The Origins of the Caste System in India


The caste system in India is traditionally one of the main dimensions in which the Indian people are communally distinguished through religion, gender, tribe, language, and class. It is arguably the most closed system of stratification, in which an individual’s social status depends on which castle they were brought up in. This in turn limits the relations with other individuals from the other social status. This paper largely explores the origins of the Indian caste system.

Origins and History

The Religious Theory

There are many theories behind the origin of the Indian caste system. According to the religious theories, the primal man, named Purush, destroyed himself to set up a human society with four different Varnas from different parts of his body. In this regard, his head gave rise to the Brahmins, and the Kshatriyas came from his hands. The Shudras came from his feet, while the Vaishyas came from his thighs. The Varna hierarchy is usually determined by the descending order of these organs (Bentley and Ziegler).

For instance, those derived from the head of the Purush, the Brahmans, are considered bright and authoritative, since their education are a depiction of the brain. The Kshatriyas, since they were created by hands, are considered the warrior caste.

The Biological Theory

According to the biological theory, everything that is in existence inherits one of the three categories of qualities. In this regard, Varna refers to the diverse shades of texture or color and thus signifies the mental temper (Bentley and Ziegler). There are three Gunas: Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. Rajas is red, Sattva is white, while Tamas is black. The Sattva are considered wise, intelligent, honest, and good. On the other hand, the Rajas are considered passionate and proud. The Tamas arebelieved to acquire qualities which include stupidity, dullness, as well as a lack of creativity (Bentley and Ziegler).

In accordance with this theory, the Brahmans are said to take up the Sattva qualities. As a result, they are usually peaceful and reasonable (Bentley and Ziegler). They are also considered to be pure, upright, and self-controlled. While the Vaishyas and the Kshatriyas inherit the Raja qualities, the Tamas qualities on the other hand are inherited by the Shudras (Bentley and Ziegler).

Historical Theory

On historical grounds, it is believed that the Indian caste system started with the arrival of the Aryans, who came to India around 1,500 BC (Chandra 8-15). They arrived from Southern Europe as well as Northern Asia and fair skin, which was different from that of the local inhabitants in India. Following their arrival, they completely disregarded local cultures and thus conquered other regions, especially in the Northern parts of India (Chandra 8-15).

Consequently, they structured themselves in three different groups. The Kshatriyas were warriors, while the Brahmans were priests. Other groups were conquered by the Aryans to become their servants. That is how the Vaishyas came about, eventually becoming landlords and businessmen in the Indian society (Chandra 8-15). The Shudras then became the workers in the society. In the caste hierarchy, the Mahars were eventually regarded as outcasts since they were dark-skinned. In the Indian caste system, skin color pays a very significant role since it is a vital indicator that determines one’s caste.

The Caste System in India Today

In modern India, the caste system is a subject of political, legal, and social interpretation. In this regard, classes entitled for some positive discrimination are not free to get out, irrespective of whether their political or social conditions improve. In some cases, the legal system in India has to be consulted in order to determine whether an individual is entitled for positive prejudice (Singh 237-76).

However, in spite of the positive discrimination policy, most of those who were low in the caste hierarchy apparently stay in that social order even today. Additionally, the communities who were high in the social hierarchy are still high in the social hierarchy today. The lawyers, doctors, and engineers in India are mainly the Brahmans (Singh 237-76). 

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