Varna Dharma Varna Dharma is the dharma of social planning The principle of planning as conceived within Hinduism makes movement from vocation to vocation, profession to profession, impossible It is the obligations & rules necessary for a well-organized society
Varna Dharma As a Dharma it deals with duties, not rights, with social utility & self realization rather than class identity & individual privileges Varna Dharma may not have been designed to distinguish the high & the low, the good & the bad, the fact that is it has acquired value distinctions
Varna Dharma The Brahmin is the one who has moved further along in development towards the Perfection of Man than has the other classes He is better, although since Hinduism has no theory of the inevitable progress of the individual, he may slip from the status he has attained
Origin of the Caste System
Origin of the Caste System Origin of the caste system cannot be established Many theorieson the origin of castes Castes appear to have originated in northwestern India among the invading Aryans as a technique to avoid assimilation with the dark skinned aboriginals.
Origin of the Caste System Before coming into India the Aryans distinguished between nobility (Ksatra) & the common people (vis) of their own tribes Perhaps they has also participated in an ancient Iranian division into priests, warriors, agriculturalists & artisans
Origin of the Caste System After settling in the Indus valley they were confronted with the problem of maintaining their own identity They began to distinguish themselves as Aryans (Nobles) from the conquered peoples, whom they called Dasas (black ones) or Asuras (non-shinning ones).
Origin of the Caste System The former term came to mean slaves, the latter came to mean demons
Origin of the Caste System In the Rig Veda these peoples are described as black in color, speechless (probably meaning that they did not speak the Aryan tongue), without rites, without any purpose in life, & without the gods (Adevas). Those Aryans who married Dasas fell in the social scale of the conquerors
Origin of the Caste System As a religious rite became more complicated, those who were in charge of the sacrificial lore were shown special deference, & they rose in social ranks. By the close of Vedic period a fourfold divisionof society had been accepted & had been given religious sanction
RELIGIOUS SANCTION OF THE CASTE SYSTEM
Religious Sanction The religious sanction for the caste system can be found in the Rig Veda in the myth of the Purusa, the primeval man who existed before the foundation of the universe Purusa is the primordial sacrificeslain before the foundation of the world is laid
Religious Sanction The gods immolated him making the firmament from his navel, heaven from his head, earth from his feet, space from his ear… Man also came from him: “His mouth became the Brahmin, his arms became the Ksatriya, his thighs became the Vaisya & the Sudras was born from his feet
Religious Sanction These classes of men were not called Varna’s in the Rig Veda but later the term Varna was used to signify the priestly scholars, the warriors & ruler, the merchants & the serfs or laborers
VARNA& COLOR The fact that Varna mean color has caused some to make the facile assumption that the classification was a color distinction However, Varna also mean species, kind, character, nature & form
Varna among the gods In the Brahmanas, the Varna system is found among the gods Agni & Brhaspati are Brahmins Indra, Varuna, Soma & Yama are Ksatriya Vasus, Rudra & the Maruts are Vaisya Pusan is a Sudras Maitrayani Samskara 1.10.13; Satapatha Brahmana 14.4.2 23-25
CASTE IN HINDU MYTHOLOGY
HINDU MYTHOLOGY In the Hindu mythology we find men of lower castes ascending to positions of eminence and authority Some important characters in the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata belonged to lower castesRamayana
HINDU MYTHOLOGY Lord Rama was assisted by mostly men of humble origins, who lived in the forests and were ignorant of the Vedic scriptures. Lord Krishna himself was brought up by a family of cowherds.
HINDU MYTHOLOGY So was Balarama, his step brother, who is sometimes included in the list of Vishnu's ten incarnations. Only three or four of the ten incarnationsof Lord Vishnu came from higher castes
HINDU MYTHOLOGY Of the ten only one, the incarnation of Vamana, belongs to the Brahmin caste. Rama, Parashurama and the Buddha belong to the Ksatriya caste while other incarnations such as the incarnation of fish, turtle, boar and the half man and half lion are actually animal incarnations, which in other words means once born, just like the forest dwellers that assisted Lord Rama in his battle against the demon king Ravana.
