Kalita (caste)

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The Kalita (Assamese: কলিতা) is a caste or a community of Hindus belonging to the state of Assam in North East India. The Kalitas are considered by historians like Dalton to be of "pure Aryan descent who came to Assam before the rise of the existing professional castes". They commonly claim to belong to the Kshatriya caste.[1] Among different opinions, apart from Kshatriya descent and pre-Vedic Aryan descent theories, one account suggests that the Kalitas were originally Kayasthas who formed a separate caste.[2] There is evidence of Kalita kingdom in very early times as well as during the 15th-16th century.[3]

Origin of the Kalita[edit]

The Kalita originally came to Assam from the west along with a minority from the northern parts of India who were mostly from the ancient kingdom of Kannauj[citation needed]. The most recent wave of Kalita migration from far-off places in Northern India and the Himalayas occurred during Ahom rule in the 15th and 16th century, when they were invited to settle in the Brahmaputra Valley along with the Brahmins. They were the earliest Indo-European migrants to settle in Assam and are supposed to have introduced Hinduism to the Northeastern part of India. The Koch and Ahom kings also brought Kalita people from places including Kannauj, Kashi, and Mithila to their own kingdoms and gave them both honour and prestige. They along with Assamese Brahmins are considered to have developed the Indo-European Assamese language with the influence of Sanskrit in the Brahmaputra Valley.
They are descendants of Kshatriyas, who fled from the wrath of Parasurama, concealed their caste identity, thus became "Kula-Lupta" or Kalita.[2] [1]
The Kalita is an important caste, next only to the Brahmin. According to the legends, they are Aryans who are responsible for bringing Aryan culture to Assam. Having mingled with local population, they still preserve certain elements of Aryan culture.[4]

Alpine migration to Assam[edit]

This group are classified as of Alpine descent[citation needed] based on their broad-headedness in the cephalic index, a trait found in all Alpine people from Central Europe and their descendants. Alpines are a subgroup of the Caucasoid race found in Central and Eastern Europe. Nordics (Aryans) are another subgroup of the same race found in Northern Europe. Other Indo-Aryan caste groups of Assam such as the Brahmins are mostly long-headed (dolicocephalic) having a tall stature and fair complexion[citation needed]. However, some ethnologists disagree as to whether Kalitas should be classified as Alpines, believing that the group actually have mesocephalic head shapes. The physiognomy of the Kalitas is not markedly different from that of the other Indo-Aryan castes of Assam and the question of whether they are Alpines or Aryans remains unsettled. Others like author Kaliram Medhi are of the opinion that the Kalitas are a group of pre-Vedic Caucasoids as the type of Hinduism they brought to Assam was different from that prevalent in other parts of India. The Kalitas acted as priests of the Koch Kings prior to the arrival of the Vedic Brahmins. Thereafter, the Kalitas were displaced from their position by the Vedic Brahmins. Professor B.S. Guha has found similarities between the Alpine Nagar Brahmins of Gujarat and the Kalitas of Assam. According to him, the surnames mentioned in the Nidhanpur land grants of Kamarupa King Bhaskaravarman are not of Vedic Brahmins but those of the Kalitas of Assam. He also finds similarities in surnames with those of the Nagar Brahmins – one of the oldest Brahmin groups of India. Scholars now believe that the Kalitas were a pre-Vedic Caucasoid (Alpine/Aryan) priestly group similar to the Brahmins. [5]

Historic Kalita kingdom[edit]

The existence of a Kalita kingdom in North eastern India is mentioned in a number of credible literary sources. A report by Mr. Moffal Mills and Maniram Dewan written during the British occupation of India records, “It appears that there was an Aryan settlement at a distance of 15 days march through hilly roads from the Ahom territory, beyond the regions occupied by the Abors and the Miris. The people bore Hindu names like Vasudeva, Harideva, Sankarsan etc,. There was also a Hindu king in the land. The name of the kingdom was Kolita.”[6] John Bryan Neufville, appointed as Political Agent, Upper Assam and Junior Commissioner at Rangpur in 1828, also subscribed to this idea. He wrote:

The country to the eastward of Bhot (Bhutan) and northward of Sadiya (Upper Assam), extending on the plain beyond the mountains, is said to be possessed by a powerful nation called Kolitas, who are described as having attained a high degree of advancement and civilization, equal to any of the nations in the East.[7]

Rowlette also confirms the feasibility of this kingdom. During Ahom rule, tribes from Arunachal Pradesh, like the Daflas and Mishmis owed allegiance to the Ahom State and the Kolita rulers were a branch of the paramount power itself. Therefore the frontiers of Assam extended beyond present day Arunachal Pradesh with its northern borders extending to the edge of Monpa country (present day Arunachal Pradesh). Lieutenant R. Wilcox of the 46th Regiment, Native Infantry of the Indian Army provided details of the route to Kolita kingdom and concluded:

From Sadiya to Kolita is a journey of 42 days and 6 hrs, in the idle of the way the route lies through hills, where dense jungles make it difficult to approach.[8]

Neufville claims that the Kalita kingdom was washed away by the great flood in the mid 18th century.[9]

Kalti coins which find reference in Kautilya's Arthashastra and which are supposed to be some of the earliest coins, are also ascribed to the Kalitas.

