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What is a Vaishya?

In Indian society, the Vaishya are the third and fourth castes.
It is thought that the Brahmin caste encourage social and religious charity among the Vaishya.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 April 2014
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The Vaishya are the third of four castes in Indian society. Traditionally, they have composed the merchant class, and they have also provided for Indian society in general through alms giving and the construction of temples, hospitals, and other public facilities. Members of the Vaishya have traditionally been in an awkward position in society, since they are among the lower ranking of the castes, yet they form a crucial part of society. This led historically to some bitterness on the part of the Vaishya.

The word “Vaishya” is derived from a word which means “to live,” and the caste was originally focused on farming, agriculture, and trading. As the caste system developed, the Vaishya deviated from their agricultural pursuits, focusing on trade as merchants, skilled labor, and land ownership. Members of this caste have traditionally been wealthy, as a result of their occupations, and the caste has also traditionally valued education, especially religious education in the hopes of becoming twice born, an important accomplishment in Hindu life.

As a merchant community, the Vaishya helped India to expand and become a formidable economic force in its own right. Many members of this caste were also behind the development of Indian industrialism in the 20th century, with prominent Vaishya forming major corporations which continue to be economic powerhouses in India. The caste has also traditionally placed a value on artisanship and technical education.

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Since the Vaishya have long been associated with wealth, the caste has also historically been expected to participate in charity and alms giving. Many Indian temples were constructed with Vaishya funds, along with other structures which are meant to benefit society in general. The Brahmin caste may have encouraged this social and religious charity in the hopes of defusing the power which often comes with wealth.

Although Vaishya were wealthy and often well respected, they were in the lower part of the caste system. The resentment which this fostered lead to Vaishya-based support of many revolutionary movements and religions. The spread of religions such as Buddhism which reject the notion of caste was enhanced through Vaishya conversion and funds, and the Vaishya were also behind numerous reform-oriented political figures such as Ghandi. Thanks to legislation and social reforms, the caste system no longer holds the power in India that it once did, although many traditionally Vaishya families have continued to participate in trade and economics, capitalizing on centuries of family experience.

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Discuss this Article

anon242696
Post 34

I loved this info. It helped me so much on my social studies project.

anon233666
Post 33

I have to cite this. Who is the author of this article?

Moderator's reply: Thanks for visiting wiseGEEK. The author's name and all pertinent information for citing can be found at the left of every article, in the "article details" box. Thanks again for visiting wiseGEEK.

anon173255
Post 30

Had a question - What is twice born?

anon165500
Post 29

I need to know someone or a family from the caste systems as my history requires me to find someone and take a picture of the caste and write from which part of india, name and also placement in the family. they are also required to write how other caste treat them in society.

anon121504
Post 18

This helped me a ton for my social studies class paper! Thank you!

anon107643
Post 16

Thanks. This helped me and it was rewarding.

anon89281
Post 14

Good, and quite helpful, but maybe more of their beliefs.

anon76678
Post 11

This helped with a project but needs more info on education.

anon70797
Post 9

it helped a lot but you should make it more creative -- maybe add colored text.

anon69998
Post 8

Thank you. this helped me to get research for my Social Studies class at school.

anon66243
Post 7

use bullets.

to make easier to read.

:) Thanks

anon64587
Post 6

thanks. this help me plenty. --lild

anon64576
Post 5

This helped me in exams.

anon64068
Post 4

this really helped my project at school!

anon62786
Post 3

ok site. needs more info on diet/behavior towards others.

anon59596
Post 2

thanks. this helped with my school project.

anon54335
Post 1

thanks. this helped with my school project.

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