People in ancient bengal

This page deals with descriptions of ancient Bengali people. The page describing the caste system is also relevant to understanding the society at the end of the early period.

vAtsYAYana (3rd/4th cent AD) describes not only the likes and dislikes of the people of this region (for example, the men were handsome and painted their long nails to attract women, who were soft bodied, soft spoken and loving), but also describes excesses between the ladies of the palace and the brahmins, officials and servants resident there, even though he also states that people in this eastern region of India were more controlled than those in the west. bRhaSpati declares that the upper caste women in the east had loose sexual morals. It, as well as kalhaNa's rAjataraGgini (describing 8th cent AD puNDra), decribes temple dancers who attracted the young men. He also describes slaves being bought and sold.

Hieuen Tsang (around 638 AD) also gives a qualitative description of the value system in Bengali society, in addition to describing its riches. People of kajaGgala were straight-spoken, talented and respected education, sharing this last characteristic with the people of puNDravardhana. The people of kAmarUpa were honest but violent, whereas the people of tAmralipti were rude but had courage and worked hard. The people of samataTa worked hard, and those from karNasuvarNa were polite, of good character and educated in the sciences, a character they shared with the people of tAmralipti.

Some evidence of this respect for education is seen in students and teachers who spread from Bengal to other parts of India and beyond. For example kSemendra in deshopadesha (10th-11th century) describes gauD.a students in Kashmir: they were very weak bodied but improved remarkably in physique during their stay there. They are also described as very volatile, a view also expressed by vijJaneshvara in mitAkSarA. They were descibed by kSemendra as rude and uncivilized; extremely worried about pollution through physical contact, and so weak that they could not even speak the words Om and svasti; and yet they wanted to study everything including patanjali's notes on grammar, debating, logic, and walked slowly shaking their heads with pride! Beggars surround them and sing and make poems for them: and yet with white teeth in black faces, they look like monkeys. They, in pride, call themselves Thakkura or ThAkura, and they are always on the lookout for getting more out of shopkeepers paying little money.

All through in literarature, people of vaGga, and other regions of Bengal, have been described as good and proud warriors, and independence lovers. The people of rADh.a are described as proud, rude and impolite not only by the outsiders like the jains, but also by mukundarAma in his caNDimaGgala and supported in kRSNamishra's prabodhacandrodaya. However, the women of harikela were considered more beautiful than those of rADh.a and kAmarupa. Such stereotypes should naturally be taken for what they are: but provide some valuable historical information.

Traditionally, shaka-yavana-pahlava-vAhlika people are considered white and paJcAla shUrasena uDra magadha aGga vaGga kaliGga were dark skinned. This darkness is often praised as being beautiful.


For comparison, some modern bengali names can be found here.

In various inscriptions, we can find the pattern of names used by townsmen officials in ancient (5–8th century) bengal. Some of these are: iTita, kalaka, khAsaka, goSThaka, jolAri, dAmuka, durgagTa, nAda bhadaka, piGgala, buduka, bhoYila, rAmaka, vatsabhojika, vampiYaka, zaNDaka, suMkuka, vihitaghoSa, somaghoSa, kulacandra, guNacandra, ghoSacandra, prabhucandra, satyacandra, kSemadatta, cirAtadatta, jaYadatta, jIvadatta, durgAdatta, naradatta, priYadatta, matidatta, rizidatta (probably derived from RSidatta), rudradatta, vibhudatta, varadatta, sthAnudatta, zUradatta, himadatta, arkadAsa, patradAsa, puradAsa, rAjadAsa, rAmadAsa, rudradAsa, haridAsa, nAgadeva, zubhadeva, guhanandi, jaYanandi, jaYanandI, divAkaranandi, navanandI, bhaTanandI, zazinandI, zivanandI, naYanAga, gopAla, dhRtipAla, mahIpAla, ribhupAla, vargapAla, viprapAla, zAmbapAla, somapAla, skandapAla, sthAYanapAla, manibhadra, viSNubhadra, zrIbhadra, dhRtimitra, vandhumitra, vetravarmA, jitasena, naYasena, sUryasena, anamitra, anAcAra, arjunabappa (probably from arjuna + bApa), Adityavandhu, Aluka, upAsaka, kapila, karaNika, kalasakha, kuNDa, kuNdalipta, kezava, khandavidurgagarika, kulavRddhi, gaNezvara, garuD.a, janArdana, janmabhUti, devakIrti, durlabha, dhRtiviSNu, nagijodaka, pavitruka, bhAmaha, bhAzaitya, bhAskara, bhIma, yajJarAta, rAma, lakSmInAtha, virocana, vatsakuNDa, varNaTiYoka, zatruka, zarvAntara, zikhara, zucipAlita, zrImitrAvali, sulabdha, sUrya, svastiYoka. Apart from the fact that many of these names are still recognizable as bengali names, one should also note that many of these names are pure saMskRta, some have been sanskritized, some have gotten a -ka suffix, and some have retained their local form. Furthermore, even though last names seem to be a thing of the future, the last parts of the proper names could have given rise to the later last names like Aditya, kara, kuNDa, ghoSa, candra, datta, dAma/dÃ, dAsa, deva, dhara, nandi/nandI, nAga, pAla, pAlita, bhadra, bhUti, mitra, yaza, rudra, rakSita, varmaNa, viSNu, ziva, zIla, and sena. The brahmins names seem to end in zarmA or svAmI, or use their gAJI affiliations like bhaTTa, caTTa, vandya etc. The bengali brahmins settled by zrIcandra often did end in nAga, datta, nandI, pAla, dhara, ghoSa, dAsa, soma, kara, gupta, etc.

The pattern of local, sanskritized, and saMskRta names is also found in place names like puNDravardhana, koTIvarSa, paJcanagarI, navyAvakAzikA, suvarNavIthi, audambarika, caNDagrAma, karmAntavAsaka, zilAkuNDa, palAzavRndaka, svacchandapATaka, vAYigrAma, pRSTimapoTTaka, goSATapuJjaka, khAD.ApAra, trivRta, trighaTTikA, rollavAYikA, kuTkuT, nAgiraTTa, doGgA, and kaNamaTikA.

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