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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
West Bengal

People


Religion

The majority of the state's population is grouped under the generic denomination of Hindu. There is a sizeable Muslim minority. The other minority communities are Christians, Buddhist, Sikhs and Jains. 

The term Hindu covers a number of religious sect ranging from monotheists to polytheists in various degrees. The religious sect with the largest following is Vaishnavism, mainly of the Chaitanya cult. Of the minor Bhakti cult sects the most interesting is the Sahajiya sect, which does not recognise difference of caste and community and the convention of social life. The next in order are the Shaktas and Saivas. Ritual Brahmanism derived from the Vedic Aryan cult is practised by a fraction of  the Brahmin caste. Popular Hinduism in Bengal is an amalgam of pre-Aryan sects. These influences are evident not only among the Hindu Community but among the Muslims and Christians in a considerable degree. The Bhakti cult of which Vaishnavism is a refinement, has been an ancient feature of the religious thought of Bengal and is perhaps the strongest element in the spiritual beliefs of the people irrespective of community. Social behaviour of this plural structure of Hinduism is traditionally controlled by the caste system with a clear cut division between the entire Hindu community and the other communities. Bengal was the home of numerous castes and sub-castes which did not confirm to the Varna classification but which were arranged according to the hereditary occupations.

Jain templeThe highest in the traditional caste hierarchy are the Brahmins, who claim descent from pure Aryan stock. In  fact they have had the monopoly of the priestly occupation and almost the sole guardianship of Sanskritic learning,  particularly the sacred scriptures, until the reform movement of the nineteenth century when other castes admitted themselves to the study of the scriptures in the original Sanskrit and in Bengali translations. The next in order of the precedence are the Vaidyas supposed to have evolved from inter caste unions of Brahmins and the immediately lower castes who hereditarily practised the science and art of Hindu medicine. Backed by their learning in Sanskrit they recently laid claim to the status of Brahmins. The third in order are the Kayasthas the most numerous among the higher castes who lightly claim to be of the Kshatriya descent. That the Kayastha caste  is fairly ancient, can be proved by references in the later Puranas and Samhitas and by their geographical distribution from Bengal to Punjab. Their traditional occupation was white collar activity - clerks, book keepers, scribers for the ruling authority and the like. The Bengal Brahmins and Kayasthas are not admitted to marriage relationship with their counterpart in other regions. In certain late Puranas which seem to have originated in Bengal the Kayasthas are classed as Sat-Sudras or good Sudras.