An alternative look at the “caste system”

varnaThis article put another perspective on a phenomenon that no-one usually dares to mention without putting on a grimace of horror and uttering shrieks of indignation: Chaturvarna, usually mistranslated as the caste system.

Let me state from the outset that I am a firm believer in the Vedic verse “All men are brothers; no one is big, no one is small. All are equal” (Rig Veda 5.60.5). The four categories of society (varnas) were not originally intended to be hereditary categories. If we look at the matter carefully, they are in fact natural functional groups that exist in all societies. The varnas were originally fluid categories that allowed for mobility between groups.

So before anyone begins fuming about Brahmin tyranny and the “wretched condition of the downtrodden“, let me clarify that what I mean is not hereditary caste, but the distinction between four functional groups in society: Brahmin (intellectual and spiritual), Kshatriya (military and administrative), Vaishya (commercial) and Shudra (service), devoid of any hereditary aspect, which was a much later phenomenon.

It is a fact of life that many children have a tendency to resemble their parents, not only in appearance but also in aptitudes – whether you put it down to genetic or environmental factors or both. For example, this trend is strengthened by the traditional social setting, in which children would automatically receive training in their parents’ professional skills, in the family business or vocation. Nevertheless, the relation between parents and children’s aptitudes is not absolute: there are plenty of cases where people have a genuine inclination towards a different kind of profession to their parents. Therefore, the Bhagavad Gita says (apparently against a swelling trend to fix profession on birth) that not birth, but aptitude or quality (guna) determines one’s varna. Yuddhistir and later on the Buddha said that moral conduct and mental disposition, not birth, determined who is a Brahmin. Neither should there be any bar to a person changing their field of work later in life.

The question is: does the classification of society into four groups or classes still have any relevance or offer any insight into modern issues?

If we examine the nature of the interrelationship and interdependency between these four classes of society we can see that they are quite natural, and exist in all societies. All the functions support each other, yet there is a natural hierarchy. The Shudra (the worker who serves an employer, the artist who pleases an audience) is subordinate in the sense that he is employed by the other varnas. The Vaishya (business and entrepreneurial class is subordinate to the public order enforced by the Kshatriya. And the Kshatriya rulers are, in framing their policies, subordinate to the Brahmin realm of literate culture and ideology, because a policy necessarily stems from a political and social philosophy, which is produced by the intellectuals of society.

Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo have sometimes described social and political developments in varna terms. Thus, feudalism over-emphasised the role of Kshatriyas, capitalism is currently over-emphasising the Vaishya element in human nature, and communism was an attempt at Shudra rule and suppressing of the Vaishya. A healthy society needs to balance all four groups, giving honour and the freedom to develop to each. All four groups need to act out of a sense of duty towards the entire society.

Another important component of the varna ideology, is the strict separation between the activities of the varnas. An important example in the context of Secularism is the separation between the two authority-wielding varnas, the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas. The Brahmin is the man of knowledge, whose domain is intellectual and universal. The Kshatriya is the man of action, whose authority is political and temporal.

The idea of separation between these two varnas can ideally be understood as a separation between the secular domain of action and politics, and the non-secular domain of knowledge and spirituality, similar to the separation of ‘Church and State’.
The Brahmin and Kshatriya functions have to be kept separate to the greatest extent possible. While it is inevitable that a general framework of values and ideas influences the leadership of a country, rulers should never wage ideological or religious campaigns, they should govern the country with justice, allowing philosophers, intellectuals and religionists the freedom to develop and expound their ideas.

Another example of the importance of the separation between the activities of the varnas can be seen in the field of Pharmaceutical research. Pharmaceutical research is an endeavour of expansion of human knowledge, which is a Brahmin activity. However, in the present day it is very profit orientated. For example, more research is done to develop treatment for illnesses that are present in Western populations, even if only very small numbers of people suffer these illnesses or if they are not life-threatening conditions. On the other hand serious diseases that affect huge numbers of people in the developing world are given much less attention. The reason is that there is much more money to be earned in developing treatments for wealthy patients. So the integrity of pharmaceutical research is compromised or even corrupted by purely profit based considerations. This can be understood as an unhealthy mixing of the Brahmin (intellectual) and Vaishya (entrepreneurial) spheres of human activity.

