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Kuladevi (female) Lakshmi
Religions Hinduism
Languages Bengali
Populated States West Bengal
Population 317,543 (West Bengal, 2001 census)
Family names Mandal, Layek, Bag, Chel,Mai, Khan, Mallik,Bishui, Midya, Majhi, Saha

Shunris (Bengali: শুঁড়ি) are a Bengali Hindu caste whose traditional occupation is the distillation and selling of country wine.[1] The Shunris, except those having family name Saha are listed as Scheduled Castes by the Government of India and Government of West Bengal.


Drinking wine was a prevalent custom in ancient India. During the Maurya and Shunga period there used be temples dedicated to Sura, the goddess of wine. In Arthashastra, Kautilya mentions the mandatory construction of tavern inside a fort. The profession of distilling wine was an ancient practice. Dr. Maniklal Sinha believes that the ancestors of modern Shunris may have migrated from eastern Persia long ago. In the medieval period, Tantrism flourished in Bengal. In Tantrism, alcohol is considered an important ingredient in worship. Charyapada mentions the Shunris.

The Brihaddharma Purana classified the Shunris among the middle mixed castes, while the Brahmabaibarta Purana classified the Shunris as impure Shudras. Gradually they slipped down the social order and ranked among the untouchables. In the modern period, many have abandoned their traditional craft and took to agriculture and small businesses. The Shunris were economically better than other Scheduled Castes, however they were considered low in social hierarchy, because of their occupation of distilling and selling country wine. Risley mentions that while they were people of other castes who would work for them, they would not touch their food. Even the Chandalas would lose their caste, if they touched the seat where a Shunri was seated.[2]

In the census of 2001, the Shunris numbered 317,543 in West Bengal, consisting of 1.7% of the total Scheduled caste population of the state.[3] The Shunris, with 82.5% literacy rate had the highest percentage of literates among the Scheduled Castes in West Bengal.


The Shunris are divided into four regional subgroups namely Rarhi, Barendri, Bangiya and Maghi. They have the following gotras - Bharadwaj, Kashyap, Mojrishi, Markandarishi, Gargarishi, Shandilya, Nagarishi, Anandarishi and Banarishi.


The Shunris are predominantly Vaishnavas. Lakshmi is their titular deity. Thursday being the weekly day of worship of Lakshmi, they keep used to keep their liquor shops closed. Even today, both the foreign and country liquor off and on shops remain closed on Thursday. On the first day of Magh, they worship Bair Lakshmi with much pomp and grandeur. In the month of Kartik, they worship Kartik. The Shunris keep pigeons are pets, because they believe the flapping of their wings bring good luck to them.


  1. ^ Kundu, Santosh Kumar (2008). Bangali Hindu Jati Parichay [An Introduction of Bengali Hindu Castes] (in Bengali). Kolkata: Presidency Library. pp. 264–265. ISBN 978-81-89466-13-8. 
  2. ^ Risley, Herbert Hope. Tribes and castes of Bengal. p. 279. 
  3. ^ "West Bengal - Data Highlights: The Scheduled Castes - Census of India 2001" (PDF). Census of India. Government of India. Retrieved December 10, 2011.