Although they are the feet of the primordial being, learned citizens of higher Varnas would always regard them as a crucial segment of society, for an orderly society would be easily compromised if the feet are weak. Religious conversions played a significant part in subsuming large societies into the tenets of humanism and a single large society. 6.26 Outline the social structure of the caste system and explain its effect on everyday life in Indian society. Many non-Aryans also made agriculture as their principal occupation. Belief in the concept of Karma reinforces the belief in the Varna life principles. They were required to fight as soldiers of the king of these big states. by The Trustees of the British Museum (Copyright). Perhaps the Aryans feared admixture with the dark-skinned non-Aryans or Dasas. The main idea is that such order in a society would lead to contentment, perpetual peace, wilful adherence to law, wilful deterrence from all misconduct, responsible exercise of liberty and freedom, and keeping the fundamental societal trait of ‘shared prosperity’ above all others. In this period of transition many Vaishyas and artisan classes lost their earlier status. However, there is no reference to Brahmana or Kshatriya. There was the chance of inter-mixture between the Aryan and non-Aryan Vaishyas. Caste system became more prominent and rigid during the later Vedic period. But the Hindu caste system with hereditary castes, interdict on intermarriage and inter-dining among various castes is unique. In the Later Vedic period caste system was in a state of semi rigidity. According to the Vedas, consistent encroachment on others' life responsibilities engenders an unstable society. Varnas, in principle, are not lineages, considered as pure and indisputable, but categories, thus inferring the precedence of conduct in determining a Varna instead of birth. It undermines the efficiency of labour and prevents perfect mobility of labour, capital and productive effort 3. They were not just revered because of their Brahmin birth but also their renunciation of worldly life and cultivation of divine qualities, assumed to be always engrossed in the contemplation of Brahman, hence called Brahmins. The Vedas were ancient scriptures, written in the Sanskrit language, which contained hymns, philosophies, and rituals handed down to the priests of the Vedic religion. In this system, specific tasks are designated to each Varna citizen. The Varna system is seemingly embryonic in the Vedas, later elaborated and amended in the Upanishads and Dharma Shastras. But during the post Vedic period, caste system became rigid and offered little flexibility to people to pursue vocations not authorized by caste rules. … A critical study of the Rig Veda reveals the following features, of the caste system. A Shudra man was only allowed to marry a Shudra woman, but a Shudra woman was allowed to marry from any of the four Varnas. They were social outcasts because they could not belong to any caste and did menial jobs. The Brahmanical literature denied many rights to Vaishya class. There was a tendency to discourage change of occupation. The last Varna represents the backbone of a prosperous economy, in which they are revered for their dutiful conduct toward life duties set out for them. It is said that the caste system in the Rig Vedic times was based on occupations of the people and not on birth. The vedic caste system simply comprises of 4 Varnas – Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. Many Shudras were also allowed to be agriculturalists, traders, and enter occupations of Vaishyas. The Law books lay down specific rules for the Sudras. After performing the rituals of initiation ceremony, a Brahmin became a Dwija (it) or twice born. Child marriage had started in the Smriti age. No interdining or intermarriage with him was permitted. A Kshatriya, too, is required to remain loyal to his Varna duty; if he fails, he could be outcast. Even the artisans enjoyed independent status. Ancient History Encyclopedia. The word “Varna” in Rig Veda denoted colour and not caste. It was paramount for a Kshatriya to be learned in weaponry, warfare, penance, austerity, administration, moral conduct, justice, and ruling. A Brahmin could kill a Sudra with impunity. License. According to the Indian caste system a person is identified or enjoys a social status as per the caste they were born into. 6.25 Explain how the major beliefs and practices of Brahmanism in India evolved into early Hinduism. There is a reference to the word varna (colour) in the RgVeda. The caste system has evidently been more flexible, in terms of appropriate work for Brahmins, than one might expect. It perpetuates the exploitation of the economically weaker and socially inferior castes, especially the untouchables. The society had been divided into four main caste divisions- Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. Shudras, on the other hand, obeyed the orders of their masters, because their knowledge of attaining moksha by embracing their prescribed duties encouraged them to remain loyal. Brahmans emerged as the most important class. 