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An old blog (2001) on Hindu Caste System & Hinduism

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An old blog (2001) on Hindu Caste System & Hinduism Empty An old blog (2001) on Hindu Caste System & Hinduism

Post by Seva Lamberdar Tue Nov 30, 2021 10:06 pm

Vedic vocations (Hindu castes) were not related to heredity (birth)


Rather coincidentally, at the dawn of civilization, as the people gathered and lived in clans or tribes (Visha), they collectively - irrespective of their undertakings within Visha (such as in agriculture, woodworking, trade and other vocations) - came to be known as the Vaishya (meaning - belonging to Visha).

To meet the liturgical needs of the society, the Vaishya - from among themselves - would select, on the basis of skills in elocution, the Brahmins (students or orators of the Vedas - compiled knowledge). Similarly, for administrative purposes, Vaishya with qualities of leadership would be selected as Kshatriya (sovereign, tribal chieftain, administrator of Kshatar - dominion or tribal area / town). Furthermore, a Visha (tribe) - in addition to having the Vaishyas (including Brahmins, Kshatriya, cowherders and woodworkers etc.) - also embodied people known as Shudra (meaning - not of tribe) representing all the newcomers (immigrants) to that particular tribe. They included persons from other tribes (such as the vanquished foes and the migrants) and the children born out of inter-tribal unions. Being somewhat new into that tribe and encountering unfamiliar rules, regulations and customs, a Shudra was limited in his vocational options and was generally relegated to providing service and assistance to members of the host tribe. But over time, like a modern day immigrant, he would surpass the tribal or social barriers so as to fully assimilate in that society and pursue other professions. Thus, all the responsibilities related to a Visha could be grouped into four sub-categories: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra; the duties and skills involved with each of them are indicated in the following Sections (including the verses from the Bhagvad Gita).  

Incidentally, above classification functionally, not hereditary, with respect to the  ancient Vedic tribe (society) agrees with the anthropomorphic (human-like)  symbolism of Purusa Sukta in the Rig Veda (Book 10: Hymn 90.12):    "बराह्मणो.अस्य मुखमासीद बाहू राजन्यः कर्तः | ऊरूतदस्य यद वैश्यः पद्भ्यां शूद्रो अजायत || (brāhmaṇo.asya mukhamāsīd bāhū rājanyaḥ kṛtaḥ | ūrūtadasya yad vaiśyaḥ padbhyāṃ śūdro ajāyata ||)"  >>>  brahmin (in the tribe / society) is its mouth (oratorically as the transmitter of knowledge and teller of truth); kshatriya (in the tribe / society) is its arms (militarily, protecting and defending the tribe); vaishya,  representing the thighs (bodily, as the maintainer and supporter of tribe or society); and sudra travels on foot from outside ("padbhyam sudro ajayata", representing newcomers to the tribe from outside and the intertribal unions).

Note also that, in old times, there was no concept of money or cash. People produced things and bartered (traded) them for other goods and services. A producer or trader belonging to Vaishya would include people such as farmer producing grains and milk etc., blacksmith (Lohar) making iron implements, leather-worker (Charmar or Chamar, charm meaning leather) manufacturing shoes, and so on. Thus, for subsistence, a Brahmin would do worship (puja) in a 'Vaishya' farmer's house and get grains and milk in return. Similarly, a Chamar would exchange shoes for food items from a farmer, iron implements from a Lohar, and so on. Similarly, a 'Shudra' servant might work or help in a farmer's field for food in return. If he were to help a Lohar, then Lohar would provide him with food items. Moreover, all these people would give a share of their goods (produce) and services to the Kshatriya (tribal chief) for administration of Visha (tribe or society). Society was basically managed through bartering system.

2. Background & Discussion (Various Social and Cultural Issues)

The ancient society recognized the importance of all. Irrespective of one's skill or background, there was a place for him / her to participate actively and make useful contribution. The ceremonial rites, though conducted by the learned priest, were open to all. People used prayers for atonement and benediction for all. Everyone sent their "heroes" (sons) to the battles for Visha or to protect and assist the Sovereign. A number of important aspects of the ancient society can be further clarified by considering the following passages (with references to one God or BRAHMAN+, and manifesting as Agni, Indra or Savitar) from Vedas (ancient Hindu texts).

