Panis (पणिकाः)

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Pani (Samskrit : पणिकः पणिः) is basically a community of tradesmen often travelling to distant lands for international trade referred to in vedic literature. Ample references in the vedic literature are available about trade for profit in distant lands by travelling over the seas. Merchants in the vedic period prayed and offered oblations to seek divine grace for success in trade. These commercial people believed in a materialistic philosophy of life. Mostly these traders and merchants were the Asuras or Dasyus and for trade moved in all directions including foreign countries. The international trade was confined to a certain section of Dasyu society called the Panis.

Pani ||पणिकः is referred to as a tradesman of extremely miserly nature. They are deplored in many mantras of the Rig veda (RV 6.53.02 to 07). They are the rich and enterprising merchant class solely devoted to the cause of gain either through trade or usury. They have been designated as Bekanatas or usurers. These panis can be classified as the ancestors of Vanika of later times who formed the Vaisya caste in Aryan conception.[1] They have enmity with Indra, Soma, Agni, Brihaspathi and Angiras. They are called इन्द्रशत्रृ || Indra Sathru or enemies of Indra headed by Panis named Vala and Bala.[2]

व्युत्पत्तिः || Etymology

Here the term Pani || पणिः refers to a miserly, tight-fisted person.

  • Maharshi Yaska describes that panis are वर्तकः || varthaka (business people) who sell things for profits.

पणिः वणिक् भवति ।पणिः पणनात् । वणिक् पण्यं नेनेक्ति । (Nirukti 2.17)[3]

Meaning : Panis are vaniks or tradesmen.

  • According to Shabdakalpadruma[4], बणिकः११ पणिकः १२ । इति राजनिर्घण्टः ॥ in the meaning of "वैश्यः" or tradesman.
  • Sayanaacharya explains in his commentary for the Rig mantra as follows[2]

    kincha panayaha vyaya ahisnavaha vanijaha panihi vanika bhvathi thi yaskaha panayaha iti lubdakaha abhi yuddavanaha yugadinam akurvanaha adanashilaha asmat shatravaha (Commentary for Rig. Veda. 1.12.4 – 10)

    Panis were wealthy people who hoarded money with a very miserly business attitude, lacking in intellectual stability and had very little regard for any Vedic ritual.
  • Maharshi Yaska also refers to 'Panis' as business minded people or tradesmen. The Vedas also talk of बेकनाटा || bekanatas who are known to be shrewd money lenders who impose heavy interest for their profits. These ‘bekanatas’ supposedly can see only during the day and when night befalls they argue that those visible things do not exist. Therefore they are considered to be नास्तिक || nasthika or atheists like the Charvaka philosophers. To reaffirm this, Yaska maharshi quotes the following Rig mantra

कदू महीरधृष्टा अस्य तविषीः कदु वृत्रघ्नो अस्तृतम् । इन्द्रो विश्वान्बेकनाटाँ अहर्दृश उत क्रत्वा पणीँरभि ॥१०॥  (Rig. Veda. 8.66.10)[5]

Here the word अहर्द्र्श || ahardrisha has been explained in detail by Sayanaacharya as follows[2]

nanu sarve suryam pasyanthi ko atra tishaya iti ucyathe ihaiva janmani suryam pasyanthina janmanthare lubdaka ayushtarondhe tamasimajansthi athva laukika neva ahani pasyanthi na para laukikanthyath drishtani dishta pradanahini nastikaha

Meaning : A question arises that if everyone can see the Sun why panis are called ahardrihaha. It is said that panis see the Sun only in this lifetime and because of their miserliness and disengagement in Yajna, they attain the land of ‘andha tamasa’ or complete darkness in their future births. Panis view the world with a materialistic or physical light and do not experience the light of adhyatmikity or the higher realms. Thus they remain in the land of ‘andha tamasa’ or in complete darkness for their understanding is that of the atheists who only believe in what they see with their eyes.

इन्द्रेण सह वैरम् ॥ Enmity with Indra

In this section[1] we see how Panis who were wealthy tradesmen developed enmity with Indra, the chief caretaker of the society. Panis referred to as Dasyus, held a prominent place in the society, accumulated fabulous wealth through extensive international trade and commerce. These Panis were also the ship builders traveling over the seas in search of trade centers, and materials for construction of ships navigated externsively along the Indian coasts and rivers. In the vedic economy, commercial production was in the hands of rest of the society and exchange was controlled by Panis, Dasyus, and Asuras who traded them.

वधीर्हि दस्युं धनिनं घनेनँ एकश्चरन्नुपशाकेभिरिन्द्र । धनोरधि विषुणक्ते व्यायन्नयज्वानः सनकाः प्रेतिमीयुः ॥४॥ (Rig. Veda. 1.33.4)[6]

vadhīrhi dasyuṁ dhaninaṁ ghanenam̐ ekaścarannupaśākebhirindra । dhanoradhi viṣuṇakte vyāyannayajvānaḥ sanakāḥ pretimīyuḥ ॥4॥ (Rig. Veda. 1.33.4)

Meaning : Oh Indra ! accompanied by powerful and mighty people yet single-handed you have killed the wealthy thief, the Dasyu named Vrtra with your powerful vajrayudha. Vrtra's followers who are yajna-shatru even though armed with weapons, ultimately met with their end.[7]

Material dissatisfaction brought about conflict between these two sections of the society or Ganas. Materially Indra believed in social control over the production and promoted distribution of wealth back to the community. Society or the Gana participated in Yajna, and offerings and oblations were made by the individuals in the name of their respective leaders so that the vigour and strength of the Gana may be well maintained. Wealth thus during the vedic times was a social asset rather than personal possession.

