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Chowdhury (Hindi: चौधरी , Urdu: چوہدری, Bengali: চৌধুরী) is a term in Indo-Aryan languages, literally meaning "holder of four". Traditionally, the term is used as a title indicating the ownership of ancestral land, but in contemporary usage it is often taken as a surname. The spelling of the word varies in different areas. In some cases it may also mean power.

In north and eastern Indian states of Bihar and Bengal, this title is used by Kulin Brahmins and certain Muslim Taluqdar families. In Andhra Pradesh, this title is used by Kamma Kamadhenu, Gujjar and Kamboja caste group which had kayastha connections in Nizami times.The title is also in use by many landowning ethnic groups and tribes, including the Rajputs, Arains, Gujjars, Jats, Ojnaas, Yadavs, Kambohs, Minhas, Sulehria,Ghore Waha and Sainis. Nowadays many Rajput clans have given up this title. They use the titles Rana & Raja instead of Chaudhary.

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History

The earliest written references are from the 15th century, when this title was conferred by the Sultans of the Delhi Sultanate upon its military nobles of Indian origins mainly Rajputs and Kayasthas as well as Yadav's and Jats.

The title became significant during the Mughal era as the Mughal Emperors conferred it upon some privileged Taluqdars (area administrators), initially in the Punjab region, and then throughout most of North India. A taluqa or district usually consisted of 84 villages and a central town during this era. The Taluqdar was required to collect taxes, maintain law and order, and provide military supplies and manpower to the provincial government. In most cases the Taluqdars were entitled to retain a tenth of the collected revenue. However, some privileged Taluqdars were entitled to a quarter and hence were called Chowdhury, which also literally means owner of the fourth part.

The Mughal Emperor Zaheerudin Babur mentions the Chowdhurys of Bhera in his book, Tuzk-e-Babri, who were appointed by the Turk King Alauddin Khilji. According to the Glossary of Punjab Castes, the Talukdars belonging to Mair-Minhas and Mughal Kassar مغل کسر/ مغل قصر tribes of the Dhani country (present day Chakwal district) in the northwest of Punjab were among the first few to receive this honorific title from the Mughal Emperor Zaheerudin Babur, for their services to his army during a later expedition in that region.

During the Sikh rule in Punjab this title became very common and quite a few village headmen or 'Lumberdars' were given 'Chowdhury' as a title by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Ever since, the Chowdhurys of Chakwal style themselves as 'Chowdhurial' to distinguish themselves from the newly appointed men.

Choudhry as a surname was also adopted by some south Indian communities, particularly by the kammas of coastal andhra pradhesh. During the 1500s the Golkonda Nawab Ibrahim Qutb Shah captured the coastal regions of Andhra Pradesh. Rayarao, his Maratha commander, appointed Kammas as Deshmukhs and Choudharys in 497 villages, beginning the use of the title ‘Choudhary’ for Kammas in coastal Andhra Pradesh. The people of the ojanaa Patidar community of north Gujarat and south Rajasthan also hold the surname 'Chaudhari' which relates to military command. Most changed profession later to become tax collectors (collection of fourth part, a quarter) and sahukari (money lenders). The ojnaa are also known as patyol(also patel or patidar), which is not related to the well known sub cates-leva & kadva patel or patidar. The chaudhary were military commanders where as the patel were land-owning agriculturalists. Some land holders in Eastern Bengal(Bangladesh) use this surname as well.

Modern Usage

Although the title has lost its original exclusivity, in both Indian and Pakistani Punjab regions a Chowdhury is still considered a leader of a tribe in some villages and small towns. Male members of Chowdhury families are entitled to use the prefix CH., an abbreviation for Chowdhury which acts as a courtesy title before their first name.

In northern and eastern Indian states of Bihar and Bengal, this title is still used by Brahmins and certain Muslim Taluqdar families. Roy or Chowdhury is used by Zamindars of Bengal(Bangladesh).

Some communities in Southern India, particularly Kammas of coastal Andhra-Pradesh, also have Choudhary as a surname and treat that title as a symbol of honor.

Since the partition of British India people from many tribes have retained this title in Pakistan as well, including people from Arain, Gujjar, and Jat, and Muslim Minhas, Sulehria tribe.

See also

References

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