Kayastha (also referred to as Kayasth or Kayeth) is a caste or community of Hindus originating in India. Kayasthas are traditionally considered to be members of the literate scribe caste, who acted as record-keepers, keepers of public accounts, writers and administrators of the state.
Kayasthas have historically occupied the highest government offices, serving as ministers and advisors during early medieval Indian kingdoms and the Mughal Empire, and holding important administrative positions during the British Raj.
In modern times, Kayasthas have attained success in politics, as well as in the arts and various professional fields.
According to the Hindu scriptures known as the Puranas, Kayasthas are descended from Chitragupta Maharaj, "who was born from the body of Brahma", and is the deity responsible for recording the deeds of humanity, upholding the rule of law, and judging whether human beings go to heaven or hell upon death.
Brahmanical religious texts refer to them as a caste of scribes, recruited in the beginning from the Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya castes, but eventually they formed distinct subcastes in northern and western India. Kayasthas have therefore also been mentioned as a "mixed caste", combining Brahman-Sudra (lower caste) and sometimes Kshatriya as well.
In eastern India, Bengali Kayasthas are believed to have evolved from a class of officials into a caste between the 5th/6th century AD and 11th/12th century AD, its component elements being putative Kshatriyas and mostly Brahmins. According to Tej Ram Sharma, an Indian historian, the Kayasthas of Bengal had not yet developed into a distinct caste during the reign of the Gupta Empire, although the office of the Kayasthas (scribes) had been instituted before the beginning of the period, as evidenced from the contemporary Smritis. Sharma further states:
"Noticing brahmanic names with a large number of modern Bengali Kayastha cognomens in several early epigraphs discovered in Bengal, some scholars have suggested that there is a considerable brahmana element in the present day Kayastha community of Bengal. Originally the professions of Kayastha (scribe) and Vaidya (physician) were not restricted and could be followed by people of 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."
The exact varna status of Kayasthas has been a subject of debate. According to multiple accounts, they are a literate and educated class of Kshatriyas, and have been referred to as a twice-born caste "whose claims to Kshatriya status need not be caviled at." Other sources rank Kayasthas higher than Kshatriyas (but below Brahmins). Some Kayasthas have claimed Brahmin status, though this has been challenged by other Brahmin groups.
During the British Raj, British courts classified Kayasthas as Shudras, based largely upon the theories of Herbert Hope Risley. However, the Kayasthas of Bengal, Bombay and the United Provinces repeatedly challenged this classification, producing a flood of books, pamphlets, family histories and journals to support their position of holding Kshatriya status.
Brahmanical religious texts refer to Kayasthas as a caste responsible for writing secular documents and maintaining records from the 7th century AD onward.
According to the historical chronicle known as the Rajatarangini ("River of Kings"), written by Kalhana in the 12th century AD, Kayasthas served as prime ministers and treasury officials under several Kashmiri kings.
Prior to the 13th century AD, during the rule of Hindu kings, Kayasthas dominated public service and had a near-monopoly on appointments to government positions. They may also have been described as Karanas, since the two groups performed similar functions.
In Bengal, during the reign of the Gupta Empire beginning in the 4th century AD, when systematic and large-scale colonization by Aryan Kayasthas and Brahmins first took place, Kayasthas were brought over by the Guptas to help manage the affairs of state.
Upon the Muslim conquest of India, Kayasthas mastered Persian, which became the official language of the Mughal courts. Some converted to Islam and formed the Muslim Kayasth community in northern India.
One of the most notable Kayasthas of the Mughal period was Raja Todar Mal, Emperor Akbar's finance minister and one of the court's nine Navaratnas, who is credited with establishing the Mughal revenue system. He also translated the Bhagavata Purana from Sanskrit into Persian.
In Bengal, Kayasthas served as governors, prime ministers and treasury officials under Mughal rule.
During the British Raj, Kayasthas continued to proliferate in public administration, qualifying for the highest executive and judicial offices open to Indians.
Bengali Kayasthas took on the role occupied by merchant castes in other parts of India and profited from business contacts with the British. In 1911, for example, Kayasthas and Brahmins owned 40% of all the Indian-owned mills, mines and factories in Bengal.