'Varna' defines the hereditary roots of a newborn, it indicates the colour, type, order or class of people. He has pointed out that Varna and Sreni divisions became the basis of caste divisions. Ancient History Encyclopedia Foundation is a non-profit organization. During this period other religions like Buddhism and Jainism evolved. Given this liberty, a deviated choice is always assessed for its cascading impact on others. THE CASTE SYSTEM OF THE VEDIC PERIOD. The segregation of people based on their Varna was intended to decongest the responsibilities of one's life, preserve the purity of a caste, and establish eternal order. The subsequent rise of Islam, Christianity, and other religions also left their mark on the original Varna system in India. But they now found it difficult due to its complicated process. It was difficult to change one's caste but it was not absolutely impossible. Some Rights Reserved (2009-2020) under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license unless otherwise noted. The Sudras were treated as people outside the Aryan race. The segregation of people based on their Varna was intended to decongest the responsibilities of one’s life, preserve the purity of a caste… The current Hindu caste system in India is a complete corruption of the Vedic social work order system, because it’s based on birth (caste from birth) and not based on the attitudes, qualities, and consciousness developed. In this system, specific tasks are designated to each Varna citizen. A Nigosian in World Religions, the caste system, “Is its (India) system of social stratification”(Nigosian 136). Ancient History Encyclopedia. The people who belong to these castes are not oppressed in the vedic philosophy – they are all vaidikas or followers of the Veda (including Shudras) as they have accepted their castes. The ones bestowed with the titles of Brahma Rishi or Maha Rishi were requested to counsel kings and their kingdoms’ administration. Justice, moral, and righteous behaviour were primary teachings in Brahmins’ ashrams (spiritual retreats, places to seek knowledge). Shudras would serve the Brahmins in their ashrams, Kshatriyas in their palaces and princely camps, and Vaishyas in their commercial activities. The Vedic period, or Vedic age (c. 1500 – c. 500 BCE), is the period in the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age of the history of India when the Vedas were composed in the northern Indian subcontinent, between the end of the urban Indus Valley Civilisation and a second urbanisation which began in the central Indo-Gangetic Plain c. 600 BCE. The caste system divided the society in four groups the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras. Brahmins started to feel the authoritarian nature of their occupation and status, because of which arrogance seeped in. These priests came to be known as Brahamanas. Certain scholars hold that the caste system based on heredity was unknown in the early Vedic period. For only $5 per month you can become a member and support our mission to engage people with cultural heritage and to improve history education worldwide. Web. This would pre-resolve and avoid all forms of disputes originating from conflicts within business and encroachment on respective duties. Despite the life order being arranged for all kinds of people, by the end of the Vedic period, many began to deflect and disobey their primary duties. They were required to live outside the villages. Their fundamental duty was to protect their territory, defend against attacks, deliver justice, govern virtuously, and extend peace and happiness to all their subjects, and they would take counsel in matters of territorial sovereignty and ethical dilemmas from their Brahmin gurus. Members of the priestly class were called Brahmins; those of the warrior class, kshatriyas; agriculturists and traders, vaishyas; and the menials, sudras. The first three groups from the top are divas means twice barn. Brahman, also spelled Brahmin, Sanskrit Brāhmaṇa (“Possessor of Brahma”), highest ranking of the four varnas, or social classes, in Hindu India. But class divisions were not hereditary. Each Varna propounds specific life principles to follow; newborns are required to follow the customs, rules, conduct, and beliefs fundamental to their respective Varnas. Any Aryan caste having any relation with a Sudra lost his original caste. The Vedas (Rig-veda)by BernardM (CC BY-SA). Vaishya women enjoyed protection under the law, and remarriage was undoubtedly normal, just as in the other three Varnas. However, Atharva Veda allows Shudras to hear and learn the Vedas by heart, and