Mahishya Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahishya

Rani Rashmoni, is from Mahishya family, founder of the Dakshineswar Kali Temple in Calcutta

Mahishya, also spelled Mahisya, is a Bengali Hindu traditionally agrarian caste,[1][2] and formed the largest caste in undivided Bengal.[3] Mahishyas are considered as Forward caste.[4]

Mahisyas traditionally lived in Bengal and Orissa region.[5] The Mahisyas are considered as the single most important 'middle-caste' group in south-western Bengal[6] and a dominant caste in lower Midnapore district and southern 24 Parganas. They predominantly live in South Bengal, especially in the districts of Purba Medinipur, Paschim Medinipur, Hooghly, South 24 Parganas, Purba Bardhaman, Paschim Bardhaman and Howrah.[7][8][9][10]


According to ancient texts like Manusmriti, the term Mahishya refers to one born to a Kshatriya father and a Vaishya mother, supposed to be engaged in the profession of astronomy or agriculture.[11][12]


The group now known as Mahishyas were originally known as Kaibartas or Kaivartas. From eighth to thirteenth century, there are numerous examples of Kaibartas holding posts of administrators and legal officers.[13] Since Buddhism was prevalent in Bengal during that period, they had become Buddhists, though the 'Hele' Kaivartas only were allowed education associated with Buddhism.[14] During Pala regime, many Kaivartas, alternatively with Brahmins, acted as ministers in royal courts.[15] In eleventh century, in a rebellious hostility, Divya, originally a feudal chief (Samanta), killed Mahipala II , seized Varendri and established a regime there. For a short time Varendri bowed to the supremacy of three Kaibarta kings - Divya, Rudok and Bhima.[16][17][18] According to historian Romila Thapar, this is perhaps the first peasant rebellion in Indian history.[19][20][21][22] In his rule Bhima dispossessed the brahmanical and other beneficiaries and levied taxes from them, and prioritized the interests of the peasants.[23] During early mediaeval period some of the Kaibartas were versed in Sanskrit and composed poetry.[16][need quotation to verify]

At the end of 19th century scholars appeared to differ on the rank of the Mahisyas in Bengal society. Sankritist and antiquarian Rajendralal Mitra appeared to believe that Mahisyas were a caste of small farmers and could not afford forces of modernity such as school education. But Jogendranath Bhattacharya, who published a major book on castes and sects in Bengal in 1896, wrote that they were a fairly advanced caste, counting among them quasi-royal families in Midnapore and a large number of professionals including lawyers and university graduates. These advanced individuals, who were then known as Chashi Kaibartas, assumed the caste name Mahisya sometime during the late 1890s.[24][25][need quotation to verify]

Mahisyas were, and are, probably the most diverse Bengali caste. They counted among their ranks individuals and families from all possible classes in terms of material conditions. In 24 Parganas they constituted the bulk of 'lathdar' landholders of sundarbans. In Nadia district, they formed the lower middle class and some had become rich by working as 'sarkars' to the indigo planters. In Calcutta there was a large mahishya contingent working as traders.[26] There were the legendary rajas of Midnapore or major landed families in Calcutta. On the other hand, Mahisyas had a substantial number of lawyers and industrialists too, and numerous modest entrepreneurs in the iron foundry sector in Howrah in the mid-20th century.[27][28] Although among mahishyas there were numerous peasants with large landholdings, large number of them were small peasants and sharecroppers. Landless among them worked as agricultural labourers and daily-wage earners.[29][30]

Although many are still involved in traditional work in rural areas, within a generation Mahishyas gave up agriculture in large numbers in favour of engineering and skilled labour in the urbanised areas of Howrah and Kolkata. In Howrah, the Mahishyas are the most numerous and successful businesspeople. At the turn of the 20th century, much of the land and factories were owned by Kayasthas; but by 1967, the Mahisya community owned 67 percent of the engineering businesses in the district.[31][32][33]

Role in Independence Movement[edit]

Mahishyas played a prominent role in the nationalist movement.[34] During Civil disobedience movement(1930–34) the mahishyas paved the way for future course of actions leading to virtual breakdown of British Administration in the areas of Tamluk and Contai.[35]

Deshapran Birendranath Sasmal,[36] the tallest Mahisya political leader, who had led the non-cooperation movement in Midnapore and had been a rival of Subhas Chandra Bose for the position of the Mayor of Calcutta during the 1920s.