Thus it can be seen that even in those countries or situations where no ‘caste-system’ exists, varna categories can be meaningfully applied. For most Hindus talking about caste has become an untouchable subject but if we get over the prejudices and distortions of our teachings that exist today (in western textbooks as well as amongst Hindus themselves), we can find that Hindu ideas and thought can be meaningfully applied to problems and issues we face today and will face in the future. I hope that this short piece has gone some way to demonstrate that.

(Originally written in 2006)

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Comments

  1. google “is caste only a hindu problem” on chakra news website, brilliant article to complement that.

  2. Hindu (body) four community: brahmin (head) kshatriya (arm) vaishya (belly) shudra (feet) All these four community called as hindu. We all are parts of one body. Without each part our body is not complete. If we lost one part of our body then we become handicap. The human body is the entire structure of a human being. Human Body is considered so loving that God even wants to have it. Spiritual Yogis have found that after going through the 84 millions species this souls get the most dignified human body. So it is the last step to explore the God or to get the view of almighty father god. We know that the soul never dies it takes birth again and again just like as we take new clothes to wear the soul as it takes new body and it is an infinite process. But the body what we get in next birth depend on our karma that thas been cited in Gita by Lord Krishna to Arjuna. We all here to perform our duties. Our action makes our destiny and nothing else. The result is in the hand of supreme power. Karma is the seed of plant and if the seed is genuine it must be fruitful.

  3. Many a time, man has taken birth in high caste and low caste; but this does not make him great or lowHaving been born in high caste man thinks himself to be great and being born in low caste thinks himself to be low and pitiable; both of these states of mind are wrong because many times man has been born in high and low castes. Hence, one should not be proud of having been born in high caste and not feel low if born in low caste family.

    Greatness has nothing to do with high caste. Man becomes great because of his noble work, exemplary character and becomes loathsome because of his immorality and evil conduct. Thus, it is his conduct only that decides his greatness or lowliness. Who does not know that high family born Ravana, Kansa, Duryodhana and others are censurable; whereas Metarya muni, Harikeshi muni and others, though born in low family, are venerable.

    Then, what is the importance of high or low caste?

  4. We always talk about religion and castesim but in reality there is no any caste and religion. We all are same our blood are same.then why we believe in discrimination. God never created any caste they made simple human being.. Mentally sick people take the path of fundamentalism and spread casteism and communism. They suffer from inferiority complex and divide the society into “we” and “they”. They (belonging either to higher or lower ranked caste) have a fear in their heart that if they do not get a higher place for themselves in society, “other” people are going to exploit them and going to put them down.They don’t have believe on themselves and their own work. They have doubt own their capability. People with negative mindset suffer from inferiority complex and divide society into compartments like higher castes or lower castes.and can’t tolerate “others” progress or well-being. They cannot work hard and cannot tolerate anybody else’s achievements. These are the people with negative mindset who believe in ranking some belonging to higher castes and/or some to lower castes. They are coward and they are unable to protect themselves…

  5. i just believe in humanity not this stupid castesim…i want to tell all lower caste people if upper caste against of reservation n some day it ll b stop then u dont need to follow this stupid religion n caste okh…whenever someone ask about ur caste just tell them u r hindu n proudly say u r also brahmin okh….castesim aise hi khatam hogi sabhi brahmin hi bano….or itne intelligent bano or smart bano ki brahmino ko bhi sharm mehsoos ho khudh par….castesim aise hi khatam hogi…jis community ko baar baar lower bola ja raha hai dalit bola ja raha agr wohi community nhi rahi tb kisko bolenge tb number lagega…kshtriya or vaishya ka…tb pata chalega lower hona kya hota hai..jb reservation nhi toh kya bataoge kya caste hai proudly bolo hum brahmin hai..samjhe..hum hindu hai

  6. All Hindu communities in the country follow the varnashram system of Aryans and have divided the society in four castes – Kshatryas, Brahmins, Vaishyas and Shudras. Sindhis do not have such division in their society. They never followed a rigid caste system. That is why Sindhis are considered to be only businessmen. All members of the society inter-mingle with one another without any consideration of four castes of Aryans. There are no untouchables in Sindhis…..These religion and caste set up by mad and stupid people to control others not by god…who are still mentally sick they are following this castesim blindly..i must say be like all sindhi..leave these castesim and make only one hindu religion like sindhi religion dont create any caste,community and class…bcs its only give you tension and create problems for your own self..

