Food And The Bania Community

May 7, 2014 by

Banias are a community of people who live across India. It is thought the community originated 5,000 years ago when the Vaishya community was divided into 18 clans. The word bania is derived from the Sanskrit ‘vanij’ meaning merchant, and the community are traditionally traders in grain, groceries and spices,but also work as shopkeepers and money lenders. Banias are renowned for their shrewd business-minds.

Chutney Mary rice pot

There are around 27 million Bania living in India today and they reside in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, West Bengal, Haryana, Bihar, Karnataka, Punjab, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Chandigarh and Assam.Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have the highest Bania populations with 4.5 million and 4.2 million respectively.

Banias are Vaishya (third in the Hindu caste system). It is this caste status which dictates certain rules that they follow surrounding food;Banias will accept food and water from higher castes – Rajputs and Brahmin – but will not offer food or water to these castes in return. Similarly, they will offer food and water to castes that are lower than Vaishya, but will never accept food or water from them in return.

Hindusim is followed by the majority of Bania (88%), but some also follow Jainism (11%). The remaining 1% follow different religions, including Sikhism (mainly in Punjab and Haryana) and the Lingayat cult (predominantly in Maharashtra).

Traditionally, Banias are strict vegetarians, but many younger male Banias do eat meat when away from their community at social events. JainBaniasfollow a vegetarian diet according to their faith, also avoiding milk, eggs, honey and root vegetables. This is due to their belief that all animals and plants have living souls.

They also avoid garlic and onions as these are thought to increase sexual desire. Those following the Lingayat cult have even stricter rules in place when it comes to food –not so much the types of food they eat, butmorethe rituals and customs they follow at meal times and feasts. For example, only certain people are allowed to touch – or even see – a Lingayat’sfood before they eat it.

Bania women have a relatively low status and generally do not work, rather staying in their homes. They are well-known for their cooking ability and hard-working natures. On special occasions, Bania women will make rice dishes and sweets for their families and the rest of the community.Dishes they prepare typically include puris, chanas and halwas.

Historically, Bania cuisine has focused on the purityof the ingredients used. There has also been a strong emphasis on the richness of food, with ghee and khoa being staple ingredients in Bania cooking. This fondness for rich food is countered by digestive aids including asafoetida, ginger and black rock salt.  Hindu Bania, in particular, have long been infatuated with sweets – a guilty pleasure for many of us.

A visit to one of London’s great Indian restaurants should be enough to feed your guilty pleasures. With a range of delicious dishes and plenty of sweets to choose from you can enjoy the food you love to your heart’s desire.

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