the Mahabharata, too, supports the inclusion of Shudras in ashrams and their learning the Vedas. As late as … Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras form the fourfold nature of society, each assigned appropriate life duties and ideal disposition. The rights of each Varna citizen are always equated with their individual responsibilities. The first school focuses on the ideological factors which are claimed to drive the caste system and holds that caste is rooted in the fou… Varna system in contemporary terms is followed either with earnest commitment without reservations and doubt or with ambiguity and resistance arising out of unprecedented external influence and issues of subjective incompatibility. They were equally free to choose a spouse of their choice from the four Varnas, albeit selecting a Shudra was earnestly resisted. Please note that content linked from this page may have different licensing terms. Jati and Varna are classifications of the traditional Indian Society. It was very easy to fall in the caste hierarchy but it was very difficult to rise from one class to another. They were denied to take entry into the mainstream. There was a real distinction between the Aryans and the aborigines. The lineage of a Kshatriya king was kept pure to ensure continuity on the throne and claim sovereignty over territories. Sudra was considered as a thing, a chattel. Under the impact of constant war the traditional political and social organization of the Aryans gave way. Excavations of oldest known stone age tools of India dating to 3,85,000 years ago from Attirampakkam, in the Kortallayar river basin, Thamizh Nadu suggest that Indian subcontinent … Our latest articles delivered to your inbox, once a week: Numerous educational institutions recommend us, including Oxford University and Michigan State University and University of Missouri. The Caste-System in the Period of Vedic Civilization: Division of individuals based on differences in disposition, capacity and character is a common feature of every society but the evolution of the caste-system postulating hereditary orders, rigidity of social intercourse and yet sharing the life of the community is peculiar to the organisation of the Hindu society. The caste system in ancient India had been executed and acknowledged during, and ever since, the Vedic period that thrived around 1500-1000 BCE. The outcasts are the Chandalas and Mlecchas who are outside of the Vedic fold. Format: Tips on citation … A class of people called priests who were proficient in scripture and rituals performed the religious sacrifices for the householders. In later Vedic period the narural Varna System was transformed into 'Chaturvarnya Vyavastha' by Brahma, the second Prajapati. Hence, Brahmins were entrusted with the duty of educating pupils of all Varnas to understand and practice order and mutual harmony, regardless of distressed circumstances. There is no unanimity among scholars regarding the extent of the caste system in the Rig Vedic period. Whether the caste system existed in the Vedic age also, cannot be said for certain. Equipping pupils with a pure conscience to lead a noble life was considered essential and so was practical education to all Varnas, which provided students with their life purposes and knowledge of right conduct, which would manifest later into an orderly society. In Dwapar and Kali Yugas it was further degraded into caste system. Vaishya is the third Varna represented by agriculturalists, traders, money lenders, and those involved in commerce. The other scholars have tried to assert on the testimony of mantra in the Rig-Veda that hereditary caste existed in the society. It was during this period of history that ancient India developed its distinctive caste system. The concept of castes only arises among those who believe the living entity is the body (non-Vedic religious systems). They were only entitled to initiate an Aryan. 4. Most of these changes took place between 1000 BCE and 500 BCE when constant social and economic complexities emerged as new challenges for Varna-based allocation of duties. Kshatriyas constituted the warrior clan, the kings, rulers of territories, administrators, etc. Jadavpur Journal of International Relations 2000 5: 1, 183-187 Download Citation. In the Period of the Sutras there was a general crystallization of caste divisions. Trade and liberalisation, exchange of culture dented the tiny bit of belief left in continuing the Varna system. It was because of this development the preservation of the purity of Varna a colour became most important. 