Suvarna Banik Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suvarna_Banik

Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami
Prabhupada singing (Germany 1974).jpg
Srila Prabhupāda was from a Suvarnabanik family

Suvarna Banik, popularly called Bene, is a mercantile group from Bengal dealing in gold and silver.[1] During the late eighteenth century, merchants of Suvarnabanik caste became prominent in trade including salt and opium trading.[2][need quotation to verify] Despite their depressed status, they were the most well known trading caste in Bengal as per Census of India, 1951.[3]

Origin and history[edit]

Origin and early medieval period[edit]

The presence and activity of mercantile groups in Bengal becomes visible in  historical records from the mid-fifth century onwards, due to the  so-called land sale grants issued under the Gupta provincial administration  of Pundravardhana-bhukti of North Bengal. After two-and-a-half centuries of absence, merchant groups reappear in the  inscriptions of Bengal and the adjoining areas from the early ninth century  onwards, but they cease to appear in the inscriptions of Bengal and Bihar from  the mid-twelfth century.[4]

Thirteenth century work Bṛhaddharma Puraṇa placed Suvarnabaniks in middle-ranking Shudras but Vallalcharita degraded them from that position.[5][6] The social order described in the Brihaddharma Purana consists of bipolarity of brahmins and shudras without intermediate varnas of Kshatriya and Vaishya. It indicates that Brahmins probably attained some level of hegemony in that period with which they could attempt to impose their idealized social order. However this imposition entailed tension and negotiation between brahmins and other social groups including merchants, as the text suggests. Historian Furui concludes that the imposition of inferior ritual ranks on merchant groups were attempts by brahmins to restrain them.[4]

The characteristics of Vallal Charita, which was written in the sixteenth century depicting the Bengali society of the twelfth century, were that legends or prevailing traditions of that times were well mixed with historical facts. The listing of Suvarnabanik caste first in the sat(clean) category, and then in the asat(unclean) category, with the explanation that they became degraded, is significant. According to historian Nihar Ranjan Ray, there is possibly some truth to the belief that these trading castes were degraded by King Vallalasena. Suvarnabaniks displeased him by refusing to lend him money when it was wanted, and that he raised the four other castes to the status of sat Sudras because they happened to have pleased him, may have been true. Finally, Vallalsena's particular animosity against the Suvarnabaniks, who were allies and related to the Palas, furnished an admirable historical background.[7][8] Before the seventh or the eighth centuries A.D. when historical evidences indicate that the society was based largely on trade and commerce, the merchant classes had a notably high position in the society. But since trade and commerce declined, and the society became more and more dependent on cottage industries and agriculture, the caste ranks of the merchant classes became more and more lowered, and reached a decidedly low stage at the beginning of the Sena and Varman periods, whereas the ritual ranking of most of the craft castes became relatively high at that time.[7]

Late medieval and colonial period[edit]

The rich suvarnabanik community, which didn't have much social status, largely joined Hare Krishna Bhakti movement of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.[9] Despite holding low ceremonial rank for centuries, gold merchants of Subarnabanik caste were affluent people. In the days of the East India Company and the early days of the British rule, they were important persons in the new political system. The British merchants borrowed money and maintained other economic transactions with Subarnabaniks. The Subarnabaniks gained important positions in the secular urban society which was then developing under the influence of British rulers. Subarnabaniks were among the oldest settlers of Calcutta and in the early days certain parts of the city became identified as their settlements. With a long tradition of city living, the Subarnabanik caste kept gaining in the secular values of the society. The discrepancy between low ceremonial rank and high-secular rank was always a problem. Many Banik castes including Subarnabanik provided the most glaring examples of this anomaly.[10] In 1854 Vidyasagar had scoffed at the representation of the wealthy goldsmith caste of Bengal for admission in the Sanskrit college; His argument to deny their prayer was that - “in the scale of castes, the class (goldsmith or Subarnabanik) stands very low”.[11]

