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"Calcutta Kayastha", late 18th-century depiction by Frans Balthazar Solvyns

Kayastha (also referred to as Kayasth or Kayeth) is a non-uniform functional group of Hindus originating in India. Kayasthas are considered to be members of the scribe caste, and have traditionally acted as keepers of public records and accounts, writers, and administrators of the state.

Kayasthas have historically occupied the highest 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, Kayasthas have attained success in politics, as well as in the arts and various professional fields.[1]


Modern historians and researches do not consider Kayasthas as a uniform caste but a functional group. Kayasthas are not a cohesive, uniform group.[2]

There are several groups of kayasthas. The largest one being the Chitraguptavanshi kayasthas. These include the kayasthas of north-India and Bengal and some other parts of India. There are also other kayastha clans that are not called chitraguptavanshi. These are groups such as the chandrasenvanshi i.e. CKP, Bhimani Kayasthas, Panchob kayasthas, etc.[3][2]

Only the chitraguptavanshi kayasthas have been discussed on this page.

According to the ancient Indian texts known as the Puranas, Chitraguptavanshi Kayasthas are descended from the Hindu god Chitragupta, who is responsible for recording the deeds of humanity, upholding the rule of law, and judging whether human beings go to heaven or hell upon death.[3] From Chitragupta, 12 subcastes of the north Indian chitragupta kayasthas were formed: Srivastava, Gaur, Saxena, Mathur, Karan , Nigam , Bhatnagar, Ambashtha, Asthana, Kulshreshtha, Valmiki Kayastha and Surajdhwaj Kayastha. There are several theories of their origin. According to an article in India Today, Brahmanical religious texts refer to these chitraguptavanshi Kayasthas as a caste of scribes, recruited in the beginning from the Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya castes, but eventually forming distinct subcastes in northern and western India. They have therefore also been mentioned as a "mixed caste", combining Brahman-Shudra (lower caste) and sometimes Kshatriya as well.[1]

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, and likely obtained the aspect of a caste under the Sena dynasty.[4] 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."[5]


Classical India

Rajendra Prasad (center), who went on to become the first president of India, alongside Jawaharlal Nehru and Bhulabhai Desai at the All India Congress Committee Session in April 1939

Brahmanical religious texts refer to the Chitraguptavanshi Kayasthas as a caste responsible for writing secular documents and maintaining records from the 7th century onward.[1]

According to the historical chronicle known as the Rajatarangini ("River of Kings"), written by Kalhana in the 12th century, Kashmiri Kayasthas served as prime ministers and treasury officials under several Kashmiri kings.[6]

Prior to the 13th century, during the rule of Hindu kings, Bengali Kayasthas dominated public service and had a near-monopoly on appointments to government positions.[citation needed]

According to Abu'l-Fazl ibn Mubarak, Emperor Akbar's prime minister, Bengali Kayasthas were rulers of the Pala Empire, one of the major early medieval Indian kingdoms that originated in Bengal.[4]

In Bengal, during the reign of the Gupta Empire beginning in the 4th century, when systematic and large-scale colonization by Indo-Aryan Kayasthas and Brahmins first took place, Kayasthas were brought over by the Guptas to help manage the affairs of state.[7]

Medieval India

After the Muslim conquest of India, they mastered Persian,[1] which became the official language of the Mughal courts.[8] Some converted to Islam and formed the Muslim Kayasth community in northern India.

One of the most notable north-Indian Kayasthas of the Mughal period was Raja Todar Mal, Emperor Akbar's finance minister and one of the court's nine Navaratnas, who is credited with establishing the Mughal revenue system.[9] He also translated the Bhagavata Purana from Sanskrit into Persian.[10]

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.[11]

Bengali Kayasthas served as governors, prime ministers and treasury officials under Mughal rule.[citation needed]

As a result of their exalted status amongst Muslim sultans, many Bengali Kayasthas became zamindars and jagirdars. According to Abu al-Fazl, most of the Hindu zamindars in Bengal were Kayasthas.[12]

Maharaja Pratapaditya, the King of Jessore who declared independence from Mughal rule in the early 17th century, was a Bengali Kayastha.[citation needed]

British India

Subhas Chandra Bose, President of the Indian National Congress (1938-1939) and founder of the Indian National Army

During the British Raj, Kayasthas continued to proliferate in public administration, qualifying for the highest executive and judicial offices open to Indians.[citation needed]

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.[13]

Some of the significant figures of the Indian independence movement were Bengali Kayasthas, including the spiritual leaders Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo, and the revolutionary leader Subhas Chandra Bose.[14][15]

Modern India

They are found mostly in central, eastern, northern India and Nepal, and particularly in Bengal.[16] Today, there are an estimated 800,000 Chitraguptavanshi Kayasthas in India. North Indian Kayasthas that rose to prominence since independence, include the country's first president, Rajendra Prasad, and its second prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri .[1]

