(Last Updated on : 14/08/2010)
Bania community is the community of occupational bankers, moneylenders and dealers of grain, butter, groceries and spices. The name of Bania community has been derived from Sanskrit term `vanij`, meaning a merchant. Bania community is mainly residing in the Western Province of India, and here they are called as Vania or Vani. Bania caste is also known as Chettiar in Tamil language, Sud in Punjabi language
and Komati in Telugu language
. It is a conglomeration of people from different castes who were bunched in a single group because of their profession dealing in grain. The term `Mahajan` is used to signify a banker or moneylender; Seth indicates a great merchant or capitalist, and these two terms are applied to Banias as a prefix. Bania caste is fairly spread over the entire Western Province of India.
The Bania community has a well defined traditional occupation, which is followed by most members of every sub-caste. It seems that formerly few of the sub-castes like the Kasaundhans and Kasarwanis, sellers of metal vessels, had somewhat different professions, although resembling the conventional one. However, presently they now engage largely in the traditional Bania`s profession and deal in grain and money. Around sixty per cent of the Banias are engaged in this trade. The Banias have forty sub-castes almost all being further divided into the Visa (twenty), Dasa (ten) and Pancha (five). Amongst these the first is said to be the highest in the Vania social order. Though the members of the Visa and Dasa eat together, they do not intermarry and neither has the type of association with the Pancha.
The Bania community claims to be Vaishya
because they still have mahajans and trade guilds, which are referred to in Sanskrit literature
. There are 38 endogamous divisions of the caste and five have Jain sections, known as Shravaks, the others being the Meshris. The Bania community have a distinctive social status. They are distinguished by the fact that they generally refrain from all kinds of flesh food items comparatively. As far as their diet rules are concerned, these are observed by majority of the sub-divisions.
They dress in colourful clothes which vary in different regions, the main variations being in north Gujarat, Kathiawar and Surat
. When going out men usually wear a dhoti, a jacket called badan, a cotton coat (angarkha) coming down to the knees and a shoulder cloth called pichodi. In Kutch District
and Kathiawar, some wear a large Rajputana type turban. Those in north and central Gujarat wear the tightly folded cylindrical turban with numerous folds in front and several coils at the back. The men and women of Bania community are very fond of jewellery. Men from affluent families wear a silver girdle and a gold armlet above the elbow and the richer they get, the more they add to their personal adornment. The women wear gold
jewellery often set with pearls. They also wear earrings, nose-rings, necklaces, armlet above the left elbow, bangles of glass and ivory, silver anklets and silver toe-rings.
Banias are staunch adherents of the Vallabhacharya
sect. It is believed they were converted to this faith some 450 years ago. In almost every Bania home there is a puja room or a corner where the images and idols of worship are placed. They are very religious people. Bania community has several endogamous groups and minor sub-castes that are formed by migration, differ greatly in different provinces. Most of these sub-castes comprise an intricate system of exogamy. In Bania community polygamy is rare and divorce is also believed to be prohibited. The dead are usually cremated and the ashes are thrown into a stream. A period of mourning is also observed by the Banias. Culture of Bania community is rich and very colourful.