Vaisya is one of the former Hindu castes,¹ characterized by merchants and businessmen.
Members of the Vaisya caste are traditionally associated with karma-yoga, the yoga of action, although it should be noted that in contemporary India a businessperson does not necessarily attach religious significance to his or her work.
The Vaisya caste was generally ranked as the third of four, along with a 5th unofficial group of “outcastes.”
By way of contrast, the merchant class in medieval Japan under the powerful Tokugawa military rulers (1600-1867) was regarded as the lowest class, not the second-lowest or, depending on how one looks at it, third-lowest.
The whole notion of caste was deplored by Gandhi in the 1930s and criminalized in India during the 1950s. Its power over the minds of people has diminished but some arguably backward families still look to ‘appropriate’ caste marriages.
Old Indian Castes by rank
- Brahman caste (priests, thinkers)
- Kshatriya caste (rajas, warriors, persons of action)
- Vaisna caste (merchants)
- Sudra (menial laborers, servants)
- Unofficial group of Outcastes.