Rajasthan state is located in the northwestern part of India and the name means as the ‘land of the kings.’ It is one of the popular travelers’ destinations that fall under Delhi and Taj Mahal tourist circuit. Medieval oligarchs built spectacular palaces and lavish forts, now metamorphosed into luxury hotels and museums. The contemporary village life, beautiful handicrafts, decorated camels and fine arts are also amazing attractions.
Marwar region is in the central and western regions of Rajasthan and is famous throughout India for its residents who are spread across India – the Marwaris, most successful and wealthiest business community in India. This unique, tiny community dominates the country’s economy and has pan India presence like no other ethnic group and occupy a pre-eminent position in Indian business. For instance, the top 10 Marwari companies have 6 percent capitalization of the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and constitute a quarter of the Forbes Indian billionaires list.
In Sanskrit, the word Marwar refers to Maruwat, the root maru implies desert. Another meaning for the word Marwar in English is “the region of death” to impute the harsh desert climate that characterizes Rajasthan state. Marwaris are named after Marwar region. Some historians attribute to these harsh desert conditions influencing Marwari migration and prosperity. D. K. Taknet himself a Marwari and who has written on their heritage has mentioned that they are genetically disposed to accumulate wealth despite the desert conditions – to make money out of nothing. Though anthropologists and historians might disagree with the theory of genetic or environmental causal factors, the meme exists in the folklore to illuminate exotic Orient.
Thomas Timberg, a Harvard graduate has studied extensively the Marwaris; in fact, his doctoral dissertation was on this community. According to Timberg, Marwaris ability to adapt to varied circumstances and places, and being flexible are traits that contribute to their extraordinary success. He said at a recent panel discussion “The answer also probably lies in the fact the commercial communities in general, and Marwaris in particular, have successfully implemented attitudes, skills and support systems.” He is of the view that some of the Indian business communities do inculcate ‘Protestant ethic’ of hard work, thrift and rationality.
Even before the word ‘network’ entered the business lexicon, the overwhelming Marwari community’s success is attributed to networking. There is a difference between network-affiliation and network-achievement. The former is defined as a need to associate with a group and have the alacrity to help others in that group. The latter refers to entrepreneurs starting new enterprises. The Marwaris who have migrated to the east and central parts of India and made fortunes had benefited from excellent support network.
Marwaris are orthodox and are mild-mannered, soft-spoken and peaceful. They prefer to live in a joint family; vegetarians who enjoy an assortment of home-cooked dishes; they take vegetarianism seriously. To a certain extent they resemble the Mediterranean and European Jewish trading communities.
Pan India Presence
Despite having poor, hot desert conditions, they are industrious who refused to give in to poverty. Rather, they formed cooperative groups of skilful traders who left their wives and children in their native villages and ventured out to distant places to seek fortune. Fortune does favor the brave; they succeeded and made fortunes.
From an early age, children learn business because they are surrounded by business persons and watch closely their kin and friends, and imbibe survival skills by making and selling products. The elders are supportive to an individual in starting an enterprise. It is said the Marwaris started making earthen or mud pots and bartered these with cereals or money outside of Marwar, Rajasthan, and from then on diversified and never looked back. For hundreds of years the same attitude pervades in them to take risk and strike it on own. Establishing a business earns more respect than an university degree and entrepreneurship is strongly encouraged. Capital is readily available to an honest youth
Until the 12th century, the community depended on agriculture and cattle breeding. The Muslim occupation during this period forced them to shift to trade. From the time of Mughal empire they have emigrated to other Indian regions. The Mughal period was between 16-19th centuries and during the reign of Akbar (1542-1605) they have been employed in eastern Bengal state by Emperor Akbar to oversee food, ammunition and arms supplies. The community has a large presence in Calcutta, the capital of Bengal and expanded their businesses. Since then the Marwari entrepreneurs have been moving out of their home state Rajasthan to various parts of India
By 18th century the British firmly established their presence in Bengal: first, as a company and later as an empire. Calcutta was the major trading post for the British and Marwaris with their business skills made fortunes by becoming agents and brokers to the British. Some of the leading industrial houses founders started small here in Calcutta with major English firms. Most of the young Marwaris stayed community-run basas, or hostels. By late 19th century Marwaris dominated cotton and jute trade. They made huge profits speculating in jute, cotton and hessian during the World War I, which laid the platform for them to enter the many industrial careers.
