The Rajbongshi people, also known as koch-Rajbongshis/Rajbangshis/Rajbanshis/Rajbansis, are largely an indigenous group of people inhabiting in northern Bengal, Lower Assam, northern Bangladesh, and some pockets on the eastern parts of Bihar and Nepal. They are spread mainly in the districts of Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Uttar Dinajpur, Dakshin Dinajpur and the plain lands of Darjeeling in West Bengal; Goalpara and Dhubri districts of Assam; and Rangpur and Dinajpur Districts of Bangladesh. substantial amount of Rajbongshi population can also be found in the Malda district of West Bengal, Purnia district of Bihar and the Jhapa District of Nepal. curious claims of existing Rajbongshi population has also been made in the districts of Bogra and Mymensingh in Bangladesh.
Etymologically, the term 'Rajbongshi'; which derives from Bengali, of the Magadhi Prakrit sub-group; means 'of Royal Lineage' (Raj= royal/king; Bongshi= descendant of). The origin of such nomenclature, however, remains unclear to this day. But it is a generally accepted theory that the Rajbongshi people were ethnically and culturally related to the same ruling dynasty who ruled their land, and vice versa, i.e., the Koch dynasty of northern Bengal. Many however trace this etymological relation to the dynasties prior to that of the Kochs. contradicting views suggest that the term 'Rajbongshi' developed much later; much after the advent of the Koch dynasty. In Assam the term 'Koch-Rajbongshi' is used, while in the case of Bengal and Nepal, there are known as Rajbongshis only. many Rajbongshis also refer to themselves as 'Shivbongshi'.
The origins of the Rajbongshi people are shrouded in mystery. There is almost a perpetual debate about the association of the Rajbongshi people with the Koch: while some claim the Rajbongshis to be ethnically the same as the Kochs, many think otherwise and claim they are distinct ethnicities.
The local traditions claim the Rajbongshi people to be the reminiscent of a small Kshatriya group who was thought to have escaped the wrath of the legendary Parashurama when he went on a killing spree to exterminate the Kshatriyas from the face of the Earth. Hence, the Rajbongshis were also sometimes referred to as Bratya (rejected) Kshatriyas, Bhanga (deserter/breakaway) Kshatriyas or Paliyas (one who escaped).
Though the term Rajbongshi is never mentioned, there are, however, references to their present homeland in the form of Pragjyotisha, Pundra and Kamarupa, in various ancient texts like Vishnu Purana, Kalika Purana, Harivamsa, Yogini Tantra, Bhramari tantra, and even in the great epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. References are also found in the later texts from the medieval times like the Tarikh-i-firishta, Akbarnama, Ain-i-Akbari, Baharistan-i-Ghaibi and the Tuzk-e-Jahangiri. It is from such sources that the local traditions and myths about Rajbongshi history developed.
The very first proper ethnographic details were documented by Colonial ethnographers of erstwhile British empire, who aimed at 'scientifically' documenting various caste and tribal groups. Buchanan-Hamilton suggested that the Rajbongshis and Kochs had a common ethnic origin, though, not all Rajbongshis were Koch:
"..the highest of this tribe[Koch] who in all things conform to the Hindu doctrine,...are exclusively called Rajbongsi; although I must allow, that all Rajbongsis are not Koch. still however by far, the greater portion are of that tribe."
"The Rajbangsi are all very dark; and as their cognates, the Kacharis, Mechs, Garos, are yellow or light brown, and their northern, eastern and western neighbors are as fair or fairer, it must be from contact with the people of the south that they got their black skins.”
Beverly claimed that the Rajbongshis, Paliyas and the Kochs had a common origin but also states that Rajbongshi is not a term exclusive to Northern Bengal:
"The Koch, Paliya and Rajbansi, are for the most partone and the same tribe…Rajbansi is an indefinite term, and some few individuals entered under it may possibly belong to other castes. In lower delta, for instance, Rajbansis are said to be a sub-division of Tiyars; but by far the great majority of those returned as such, coming as they do from districts of Dinajepore, Rungpore and Julpigoree, are clearly the same as Koch and Paliyas who are found in those districts.”
lifestyle and Culture
The Rajbongshi community had traditionally been a largely agricultural community, cultivating mainly rice, pulses and maize. Rice is the staple food for the majority of the population. Even in the 21st century, a large portion of this community still adhere to a rural lifestyle, though urbanization is on constant rise. The food consumed and the diet pattern is not very different from those in other parts of Bengal. Rice and Pulses are consumed on regular basis along with vegetables and bhajis (fries- mainly potatoes). Typical is the Dhékir sāg and naphā sāg, two types of vegetable preparation, mostly boiled with very little added oil, out of newly-born shoots of fern leaves. In lower Assam, a vegetable preparation of bamboo shoots is also consumed. Consumption of stale rice or pantha bhāt is common within Rajbongshi community. Cooking is mainly done using mustard oil, though sunflower oil is sometimes used. As far as non-vegetarian foods are concerned, the Rajbongshi population consumes a large amount of meat and eggs unlike other neighborhood populations from Bengal region, who consume large amount of fish. goat meat and sheep (if available) is generally consumed, and consumption of fowl meat is discouraged, especially by the older generations, though such barriers now cease to exist. Eggs of Ducks and poultry are consumed. Fish is also consumed but not in very large number. The rivers of northern Bengal does not sustain large varieties of fishes because of its non-perennial nature. However, in lower Assam areas, large rivers like the Brahmaputra sustain large varieties of fish which becomes an important part of the dietary habit of the Rajbongshis living there.
A typical Rajbongshi home is essentially of rectangular pattern, with an open space (aṅgina) in the middle. This is done mostly for protection against both wild animals and strong winds. The north side holds the betel nut and fruit gardens, the west contains Bamboo gardens while the east and the south is generally left open to allow sunshine and air penetrate into the household. Rajbongshi dress pattern derives largely from the surrounding geographic and cultural environment. The traditional clothing for men is dhoti and shirt or inners, while for women is bukuni-patani; a piece of cloth tied around the chest that extends up to the knee. However, nowadays shirts and trousers have become common for men, while women largely follows the modern Bengali style of wearing a sari. Salwar Kameez is also popular among the younger generations.
Music forms an integral part of Rajbongshi culture. The main musical forms of Rajongshi culture are Bhawaiyya and Chatka and pala gaan. Various instruments are used for such performances like, string instruments like-dotora, sarindra and bena;double membrane instruments like- tasi, dhak, khol and mridanga; gongs and bells like-kansi, kartal; and wind instruments like- sanai and kupa bansi.
- Nath, D. (1989). History of the Koch Kingdom: 1515-1615. Delhi: Mittal Publications.
- Buchanan-Hamilton, Francis (1838). "Accounts of the District of Rongpoor, 1810". History, Antiquities, Topography and Statistics of Eastern India. III.
- Dalton, E. T. (1872). Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal. Cacutta.
- Beverly, H., Report on the Census of Bengal, Calcutta, 1872.
- Sanyal, Charu Chandra (1965). The Rajbansis of North Bengal. Kolkata: The Asiatic Society.
- Sanyal, Charu Chandra (1965). The Rajbansis of North Bengal. Calcutta: The Asiatic Society.