This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
, “Caste has nothing to do with Varna”, in The Origin of the Caste System (Unpublished).
Caste has Nothing to with Varna: Recent views support that Caste System did not originate From Vedic Varna
By P. Priyadarshi
Earlier authors like A. L. Basham and M. N. Srinivas had indicated that caste is something entirely unrelated with Vedic Varna (vide supra). Later this view became more widely acceptable and even Romila Thapar subscribed to this view in her latest book (Thapar, 2002, vide infra). DNA studies too largely supported that the all the Indian castes share same DNAs and their DNAs vary more because of geographical distance rather than because of caste levels. In fact Basham had noted that the current castes are no more than one thousand years old, and have nothing to do with varna (vide infra). However, some campaign to spread falsehood about Hinduism is never restful. Thus recently one article (Chaubey et al 2007) made a false comment about Hindu Varna System, that it subscribes to the highly divisive and stratified caste system. However, reasoned authorities have made it clear that caste has nothing to with Varna. It is desirable that wrong notions about Hindu varna system is should be contracted. Hence to expose the truth, are quoted below three authorities of the subject (viz. Prof. A. L. Basham, 1967; Prof. M. N. Srinivas, 1962; and Prof. Romila Thapar, 2002) and the recent wrong allegation about origin of caste from varna by an European scientist.
The quote below is the one from Peopling of South Asia: investigating the caste–tribe continuum in India, authored by Gyaneshwer Chaubey et al, a scientist in the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Tartu University, Estonia, Published in an international journal of biological science, Bioessay [BioEssays 29:91–100, 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. link: http://evolutsioon.ut.ee/MAIT/pdf/bioessays.pdf ] “Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are communities in India that are given a special status by the Constitution of India. Scheduled castes were considered as „Sudra‟ in the classical „Chaturvarna‟ caste system while Scheduled tribes were considered „outcastes‟ and were not a part of the Indian caste system. „Chaturvarna‟ is a division of castes into four categories: Brahmin, Kshtriya, Vaishya and Sudra, which represent the social structuring of Hindu caste system society, which is highly stratified even further within each of these basic categories. Amongst the Sudra, the tribal population represents the most disadvantaged (often officially termed as „„backward‟‟) group in the highly ripped Indian society. The caste and tribal people of the lowest hierarchical status have during the last century been enlisted by Indian Government and given a legal classification as „„Scheduled‟‟ castes and tribes. Several specific provisions have been made in the Indian constitution for raising the socio-economical status of these „„Scheduled‟‟ groups.” Box 2, page 98. Contrary to lay beliefs and beliefs of most of the historians of older generation, the caste and Hindu Varna system have no relationship. Prof A. L. Basham (he was an Australian, who spent his life researching Indian history; none of his sentences have been contradicted so far by any historian). The following quotes are from his book The Wonder That Was India, Part I, (a survey of history and culture of Indian subcontinent before coming of the Muslims); Third Revised Edition, 1967, Thirty Fifth Impression, 1999, Bombay. (All emphasis added).
“The term varna does not mean „caste‟ and has never meant „caste‟ by which term it is often loosely translated”. (p. 35). “It was only in late medieval times that it was finally recognized that exogamy and sharing meals with members of other classes were quite impossible for respectable people. These customs and many others such as widow-remarriage, were classed as kalivarjya—customs once permissible, but to be avoided in this dark Kali age, when men are no longer naturally righteous.” (p. 148, top para, last lines). “In the whole of this chapter we have hardly used the word which in most minds is most strongly connected with the Hindu social order…In attempting to account for the remarkable proliferation of castes in 18th- and 19th- century India, authorities credulously accepted the traditional view that by a process of inter marriage and subdivision the 3000 or more castes of modern India had evolved from the four primitive classes, and the term „caste‟ was applied indiscriminately to both varna or class and jati or caste proper. This is a false terminology; castes rise and fall in social scale, and old castes die out and new ones are formed, but the four great classes are stable. They are never more or less than four, and for over 2,000 years their order of precedence as not altered. All ancient Indian sources make a sharp distinction between the two terms ;varna is much referred to but jati very little, and when it does appear in the literature it does not always imply the comparatively rigid and exclusive social groups of later times. If caste is defined as a system of groups within the class, which are normally endogamous, commensal and caste exclusive, we have no real evidence of its existence until comparatively late times.” (p. 148, para 2).