To sell finished British goods in India, the foreign companies needed agents and offered good brokerage. Marwaris are quick to chase opportunities and take risks-seized the colonial trade, and moved where the action is – into ports as brokers and accumulated fabulous wealth. As the British traders evinced an interest in tea, jute, silver, gold and opium, the migrant traders quickly developed strong insights in these commodities and became indispensible for foreign companies, in turn, making enormous profits for themselves.
Joint Family Values
Each member of the Marwari community supportive of others and the community bonds are very strong. For instance, a businessperson might take an initiative to look after the well-being of unemployed or a needy person in his native village. As such, as a close-knit community they tend to preserve rituals and traditional values in distant lands. They have less ego issues and trained to do business and not to behave like royals.
For Marwari men and women’s lives revolve around the family. The harsh desert climate and absence of opportunities compelled enterprising young men to journey to other parts of the country. When they left, there was solid support of their fathers, uncles, and brothers back at home. Even if one failed, the security of joint family would cushion compared if only an individual was involved on stand-alone basis. Community as a support system is more visible among Marwaris and the strong social support that propels them towards entrepreneurship.
While the joint family infrastructure laid good foundations for taking risks, the community as whole quickly adapted to new cities and villages. In general, a Marwari shop or enterprise will accommodate young men by their established friends and relatives in the region before they are ready to strike on their own. It is the strong family ties that enable these businesses that binds and gives the freedom to take risks. For Marwaris family in ‘family-based business’ is important and sacrosanct. This is evident by the reverence the elders receive. It is not uncommon for a powerful CEO or industrialist to touch an elder relative’s feet as a sign of respect, even in the midst of a board meeting.
When a Marwari travelled on business, his wife and children were cared for in a joint family at home. Wherever he went in search of trade, he found shelter and good Marwari food in a basa, a sort of collective hostel run on a co-operative basis or as philanthropy by local Marwari merchants. Most of them do business and lend money within themselves. In case a Marwari needed money, he takes loan from another Marwari trader on the premise that it is payable on demand, even at midnight. The latter too reciprocate with a loan if requested. They tally and settle the interest at the end of the year. Community banks insure the goods in transit and traders collect dues on goods arrival. Nephews and son intern with other traders, where they earn wages through profit sharing, learn valuable business skills, and accrue capital to start their own enterprises after gaining necessary experience. Another feature that is attributed to their success of their enterprises and keeping their social identity is being able to blend well with the host culture they migrate to.
According to David McCelland, a social theorist observed that, the conservative, traditional communities have pivoted the production of industrial entrepreneurs. The core argument for this belief is that values and institutions that have roots in the joint family systems encouraged rather being barriers to fulfill the aspirations of the family members, even those with limited vision. The strong foundations of traditional values ingrained in the Marwari joint family system helped them become successful entrepreneurs.
Marwaris prefer to marry within their community as they are conservative and being a business community there are several factors that deter inter-caste marriages. However, in recent years the community is open to inter-caste marriages and choosing partners from outside the community. Some of the factors that are against inter-caste marriages are that the Marwaris follow a number of rituals which differ from others and there are compatibility issues as their culture is very different from other groups and castes. Due to their entrepreneurial spirit and being wealthy, the lack of equation can bring in difficulties. Thus, they might mingle with other groups but when at marriage they look within the community.
Certainly a unique community that over generations due favorable political and social conditions have prospered – seems by birth they have magic touch to make wealth!
About the Author
This article was written by Francis Eddu. contact.