twenty one times. Some of them still call themselves Bhanga Kshatriyas."(Adhikary 2009:63–64)
^"Though there are certain differences in these three accounts, the common thread that binds all of them together is the effort to create a convincing myth to provide their Kshatriya origin."(Adhikary 2009, p. 168)
^"The claim to Kshatriya varna status through reinvention of some mythic tales provided some credibility to the ideological foundation of the Rajbanshi movement"(Roy 2014)
^"The Kshatriya samiti also had some other objectives to fulfill. It intended first, to separate the Koch and the Rajbanshi identity emphasizing the superior status of the latter; second, to legitimize the demand to include the Rajbanshis within the Kshatriya caste; third, to inculcate brahmanical values and practices among the Rajbanshis"(Hazarika 2009:277)
^"At the initial stage, the Rajbanshis [Koch] caste leaders typically attempted to improve their social standing by altering their customs to resemble the ways of life of 'twice- born'. As a formal work of 'twice born' they started wearing sacred thread and adopted gotra (clan) name. They also reduced the period of mourning and ritual pollution (as ouch) from thirty to twelve days to corresponding with that of the kshatriya."(Adhikary 2009, p. 169)
^" In order to gratify their ritual rank aspiration they began to imitate the values, practices and cultural styles of ‘twice born’ castes that formed a part of Hindu Great tradition. Since 1912, a number of mass thread wearing ceremonies (Milan Kshetra) were organized in different districts by the ‘Kshatriya Samiti’ where lakhs of Rajbanshi’s donned the sacred thread as a mark of Kshatriya status."(Hazarika 2009:277)
^"In their desire to be recorded as a member of high caste, they passed through at least four distinct social identities from one census to another i.e. from Koch to Rajbanshi (1872 A.D.)
,from Rajbanshi to Bratya/ Bhanga Kshatriya(1891), from Bratya/Bhanga Kshatriya· to Rajbanshi Kshatriya (1901,1911,1921 A.D.) and from Rajbanshi Kshatriya to only Kshatriya."(Adhikary 2009:312)
^"Today, the Koch Rajbanshi people are located in North Bengal, Assam (with a major concentration in west Assam), Garo hills of Meghalaya, Purnia, Kishanganj, and Katihar districts of Bihar, Jhapa and Biratnagar districts of Nepal, Rangpur, East Dinajpur districts and some parts of northwest Mymensingh, northern Rajshahi and Bogra districts of Bangladesh and lower parts of Bhutan (Nalini Ranjan Ray 2009)." (Roy 2014)
^Roy (2014):"Suniti Kumar Chatterji observed that Rajbanshis were Koch in origin and belonged to the larger Bodo group. They were Hinduised or semi-Hinduised and had discarded their Tibeto-Burman language, adopting northern Bengali sub-language as their tongue."
^"The large tract of country called Mechpara in the Gowalparah District no doubt took its name from them, and the proprietor is a Mech; but he and most of his people repudiate this origin and call themselves Rajbangsis"(Mitra 1953:224)
^"On the other hand, there are Rajbanshi in Midnapur, 24 Paraganas, Hoogly and Nadia district who may not be of the same stock and do not speak this language"(Adhikary 2009:138)
^"Thompson states, "The Rajbanshis are the indigenous people of Northern Bengal and the third Largest Hindu Caste in the province. Their total number has been exaggerated by the fact that a member of fisherman caste in Mymensingh, Nadia and Murshidabad returned themselves as Rajbanshis."(Adhikary 2009:65)
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