Some of the significant figures of the Indian independence movement were Kayasthas, including the spiritual leaders Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo, and the revolutionary leader Subhas Chandra Bose.
The Kayastha are found mostly in central, eastern and northern India, and particularly in Bengal. Today, there are an estimated 800,000 Kayasthas in India. Kayasthas that have risen to prominence since independence include the country's first president, Rajendra Prasad, and its second prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri.
Kayasthas are considered a Forward Caste, as they do not qualify for any of the reservation benefits alloted to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes that are administered by the Government of India.
Some noteworthy people of the Kayastha caste of India
- Swami Vivekananda
- Subhas Chandra Bose
- Rajendra Prasad- first President of India
- Lal Bahadur Shastri
- Mahadevi Varma
- Ravi Shankar Prasad
- Sonu Nigam
- Arnold P. Kaminsky, Roger D. Long (2011). India Today: An Encyclopedia of Life in the Republic. ABC-CLIO. pp. 403–404. ISBN 978-0-313-37462-3. Retrieved 4 March 2012.
- K. S. Singh, ed. (1998). People of India: Rajasthan. Popular Prakashan. p. 512. ISBN 81-7154-769-9.
- R. B. Mandal (1981). Frontiers in Migration Analysis. Concept Publishing Company. p. 175. ISBN 978-03-91-02471-7.
- Andre Wink (1991). Al-Hind, the Making of the Indo-Islamic World, Volume 1. Brill Academic Publishers. p. 269. ISBN 978-90-04-09509-0. Retrieved 3 September 2011.
- Sharma, Tej Ram (1978). Personal and Geographical Names in the Gupta Empire. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company. p. 115.
- Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1970). Who were the Shudras?: How they came to be the fourth Varna in the Indo-Aryan society. Thackers. pp. 177–213. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
- M.K. Prasad, S. Dusre (1877). The Kayastha Ethnology, an Inquiry into the Origin of the Chitraguptavansi and Chandrasenavansi Kayasthas. American Methodist Mission Press/Kessinger Publishing. pp. 8–9 (Preface). ISBN 978-1-104-31197-1. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
- M. L. Mathur (1 January 2005). Caste and Educational Development. Kalpaz Publications. pp. 71–. ISBN 978-81-7835-123-0. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
- K. S. Singh; B. V. Bhanu; Anthropological Survey of India (2004). Maharashtra. Popular Prakashan. p. 134–. ISBN 978-81-7991-100-6. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
- S. N. Sadasivan (October 2000). A social history of India. APH Publishing. pp. 258–. ISBN 978-81-7648-170-0. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
- Inden, Ronald B. (1976). Marriage and Rank in Bengali Culture: A History of Caste and Clan in Middle Period Bengal. University of California Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-520-02569-1. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
- Bhattacharya, Jogendra Nath (1896). Hindu Castes and Sects. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink & Co. p. 175. Retrieved 2011-10-31.
- Kumar Suresh Singh; Rajendra Behari Lal; Anthropological Survey of India (2003). Gujarat. Popular Prakashan. pp. 283–. ISBN 978-81-7991-104-4. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
- Kumar Suresh Singh. People of India Uttar Pradesh Volume XLII Part 2. p. 1046.
- Rowe, William L. (2007) . "Mobility in the nineteenth-century caste system". In Singer, Milton; Cohn, Bernard S. Structure and Change in India Society (Reprinted ed.). Transaction Publishers. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-202-36138-3. Retrieved 2011-12-17.
- Kalhana (1989). Stein, Sir Marc Aurel, ed. Kalhana's Rajatarangini: A Chronicle of the Kings of Kashmir. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. pp. 8, 39, 45. ISBN 978-81-20-80370-1. Retrieved 17 April 2013.