Yajna is offered to Indra and Vishnu under conditions of mutual contract that they would return it with wealth. (Rig. Veda. 6.69.1) Yajna and material prosperity go together as seen in in the mantra

सं वां कर्मणा समिषा हिनोमीन्द्राविष्णू अपसस्पारे अस्य । जुषेथां यज्ञं द्रविणं च धत्तमरिष्टैर्नः पथिभि: पारयन्ता ॥१॥ (Rig. Veda. 6.69.1)

saṁ vāṁ karmaṇā samiṣā hinomīndrāviṣṇū apasaspāre asya । juṣethāṁ yajñaṁ draviṇaṁ ca dhattamariṣṭairnaḥ pathibhi: pārayantā ॥1॥ (Rig. Veda. 6.69.1)

On the other hand, Panis, Asuras, Dasyus believed in completely different principles of economics. They were individualistic in their economic approach, powerful and never united with the society in any matter. Being on the higher strata of the society they did everything in their own interest, never offering any part of their income to the community. They never believed in Yajna and were famous for their greed. As a result these two factions of the society had different economic policies, leading to enmity. The refusal of Panis to contribute Dana and Dakshina for Yajna brought about enmity between them. Wealth in those days was mainly the strength of cattle and property. All sections of the Gana united against Panis, while they took away the cattle wealth of the Angirasas. Indra as their leader defeated the Panis and brought back the wealth (Page no 22 of Reference 1[1]).

Indra’s army is indicated as very powerful, always alert and unconquerable as he who defeated Vrttra can face any enemy. Therefore, Indra with his invincible army destroyed the Panis or the bekanatas.

गोग्रहणम् ॥ Stealing of Cows

In light of the foregoing discussion, Panis were often referred to as demonic and used here in plural as 'panis' indicating not just one person but many such who existed during the vedic period. From the Sarama and Pani samvada or discussion if one accepts cows symbolically as Vedas or knowledge, then Panis are the powers that hinder the progress or spread of knowledge. Thus from the Rig veda suktas we can understand that the panis are the jnana apaharaka shakti (ज्ञानापहारकाः । the thieves of knowledge).

It can be understood that they are people who create obstacles in community welfare activities meant for promoting dharma or favouring the devathas who revere the herd of the cows. By stealing the cows they interfere with the dharmic process of the society, which benefits neither parties. Consumed with only materialistic aspirations thereby engaged in hoarding wealth they lack the adhyatmik interest. They steal the knowledge or imprison the Brahma-nishtas to ensure that the knowledge is not spread. Angirasa who was knowledgeable about the characteristics of cows rescues them from the caves where they were hidden by the Panis.[2]

In Srimad Bhagavatham, the ministers of Kamsa are shown to have the same characteristics of the Panis as they want to control the devatas. (Bhag. Pura 10.4.39-42).

संवादः || Discussion

Applicable to the present day situation, we see panis are materialistic people and enemies of wisdom who envy the jnanis or dharmic systems. Aspiring only for the materialistic world, hoarding wealth through illegal means of trade, trying to exploit the society for personal gains, going in the name of socialism -- these are asuric and destructive energies. Many mantras of the Rig veda prove that Panis were the original residents of Bharatavarsha.[2]

The society or the world is generally filled with materialistic ideologies — those who are like Panis or Dasyus. Dasyus are traders like Pani, comes from the root word: Dus those who have business as their goal.

The point is that business and farming or transactions is required for the growth of the society and may not be viewed in negative sense. But the purely materialistic attitude with business only for personal profits, without connection to the jnana of the other world (para) is not a Vedic practice. Therefore Panis who hinder the advancement of Consciousness in Spiritual realm, are viewed with contempt as seen in Rig Veda mantras. Thus, vedas rather than speaking only from a historical perspective establish an eternal truth. And this indicates that since times immemorial jnana shakti is constantly in war with ajananis (unintelligent people). Panis could be from any kula or race or any civilization, but that is a secondary consideration for Vedas.

Sadly, Panis exist in the present society also. Panis do not indicate just the community, but are the miserly intentions of people or their actions and behaviour. When our adhyatmik knowledge is kept in darkness it gives rise to wrongful transactions and ||nasthik (atheism).[2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Prasad, Prakash Charan. (1977) Foreign Trade and Commerce in Ancient India. New Delhi : Abhinav Publications
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Narayanacharya, K. S. (2011). Veda Sanskritiya Parichaya, Part I. Hubli:​Sahitya Prakashana​.
  3. Nirukta (Adhyaya 2)
  4. Shabdakalpadruma (Page 4/523)
  5. Rig Veda (Mandala 8 Sukta 66)
  6. Rig Veda (Mandala 1 Sukta 33)
  7. Pt. Sripada Damodar Satvalekar (1985) Rigved ka Subodh Bhashya, Volume 1. Parady : Svadhyaya Mandal