Many ancient sages and rishis also came from humble backgrounds Sage Parashar, the famous law giver, was the son of an outcaste (Candala). Rishi Vashishta was born to a prostitute Sage Vyasa, the original author of the Mahabharata, was born to a fisherwoman. Rishi Valmiki the original composer of Ramayana came from a tribal family of traditional hunters
Portuguese & Casta
Portuguese & Casta When the Portuguese came to India in the 16th century, they used the word Casta for Varna Casta means an unmixed race, a tribe, or a clan, is a poor translation. It denotes groups that rise & fall in a social scale, but the 4 Varna’s are fixed
Maurya period (300 BC)
Maurya period (300 BC) While the Varna remained four, the castes became many. Inter caste marriages, practice of polygamy, assimilation of foreigners, creation of vast administrative machinery that resulted in new classes of people and new positions of authority, and geographical expansion of the empires to the south which exposed new groups and communities to the Vedic religion contributed to this new development and added diversity and complexity to the social fabric of ancient India.
Gandhi View on Class Distinction
Gandhi reflect a late point of view The class distinction may have been originally based on the Gunas: Rajas (active individual), Sattva (intellectual types), & Tamas (sluggish people) The Bhagavad Gita 4.13 can be used as a proof text for such a claim : “The 4 fold order was created by Me according to the divisions of quality (Gunas) & work (Karma)
Dharma Sastras of Manu of the 47 Dharma Sastras DUTIES OF THE 4 VARNAS
MANU - BRAHMIN The Brahmins are to study & teach Vedic lore, to conduct sacrifices, to give & receive gifts They are the middle men between gods & men They acts as temple priests & invoke gods on behalf of others
MANU - BRAHMIN They are expected to show exemplary behavior & spend their lives in the pursuit of divine knowledge & preservation of the traditions According to Manu, the law maker, a Brahmin was an incarnation of Dharma (sacred Tradition), born to serve & protect the Dharma
MANU - BRAHMIN He belonged to the excellent of the human race, endowed with intelligence & knowledge to attain Brahman He was the highest on earth, the lord of all created beings. Whatever that existed in the world was the property of a Brahmana & he was entitled to all
MANU - KSATRIYA The Ksatriya are to protect the people, to give gifts, to study the Vedas, & to abstain from sensual pleasure It was a king’s duty to protect his kingdom & his people He had something in himself of the gods such Indra, Vayu, Yama…
MANU - KSATRIYA A king should not be despised even if he was an infant His authority should not be questioned except when he ignored his duties in supporting & protecting Brahmins
MANU - KSATRIYA The king has the right to punish, but he must be fair in his punishment It was king’s responsibility to protect the caste system & the social order & lavish the priests with generous gifts at every opportunity
MANU - VAISYA The Vaisya are to tend cattle, to give alms, to sacrifice, to study the Vedas, to lend money, to cultivate the land They had the right to perform & participate in certain Vedic rituals but they were not allowed to marry woman of higher caste
MANU - SUDRAS Sudras to serve meekly the other castes. The line of distinction is between the 3 upper Varna’s & the Sudras, not between Brahmins & non Brahmins Brahmins, Ksatriya & Vaisya are to study the Vedas, but this is not mentioned as a Sudras duty Sudras are forbidden to study the Vedas
MANU - CANDALA The lowest of the Sudras were called Candala or the impure ones They were treated as untouchables because of their gory religious practices, penchant for sacrifices, magical rites & unclean habits
MANU - CANDALA In ancient times they were not allowed to enter a village or a city during the day time or walk in the same street where men of other castes walked. Even their shadow were considered impure & their very sight as a bad omen
MANU - CANDALA So they lived mostly on the fringes of society, unknown & uncared for, following some esoteric religion of their own & working mostly in the grave yards & cremation grounds or as hunters, butcher & professional cleaners of human waste
Sudras & the Veda SANKARA – COMMENTARY TO VEDANTA SUTRA 1.3.38
Sudras & the Veda Sankara quotes with approval the following passage from the Veda The ears of him (Sudras) who hears the Veda are to be filled with molten lead … For a Sudras is like a cemetery, therefore the Vedas is not to be read in the vicinity of a Sudras
