Sunday, September 28, 2014

Origin of Indian caste system

Origin of Indian caste system
(A self-declared system to hereditary system)
Author: Muktipada Behera

Though the caste system is fading away slowly due to western exposure, industrialization, international competence, still there are doubts in Indian’s mind how it got originated and what is the solution to get rid of it. This is a major issue even today in various states like Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, South Indian states etc. I got a few requests to put lights on this long standing social disorder. I am trying to summarize the concept after studying all relevant Hindu texts and documents. 

1.   Introduction:

Our Veda (the Sruti), the only Hindu authority, does not mention anything on caste system. It just mentions (for example Rig Veda Purusa Sukta - brahmanosya mukhamasit, bahu rajanyah kritaha, uru tadasya yadvaishyaha, padhyagam shudro ajayata etc) four keywords (called Varna, color, class) Brahmana, Kshyatriya, Vaisya and Shudra with their definition based on Guna-Karma. This is also called Svabhavaja Karma or action based on mental inclination. Later texts like Mahabharat, Gita(Sloka 4.13 - Chatur Varnyam Maya Sristam Guna Karma Vibhagasah) also defines these keywords based on Guna-Karma.

These Guna-Karma divisions as per Sankhya darshan is:

1.  Activities done by a person with dominant Satwa guna called as Brahmana.
2. With dominant Rajo guna mixed with Satwa guna called as Kshyatriya.
3. With dominant Rajo guna mixed with Tamo guna called as Vaisya.
4. With dominant Tamo guna is called Shudra.

Veda and Gita ‘do not’ command to divide the society based on Guna-Karma. People choose this as a formula to divide the society. Other formula could have been based on economy (high class, middle class, low class) as it is done in USA. Due to advancement of technology, we can think of dividing people based on genetic pattern. Twenty-three human chromosomes can provide all details of mental, psychological inclination of a person. For example the recent genetic study reveals many insight into the origin of caste -

So this caste system is neither the God created, nor a vision of Veda. It is a human creation. Interestingly Upanishads and Mahabharata say in the beginning all humans were with dominant Satva guna, pure mind. Later their mind got corrupted when Greeks opened the Pandora’s box. This is in contradiction with what we study about primitive humans from western study: living in jungle, taking raw meats, barbaric life etc. Our civilization says the first set of humans born with pure mind, called as Risis. And we are all the Risi-putra(children of saints).

Unfortunately there are smritis(e.g. Goutama smriti, Manu Smriti etc) which say such fierce words as these: “If the Shudra hears the Vedas, fill his ears with molten lead, and if he remembers a line, cut his tongue out. There is no purification rites for Sudra.” This is diabolical old barbarism no doubt. These books are not aligned to Veda. However people thought that Smriti is a Hindu scripture. But those are not. During 200 BCE these kinds of Smritis were written to suppress Vedic Varna system. Unfortunately those books are instrumental in diving people till date.

2.   How it got adopted into Hindu society?

Given the definition in Veda, Gita (like IEEE standard), how it got implemented in Hindu society? That is the trick of specification vs implementation inconsistency.

1.  At some level of our parent generation the caste was a ‘self-declared’ or a ‘voluntary’ designation based on what kind of profession they choose. There are instances mentioned in Purana, Mahabharat(in Ajagara, Uma and Maheswara story). And it was not hereditary.

2. Later it was a political (Kings) decision to allocate caste to individual to give it a permanent shape. In Mahabharat, King Yudhisthira is saying “it was difficult for him to determine the caste of an individual based on mental inclination”. Here also it was not hereditary. There was choice for profession and change in caste.

3. Wherever politics enter, the thing gets spoiled. Same happened here also. And caste became a matter of (a) privilege, later (b) hereditary and tied to some (c) old customs. Individuals were imposed a caste forcefully to get the low profile jobs done. This became a hereditary system.

4. History says there are many royal communities once they became powerful, they declared themselves as Brahmin caste as a whole community and ruled over rests. And others were dominated for their selfish gain. Evidence says this self-declaration is done till recent years in Tamilnadu and Kerala. “Mighty is the right” is proved.

