Kayastha

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Kayastha
ReligionsMajority: Hinduism Minority: Islam, Sikhism, Brahmoism, Buddhism, Christianity[1][full citation needed]
Populated statesUttar Pradesh, Assam, Delhi, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra
SubdivisionsBengali Kayastha, Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu and Chitraguptavanshi Kayastha

Kayastha (also referred to as Kayasth or Kayeth) denotes a cluster of disparate communities broadly categorised by the regions of India in which they were traditionally located—the Chitraguptavanshi Kayasthas of North India, the Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhus of Maharashtra and the Bengali Kayasthas of Bengal. Some specialised as scribes, keepers of public records and accounts, and administrators of the state.

Since as early as Medieval India, Kayasthas occupied high government offices, serving as ministers and advisors of the middle kingdoms of India and the Mughal Empire, and holding important administrative positions during the British Raj. In modern times, some have attained success in politics, as well as in the arts and various professional fields.

Origins[edit]

According to Merriam-Webster, the word Kāyastha is probably formed from the Sanskrit kāya (body), and the suffix -stha (standing, being in).[2]

The first historical reference to the term kayastha, not necessarily related to the modern community, comes from a Mathura inscription of the Kushan emperor Vasudeva I, dated to around 171-172 CE, which records the gift of an image of the Buddha by a Kayastha Śramaṇa.[3] The term also finds mention in an inscription of the Gupta emperor Kumaragupta I, dated to 442 CE, in which prathama-kāyastha (chief officer) is used as an administrative designation.[4] The Yājñavalkya Smṛti, also from the Gupta era, and the Vishnu Smriti describe kayasthas as record keepers and accountants.[5]

History[edit]

Medieval India[edit]

Early medieval India[edit]

Whilst there are many theories regarding their origins, Kayasthas are recorded in Brahmanical religious texts from as early as the 7th century, being described a distinct caste with responsibility for writing secular documents and keeping records.[6] In some of the Sanskrit works of Kshemendra, in the Vikramankadevacharita of Bilhana and in Kalhana's historical chronicle known as the Rajatarangini ("River of Kings"), written in the early-medieval Kashmir, the term kayastha may have been used to denote the members of bureaucracy ranging from Gṛhakṛtyamahattama (the chief secretary in the charge of home affairs) to the Asvaghasa-kayastha (officer in charge of the fodder for horses), whose principal duty, besides carrying on the general administration of the state, consisted in the collection of revenue and taxes.[7][8]

Late medieval India[edit]

In Bengal, during the reign of the Gupta Empire beginning in the 4th century, when systematic and large-scale colonisation by Indo-Aryan Kayasthas and Brahmins first took place, Kayasthas were brought over by the Guptas to help manage the affairs of state.[9]

After the Muslim conquest of India, they mastered Persian, which became the official language of the Mughal courts.[10] Some converted to Islam and formed the Muslim Kayasth community in northern India.

Bengali Kayasthas had been the dominant landholding caste prior to the Muslim conquest, and continued this role under Muslim rule. Indeed, Muslim rulers had from a very early time confirmed the Kayasthas in their ancient role as landholders and political intermediaries.[11]

Bengali Kayasthas served as treasury officials and wazirs (government ministers) under Mughal rule. Political scientist U. A. B. Razia Akter Banu writes that, partly because of Muslim sultans' satisfaction with them as technocrats, many Bengali Kayasthas in the administration became zamindars and jagirdars. According to Abu al-Fazl, most of the Hindu zamindars in Bengal were Kayasthas.[12]

Maharaja Pratapaditya, the king of Jessore who declared independence from Mughal rule in the early 17th century, was a Bengali Kayastha.[13]

British India[edit]

During the British Raj, Kayasthas continued to proliferate in public administration, qualifying for the highest executive and judicial offices open to Indians.[14][page needed]

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, Bengali Kayasthas and Bengali Brahmins owned 40% of all the Indian-owned mills, mines and factories in Bengal.[15]

Modern India[edit]

The Chitraguptavanshi Kayasthas, Bengali Kayasthas and CKPs were among the Indian communities in 1947, at the time of Indian independence, that constituted the middle class and were traditionally "urban and professional" (following professions like doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, etc.) According to P. K. Varma, "education was a common thread that bound together this pan Indian elite" and almost all the members of these communities could read and write English and were educated beyond school.[16]

