ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Legends, Genealogies, and Genetics

Kayasthas of Bengal

A study of the legendary migration of five Brahmins, accompanied by five Kayasthas, from Kannauj in North India to Bengal to form an elite subgroup in the caste hierarchy of Bengal, combines genetic analysis with a reappraisal of historical and genealogical works. This combination of historical and genetic analysis creates a new research tool for assessing the evolution of social identities through migration across regions, and points to the potential for interdisciplinary research that combines the humanities and genetic science.

In the early 20th century, a debate erupted among the Bengali intelligentsia in India over the historicity of genealogical literature, which claimed that the Bengali King Adisur had invited five Brahmins from Kannauj, an ancient city in the northern Gangetic plains located in the present Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, to migrate to Bengal, in eastern India.1 According to legend, these five Brahmins from Kannauj were accompanied by five Kayasthas, who became an “elite” subgroup described as “kulin” among the Kayasthas of Bengal.2

Hindu communities labelled “Kayastha” are found all over northern India, but historically, their social ranking was not uniform. At different times and in different places, those labelled Kayastha were accorded the same status as Brahmins, Kshatriyas or Sudras, and there was even a claim that they formed a fifth varna within the Hindu caste structure.3 In the popular legend, King Adisur is portrayed as the founder of “kulin-ism” in Bengal, a system of social ranking which accorded some lineages a special higher status within the Brahmin and Kayastha varna.

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Updated On : 15th Dec, 2017
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