Historical journey into the Indian Caste system - Yogita Karpate

My curious friends from the western world ask me many questions about
Indian culture, food, and customs. Two of their favorite ones are, “why are
there so many Gods in the Hindu religion?” And the other is, “why are there so many casts in India?” Let me take you all on a historical journey of India. So put your seat belts on!


When I began my research on castes, I was surprised to know that the “Caste System” is not an Indian concept. It originated somewhere in Europe. In some cultures, it was practiced in a strict hierarchal sense. Societies were divided into sections based on the economic capacity of people. The poorest people were put in the low caste, and the wealthiest were in the high caste. People belonging to one caste were considered “Pure blood” or “Pure race.” Inter- caste marriages were not acceptable in these societies. This kind of system “as it is” was introduced in India during the colonial period. In recent history, India was colonized by many countries, including Britain, Portugal, France, and others. When these people started ruling India, they noticed that Indian society is also divided into many sections. They somehow assumed that criterion for the division of sections is the same as it was practiced in other societies. Their assumptions were so wrong! Their misinterpretations caused
big damage to Indian society. The caste system that is practiced in present-day India is the one that was imposed by these foreign rulers.


So, what is the original system? And who invented this system? It was based on a concept called “Varna” and Jaati”. These are Sanskrit words. They have deep spiritual meaning attached to them. This concept also has a very deep Psychological and economical reasoning linked to it. And who invented this concept? The answer is, not one single person. Many “Rishis” worked on this concept for many years and built this structure together. Rishis were the scientists of that era. They invested their time and energy in research and discoveries. Some of the Rishis were great social scientists and superb psychologists. As time progressed, these Rishis made new additions to the Varna and Jaati system and removed the not required elements. The system went through many changes over the years. The changes were based on the needs of society at that time. Unfortunately, the entire system has been misinterpreted by Indians and foreigners for so many years. Therefore, it is somewhere lost in traditional history books from India. But we are in good times now! Many new-age scientists, scholars, and reformists are helping us clear our doubts and feel grateful to the Rishis from the past.


The Rishis found out that there are broadly four types of people in a society. They named these four categories as “Brahman”, “Kshatriya”, “Vaishya”, and “Shudra”. According to their observations, all the people either fall into one of these categories or are a mix of them. These four categories are collectively called “Varnas”. The Rishis said that all four types of people are equally important for society. They firmly said that a society cannot function without even one of them. Peace and harmony will stay if all four kinds of people work together, and respect each other.


A Group of people from the same “Varna” were said to belong to the same
“Jaati”. The Rishis also observed that Varnas are based on a person’s character and Jaati is based on birth. This means if a person is born to “Vaishya” parents but has a character like a “Kshatriya” then his Varna becomes “Kshatriya.” If the next four generations of that person also behave like Kshatriya, then the Jaati of the family becomes “Kshatriya” and not “Vaishya” anymore.


All the observations and recommendations of these Rishis were documented in ancient texts called “Dharma Sutras”. Ancient Indian scriptures are broadly divided into two categories, “Shruti” and “Smriti”. The Dharma Sutras were part of Smriti. There are many Dharma Sutras from different Rishis. But in the context of the “Varna and Jaati” systems, the most talked about Dharma Sutra is “Manusmriti” written by “Rishi Manu”.


To conclude, the “Varna and Jaati” system is the original system from India. Unfortunately, the concept of Varna is lost somewhere in history but the structure of Jaati is intact. The Rishis who invented this structure
recommended that Varna and Jaati cannot be separated from each other. If it is separated then peace and harmony cannot be maintained in the country.

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