1. A Brahmin child could … The Brahamanas claimed that they alone could invest the king with divine sanction during the Abhisheka (coronation). This way, since the ancestral wisdom is sustained through guru-disciple practice, all citizens born in each Varna would remain rooted to the requirements of their lives. For example, the renowned Gupta Dynasty, which ruled from 320 to 550, was from the Vaishya caste rather than the Kshatriya. All Brahmin men were allowed to marry women of the first three Varnas, whereas marrying a Shudra woman would, marginally, bereft the Brahmin of his priestly status. As happened at many different times and places in world history, the conquerors set themselves up as a ruling class. The Rigvedic society had a flexible caste system which allowed individuals to change their castes if necessary. A Sudra was prohibited to touch the fire-pit of a Yajna and touch the offering to. Brahmins were revered as an incarnation of knowledge itself, endowed with the precepts and sermons to be discharged to all Varnas of society. He attained divinity after initiation. Thus the four classes developed in the Late Rig Vedic Age. They formed a vis’ or the Vaishya class. ), Kshatriyas (warriors, kings, administrators, etc. It is misinterpreted by one or two groups in order to get certain advantages over other varnas. There was a real distinction between the Aryans and the aborigines. These changes can be observed from 1500 CE right through the present. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms. There are at least two perspectives for the origins of the caste system in ancient and medieval India, which focus on either ideological factors or on socio-economic factors. By 1000 BC the Vedic Aryans moved East wards towards the more fertile Ganges plain. The caste system. Arya is referred to as fair and Dasa as dark. Vaishyas are also the twice-born and go to the Brahmins’ ashram to learn the rules of a virtuous life and to refrain from intentional or accidental misconduct. rahul195 rahul195 23.02.2017 Social Sciences Primary School +5 pts. Joshi, Nikul. There are two terms used in vedas, Jaati and Varna. Kshatriya women, like their male counterparts, were equipped with masculine disciplines, fully acquainted with warfare, rights to discharge duties in the king’s absence, and versed in the affairs of the kingdom. Ancient India in the Vedic Period (c. 1500-1000 BCE) did not have social stratification based on socio-economic indicators; rather, citizens were classified according to their Varna or castes. Contrary to popular belief, a Kshatriya woman was equally capable of defending a kingdom in times of distress and imparting warfare skills to her descendants. Caste System in Ancient India. Lesson Two – The Vedic Period and Caste System 6.24 Analyze the impact of the Aryan invasions. It is unfortunate that in this country of ours, where Vedas were the foundation of our culture, we forgot these original lessons of Vedas and got trapped in a variety of misconceptions regarding birth-based caste system and discrimination of people born in certain castes collectively known as Shudras. Various restrictions were imposed on intermarriage, interdining. All Kshatriyas would be sent to a Brahmin’s ashram from an early age until they became wholly equipped with requisite knowledge. The caste system was not absolute during much of Indian history. While many citizens practice a diluted version of Varna system, extending its limitations and rigidness to a broader context of Hindu religion, staunch believers still strive and promote the importance of reclaiming the system. The division of society into four varnas (classes) had its origin in the Rig Vedic period. Two Traders in Discussion, Ajantaby Prashanth Gopalan (CC BY-NC-SA). The complex character of social and economic life led to the rise of these sub-castes in during these Ancient Indian period. Color (varna) and family lineage were more important during this period rather than occupation. In the post-Vedic period, the Varna system misinterpreted as a Caste system. Vaishya women, too, supported their husbands in business, cattle rearing, and agriculture, and shared the burden of work. The caste system in India is the paradigmatic ethnographic example of caste. V. M. Apte has remarked that caste system as such in its mature form did not originate in the Vedic period. Great importance was attached to purity of descent. Shudras were repeatedly oppressed by the Kshatriyas and Vaishyas at will, which made them disown their duties and instead opt for stealing, lying, avariciousness, and spreading misinformation. Ancient History Encyclopedia. The class system gave way to caste system. Purusha is the primordial being, constituted by the combination of the four Varnas. In the post Vedic ages there evolved a new section of Sudras known as the ‘Untouchables’. Massive colonisation, impact of ‘cultural imperialism’ enforced significant alterations on Varna duties. The concept of un-touchability developed in relation to the Sudras. The caste system. They were replaced by some new system. There is no caste system in vedas. The definition of the Varna System of the later Vedic Period