5. Hindu society was so conservative and social customs were very tight. Anybody violated any custom was thrown out of village, property and made untouchables. Many communities were made religiously impure by birth. History says even many Brahmins, who wanted to be liberals or violated any custom; they were forced to become untouchables as a punishment. It more similar to honor killing of married couples from different communities in today’s India.

6. On one side the rulers made rules to make a concrete infrastructure to divide people. On the other hand the priest-class did not leave any stone unturned. Various tags were discovered to identify people using (a) Surname (b) Gotra (c) Sutra (d) Caste/sub-caste (e) external symbols like sacred thread, Tilakam, Tulsi necklace (f) false rituals with wrong notion like Pinda-dana (g) fear of eternal hell on mixture of community, even if Veda do not mention of any hell etc. External symbols were compulsory for each community to prove their caste, acts as an identity card, otherwise people could not isolate from other castes. False rumors were spread through folk songs, on sharing of “Roti and Beti(common dining and marriage)” will incur sin.

For example Manu Smriti says on naming of various Varna
Sloka 2.31. Let (the first part of) a Brahmana’s name (denote something) auspicious, a Kshatriya’s be connected with power, and a Vaisya’s with wealth, but a Sudra’s (express something) contemptible or lack of respect.

Sloka 2.32. (The second part of) a Brahmana’s (name) shall be (a word) implying happiness, of a Kshatriya’s (a word) implying protection, of a Vaisya’s (a term) expressive of thriving, and of a Sudra’s (an expression) denoting service.

7. Some of our Mahapurusha(saints) directly or indirectly helped to give it a shape. Started with, Buddha (800 BCE) strongly condemned any division of Humanity. During his time 99% of Brahmins and Kshatriyas were converted into Buddhism. This practically abolished castism and Vedic rituals from India. Later Adi Sankaracharya (8th century) was a great advocate of Brahmin caste and caste maker, for which he is criticized most. Ramanujacharya (13th century) tried to eradicate and declared all of his followers as Brahmins. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (17th century) followers themselves declared as Vaisnava-Brahmins. Rammohan roy, Swami Dayananda (19th century) were strong condemner of caste-system. Swami Vivekanand (19th century) converted few thousands dalits into Brahmins by initiating them into Gayatri. It is said an individual who is initiated into a Mantra from an eligible Guru, will be considered as Brahmin. Many, including untouchables, followed these saints, took Mantra and got converted into Brahmins. All most all saints have put their maximum energy (by initiating through Mantra) to fix this social disorder. Still this is an unsolved problem. So why to blame the limitations of Semitic religions, where they have only one prophet?

3.   What is the Consequence of Indian caste system?

1.     Due to this wrong implementation of Vedic definition, the Varna (class, color) systems converted into caste (Jati) hereditary systems.

2.     India lost its patriotic feeling. Rather it was just a combination of few separated communities without any coherence. All the feeling and enjoyment and marriage were limited to same narrow community.

3.     The only way the human breed can mix is through marriage. This cross-community marriage got blocked in fear of losing property and privilege. Even in some communities only elder son was allowed to marry. Youngers were advised to practice polyandry e.g Kerala Namboodiri Brahmins. Later again each community gets divided and sub-divided into many smaller castes to protect the selfish and narrowness among themselves. So where is the Indian-ness?

4.     Women were considered as Sudra as mentioned in Srimad-Bhagavatam. They were deprived of Vedic rights and temple worships. Though there are twenty five women risis (Gargi, Maitreyi, Vak etc) mentioned as editors of Veda, not sure why women were not allowed to chant Vedic Mantra. Even today many women are scared to chant Veda.

5.     Many including Swami Vivekananda, Dr, B. R. Ambedkar pointed out; this disjoint communalism was the cause of Mohameddan and Christian invasion into India. Because the downtrodden, the major population, during that time cooperated them to find an escape route of suffering.

