The Candid Eye

December 27, 2009

Caste system -1. Varna – Profession by Choice

An elaborate detailed talk by the historian Sri D. K. Hari, was an eye opener on the knowledge of Caste system, its true intention and form, and its current situation. The brief of talk is present here. My personal understanding and additional interpretations presented in this series:-

In the modern political view of India, the very word Caste is looked at as controversial. The word Caste was brought on India by the Portuguese with their term“Casta”. The term “caste system” is of British colonial creation and was first used in 1871 census in India.

Varna and Jathi:

From time immemorial we have been having the societal division concept through Varna and Jathi. This concept of Varna and Jathi were combined and transformed into caste system by the colonial British administrators for their administrative nomenclature and classification.

What do you understand by Varna? Many people think of it as color of the skin. Though it does mean color, it was not used for  what is the division of people in the society based on color.

The word Varna is etymologically from Var meaning to choose. There are four Varna in India. They being:

Brahmana, Vaishya, KshatriyaSudra

As the word Varna suggests it is to choose ones way of life among these 4 primary streams.

Under or inside the Varna is the concept of JathiJathi stands for trade guilds, stock, variety. It also refers to species or nation. These two concepts of division of labour in society based on choice attitude and aptitude of the individuals practiced from ancient and medieval India was summarily clubbed as caste by British colonial administrators.

The Four Varnas were not by birth, but by choice. A parson from any Jathi was allowed to take the task in one of the four Varnas. There are ample examples of Rishis who were initially fishermen, robbers and so on, thus from any Jathi a person could become Brahmana, based on his skills and knowledge.

There have been many kings who were from various Jathi, based on their valour.

There have been many businessmen based on their negotiation skills, not based on the birth.

Sudra doesn’t refer to the lowest, it refers to the tasks which are logistics oriented. People choosing Sudra varna could manage irrigation system, for example. And an irrigation system was by no means less important than defence or army, and India being farmers’ country the irrigation system was its backbone.

The importance of various varnas, and the power in the society the people following certain varna has always been fluctuating, and not given to one Varna. E.g. the Kshatriyas would be very important in war time, where as Vaishyas would be important in peace time, for bringing prosperity to the country by good trade. Brahmanas would be very important when everything is prosperous, as the human beings would seek the knowledge of divine, and Sudras would be important when festivities are to be organized, huge crop harvesting and transport is to be managed.

The caste system of India was not tightly bound but had the concept of migration from one caste to another in built based on the occasion of the individual person. Most of the great Rishi, the Vedic scholars and the other great scholars of the Indian civilisation were born in the Sudra varna and because of their abilities and realisation migrated to become Brahmana.
Kings of Bharath:
Most of the kings of India also belong to the Sudra Varna and because of their kingship became Kshatriya. This migration was a recognised aspect of the IndianVarna system.
Caste Stratification:
It is in the medieval period during the onslaught and later in the colonial period the caste stratification took place which led to the debacle and down slide of India.
Caste – a pan religious reality:
The horrors of caste are not limited to the Hindus alone . The Indian Christians also the practice of caste system very rigidly. They have segregated churches, segregated cemeteries, segregated services, segregated processions.
The Muslims also have practiced the caste system in India with Azraf being the noble and the Arzal being the degraded. The Mayazur are the low caste bonded labour in Pakistan.
Even among the Sikhs the caste does exist in reality as the Jat Sikh and the Chamar Sikh.
From this it is clear that the concept of caste is not just in the Hindu religion but it is a pan religious reality of India.
Social leaders:
Various social leaders of India whose names are noble and endless have worked tiredlessly to abolish or mitigate the horrors and stratification of caste whenever it has reared its ugly head in the society.
Colonial wreak:
The colonial rule in India wreaked the economy of the land. Probably the most affected by the colonial rule were the Sudra whose property, education, vocation and stature were snatched away from them by the British administrators.
Change adapt:
Today, as India is progressing we see a cycle of changes happening. With these changes, the Jathi Varna concept of India needs to adapt itself. This concept held the fabric of the Indian society in its progress for many thousand years.
The realisation that should come now in us, is that the 3 upper castes namely Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaisya should realise that they all belong to the common stock of people and due to opportunities and historical reasons they are better off socially now. The above 3 castes are of the same genetic stock as the Sudra. They belong to the same land, same society, and have all been one through the ages. This realisation should enthuse these three castes to take a concrete effort by themselves in uplifting the Sudra brotheren through positive effort.

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