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.
|Religions||Majority: Hinduism Minority: Islam, Sikhism, Brahmoism, Buddhism, Christianity[full citation needed]|
|Populated states||Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Delhi, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra|
|Subdivisions||Bengali Kayastha, Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu and Chitraguptavanshi Kayastha|
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.
The first historical reference to the term kayastha, not necessarily related to the modern community, comes from a Mathura inscription of the Kushan emperor Vasudeva I, dated to around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. 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. The Yājñavalkya Smṛti, also from the Gupta era, and the Vishnu Smriti describe kayasthas as record keepers and accountants.
Early medieval India
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. 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.
Late medieval India
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.
After the Muslim conquest of India, they mastered Persian, which became the official language of the Mughal courts. 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Kayasthas today mostly inhabit central, eastern, northern India, and particularly Bengal. 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. 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.
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. The suffix -vanshi is Sanskrit and translates as belonging to a particular family dynasty.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Chandraseniya Prabhu Kayasthas
In Maharashtra, Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhus (CKP) claim descent from the warrior Chandrasen. Historically they produced prominent warriors and also held positions such as Deshpandes and Gadkaris (fort holder, an office similar to that of a castellan. 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.
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. Hayden Bellenoit gives details of various Raj era law cases and concludes the varna Kayastha was resolved in those cases by taking into account regional differences and customs followed by the specific community under consideration. Bellenoit disagrees with Rowe, showing that Risley's theories were in fact used ultimately to classify them as Kshatriyas by the British courts. The first case began in 1860 in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh with a property dispute where the plaintiff was considered an "illegitimate child" by the defendants, a north-Indian Kayastha family. The British court denied inheritance to the child, citing that Kayasthas are Dvija, "twice-born" or "upper-caste" and that the illegitimate children of Dwijas have no rights to inheritance. In the next case in 1875 in the Allahabad High Court, a north Indian Kayastha widow was denied adoption rights as she was an upper-caste i.e. Dwija woman. However, the aforementioned 1884 adoption case and the 1916 property dispute saw the Calcutta High Court rule that the Bengali Kayasthas were shudras. The Allahabad High Court ruled in 1890 that Kayasthas were Kshatriyas. Hayden Bellenoit concludes 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'. The last completed census of the British Raj (1931) classified them as an "upper caste", i.e. Dwija, and the final British Raj law case involving their varna in 1926 determined them to be Kshatriya.
Earlier, in Bihar, in 1811-12, Botanist and Zoologist, Francis Buchanan had recorded the Kayastha of that region as "pure shudra" and accordingly kept them at the par with other producer caste groups like goldsmiths, Ahirs, Kurmis and the Koeris. William Pinch, in his study of Ramanandi Sampradaya in the north describes the emergence of the concept of "pure Shudra" in growing need of physical contact with some of the low caste groups who were producer and seller of essential commodities or were the provider of services without which the self sufficiency of rural society couldn't persist. However, many of these adopted Vaishnavism in the aim to become Kshatriya. In 1901 Bihar census, Kayasthas of the area were classified along with Brahmins and Rajputs in Bihar as “other castes of twice-born rank” According to Arun Sinha, there was a strong current since the end of the 19th century among Shudras of Bihar to change their status in caste hierarchy and break the monopoly of bipolar elite of Brahmins and Rajputs of having "dvija" status. The education and economic advancement made by some of the former Shudra castes enabled them to seek the higher prestige and varna status. The Kayastha along with the Bhumihars were first among the shudras to attain the recognition as "upper caste" leaving the other aspirational castes to aspire for the same.
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.[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.[full citation needed]
In post-Raj assessments, the Bengali Kayasthas, alongside Bengali Brahmins, have been described as the "highest Hindu castes". 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.
According to Christian Novetzke, in medieval India, Kayastha in certain parts were considered either as Brahmins or equal to Brahmins. Several religious councils and institutions have subsequently stated the varna status of Chitraguptvanshi Kayasthas to be Brahmin and CKPs as Kshatriya.
This is a list of notable people from all the subgroups of Kayasthas.
- Sri Aurobindo, Indian philosopher, yogi and nationalist
- Nagendranath Basu, historian and editor
- Shankar Abaji Bhise (1867–1935), scientist and inventor with 200 inventions and 40 patents. The American scientific community referred to him as the "Indian Edison".
- Jagadish Chandra Bose, Indian scientist[full citation needed]
- Subhas Chandra Bose
- Mahadev Bhaskar Chaubal (1857–1933), Indian origin British era Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court. Member of Executive Council of Governor of Bombay in 1912 and Member of Royal Commission on Public Services in India.
- Har Dayal, Indian revolutionary and intellectual of the Ghadar party in the USA
- C. D. Deshmukh (1896–1982), first recipient of the Jagannath Shankarseth Sanskrit Scholarship, topper of ICS Examination, first Indian Governor of RBI, first finance Minister of independent India and tenth vice chancellor of the University of Delhi
- Baji Prabhu Deshpande (1615–1660), commander of Shivaji Maharaj's forces who along with his brother died defending Vishalgad in 1660
- Murarbaji Deshpande (?–1665), commander of Shivaji Maharaj's forces who died defending the fort of Purandar against the Mughals in 1665
- Jayaprakash Narayan (1902 -1979) - freedom fighter, social reformer and anti-corruption campaigner
- Bipin Chandra Pal, Indian nationalist, writer, orator, social reformer and Indian independence movement activist of Lal Bal Pal triumvirate
- Vithal Sakharam Parasnis (17xx-18xx)- Sanskrit, Vedic and Persian scholar; consultant to British Historian James Grant Duff; author of the Sanskrit "karma kalpadrum"(manual for Hindu rituals); first head of the school opened by Pratapsimha to teach Sanskrit to the boys of the Maratha caste
- Devdutt Pattanaik
- A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of the Hare Krishna Movement-ISKCON
- Rajendra Prasad (1889-1963) - first president of republic of India
- Premchand (1880 - 1936) - author in Hindi language
- Lal Bahadur Shastri (1904-1966) - Prime minister of India
- Sachchidananda Sinha, lawyer prominent in the movement for establishing the state of Bihar
- Mahadevi Varma
- Bhagwati Charan Verma[page needed]
- Swami Vivekananda
- Paramahansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi.
