Bania - Orientation

"Bania" is a functional term applied to bankers, moneylenders, and dealers in grain, ghee, groceries, and spices. The name vania (or bania ) is derived from the Sanskrit word vanij, "a merchant." An interesting aspect of this group is that some of them are Hindus by religion while a substantial number are Jains.

Bania are found all over India, in towns and villages, with large concentrations in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, West Bengal, and Madhya Pradesh. An extremely large group, Banias are distinguished by their well-defined traditional occupation and a distinctive social status. More Banias adhere to their traditional occupation in modern India than any other caste or group. They are considered to be Vaisyas, the third great division of the Aryan twice-born groups. They wear the sacred thread and are strict observers of the taboo against eating meat. They are divided into several endogamous subcastes. The important ones, like the Oswals and Agarwals, are of Rajput or Kshatriya stock and come from Rajputana, Bundelkhand, or Gujarat. Others migrated centuries ago to different parts of the country, where they have become endogamous and have taken on a new local name. Because of their need to keep accounts, Banias have long been a literate group, and they are credited with special mental and moral characteristics by other castes. Like all mercantile classes, they display energy, shrewdness, and intelligence. Consequently they have been employed by Rajput princes as counselors and high officers of the state. From early childhood Bania boys are trained to keep accounts and are taught to view profit as the only creditable outcome of any transaction. To this end, they receive training in mental arithmetic, including fractional tables, interest tables, and other complex calculations. For petty accounts Banias traditionally used the rekha system, which is based on fourths, tied to the old currency in which 12 paise = 1 anna and 16 annas = 1 rupee. They are capitalists par excellence, and even at the beginning of their trading careers they are able to turn over their inventory at a very high rate by dint of hard work. Their career is reflected in such proverbs as, "He comes with a lota (water pot) and goes back with a lakh (100,000)," and "If a Bania gets a rupee, he will have an income of 8 rupees a month."

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