Sudras & the Veda The tongue of a Sudras is to be slit if he pronounces the Vedas, & his body to be cut if he preserves the Veda. Only the members of the 3 upper Varna are to study the Veda, to participate in Vedic sacrifices, & to bestow gift in Vedic fashion
Sudras & the Veda Sankara recognize that this general rule may at times be alter If a Sudras despite the rule somehow acquire Vedic knowledge, he will be liberated, “since knowledge in all cases bring it fruit.” Sankara acknowledge that the Ithihasas & the Puranas may be taught to the Sudras
Sudras & the Veda He quotes the Mahabharata to support his view: “He is to teach the 4 castes.” But to make sure his principal point is not lost, Sankara adds as a concluding remarks: “It remains, however, a settled point that they (Sudras) do not possess any such qualification to the Vedas
TWICE & ONCE BORN
TWICE & ONCE BORN Brahmins, Ksatriya & Vaisya are twice born, that is the male members of these Varna undergo at puberty a sacrament marking their spiritual birth. Sudras, once born that is they do not have a spiritual birth The supreme Varna Dharma for the twice born is to engage in self perfecting.
TWICE & ONCE BORN The chief obligation of the once born is to serve the twice born, knowing that their status as Sudras is the result of Karmic forces & that the twice born state is a possibility for them in later reincarnation There is no necessity that each individual to go through the 4 Varna’s, that is the Vaisya & Ksatriya do not need to anticipate becoming Brahmins as part of their Sadhana
BRAHMIN STATUS IN HINDU LAW BOOK
BRAHMIN STATUS Brahmin are given extremely high status in Hindu law book The gods are invisible deities, but Brahmins are visible deities A Brahmin whether learned or not, is a great deity Their duties are chiefly concern with the conservation of the Vedic lore
Brahmin Privileges listed in the Dharma Sastras
Privileges They must serve as guru to all the Varna They must expound the proper duties & conduct to all classes They may eat sacrificial food They cannot be given corporal punishment
Privileges They are free from taxation Example there is lighter punishment for adultery committed by a Brahmin than for adultery committed by a Sudras. They may keep all found treasure They do not sin by dying without an heir
Privileges They are favor on the roadways Killing a Brahmin is the greatest sin Threatening or striking a Brahmin is severely condemned They received lighter punishment for some offences
Privileges They cannot be called as litigant by a member of a lower Varna They may be guests at Sraddhas (Oblations to the dead) They are the only one who can perform certain sacrifices
Limitation of the Sudras
Sudras Limitation They cannot study the Veda nor perform Vedic rites Nor engage in most of the sacraments They cannot gain merit by giving gifts to the Brahmins They cannot cook for the Brahmin, nor eat with them, nor touch them. They are to spend their whole life in the householder stage
How the Caste System was Enforced
How the Caste System was Enforced HEREDITY CASTE RULE MARRIAGES PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT ROYAL SUPPORT
How the Caste System was Enforced The caste system was enforced with the help of law books such as Manusmriti and the support of kings who considered themselves as upholders of dharma. The force of tradition, superstition, religious beliefs, fear of punishment also played an important role in its success
Heredity The caste system was based on birth. People inherited caste from their parents and passed it on to their children. Individuals had no right to change their caste as long as they practiced the Vedic religion.
Heredity But they could be excommunicated from the caste by the kings or the local administrators or village heads in case of serious transgression. In case of inter caste marriages which were rare, children inherited the castes of their fathers.
Caste Rules The caste rules were enforced strictly through the fear of political and religious authority. The success of the system depended upon the performance of duties prescribed for each caste. The rules varied from caste to caste
People of higher castes enjoyed privileges but were also expected to be good role models. For a Brahmin study of the Vedas, practice of rituals and leading a pure and austere life were a must. Otherwise he was considered to be equal to a Sudra in the eyes of his fellow caste members Caste Rules
Caste Rules Women were expected to assist their husbands in observing the caste rules. Purification ceremonies, fines and minor punishments were prescribed to annul the negative effect of violating caste rules.
