Vaishya is one of the four varnas of the Hindu social order in India. Vaishyas are classed third in the order of caste hierarchy below the Kshatriyas who are classed second and who in turn are classed below the Brahmins who are classed highest above all the four castes.
The occupation of Vaishyas comprise mainly agriculture, taking care of cattle, trade and other business pursuits. The Shudras are placed below Vaishyas and comprise of agriculturists, laboring and artisan classes whose main prescribed duty is to serve the upper three castes.
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 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 historian Ram Sharan Sharma, the Gupta Empire was a Vaishya dynasty that "may have appeared as a reaction against oppressive rulers".
Vaishyas are usually vegetarian due to the concept of ahimsa.
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