“…It is impossible to show its origin conclusively, and we can do little more than faintly trace its development, since early literature paid scanty attention to it; but it is practically certain that the caste did not originate from the four classes. Admittedly it developed later than they, but this proves nothing. There were subdivisions in the four classes at a very early date, but the Brahman gotras, which go back to Vedic times, are not castes, since the gotras are exogamous, and members of the same gotras are to be found in many castes.” (p. 148, lasl para 3rd line onwards). “…Many trades were organized in guilds, in which some authorities have seen the origin of the trade castes; but these trade groups cannot be counted as fully developed castes. A 5th century inscription from Mandsore shows us a guild of silk-weavers emigrating in a body from Lata (the region of the lower Narmada) to Mandsor, and taking up many other crafts and professions, from soldiering to astrology, but still maintaining its guild consciousness. We have no evidence that this group was endogamous or commensal, and it was certainly not craft-exclusive, but its strong corporate sense is that of a caste in the making. [ It is likely that many of today‟s Indian castes are products of traders guilds, which were very powerful in India before Muslim occupation of the country. The trading and artisan castes probably originated from guilds.--Priyadarshi] Huen Tsang in the 7th century was well aware of the four classes, and also mentioned many mixed classes, no doubt accepting the orthodox view of the time that these sprang from intermarriage of the four, but he shows no clear knowledge of existence of caste in its modern form.” (p. 149, para 2, 7th line onwards) “…Indian society developed a very complex social structure, arising partly from tribal affiliations and partly from professional associations, which was
continuously being elaborated by the introduction of new racial groups into the community, and by the development of new crafts. In the Middle Ages the system became more or less rigid, and the social group was now a caste in the modern sense. Prof J.J. Hutton has interpreted the caste system as an adaptation of one of the most primitive of the social relationships, whereby a small clan, living in a comparatively isolated village, would hold itself aloof from its neighbors by a complex system of taboos, and he has found embryonic caste features in the social structure of some of the wild tribes of presentday India. The caste system may well be the natural response of the many small and primitive peoples who were forced to come to terms with a more complex economic and social system. It did not develop out of the four Aryan varnas, and the two systems have never been thoroughly harmonized” (p. 149-150). Another important author was M. N. Srinivas, the father of Indian social anthropology and sociology. Some quotes from his book Srinivas, M. N., Caste in Modern India, M. N. Srinivas, Media Promoters and Publishers PVT. LTD., Bombay. 1989, (first published 1962): (all emphasis added): “The varna-model has produced a wrong and distorted image of caste. It is necessary for the sociologist to free himself from the hold of the varna-model if he wishes to understand the caste system. It is hardly necessary to add that it is more difficult for Indian sociologist than it is for non-Indian.” (p. 66). “The category of Shudra subsumes, in fact, the vast majority of non-Brahminical castes which have little in common. It may at one end include a rich, powerful and highly Sanskritized group while at the other end may be tribes whose assimilation to Hindu fold is only marginal. The Shudra-category spans such a wide structural
and cultural gulf that its sociological utility is very limited.” “It is well known that occasionally a Shudra caste has, after the acquisition of economic and political power, Sanskritized its customs and ways, and has succeeded in laying claim to be Kshatriyas. The classic example of the Raj Gonds, originally a tribe, but who successfully claimed to be kshatriyas after becoming rulers of a tract in Central India (now Madhya Pradesh), shows up the deficiency of the varna-classification. The term Kshatriya, for instance, does not refer to a closed ruling group which has always been there since the time of the Vedas. More often it refers to the position attained or claimed by a local group whose traditions and luck enabled it to seize politico-economic power.” (pp. 65-66). “But in Southern India the Lingayats1 claim equality with, if not superiority to the Brahmin, and orthodox Lingayats do not eat food cooked or handled by the Brahmin. The Lingayats have priests of their own caste who also minister to several other non-Brahmin castes. Such a challenge to the ritual superiority of the Brahmin is not unknown though not frequent. The claim of a particular caste to be Brahmin is, however, more often challenged. Food cooked or handled by Marka Brahmins of Mysore, for instance, is not eaten by most Hindus, not excluding Harijans.” (Ibid. p. 66) “It is necessary to stress here that innumerable small castes in a region do not occupy clear and permanent positions in the system. Nebulousness as to position is of the essence of the system in operation as distinct from the system in conception. The varna-model has been
Lingayata was a religion started by Basava in the South India during Medieval Period. Soon it took shape of a caste. It is a powerful case in Karnataka state of South India. Basham wrote about this phenomenon in the following words: “Equalitarian religious reformers of the middle ages such as Basava, Ramanand, and Kabir tried to abolish caste among their followers; but their sects soon took characteristics of new castes.” P. 151, second para, 8 th line onwards. These religions were heterodox, i.e. they did not subscribe to the authorities of Vedas, nor did they accept Brahmanical way of life.
