Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Bengali people speak the Bengali language, live in the Bengal region of the Indian subcontinent in both Bangladesh and India (West Bengal). The Bengali language belongs to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family. Most Bengali live in rural areas and most engage in agriculture, wet rice being the staple. Specialized artisan caste groups (weavers, potters, blacksmiths, and carpenters) provide non-agricultural goods throughout the Bengal region. Urban Bengali elite culture has produced one of South Asia's finest literary traditions and some of India's best classical musicians and greatest exponents of the dance have been Bengalis.


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Asia --South Asia




OWC Code


Number of Documents


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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

There are 30 documents in the Bengali file. Most of the research is based on village studies carried out in the 1960s and 1970s. The major foci are social structure (including lineage, caste, and class), gender, religion, and land tenure. Studies of community organization and social structure include Davis (1983, no. 1; 1976, no. 20), Klass (1978, no. 7), and Bertocci (1980, no. 9; 1992, no. 16). There are two urban studies; one examines middle- and upper-class Hindu women in Calcutta (Roy 1975, document no. 6) and the other looks at women's view of gender relations in urban Krishnagar (Bhattacharyya 1976, no. 14). Other gender studies examine women's economic activities and roles (Wallace 1987, no. 11), as they vary by caste and class (Fruzzetti 1975, no. 17), and as they have changed over time (Roy 1992, no. 29). Other gender studies include examinations of domestic relationships (Rohner 1988, no. 19) and marriage from women's point of view (Fruzzetti 1982, no. 23). Relationships between marriage, kinship, and caste are discussed in Inden (1977, no. 2; 1976, no. 3), Fruzzetti et al. (1982, no. 12), and Klass (1966, no. 21).

Harris has written three studies of land tenure (1991, no. 24; 1989, no. 25; 1989, no. 26). Studies of political behavior are found in Islam (1974, no. 10) and Khan (1976, no. 13). Mashreque (1997, no. 27) looks at the political economy of rural development, Wilce (1997, no. 30) at folk medicine, Bhattacharyya (1981, no. 18) at ethnopsychiatry, and Mashreque (1995, no. 28) at rural courts. Studies of religion examine festivals (Ostor 1980, no. 4) and eschatology (Bhattacharyya 1976, no. 15. Oster (1984, no. 5) and Fruzzetti (1982, no. 23) provide two sophisticated studies that use indigenous categories to examine social structure and relations. Document no. 22 is a bibliography.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

This culture summary is based on the article "Bengali" by Peter J. Bertocci, in the Encyclopedia Of World Cultures, Vol. 3. 1992. Paul Hockings, ed. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall & Co. The section on demography was revised by Ian Skoggard in January 2002.

ADAN-PRODAN-marriage alliance-581

ADHYAKSA-village council head-623

ANCHAL PANCHAYAT-area council-632

ATGHARIYA-village crier-203, 624

ATTIO-a relative (affines) or friend-602

BARI-home, extended family group-596

BAULS-minstrals-533, 785

BDO-block development officer-634

BET-a cane used in rituals-293

BHAB (of the bazaar)-knowing the bazaar-443, 828

BHAIYAT (BHĀIYAT)-consanguineous relatives-613, 602

BHAKTA-religious devotee-785, 792, 794

BONGSO (BANGSA, GOOSTHI)-localized lineage-613

BRATAS-a vow-782, 796

CHOKIDAR-village watchman-625

CHULA-hearth or oven groups-592

codes of conduct-577, 828

COKRO-circle of villages-632

Community-554, 613

community development program-179

COUKIDAR-watchman, constable, village secretary, records keeper-625, 624


DAL-a group of factions-571

DAYABHAGA-customary law-671


DESER NIYAM-laws of the land-671


GETI-blood relatives-602

GHAR (GHOR)-household-592

GHAT-sacred vessel-415, 778

GHATAKA-professional genealogist-814, 463

GOTRO-clan, clan title-614, 551

GRAM-village-621, 623

GRAM SABHA (GRAM PANCHAYAT)-village assembly-623

GRAMMAR KAJ-village politics-621, 626, 828

GUN-human nature (as opposed to DHARMA, or moral codes)-772, 828, 577


GURUDEB-a religious personage-792

GUSHTHI-kinsmen and patrilineal extended family-614, 596


ITIHASA-legend and history-173, 773

JAJMANI-system of service-564

JATI-birth groups-564

JATRA-theater groups-536, 545

JIBATTA-life principle-761, 774


KARTA-head of the extended family or household-592, 596

KHANA-eating groups-592

KHANDAN-kin related households-596


KULA-lineage or clan-613, 614



KUTUMBO-all members of a jati-602, 564, 612

LOK-the individual-554, 772, 828

MAJHABS-religious sets-795

MALIK-head of household-592, 554

MANTRA-sacred incantation-788

MAUZA-revenue village-632


MUDRA-a sacred figure shown by the hands of the priest-201, 778

MUKHYA-active second headman-622

PAN (PON)-dowry-583

PANA-cash offerings to bride or groom's parents as inducement to let their children marry-583, 431


PANCHAYATS-village councils-623

PARA-Muslim hamlets or neighborhoods-621

PARIBAR-extended family compound-596

Permanent Settlement-423, 565, 631

PIR-holy man or saint-792 (mythical-776)

PRETA-vengeful spirit-775

PRETATTA (or ATTA)-death spirit or ghost-775

RAJ MUKHYA-principal village headman-622


REYAIS-household-based residential group-592, 596, 621

SADDHU-holy man, ascetic-792, 785

SAMAJ (SAMĀJ)-a society or small, localized religious corporate group-794, 621, 623, 632

SAMAJA-subcaste councils-692, 564, 623, 631

SAMSKARAS-life cycle rites-788, 783


SARDARS-members of dominant lineages who assume roles of leadership in politics-650, 660, 828

SARKAR KAJ-government politics-650, 660, 828

SASTRA-the renouncer, saint, or seer--792

SOMAJ-a marriage circle-592, 582, 621

SONSAR-family household-592, 594, 596

SRADDHA-ancestor worship-769, 765

STRIACAR (STRĪĀCĀRS)-women's rituals-796, 788

TALLAT-cluster of neighboring villages-632, 634



TULSIDAR-land revenue collector-651

UMMA MUSLIMA-Muslim community-186, 181

union board-632, 634


VEDA-sacred texts-778, 779

ZAMINDAR-lanlord-423, 554, 622

ZILLA PARISAD-district council-634

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