The history of the Agarwal Community

April Wilcox

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The Agarwal community is a part of the broader community of Baniyas and is among the most influential and exciting castes of the Indian hierarchical society.

The Agarwal community is distributed into eighteen or, as asserted by some, seventeen and a half gotras. These include Goel, Garg, Bansal, Jindal, Mittal, Kansal, Singhal, and other surnames that most Indians are familiar with and this all collectively is known as Baniya Matrimony

In K.K. Birla’s autobiography, ‘Brushes With History’, Birla writes that, amongst all the business-oriented families of North India, there are three main groups, which are the Agarwals, the Oswals (who are mostly followers of Jainism) and the Maheshwari’s. The Agarwals and Oswals are huge clans, while the Maheshwari’s are a much smaller, but comparatively well-knit clan.

One can learn a lot about the Agarwal community from Bhartendu Harishchandra’s Agarwalon Ki Utpatti (The Origin Of Agarwals). The Agarwals are spread all over India and are the only community to appear in the volumes on at least five different states of India.

The volume on Uttar Pradesh states that the Agarwal community are the highest-ranked, and one of the most essential sub-divisions of Banias. The Agarwal branch, which migrated to Rajasthan, is now known as Marwaris. The other offices moved eastwards and spread to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and other states. According to this volume, the preferred script of the Agarwal community is Perso-Arabic. 

The book also says that their clan name is most likely derived from the aromatic, sweet-smelling wood of the Agar (agallochum, which is used to make incense sticks), a commodity the Agarwal community usually dealt in. An alternate theory is that the name Agarwal might have been derived from Agroha, an ancient town situated in the Hisar district of Haryana. The community claims to have come from the eighteen sons of an old Scythian king called Agra Sen, which could also be a reason for their name being Agarwal.

But, Volume 16, Part 1 of The Anthropological Survey of India, which was on Bihar, says that the Agarwals are placed lower than the Brahmans, Kayasthas, and the Vaishyas. It also adds that the bulk of the Agarwals belonged to the Vaishnava sect of Hinduism, although a large number of the Agarwal community follows the tenets of the Digambar sect of Jainism. The book ends with the statement that the Agarwals are one of the most respectable and enterprising merchants and business communities of the country.

The Volume on Rajasthan, Volume 38, Part 1, says that the Jain Agarwals were converted to Hinduism under the orders of a man named Lohacharya and that Agarwals “use Devanagari script for writing.” This volume claims that the majority of Agarwal’s practice Jainism, which is probably true only for Rajasthan’s Agarwal community.

Volume 23, which is on the state of Haryana, combines the Bania caste and the Agarwal community and says that the Banias are also called as Agarwals and Guptas. It spelled the name of the king as Ugar Sain, and also said that he had seventeen sons. This volume also means that a few Agarwals also follow Sikhism, which is something that is very unlikely to be true.

In the book referred to above, K.K. Birla also writes that the Maheshwari’s were descended from the Kshatriyas, who had once decided to turn from Kshatriya to Vaishya. These alleged claims of martial ancestry is a prevalent story that runs through various mercantile communities, including the Kshatriyas of Punjab and the Lohanas of Gujarat and Sindh. This rumor stems from the fact that Baniya Matrimony conducts their business in a part of the world, i.e., North India, where family honor is valued more and placed much above pragmatism. Hence, they were forced to create a bogus Kshatriya ancestry for respect in society, in the same way as the great warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj did in Maharashtra.

The Economic Times reported that, in 2012 alone, for every 100 individuals in funding for e-commerce companies, 40 individuals went to firms founded and run by Agarwal. The Agarwal community is the backbone of the Indian economy and is a fantastic asset to our country.

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