Barua community in Bangladesh is one of the several communities who had been following Buddhism since long in the history of past Bangladesh. Among the other communities are Tangcangyas, Chakmas, Marmas and several indigenous tribes in Chittagong hill tracts. These communities who live in Chittagong Hill Tracts; have distinct languages and interesting culture.
Depending on the occupational, social and economical status although some Buddhist people use titles like ‘mutsuddi’, ‘choudhuri’, ‘talukdar’, ‘sikdar’, ‘hajari’, ‘sinha’ etc. all in fact are Baruas. Analyzing, the term Barua as derived from bara (big/great) + ariya (Arians), a general interpretation of the origin of this community is traced back to the first Buddhists who were converted during Buddha’s time. The account of a Buddhist monk named Vangīsa (vanga- Bengal +īsa – the lord, chief or great) in Samyuttanikāya, an ancient Pali book, is indicated to support that argument. However scholars are not unanimous to the above explanation as that does not provide enough evidence to trace the origin of the community particularly the term. Another explanation to the term is that Barua or “Baruah” or “Barooah” (meaning leader of hundred men) – as an honorary appellation given to distinguished officers in the Ahom kingdom of medieval Assam [Barua, Wikipedia the free Encyclopedia].
According to myths, it is said that ‘Amor Manikya’ of the Tripura Kingdom became a king with the title ‘Barua’. It is mentioned in ‘Rajamala’, the chronicle of Tripura kings;
“I am the zemindar [landlord] of the king Bijoy Manikya;
You, being a ‘Barua’ of that king, became a king.”
[as quoted by Mr. Suniti Ranjan Barua, Bangladesh Barua Jatir Itihas O Oitijyo, p. 9.]
Baru Canḍidas – a 14th century poet in his ‘Srikrisna’, a devotional poem, used the term ‘Barua’ in the sense of ‘great’. Even the poet was called ‘Baru’ meaning great.
As there was always some conflict among Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina kings and later Muslim colonizers, the lives of general public too was in great difficulty considering their religions. However, the Baruas, as the historians believe, were firm in their beliefs in Buddhism and fled to hilly regions for the sake of protecting the originality of this religion. Therefore, most Baruas even now are to be seen in Chittagong which then was a Hilly and forest area. Aladin, a respected writer, says that the high-land (of Chittagong) was the ancient dwelling place of Barua-s. There are several other opinions with regard to the term “Barua”.
Opinions with regard to the term “Barua”:
1. According to the Bengali Encyclopedia ‘Baruas are the descendants of a powerful dynasty of Buddhist kings’.
2. In 1891, the English Census superintendent Mr. Hunter also conforms to the above fact in his ‘Statistical Account of Bengal’.
3. Some opine that ‘Barua’ which means ‘great’ is a Apabhraṃsa [derivative] of the Sanskrit term ‘baṭuk’.
4. Late Beni Madhab Barua, the former Prof. of Pali, Sanskrit and ancient Indian history of the University of Kolkata in 1938 says the term ‘Barua’ is a derivative from ‘Brijjiya’ which is derived from ‘Brijji (in Pāli language Vajji)’. Pandit Dharmadhar Mahasthavir agrees with Dr. Barua.
5. The former vice chancellor of University of Chittagong Dr. Abdul Karim says, “The Baruas of Chittagong are the earliest inhabitants, examining the history, whose influence is evident from the education, culture, and heritage of ancient Chittagong.”
Some think in the 6th century A.D. with the arising of Brahminism, Buddhism declined and Barua-s from India then came to Chittagong. Others believe in the 12th century when Iktiyar Uddin Bakhtiyar Khilji conquered Magadha, from Vriji community a prince with his 700 relatives came to Chittagong and they are the ancestors of Barua. Mr. Suniti Ranjan rejects both the ideas mentioned above. According to him, these incidents are not real but just beliefs for there is not a single copper-inscription, rock-inscription etc. to support those ideas. He thinks during the reign of Mughal kings whole of Pakistan, India, Bengal, Burma was considered as one large kingdom in which people, especially business men, could easily move around different states without any obstacle. But the title ‘Barua’ used as surnames of some people did not begin earlier than 150 years. He says, in one word Baruas are those who are ‘honourable’.
Considering the statements of Mr. Hunter and the Bengali Encyclopedia and looking at the history of Buddhist kings in Bengal it becomes clear that Barua-s are the descendants of the medieval Buddhist kings of Bengal. Following dynasties of Buddhist kings were said to have ruled Bengal from 6th up till 13th century A.D.
