||This article may be confusing or unclear to readers. (September 2012)|
|Religions||Hinduism (India), Jainism (India), Buddhism (Sri Lanka)|
|Languages||Telugu, Tamil, Kannada|
|Populated States||Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra|
|‡ Shared by other groups|
Balija is a social group spread across the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala. In the state of Karnataka, Balijas are known as Banajigas. In recent times, Balija individuals described themselves as a division of the Kapu caste in some census records and gazetteers.
Variations of the name in use in the medieval past were Balanja, Bananja, Bananju, and Banijiga, with probable cognates Balijiga, Valanjiyar, Balanji, Bananji and derivatives such as Baliga, all of which are said to be derived from the Sanskrit term Vanik or Vanij, for trader.
Theories for the group's origins include a peasant origin of recent times and a merchant-warrior origin of medieval times. The Banajigas comprised a trade guild, Five Hundred Lords of Ayyavolu, in the medieval period.
There are numerous branches, sub-divisions or social groups which make up the larger Balija social group, many of which are divided based on trade or occupation. Some sub-divisions are the Kannadiyan, also known as Ravuth, Ravuthan or Rowthan, the Pusala, Rajula, Pula, and Swakamanchi.
Some are named after places, such as Gonuguntla Desayi Chettis, named after the village of Gonuguntla, and Gandavarapu, Gonuguntla balijas who migrated to Cuddapah, while others had odd names like Mulaka (which is also name of a tribe), Miriyala (pepper traders), Vyasa, and Tota. The Kondeti Balija and Gopathi Balija claim to have migrated from the princely state of Kondaveedu , Gopathi Balija, who later mainly inhabited in the areas of Chittor and Ananthapur, claimed to have divided from the Perike Balija or Gonegunta Balija over cattle and farming. Some common sub-divisions are described below:
- Balija Chettis (or Chetty Balija or Shetty Balija): Mentioned in several Vijayanagar accounts as wealthy merchants who controlled powerful trading guilds. To secure their loyalty, the Vijayanagar kings made them Desais or "superintendents of all castes in the country." They were classified as right-hand castes. David Rudner claims that the Balija Chettis became a separate caste from the Balija Nayak warriors as recent as the 19th century; and accordingly they have closer kinship ties to the Nayak warriors than to Chetti merchants. However, Veera Balingyas or Vira Banajigas were mentioned in the inscriptions of the Chalukyas of Badami and the Kakatiya dynasty as powerful and wealthy merchants who were known as the Five Hundred Lords of Ayyavolu.
- Gajula Balija/Kavara Balija/Sugavansi (pure) Balija: Mythic records say that Shiva's wife Parvati did a severe penance in order to look beautiful for Shiva. Himavanta (father of Parvati) sacrificed a bull to Lord Brahma and from the fire emerged a person who brought forth combs, bangles, perfumes, sandals, powder, beads, and colored palf-leaf rolls for the ear for Parvati. Titles found amongst them are Naidu, Nayakkan, Chetti, Setti and Nayak. Kavarai or Gavarai is said to be a corrupt form of Kauravar or Gauravar; as they claim to be the Kurus or Kuru descendents of Mahabharata.
- Rajamahendravaram Balija or RajaMahendram Balija: A numerically strong group across Andhra Pradesh, they are said to have originally belonged to Rajahmundry where their ancestors were employed in the army.
- Kambalatars/Thottiyans: The Gollavar, Sillavar and Tokkalavar were the subdivisions of the Raja Kambalattars and functioned as strictly endogamous units. TK Venkatasubramanian states
The Kambalattar (Kambalaththu Nayakar) are practically extinct. Remnants of their traditional agnates or cognates in the Telugu country are not to be traced. The polegars of Ettayapuram and Panchalamkurichi belong to this community. Their ancestry is traced to a community of hunters. Being dwellers of quasi-agricultural surroundings they were experts in reclaiming waste lands.
Some Balijas use surnames such as Naidu and Naicker, which share a common root. Nayaka as a term was first used during the Vishnukundina dynasty that ruled from the Krishna and Godavari deltas during the 3rd century AD. During the Kakatiya dynasty, the Nayaka title was bestowed to warriors who had received land and the title as a part of the Nayankarapuvaram system for services rendered to the court. The Nayaka was noted to be an officer in the Kakatiya court; there being a correlation between holding the Nayankara, the possession of the administrative title Angaraksha and the status title Nayaka.
A more widespread usage of the Nayaka title amongst the Balijas appears to have happened during the Vijayanagar empire where the Balija merchant-warriors rose to political and cultural power and claimed Nayaka positions.
Colonial writers such as Edgar Thurston and Robert Vane Russell noted that other castes succeeded in obtaining admission into the Balija caste by way of assuming the title "Naidu". The 1901 Census of India report notes:
"Caste titles and names are; however, of recent origin and little can be inferred from them, whatever their meaning may be shown to be" and that "wealth is a very potent factor, both in the way of levelling down caste heights and filling up social depths....a wealthy member of the Dhedh caste is actually the Dharmakartha of a Siva temple in Southern India and a Sathani becomes elevated into a Balija often in the course of a few years; so also a Palli into a Mudaliar."