Kayasthas 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.[17] These Chitraguptavanshi Kayasthas of United Provinces, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Bengal and Orissa have been mobilizing through their respective organizations as they feel isolated and feel they are losing opportunities to the backward castes. In this effort, they are aligning themselves with different political parties to gain political and economical advantages and are now demanding 33 percent reservation in Government jobs.[18]

Varna status

The exact varna status of Chitraguptavanshi Kayasthas has been a subject of debate. According to some accounts, they are a literate and educated class of Kshatriyas, and they have been referred to as a twice-born caste.[19][20]

In Bengal, Bengali Kayastha, alongside Brahmins, have been described as the "highest Hindu castes".[21] After the Muslim conquest of India, Bengali Kayasthas 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 the British rule, the Bengali Kayasthas, along with the Bengali Brahmins and Baidyas, were considered as Bhadralok, a term coined in Bengal for the 'Gentry' or 'respectable people'- based on refined culture, prestige, education etc.[11][22]

The last census of the British Raj in India (1931) classified them as an 'upper caste' i.e. Dwija and the final British Raj law case involving their varna in 1926 placed them into the Kashtriya varna.[23][2]

According to W.Rowe's account (that later scholars disagreed with), during the British Raj era, certain law cases led to courts classifying Kayasthas as shudras, based largely upon the theories of Herbert Hope Risley who had conducted extensive studies on castes and tribes of the Bengal Presidency. According to 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 pressurize the government for recognizing them as Kshatriya and to reform the caste practices in the directions of sanskritisation and westernisation.[24] However, scholars from the University of Berkeley as well as the University of Cambridge have disagreed with Rowe's research by pinpointing 'factual and interpretative errors' in his study as well as criticizing his study for making 'unquestioned assumptions' about the kayastha movement of sanskritisation and westernisation.[25][26]

H.Bellenoit gives the details of the individual British Raj era law cases and concludes that since the kayasthas are a non-cohesive group and not a single caste, their varna was resolved in the cases that came up by taking into account regional differences and customs followed by that particular caste. Bellenoit also disagrees with W.Rowe by showing that Herbert Hope Risley's theories were in fact used to ultimately 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, in a 1884 adoption case as well as a 1916 property dispute, Calcutta High Court argued that Bengali kayasthas have started using names like 'Das' and classified the Bengali Kayasthas as shudras - although the court did acknowledge their Kshatriya origin. The Allahabad High Court ruled in 1890 that Kayasthas were Kshatriyas. Finally, in a property dispute case in Patna in 1926, the Patna court characterized both the 1884 and 1916 Calcutta courts rulings as inconclusive and ultimately ruled that the kayasthas were of Kshatriya origin and hence twice born or dwija. The Patna court cited smritis and Puranas, several colonial ethnologists, such as William Crooke and Herbert Hope Risley, and used their qualified endorsements on the dwija origins of Kayasthas. The British census of 1931 also lists Kayasthas as one of the upper (twice-born) castes.[2][23]


