..From very ancient times trade and commerce have been carried on in India through
Śrēṇis or guilds. Aparārka explains the technical terms mentioned in this connection in the
Yājñavalkya-smṛiti (II, 192) as follows: − The Śreṇi is a group of persons of the same caste who
follow the same profession, such as a Śreṇi of washerman: the Naigama is a corporation of persons
of different castes who go abroad for trading purposes; while the Gaṇa is a group of people
who follow the same mode of living. Śilāhāra inscriptions mention several Śrēshṭhins who were
engaged in trade and commerce, though there is no explicit mention of any Srēṇi of them.
Two terms which occur in the inscriptions of the Northern Silāhāras are to be noted
in this connection, viz. Haṁyamana and Nagara. Of these, the former denoted a corporation of
artisans such as the goldsmiths, blacksmiths, coppersmiths, carpenters and stone-masons, while
the latter signified a merchant guild. Besides these, there was a famous Interprovincial Cor-
poration of Vīra-Baṇañjas of Ayyāvoḷe (Aihoḷe), also called Ahichchhatra. They state with
pride that they were descended from Vāsudēva, Khaṇḍali and Mūlabhadra and were residents of thirty-two coast-towns, eighteen paṭṭaṇas and sixty-four ghaṭikā-sthānas. They had
five hundred svāmīs or leaders, but the number seems to be conventional. They had a distinctive
banner of their own with the device of hill. As indicated by their name Vīra-Baṇañja. they
had military spirit, and boasted of victories won by their own arms. They had a catholic outlook and made donations to Hindu, Buddhist as well as Jaina temples. They travelled by
both land and sea routes and visited distant countries for trading purposes.
From two inscriptions of the Kolhāpur Śilāhāras we get considerable information about
the meetings of these Vīra-Baṇañjas and merchants from different countries. At a meeting
held at Kolhāpur in A.D. 1136, there were present the Vīra-Baṇañjas and their constituents,
the gavares the gātrigas and others, the Seṭṭis of Kolhāpur and Mirinje (Miraj), the Rājaśrēshṭhin (the Royal Merchant), an officer of the king’s household, as well as the representatives of the
towns of Kuṇḍi (Kuṇḍalapur), Torambage (Turambe), Baleyavaṭṭaṅa (Khārepāṭaṇ) and
Kavaḍegolla etc. They resolved to donate certain dues in cash or kind on articles sold by
weight or measure as well as on the shops of goldsmiths and cloth merchants, gardeners and
potters in the aforementioned towns to the Jaina priest of the temple of Rūpanārāyaṇa in
Kolhāpur. In another meeting held at Seḍambāḷa (modern Sheḍbāḷ) in A.D. 1144, the same
Corporation, together with the then royal merchant, the head merchant (at Mirinje) and
the representatives of Bāge (Rāybāg), Dōṇikōḍu, Toḷakale, Kūṇḍili, and the neighbouring
villages of Piriyuguvāra, Siriguppa and Juguḷakoppa as well as the merchant of Seḍambāḷa
(modern Sheḍbāḷ) resolved to donate certain dues on several articles such as areca nuts, betel
leaves, grains, clarified butter, oil etc. sold in the markets to the god Mādhavēśvara. The
people of the place and artisans such as goldsmiths, potters, leather-workers, basket-makers
and cobblers also gave some articles manufactured by them for the festival in Chaitra and
the Dīpāvalī in Kārttika in honour of the same god Mādhavēśvara in Seḍambāḷa.
It is noteworthy that these levies on the articles sold in the market as well as in the shops
or working places of manufactures such as potters, goldsmiths, leather-workers, basket-makers
;See एकजातिनिविष्टानां समानवृत्त्त्यपजीविनां समूह: श्रेनीर्यथा रजकश्रेणिरिति । सहा देषान्तरवाणिज्यार्थ ये नानाजातीया
आभिच्छन्ति ते नैगमा :, अवैदिका: प्रव्रज्यास्थिता: पाषण्डिनो ब्राह्मणेभ्योऽन्ये समानजिविका इह गणा : ।
Ep. Ind., Vol. XXXV, p. 292.
No. 49, lines 11-20, and No. 52, lines 1-12.
No. 49, lines 25-32.
No. 52, lines 22-38.