Modern period[edit]

Historian N K Sinha(1967) blamed Vallal Sena, who ruled Bengal in the twelfth century, for the dominance of non-Bengali merchants in Bengal. In Sena's canonical establishment of caste precedence in Bengal, he downgraded the Vaishya Subarnabanik bankers (gold traders) to Sudra, as they refused to advance him the amount of money he wanted. Further after marginalizing the Vaishya merchant community, the King created a powerful upper caste 'service community', that continued to dominate West Bengal's socio economic space.[12] As of 1980, Bengali Suvarnabanik was a prosperous merchant community in West Bengal.[13][14][15]

Notable people[edit]


  1. ^ Rudra, Arya. "Baniks of Bengal". timesofindia.indiatimes.com/. TOI. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  2. ^ a b Roy, Tirthankar (2016-01-15). The East India Company: The World's Most Powerful Corporation. Penguin UK. ISBN 978-81-8475-613-5.
  3. ^ Commissioner, India Census (1952). Census of India, 1951: West Bengal, Sikkim, and Chandernagore. Manager of Publications.
  4. ^ a b Furui, Ryosuke (2013). "Merchant groups in early medieval Bengal: with special reference to the Rajbhita stone inscription of the time of Mahīpāla I, Year 33". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. 76 (3): 391–412. ISSN 0041-977X.
  5. ^ Chakrabarti, Kunal; Chakrabarti, Shubhra (2013-08-22). Historical Dictionary of the Bengalis. Scarecrow Press. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-8108-8024-5.
  6. ^ Mitra, A. (1953). The Tribes and Castes of West Bengal (Report). Census 1951. Land and Land Revenue Department, Government of West Bengal. p. 21.
  7. ^ a b Sarma, Jyotirmoyee (1980). Caste Dynamics Among the Bengali Hindus. Firma KLM. pp. 15–16. ISBN 978-0-8364-0633-7.
  8. ^ asf. Bangalir Itihas Adiparba By Niharranjan Roy. p. 212.
  9. ^ Adhikary, Haripada (2012-04-27). Unifying Force of Hinduism: The Harekrsna Movement. AuthorHouse. p. 88. ISBN 978-1-4685-0393-7.
  10. ^ Sarma, Jyotirmoyee (1980). Caste Dynamics Among the Bengali Hindus. Firma KLM. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-8364-0633-7.
  11. ^ "Universalisation of Education: India in a Trap - Mainstream". mainstreamweekly.net. Retrieved 2022-02-24.
  12. ^ Dutta, Dipankar Dey & Tanushree (2020-08-08). "Post-colonial Bengal : Prosperity to decline". www.millenniumpost.in. Retrieved 2022-02-24.
  13. ^ Sarma, Jyotirmoyee (1980). Caste Dynamics Among the Bengali Hindus. Firma KLM. pp. 107, 128–129. ISBN 978-0-8364-0633-7.
  14. ^ "'সোনার বাঙালি'... সেকালের সুবর্ণবণিক পরিবারে পয়লা বৈশাখের জৌলুসই ছিল আলাদা|anecdotes on how subarnabanik families of old kolkata used to celebrate poila boishakh – News18 Bangla". News18 Bengali (in Bengali). 2019-04-12. Retrieved 2022-02-24.
  15. ^ "Banik - Banglapedia". en.banglapedia.org. Retrieved 2022-02-24.
  16. ^ "Interview with Srila Prabhupada's Grand-Nephew - Sankarsan Prabhu". bvmlu.org. Retrieved 2022-01-19.
  17. ^ "The Subarnabaniks « Mutty Lall Seal". Retrieved 2021-11-21.
  18. ^ "The Subarnabaniks « Mutty Lall Seal". Retrieved 2021-11-21.
  19. ^ Roy, Samaren (1999). The Bengalees: Glimpses of History and Culture. Allied Publishers. p. 59. ISBN 978-81-7023-981-9.