Social life[edit]

Mirroring the history of Assam, the Kalitas were peasants, though during the rule of the Ahom dynasty they also proved their might and capabilities as soldiers, generals, administrators, envoys, and judges.

The Ahom paik system surnames of Bora, Hazarika, Saikia, Kakoti, Barua, Rajkhowa, and Phukan can all be found amongst the Kalitas of Assam, which signify that they served the Ahom monarchy. Bora was the leader of 20 paiks (or foot soldiers), Saikia that of 100 paiks and Hazarika that of 1000 paiks. The Baruas led 3000 men, similar to the Rajkhowas. Phukans formed the uppermost layers of the Ahom military and judicio-administrative structure, subservient to the Ahom Borphukans and Borbaruas.[10] Phukans and Baruah are found in the Brahmins, Ahoms and Kalitas of Assam alike. Certain posts like "Boiragi" or envoys to neighbouring kingdoms such as the Jaintias (presently in Meghalaya), the Kacharis (Assam), and the Mughal Sultanate in Bengal, were given to Kalitas in preference to Ahoms.[11]

Kalitas also formed part of the revenue system under the Mughal-dominated areas in western Assam. Some of the notable Kalita surnames are Lahkar, Mahanta, Medhi, Baruah, Borah, Barman, Bordoloi, Bhuyan, Phukan, Chaliha, Chowdhury, Deka, Das, Dutta, Thakuria, Khataniar, Tahbildar, Kakoti etc. The Kalitas took an active part and supported the Ek Saraniya Naam Dharma propounded by Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva after its appearance in Assam. In present day Assam, the Kalitas are ubiquitous in every subdivision of Assam and one of its foremost groups, seen in all spheres of life and making their presence felt in the socio-cultural-literary-economic scene of the state.

Presently, there is a small Kalita Assamese diaspora around the world, especially in the UK and USA, engaged in all professions and with notable achievements.[citation needed]

Language[edit]

The Kalitas of Asssam speak Assamese in its various dialects. The Kamrupi dialect of Assamese is spoken by many Kalitas in the districts of Kamrup, Nalbari, Darrang, and Barpeta. The Goalpariya dialect of Assamese is spoken by Kalitas in Bongaigaon, Goalpara, Kokrajhar, and Dhubri districts. Standard Assamese is spoken by the Kalitas of Central and North-Western Assam.

Religion[edit]

All Assamese Kalitas profess the Hindu religion and are of the Kayastha/Kshatriya caste system. They also undergo Upanayana ceremony similar like Brahmins.

Mahapurusha Srimanta Shankardeva (1449–1568) (Assamese: মহাপুৰুষ শ্ৰীমন্ত শঙ্কৰদেব Môhapurux Srimôntô Xônkôrdev), saint-scholar, playwright and social-religious reformer, was a colossal figure in the cultural and religious history of Assam. He is credited with providing a thread of unity to Assam straddling the two major kingdoms of Ahom and Koch, building on past literary activities to provide the bedrock of Assamese culture, and creating a religion that gave shape to a set of new values and social synthesis. The religion he started, Mahapuruxiya Dharma, was part of the Bhakti movement then raging in India, and he inspired bhakti in Assam just as Ramananda, Guru Nanak, Kabir, Basava and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu inspired it elsewhere. His literary and artistic contributions remain living traditions in Assam today. The religion he preached is practiced by a large part of the population, and the Sattras (monasteries) that he and his followers established continue to flourish and sustain his legacy. In reverence to his personality, teachings and oeuvre, he is known as a Mahapurusha, or "Great Man".

Culture[edit]

Bihu is an important festival for all Assamese and hence for Kalitas too. Bohag Bihu or Spring festival (April), Magh Bihu or harvest festival (January), and Kati Bihu signifying hope for a good harvest hold special places in the hearts of all Assamese Kalita people.

The Sattriya Culture with its Borgeets and Kamrupi Lokogeets dance forms is an important aspect of Kalita Assamese culture and the backbone of the Assamese community.

Notable Kalitas[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Col Ved Prakash (2007). "Encyclopaedia of North-East India, Volume 1". India, Northeastern. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. p. 150. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Bhuban Mohan Das (1987). "The People of Assam". Anthropometry. Gyan Publishing House. p. 34. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  3. ^ Pratap Chandra Choudhury (1988). "Assam-Bengal Relations from the Earliest Times to the Twelfth Century A.D". Assam (India). Spectrum Publications. pp. 193,275. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  4. ^ G.K. Ghosh (2008). "Bamboo: The Wonderful Grass". APH Publishing. p. 184. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  5. ^ The great Indian corridor in the east by Phani Deka
  6. ^ Report on the province of Assam: A.J. Moffal Mills / Maniram Dewan, Apprx. JIXV
  7. ^ Discovery of North East India, edited by Suresh Kant Sharma, Usha Sharma
  8. ^ "Memoir of a survey of Assam and the Neighboring Countries executed in 1825-6-7-8." Asiatic Researches Vol.XVII, pp. 314 - 467., by R. WilCox
  9. ^ http://books.google.co.in/books?id=5bzPZIw7WcwC&pg=PA112&dq=Kolita+Kingdom%27&lr=&as_brr=0#v=onepage&q=Kolita%20Kingdom'&f=false
  10. ^ A History of Assam by Sir Edward Gait, page 248–250
  11. ^ A History of Assam by Sir Edward Gait, page 124

External links[edit]