1. Sinha Dynasty (6th B.C. to 1st A.D.) ruled from Banga [presently Faridpur and Bakargunj]
2. Barmo dynasty (2nd to 5th A.D.) ruled from Banga [ Faridpur, Bakargunj, and Mymensing]
3. Shal dynasty (5th to 6th A.D.) ruled from South East Bengal
4. Kharga dynasty (7th to 8th A.D.) ruled from As above
5. Pala dynasty (8th to 12th A.D.) ruled from North Bengal
6. Candra dynasty (10th to 11th A.D.) ruled from East Bengal
7. Candra’s (Deva Dynasty) 11th to 13th A.D. ruled from South-east Bengal
The Dev-Pahar of present Chittagong was said to be the capital of Deva dynasty. Many ancient Buddhist ruins are found here. Mr. Suniti opines that these lineages of king are the ancestors of Bengali Barua-s.
The title of Manik Candra from the Candra Lineage was ‘Barua’. His subsequent generations dwelt in a place near Lalmai which is named after ‘Barua’. At present Barua is a name of a district. The descendents from the Candra-lineage could be seen even today. They are the people who use ‘candra’ after their names such as Satish candra Barua, Sunil Candra Barua etc.
Baruas in Chittagong
‘Chittagong’ is said to be a misrepresentation introduced by British as they found uneasy to pronounce the original name ‘caittagram’ (cetiyagāma – meaning the village of stupas) which suggest how Buddhism once flourished there. The region is also known by many other names among the dwellers therein as – cattragram, cottol, cnatga. Their spoken language is the Chittagong (chittagnongian) dialect of Bengali – the official language of the country. “However, the two languages are not mutually intelligible, meaning that those who only know how to speak Standard Bengali will not understand Chittagonian speakers” [Chittagong, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia] There are many Baruas living in various states in India like Kolkata, Assam, and Silaguri. Many Baruas living in India follow Hinduism. Baruas in Chittagong are Bengali by nationality and Buddhists by religion.
The Baruas are spread in various divisions known as thanas. Dwellers of various thanas in Chittagong too have distinct differences in their languages. However, they follow the same family or kinship pattern, religious ceremonies, New Year festivals and various celebrations.
According to the history of Buddhism in Bangladesh there was once a deformation of the religious system; particularly the role of priests who were not recognized by the State and had no sponsors. As there was no government supports much of their cultural ceremonies and religious festivals were incorporated with Hindu system. Outside they were like Hindus but among themselves they retained the Buddhist identity which is significant mainly by names. Priests were a set of people known as ‘raoli purohits’. The term ‘purohit’ is still used by Hindus to refer to a class of their priests. Ven. Saramedha (Saramitra) who was trained according to Burmese Buddhism played an important role in early 19th century for the revival of this religion and establish in the original form. However, even today, many of their cultural aspects including the form of dresses they maintain Hindu influence. The form of Buddhism among them is according to Theravāda tradition. They believe that every Buddhist male should be ordained as a Buddhist monk at least for a weak. Otherwise, he will never be reborn as a human and hence no probability of his liberation from samsāra. In fact, when such people die their corpses are not carried by shoulders but holding the coffins above the knee level.
Most of the religious festivals among baruas are common to other Buddhist countries. New Year festival gained religious importance among them. The kathina festival (after three months of rainy season) is celebrated and regarded as a joyful event. They also developed a form of unwritten devotional songs known as kīrtan (or samkīrtan singing together) in praise of Buddha and good principles of life. In most of the Buddhist festivals kīrtans are sung either by a single person, in a group or only by two persons who debate taking two roles (popularly Siddhartha and Devadatta) and capturing a historical incident in Buddha’s life. Sīvali pūja – offering of a large number of food and fruit items in name of Arahanth Sīvali is one of the festivals not much popular among Sri Lankan Buddhists. Offerings in name of Ven.Upagupta who appears as a prominent figure in the Sanskrit avadāna literature and believed still living in nāgaloka is significant among the Baruas and Buddhists in Bangladesh as a whole. Ven. Sadhanananda – popular as ‘vanabhante’ (a still living forest monk, who meditated in deep forest for 12 years) from Chakma community is also venerated with great respects by them. There are many great Buddhist scholar monks from Barua community, who played responsible roles for the propagation of Buddhism in and outside the country. Ven. Atisha Dīpamkara srījñāna – the founder of Tibetan Buddhism in 10th century B.C. is interpreted by many scholars as from Barua community. Ven. Karmayogi Kripasaran mahasthavir with many others was a close associate of Anagārika Dharmapala in reviving the Bodhgaya Buddhist Temple and Buddhism in India.