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Hindu religious texts assigned Vaishyas to traditional roles in agriculture and cattle-rearing but over time they came to be landowners, traders and money-lenders. The Vaishyas, along with members of the Brahmin and Kshatriya varnas, claim dvija status ("twice born", a second or spiritual birth) after sacrament of initiation as in Hindu theology. Indian traders were widely credited for the spread of Indian culture to regions as far as southeast Asia.
Historically, Vaishyas have been involved in roles other than their traditional pastoralism, trade and commerce. According to Ram Sharan Sharma, a historian, the Gupta Empire was a Vaishya dynasty that "may have appeared as a reaction against oppressive rulers".
The Vaishya community consist of several jāti or subcastes, notably the Agrahari, Agrawals, Barnwals, Gahois, Kasuadhans, Khandelwals, Lohanas and Maheshwaris of the north; Oswals, Roniaurs, the Arya Vaishyas of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, the Vaishya Vanis of Konkan and Goa, and the Modh and Patidars of the west.
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