The Indian Caste System.

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The Indian word for caste is jati, which means a large kin-community or descent-group. The word "caste" comes from the Portuguese casta (breed or race). The Sanskrit word applied to these groupings is varna, which means several things but is often interpreted to signify color. In a verse from the first millennium epic, the Mahabharata, Brigu, the sage explains: "The brahmans are fair, the ksatriyas are reddish, the vaisyas yellow and the sudras are black" (Huttton). In this essay I look at how the caste system existed in ancient India and how it currently exists in modern India. I will also try and explain how the caste system has evolved from its ancient ways and how it currently functions in modern India: for example, what sort of role it plays in India's politics and in government policies. I will also give my personal opinion on the Indian caste system.

Of the many cultures that flourished in India the literary records of the Indo-Aryan culture are not only the earliest but contain the first mention of the components of the ancient Indian caste. The Indo-Aryan, when they entered India, considered themselves more advanced and more developed than the native aborigines of India. When they (Aryans) came they had mainly three well-defined classes amongst themselves, intermarriage between which must have been rather rare, though not forbidden. These three classes to a great extent worked and functioned the way the caste system functioned but the differences between the three classes was not all that rigidly marked. (Bashm).

When the Aryans entered India their first task was to exclude the sudras, a class largely composed of the aborigines, from their (Aryan) religious worship. The lowest caste of the Indian society represented the sudras at that time. The sudras were not allowed to practice religious worship that was developed by the Aryans and they were not allowed to be present in the sacrificial halls of worship. The sudras were further divided into two groups "pure" or "not-excluded" (aniravasita) and "excluded" (niravasita). The latter were quite outside the pale of the Hindu society, and were virtually indistinguishable from the body of the people later to be known as the untouchables. According to the brahman cal textbooks the chief duty of the pure sudra was to wait on the other three classes. He was to eat the remnants of his master's food, wear his cast-off clothing, and use his old furniture (Bashm).

Below the sudras was a group of people called the untouchables. Sometimes they were called the "fifth class" (pancama), but most historians rejected this term, since they believed that this class of people were so low that they were excluded from the Aryan social order altogether. The untouchables were also known as the candala. According to the ancient Indian law the Candals were to be dressed in the garments of the corpse they had cremated (candals cremated the dead), should eat their food from broken vessels, and should wear only iron ornaments (Bashm).

The other three classes at that time were that of the brahmans, ksatriya and the vaisya. There was a sharp distinction between the higher three classes and the sudras. The former were twice born (dvija), once at their natural birth and again at their initiation, when they were invested with the sacred thread and received into the Aryan society (Bashm). This distinction was made on the basis of their varna, or skin color. This type of distinction became even more rigid after the fairer Aryans came into contact with the darker aborigines of India.

The brahman was a great divinity in human form. His spiritual power was such that he could destroy the king and his army, if they attempted to infringe on his rights. In law he claimed great privileges, and in every respect he demanded precedence, honor and worship. Often the brahman lived under the patronage of a king, and was provided for by grants of tax-free land, farmed by peasants, who would pay their...
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