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 varna at that time. According to Tej Ram Sharma, an Indian historian, some scholars have noted that:
Originally the professions of Kayastha (scribe) and Vaidya (physician) were not restricted and could be followed by people from 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.
According to André Wink, another historian, the caste is first referred to around the 5th or 6th century 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, the Bengal region did not adhere to the varna system of Vedic Hinduism and instead comprised just two groups, the Brahmins and the Shudras.
Sekhar Bandyopadhyay also places the emergence as a caste after the Gupta period. He says that they gained a higher status, refraining from physical labour but controlling land along with the Brahmins and Baidyas. As such they came to be one of "the three traditional higher castes of Bengal". The Pala, Sena and Varman Kings and their descendants, which claimed the status of Kshatriya, "almost imperceptibly merged" into this caste, "which also ranked as shudras".
In the middle period of the history of Bengal, between 1500 and 1850 CE, the Kayasthas were regarded as one of the highest of Hindu castes in the region.
Kulina and Maulika
According to Inden, "many of the higher castes of India have historically been organized into ranked clans or lineages". The Bengali Kayastha was organized into smaller subcastes and even smaller ranked grades of clans (kulas) around 1500 CE. 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") 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.
Kulin Kayasthas have an associated myth of origin stating that five Kayasthas accompanied the Brahmins from Kanauj 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. 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.
According to this legend, the three clans to become the main Kulin Kayastha communities are Bose/Basu, Ghosh and Mitra.
- Sharma, Tej Ram (1978). Personal and Geographical Names in the Gupta Inscriptions. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company. p. 115.
- Wink 1991, p. 269.
- Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (2004). Caste, Culture, and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. Sage Publications. p. 20. ISBN 81-7829-316-1.
- Inden 1976, p. 1.
- Inden 1976, p. 34.
- Inden 1976, p. 1-2.
- Indian Studies: Past & Present, Volume 10. University of California. 1969. p. 220.
- Sengupta, Nitish K. (2001). History of the Bengali-Speaking People. UBS Publishers' Distributors. p. 25. ISBN 81-7476-355-4.
- Gupta, Swarupa (2009). Notions of Nationhood in Bengal: Perspectives on Samaj, C. 1867-1905. Brill. pp. 103–104. ISBN 978-90-04-17614-0.
- Hopkins, Thomas J. (1989). "The Social and Religious Background for Transmission of Gaudiya Vaisnavism to the West". In Bromley, David G.; Shinn, Larry D. Krishna consciousness in the West. Bucknell University Press. pp. 35–36. ISBN 978-0-8387-5144-2. Retrieved 2011-10-31.
- Inden, Ronald B. (1976), Marriage and Rank in Bengali Culture: A History of Caste and Clan in Middle Period Bengal, University of California Press, ISBN 978-0-520-02569-1
- Wink, Andre (1991), Al-Hind, the Making of the Indo-Islamic World, Volume 1, Brill Academic Publishers, ISBN 978-90-04-09509-0, retrieved 3 September 2011