The texts and legends of the Agrawal community trace the origin of Agrawals to the legendary Kshatriya king Agrasena of the Lunar Dynasty who adopted Vanika dharma for the benefit of his people. Literally, Agrawal means "children of Agrasena" "people of Agroha", a city in ancient Kuru Panchala, near Hisar in Haryana region said to be founded by Agrasena.
The majority of Agrawals practice Hinduism while 14% of them practice Jainism.
According to one version, Agrasena was a Yaduvanshi Kshatriya king, who was the elder bother of Shurasena (the grandfather of Krishna). Due to repeated attacks from Jarasandha of Magadha, the two brothers had to migrate away from Mathura, the capital of the Surasena Kingdom. While Shurasena migrated to Dwarka, Agrasena stayed at Agroha or Agreya (near modern Hisar in Haryana).
According to another legend, Maharaja Agrasena was a Suryavanshi Kshatriya leader, born during the last stages of Dwapar Yuga. This version has been mentioned by the noted Indian Hindi author Bharatendu Harishchandra (himself an Agrawal) in his 1871 book Agarwalon ki Utpatti ("The origin of Agrawals"), which is based on an account given in the Mahalaksmi Vrat Katha manuscript. This version states that Agrasen was the eldest son of the King Ballabh of Pratapnagar.
Agrasena fathered 18 children, from whom the Agrawal gotras came into being. Maharaja Agrasena was a peaceful king and did not like violence, once while performing a yagna, the Rajguru asked Maharaja Agrasena to sacrifice a goat in order for the ceremony to be successfully completed. Agrasena did not wish to kill the innocent animal and refused to the killing of the animal. The Rajguru advised that since he was a Kshatriya king, it was his duty to perform the ritual and if he does not wish to proceed, he should give up Kshatriya caste and take up Vaishya caste (Known as Baniya in the modern days) since it was not possible to go up the ladder in the Hindu Caste system to become a Bhramin. According to another legend, the Hindu goddess Mahalakshmi urged Agrasena to give up the Kshatriya tradition, and take up the Vaishya tradition of business, for the sake of the prosperity of his people. She asked him to establish a new kingdom, and promised that she would bless his descendants with prosperity and wealth. Agrasena travelled all over India with his queen to select a place for a new kingdom, and finally established his kingdom at Agroha. According to Vachanakosha of Bulakhichand (1680 CE), Agar Rishi married a naga-kanya (nagavanshi girl) and had 18 children. A similar account is given in 1885 Bombay Presidency Gazetteer, Rishi Agrasen married 17 naga-kanyas.
Agrasena divided his kingdom amongst his 18 children, resulting in eighteen Agrawal gotras. Often, the number of gotras is stated to be seventeen and a half. According to one legend, Agrasena proceeded to conduct 18 mahayajnas ("Great yajnas"). When he was in the process of performing his eighteenth yajna, he was filled with compassion for the animal to be sacrificed. He put a stop to his eighteenth yajna announcing that no sacrifices will be made in his kingdom in the name of yajnas. Thus, the eighteenth yajna was not completed and Agrasena had only performed seventeen and a half yajnas. The sage Garga blessed him with seventeen and a half gotras.
In the later part of his life, King Agrasena approved the succession of his eldest son Vibhu to the throne and took Vanaprastha ashram. According to legend, Agroha was a prosperous city and a hundred thousand traders lived in the city during its heyday. An insolvent community man as well as an immigrant wishing to settle in the city would be given a rupee and a brick by each inhabitant of the city. Thus, he would have a hundred thousand bricks to build a house for himself, and a hundred thousand rupees to start a new business. Gradually, the city of Agroha declined and was finally destroyed in a huge fire. The residents of Agroha i.e. the Agrawals moved out of Agroha and spread in other parts of India.
Agroye (Agra or Agr)wrongly associated with Agroha.
In his Padma Purana of VS 1711, Muni Sabhachandra writes "अग्रोहे निकट प्रभु ठाढे जोग, करैं वन्दना सब ही लोग|| अग्रवाल श्रावक प्रतिबोध, त्रेपन क्रिया बताई सोध||", (When Lohacharya was near Agroha, he taught the 53 actions to the Agrawal shravakas).
Migration to Delhi
The Agrawal merchant Nattal Sahu, and the Agrawal poet Vibudh Shridhar lived during the reign of Tomara King Anangapal of Yoginipur (now Mehrauli, near Delhi). Vibudh Shridhar wrote Pasanahacariu in 1132 AD, which includes a historical account of Yoginipur (early Delhi near Mehrauli) then.