The Vijayanagar empire was based on an expanding, cash-oriented economy enhanced by Balija tax-farming. Some Balija families were appointed to supervise provinces as Nayaks (governors, commanders) by the Vijayanagara kings, some of which are:
Velcheru Narayana Rao and Sanjay Subrahmanyam say that the emergence of left-hand caste Balijas as trader-warrior-kings was evidence in the Nayak period as a consequence of conditions of new wealth, produced by collapsing two Varnas, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas into one. In the brahmanical conceptualisation of castes, Balijas were accorded the Shudra position. The fourfold Brahmanical varna concept has not been acceptable to Non-Brahmin social groups and some of them challenged the authority of Brahmins who described them as shudras.
In Southern India, occupational divisions have existed since the times of Tolkāppiyam. But early southern Indian literature does not mention the Chatur-Varna institution. Elements of caste pre-date varna; and social networks with elements of caste have been in existence since pre-vedic times. Southern India fell outside the region of Āryāvarta where Chaturvarna was followed. Hence, the Southern Indians were outside the Indo-Aryan social organisation of the varna system.
Chatur-Varna is first mentioned in a late Vedic text (circa 1000 BC) and by the time of Manusmriti (200 BC – 200 AD), varna and jati (or "caste") co-exist as isomorphically ranked social orders. Based on the usage of the terms Brahmana and Kshatriya in Pali canon it has been suggested that Varna was a theoretical construct tied to upper categories, while a person's identity during the time of Buddhism depended on a person's occupation, kula (lineage) and jati (caste).
The tribal society in a pre-varna era followed a system of clan kinship as tribal social structures are based on totemic clans. The traditional gotra lists, contained in Pravara Prasnas and Ganapatha of Panini, include all types of gotras, both brahmanical (Arsa) as well as non-Brahmanical. Such a list may also indicate a process of assimilation as in the case of Nishada-gotra which has been mentioned in the Ganapatha of Pāṇini. Such an inclusion would not have been possible unless some brahmanas had been adsorbed from non-brahmanical groups or had served non-Brahmins as priests. Village names used as gotras by non-brahmanical groups were not bereft of complexities either. Panini uses the term kula (clan). However Panini's kula was explained by commentators as non-famous Gotras.
A group of related families living homogenously in a given locality were called a kula (clan) ruled over by a kulapati (head of the clan). A group of related kulas formed a grama (also called vis or settlement) presided by a Vispati or Gramani. The terms grama and vis originally denoted a group of kinsfolk related by blood, but later came to mean village or canton, and embraced all the castes and families of the village population, whether related or not.
Despite professing gotras based on kula (clan) and vis (settlement), south Indian social structures largely ignored the four-varna system; for there is no evidence of a chaturvarna system during the tribal states. A transitional state began during the time of Satavahana dynasty when Varna terms penetrated Southern-Indian society. Although the transitional character of the society is clearly observed historically, yet it was noted that there was little relevance for varna status among various professional groups. It has been argued that varna divisions were never functioning groups of social order and varna structures offered upward and downward mobility. The principal points of social interaction had remained families (vamsa), lineages (gotra), clans (kula) and jatis (occupations), without the usage of varnas.
The presence of Buddhism and Jainism may have overshadowed and stymied the presence and progression of a Varna system, during and after the Satavahana dynasty. The earliest historical monuments of Andhra are Buddhist, with Buddhism having reached Andhra Desa during the lifetime of Gautama Buddha (563 BC – 483 BC) himself. Extant literary and archeological evidences demonstrate that Andhra was one of the earliest recipients of Jainism as well. The earliest Andhra writers were Jainas and several Jain caves and inscriptions have been found across Andhra Desa. Both Buddhism and Jainism enjoyed prevalence and popularity on an equal scale. Historically several dynasties which ruled in Andhra were Buddhist or Jain or a mix of both, such as the Andhra Ikshvakus, Eastern Chalukyas (Jain), Rashtrakuta Kingdom (Jain) and Ganga dynasty (Jain); while others such as Satavahana dynasty were partly Hindu and partly Buddhist.
The process of peasantisation of tribals (conversion of hunter-gatherers into peasants) and state formation of tribal communities continued unhindered until in some place it was hindered by Mughal invasions. Several kingdoms that arose from tribal states claimed Dvija status over time. The many forms of the integration of tribal groups into Hindu society are discussed by Kulke (1976 and 1984) and Kosambi (1962 and 1996). As tribal chiefs became Hindu rajas, tribal deities became state gods, and sustained royal patronage of those gods, as is seen in the case of Gajapati chiefs and the Jagannatha temple of Orissa.
While seeking a Kshatriya varna position in the Census of 1901, a reference was made to the Srimad Bhagavatham, Vishnu Puranam and Brahmanda Puranam to seek classification as Somavanshi Kshatriyas.
- LKA Iyer (2005). The Mysore Tribes and Castes. Mittal Publication. pp. 99–134. "Banajigas are a trading people found all over the Mysore state. The caste is known by various names, one of which is 'Balija'. It appears to be a later form of Banajiga, and is very popular with the Telugu division. The term Banajiga is derived from the Sanskrit Vanik, signifying a tradesman, but different derivations are however given to the word 'Balija' or 'Balaja' which seems to be another form of the same name. Some say it means 'Born of Bali or sacrifice."
- Devadatta Ramkrishna Bhandarkar; Archaeological Survey of India (1983). Epigraphia Indica 18. p. 335:. ISSN 0013-9572. LCCN sa66006469. "As regards the derivation of this word, the late Mr Venkayya says:- In Kanarese banajiga is still used to denote a class of merchants. In Telugu the word balija or balijiga has the same meaning. It is therefore probable that the words valañjiyam, valanjiyar, balañji, banañji, banajiga and balija are cognate, and derived from the Sanskrit vanij"
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