Introduction / History
The Banias originated over 5,000 years ago, and they are also called Vania or Mahajan. Their name is derived from 'Vaniji ', which means 'trader' in Sanskrit, an ancient South Asian language.
Where Are they Located?
Of the four major varnas (caste clusters), Banias are in the third one, the Vaishyas. This caste cluster has always been about trade, business, and money lending. They were usually traders of grain and spices throughout history. Today Bania is a rather loose term, sometimes meaning caste and other times just business people.
Despite their high incomes, the Banias have only modest status in the Hindu caste pyramid. They resent the higher two varnas, the Brahmans and the Kshatryas, and thus Banias have often been leaders in caste reform movements. Mahatma Gandhi is one example, but there have been many others throughout India's long history.
Banias originated in the western Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan, but today they live in just about all of India's northern states. Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have the highest number of Banias. A smaller number live in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Some are migrating to the wealthy southern city of Bangalore, nicknamed the "Silicon Valley" of India because of it's strong computer industry. Some Banias are re-locating to Western cities where they can be reached much more easily than they can in India or Nepal.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Members of the Mahesri Bania caste are among the wealthiest people in India and even the world. Today they are still involved with businesses and money lending. A Bania might be the proud owner of a giant business, a small one, or he might be working in a bank. He might even own the bank. Others work in government ministries or as lawyers, judges, teachers, scholars, stockbrokers, or engineers.
What Are Their Beliefs?
They are often resented by other castes, because they lend much needed money at high interest rates. A pre-literate farmer might take a loan from a Bania only to find that a high percentage of his harvest will be taken away as interest. Customers often must put their farms or their gold up for collateral in case they cannot pay back their loans.
The lessons such as "never give; always bargain and make money" are often learned at young ages by Bania children. Business skills are passed down from father to son, and from an early age children are drilled in math and detailed calculations with the end purpose of winning in money transactions.
Nearly all Bania peoples claim the Hindu religion, but as merchants they have chosen gods that reflect their profession. They worship the god of wealth, the god of good fortune and the god of money. These are the gods who drive their lives, gods that leave them with empty hearts. Some Banias are Jains, a Hindu offshoot religion.
What Are Their Needs?
Mahesri Banias need a spiritual transformation that will bring them to the point where they want to follow the ways of Jesus, and abandon the old ways that have left them spiritually empty and other castes economically devastated and resentful.
Pray that the veil of deception will be lifted from the eyes of the Mahesri Banias and that they will see that the only true wealth is the spiritual riches gained through a loving relationship with Jesus Christ.
Pray that Christ's disciples will be called to work among them and share Christ in a culturally relevant way.
Pray for a disciple making movement to emerge among every Bania community.
Scripture Prayers for the Bania Mahesri in Nepal.