In 1354, Firuz Shah Tughluq had started the construction of a new city near Agroha, called Hisar-e-Feroza ("the fort of Firuz"). Most of the raw material for building the town was brought from Agroha. The town later came to be called Hisar. Hisar became a major center of the Agrawal community. Some Agrawals are also said to have moved to the Kotla Firoz Shah fort in Delhi, built by Firuz Shah Tughlaq.
In the early 15th century, Agrawals flourished as a trader community, under the Tomaras of Gwalior. According to several Sanskrit inscription at the Gwalior Fort in Gwalior District, several traders (Sanghavi Kamala Simha, Khela Brahmachari, Sandhadhip Namadas etc.) belonging to Agrotavansha (Agrawal clan) supported the sculptures and carving of idols at the place.
Historian K.C. Jain comments:
“ Golden Age of the Jain Digambar Temple in Gwalior under the Tomara rulers inspired by the Kashtha Bhattarakas and their Jaina Agrawal disciples who dominated the Court of father and son viz. Dungar Singh (1425-59)and Kirti Singh (1459-80) with the Poet-Laureate Raighu as their mouthpiece and spokesman, a centenarian author of as many as thirty books, big and small of which two dozen are reported to be extant today. Verify the advent of the Hisar-Firuza-based Jain Agrawals who functioned as the ministers and treasurers of the ruling family had turned the Rajput State of Gwalior into a Digambara Jain Centre par excellence representing the culture of the Agrawal multi-millionner shravakas as sponsored by them. ”
In 15th century, many Agrawals migrated to Amber kingdom (now Jaipur). In VS 1535, Agrawal Nenasi conducted a pratishtha ceremony at Sanganer. A copy of Amarsen Chariu copied in VS 1577 at Sonipat was found at Amber, suggesting that Agrawals took sacred texts with them during this migration.
Migration to Eastern India
Later, during the Mughal rule, and during the British East India Company administration, some Agrawals migrated to Bihar and Calcutta, who became the major component of the Marwaris. The family of Babu Shankarlal became zamindars at Arrah, which repaired temples at Masarh and built a new Jain temple in 1819 CE.
Agrawals under the Mughals
The Mughals were relatively liberal, and some Agrawals rose to prominent positions in this period. Sahu Todar was a supervisor of the royal mint at Agra, who had rebuilt the 514 Jain stupas at Mathura in 1573, during the rule of Akbar.
Sah Ranveer Singh was a royal treasurer during the rule of Akbar. He was awarded a jagir in western UP, where he established the town Saharanpur. His father as well as son and grandson had built several Jain temples, including the one at Kucha Sukhanand in Delhi.
In Delhi, in the walled city, many Agrawals were allocated lands on the north side of Chandni Chowk. in 1656, the Agrawals built a temple in a tent in the Urdu Bazar, now known as Lal Mandir. Raja Harsukh Rai built the first temple with a shikhar (Naya Mandir) in Dharampura in 1807.
Lala Ratan Chand became the diwan of Mughal emperor Farrukhsiyar (1713–1719) in 1712, and was given the title of Raja. He was associated with the Saiyid Brothers, who served as the king makers for several years, and became involved in the court intrigues. He was executed during the battle of Hasanpur by the order of the new emperor Muhammad Shah (1719–1748) in 1719. He became the founder of the Rajvanshi Agrawals.
Ramji Das Gurwala was a major banker who had both loaned and donated funds to Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar during the 1857 rebellion. He was later executed by the British. His family later founded Delhi Cloth Mills.
Another relocated and influential person was Lal Chand Modi, the Modi (in-charge of Treasury) of Muhammad Amir khan (the Amir of Tonk). His descendants later settled in Ajmer.
Agrawal Society in modern India
The Agarwals population was 2,718,390, according to the 1911 census of India. In 1936, Chowdhary Chhotu Ram, a minister in the Punjab Government made a law which cancelled all the debts of the villagers. Many Agrawal traders were ruined and migrated to Delhi in search of a living. They settled in colonies like Kamla Nagar, Shakti Nagar and Model Basti. Their trade took place around the walled city areas of Chandni Chowk, Khari Baoli, Dariba Kalan, Nai Sarak, Naya Bazaar, Sadar Bazaar and Chowri Bazaar.