From the RIGVEDA (RV):

"What God shall we adore with our oblation?...He is the God of gods and none beside Him...O Father, thou Creator of Heaven and Earth, by eternal Law ruling - protect us...O Almighty, the Lord of beings, you alone pervade all the created beings..." RV (Book 10, Hymn: 121.8-10)

"We all possess various thoughts and plans and diverse are the callings of men. The carpenter seeks out that which is cracked, the physician the ailing, the priest the worshipper......." RV (Book 9, Hymn 112.1)

"I am a bard, my father is a physician, my mother's job is to grind the corn......" RV (Book 9, Hymn 112.3)

"The man who has awakened to the knowledge, becomes perfect. Let him speak for us to the gods..." RV (Book 5, Hymn 65.1)

"May they, our Fathers who in their skill belong to the lowest order, attain higher one, those of midmost may attain the highest. May they who have attained a life of spirit, the knower of sacrifice, the guileless, help us when called upon...."  RV (Book 10, Hymn 15.1-2)

"Let gods lead us, let there be a stable union of the wife and husband... May authority be ever yours (i.e., wife's) in speech. Happy be you and prosper with your children, and be ever watchful to rule the household. Unite yourself with this man your husband. So authority will be yours in speech.. May the kinsman of the bride thrive well.." RV (Book 10, Hymn 85.26-28)

"May the gods grant riches to the men more liberal than the terrifying..."  RV (Book 1, Hymn 185.9)

From the YAJURVEDA (YV):

"May gods anoint this man to be without rival, for mighty rule, for mighty dominion and for great splendour. This man, son of such a person, such a woman, of such a clan, is anointed king, O you subjects... He is your lord...He is also sovereign of our learned Brahmins...Let all men protect him." YV (Kanda 1, Prapathaka 8, Hymn i.8.10.c)

"O Agni, may all mortals seek your friendship, the guide of all. May all solicit you for glory, riches and fame. May all of us prosper as you do." YV (Kanda 1, Prapathaka 3, Hymn i.4.46.a-c)

"O Agni, grant glory to our Brahmins, set luster in our Kshatriyas, luster in our Vaishyas, luster in our Shudras.." YV (Kanda 5, Prapathaka 7, Hymn v.7.6.d)

"O god Savitar.. strengthen the life of subjects, strengthen the subjects..." YV (Kanda 1, Prapathaka 3, Hymn i.3.6.m-n)

"O Agni...each fault done in a village or in forest, in society or mind, each sinful act that we have committed to Shudra or Vaishya or by preventing a religious act, even of that sin, you are the expiation..." YV (Kanda 1, Prapathaka 8, Hymn i.8.3.d)

"He who knows well both knowledge and Nescience simultaneously, overcoming death by knowledge attains life immortal." YV (Isa Upanishad - verse 11)

From the SAMVEDA (SV):

"May our subjects be rich and strong with the favor of Indra. May we be wealthy in food, rejoice with them..." SV (Part Second, Book 4, Ch. 1, Hymn 14)


"As a part of God's creation (work), the four vocations are subgrouped according to people's guna (skills) and karma (assignments). Know that all work is for Him, even though He is beyond work, in Eternity." BG (Ch. 4 - verse 13)

"Ignorant men, but not the wise, say that Sankhya (variously as: Jnana Yoga , Sanyasa or Surrender, Path of Vision or Wisdom) and Yoga (variously as: Karma Yoga, Tyaga or Renunciation, Path of Action, Bhakti or devotional service, Japaa or Silence, Dhayana or Contemplation / Meditation, Brahamcharya or Austerity, Vaanprastha or Hermitlike) are different paths; but he who gives his self (soul) to one reaches the end of two." BG (Ch. 5- verse 4)

"Even if the greatest sinner worships God with all his soul, he must be considered righteous because of his righteous will." BG (Ch. 9 - verse 30)

"And he shall soon become pure and reach everlasting peace. For this is His covenant that he who adores Him is not lost." BG (Ch. 9 - verse 31)

"God is one in all, but it seems as if he were many; He (as Vishnu / preserver) supports all beings: from Him (as Rudra / destroyer) ensues end, and from Him (as Brahma / creator) ensues beginning." BG (Ch. 13 - verse 16)

"The duties involving Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra are grouped according to people's abilities and skills." BG (Ch. 18 - verse 41)

"The skills for a Brahmin involve serenity, self-harmony, austerity and purity, loving-forgiveness and righteousness; vision, wisdom and faith." BG (Ch. 18 - verse 42)

"The qualities needed according to Kshatriya are: a heroic mind, splendor or inner fire, constancy, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and noble leadership." BG (Ch. 18 - verse 43)

"Trade, agriculture and rearing of cattle may be tackled by Vaishya; and the background (tenure) of a Shudra is also suited to providing support." BG (Ch. 18 - verse 44)

"People attain perfection when they find joy in their work. Hear how a person attains perfection and finds joy in his work." BG (Ch. 18 - verse 45)

"A person achieves perfection when his work is - performed with pure feeling of - worship of God, from whom all things come and who is in all." BG (Ch. 18 - verse 46)

"The words of vision and wisdom have been conveyed. Ponder them in the silence of your soul, and then in freedom do your will." BG (Ch. 18 - verse 63)

Hindu Dharma (Hinduism):

Hinduism is religion based on the Vedas, and also known as the Sanatan Dharma (eternal religion) or Vedic Dharma. In the Vedas, god Bhaga was the bestower of auspicious blessings. It soon became the power of goodness, and he who possessed this power was called Bhagvan. The religion associated with Bhagvan (or Bhagvat) was called Bhagvata Dharma.

