The vedic Caste System of ancient India is found among Hindus in the world, but the Hindu caste of system allows for hereditary castes, inter-dining among various caste as well as intermarriage. A caste system in India is a class structure determined by birth. It means that in some societies, if your family is poor, then you are bound to be poor as well. The same applies to the rich, if you are born in a rich family, then you are also rich. In its extreme, the Vedic Caste system makes the lower class division of people; the poor, untouchable to the higher classes. Caste system ensured that members lived, married, ate with their own group. If you were born in one caste, it was impossible to change caste or mix with other castes. Social rules defined the mode of behavior within a caste or in front of other castes.
During the Vedic Age, division of classes came to reflect economic and social roles more than ethnic differences between these two groups, the Aryans and non- Aryans. As the changes took place, they gave rise to a more complex system of social groups or castes into which are born and they cannot change. Aryans also brought the caste system into India together with the idea of worshipping one God who is the only true God, the Mandate of Heaven. The caste system is way written history but it has developed slowly over time based on the beliefs of Aryan castes that started the movement into subcontinent 1000BCE.
Scholars have traced the existence of the caste system into three stages of evolution that is; the Rig Vedic Age, the Later Vedic Age and the age of Sutras or Upanishads.
The origin of the Caste system in the Rig Vedic Age
V.M Apte remarked that the caste system did not originate from the caste system but it developed gradually. There was a very clear distinction between the Aryans and the aborigines. The major distinction between them was the color, where the Aryans were fair colored and the Aborigines were dark colored. Aryans perhaps feared that the dark- skinned non- Aryans would spoil their identity. The word Varna meant color and not caste. There was a distinction caste existed between the Aryans and non- Aryans which, was based on color. Basham took a critical view of color distinction and class than others. Basham pointed out that Varna and Sreni divisions became the basis of the caste divisions. In the transition stage many of the Vaishyas and artisans lost the status they had earlier on. The Aryans were divided into divisions; social and economic but the social classes were not hereditary (Singh, 205).
One of the theories of the origin of caste system is the social historical theory which elaborates the creation of Varnas, Jats and the untouchables. In this system, the Aryans arrived in India disregarding the people of dark skin. They started a fight, conquering and taking control over the North India region and pushing the local people towards the jungle and mountains in the South. In this theory, the caste system came about as a result of migration of Indo-Aryan in Indus Valley and Ganges plains. The most common of these groups were speaking Indo-European languages called Aryans. After settling in India, Indo-Aryans formed small herding and agricultural communities across India.
The development of patriarchy and patrilineal was most common during the Vedic Age. Marriage and child bearing were crucial to maintain the male lineage. Marriage institution was important and different types of marriages such as monogamy, polygamy and polyandry were common in Rig Veda, one of Veda scripts. Only men were allowed to take up positions such as priests, tribal chiefs and warriors and descent was only in the male lineage. Women were only allowed to have influence over the home affairs and were to remain subject to the guidance of the males over their lives, first father, second husband and lastly the son. Male gods were important than the female gods. Therefore, distinct gender roles may have contributed to the stratification of the caste system.
Religious theory also explains the beginning and development of the caste system. It explains how the four Varnas were founded. Classes of Varnas enforced division of into the population which still affects the world as today. Around 1000 BCE, Indo-Aryans came up with four main distinctions namely:
Brahmin, who were considered as scholars, priests and teachers
Sudras, who were the artisans and service providers, where initially non-Aryans were accepted to the Vedic society
Kshatriyas, who were the governors, warriors and kings
Vaishyas, who were merchants, agriculturalists and merchants
According to the ancient Hindu book, Rig Veda, the primal man who was known as the Purush destroyed himself to create a human society. It is said that different Varnas were created from different parts of his body. Brahmins were created from his head, the Kshatrias from his hands, Vaishyas from his thighs and Sudras from his feet. The hierarchy of Varna is determined by the descending order of various organs from which the Varnas were made. There are other religious theories that claim that Varnas were created from body organs of Brahmin who is the creator of the world.
The biological theory says that all existing things, inaminated or animated possess three qualities in different portions. Sattva qualities include goodness, intelligence, wisdom, honesty and other positive qualities. Rajas include equalities such as pride, passion and other passionate qualities. Tamas include qualities such as lack of creativity, stupidity, dullness and other negative qualities. People who possess different doses of these qualities adopt different types of occupation. This theory states that Brahmins possess Sattva qualities, Kshatrias and Vaishyas both possess Rajas qualities, while Sudras inherent Tamas. Just like human beings, foods also possess various qualities. These foods are believed to affect the eaters intelligence. Brahmins and Vaishyas are composed of Sattva ingredients which include milk, honey, fruits, roots and vegetables. Meat is considered to have Tamasaic qualities. Different people take different type of foods with different ingredients. The disadvantage of this theory is that in various parts of India, the same food was considered to have different qualities which gave different qualities (Pruthi, 98).
The Aryans spread and formed the Caste system expanding their influence in various locations. The newly formed groups assimilated into the group forming outside of the caste system. These outcasts were referred to as untouchables. This is because they performed the least wanted jobs such as washing toilets and washrooms, tanning and drying leather, dealing with dead bodies among others. The caste system affected the social structure of India as well as well as Aryan India and modern India. Although the caste system was abolished in India, some still maintain it although it is against the social classes.
Jadhav, Narendra. Untouchables: My Family's Triumphant Escape from India's Caste System. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press, 2005. Print.
Pruthi, Raj. Indian Caste System. New Delhi: Discovery Publishing House, 2004. Print.
Sagar, Sunder L. Hindu Culture and Caste System in India. Delhi: Uppal Book Store, 1975. Print.
Singh, Ekta. Caste System in India: A Historical Perspective. Delhi: Kalpaz Publ, 2005. Print.
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