Among the oldest known references to usury are to be found in ancient Indian religious manuscripts and Jain (1929) provides an excellent summary of these in his work on Indigenous Banking in India.
The earliest such record derives from the Vedic texts of Ancient India (2,000-1,400 BC) in which the “usurer” (kusidin) is mentioned several times and interpreted as any lender at interest. More frequent and detailed references to interest payment are to be found in the later Sutra texts (700-100 BC), as well as the Buddhist Jatakas (600-400 BC). It is during this latter period that the first sentiments of contempt for usury are exressed. For example, Vasishtha, a well known Hindu law-maker of that time, made a special law which forbade the higher castes of Brahmanas (priests) and Kshatriyas (warriors) from being usurers or lenders at interest.
Also, in the Jatakas, usury is referred to in a demeaning manner: “hypocritical ascetics are accused of practising it”.
By the second century AD, however, usury had become a more relative term, as is implied in the Laws of Manu of that time: “Stipulated interest beyond the legal rate being against (the law), cannot be recovered: they call that a usurious way (of lending)” (Jain, 1929: 3-10). This dilution of the concept of usury seems to have continued through the remaining course of Indian history so that today, while it is still condemned in principle, usury refers only to interest charged above the prevailing socially accepted range and is no longer prohibited or controlled in any significant way.