The Barua Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims as inversions?

Barua Temple

The Barua Buddhists of Bengal are often said to be indigenous and continuous practitioners of the Buddhist religion among ethnic Bengalis. That is, they descend from the Buddhist communities of Bengali that flourished during the Pala period, and went into decline during the Muslim period, to disappear on the whole. The claim here is to indigenous status.

The Rohingya, in contrast, often make assertions that they are deeply rooted in Arakan. And, they disavow identification as Bengalis. Their language is clearly closely related to that of Chittagong, and it is not usually written in the Bengali alphabet.

Though I am open to being disproven, over the years in my research on the “Barua”, it seems that in the vast majority of cases these “Bengali Buddhists” descend from Tibeto-Burman people who adopted the Bengali language (or a Bengali-related dialect) and settled in and around Bengalis. They are concentrated in the far Southeast of Bangladesh, and often the boundary between themselves as the Theravada Buddhist Chakma, who retain tribal identity but now mostly speak Bengali, is fluid. The Barua are now Theravada Buddhists, which is the tradition of Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, and not ancient Bengal.

So basically what I’m saying is this: Buddhist tribal people from the east have assimilated into a Bengali identity, and claimed indigeneity through asserting affiliation with the small Barua ethno-religious group. Meanwhile, in Arakan, peasants who migrated over the last few hundred years from southeast Bengal, have rejected assimilation into the Bengali identity, unified around the standard high culture dialect, and created something distinct.

23 thoughts on “The Barua Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims as inversions?”

  1. Does Bangladesh have neo-Buddhist like Dalit Buddhist or all of them are similar to N E Buddhist.

  2. all NE buddhist

    like i said, they are theravada

    i suspect that a lot of the ‘barua’ come from a mixing of bengali hindus with tribal buddhists. the most asian looking bengali i’ve ever met (totally asian looking) was a hindu woman from chittagong.

    1. One of the interesting things is when Bengali high culture during the Sultanate period was muslim, its underlying Hindu subculture just diffused to surrounding areas like Orissa (Chaitanya) , Assam and Tripura (Sankar Dev).

      Also any ideas on why Hindu subculture didn’t expand to rest of North East outside Assam, Tripura to supplant Buddhism and other Tribal religions of North East. Ethnicity doesn’t seem to be a factor considering Assamese, Maities etc are also Tibeto Burman.

    2. “i suspect that a lot of the ‘barua’ come from a mixing of bengali hindus with tribal buddhists.”
      It is eminently plausible. They have traits in-between Bengalis and tribals, after all.

      These Baruas look tribal shifted:

      In contrast, These Baruas look quite Bengali shifted:

      Regular Chittagong Bengalis look just like the rest of Bangladeshis:

      I postulate Baruas would have lots of tribal haplogroups alongside much higher east Asian ancestry. Could their Bengali Hindu ancestors be of Bhadralok type? as they are generally educated and belong to the upper-middle social class in Chittagong.

  3. it’s probably just time. tribal religions have purchase when ppl think conversion to high culture = assimilation. this is literally what happened with the tai ahom.

    christianity (or islam in other areas) may serve as a way to prevent assimilation but access high culture.

      1. ah ok I read quickly actually misunderstood.

        For some reason the I thought the suggestion was that there was no continuity to buddhism in bengal and it was reintroduced by migrants from burma.

  4. For some reason the I thought the suggestion was that there was no continuity to buddhism in bengal and it was reintroduced by migrants from burma.

    yes. i am suggesting that. you do understand Wikipedia has a lot of bullshit, right?

  5. Around 1995-2003 there used to be about 15 Bangladeshi families that used to attend the NYC Buddhist Vihara/Temple

    They looked very Sri Lankan, dark, short (5′ 5″ or so). Didnt see any very obvious East/SE asian features. Didnt think they were white collar types.

    There was one I used to chat with (limited bcos language issues). He had a fruit cart on Wall Street/William Street intersection

  6. I’ve posted this before, but the only Bengali Barua result from Chittagong I’ve come across on 23andme demonstrated 75.5% south asian to 24.5% East Asian (compared to average <1-2% East Asian for Muslim Bangladeshis).

    Interestingly J-M241 and M35a haplogroups, both of which are non TB.

    So clearly a decent proportion of TB ancestry but could fit with what you're suggesting about Bengali Hindu groups mixing with TB tribal groups given the y-dna haplogroup.

    However, apart from point that Baruas are theravada by background, why could these Bengali ancestors not have been a core of Bengali Buddhists that mixed with TB groups instead of Hindu?

    I appreciate that this is n=1, but with the haplogroup profiles and that only a quarter of ancestry composition is East Asian, couldn't this particular example legitimately claim that this is less an example of tribal groups assuming Bengali identity, but instead a core Bengali group mixing with TB groups ie the ethnogenesis of Bangladeshi Muslims but on steroids?

    1. Only Baruas can decipher their origin, providing more samples. They are clearly an endogamous community, however, their genetic scores might’ve not stabilized yet? There is a possibility of Barua-Chakma intermarriages given both groups are Theravada and lives nearby.

      1. Yes, as always need more data and samples to understand the genetic variance.

        Have you seen any Chakma results?

        1. Given most Bangladeshis, or Bengalis in general, are quite homogenous, it is plausible. Hindu Bangladeshis are disparate and ostensibly comparable to West Bengal samples. I know little about Bengali Christians apart from their surnames that indicate proselytization through Portuguese missionaries. They could’ve been converted from generic Bengalis or from lower castes.

        2. “Hindu Bangladeshis are disparate and ostensibly comparable to West Bengal samples.”
          Do you mean that Hindu Bangladeshis have less East Asian than average Bangladeshis with other ancestries being similar?

          1. No. East Asian is similar between muslims and generic hindu Bengalis from the same region. Some West bengal samples clustered with Bangladeshis suggesting an east Bengal origin, they are known as Bangal( Some famous Bangal are Suchitra sen, Sushmita sen etc) . The east asian %age difference is around 5% between Kolkata and Eastern Bangladesh.
            By disparate I meant various castes.

  7. Mr. Khan, I did not know there’s still Buddhists existing in Bangladesh of all places in the modern age, and Theravadins to boot. As a undergrad student who’s studying Buddhism in premodern South Asia, I do have one question: since the Pala period you mentioned espoused Vajrayanic Buddhism, are there any existing communities in Bangladesh that are still adhering to Vajrayanic Buddhism?

Comments are closed.

Brown Pundits