In Search Of Origin

Bengalis' Lineage to Nation: An informal Assessment

Tapas Piplai

Origin of Bengali
Bengali nation formation was a complex multidimensional process. It was no doubt a plural process where various races,languages, religions had contributed by extinguishing their own individual identities.

Around 740 AD, Pala kings set up their kingdom in 'Barendra Bhumi' (Bengal). Because of Pala' s ascendency to throne ,the Bengali settlements so far scantily scattered, came around and took the refuge under the endowment of Royal patronage and tasted the independent community status in the society. The social tapestry evolved around Bengali community, thus firmed up further under the chieftain patronage.

Antecedents Society
Bengals' social stratification contrary to Northern India was not fully based on Chaturvarnashram system. It was more of a clan or tribal based society. It grew over ancestral family driven skill sets. Skills were destined to meet their social responsibilities for day today's life style requirement in exchange of family driven skilled labour. Bengal imbibed the influence of Chaturvarn-ashram stratification much later during Aryans spread into the eastern part of our country. It was specially their conquest march into eastern zone during and after Gupta period. In fact Brahmins entry into eastern zone and their recognition as caste in Bengal was a debatable subject as their exact time of arrival in Bengal is not known. It has been assumed to be around 800 AD during the time of one unauthenticated king called Adishura.

As mentioned by Dr R C Majumdar, Dr Nihar Ranjan Roy & Dr Atul Sur, the origin of the name "Bengal" might not be having a long history. The Bengal, during primitive period,was divided into various territorial areas such as—Gauda, Vanga, Samatat, Harikela and Vangala.

The English name Bengal came from Portuguese name Bengala. And Bengala name was adopted from Vangala which was given by the earlier Muslim rulers of the territory. The first mention of Vangala could be seen during Akbar time. Thereafter the British people adopted it as Bengal. Therefore the Bengal name had its origin associated with the earlier Muslim ruler. Needless to mention that Bengalis were basically a 'language-culture' ethnic group dominated initially by Austric & Dravidian. A long period of cultural exchanges with other races, human settlements and languages finally developed the present Bengali race. It absorbed various tributes from different sets of culture and dialect. This fusion between various dialects and culture later conglomerated and founded the base of our present Bengali nation & language.

Various linguistic groups which arrived in India at different time frames, like Aryan, Dravidian and Austric (all are from outside India), enriched the major Indian language. Later in the similar way the local Indian languages were developed through various linguistic syntheses with the main streams. The Bengali language too came up in the same way. As Tagore pointed out—sub streams of various cultures & languages came and synthesized the formation of main Bengali stream like river tributaries joined with the main stream before the confluence at the sea. He described & hailed this pluralistic character of India, per se, from antiquity.

Any nation, by classical definition, at least needs a common transactional language and similar type of culture within a geographical territory for exchanging views, social norms, ceremonies and systems.

The initial language of India was derived from Indo Aryan and Sanskrit. In the Eastern side of India it used to be called Purba Prakrit. The same language finally reached Gaud or Barendra Bhumi (later called Bengal) through Magadh, in Bihar. It further underwent plural exchanges with peripheral local dialects which was called Apabhrangsho of Eastern Prakrit.

The Sanskrit language which was developed for writing, became gradually confined within upper strata of the society. It was further structured and enchained with the introduction of Grammar (Panini). Similarly, Prakrit and subsequently Purbi Prakrit were developed more to carry out day today's transactions through colloquial transactional exchange of activities.

These natural language exchange processes continued in Purbi Prakrit till Pala s ascendancies to the throne. With the patronisation of royal power, a new dialect was slowly born through the process of initial anti thesis and thereafter a new synthesis under royal patronage. It was believed to be a synthesis between Maghdi Prakrit and Apobhrongsho(?) of local Prakrit dialects.

Maghdi Prakrit also on the other hand was developed through synthesis of Indo Iranian, Sanskrit, Austric & Dravidian dialects.

Finally, through this process the archaic Bengali language emerged.

Culture & Religion
Around 10th century the local Buddhist Masters or Shramans and monks started composing songs in newly formed Bengali language. Through these poetic try outs, the language got further developed and enriched. The language grew nicely and produced lots of literary works like different Charjapats. Pala-s were Buddhists by religion but were accommodative and secular to any other religions.

The literary work of this period was later suppressed by the religious acrimony in the society, between the subsequent Muslim rulers and the continuing Hindu and Buddhists rulers. These literary works (Charjapat) were collected later by Haraprasad Sashtri from Royal Nepal Library.

Because of impediments like social mobility issues and casteism in all the regions, a new Bhaktibad emerged to overcome the rigid Shastric rituals. Shankaracharya during eight hundred century democratised Hindu religion by propounding the Mayabad or Adwitabad. He affirmed the presence of God within every one. It found support from Veda. Similarly around 1100 AD, Bhaktibad started by Ramanujam under the name of Vishisthya Adwaityabad. These new approaches slowly allowed the subalterns & marginalized sections to participate in social functions and specially the religious ceremonies. The Hindu and Muslim rulers brought too many social hurdles which became major impediments for the growth of the society. The social mobility & growth were stalled. The growth of Bengali culture further got a set back with the advent of Muslim Turk rulers. These two factors created the objective condition for the rise of Chaitanya in Bengal. After a long period of two hundred years of acute political turbulence, the Bengali community again got rejuvenated during Chaitanya’s period. The purpose was to accommodate marginalised 'language—caste' people in the main stream of culture & religion. The erstwhile rituals were continued and dominated by the nobility and higher classes of people. The subalterns in conjunction with chakri (service) driven people showed their allegiance to Bhaktibad.

