Mahishya, also spelled Mahisya, is a Bengali Hindu agrarian caste. It is believed that the Haliya Kaibarttas or Chasi Kaibarttas, whose traditional occupation was agriculture, formed a separate caste under the name of Mahishya. Members of this caste are traditionally found in the Indian states of West Bengal and Odisha. Mahishyas are one of the predominant castes in West Bengal, especially in the southern districts of Howrah, Paschim Medinipur, Purba Medinipur, Hooghly and South 24 Parganas.Some members are now employed in the business and service sectors as well.
According to ancient texts like Manusmriti, the term Mahishya refers to one born to a Kshatriya father and a Vaishya mother, supposed to be engaged in the profession of music, astronomy or agriculture. Some sources mention Vira Sena (or Adisura), founder of the Sen family, as a Mahishya.
The Kaibarttas of Bengal were initially considered a single caste. However, the Haliya or Chasi Kaibarttas (farmers) eventually broke away from the Jaliya Kaibarttas (fishermen) because they considered themselves to be distinct, and "succeeded in getting recognition as a separate caste under the name of Mahishya".
Although many are still involved in traditional work in rural areas, within a generation Mahishyas gave up agriculture in large numbers in favour of engineering and skilled labour in the urbanized areas of Howrah and Kolkata. In Howrah, the Mahishyas are the most numerous and successful businesspeople. At the turn of the 20th century, much of the land and factories were owned by Kayasthas; but by 1967, Mahishyas owned 67 percent of the engineering businesses in the district.
Although the financial, social, and political success of Mahishyas is notable, they have often been stigmatised due to their agrarian roots. Mahishyas have not been averse to manual labour (often considered demeaning by higher castes); for example, Birendranath Sasmal was refused the post of Chief Executive of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation by Chittaranjan Das on the grounds that his appointment would offend the Kayasthas of the city. The job ultimately went to Subhas Chandra Bose.
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