Traditionally the historians have traced the history of ruling dynasties and royal houses. History of the communities that form the ordinary people has attracted relatively less attention.
There are numerous merchant communities in North-western India. Several lists of 84 jnatis (nyats) have been compiled in the past few centuries. As I will discuss later, during late 17th century to early 19th century, several vernacular books were written that attempted to construct histories of these communities based on oral traditions. In the 20th century, a large number of inscriptions and manuscripts have come to light that allow us to trace their history in a critical manner.
While Agrawals are just one of the "84" trading communities, it is the largest and the most influential one. Of the forty richest Indians, a quarter are Agrawal, although they are only about 0.4% of India's population. They include major publishers, politicians and intellectuals. Agrawals are a jnati (nyat), an endogamous group. Use of the term "jati" for such groups is relatively new.
There are some unresolved issues in Agrawal history. These include identifying the exact date of "Mahalakshmi Vrata Katha" and the analysis of the legends about Kashtha Sangha and Raja Divakara.
Looking at the dates I have collected, a chronology can be divided into these periods.
1. 3rd C BCE- 12th C CE: From Maurya rule to the defeat of Prithviraj. This is the period during which the township of Agroha flourished and the Agrawals emerged as a community. First known Agrawal merchant prince and the first Agrawal literary figure.
2. 13th C CE to early 15th century: The community struggled to survive and to preserve its heritage during the rules of the sultans. Bhattarakas established Mathas to guide Agrawals and other merchant communities.
3. Early 15th century: Agrawals flourished under the Tomars of Gwalior. To make up for the loss, idols were carved on a massive scale and worshipped publically.
4. Late 15th-early 16th century: Agrawals survived under the sultans.
5. Late 16th - 17th c.: Agrawals flourished during the relatively tolerant Mughal rule, a few rose to prominent positions in the Mughal courts. One was executed for his involvement in the court
6. 18th - mid 19th century: The British rule spreads as the Mughals crumble. The Marwari (majority of them Agrawal) migration to Bihar and Calcutta begins.
7. Mid 19th c- 1947: Agrawals involved in nationalist movements and established industrial houses. Agrawal population crosses a million, (now about 4 million) making then nearly half of all the banias.
Some time later, I will share the detailed preliminary chronology. Comments and corrections are invited.
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