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(Sanskrit), the members of one of the four castes in ancient India. In the period before the emergence of class society, the Vaisyas enjoyed full legal rights along with the Kshatriya and Brahman castes. In the class society of ancient India, the Vaisyas included free members of a community who enjoyed full legal rights: farmers, livestock raisers, and certain artisans and traders in cities and villages. Beginning in the first centuries of the Common Era, as feudal relations developed and communal dwellers became dependent peasants, farmers (and also the majority of artisans) began to be regarded as Sudras (a caste that did not enjoy full legal rights), but the term “Vaisya” continued to be applied mainly to traders.
G. F. IL’IN