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|Religions||Hinduism (India), Jainism (India), Buddhism (Sri Lanka)|
|Languages||Telugu, Tamil, Kannada|
|Populated States||Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra|
Variations of the name in use in the medieval era were Balanja, Bananja, Bananju, and Banijiga, with probable cognates Balijiga, Valanjiyar, Balanji, Bananji and derivatives such as Baliga, all of which are said to be derived from the Sanskrit term Vanik or Vanij, for trader.
There are numerous branches, sub-divisions or social groups which make up the larger Balija social group.
- The Kondeti Balija claim to have migrated from the princely state of Kondaveedu while the Gopathi Balija, who mainly inhabit Chittoor and Ananthapur, claimed to have divided from the Perike Balija or Gonegunta Balija over cattle.
- Balija Chettis (or Chetty Balija): Mentioned in several Vijayanagar accounts as wealthy merchants who controlled powerful trading guilds. To secure their loyalty, the Vijayanagar kings made them Desais or "superintendents of all castes in the country." They were classified as right-hand castes. David Rudner claims that the Balija Chettis became a separate caste from the Balija Nayak warriors as recent as the 19th century; and accordingly they have closer kinship ties to the Nayak warriors than to Chetti merchants. However, Veera Balingyas or Vira Banajigas were mentioned in the inscriptions of the Chalukyas of Badami and the Kakatiya dynasty as powerful and wealthy merchants who were known as the Five Hundred Lords of Ayyavolu.
- Gajula Balija/Kavara Balija/Sugavansi (pure) Balija: Mythic records say that Shiva's wife Parvati did a severe penance in order to look beautiful for Shiva. Himavanta (father of Parvati) sacrificed a bull to Brahma and from the fire emerged a person who brought forth combs, bangles, perfumes, sandals, powder, beads, and colored palf-leaf rolls for the ear for Parvati. Titles found amongst them are Nayudu, Nayakkan, Chetti, Setti and Nayak. Kavarai or Gavarai is said to be a corrupt form of Kauravar or Gauravar; as they claim to be the Kurus or Kuru descendents of Mahabharata.
- Rajamahendravaram Balija or RajaMahendram Balija: A numerically strong group across Andhra Pradesh, they are said to have originally belonged to Rajahmundry where their ancestors were employed in the army.
- Kambalatars/Thottiyans: The Gollavar, Sillavar and Tokkalavar were the subdivisions of the Raja Kambalattars and functioned as strictly endogamous units. TK Venkatasubramanian states
The Kambalattar (Kambalaththu Nayakar) are practically extinct. Remnants of their traditional agnates or cognates in the Telugu country are not to be traced. The polegars of Ettayapuram and Panchalamkurichi belong to this community. Their ancestry is traced to a community of hunters. Being dwellers of quasi-agricultural surroundings they were experts in reclaiming waste lands.
Some Balijas use surnames such as Naidu or Nayudu, and Naicker, which share a common root. Nayaka as a term was first used during the Vishnukundina dynasty that ruled from the Krishna and Godavari deltas during the 3rd century AD. During the Kakatiya dynasty, the Nayaka title was bestowed to warriors who had received land and the title as a part of the Nayankarapuvaram system for services rendered to the court. The Nayaka was noted to be an officer in the Kakatiya court; there being a correlation between holding the Nayankara, the possession of the administrative title Angaraksha and the status title Nayaka.
A more widespread usage of the Nayaka title amongst the Balijas appears to have happened during the Vijayanagar empire where the Balija merchant-warriors rose to political and cultural power and claimed Nayaka positions.
The Vijayanagara empire was based on an expanding, cash-oriented economy enhanced by Balija tax-farming. Some Balija families were appointed to supervise provinces as Nayaks (governors, commanders) by the Vijayanagara kings, some of which are:
- Madurai Nayaks
- Tanjavur Nayaks
- Gingee Nayaks / Senji / Chenchi Nayakas, Thundeera
- Chandragiri:Kasturi Nayadu and Peda Koneti Nayudu of the Vasarasi family belonged to the Balija caste.
Velcheru Narayana Rao and Sanjay Subrahmanyam say that the emergence of left-hand caste Balijas as trader-warrior-kings was evidence in the Nayak period as a consequence of conditions of new wealth, produced by collapsing two varnas, Kshatriya and Vaishya, into one. In the brahmanical conceptualisation of castes, Balijas were accorded the Shudra position. The fourfold Brahmanical varna concept has not been acceptable to Non-Brahmin social groups and some of them challenged the authority of Brahmins who described them as shudras.
While seeking a Kshatriya varna position in the Census of 1901, a reference was made[by whom?] to the Srimad Bhagavatham, Vishnu Puranam and Brahmanda Puranam to seek classification as Somavanshi Kshatriyas.
- Devadatta Ramkrishna Bhandarkar; Archaeological Survey of India (1983). Epigraphia Indica. 18. p. 335:. ISSN 0013-9572. LCCN sa66006469.
As regards the derivation of this word, the late Mr Venkayya says:- In Kanarese banajiga is still used to denote a class of merchants. In Telugu the word balija or balijiga has the same meaning. It is therefore probable that the words valañjiyam, valanjiyar, balañji, banañji, banajiga and balija are cognate, and derived from the Sanskrit vanij
- Nanjundappa KS (Dec 1982). "Industries and Commerce in Karnataka during the Vijayanagara period (1336 To 1565 A.D.)" (PDF). Indian ETD Collection, Vidyanidhi Digital Library, University of Mysore. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 April 2012. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
- Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (1999). Footprints of enterprise: Indian business through the ages. Oxford University Press. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-19-564774-7.
- Velcheru Narayana Rao; David Dean Shulman; Sanjay Subrahmanyam (1992). Symbols of substance: court and state in Nāyaka Period Tamilnadu. Oxford University Press. p. 74. ISBN 0-19-563021-1.
These left-Sudra groups – often referred to by the cover-title Balija, but also including Boyas, left-hand Gollas, Gavaras, and others – were first mobilised by Krishnadevaraya in the Vijayanagara heyday ... These Balija fighters are not afraid of kings: some stories speak of their killing kings who interfered with their affairs.
- Kumar Suresh Singh (1998). People of India: Volume 4, p.219-223
- Vijayanagara, Volume 1, Burton Stein, p.87
- Brimnes, Niels (1999). Constructing the Colonial Encounter: Right and Left Hand Castes in Early Colonial South India. Routledge. p. 3. ISBN 9780700711062.
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- Madras: the growth of a colonial city in India, 1780–1840, page 224
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- Archaeological Survey of Mysore, Annual Reports: 1910–1911
- Government of Madras Staff, Gazetteer of the Nellore District: brought up to 1938, page 105.
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- Census of India, 1961, Volume 9, Part 6, Issue 29, p.19-22
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