The Bania, or Baniya, are a large trading community. The word Bania is a generic term derived from the Sanskrit word vanij meaning merchant or trader.

The Bania (otherwise known as Baniya, Vani and Vania) is an occupational community of merchants, bankers, money-lenders, dealers in grains or in spices, and in modern times numerous commercial enterprises.The term is used in a wider sense in Bengal than it is elsewhere in India, where it is applied to specific castes.

They believe that the community originated 5000 years ago when an ancestor Maharaja Agrasen (or Ugarsain) of Agroha, Haryana divided the Vaishya (third in the Hindu caste system) community into eighteen clans.   They surnames include Aggarwal, Gupta, Lala, Seth, Vaish, Mahajan, Sahu and Sahukar.

There are six subgroups among the Bania – the Bisa or Vaish Aggarwal, Dasa or Gata Aggarwal, Saralia, Saraogi or Jain, Maheshwari or Shaiva and Oswal.

The Bania are Vaishya according to the Hindu caste system and third in hierarchy below Rajputs and Brahmins but higher than all other castes.  They will accept food and water from higher castes but will not offer food and water in return, but they will give to lower castes, but will not accept food from them, due to their caste status.  They speak Hindi amongst themselves as well as the regional language of the states they reside in. 

The Bania number approximately 25 million and live in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, West Bengal, Haryana, Bihar, Karnataka, Punjab, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Chandigarh and Assam.

 

Uttar Pradesh has 4.2 million, Rajasthan 4.5 million, Gujarat 2.3 million, Andhra Pradesh 2 million, Maharashtra 1.8 million, Madhya Pradesh1.5 million, Delhi1.4 million, West Bengal 1.3 million, Haryana 950,000, Bihar 790,000, Karnataka 280,000, Punjab 270,000, Orissa 250,000 and Tamil Nadu 220,000.

 

The Bania are traders of grain, groceries and spices and also work as shopkeepers, grocers and money lenders. They have a reputation of being shrewd and mercenary.  Money is loaned at very high interest rates with secured collateral, usually against land or gold.  They also work in government departments, private enterprise and agriculture.  There are administrators, engineers, doctors, advocates, judges, teachers, scholars, stockbrokers and industrialists among them.  They are active in politics at local, regional and national levels and have a powerful presence.

 

Traditionally, the Bania are strict vegetarians whose diet consists of wheat, rice, maize, pulses, lentils, vegetables, fruit and dairy products.  Many younger men eat meat at social events outside their community.  They do not drink alcohol but smoke and chew tobacco and paan (betel leaf.)

 

Literacy levels are high as both boys and girls are encouraged to study further and attain university degrees. They visit clinics and hospitals as well as alternative indigenous medicine. Family planning is practiced to limit family size. They have made good use of media and communication and benefited from the government’s development programs. They have embraced progress and developments.  Agriculturists use fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation to increase crop yields. Loans provided by banks have enabled the Bania to expand or set up new businesses.