the cause of misinterpretation of the realities of the caste system. A point that has emerged from recent field-research is that the position of a caste in the hierarchy may vary from village to village. It is not only that the hierarchy is nebulous here and there, and the castes are mobile over a period of time, but the hierarchy is also to some extent local. The varna-scheme offers a perfect contrast to this picture.” (Ibid, p. 67). About mobility (movement) of a caste from one level of hierarchy to other, Srinivas writes, “It is interesting to note that the mobility of a caste is frequently stated in verna terms rather than in terms of local caste situation. This is partly because each caste has a name and a body of customs and traditions which are peculiar to itself in any local area., and no other caste would be able to take up its name. A few individuals or families may claim to belong to a locally higher caste, but not a whole caste. Even the former event would be difficult as the connections of these individuals or families would be known to all in that area. On the other hand, a local caste would not find it difficult to call itself Brahmin, Kshatriya or Vaishya by suitable prefixes. Thus the Bedas of Mysore would find it difficult to call themselves Okkalingas (Peasants) or Kurubas (Shepherds), but would not have difficulty in calling themselves Valmiki Brahmins. The Smiths of South India long ago, in pre-British times, changed their names to Vishvakarma Brahmins. In British India this tendency received special encouragement during the periodical census enumerations when the low castes changed their names in order to move up in the hierarchy.” (Ibid. p. 69). Historians were late to understand origin of caste. Historians like Romila Thapar earlier subscribed to the racist theory of Indian castes, that the original Indians were subordinated by invading Aryans into lower castes and the Aryans placed themselves in the top castes. This hypothesis was originally product of linguists. Romila Thapar recently changed her mind and found that castes originated from guilds and tribes.
It may be understood that original Indian population must have consisted of innumerable tribes based on territoriality. Whether they spoke AA or IE or Dravidian or Sino-Tibetan, each smallest unit was a tribe. As civilization evolved, tribes were drawn into larger regional civilizations (like Mehrgarh or Harappa). It was only after a level of civilization had been achieved, that people were considered as classes. Vedas mention these classes. The oldest verses of RigVeda mentions only two classes, Brahmana and Rajanya (or Kshatriya), and the other two (vaishya and shudra) appear only in the last mandal, ie Mandala 10, indicating that these latter classes were products of increasing civilizational complexity in production, industry and trade. Although varnas were only few, Vedas always mentioned a large number of vedic tribes (called jana or jan) like Kuru, Puru, Bharata, Panchala etc. These tribes had local territories of origin. Each tribe later developed its brahmana, khshatriya and other classes depending on profession. Vedic values laid stress on forgetting intertribal (or inter-jana) rivalry, and encouraged gotra-exogamy. Gotraexogamy led to establishing inter-jana relationships, and a stronger feeling of Indian identity, leading to weakening of jana or tribal identity. But when Vedic institutions ended after ancient Indian Civilizational institutions were terminated by Muslim invaders, regrouping of people occurred leading to formation of modern castes. These regroupings were based on either trade-guilds (gold-smith, black-smith, carpenter etc), or micro-geographical territorial origins (like Marwari, Ramgarhiya, Kanaujiya, etc) or religion (like Lingayat, Kabirpanthi, Satnami etc). In spite of Prof. Basham‟s clear discussion about the caste system, many historians continued to translate varna as „caste‟. Romila Thapar throughout her career as a historian wrote Indian history following that line, although she always extensively referred to Basham‟s book on other issues. Her line of thinking was naïve but simple: The Aryans came to India from outside and they defeated and enslaved the Dravids. Later the slaves became the shudras.
It is only as late as in year 2002 that Romila Thapar took a Uturn, and incorporated in her theory of caste what Basham had said long back. It is likely that she took a long time to understand it, and the earlier misinformation by her regarding the Indian caste system was not deliberate. The truth is that, as Srinivas has pointed out, many of the Indians can actually never understand the difference between varna and caste. Prof Romila Thapar in her earlier book (1966) used caste to denote varna and sub-caste to denote jati. But in her latest book (2002) she uses the terms varna and jati in English also, and avoids the word caste at most of the places. Prof Basham also had strongly discouraged the use of word „caste‟ to mean “varna” (vide supra). Prof. Thapar in year 2002 also understands as to how jati might have originated from clans (tribes) see p. 422, Thapar 2003). This understanding was not there in her earlier writings ( like Thapar, Romila; A History of India, Volume 1, Penguin Books, London, 1990, p. 39. First published 1966.).
