What is a Vanik?
This being a site for Vaniks, I feel it is appropriate to include an explanation of the Vanik (or Vania) Gnati that make up our community (Gnati, Naat, Jaat have the same meaning).
The basis of the Indian Caste system, as commonly understood, is summarised in the following extract.
“There are four main castes into which everyone was categorised. At the very top were the Brahmins - the priests, scholars, and philosophers. The second highest caste was the Kshatriyas. These were the warriors, rulers, and those concerned with the defence and administration of the village or state. Third came the Vaishyas, who were traders, merchants, and people involved in agricultural production. The lowest caste was the Shudras - the labourers and servants for the other castes. Each caste included many hierarchical
subc- astes divided by occupation.
Caste was determined by birth - you fell into the same caste as your parents, and there was almost no way to change it. The caste system dictated your occupation, choice of spouse, and many other aspects of your life. You could only do the jobs allowed by your caste. Many believe the caste system began as a form of subjugation of local populations by the Aryan peoples who invaded and settled India. The Aryans were in the higher castes, and they put the native peoples of the subcontinent into the lower castes. The system favored
those at the top economically, so they were motivated to maintain the status quo. Both Buddhism and Jainism sought to reform the caste system, but were unsuccessful. Finally, the Industrial Revolution had an impact on centuries of history.”
It is mentioned above that Caste was determined by birth but, historically, this was not the case.
In his article “Hindu Caste System & Hinduism: Vedic vocations (Hindu castes) were not related to heredity (birth)” Dr. Subhash C. Sharma explains how people move from one caste to other depending upon their ability and work they did. The article states:
“To meet the liturgical needs of the society, the Vaishya - from among themselves - would select, on the basis of skills in elocution, the Brahmins (students or orators of the Vedas - compiled knowledge). Similarly, for administrative purposes, Vaishya with qualities of leadership would be selected as Kshatriya (sovereign, tribal chieftain, administrator of Kshatar - dominion or tribal area / town). Furthermore, a Visha (tribe) - in addition to having the Vaishyas (including Brahmins, Kshatriya, cowherders and woodworkers etc.)
- also embodied people known as Shudra (meaning - not of tribe) representing all the newcomers (immigrants) to that particular tribe. But over time, like a modern day immigrant, he would surpass the tribal or social barriers so as to fully assimilate in that society and pursue other professions. Thus, all the responsibilities related to a Visha could be grouped into four sub-categories: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra; the duties and skills involved with” (The Word ‘Visha’ given above is not to be confused with another word ‘Visha’; a name given to sub-sub castes of Vaishyas. Notes about the sub castes of Vaishya and their further divisions are given below.)
The traders, merchants, and people involved in agricultural production were classed as Vaishyas.
Vaishyas were divided to reflect the kind of business or trade they were doing. Those in the business of clothing, groceries and involved in foreign trade were called Vania or Vanik. The word “Vania” could have been derived from Vahania; the people using boats as transport for their foreign trade. Others were Lohana, Bhatia etc.
Many years ago I had read that there are about 100 sub castes of Vaniks. One article mentions that there was a record of 84 sub-divisions of Vaniks in the time of Vastupal (early 13th century). In my effort to identify these sub-divisions, I have managed to name 19 main divisions and, with the inclusion of their sub-divisions, I have reached a total of 50.
The main sub divisions of Vaniks (Vania) are:
Nima, Zarola, Porwad, Shrimali, Oshwal, Khadayta, Kapol, Laad, Sorathia, Naagar, Modh, Maheshwari, Zarovi, Gurjar, Dishawal, Agarwal, Soni, Kandoi and Ghanchi.
Many of these are based on names of places (region, town or village). These divisions can be traced back to migration of the Indus Valley peoples into different parts of India. For example, those that settled in the Shrimal area of Marwad (Rajasthan) were called Shrimali, in Osia were Oshwal, in Sorath were Sorathia, in Skandpur were Skandayta (Khadayta), in the area around Bharooch which was ‘Lat’ province were Laad, in Modhera were Modh etc. There were further sub divisions; that were based on small areas of a province. Ghoghari (near Ghogha/Bhavnagar), Halari (near Jamnagar, Zalawadi (near Surendranagar), Machchhu Kantha (towns on Machchhu river i.e. Morbi, Wankaner) , Golwad, Kuchchhi and similar.
But not all the major divisions are location based. Some, such as Soni, Kandoi and Ghanchi, were names given to people in those specific trades. Most of the above were further divided into Dasha and Visha, thus nearly doubling the count. There is no definite reasoning found for the division of Vaniks as Dasha and Visha.
A few explanations, none very convincing, are given below:
1. A situation arose where there was a confrontation between two groups of Vaniks. There were 10 (Dash) on one side and 20 (Vish)
on the other side. They and their descendants have since been known as Dasha and Visha respectively.
2. In a family of two brothers, the children of the younger brother were called Dasha (Desh means smaller) and those of elder brother were called Visaha
3. During a migration, a group of Vaniks that remained in the original area (Desh) were called Dasha and those who moved to another area (Videsh) were known as Visha.
4. Again based on the issue of migration, those originally of an area/country (Desh) were known as Dasha and the ones who came in from another area/country (Videsh) were named Visha.
The following list which numbers around 50, takes all the variations and divisions described above.
Dash Nima, Visha Nima, Virpur Dasha Nima, Balasinor Dasha Nima, Dasha Zarola, Visha Zarola, Dasha Porwad, Visha Porwad, Marwad, Visha Porwad, Sattavish Dasha Porwad, Dasha Porwad Meshri, Ghoghri Dasha Shrimali, Ghoghri Visha Shrimali, Machhu Kantha Visha Shrimali, Sorath Dasha Shrimali, Sorath Visha Shrimali, Zalavadi Dasha Shrimali, Zalavadi Visha Shrimali, Halari Visha Shrimali, 108 nagol Visha Shrimali, Patan Visha Shrimali, Dasha Oshwal, Ghoghari Visha Oshwal, Halari Visha Oshwal, Kachchhi Visha Oshwal, Kachchhi
Dasha Oshwal, Godwad Oshwal, Surat Visha Oshwal, Dasha Khadayta, Visha Khadayta, Modasa Ekda Dasha Khadayta, Kapol (have not noticed Dasha/Visha divisions but have divisions based on Gotra), Dasha Lad, Visha Lad, Surti Visha Lad, Damania Visha Lad, Dash Sorathia, Visha Sorathia, Dasha Nagar, Visah Nagar, Dasha Zarovi, Visha Zarovi, Dash Modh, Visah Modh, Dasha Modh Mandalia, Ghoghari Modh, Dasha Maheshvari, Visha Maheshvari, Dandu Maheshvari, Dasha Gurjar, Visha Gurjar, Vagad Be Chovishi Gurjar, Dasha Dishawal, Visha Dishawal, Surti Dasha Dishawal, Shrimali Soni (are there any Dasha/Visha or other divisions?), Kandoi, Ghanchi etc.
Religions followed by Vaniks
The main religions followed within the Vanik community are Jain and Vaishnav (Hindu). In ancient time, people used to change religion to follow what their king would support. Changing from Hindu to Jain and vice-versa was accepted and was done without any pomp or ceremony