The Halwai are vaishya bania caste found in India. The Arabic word Halwa means sweet and Halvai or Halwai means sweet-maker. They are also known as Mithaya in Madhya Pradesh, Gudia in Orissa, Mayara in West Bengal and other names in other regions. The Halwai are a caste of confectioners and sweet-makers, found mainly in North India.The name is derived from the word halwa, a popular sweet made of flour, clarified butter (ghee) sugar, almonds, raisins and pistachio nuts and saffron. They sell
- Sweets: grain and/or milk based, dry (like laddus), moist (like barfis) or dipped in syrup (like gulabjamun)
- Savoury snacks: hot (like samosas or pakoras) or dry (like dal biji etc.).
What they sell is sometimes termed mishtanna, or sweetened grain based items).
Traditionally Indians ate food cooked inside their own homes, although food cooked with ghee/oil by halwais was considered to be an acceptable exception.
The Halwai give no specific mythological account of the origins of their community. The Madhya Pradesh Halwais migrated from north-western India - Rajasthan andGujarat, during the medieval period. They are traditional vaishyas who were involved in Business and agriculture. They enjoy high status in the society as they belong toVaishya community. They are considered as "Dwija" i.e. twice born and hence enjoys the right of "Upnayan sanskar".
In Uttar Pradesh, according to their traditions, are descended from man by the name of Bhalandan. This Bhalandan came into being due to the will of the Hindu god Brahma. This individual married a woman named Marutwati. Their son, was an individual by the name of Vatsa Priti. One of his descendents, an individual by the name of Modan took to making sweetmeats.
The community is split into nine sub-groups, the Modanseni, Kanyakubja, Yagyaseni, Jaunpuri, Badshahi, Kanbo, Kaithiya, Nagri and Rawatputra. The Modanseni consider themselves superior to the other clans. Like other North Indian Hindu castes, they maintain gotra exogamy. The community belong to theVaishanavi sect of Hinduism.
The community was one of the earliest to set up its own caste association, the Kanyakubja Vaishya Halwai Mahasabha, which was established in Varanasi in the year 1903.
The Halwai is regarded with respect socially as their services are of social and ritualistic importance. Every caste in India, even the Brahman does not consider itself too pure to eat what a Halwai has made. Considering that sweets have a special significance in religious rituals and social events, this community plays a very specific role in all festivals and celebrations such as marriages and childbirths.
The Halwai are known by different names in each state. They are known as Mithaiha (meaning sweet) in Madhya Pradesh and have the surname Agarwal. In eastern Bihar, they are called Madhesia and Kanu Vaisya and their surnames are Sah, Madhesiya, Saw and Gupta. In Uttar Pradesh they are known as Yogyaseni, Modanwal, Halwai, and Gupta. In Orissa, the Halwai are known as Gudia (jaggery) while in West Bengal they are known as Mayara, meaning confectioner. There are large numbers living in the fertile eastern districts of Barabanki and Bahraich of Uttar Pradesh. They trace the origin of the term from the Hindi halwahi, or "one who ploughs".
Recently some of the Halwai have adopted modern manufacturing approaches and produce packaged sweets in large quantities, some of which are exported to other countries. They have often chosen to keep old fashioned names from previous generations like Ghasitaram, Haldiram, Chandu etc.