Likewise, Indu (Soma-juice or nectar) used to be offered to God as libation in Vedic yajnas (worships), and consumed afterwards by people (Hindu) for health, life, prosperity and progeny. Hindu means as someone propitiated by Indu (the Vedic libation). Note, H -- in Hindu, and pronounced as in hut -- implies auspiciousness or delight.

Religion belonging to Hindu is called Hindu Dharma.

In response to the misconception that the word Hindu originated as some foreigners stepped into India, note that no one from outside could have come to India and started calling the locals Hindu suddenly if such a word (in Sanskrit -- not those foreigners' language) had not already existed there. 'Hindu' also is not related to 'Sindhu' -- a word with similar ending and meaning ocean or river, especially in the west of India.

The words Sindhu (ocean or river) and Hindu (expiated by Indu) are linguistically and phonetically different, and Hindu is not derived from Sindhu. Note that Vedic Sanskrit did use the letters (sounds) 's' and 'dh' and therefore would not replace them with 'h' and 'd', respectively, transforming Sindhu into Hindu. In addition, the ancient Greeks reaching India (circa Alexander the great) could have easily pronounced Sindhu without changing it to Hindu by dropping S in favor of H since they were used to pronounce Sigma (an alphabet in Greek, their mother-toungue) which is syllabically somewhat similar to Sindhu. Furthermore, Muslims entering India for the first time and speaking Arabic or Persian -- languages having alphabets Sad and Sin etc. for 's' sounds -- would not have to substitute H for S in Sindhu (and thus make it Hindu) to pronounce or use it in their own languages. The word Hindu -- not specific to any particular region or area -- was already in use when these foreigners arrived in India, and they did not invent it from Sindhu accidentally or due to necessity.

Women's Issues:

It seems from the above that the ancient society was quite considerate and respectful to those (both men and women) engaged in various vocations, and people were free to make choices or changes in their careers or skills if the opportunity existed. Vedic prayers also indicate that the women had considerable say in selecting their marriage partners, and were espoused to live in monogamous relationships while enjoying same rights as their husbands. Furthermore, in the Vedas there is little evidence of child marriages, dowry system and the practice of suttee or sati (self-immolation of a woman upon her husband's death). Similarly, there is no indication of any stigma relating to widowhood or the remarriage of a widow. Note also that the well-educated, scholarly and charismatic women of yore, who also participated in many philosophical debates with men, included Gargi (the daughter of Vachaknu - from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad) and Vidyottama (wife of the famed poet and writer, Kaalidasa, who started his life as a humble and menial worker in the woods). It is clear that the women or the lowly and humble in the society were neither ignored nor abandoned.

Listed below are a few examples of multi-vocational families and people changing their occupations and life styles.

(a) As indicated in the above, from the Rigveda, the mother of a bard (probably of the scriptures) was working in corn-grinding (an activity usually for a Shudra).

(b) Majority of the Rishis (sages) were both Brahmin and Kshatriya so as to manage their Aashramas (hermitages) effectively.

(c) In the Chandogya Upanishad, Satyakama (the illegitimate, varnasankra, son of a Shudra woman who did not even remember who her son's father was) went on to be accepted and educated for Brahmin work (the Gita: Ch. 18 - verse 42). This shows that the people (including the Shudra and of unknown lineage) had the choice of pursuing any occupation (even that of a Brahmin).

(d) Valmiki (given to chanda - meaning impetuosity - in his early days) started life as a robber. But later in life, after performing penance, he studied to become a Brahmin. He went on to become a great Rishi (sage) and wrote the Ramayana in Sanskrit. Thus, going from being a chandaal (meaning - cruel and brutal person) to a great human being not only demonstrates his personal endeavor, but also that the society was quite accepting of such a process and its outcome. In general, as indicated here and in the Vedic passages, the concept of untouchability (with respect to the Shudra or any one else as a dalit / untouchable) did not exist. Any shunning or condemnation of a person was due mainly to his / her engaging in an activity not useful or acceptable to the society. Above all, it is also clear that any type of socially stigmatic situation could be easily improved through penance and by changing one's behaviour. Incidentally, this type of humane rehabilitation of criminals and sinners is a sign of civilized people long ago; and this humane practice exists even today in various countries claiming to be modern and civilized.

