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Rai is a historical title of honour in India, and it is used as a surname mainly by Brahmin landlords, like Bhumihar Brahmins of eastern Uttar Pradesh, Jujhautiya Brahmins of Bundelkhand as well as Madhya Pradesh and Maithil Brahmins of Mithila (Bihar). Rao/raikar surname is used by Saraswat Brahmins and rao surname is used by malyali Brahmins. Apart from landlord Brahmins many other land holder communities also use this surname like jats of Punjab, Bunts of coastal Karnataka in south India . It is also used as a surname by few Rajpoot of North India .It is derived from Raja (king, prince or chief). The Marathi/Telugu variant is Rao, while the Bengali variant is Roy/Ray. Rai surname is also used by Yadavas in Bihar as well as some peoples of Rajbhar class in UP.
Rai was the title of honour conferred by the British government (i.e. British Raj (British colonial rule)) to Brahmin landlords as well as other landlords. It showed association of person with power and wealth at the time of British era. The title pronounced by Britishers to lordly (landholder) Hindus was *Rai Bahadur or Rai Sahib but their Muslim counterpart was conferred the title Khan bahadur or Khan sahab. Now a day it is just a hereditary title.