Table of Contents ⇨
|Languages||Kannada, Tamil, Telugu|
|Populated states||Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu|
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. 
Beginning in the 11th century, references are found in inscriptions throughout the Kannada and Tamil areas to a trading network, which is sometimes referred to as a guild, called the Five Hundred Lords of Ayyavolu. From the 13th century, inscriptions referring to "Vira Balanjyas" (warrior merchants) started appearing in the Andhra country. The Vira Balanjyas, whose origins are often claimed to lie in the Ayyavolu, represented long-distance trading networks that employed fighters to protect their warehouses and goods in transit. The terms balanjya-setti and balija were also used for these traders, and in later times naidu and chetti.  These traders formed collectives called pekkandru and differentiated themselves from other collectives called nagaram, which probably represented Komati merchants. The pekkandru collectives also included members of other communities with status titles reddi, boya and nayaka.  They spread all over South India, Sri Lanka, and also some countries in the Southeast Asia. 
Rao et al. note that the Balijas included a configuration of castes representing a combination of the martial and the mercantile. They were mobilised politically by the Vijayanagara emperor Krishnadevaraya. Later, in the 15th and 16th centuries, they colonised the Tamil country and established Nayaka chieftaincies. At this time, Balija was often an umbrella term that, in addition to the Balija proper, included the Boyas, Gollas, Gavaras, and other castes.  Cynthia Talbot believes that in Andhra the transformation of occupational descriptors into caste-based descriptors did not occur until at least the 17th century. 
The classification of people as Balija was one of many challenges for the census enumerators of the British Raj era, whose desire was to reduce a complex social system to one of administrative simplicity using theories of evolutionary anthropology. [a] Early Raj census attempts in Madras Presidency recorded a wide variety of people claiming to be members of Balija subcastes but who appeared to share little in common and thus defied the administrative desire for what it considered to be a rational and convenient taxonomy. Those who claimed to be Chetty had an obvious connection through their engagement in trade and those who called themselves Kavarai were simply using the Tamil word for Balija but, for example, the Linga based their claim to Balija status on a sectarian identification, the Gazula were bangle-makers by occupation, the Telaga had Telugu origins and the Rajamahendram also appeared to be a geographic claim based on their origins in the town of Rajahmundry. Subsequent attempts to rationalise the enumeration merely created other anomalies and caused upset. 
There are numerous branches, sub-divisions or social groups which make up the larger Balija social group.
- Balija Chettis (or Chetti 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. 
- According to Kanakalatha Mukund, the Balija merchants of Tamil Nadu are called Kavarai.  That is the Tamilised rendition of Gavara.[ citation needed]
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 Vijayanagara 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. [ full citation needed]
Velcheru Narayana Rao and Sanjay Subrahmanyam say that the emergence of left-hand caste Balijas as trader-warrior-kings was evidence[ clarification needed] 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.  
- Devadatta Ramkrishna Bhandarkar; Archaeological Survey of India (1983). Epigraphia Indica. 18. p. 335:.
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
- Talbot, Cynthia (2001). Pre-colonial India in Practice: Society, Region, and Identity in Medieval Andhra. Oxford University Press. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-19803-123-9.
- Talbot, Cynthia (2001). Pre-colonial India in Practice: Society, Region, and Identity in Medieval Andhra. Oxford University Press. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-19803-123-9.
- Sarma, M Somasekhara; Sōmaśēkharaśarma, Mallampalli (1948), History of the Reddi Kingdoms (circa. 1325 A.D. to Circa 1448 A.D.), Andhra University, p. 396
- Rao, Velcheru Narayana;
Shulman, David Dean;
Subrahmanyam, Sanjay (1992). Symbols of substance: court and state in Nāyaka Period Tamilnadu. Oxford University Press. pp. 10, 74.
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.
- Talbot, Cynthia (2001). Pre-colonial India in Practice: Society, Region, and Identity in Medieval Andhra. Oxford University Press. p. 86. ISBN 978-0-19803-123-9.
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- Vijayanagara, Volume 1, Burton Stein, p.87
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