By the 1940s, Mahisyas were the backbone of the Congress-led militant nationalist movement in Midnapore and South Bengal as a whole. As a matter of fact, a majority of leaders and foot soldiers of the Quit India movement in Midnapore were Mahisyas. They had set up a parallel government Tamralipta Jatiya Sarkar[37] in Tamluk which ran for nearly two years(1942–44). It had its own army, judiciary and finance department. Biplabi, the mouthpiece of the parallel national government in Midnapore, was later published in English. Copies of the original are still available at the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library in Delhi. At the same time, some of the most devoted Gandhians in Bengal were Mahisyas, such as late Satish Chandra Samanta.[38][39]

Varna status[edit]

In 19th century Bengal, Chasi Kaibartas were identified as one of the Sat Shudras (clean Shudras), though the Jalia Kaibartas and the priests of the Kaibartas were considered as unclean.[40] The Mahishyas have generally been considered as 'middle-ranking shudras' in the caste structure of Bengal.[41][42] Like South India, the social groups of eastern India have traditionally been divided in two groups - Brahmins and Shudras.[43] In 1901, Mahishyas claimed to be Vaishyas, which status was also claimed by their priests Gaudadya Brahmins for Mahishyas. In 1931 census, they claimed to be recorded as Kshatriyas or Mahishya Kshatriyas.[44][need quotation to verify]

Social stigma[edit]

Although the financial, social, and political success of Mahishyas is notable, they have often been stigmatised due to their agrarian roots. Mahishyas have not been averse to manual labour (often considered demeaning by "higher castes");[31] for example, Birendranath Sasmal was refused the post of Chief Executive of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation by Chittaranjan Das on the grounds that his appointment would offend the Kayasthas of the city.[45] The job ultimately went to Subhas Chandra Bose.

Notable People[edit]


Freedom Fighters[edit]


  • Alamohan Das, pioneering industrialist and founder of India Machinery Co., namesake of Dasnagar


  • Sunil Janah, leftist photojournalist and documentary photographer.




See also[edit]