6.     History says when a pariah (Chandala) gets converted into Islam and Christian, nobody was hesitating to do hand-shake and offer a chair. Most of the religious conversions were voluntary. Foreigners come with few thousands soldiers and gets multiplied into many millions in a few years.

7.     Foreign rulers did not try to solve this social disorder. Rather they had tried to make it sticky by following Smrities and took advantage of this Indian weakness. Because their colonization policy was based on “divide and rule”. And we were succumbed to our own faulty system.

8.     Even today Christian missionaries are targeting the downtrodden, rural, poor lower caste people to convert into other religion. And this has a strong impact on Hindu population and Hindu civilization. Unless they are uplifted, there is no solution to this conversion issue.

4.   What is the solution as given by Swami Vivekananda?

Swami Vivekananda has highly criticized caste system and its related discrimination. He write in a letter, ALMORA,  30th May, 1897 - "the conviction is daily gaining on my mind that the idea of caste is the greatest dividing factor and the root of Maya; all caste either on the principle of birth or of merit is bondage. [CW-6]"
1.  Remove false notion: Though our castes are apparently linked with our religion, but they are not so. In religion there is no caste. Caste is social custom. Same is told by Mahatma Gandhi also to the nation.

2. Revert back to Brahmin-hood: We are all Risi-putra. The solution is not by bringing down the higher, but by raising the lower caste up to the level of the higher. The goal is to uplift everyone into Brahmin Varna. After independence Dalits were given special privilege as compensation under constitution. We need to reach a civilization where everybody will be treated equally without any special privilege to any community. Then only caste-less Indian society will be possible.

3. Caste Conversion through Self-declaration: There are thousands of castes, and some are even getting admission into Brahminhood, for what prevents any caste from declaring they are Brahmins? Instead of crying foul, people can self-declare or correct their castes based on Vedic definition.

4. Rename the whole Community: Thus caste, with all its rigor, has been created in that manner. Let us suppose that there are castes here with ten thousand people in each. If these put their heads together and say, we will call ourselves Brahmins, nothing can stop them; I have seen it in my own life. Some castes become strong, and as soon as they all agree, who is to say nay?[CW-III page-295]

5. Expose to western science: Keep harmony between Vedantic theories and western science. Science and technology is a greatest gift from western civilization. All Indians need to be exposed to modern developments across globe. This will help in removing the narrowness about our own civilization, customs and way of life. Till date Indian caste system is suppressed due to exposure to western Industrialization and international competence. India must keep foreign direct investment (FDI) up to eradicate local monopoly in profession and economy.

5. Conclusion:

So your caste was voluntarily declared by your own forefather. Now it is your turn to undo the mistake.

Swamiji - Don't you see how in our society, marriage, being restricted for several hundreds of years within the same subdivisions of each caste, has come to such a pass nowadays as virtually to mean marital alliance between cousins and near relations; and how for this very reason the race is getting deteriorated physically, and consequently all sorts of disease and other evils are finding a ready entrance into it? The blood having had to circulate within the narrow circle of a limited number of individuals has become vitiated; so the new-born children inherit from their very birth the constitutional diseases of their fathers. Thus, born with poor blood, their bodies have very little power to resist the microbes of any disease, which are ever ready to prey upon them. It is only by widening the circle of marriage that we can infuse a new and a different kind of blood into our progeny, so that they may be saved from the clutches of many of our present-day diseases and other consequent evils.
Source - Complete Work of Swami Vivekananda, Volume-5, INTERMARRIAGE.

Anything that does not show dynamism (we call it evolution) will eventually die. For example there is a huge water pool and it is decided not to allow any water enter into it thinking that its purity will be lost. Eventually this water pool will be stinky. Similarly if you don’t allow other community (caste) to enter into your family life, then whole genetic system, immunity system and cultural system will fall apart. The aroma has vanished and only the stinky ugly part is poisoning the mind of society. Don’t propagate this ignorance to your next generation, your sons and daughters.