The Kayasthas today mostly inhabit central, eastern, northern India, and particularly Bengal.[17] They are considered a Forward Caste, as they do not qualify for any of the reservation benefits allotted to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes that are administered by the Government of India.[18] This classification has increasingly led to feelings of unease and resentment among the Kayasthas, who believe that the communities that benefit from reservation are gaining political power and employment opportunities at their expense. Thus, particularly since the 1990 report of the Mandal Commission on reservation, Kayastha organisations have been active in areas such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Bengal and Orissa. These groups are aligning themselves with various political parties to gain political and economic advantages; by 2009 they were demanding 33 percent reservation in government jobs.[6]

Sub-groups[edit]

Chitraguptavanshi Kayasthas[edit]

The Chitraguptavanshi Kayastha trace their lineage from the Hindu god Chitragupta, who has been tasked to record the karma of human beings

The Chitraguptavanshi Kayasthas of Northern India are named thus because they have a myth of origin that says they descend from the 12 sons of the Hindu god Chitragupta, the product of his marriages to Devi Shobhavati and Devi Nandini.[5] The suffix -vanshi is Sanskrit and translates as belonging to a particular family dynasty.[19]

At least some Chitraguptavanshi subcastes seem to have formed by the 11th or 12th centuries, evidenced by various names being used to describe them in inscriptions.[20] Although at that time, prior to the Muslim conquests in the Indian subcontinent, they were generally outnumbered by Brahmins in the Hindu royal courts of northern India, some among these Kayasthas wrote eulogies for the kings. Of the various regional Kayastha communities it was those of north India who remained most aligned to their role of scribes, whereas in other areas there became more emphasis on commerce.[21][22]

Bengali Kayasthas[edit]

Calcutta Kayastha
"Calcutta Kayastha", a late 18th-century depiction by Frans Balthazar Solvyns

In eastern India, Bengali Kayasthas are believed to have evolved from a class of officials into a caste between the 5th/6th centuries and 11th/12th centuries, its component elements being putative Kshatriyas and mostly Brahmins. They most likely gained the characteristics of a caste under the Sena dynasty.[23] 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 Kayastha (scribe) 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.[24]

Chandraseniya Prabhu Kayasthas[edit]

In Maharashtra, Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhus (CKP) claim descent from the warrior Chandrasen.[25] Historically they produced prominent warriors and also held positions such as Deshpandes and Gadkaris (fort holder, an office similar to that of a castellan.[26] Traditionally, the CKPs have the upanayana (thread ceremony) and have been granted the rights to study the vedas and perform vedic rituals along with the Brahmins.[27]

Varna status[edit]

As the Kayasthas are a non-cohesive group with regional differences rather than a single caste, their position in the Hindu varna system of ritual classification has not been uniform. This was reflected in Raj era court rulings, with Hayden Bellenoit concluding from an analysis of those that in the suits originating in the Bihari and Doabi heartlands rulings that Kayasthas were of twice-born status were more likely. Closer to Bengal country, though, the legal rulings tended to assign a shudra status. Even where the shudra designation was adjudged, the Raj courts appear to have sometimes recognised that the Bengali Kayasthas were degraded from an earlier kshatriya status due to intermarrying with both shudras and slaves('dasa') which resulted in the common Bengali Kayastha surname of 'Das'.[28] The last completed census of the British Raj (1931) classified them as a "upper caste", i.e. Dwija,[29] and the final British Raj law case involving their varna in 1926 determined them to be Kshatriya.[28]

The Raj era rulings were based largely upon the theories of Herbert Hope Risley, who had conducted extensive studies on castes and tribes of the Bengal Presidency. According to William Rowe, the Kayasthas of Bengal, Bombay and the United Provinces repeatedly challenged this classification by producing a flood of books, pamphlets, family histories and journals to pressurise the government to recognise them as kshatriya and to reform the caste practices in the directions of sanskritisation and westernisation.[30][clarification needed] Rowe's opinion has been challenged, with claims that it is based on "factual and interpretative errors", and criticised for making "unquestioned assumptions" about the Kayastha sanskritisation and westernisation movement.[31][full citation needed][32]

In post-Raj assessments, the Bengali Kayasthas, alongside Bengali Brahmins, have been described as the "highest Hindu castes".[33] After the Muslim conquest of India, they absorbed remnants of Bengal's old Hindu ruling dynasties—including the Sena, Pala, Chandra, and Varman—and, in this way, became the region's surrogate kshatriya or "warrior" class. During British rule, the Bengali Kayasthas, the Bengali Brahmins and the Baidyas considered themselves to be Bhadralok, a term coined in Bengal for the gentry or respectable people. This was based on their perceived refined culture, prestige and education.[11][34]

According to Christian Novetzke, in medieval India, Kayastha in certain parts were considered either as Brahmins or equal to Brahmins.[35] Several religious councils and institutions have subsequently stated the varna status of Chitraguptvanshi Kayasthas to be Brahmin[36] and CKPs as Kshatriya.[37][38][39]

Notable people[edit]

This is a list of notable people from all the subgroups of Kayasthas.


