Baniya (Bengal)

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This article is an extract from


Ethnographic Glossary.

Printed at the Bengal Secretariat Press.
1891. .

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Bamilc, Banikal', a generic name, derived from Sansk. vani:/, ' a merchant,' appli¬ed to almost all of the trading castes throughout India. In Bengal B aniya is not, strictly speaking, a caste name at all; that is to say, there is no endogamous group exactly co-extensive with the title of Baniya, although that name includes a largo number of groups, some of which are endog¬amous within a circle defined more or less by their trading functions, while others belong to castes or sub-castes which follow other pursuits, such as agriculture or service.

There is nothing, for instance, to prevent Babhans, Chhatris, or Kayasths from keep¬ing grain-shops or engaging in money-lending, and they might in this way come to be designated by the vague term Baniya, although their occupation would not debar them from intermar¬riage within their original caste. In order to define the term more closely, it should be remark¬ed that it appears to connote the idea of a rather general trade, and to exclude special forms of shopkeeping, suoh as that of the Halwai and the Kandu.

It is also more or less associated with the sale of some kind of food¬grain. If a man trades in money rather than in commodities, he is commonly known by the more dignified title of rnaluiJan, or banker. One of the variants of the word is used colloquially in Bengal as a synonym for Gand¬habanik, a dealer in medicinal drugs and spices.

An Anglicised form, 'banian,' is specially applied to the native brokers attached to European houses of business in Calcutta. These brokers have most of the bazar transactions in their hands, and usually give substantial security to the firm. In the early part of this century high officials used to keep banians to transact their private business; and the intrigues of "Kanto Baboo," Warren Hastings' ban¬ian, are mentioned by Burke in several of his speeches on Indian affairs.

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