- Jogendra Nath Bhattacharya (1896). Hindu Castes and Sects. Thacker, Spink & Co./Nabu Press. p. 176. ISBN 978-1-143-93343-1. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
- Mitra, Sisirkumar (1977). The Early Rulers of Khajurāho. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. p. 174. ISBN 978-8-120-81997-9. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
- U. A. B. Razia Akter Banu (1992). Islam in Bangladesh. Brill Academic Publishers. pp. 5–6. ISBN 978-90-04-09497-0. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
- Lisa Ballbanlilar (2012). Imperial Identity in Mughal Empire: Memory and Dynastic Politics in Early Modern Central Asia. I.B. Taurus & Co., Ltd. p. 59. ISBN 978-1-84885-726-1. Retrieved 7 June 2012.
- Hugh Tinker (1990). South Asia: A Short History. University of Hawaii Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-8248-1287-4. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
- Rahman, M.M. (2006). Encyclopaedia of Historiography. Anmol Publications. p. 168. ISBN 978-81-261-2305-6. Retrieved 26 February 2010.
- Jogendra Nath Bhattacharya (1896). Hindu Castes and Sects. Thacker, Spink & Co./Nabu Press. pp. 176–177. ISBN 978-1-143-93343-1. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
- U. A. B. Razia Akter Banu (1992). Islam in Bangladesh. Brill Academic Publishers. pp. 24–25. ISBN 978-90-04-09497-0. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
- E. Lethbridge, ed. (1876). The Calcutta Review, Volume 63. Thomas S. Smith, City Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-1-154-28288-7. Retrieved 26 August 2011.
- Raymond Lee Owens, Ashis Nandy (1978). The New Vaisyas. Carolina Academic Press. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-89089-057-8. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
- Samaren Roy (1999). The Bengalees: Glimpses of History and Culture. Allied Publishers. p. 81. ISBN 978-8170239819. Retrieved 26 June 2012.
- Sugata Bose (2011). His Majesty's Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India's Struggle Against Empire. Harvard University Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-0674047549. Retrieved 22 June 2012.
- Surinder Mohan Bhardwaj (1983). Hindu Places of Pilgrimage in India: A Study in Cultural Geography. University of California Press. p. 231. ISBN 978-0-520-04951-2. Retrieved 19 April 2011.
- Srinivasan, K.; Kumar, Sanjay (16–23 October 1999). "Economic and Caste Criteria in Definition of Backwardness". Economic and Political Weekly 34 (42/43): 3052. Retrieved 7 June 2012.
- Banhatti, G.S. (1995). Life and Philosophy of Swami Vivekananda. Atlantic Publishers & Distributors. p. 1. ISBN 978-81-7156-291-6. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
- A. Pelinka, R. Schell (2003). Democracy Indian Style: Subhas Chandra Bose and the Creation of India's Political Culture. Transaction Publishers. p. 32. ISBN 978-07-6580-186-9.
- People of India, Volume 16, Part 1. Anthropological Survey of India. 2008. p. 496. ISBN 978-81-7046-302-3.
- Burger, Angela Sutherland (1969). Opposition in a Dominant Party System: A study of the Jan Sangh, the Praja Socialist Party and the Socialist Party in Uttar Pradesh, India. University of California Press. p. 28.
- Schomer, Karine (1998). Mahadevi Varma and the Chhayavad Age of Modern Hindi Poetry. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-564450-6.
- Vyas, Hari Shankar (7 April 2013). "Brahmins in Congress on tenterhooks". The Pioneer. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
- India Today: An Encyclopedia of Life in the Republic:Volume 1
- Maithili Karna Kayasthak Panjik Sarvekshan by Binod Bihari Verma, A Survey of Panjis of Maithil Karna Kayasthas.
- R V Russel (Superintendent of Ethnography) and Rai Bahadur Hiralal (1916). The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India: Volume III. Macmillan and Co. Limited, London.
- Asok Mitra (Indian Civil Service, Superintendent of Census Operations) (1953). The tribes and castes of West Bengal. Superintendent, Govt. Print. West Bengal Govt. Press. Retrieved 28 April 2011.
- Colonial Perceptions of Indian Society and the Emergence of Caste(s) Associations Lucy Carroll, The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 37, No. 2 (Feb., 1978), pp. 233–250.
- Kali Prasad (1877). The Kayastha ethnology, an enquiry into the origin of the Chitraguptavansi and Chandrasenavansi Kayasthas. American Methodist Mission Press, Lucknow.