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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mahishya (Bengali: মাহিষ্য), often also spelled as Mahisya, is a Hindu caste. Members of this caste are traditionally found in the Indian states of West Bengal and Orissa. Mahishyas are one of the predominant castes in West Bengal especially in the southern districts of Howrah, Paschim Medinipur, Purba Medinipur, Bankura, and South 24 Parganas.[1] Although traditionally an agricultural caste, many members are employed in the business and services sectors.[1] Their food habits and living conditions have also changed over time.[1]



Historians such as Jagabandhu Singh have referenced the Padma Purana and the Brahmavaibarta Purana and have come to the conclusion that Mahishyas and Kaivarttas (Kaibarttas) are the same caste.[2] In general terms, "the child born of a Kshatriya father and Vaisya mother is called a Kaivartta or Mahisya".[2] If one takes the two terms to be synonymous then as Kaivarttas, the people are spread through a geographic location extending from modern-day Maharashtra, Chattisgarh, and Orissa.[2] The Bengali historian Sevananda Bharati is of the opinion that the ancient home of the Mahishya race is near the present day Ratnavati on the bank of the Narmada River, which was then known as Mahishamati.[2] For whatever reason, the Mahishyas migrated from Ayodhya and entered what is now Midnapore through the Chota Nagpur Plateau.[2] Biharilal Kalye believes that the founder of the Ganga Dynasty of Orissa, Anantavarma belonged to the Mahishya race.[2] Others such as Jagabandhu Singh disagree.[2] Sir Harbert Risley in The Tribes and Castes of Bengal states that five leaders established five kingdoms in Midnapore namely, Tamralipta or Tamluk, Balista or Moynagarh, Turkee, Sujamatha, and Kutabpur.[2] The inhabitants of Tamralipta were a seafaring race and inhabited modern Orissa and the southern coast of India.[2]

Social ascendency

The Mahishyas were numerically preponderant in Midnapore at the turn of the twentieth century.[3] Apart from being small landowners, many were minor landlords. In 1896, they were identified as local aristocrats by the President of the college of Nadia pandits, since the number of Brahmins and Kayasthas in Midnapore district were relatively small compared to the rest of Bengal.[3] In the absence of other dominant caste groups, the Mahishyas were able to form a tight-knit social group. The movement to gain recognition as a caste separate from the Kaibarttas gained moment from 1897 when the Mahishyas formed the Jati Nirdharani Samiti (Caste Assignment Forum).[3] At the time the Kaibarttas were divided into the Jele Kaibarttas (fishermen) and Hele Kaibarttas (farmers). Not only were the Mahishyas the leading group in Midnapore, but the 1931 census found that 2.71 percent were proficient in English, the language of the upwardly mobile during the British Raj.[3] In 1921, the demand for a caste separate from the Kaibarttas was conceded based on the data which suggested that they were a socially distinct group and that they were the predominant caste in the entire province of Bengal.[3] Data from the 1921 census indicated that they were the largest Hindu caste in Bengal.[3] In the subdivisions Contai and Tamluk, now comprising Purba Medinipur district, they formed 44.2% and 54.9% of the population respectively.[3] The Mahishyas through the mouthpiece the Mahishya Samaj endeavored to enstill pride in their agricultural roots, since they were the actual cultivators of the soil.[3] This peasant pride, along with a politically vocal leadership helmed by the likes of British-educated barrister Birendranath Sasmal forged a Mahishya identity.[3] During the Quit India Movement of Indian independence struggle in 1942, local national governments at Tamluk and Contai resisted British occupation for as long as two years; the backbone of the resistance was the Mahishya community.[3]

Success in industry and technology

Although the Mahishyas were traditionally laborers and tenant farmers they have excelled in industry.[4] Although many are involved in traditional practices in rural areas, within a generation, Mahishyas gave up agriculture in large numbers in favor of engineering and skilled labor in the urbanized areas of Howrah and Kolkata.[4] In Howrah, the Mahishyas are the most numerous and successful businesspersons.[4] At the turn of the century, much of the land and factories were owned by Brahmins and Kayasthas. By 1967, Mahishyas owned 67% of the engineering establishments in the district.[4]

Caste stigma

Although the financial, social, and political success of Mahishyas is notable, they have often been stigmatized on account of their agrarian roots. Mahishyas have not been adverse to doing manual labor, often considered demeaning by high castes.[4] For example, Birendranath Sasmal was refused the post of Chief Executive of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation by Chittaranjan Das on the grounds that his appointment would offend the Kayasthas of the city.[5][6] The job ultimately went to Subhas Chandra Bose.

Common Mahishya family names

  • Biswas(Muslims also have this surname)
  • Das
  • Tarafder
  • Mondal(Also known as Mondol,Mandal,,Muslims also have this surname)
  • Koley
  • Santra
  • Jana
  • Samanta
  • Maiti (often spelled as Maity)
  • Mitter
  • Bera
  • Sasmal
  • Giri
  • Gayen
  • Dinda
  • Pradhan
  • Karak (from Sanskrit: is called the doer (agent or Karta); can be kayasthas also, spread over Bengal, Bihar and Gujarat)
  • Roy, Rai, Ray (are found almost all Castes in Bengal and quite known title in bengalies)
  • Manna
  • saha
  • Pramanik
  • Jordar
  • Patra

Notable Mahishya People


  1. ^ a b c Raychaudhuri, Arun, et al.; (2003). "Heritability Estimates of Height and Weight in Mahishya Caste Population." ( – Scholar search). Int. J. Hum. Genet. 3 (3): 151–154.  
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kanungo, Harihar (2006). "The Origin of Ganga Dynasty - A New Insight.". Orissa Historical Research Journal XLVII (2): 15–33.  
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Chakrabarty, Bidyut (1997). Local Politics and Indian Nationalism: Midnapur (1919-1944). New Delhi: Manohar. pp. 62–67.  
  4. ^ a b c d e Lessinger, Johanna M. (1982). "The New Vaishyas.". Economic Development and Cultural Change 30 (4): 920–924. doi:10.1086/452603.  
  5. ^ Maity, Sachindra (1975). Freedom Movement in Midnapore. Calcutta: Firma, K.L..  
  6. ^ Banglapedia article on Birendranath Sasmal by Ranjit Roy


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