(e) In one of the stories from the Ramayana, Rishi Viswamitra is said to have conducted Yajna (worship) at which the officiating priest was a once Kshatriya and the Yajamaan (worshipper) a Chandaal.

(f) In the Mahabharata, Satyavati (a Shudra-girl whose father was a fisherman), when presented with a marriage proposal from king Shantanu, married him only after he accepted her pre-nuptial agreement. Her own children, in stead of another older heir to the throne, went on to inherit the Kshatriya kingdom as was demanded in the pre-nuptial agreement. This indicates that the intercaste marriages and exchanges were quite prevalent; and that the women and Shudras could make free choices even when there was royalty involved.

(g) Matrimonial and Vocational Choices:

The evolution of society and customs was mainly due to the individual and collective needs and choices (as indicated also in some of the above Vedic quotes on marriage, vocational activities etc.). In addition, the role and influence of various espoused or suggested proclamations such as involving the varnashrama dharma (casteo-monastic orders) etc. - based on non-scriptural (non-Vedic) writings (such as Manusmriti etc. accredited to Manu et al.) - on the development and progress of society at large (across-the-board) was rather insignificant.

The ancient society (generally modest and homogeneous economically) did not restrict the cross-caste matrimonial and occupational choices. In spite of the socially liberal conditions, though, the change in vocation did not always lead to significant economic gains. In addition, some vocations (e.g., Vaishya and Shudra) were inherently conducive for their young to quickly and easily engage in the family business / profession and settle down (socially and economically) early in life. Consequently, the children from these families found the other vocations (such as the Brahmins and, to some extent, the Kshatriya) to be less rewarding and not worth the preparatory effort, which included living and training (and paying the teacher through labor) for decades in hermitages in harsh and forest-like conditions where the knowledge exchange between the guru and the pupils was usually in the oral tradition since the written manuscripts (on papyrus etc.) were scarce. On the other hand, the children from the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas families were predisposed (through the natural and continuous exposure to the family business) and were readily inducted by their parents into their traditional professions. Over time, this type of selecting the professions inadvertently gave rise to the tradition of vocation based families all around even though the society had not sought such an outcome. Note that the society in this respect remained flexible and allowed people (including the Shudra, who also engaged in menial and ignoble pursuits) the freedom of choice in their undertakings (e.g., Satyakama in the above).

In a similar and related context, it was deemed vocationally advantageous and convenient for a couple to marry if they both had the same background, because they would then be able to get involved in their family occupation quickly and easily without facing any uncertainty or requiring any additional apprenticeship. Moreover, the bride or the groom in this type of wedding arrangement would be less likely to encounter any unexpected, unfamiliar, inhospitable and unwanted post-marital social situations. Note also that, in addition to the weddings involving same type of families, the marriages among people from vastly different backgrounds also frequently took place (as in the case of Satyavati and Shantanu) and the society posed no restrictions.


by: Dr. Subhash C. Sharma (yr. 2001)
Seva Lamberdar
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An old blog (2001) on Hindu Caste System & Hinduism Empty Re: An old blog (2001) on Hindu Caste System & Hinduism

Post by Seva Lamberdar Thu Dec 02, 2021 12:35 pm

Regarding the untouchability, it arises mostly due to poverty and the nature of lowly tasks*.

People (especially the “untouchables”) end up being excluded from the social mainstream because of their poor economic condition. The best solution to this problem is to help poor people (including by Govt.) according to their economic condition (poverty line or limit) rather than their caste (ancestors’ occupation) or religion (where, how and to whom people pray). Moreover, the work performed by poor people (including the untouchables), even though very important to society, is usually manual and menial and it is considered by others as lowly.

People, usually the well-to-do, try to shy away from such lowly work and also shun those doing it. The effective solution to this problem is to bring a change in the attitude of people so that they don’t mind undertaking manual and menial tasks and don’t shun the workers engaged in such tasks.

Thus there is a need for important people in society, including ministers, politicians, leaders, officials etc., to carry out public demonstrations (in front of the media) where they engage in cleaning the public toilets and washrooms and sweeping the roads and streets. This will quickly get rid of the taboos about manual and menial work and end discrimination according to occupations.

* Ref.: Subhash C. Sharma, "Practical Steps To End Untouchability Quickly And Effectively" (2019),
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