- Muslim Kayasthas of India by Jahanara KK Publications ISBN 978-81-675-6606-5
- "Kayastha". Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved 3 March 2020.
- 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.
- 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.
- Bellenoit, Hayden J. (2017). The Formation of the Colonial State in India: Scribes, Paper and Taxes, 1760-1860. Routledge. pp. 69–70. ISBN 9781134494361.
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- 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.
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- Banu, U. A. B. Razia Akter (1992). Islam in Bangladesh. Brill Academic Publishers. pp. 24–25. ISBN 978-90-04-09497-0.
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- 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: 859. ISSN 2249-1937. JSTOR 44143088.
- 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.
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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.
- Andre Wink (1991). Al-Hind, the Making of the Indo-Islamic World, Volume 1. Brill Academic Publishers. p. 269. ISBN 978-90-04-09509-0. Retrieved 3 September 2011.
- Sharma, Tej Ram (1978). Personal and Geographical Names in the Gupta Empire. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company. p. 115.
- Sharad Hebalkar (2001). Ancient Indian Ports: With Special Reference to Maharashtra. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. ISBN 978-81-215-0858-2.
- 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
- Milton Israel and N.K.Wagle, ed. (1987). Religion and Society in Maharashtra. Center for South Asian Studies, University of Toronto, Canada. pp. 147–170.
- Bellenoit, Hayden J. (2017). The Formation of the Colonial State in India: Scribes, Paper and Taxes, 1760-1860. Taylor & Francis. pp. 173–176. ISBN 978-1-134-49429-3.
- Kumar, Ashwani (2008). Community Warriors: State, Peasants and Caste Armies in Bihar. Anthem Press. p. 195.
- Pinch, William R. (1996). Peasants and monks in British India. University of California Press. pp. 73–75, 82–83. ISBN 978-0-520-20061-6.
(index)108. Buchanan, Bihar and Patna, 1811–1812, 1:329–39; (pg)Bhagvan Prasad's ministrations reflected his own personal interpretation of the social mandate implicit in the religious message of Ramanand. However, Ramanandi ambivalence toward caste emerged in discussions about the prescribed stages of a sadhu's entry into the sampraday. In his biography of Bhagvan Prasad, Sahay expressed the view that originally anyone (including untouchables) could have become Ramanandi sadhus, but that by his time (the early 1900s), “Ramanandis bring disciples from only those jatis from whom water can be taken.” For those designated shudra by the elite, this phrase, “from whom water can be taken,” was a common enough euphemism for a person of “pure shudra” status, with whom restricted physical contact could be made. From the elite perspective, such physical contact would have occurred in the course of consuming goods and services common in everyday life; the designation “pure shudra” implied a substantial body of “impure”—hence untouchable—people with whom physical contact was both unnecessary and improper. Buchanan, in the early nineteenth century, had included in the term “pure shudra” the well-known designations of Kayasth, Koiri, Kurmi, Kahar, Goala, Dhanuk (archers, cultivators, palanquin bearers), Halwai (sweets vendor), Mali (flower gardener), Barai (cultivator and vendor of betel-leaf), Sonar (goldsmith), Kandu (grain parcher), and Gareri (blanket weavers and shepherds).(pg)As a result of their very public campaign for kshatriya status in the last quarter of the century, not to mention their substantial economic and political clout, Kayasths were classified along with “Babhans” and Rajputs as “other castes of twice-born rank” in the 1901 census hierarchy for Bihar.
- Sinha, A. (2011). Nitish Kumar and the Rise of Bihar. Viking. p. 93. ISBN 978-0-670-08459-3. Retrieved 7 April 2015.
- Rowe, William L. (2007) . "Mobility in the Nineteenth-century Caste System". In Singer, Milton; Cohn, Bernard S. (eds.). Structure and Change in India Society (Reprinted ed.). Transaction Publishers. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-202-36138-3.
- "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
- Stout, Lucy Carol (1976). The Hindustani Kayasthas: The Kayastha Pathshala, and the Kayastha Conference, 1873-1914. University of California, Berkeley.
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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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pg 161: The [Chandraseniya] Kayastha Prabhus...They performed three of the vedic duties or karmas, studying the Vedas adhyayan, sacrificing yajna and giving alms or dana...The creed mostly accepted by them is that of the advaita school of Shankaracharya, though they also worship Vishnu, Ganapati and other gods.
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Aurobindo's father, Dr Krishnadhan Ghose, came from a Kayastha family associated with the village of Konnagar in Hooghly District near Calcutta, Dr. Ghose had his medical training in Edinburgh...
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Bipin Chandra Pal (1858–1932) a patriot, nationalist politician, renowned orator, journalist, and writer. Bipin Chandra Pal was born on 7 November 1858 in Sylhet in a wealthy Hindu Kayastha family
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