  1. ^ Society, Indian Anthropological (2005). Journal of the Indian Anthropological Society. The Society. pp. 187–191.
  2. ^ Man and Life. Institute of Social Research and Applied Anthropology. 1992.
  3. ^ Sarma, Jyotirmoyee (1980). Caste Dynamics Among the Bengali Hindus. Firma KLM. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-8364-0633-7.
  4. ^ Pfeffer, Georg; Behera, Deepak Kumar (1997). Contemporary Society: Developmental issues, transition, and change. Concept Publishing Company. ISBN 978-81-7022-642-0.
  5. ^ Ghosh, G.K. (2000). Legends of origin of the Castes and Tribes of Eastern India. Firma KLM. p. 45.
  6. ^ Chatterjee, Partha (1997). The Present History of West Bengal: Essays in Political Criticism. Oxford University Press. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-19-563945-2.
  7. ^ Tropical Man. E.J. Brill. 1972. p. 116.
  8. ^ Beech, Robert Paul; Beech, Mary Jane (1969). South Asia Series Occasional Paper. Asian Studies Center, Michigan State University. p. 107.
  9. ^ Chatterjee, Gouripada (1986). Midnapore, the Forerunner of India's Freedom Struggle. Mittal Publications. p. 158.
  10. ^ Shikha Mukerjee (March 18, 2021). "From ideologies to caste: The emerging identity politics in West Bengal elections". India Today. Retrieved 2022-03-21.
  11. ^ Agarwalla, Shyam. S. (1998). Religion and Caste Politics. Rawat Publications. p. 133. ISBN 9788170334682.
  12. ^ Kumar, Sangeet (2005). Changing Role of the Caste System: A Critique. Jaipur, India: Rawat Publications. p. 48. ISBN 8170338816.
  13. ^ Ray, Niharranjan (1994). History of the Bengali People: Ancient Period. Orient Longman. p. 207. ISBN 978-0-86311-378-9.
  14. ^ Roy, Samaren (1999). The Bengalees: Glimpses of History and Culture. Allied Publishers. p. 42. ISBN 978-81-7023-981-9.
  15. ^ Sarma, Jyotirmoyee (1980). Caste Dynamics Among the Bengali Hindus. Firma KLM. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-8364-0633-7.
  16. ^ a b Ray, Niharranjan (1994). History of the Bengali People: Ancient Period. Orient Longman. p. 179. ISBN 978-0-86311-378-9.
  17. ^ Sur, Atul Krishna; Sur, Atul Kumar (1963). History and Culture of Bengal. Chuckervertti, Chatterjee.
  19. ^ Thapar, Romila (2013-10-14). The Past Before Us. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-72651-2.
  20. ^ Thapar, Romila (February 2004). Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-24225-8.
  21. ^ Majumdar, Ramesh Chandra (1977). Ancient India. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. ISBN 978-81-208-0436-4.
  22. ^ Sharma, R. S.; Sharma, Ram Sharan (2003). Early Medieval Indian Society (pb). Orient Blackswan. pp. 221–226. ISBN 978-81-250-2523-8.
  23. ^ Sharma, R. S.; Sharma, Ram Sharan (2003). Early Medieval Indian Society (pb). Orient Blackswan. p. 224. ISBN 978-81-250-2523-8.
  24. ^ Ray, Rajat Kanta; Ray, Professor and Head of the Department of History Rajat Kanta (1984). Social Conflict and Political Unrest in Bengal, 1875-1927. Oxford University Press. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-19-561654-5.
  25. ^ Ahir, Rajiv (2018). A Brief History of Modern India. Spectrum Books (P) Limited. p. 839. ISBN 978-81-7930-688-8.
  26. ^ Chakrabarty, Bidyut (1997). Local Politics and Indian Nationalism, Midnapur, 1919-1944. Manohar Publishers & Distributors. ISBN 978-81-7304-158-7.
  27. ^ "Mahisyas and the new caste question in West Bengal politics". India Today. Retrieved 2021-11-13.
  28. ^ "In Bengal, the battle for Mahishya vote and the politics of turning OBC". Hindustan Times. 2021-04-05. Retrieved 2021-11-13.
  29. ^ Chatterjee, Partha (1997). The Present History of West Bengal: Essays in Political Criticism. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-563945-2.
  30. ^ Singh, K. S.; India, Anthropological Survey of (1998). India's Communities. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-563354-2.
  31. ^ a b Lessinger, Johanna M. (1982). "The New Vaishyas". Economic Development and Cultural Change. 30 (4): 920–924. doi:10.1086/452603.
  32. ^ Timberg, Thomas A. (1978). The Marwaris, from Traders to Industrialists. Vikas. ISBN 978-0-7069-0528-1.
  33. ^ Others (1991). Reader In Urban Sociology. Orient Blackswan. ISBN 978-0-86311-152-5.
  34. ^ Chakrabarty, Bidyut (1997). Local Politics and Indian Nationalism, Midnapur, 1919-1944. Manohar Publishers & Distributors. ISBN 978-81-7304-158-7.
  35. ^ Dasgupta, Tapati; Chattopadhyay, R. N. (1999). Rural Development in India: A Socio-historic Approach. National Book Organisation. ISBN 978-81-85135-98-4.
  36. ^ ".:: Legacy of Midnapore(Medinipur,Midnapur,Purba Medinipur, Paschim Medinipur,East Midnapore,West Midnapore)::". www.midnapore.in. Retrieved 2021-09-29.
  37. ^ Sarkar, Sumit (1989-01-24). Modern India 1885–1947. Springer. ISBN 978-1-349-19712-5.
  38. ^ "mahisyas-and-the-new-caste-question-in-west-bengal-politics".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  39. ^ Sarbadhinayak: life story of Sri Satis Chandra Samanta, first Sarbadhinayak of Tamralipta Jatiya Sarkar. Tamralipta Swadhinata Sangram Itihas Committee. 1982. tamralipta jatiya sarkar.
  41. ^ Nicholas, Ralph W (2003). Fruits of Worship: Practical Religion in Bengal. Orient Longman Ltd. p. 53. ISBN 978-8180280061.
  42. ^ Shah, Ghanshyam (2004). Caste and Democratic Politics in India. Orient Blackswan. p. 114. ISBN 978-8-178-24095-4.
  44. ^ Sarma, Jyotirmoyee (1980). Caste Dynamics Among the Bengali Hindus. Firma KLM. pp. 118–120. ISBN 978-0-8364-0633-7.
  45. ^ Maity, Sachindra (1975). Freedom Movement in Midnapore. Calcutta: Firma, K.L.