In early 1970s an organization ' All India Agrawal Sammelan ' was established by Rameshwar Das Gupta and Shrikrishan Modi. In 1976, Banarsi Das Gupta (then Chief Minister of Haryana) becomes president of this organization and he worked hard for to unite the whole Agrawal community under one umbrella and bring the revolution in social circle by organizing - Parichay Sammelan and Samuhik Vivah to fight the evil of Dowry and wasteful expenditure in weddings. He remain president of this organization for over 20 years. He also took up the development of Agroha - the origin place of Agrawals for which he established 'Agroha Vikas Trust'. He also established Agroha Medical College in Agroha for the development of the area. Agroha Development Board was also established under his leadership. Banarsi Das Gupta also motivated all Agrawals to celebrate the Maharaja Agrasen Jayanti on the fourth day of Ashwin month of Hindu calendar (mostly falls in September of October). After that every year Agarwals in whole world celebrate Maharaja Agrasen Jayanti with lot of enthusiasm and fanfare.
During modern times, many Agrawals were involved in the Indian Independence struggle like Lala Lajpat Rai and Banarsi Das Gupta. They also established major business houses like Dalmia - Sahu Jain, Birla, Poddar, Podar, Bajaj, Singhania, Goenkas of RPG Group, Lala Shri Ram of Delhi Cloth Mills etc. Bharatendu Harishchandra, a major literary figure, was also an Agrawal. The father of modern Lahore, Sir Ganga Ram was also an Agrawal.
Many of India's current notable businesspeople belong to the Agrawal community. These include Lakshmi Mittal of Arcelor Mittal steel, Subhash Chandra Goel of Zee TV, Sunil Mittal of Bharti Telecom, Naresh Goyal of Jet Airways, Naveen Jindal of Jindal Group, Sajjan Jindal of JSW Steel, Anil Agarwal of Vedanta Resources and Indu Jain of The Times Group.
The surname Agrawal was derived by taking 'Agra' from Agrasena and 'wal' ('wal'originally being 'bal' was taken from the word Baalak meaning child). The word Agrawal effectively means "child of Agrasena". Many Agrawals have adopted their gotra name as their surname. Jain Agrawal predominantly use Jain as their surname, however some of them use gotras as their surnames. Gupta is a common surname adopted by some Agrawal's, and several partial Agrawal families like Gadia, Saini, Vishnoi and Varshney (majorly found in western Uttar Pradesh and are the progenies and followers of Sri Akrur Ji Maharaj). Varshney (or Barahseni) is a version of a name, first used by Arjuna to address Krishna in the Mahābhārata (Chapter 1, Shloka 41, Swami Sivananda translation). There is some debate over whether Varshneys belong to the Vaishya (merchants and artisans) or Kshatriya (warriors, rulers and politicians) caste.In addition, many others use surnames linked with the place of their origin, for example Jhunjhunwala, Kedia, Gindodiya, Kalothia, Dokania, Lohia, Chamaria, Singhania etc.
A large number of Agrawals are Hindus (Followers of Vaishnavism, Arya Samaj and other faiths), while many Agrawals are followers of Jainism. Jain Agrawals are found in all major Jain sects, i.e. Digambar, Shwetambar Murtipujak and Sthanakwasi.
Jain and Vaishnav Agrawals intermarry.
According to the legend, the Agrawal community developed twenty rules of conduct. Those who followed all the twenty rules were called Bisa Agrawal, those who followed only ten rules were called Dassa Agrawals,those who followed only five were called Punj Agrawals and so on. According to some sources, the dasa Agrawals are said to be the descendants of Agrawals through non-Agrawal wives.
In his book Agarwalon ki Utpatti, Bhartendu Harishchandra categorized Agrawals in four branches according to their places or inhabitation:
The Agrawal community speaks Hindi, Marwari, Punjabi or related dialects. Traditionally, Agrawal households have followed a vegetarian diet and smoking/alcoholism is generally looked down upon in the community.
There have been many notable Hindi authors amongst the Agrawals of the likes of Bhartendu Harishchandra, Babu Gulabrai and Kaka Hathrasi (whose real name was Prabhulal Garg). Some of the popular Hindi dailies and media houses are run by Agrawals. These include The Times of India, The Indian Express, the Amar Ujala and the Dainik Bhaskar.
The 1911 Census of India by the British East India Company reported a total of 1,019,698 Agarwals, making them one of the largest ethnic groups in India.
II. Some Bisa Agarwals who belong to Haridwar also like to write Mehta as their Surname.
III. The issue of the 'half gotra' is debated, but according to ancient texts gotras carry the names of sages who performed yajnas. Because 17 and a half yajnas were performed by the sages hence we only have 17 and a half gotras. The eldest son named Vibhu was identified by Garg gotra. After performing 17 yajnas the last one remained incomplete. During the 18th yajna King Agrasen put a stop to horse sacrifice. When Maharaja Agrasen saw the horse he gave up the ritual of sacrifice. The last gotra was only half a gotra because the last Yajna was not completed.