References[edit]

  1. ^ Muslim Kayasthas of India by Jahanara KK Publications ISBN 978-81-675-6606-5
  2. ^ "Kayastha". Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved 3 March 2020.
  3. ^ Visvanathan, Meera (2014). "From the "lekhaka" to the Kāyastha: Scribes in Early Historic Court and Society (200 Bce-200 Ce)". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 75: 37. ISSN 2249-1937. JSTOR 44158358.
  4. ^ Shah, K. K. (1993). "Self Legitimation and Social Primacy: A Case Study of Some Kayastha Inscriptions From Central India". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 54: 858. ISSN 2249-1937. JSTOR 44143088.
  5. ^ a b Bellenoit, Hayden J. (2017). The Formation of the Colonial State in India: Scribes, Paper and Taxes, 1760-1860. Routledge. pp. 69–70. ISBN 9781134494361.
  6. ^ a b Imam, Fatima A. (2011). Kaminsky, Arnold P.; Long, Roger D. (eds.). India Today: An Encyclopedia of Life in the Republic : L-Z, Volume 2. ABC-CLIO. pp. 404–405. ISBN 9780313374623.
  7. ^ Ray, Sunil Chandra (1950). "A Note on the Kāyasthas of Early-Mediaeval Kāśmīra". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 13: 124–126. ISSN 2249-1937. JSTOR 44140901.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Banu, =U. A. B. Razia Akter (1992). Islam in Bangladesh. Brill Academic Publishers. pp. 5–6. ISBN 978-90-04-09497-0.
  10. ^ Ballbanlilar, Lisa (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.
  11. ^ a b Eaton, Richard Maxwell (1996). The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760. University of California Press. pp. 102–103. ISBN 978-0-52020-507-9.
  12. ^ Banu, U. A. B. Razia Akter (1992). Islam in Bangladesh. Brill Academic Publishers. pp. 24–25. ISBN 978-90-04-09497-0.
  13. ^ Chakrabarty, Dipesh (2015). The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth. University of Chicago Press. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-226-10045-6.
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  21. ^ Bellenoit, Hayden J. (2017). The Formation of the Colonial State in India: Scribes, Paper and Taxes, 1760-1860. Taylor & Francis. p. 34. ISBN 978-1-134-49429-3.
  22. ^ Kumar, Saurabh (2015). "Rural Society and Rural Economy in the Ganga Valley during the Gahadavalas". Social Scientist. 43 (5/6): 29–45. ISSN 0970-0293. JSTOR 24642345. One thing is clear that by this time, Kayasthas had come to acquire prominent places in the court and officialdom and some were financially well-off to commission the construction of temples, while others were well-versed in the requisite fields of Vedic lore to earn the title of pandita for themselves. In our study, the epigraphic sources do not indicate the oppressive nature of Kayastha officials.
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  26. ^ Sunthankar, B. R. (1988). Nineteenth Century History of Maharashtra: 1818–1857. p. 121. The [Chandraseniya] Kayastha Prabhus, though small in number, were another caste of importance in Maharashtra. They formed one of the elite castes of Maharashtra. They also held the position of Deshpandes and Gadkaris and produced some of the best warriors in the Maratha history
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  29. ^ Kumar, Ashwani (2008). Community Warriors: State, Peasants and Caste Armies in Bihar. Anthem Press. p. 195.
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  31. ^ "Cambridge South Asian Studies, Issue 24". Cambridge University Press. 2007: 186. In three articles: 1975, 1977 and 1978. In these essays she also pinpoints factual and interpretative errors in William L. Rowe's presentation of the Kayastha movement. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  32. ^ Stout, Lucy Carol (1976). The Hindustani Kayasthas: The Kayastha Pathshala, and the Kayastha Conference, 1873-1914. University of California, Berkeley.
  33. ^ 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.
  34. ^ Fuller, C. J.; Narasimhan, Haripriya (2014). Tamil Brahmans: The making of a middle caste. University of Chicago Press. p. 212. ISBN 9780226152882. In Bengal, the new middle class emergent under the British rule styled itself 'bhadralok', the gentry or "respectable people", and its principal constituents were the three Bengali high castes, Brahmans, Baidyas, and Kayasthas. Moreover, for the Bhadralok, a prestigious, refined culture based on education literacy and artistic skills, and the mastery of the Bengali language, counted for more than caste status itself for their social dominance in Bengal.
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Further reading[edit]