  7. Who divided society in caste line……only stupid and mentally sick hindu..first change your thinking that all people as a human being so the system ll be change itself understood..be like sindhi religion, make one religion and killed the bloody varan system n caste system…you ll b more happiest person in this world if you all mad hindu change ur narrow minded thinking about these caste n class…Because “I believe in recognizing every human being as a human being–neither white, black, brown, or red; and when you are dealing with humanity as a family there’s no question of integration or intermarriage. It’s just one human being marrying another human being or one human being living around and with another human being.”……..if you mad n psycho fanatic hindu people dont divided the hindu religion into four castes then we dont ever faced reservation at all…..if you accepted that hindu religion divided into four category like this; brahmin hindu,kashtriya hindu,vaishya hindu,shudra hindu…..but your cheap n small brain always misbehaved with shudra people ( shudra means pure from heart n soul) they r fourth category..they got fourth rank so they r belong to lower caste n brahmin got first rank so they r belong to upper….for all fanatic ( kattar ) hindu they r other.they r not part of hindu religion..if they r not part of hindu religion then why u said that hindu religion has divided into four castes.. just accepted n say hindu religion divided into three caste okh……now shut your bloody mouth abt reservation..first change your cheapo thinking about the people because god never made any religion n caste.god just made simple human being n this world okh..

  8. You cannot put people in high and low rank the basis of religious belief and caste. But those people do this who has a problem in their mind.

    God doesn’t need Brahmin priest, god isn’t so narrow minded. god accept everyone. actually Brahmin priest needs god to make money.

  9. The brahmin community has been one of the dirty communities which has planned strategically to fool people in the name of god by generating the highest donations in the temple, doing business to fool and loot money in the name of puja, death, marriage, new home… For any occasion, there’s one puja. They charge very high prices and take away all the items after the puja. They have created prostitution in the name of devadasis. They suppress jobs and employment and welfare and equality are destroyed. they have destroyed the Indian medical system. They have killed Indian medical science like siddha vaidhyam and created ayurveda and carnatic music by destroying dravidian music. Even today they have the temples under their control. They say they don’t like untouchables, but they have always been sexually harassing low caste women.

  10. All human-beings are equal in the eyes of God.The human-beings have only created the caste system.There are good and bad people in both high caste as well as low caste.Ultimately,what matters to God is, whether one is a good person or striving to become one, or not.

    One who thinks himself to be of a high caste is actually low. While one who thinks himself/herself to be of low caste is said to be high caste.As per the scriptures, people are known by their nature and the quality of work they perform..

  11. The Almighty Brahmin! by Khushwant Singh

    Whatever be the sphere of curiosity – literary, scientific, bureaucratic, or whatever, the Brahmin remains the top dog. Before I give details, we should bear in mind that Brahmins form no more than 3.5% of the population of our country. My statistics come from a pen friend, Brother Stanny, of St. Anne’s Church of Dhule in Maharashtra.They hold as much as 70% of government jobs. In the senior echelons of the civil service from the rank of deputy secretaries upward, out of 500 there are 310 Brahmins, i.e. 63%. Of the 26 state chief secretaries, 19 are Brahmins; of the 27 Governors and Lt. Governors 13 are Brahmins; of the 16 Supreme Court Judges, 9 are Brahmins; of the 330 judges of High Courts, 166 are Brahmins; of 140 ambassadors, 58 are Brahmins; of the total 3,300 IAS officers, 76 [per cent?] are Brahmins. Of the 508 Lok Sabha members, 190 were Brahmins; of 244 in the Rajya Sabha, 89 are Brahmins.This 3.5% of Brahmin community of India holds between 36% to 63% of all the plum jobs available in the country.

  12. My this comment to katar hindu and coward brahmin who haven’t gut to fight for their own love but strange thing is they easily fell in love with other caste girls but dont have got for fight back..

    What you are doing now is not fair.You are not giving any importance to your gal’s feelings.How can you avoid a gal whom you loved for past 4 years at this stage of your life where you need to take serious decisions?If you lack the courage to introduce the matter before your parents,then i can say you are a coward.If you are that much concerned about your parents,you could have think it earlier before you started your love.At least that gal is saved from you.But you gave her all hope,she loved you sincerly as her man and now you want your parents only.

