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Hindu Caste System

Hindu Caste

The Caste System --(groups assigned by birth not personality). The Hindu conception of the social order is that people are different, and different people will fit well into different aspects of society.  Social order or social class according to varna forms the framework of moral duties according to personal characteristics of individuals (not necessarily birth).

The Hindus have Varna System. It is not at all caste-equivalent. It simply indicates a social division based on Gunas There exists all over the world one sort of division or the other in a society, which is so inevitable for social growth and prosperity. Each individual is possessed of a particular ability by nature. One may well perform a physical labor, another may be more of a thinker and some may be artistic some inclined to technology, music. Medicine, trade, industry or any other material or spiritual activity. The Lord speaking on action and inaction in Geeta (IV -13) says,'the four Varnas have been created by Him according to differentiation of Gunas and Karmas.' These Varnas are 1 - Brahmin; 2 - Kshatriya; 3 - Vaisya and 4 - Sudra.

    A. Historically the caste system dates back to the Aryan invasion of India around 2,000 BC.

    B. Society is divided into four main groups (with a fifth, "the untouchables," outside of the caste system).

      Passage from the Rig Veda :
      (The world was formed from Purusa whose body is described as follows.)
      "The brahmin was his mouth, his two arms became the rajanya (kshatriyas), his thighs are what the vaisya are, and from his feet the shudra was made."

        1. Brahmin : the seers, the reflective ones, the priests.

        a. The intellectual and spiritual leaders.

        b. In our society, they would correspond to the philosophers, religious leaders, and teachers.
      2. Kshatriyas --(pronounced something like "kshot ree yahs") the born administrators (formerly nobles, rajahs, and warriors).

        a. The protectors of society.

        b. In our society, the politicians, police, and the military.
      3. Vaisyas : (pronounced something like "vy sy us") the producers, the craftsmen, artisans, farmers.

        a. The skillful producers of material things.

        b. In our society, the merchants.
      4. Shudras --(pronounced something like "shoo drrahs") the unskilled laborers or laboring class.

        a. The followers or the maintenance people.

        b. The so-called menial workers or hard laborers.
    C. Advantages to the Caste system. The heritability of intelligence and factors of personality raise some interesting philosophical questions. 

      1. What we would like people to be is not usually what they are. Many persons would be more comfortable in their own social class.

      2. Unless unequals are separated into different classes, many persons would be "born losers."

      3. Egalitarianism is the belief that privileges are proportional to the responsibilities and a denial of the tyranny of the majority.

Varna means different shades of texture or color. They represent mental temper. There are three Gunas - Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Sattva is white, Rajas red and Tamas black. These in combination of various proportions constitute the group or class of people all over the world with temperamental differences. The above classification is based on this assumption. In continuation, Veda Vyasa says in the same couplet, 'by the differentiation of the mental quality and physical action of the people.' It is clear that the type of ones action, the quality of ego, the color of knowledge, the texture of ones understanding, the temper of fortitude and the brilliance of ones happiness defines ones Varna. Not by birth a man becomes Brahmin but by cultivating noble thoughts and good intentions of service alone, one can ever aspire to Brahmin hood.


The Brahmin is generally Sattvik. Sama and Dama are his valuable assets. He is serene and self-controlled and is possessed of the quality of austerity. (Tapas) He has purity, uprightness and forbearance. He has a will to acquire knowledge (Jnan), Vigyan (Wisdom) and faith.

The Kshatriya is a warrior class, powerful of physique and might. They are possessed of more of Rajas Guna with base of Sattva. They have a duty to protect the Dharma and the people. They are bold, alert and full of fortitude, generosity. discipline and modesty along with masterly behavior mingled with Ishvar Bhava (Love of God).


The Vaisya class is a trader class and prefers business of all kinds. It is possessed of Raj Guna mixed with Tamas. They deal with wealth and gold and strive for material prosperity of the self as well as of the people in general. The Sudras are working class people, artisans and craftsmen. They are physically strong and hard working. They are possessed of Tamas with a base of Rajas. Really speaking, Sudra class is indispensable to society as they are like a spiral chord on which rests the social structure.


Thus it is clear that the whole Varna System stood on the basis of Gunas and karmas of the individual. It has nothing to do with birth. To quote Mahabharata, the serpent god asked Yudhisthir to tell him the virtues of the caste. He says that those Brahmins who were fond of personal pleasures, prone to violence, had forsaken their duties and were red limbo, fell into the category of Kshatriya. Those Brahmins who derived their livelihood from kine, who were yellow and sub-divided by agriculture and who neglected to practice their duties, fell into the category of Vaisyas. Those Brahmins who were addicted to mischief and falsehood and were covetous, lived by all kinds of works and fell from purity and were black went to the condition of Sudra. As a conclusion, the serpent god says that the man in which the marks of a Sudra are not found is no Sudra, whereas while a Brahmin who acts so is not a Brahmin and may be called a Sudra. It is clear that the world being the projection of Brahma is therefore Brahma-roopa and these castes came up later as a creation of man in society. Therefore it stands for modification and change according to times.



The caste system in India can be described as an elaborately stratified social hierarchy distinguishing India's social structure from any other nation. Its history is multifaceted and complex.

Caste is a term, which is used to specify a group of people having a specific social rank and dates back to 1200 BCE. The Indian term for caste is jati, and generally designates a group that can vary in size from a handful to many thousands. There are thousands of jatis each with its own rules and customs. The various jatis are traditionally arranged in hierarchical order and fit into one of the four basic varnas the (Sanskrit word for "colors"). 

--The varna of Brahmans, commonly identified with priests and the learned class
--The varna of Kshatriyas, associated with rulers and warriors including    property owners.
--The varna of Vaishyas, associated with commercial livelihoods (i.e. traders)
--The varna of Shudras, the servile laborers

The Untouchables occupy a place that is not clearly defined by boundaries and is outside of the varna scheme. Their jobs (such as toilet cleaning and garbage removal) cause them to be considered impure and thus "untouchable."  Historically the untouchables were not allowed in temples and many other public places. In 1950 legislation was passed to prevent any form of discrimination towards the untouchables. Although legislation has affected the status of the people, they are yet very much a visible part of Indian society.

The earliest expressions of caste can be found in one of India's vast bodies of religious scripture known as the Vedas, which are though to have been complied between 1500 and 1000 BCE, although the time of their composition is under debate. They were transmitted orally for many generations before being written down. Therefore, centuries may have passed before they were ever committed to writing. 

These works are considered the source of ancient Indian wisdom. The first of the four basic Vedic books is the Rig Veda; a collection of over 1,000 hymns containing the basic mythology of the Aryan gods. The Rig Veda contains one of the most famous sections in ancient Indian literature in which the first man created, Purusa, is sacrificed in order to give rise to the four varnas.

"The Brahmin was his mouth, his two arms were made the Rajanya [Kshatriya, king and warrior], his two thighs [loins] the Vaishya, from 
his feet the  Sudra [servile class] was born." 



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