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Caste System: Its Evolution Through Ages

Caste System: Its Evolution Through Ages
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Item Code: NAD887
Author: Dr. Ratna Chanda & Smt. Mamta Dhar
Publisher: Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar
Edition: 2009
Pages: 97 (6 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
weight of the book: 214 gms

The traditional view of the Caste System seems to be the network in the integration of Indian Civilisation. it has often been remarked by the orientalists that ‘Sanskritisation’ involves a change in the Caste System. One might interpret the change in Indian Society as a reflection of industrialisation, urbanisation and modernisation. The orientalists and the missionaries are opposites in their assessment on Indian culture and society. But they agreed to the Supremacy of the Brahmins as the maintainer of the sacred tradition because Brahmins were conversant with the sacred texts. Both groups essentially accepted the Brahmanical theory of the four Varnas and found the origin of various castes and sub-castes in inter-caste marriage of the members of 4he four Varnas. The major difference between the missionaries and the orientalists lay in the fact that the orientalists admired the civilisation and the religion embodied in the texts but the missionaries observed the society and culture as always being corrupt and filled with absurdities.

Caste System is one of the several types of social stratification. The term ‘Caste’, in the United States is related to the class restricted to the relationship between Negroes and White groups. In India, the caste means the relationship between the divisions of Varnas in which intra-marriage may take place. There are regional differences in the nature of respective nation’s Caste System. United States has a dual-caste system. India’s rigid Caste System is revealed in the Nayar and Nambudri Brahmins in Malabar, Kuhn Brahmins in Bengal and Patidars in Gujarat. Among them inter-caste marriages are strictly prohibited and marriage partners are essentially chosen from the same caste. Americans frequently express that intra-class marriages are more desirable than inter-class ones. It is also noticed that the American and Indian Caste Systems have rules prohibiting marriage between certain specific castes and classes.

A Caste System implies the existence of “a superiority—inferiority scale” (Williams, 1951, p. 79). In Southern part of the United States any Negro is unwelcome in an eating house where whites visit. This reminds us of India’s untouchable group. Edward B. Harper expresses his opinion in the following way:

“In the Southern United States, the use of ‘Mister’ as a form of address is expressive of equality when used within a Caste but of inequality when used between castes. ‘Mister’ is not supposed to be used by a white towards a Negro. But an upper-class Negro may be required to address a lower-class white male as ‘Mister’.” (“A Comparative analysis of Caste : The United States and India - p. 56) Thus one may think that Caste in India is more smoothly functioning practice than that in South America.

Occupational specialisation is the root of indian Caste System. But Caste and occupation do not appear to be highly correlated in modern industrial economy. In addition to that, Govt. of India has passed laws favouring the depressed class. So the occupational proficiency ceases to work in modern India. Similarly, now in The Southern part of United States Negroes need not essentially do menial, low prestige jobs. Some of them have been working as doctors, professors, lawyers, businessmen etc.

In India, Manusamhitã was accepted as the social and religious code and the castes and sub-castes became the most important social organisation in the society at that time. It was the duty of the ruling king to compel various castes perform their own duties. The king had to look into the laws of castes before settling disputes. Both the plaintiff and the defendant had to mention their caste (Jãti) in case of legal matters.

Huan Tsang who visited India during Harsa’s reign noticed that Buddhism was declining in India despite the efforts of Harsa.

The Pratiloma and Anuloma marriages gave rise to numerous sub-castes. It is known that the imperial Guptas who were Vaisyas had matrimonial relation with Vakatakas of the Brahmin dynasty. King Hara’s daughter was also married to a Ksatriya prince. (Ghurye, 1993, 99-10, 222-226, Caste and Class in India) As a result of Inter-caste marriages, the number of castes and sub-castes increased to a great extent. Tribes were given different caste-names and brought into the mainstream of Indian Society. Such assimilations further multiplied the number of castes.

The rise of the Kãyasthas as scribes weakened the monopoly of the Brahmins as professional literate caste. The Brahmin lawgivers eventually assigned them (Kãyasthas) to a mixed caste which was rejected by the Kayasthas who thought themselves to be equally proficient in Sãstras. As a learned community they held high posts in Mughal Court and this caused a lot of trouble to the Brahmins.

Many other sub-castes emerged because of their professional skills. Therefore, the old dictum in the Bhagavadgita comes true: — “Guna-karma-vibhagasah”. So the professional and intellectual power are the root of caste differentiation. Varna-System is meant for the welfare of the individual and is also an attempt to organise the society. Though Manu refers to four Varnas only, he mentions about fifty-seven Jätis, as a result of Varnasamkara. The word Arya-varna in the Vedic literature is used to distinguish Aryans from the Dãsa Varna, the enemies of the Aryans. The Castes which do not correspond to the four divisions (Varnas) are designated by the term Jãti. This interpretation is given by E. Senart (Caste in India, London 1930, p. 122-123, 128-129). Manusmrti and other codes discuss the sub-castes which sprang from the Südras owing to intercaste marriages (Manu X/7-49). In this context he explains the term Jäti or Svajäti:


Section ‘A’: Ancient Period
Chapter1Caste—what does it mean? Difference between Varna & Jãti1
ChapterIICaste in Vedic Age6
Chapter IIICaste System in the Epic Age14
Chapter IVCaste System in the Purãnas20
Chapter VCaste System in the Dharmasãstra26
Chapter VICaste System in the Arthasãstra of Kautilya35
Chapter VIICaste System in some Sanskrit Court-Epics & Dramas38
Chapter VIIICaste System in the Buddhist and the Jaina Texts)44
Section ‘B’: Modern Period
Chapter ICaste Consciousness In Modern India51
Chapter IICaste System As We Find in the Iranian Civilization61
Chapter IIIRigidity in Varnasramadharma66
Conclusion 71
Appendix II80

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