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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. Therefore making it their responsibility to provide sustenance for those of higher class, since they were of lower class. 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 and Nepali traders were widely credited for the spread of Hindu culture to regions as far as southeast Asia and Tibet respectively.
Historically, Vaishyas have been involved in roles other than their traditional pastoralism, trade and commerce. According to historian Ram Sharan Sharma, 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, including but not limited to the Agrahari, Agrawals, Barnwals, Gahois, Kasuadhans, Khandelwals, Lohanas, Maheshwaris, Oswals, Rauniyar, the Arya Vaishyas, the Vaishya Vanis of Konkan and Goa, and the Modh of the west.
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