We will now see what Prof. Thapar has said over the matter. (Thapar, Romila; The Penguin History of Early India from the Origins to AD 1300, Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2003, First Published 2002.) First she analyzes, the reasons why it was difficult for her to understand the caste system: “In common with all branches of knowledge, the premium on specialization in the later twentieth century has made it impossible to hold a seriously considered view about a subject without a technical expertise in the discipline.” (p. xxv) “One of the current debates relating to the beginning of Indian history involves both archeology and linguistics, and attempts to differentiate between indigenous and alien peoples. But history has shown that communities and their identities are neither permanent nor static…. To categorize some people as indigenous and others as alien, to argue about the first inhabitants of the subcontinent, and to try
and sort out these categories for the remote past, is to attempt the impossible. It was not just the landscape that changed, but society also changed and often quite noticeably. But this was a proposition unacceptable to colonial perceptions that insisted on the unchanging character of Indian history and society.” (p. xxiv) “That the study of institutions did not receive much emphasis was in part due to the belief that they did not undergo much change: an idea derived from the conviction that Indian culture had been static, largely owing to the gloomy, fatalistic attitude to life.” (p. xxv) “But there are variations in terms of whether landowning groups or trading groups were dominant, a dominance that could vary regionally….This raises the question whether in some situations wealth, rather than caste ranking, was not the more effective gauge of patronage and power. The formation of caste is now being explored as a way of understanding how Indian society functioned. Various possibilities include the emergence of castes from clans of forest dwellers, professional groups or religious sects. Caste is therefore seen as a less rigid and frozen system than it was previously thought to be, but at the same time this raises a new set of interesting questions for social historians.” (p. xxvii) “It is curious that there were only a few attempts to integrate the texts studied by Indologists with the data collected by the ethnographers. Both constituted substantial but diverse information on Indian society….Those who studied oral traditions were regarded as scholars but of another category. Such traditions were seen as limited to bards, to lower castes and the tribal and forest peoples, and as such not reliable when compare to the texts of the higher castes and the elite. Had the two been seen as aspects of the same society, the functioning
of caste would have been viewed as rather different from the theories of the Dharma-shastras.” (p. 10). “The evolution of this idea can be seen from the Vedic corpus, and since this constitutes the earliest literary source, it came to be seen as the origin of the caste society. This body of texts reflected the brahmanical view of caste, and maintained that the varnas were created on a particular occasion and have remained virtually unchanged….Varna is formulaic and orderly, dividing society in four groups arranged in hierarchy…” (p. 63) Prof. Thapar‟s latest view of the origin of caste, which are consistent with Prof. Basham‟s views are: “However, there have been other ways of looking at the origins and functioning of caste society. A concept used equally frequently for caste is jati. It is derived from a root meaning „birth‟, and the number of jatis are listed by name and are too numerous to be easily counted. The hierarchical ordering of jatis is neither consistent nor uniform, although hierarchy cannot be denied. The two concepts of jati and varna overlap in part but are also different. The question therefore is, how did caste society evolve and which one of the two preceded the other? According to some scholars, the earliest and basic division was varna and the jatis were subdivisions of the varna, since the earliest literary source, the Vedic corpus, mentions varnas. But it can also be argued that the two were distinct in origin and had different functions, and that the enveloping of jati by varna, as in the case of Hindu castes, was a historical process. The origin of varna is reasonably clear from the references in the Vedic corpus…….The genesis of the jati may have been the clan, prior to its becoming a caste.” (p. 63). “Interestingly, an account of Indian society written by the Greek, Megasthenes, in the fourth century BC, merely
refers to seven broad divisions without any association of degrees of purity. He says that the philosophers are the most respected, but includes in this group the brahmanas as well as those members of heterodox sects-- the shramanas—who did not regard the brahmanas as being of the highest status.” (p. 62) “Jati comes from the root meaning „birth‟, and is a status acquired through birth. Jati had a different origin and function from varna and was not just the subdivision of the latter.” (p. 123). “The transition from jana to jati or from clan to caste, as this process has sometimes been termed, is evident from early times as a recognizable process in the creation of Indian society and culture.” (p. 422) “There are close parallels between the clan as a form of social organization and the jati. Jati derives its meaning from „birth‟ which determines membership of a group and the status within it; it also determines rules relating to the circles within which marriage could or could not take place and rules relating to inheritance of property. These would strengthen separate identities among jatis, a separation reinforced by variance in ritual and worship…therefore, these are entities which gradually evolved their own cultural identities, with differentiations of language, custom and religious practice. A significant difference between clans and jatis is that occupation becomes an indicator of status…” (p. 64) “The conversion from tribe or clan to caste, or from jana to jati as it is sometimes called, was one of the basic mutations of Indian social history..” (p. 66) “The conversion of clan to jati was not the only avenue to creating castes. Since caste identities were also determined by occupations, various professional associations, particularly urban artisans, gradually coalesced into jatis, beginning to observe jati rules by
accepting a social hierarchy that defined marriage circles and inheritance laws, by adhering to common custom and by identifying with a common location. Yet another type of jati was the one that grew out of a religious sect that may have included various jatis to begin with, but started functioning so successfully as a unit that eventually it too became a caste. A striking example of this is the history of the Lingayat caste in the peninsula.” (p. 66) “Intermediate castes have a varying hierarchy. Thus, in some historical periods the trading caste of khatris in the Punjab and the land owning velas in Tamil Nadu were dominant groups.” (p. 67)
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.