In Sanskrit vanij means trader or merchant. The name Bania is derived from this word, hence Banias are large trading community.
The Vaishyas are in third position in Hindu caste system. Vaishyas supposedly evolved from Brahma's thighs. The Vaishya's duty was to ensure the community's prosperity through trade and merchandising. The colour associated with this Varna is yellow, which symbolises Rajas/Tamas, meaning quality in general.
It is believed that Bania community is originated 5000 years ago when an ancestor Maharaja Agrasen (or Ugarsain) of Agroha, Haryana divided the Vaishya community into eighteen clans. Some traditional North Indian surnames include Aggarwal, Gupta, Lala, Seth, Vaish, Mahajan, Sahu and Sahukar.
There are six subgroups among the Bania - the Bisa (Vaish Agarwal), Dasa (Gata Agarwal), Saralia, Saraogi (Jain), Maheshwari (Shaiva) and Oswal. The Bisa believe that they are the descendents of the seventeen snake daughters of Bashak Nag (cobra) who married seventeen sons of Ugarsain. The husbands slept with the handmaidens of the snake daughters resulting in Dasa offspring. The Bisa (twenty) consider themselves of a higher status to the Dasa (ten). The Saralia are an offshoot of the Bisa who migrated to Saralia, near Ambala in Haryana.
According to the Hindu caste system the Bania (Vaishya) are third in hierarchy below Rajputs and Brahmins but higher than all other castes. Due to the caste status Banias 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. They speak Hindi amongst themselves as well as the regional language of the states they reside in.
Approximately, there are 25 million of Banias and they 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.
The main occupation of Banias is trading.They are traders of grain, groceries and spices .They also work as shopkeepers, grocers and money lenders. They also work in government departments, private enterprise and agriculture. There are administrators, engineers, doctors, advocates, judges, teachers, scholars, stockbrokers and industrialists. They are active in politics at local, regional and national levels and have a powerful presence.
Bania are strict vegetarians whose diet include wheat, rice, maize, pulses, lentils, vegetables, fruit and dairy products. 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 have embraced progress and developments.
The Bania are monogamous and marriages are arranged by negotiation between parents and elders on both sides. Child marriages were common earlier but that has changed. Marriage symbols for women include sindur (vermilion mark), bindi (coloured dot on the forehead), glass bangles and finger and toe rings.
Joint families are common among the Bania, though smaller families also exist. Inheritance is patrilineal - all sons inherit an equal share of parental property and the eldest son succeeds his father as head of the family. Daughters do not inherit anything. Bania families are known for the extreme loyalty towards their own community, caring and giving financially when needed.
Bania are usually confined to their homes though some help their husbands in the family shop and city women work. The women take part in social and religious functions only. They do decide on financial matters relating to the family. The women sing folksongs and dance at marriages, births and festivals. They are known for their cooking and make rich dishes and sweets on special occasions.The Bania are a wealthy and influential community. They control the economy of the country, as a majority of industrialists belong to this community.
The Bania worships all main Hindu gods and goddesses like Shiva, Parvati Vishnu, Krishna, Rama, Durga and Lakshmi is held in special reverence and so is Ganesh or Ganpati. These deities are prominently displayed and worshiped in their work places and homes. On the festival of Diwali the Bania close their old account books and open new ledgers which they dedicate and adorn with Ganesh's image and an invocation to him on the front page. A silver or gold rupee is worshipped as an emblem of Lakshmi.
The Bania celebrate all major Hindu festivals like Diwali, Holi, Janamashtami, Dussehra, Ramnavmi, Maha Sivaratri and others. The Bania like to gamble on Diwali as an omen of good luck. No money is loaned on this day.
The Bania cremate their dead and the ashes are immersed in a river, preferably the sacred Ganges at Haridwar. Brahman priests perform all religious rituals for births, marriages and death. Specific periods of birth and death pollution are observed. Ancestor worship is prevalent. The main centers of pilgrimage are Haridwar, Varanasi, Allahabad, Gangotri ,Yamnotri,Kedarnath and Badrinath.