Chaitanya's easy language, usage of more local dialects, involving common masses irrespective of castes, democratisation of God, finally won over the hearts of the Bengali population. The easy postures of dance like Kirtana (used to be called Gaudiya Nritya initially) swept across Bengal with a deluge of divine love. The incarnation of Radha, an epitome of divine and platonic love, added a new dimension to religious songs and dances. It was a true reflection of adoring story of divine love. It left its indelible effect, not only on religious expressions, but on every sphere of life. It was a different trend altogether compare to the life style practised so far. In short Chaitanya brought about a big cultural change in Bengal.

Formation of Bengali Nation
As per Anthropologists, the primitive race in Bengal was Australoid or as per Puranas, they used to be referred as Nishadas. The primitive Dravidians there after came into Bengal. They used to be called as Asuras & Dasas by Vedic Aryan group.

The Aryan Albinoid entered Bengal after Asuras. These Aryan Albinoid were different from Vedic Aryans. Aryan Nordic or Vedic Aryans, were different races, yet with same broad language group. They entered into India from Northern side and settled here. They spread up to Benaras and thereafter their presence in the population became diluted.

It might not be out of place to mention that Indo Aryans, Australoid, & Dravidians were linguistic groups.

We could find two different races amongst the Aryans. As mentioned above they were called Aryan Nordic and Aryan Albinoid Dinariks & Armenoid.

Albinoid were different from Nordics or Rig Vedic Aryans. Albinoid used to consider their culture much superior to Nordics. Bengal was stated to be one of the main centres of Albinoid. The Nordics for initial 1500 years could not enter into eastern part of India because of stiff resistance from Albinoid. Finally they surrendered to Gupta Kings of Eastern India and slowly entered into the eastern part of India. They had to surrender in turn, their original Gods like Indra, Agni, Sun etc and adopted the folk gods of Bengal.

Therefore, Bengalis as a race grew through acculturation and the mixture with Australoid, Dravidians, Albinoid. Later the Nordic race people also joined the stream in limited quantity.

The Bengali as a nation adopted a lot of features from Brahmonyo dharma of north India and north India's customs. But after the Muslim invasion, the invaders and their accomplices slowly settled in Bengal nicely through marriages and other social exchange routes. They got acculturated with Brahmonyo, Buddhist and Jain communities. Virtually they separated Bengal from the North Indian culture and customs.

The Bengali as a separate language originated through the route of evolution from—Indo European—Indo Iranian—Sanskrit—Prakrit languages. For eastern zone in particular, apavrangsha of Maghdi and Purbi Prakrit played the stellar role during the initial base formation. It synthesised with already existing Dravidian, Austric. It developed a new dialect during 750-1100 AD and germinated the initial seed of today's Bengali language.

Post Scripts
From the initial days Bengalis by and large were contended within themselves. They were docile in nature, short in height, not very sharp looking, whitish skin and little bit secluded from other regions. They were engrossed with their independent village centric culture and haughtiness. We could not find much evidence of urban cities in ancient or mediaeval Bengal like other parts of India. Perhaps, Bishnupur was the only big urban settlement which was a midway town between Bengal and Magadh. Magadh was indeed a big urban settlement during those days.

In India we witness the first footprint of human being through Negro or Negrito settlement from African areas long time back. They lost the game of existence. The new comer like Austro- Asiatic or Austric people—who in groups arrived in India subsequently. They were more advanced than Negrito. Austric people started agriculture and initial level of weaving. They spread across Bengal .Then came primitive Dravidian or Asuras. It was said that from Crete island in Mediterranean Sea, they originated. We got several mentions of names like Narakasuara, Mahisasura, Bakasura etc in our puranas. They formed the first urban civilisation on pan India basis including Bengal like what we saw in Harappan civilisation. They also swept whole of Bengal like Austric. In fact, in our purana, Srikrishna with Chakra and brother Balaram with ploughing means, were (both Krishna and Balaram) said to represent the agriculturist Austrics and uncle king Kansa, the Dravidians, representative of urban class.

After some time entered in India, the hilly tribes like Bhot Chini or Kirat s or Sino Tibetan. They could not spread much inside and were confined in parts of east Bengal, hilly regions etc.

Finally, and last came the Aryans Albinoid. They came with horses for speed, with new dialects, beautiful couplets, better discipline, different looks &appearance, fairer skins, sharper nose etc. The Aryans were initially pastorals in contrast to Dravidians. The Vedic culture thus was mostly pastoral.

Thereafter lot of antithesis and synthesis took place and the current Bengali class emerged through the confluence of plurality of races, languages & assimilation of various cultural streams.

Various books and articles by Dr R C Majumdar, Dr Nihar Ranjan Ray, Dr Atul Sur, Dr Suniti Chatterjee.

[email protected]

Back to Home Page

Vol. 52, No. 3, Jul 21 - 27, 2019