Third highest of the four varnas of India.

Traditionally described as commoners, Vaishyas are connected with productive labour, such as trade, agriculture, and pastoralism. According to legend, they sprang from the thighs of Prajapati, after the Brahmans and the Kshatriyas but before the Shudras. Like the two higher classes, they are "twice-born"(see upanayana). They are credited historically with favouring the rise of the reformist religious beliefs of Buddhism and Jainism. In modern times they have become a symbol of middle-class prestige, and many rise to higher classes.

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▪ Hindu social class
also spelled  Vaisya,  Sanskrit  Vaiśya 

      third highest in ritual status of the four varnas, or social classes, of Hindu India, traditionally described as commoners. Legend states that the varnas (or colours) sprang from Prajapati (Prajāpati), a creator god—in order of status, the Brahman (white) from his head, the Kshatriya (red) from his arms, the Vaishya (yellow) from his thighs, and the Sudra (black) from his feet. The yellow colour associated with the Vaishya, according to one theory, links them with the south point of the compass. The Vaishya were commoners, not servile groups. Their role lay in productive labour, in agricultural and pastoral tasks, and in trading. Their way of life demanded study, sacrifice, and the giving of alms. Early scriptures show that Vaishya could and did rise even to the rank of Brahman, as in the case of the two sons of Nabhagarishta, mentioned in the sacred work Harivamsha.

      The Vaishya share with the two higher classes, the priestly Brahman and the authoritative Kshatriya, the distinction of being dvija, or “twice-born,” achieving their spiritual rebirth when they assume the sacred wool thread at the upanayana ceremony. The Vaishya are credited in history with favouring the rise of the reformist religious beliefs of Buddhism and Jainism. In modern times, the Vaishya class has become a symbol of middle-class respectability and prestige; it is a stepping-stone used by people to raise their status in the system through modified behaviour and the adoption of more prestigious caste names. See also varna.

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Universalium. 2010.

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