Rajbangshi, The

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Rajbangshi, The a small ethnic group of the Bhotbarmi group. They moved to' Bengal from the Himalayan region and the brahmaputra valley. The Rajbangshis are people of a mixed race, although identified by many as a branch of the ksatriyas known as the Kotch. They are short and have flat noses and raised jaws. They are mainly followers of vaisnavism. Some of them now adopted islam and some christianity. In Bangladesh, they live mostly in rangpur, dinajpur and rajshahi districts and a small number of them in the districts of bogra and mymensingh. In the censuses conducted in 1941 and later, they were treated as part of the Hindu community and as a result, their number could not be properly known. Rajbangshis are now a declining community in Bangladesh area. In 1991, their total population was a little higher than five thousand.

Agriculture is the main profession of Rajbangshis. They also catch and sell fish. Rajbangshi women are skilled in handicrafts and cottage industry. In their community, the father is the head of the family. Only male children inherit the property of their father after his death. Rajbangshis worship Hindu gods and goddesses (Shiva, Vishnu, Durga and Kali) and observe the Baridhara brata (vow), a symbol of ancient farming communities. They also perform religious rites and rituals related to fertility and procreation. Among Rajbangshis, many are animists while many others worship the nature, including mountains, rivers, forests and the soil. They pray to the god of the homestead (Bahasto or Bahusto) for the welfare of their family and to the Balibhadra Thakur before sowing crop seeds. They perform indigenous songs and dances in religious festivities. In case there is a prolonged drought, they organise the Huduma Puja, which often turns into a large religious festival.

Rajbangshis have no written language or alphabet. Their spoken language is a mixture of colloquial languages considered by many as a distorted version of Bangla. Marriage rituals of Rajbangshis have elements of the santal and oraon rituals. Divorce, remarriage and widow marriages are allowed in the Rajbangshi community. But in case of widow marriage, the younger brother, if there is any, of the deceased husband gets the preferential right to marry her. Rajbangshis burn the bodies of the dead and organise shraddha after one month of death. [Ahmed Rafique]