Marriage The caste system prohibited marriages outside one's caste to avoid inter mixture of the castes (Varna samkaram), which was considered to be a sign of decline of dharma and the very reason why the caste system was devised.
The law books allowed certain types of inter-caste marriages as an exception rather than rule. Marriages between a higher caste men and lower caste women were less objectionable than Marriages between Sudra males and higher caste females and marriages between men of upper castes and Sudra women Marriage
Preferential treatment The three upper castes enjoyed distinct advantages in society compared to the Sudras whose job was to serve the three upper castes and live like fourth class citizens.
Preferential treatment People born in the three upper castes were given initiation into the study of the Vedas and treated as twice born, while Sudras were not allowed to study or even hear the Vedas. They were treated on par with animals and considered once borne
Preferential treatment The laws were discriminatory in matters of rewards and punishments. They prescribed lighter punishments for higher castes than the lower castes who had technically little recourse against the former in criminal cases
Preferential treatment For the same offence committed, a lower caste person might attract physical torture, slavery or death penalty while a higher caste person might get away with a simple fine or chastisement or purification ceremony. The lower caste persons were also not allowed to act as witnesses or sit in judgment against higher castes
Royal Support The caste system was preserved and enforced mostly through royal support. The relationship between the priestly class and the warrior class was one of convenience
Royal Support The kings took upon themselves the tasks of protecting the caste system and preventing caste intermixture while the priests performed sacrificial ceremonies and purifications ceremonies seeking the welfare of the king and a place for him in heavens
Royal Support The scriptures proclaimed the king as a god in human form and protector and preserver of castes and caste order The very notion of punishment was a created by God and given to the kings upon earth to help them destroy evil and keep men on the path of dharma
The scriptures suggested that a king should start his day by worshipping three Brahmins on waking up and follow their advice with humility and modesty. He should also appoint a Brahman to the position of a chief minister with and deliberate with him on the most important affairs concerning royal policy Royal Support
Justification of Caste System VEDASKARMASGUNASRELIGIOUS LAW
Justification in the Vedas No Vedic tradition is valid unless it is found in the Vedas. The caste system would not have found approval among the Vedic people unless there was some reference to it in the Vedas.
Justification in the Vedas The Purusha Sukta in the 10th Mandala of the Rig-Veda describes how the castes came into existence, from different parts of Purusha, the Cosmic Soul, at the time of a grand sacrifice performed by the gods.
Justification in the Vedas The Brahmins came out of his mouth, the Ksatriya from his arms, the Vaisya from his thighs and the Sudras from his feet. Many scholars believe that concepts and the imagery of Purusha Sukta belong to later Vedic period rather than the Rig-Veda period and so it was probably a later day interpolation
Karma Justification The concept of karma perfectly justifies the caste system based on birth. It favors the argument that people of lower castes have to blame themselves for their plight because of their bad karma in their past lives.