Some noteworthy people of the Kayastha caste of India

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Arnold P. Kaminsky, Roger D. Long (2011). India Today: An Encyclopedia of Life in the Republic. ABC-CLIO. pp. 403–404. ISBN 978-0-313-37462-3. Retrieved 4 March 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d Hayden J. Bellenoit (17 February 2017). The Formation of the Colonial State in India: Scribes, Paper and Taxes, 1760-1860. Taylor & Francis. p. 34,172,173,174,175. ISBN 978-1-134-49429-3. Retrieved 7 February 2018. 
  3. ^ a b R. B. Mandal (1981). Frontiers in Migration Analysis. Concept Publishing Company. p. 175. ISBN 978-03-91-02471-7. 
  4. ^ a b 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. 
  5. ^ Sharma, Tej Ram (1978). Personal and Geographical Names in the Gupta Empire. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company. p. 115. 
  6. ^ 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. Retrieved 17 April 2013. 
  7. ^ U. A. B. Razia Akter Banu (1992). Islam in Bangladesh. Brill Academic Publishers. pp. 5–6. ISBN 978-90-04-09497-0. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  8. ^ Lisa Ballbanlilar (2012). Imperial Identity in Mughal Empire: Memory and Dynastic Politics in Early Modern Central Asia. I.B. Taurus & Co., Ltd. p. 59. ISBN 978-1-84885-726-1. Retrieved 7 June 2012. 
  9. ^ Hugh Tinker (1990). South Asia: A Short History. University of Hawaii Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-8248-1287-4. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  10. ^ Rahman, M.M. (2006). Encyclopaedia of Historiography. Anmol Publications. p. 168. ISBN 978-81-261-2305-6. Retrieved 26 February 2010. 
  11. ^ a b Eaton, Richard Maxwell (1996). The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760. University of California Press. pp. 102–103. ISBN 978-0-52020-507-9. 
  12. ^ U. A. B. Razia Akter Banu (1992). Islam in Bangladesh. Brill Academic Publishers. pp. 24–25. ISBN 978-90-04-09497-0. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  13. ^ Raymond Lee Owens, Ashis Nandy (1978). The New Vaisyas. Carolina Academic Press. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-89089-057-8. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  14. ^ Samaren Roy (1999). The Bengalees: Glimpses of History and Culture. Allied Publishers. p. 81. ISBN 978-8170239819. Retrieved 26 June 2012. 
  15. ^ Sugata Bose (2011). His Majesty's Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India's Struggle Against Empire. Harvard University Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-0674047549. Retrieved 22 June 2012. 
  16. ^ Surinder Mohan Bhardwaj (1983). Hindu Places of Pilgrimage in India: A Study in Cultural Geography. University of California Press. p. 231. ISBN 978-0-520-04951-2. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  17. ^ Srinivasan, K.; Kumar, Sanjay (16–23 October 1999). "Economic and Caste Criteria in Definition of Backwardness". Economic and Political Weekly. 34 (42/43): 3052. JSTOR 4408536. 
  18. ^ Arnold P. Kaminsky, Roger D. Long (2011). India Today: An Encyclopedia of Life in the Republic : L-Z, Volume 2. ABC-CLIO. p. 405. ISBN 9780313374623. Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  19. ^ Mendis, Dushyantha (2007). Electoral Processes and Governance in South Asia. SAGE Publications India. p. 427. ISBN 978-8-178-29970-9. 
  20. ^ Jayaswal, Prem Kumar (1990). Librarianship and Bureaucratic Organisation: A Study in the Sociology of Library Profession in India, Volume 1. Concept Publishing Company. p. 68. ISBN 978-8-170-22321-4. 
  21. ^ Inden, Ronald B. (1976). Marriage and Rank in Bengali Culture: A History of Caste and Clan in Middle Period Bengal. University of California Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-520-02569-1. 
  22. ^ C.J.Fuller, Haripriya Narasimhan (November 11, 2014). Tamil Brahmans: The making of a middle caste. University of Chicago Press. p. 212. 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. 
  23. ^ a b Kumar, Ashwani (2008). Community Warriors: State, Peasants and Caste Armies in Bihar. Anthem Press. p. 195. 
  24. ^ Rowe, William L. (2007) [1968]. "Mobility in the nineteenth-century caste system". In Singer, Milton; Cohn, Bernard S. Structure and Change in India Society (Reprinted ed.). Transaction Publishers. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-202-36138-3. 
  25. ^ "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. 
  26. ^ Lucy Carol Stout (1976). The Hindustani Kayasthas: The Kayastha Pathshala, and the Kayastha Conference, 1873-1914. University of California, Berkeley. In "Sachchidananda Sinha and the Making of Modern Bihar,Bishop relied heavily upon William L. Rowe's essay, "Mobility in the Nineteenth Century Caste system," basing his theoretical framework squarely upon Rowe's unquestioned assumptions. Accepting Rowe's assumption that the categories of "sanskritization" and "westernization" ... 
  27. ^ Gosling (2007). Science and the Indian Tradition: When Einstein Met Tagore. 
  28. ^ Raghubirlal Anand (2014). Is God Dead. p. 118. 
  29. ^ A. Pelinka, R. Schell (2003). Democracy Indian Style: Subhas Chandra Bose and the Creation of India's Political Culture. Transaction Publishers. p. 32. ISBN 978-07-6580-186-9. 
  30. ^ a b c d e Bachchan, Harivansh Rai (1998). In the Afternoon of Time: An Autobiography. India: Penguin Books. ISBN 9780670881581. 
  31. ^ Banhatti, G.S. (1995). Life and Philosophy of Swami Vivekananda. Atlantic Publishers & Distributors. p. 1. ISBN 978-81-7156-291-6. Retrieved 5 July 2012. 
  32. ^ India Today: An Encyclopedia of Life in the Republic:Volume 1
  33. ^
  34. ^ Vyas, Hari Shankar (7 April 2013). "Brahmins in Congress on tenterhooks". The Pioneer. Retrieved 9 June 2014. 
  35. ^ Burger, Angela Sutherland (1969). Opposition in a Dominant Party System: A study of the Jan Sangh, the Praja Socialist Party and the Socialist Party in Uttar Pradesh, India. University of California Press. p. 28. 
  36. ^ Schomer, Karine (1998). Mahadevi Varma and the Chhayavad Age of Modern Hindi Poetry. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-564450-6. 

Further reading

  • Asok Mitra (Indian Civil Service, Superintendent of Census Operations) (1953). The tribes and castes of West Bengal. Superintendent, Govt. Print. West Bengal Govt. Press. Retrieved 28 April 2011. 
  • Colonial Perceptions of Indian Society and the Emergence of Caste(s) Associations Lucy Carroll, The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 37, No. 2 (Feb., 1978), pp. 233–250.
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