    I am not making you sad.I know that parents are important and they are like God.But this is not at a good solution.You are keeping things hidden from everyone.You are the only son of your parents – that means their only asset for future.So cant they understand your feelings towards that gal?Initially they may be against.But you can convince them slowly.How can you close your true affair even without a single try?Go man,get ready to take some risk for your loved one.Pls dont ignore her.Its like killing her.She made her family ready for you,its your turn now.I hope things will be fine at last.

    Like

  13. Inter caste marriage should be encourage..bcoz if people take this step then castesim and religion based discrimination should be stop itself..we all are human being..God never created any caste and religion..even God dnt has any caste and religion…did you know that God belong to which caste and religion..then keep shut your mouth about this stupid varan system and caste system okh.. In ancient times, caste system had the seeds of liberalism. It provided the right and opportunity to get to the top from the humblest origin and earn the respect of the whole society. For example, Vashishtha, the principal of the conservative school of Brahmanism, was the son of Uravshi, a prostitute. Vishwamitra, the maker of the very Gayatri Mantra, the quintessence of the Vedic Brahmanism, was a Kshatriya. Aitreya, after whom the sacramental part of Rig-Veda is named as Aitreya Brahamana, was the son from a non-Aryan wife of a Brahman sage. Vyasa of Mahabharata fame was the son of a fish-woman and he was not ashamed of his origin. Balmiki, an untouchable according to present standards, the original author of Ramayana, is highly respected all over India..And only you can make it good or bad this inter caste marriage. Depends upon how much importance u give to these meaningless and stupid values. And how much importance u give to other people who value these meaningless things. U have to see how much u urself r attached to other people opinions. And since u r asking for opinion, it means u r attached to these meaningless things.

  14. Whenever someone’s ask you about your caste then your answer should be to them is:I am a Brahmin in knowledge,I am kshatriya in valor,I am vaishya in business,I m shudra in service.

    In the end I am just sanatam dharmi hindu and nothing else..Then say you proud to be a hindu..can u tell me onething kya knowledge sirf brahmino ke paas hi hoti hai kshritya,vaishya,shudra or other religion duffer hote hai..or valor kya kshtriya hi hote hai jb log danger mein hote hai toh kya brahmin vaishya,shudra or other religion apni raksha nhi kr skta..or business sirf vaishya hi kr sakte hai kya brahmin kshtriya shudra business nhi kr skte..or shurda hi ko servant or labour kyun kre jb work ki zarurat hoti hai toh kya brahmin kshtriya vaishya servant ban jayenge toh unko muath aa jayegyi or other religion ko kaam ki zarurat hoti hai toh har chota bada kaam kr lete hai family ko palne ke liye…or who the hell we r yeh category banane wale…kisi ko uske religion caste se judge krne wale…or forcibly kisi ko work thopne wale…insaan wohi kaam krega jis mein uska interest ho or jo kaam krne ki capabilty uss mein ho….we r the one idiot katar hindu…killed the caste system before it killed u all..

  15. Always remember one thing in ur life when u abuse any lower caste by saying dalit n chamaar then u abusing yourself n ur own religion..bcoz if u accepted that hindu religion is one n hindu religion devided into four community like:brahmin,kshatriya,vaishya,shudra…shudra means pure (pure from soul n heart)..then let me remind u fourth community also come under hindu religion they are also hindu to whom u abuse as dalit n chamaar…so you are not abusing them but abusing yourself n your own religion too..

  16. “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

    Be a nice human being is important not to have a good or high religion and caste.We need to work towards uniting the nation instead of splitting it. Work towards a society in which there will be no lower castes and no upper castes. We need to respect the way people live instead of looking at where they were born.

    Here is only two caste in the world that is BOY & GIRL

    Someone said change yourself world will change automatically ..

  17. Let me tell u the fact..only hindu religion started this drama n stupidity that put people into rank according to their condition n other religion like christian,sikh n islam blindly following this madness……only Buddhist n sindhi people have saved themselves from this madness bcs divide religion into caste n sub caste only create problems,jealousy n differences among your own people…i hope you all can understand my point of view..i m also hindu but i ll say whenever i find anything wrong in any religion..

  18. Already in India there are many religions people living together like: Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, christian, Buddhist n Sindhi……only hindu people started this madness n stupidity to divided hindu religion into caste n sub caste and then other religion did the same like hindu did it…….just tell me one thing what all you got to did that only stress,jealosuy, hateness violence n differences..i would rather say proud to be good human being than rather say proud to be hindu..

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