Karma Justification Their pitiable plight is a stern warning to the rest of the humanity that the wheel of dharma operates inexorably, sparing none and favoring none. This line of argument is found in many scriptures, including the Bhagavad-Gita, according to which people of good merit and those who had developed detachment or dispassion were born in pious families Bhagavad Gita echoes the same theme
Karma Justification In the fourth chapter of the book, Lord Krishna declared that the fourfold Varna system was created by him based on the triple Gunas and mechanism of karma By combining the belief in karma with the caste system, the ancient law makers prescribed different vocational and occupational duties for each caste and expected people to follow them sincerely as an integral part of their religious duty
Observing these duties without questioning them was an act of merit, which entitled them to progress on the path of dharma and obtain a better life in the next birth Karma Justification
GUNAS JUSTIFICATION According to many schools of Hindu philosophy, all beings and objects in the world contain the triple Gunas or qualities of Prakriti. Their dominance or suppression cause people to act and behave differently and make them fit for certain types of occupations
GUNAS JUSTIFICATION These three qualities are Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Sattva is characterized by purity and spirituality and manifests in men in the form of knowledge, intelligence, faith, sincerity, devotion, piousness and so on. Sattva is believed to be the predominant quality among the men of knowledge, in other worlds, Brahmins
GUNAS JUSTIFICATION Rajas is characterized by egoism and materialism and manifests in men as ambition, pride, desire for wealth and personal power, lust, hypocrisy, attachment and so on. Rajas are believed to be the predominant quality in case of men of action, in other words, in Ksatriya and Vaisya
GUNAS JUSTIFICATION Tamas is characterized by lethargy and manifests in men in the form of ignorance, lack of ambition, extreme austerities, demonical resolve, uncleanliness, negative attitude, unhealthy habits and other forms of undesirable behavior. Tamas is believed to be the predominant quality in men who are unclean and ignorant, in other words, Sudras
RELIGIOUS JUSTIFICATION The caste system was justified by most of the Smrti literature, Manusmriti being the most notorious among them and by such religious scriptures as the Puranas, the Sutra literature and scriptures such as the Bhagavad-Gita and some later day Upanishads. The law books not only justified rigid caste system but prescribed severe punishments in case of violation.
RELIGIOUS JUSTIFICATION The very purpose for which the law books were composed and the manner in which the information was organized in them on caste lines suggest that in ancient and medieval India they were meant to perpetuate and justify the caste system and provide clear guidelines to the administrative machinery to enforce the laws concerning social divisions with little confusion
Caste in other religion Despite the obvious defects, problems & injustices of the castes, the systems pervades the lives of many in India who are not Hindus The caste system has entered Islam with divisions into Sayed, Mughal, Sheikh, & Pathan
Caste in other religion Zoroastrianism in India had developed similar divisions: Atharvas, Rathaesthas, Vastrtafshuyans & Huiti Christians in India have also formed groups analogous to castes
Charges against Varna Dharma
Charges against Varna Dharma It direct the people attention of people to ceremonies & magical practices rather than to moral issues Deaden human sympathies towards the less fortunate people of society Fragment & narrow the human compass of humanitarian concerns, & places a higher values on birth then on character & attainment
British & the Caste System They did not attempt to abolish the caste system as they saw in it a great opportunity to maintain their hold by keeping the society divided. The Christian missionaries found in it a convenient means to convert people to Christianity and keep the Hindu society defensive
Ambedkar, an untouchable who earned a doctorate at Columbia University, suffered all his life at the hands of people inferior to him in education yet superior to him by reason of Varna Office helpers in the government buildings at New Delhi used to slam inter office communications on his desk as an expression of their attitude towards his untouchability Dr Ambedkar & the caste system
In conversation with Gandhi on August 14, 1931 “Gandhiji, I have no homeland; &this religion my own wherein we are treated worse than cats & dogs, wherein we cannot get water to drink? No self respecting Untouchable worth the name would be proud of this land
On October 14, 1956 — and a mere two months before his death — Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the scholar and political leader who was principally responsible for the drafting of India’s Constitution, converted to Buddhism in a public ceremony in Nagpur. Somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000 of his Dalit followers — the accounts vary — embraced Buddhism in the immediate wake of his conversion Ambedkar Conversion
India after Independence
India after Independence After independence, Indian constitution guaranteed equal status and fundamental rights to all classes of people. Practice of untouchability was officially declared as a serious crime, punishable with severe penalties. Provisions were made to identify and protect the lower castes from exploitation and ill treatment.
India after Independence Reservation policy created a level playing field and protected them from unfair competition from higher castes in matters of employment and education. Today the lower castes occupy positions of authority and leadership and are engaged in every profession.
While a lot of improvement in their overall status is still required, through constitutional guarantees the Indian government established many safeguards for the lower castes and improved their status in society considerably so much so that often the high castes complain of being discriminated and at a disadvantage India after Independence
India after Independence By granting constitutional guarantees to the lower castes and protecting them from unfair competition, the Indian government averted a major disaster for the newly independent country such as a civil war or civil strife or mass conversions to other religions