|Populated States||West Bengal, Bangladesh|
|Family names||Sarkar, Mondal, Sikdar, Biswas, Kapali, Roy, Kirtania|
Baishya Kapalis (Bengali: বৈশ্য কপালী) simply known as the Kapalis (Bengali: কপালী) are a Bengali Hindu agricultural caste spread throughout West Bengal and Bangladesh. Minor populations are settled in Bihar, Jharkhand, Tripura, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Nepal, Assam and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The Kapalis were originally Kashmiri Brahmins who migrated and settled in Bengal where they excelled in the cultivation of jute and manufacture of gunny bags. The governments of India and West Bengal both have classified Kapalis and Baishya Kapalis under Other Backward Classes since 1994.
The ninth of the eleven Rudras of the Thirty-three crore gods of Hindu pantheon is known as Kapali. According to Vamana Purana the Rudras were the sons of Kashyap and Aditi, while Matsya Purana mentions them as the offspring of the union between Brahma and Surabhi. The Harivamsa, an appendix to the Mahabharata mentions the Rudras as the children of Kashyap and Surabhi. The Adiparva of Mahabharata states that Kapali married the daughter of a sage and begot a son. According to Shourindra Kumar Ghosh, the progeny of their offspring came to be known as the Kapalis.
The Kapalis were Brahmins, who had settled in Kapalinagar on the banks of Shyok river in Kashmir. When Bhairav Kapali, the leader of the Kapali society, embraced Buddhism, he was declared an out caste by the Kashmiri Brahmin society. He migrated to Bengal where he settled down permanently with his family. His descendants came to be known as Baishya Kapalis in the course of time. According to Satish Chandra Mitra, the descendants of Bhairav Kapali had migrated to Bengal after the famine in Kashmir in 1099.
The Brihaddharma Purana has no mention of the Kapalis. The Brahmavaivarta Purana categorized the Kapalis with the untouchables. According to a tradition, after inviting the five Brahmins from Kannauj, Adisur ordered the Kapalis to wash their feet. When the Kapalis refused, they were decreed as untouchables. Satish Chandra Mitra believed that Ballal Sena had decreed the Kapalis to be out castes, much like the Subarnabaniks, on the presumption that they were Buddhists. Appropriate origin theories were created to justify their lowly rank in the new social order. In one such origin theory mentioned by Bankim Chandra, the Kapalis were a mixed caste, born out of a Kaibarta (Jaliya) father and a Brahmin mother. James Wise mentioned that the Kapalis are a mixed caste born out of a Karmakar father and a Teli mother. He however didn't cite any sources for his claim but he mentioned that according to a different school Kapalis were born of Kaibarta father and Brahmin mother.
After the demotion in the social strata, the Kapalis took to agriculture, dairy farming and business. The Kapalis excelled in the cultivation of jute and the preparation of gunny bags from jute. Gradually they became prosperous and some of them even became wealthy landowners. During the reign of Maharaja Pratapaditya, many Kapalis were employed in the government as well as in the army. The Kapalis do not work as labourers, servants or domestic helps.
The Kapalis usually have two gotras - Kashyap and Shiva. However Santosh Kumar Kundu mentions three gotras namely, Kashyap, Alimyan and Moudgalya. The Kapali family names are Ray, Tarafdar, Majumdar, Palit, Haldar, Biswas, Das, Mallik, Mandal, Sardar, Dhali, Nayak,Khan, Dafadar. Majority of such family names were initially titles bestowed in the medieval period. Some Kapalis still use Kapali as their surname.
The Kapalis were originally Shaivites belonging to the school of Kashmir Shaivism, but later they embraced Buddhism. After the Bhakti movement, the Kapalis became Vaishnavas. In the present day, the majority of the Kapalis are Vaishnavas with a minority being Shaktas. The Kapalis follow the religious rituals with great devotion and piety. The Kapalis have separate Brahmins known as Goswamis. Satish Chandra Mitra too mentions that the Kapalis have separate Brahmins to serve them.
- "Government of West Bengal: List of Other Backward Classes". Govt. of West Bengal. Retrieved January 2, 2011.
- Ghosh, Shourindra Kumar. Bangali Jati Parichay [An Introduction of Bengali Castes] (in Bengali). Kolkata. p. 27.
- Kundu, Santosh Kumar (2008). বাঙালী হিন্দু জাতি পরিচয় [An Introduction of Bengali Hindu Castes] (in Bengali). Kolkata: Presidency Library. p. 80. ISBN 978-81-89466-13-8.
- Mitra, Satish Chandra. যশোর খুলনার ইতিহাস [The History of Jessore and Khulna] (in Bengali). Kolkata: Deys Publishing. p. 1035.
- Wise, James (1883). Notes on the Races, Castes and Trades of Eastern Bengal. London: Harrison and Sons. pp. 305–306.
- Mitra, Satish Chandra. Jashor Khulnar Itihas [The History of Jessore and Khulna] (in Bengali). Kolkata: Deys Publishing. p. 345.