underwent a huge change with time. They were allowed to marry a woman of all Varnas with mutual consent. "Caste System in Ancient India." While the above impacts were gradual, expeditious withdrawal from Varna rules was made possible by the large-scale influence of western notions of liberty, equality, and freedom. Despite this perpetual decline, the descendants of all four Varnas in contemporary India are trying to reinvent their roots in search of ancestral wisdom. The main distinction was between the fair colored Aryans and the dark-skinned aborigines. The caste system in Hinduism was created around 1200 BC, during the Vedic period, and has been a continual tradition in Hindu society even after being outlawed in the Indian Constitution in 1950 which was a major change for Hindu society. A Vaishya woman had equal rights over ancestral properties in case of the untimely death of her husband, and she would be equally liable for the upbringing of her children with support from her husband. The Angirasa hymn of the Rig Veda shows that members of the same family could adopt different occupations. Brahmins constitute its mouth, Kshatriyas its arms, Vaishyas its thighs, and Shudras its feet. The tendencies towards social division had been present ever since the coming of Aryans into India. The Brahamanas were first to realize the significance of this transformation in the society. DR. KANA CHATTOPADHYAY. … Infighting, deceit, cheating influenced the conduct of Vaishyas. Records from the classical and medieval periods in India mention men of the Brahmin class performing work other than carrying out priestly duties or teaching about religion. The First Great Political Realist: Kautilya and His Arthashastra. Dating the earliest human migration to the Indian mainland remains a matter of debates and uncertainty. The Aryans tried to maintain the purity of their descent by introducing the ritual of initiation. The tendencies towards social division had been present ever since the coming of Aryans into India. Later Vedic period (1000–600 BCE) In an early Upanishad, Shudra is referred to as Pūşan or nourisher, suggesting that Shudras were the tillers of the soil. When the Later Vedic Age comes under the full light of history, we find that in addition to the four Rig Vedic classes various sub-classes also grew up. For a Brahmin (having become one by deed, in addition to the one by birth) is considered the society’s mouth, and is the purest life form as per the Vedas, because he personifies renunciation, austerity, piousness, striving only for wisdom and cultivated intellect. Join now. For example, some were warriors, merchants, architects, carpet-makers, and even farmers. 1. "Caste System in Ancient India." The popular out-of-Africa theory suggests that Homo Sapiens migrated in waves from Africa to India around 1,40,000-70,000 years ago. When the Aryans first came to India perhaps they did not know the caste system. One of these four sacred canonical texts, the Rig Veda, described the origins of the world and points to the gods for the origin of the caste system. Bibliography Ancient History Encyclopedia Limited is a non-profit company registered in the United Kingdom. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/article/1152/. Shudras are not the twice-born, hence not required to wear the sacred thread like the other Varnas. Joshi, Nikul. They also gave up the practice of performing sacrifices which were done for them by the priests. With the development of civilization the mode of worship and religious sacrifice of the Aryans became elaborate and complicated. There is no evidence of restrictions regarding food and marriage during the Vedic period. Shudra women, too, worked as attendants and close companions of the queen and would go with her after marriage to other kingdoms. Nevertheless, a Shudra woman would not be rejected if the Brahmin consented. They performed the sacrifices and rituals for their clients. Many followed the original Varna rules, but many others, disapproving opposing beliefs, formed modified sub-Varnas within the primary four Varnas. Caste System. The Ancient History Encyclopedia logo is a registered EU trademark. Although a Kshatriya or a Brahmin woman would be the first choice, Shudra women were not barred from marrying a Kshatriya. The underlying reason for adhering to Varna duties is the belief in the attainment of moksha on being dutiful. The castes were a form of social stratification … For Western nations, rooted in their own cultural background, it made little sense to approve of this in their eyes antiquated Varna system. Cattle rearing was one of the most esteemed occupations of the Vaishyas, as the possession and quality of a kingdom’s cows, elephants, horses, and their upkeep affected the quality of life and the associated prosperity of the citizens. 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