Hindu Caste Apologetics and the Culpability of the Pre-Adi-Sankara Era

Written by July 16, 2012 6:41 am 121 comments

While there is a grudging acknowledgement among even hard-core Hindu nationalist intelligentsia that Casteism in India is a serious issue, they would stop short of accepting it as a reprehensible social evil. The resort to evasion and camouflaging it as facet of culture and tradition or blaming it on factors and circumstances extraneous to Hinduism is typically a stock characteristic of Hindu caste apologetics.

But most sections of this intellectual class also exhibit a type of denialism, where almost the entire blame of India’s casteist legacy is laid squarely at the door of British conquest of India and if that does not work or sell, to replace it with Mughal and Islamic invasions as the primary cause of casteist structure of society

Blaming Mughal and British colonialism has by now become the most worn-out cliché of Hindu caste apologetics.

Yet it refuses to die down and keeps coming up in many ways even today like in the case of this report of the Hindu Council of UK or even like this comment below from a responder to a Nirmukta article on Vedanta:

“What if you are wrong about the social oppression part in ancient India prior to shankara… what if there are no proofs to your conjecture… and then will it just become social evolution as common to a society like the Greeks who had institutionalized slavery or the arabs of the same time… it(Philosophy you are criticizing) was science for their time… and the holders of this legacy (it was as much as your ancestors achievement as mine as any Brahmin’s or dalit’s, although I no longer wish to classify humans as such) are willing to change, we missed the enlightenment part since we were under successive Muslim rule and English rule, where in during the muslim rule I don’t find any secular institutions like universities shining from our country… So instead of criticizing subjectively criticize the objective nature of the state we are in… what if you are wrong about ancient india and their society provided we haven’t had great deal of research in this area…”

The Hindu nationalist above, being more ‘ingenious’ than the Hindu Council of UK has perhaps attempted to fill that void of repetitiveness of Hindu nationalist defense by positing a new theory of India missing the bus of the ‘Era of Enlightenment’ or the Age of Reason due to Mughal and British colonialism.

This is akin to replacing one species of denialism with another. But we will let that pass for now and focus on the denial of the apologist about the conjecture that there was caste-based social oppression in ancient India prior to Adi Sankara.

Even if there are elements of contention about the hypothesis of the existence of caste-based social degradation and persecution of the masses of underprivileged before the Adi Sankara era, there is no need for disgrace or contrite recantation about it.

Here we are referring to credible and reasonable inferences and deductions from historical records of particular periods in ancient and medieval India that can support or refute such a conjecture.

Based on the Hindu nationalists’ own insistence on questioning the period prior to Sankara’s time, the implication is that in Sankara’s time and beyond, caste-based discrimination and social decadence was already a harsh and undeniable reality.

Is India’s civilizational decline due to invasions alone?
(Image shows a controversial painting by the late MF Husain. Image links to source)

The scapegoat of British and Mughal villainy as the causative agent of Indian civilizational misery is a needless Hindu apologetic redundancy. That is because the vibrancy of Indian Civilization had died long before these invaders had set foot on our soil.

Now conveniently for the apologists of the innocence of ancient Indian scriptural heritage to the charge of perpetuating social injustice, the further we trail back in time, the reliability of chronologies and chronicles do tend to diminish and the contentions over their authenticity and authority rise.

While there can be obviously no proofs, to incontrovertibly establish my conjecture, given the state of documenting in the India before Islamic invasions, what I or any other open-minded Indology and social science novice can look for and build is a kind of ‘smoking gun’ plausibility, if not a totally cast-iron evidence and well as deductive interrogation of the rosy projections and assumptions about ‘benevolent’ monarchies of that timeline in history.

If we accept the opinion or claim of DD Kosambi that a much better clarity of the chronology of Indian History emerged with Alexander’s invasion of India around 326 BCE and the onset of Mauryan Empire from 321 BCE onwards, the timeline for testing this conjecture or hypothesis should be 350 BCE to 850 CE (Adi Sankara is estimated to have died around 820 CE).

I am taking 850 CE as the outer limit since around that time Buddhism almost totally vanished or was banished from India and the kind of regressive Hinduism that we are still witnessing today was gaining a firm foothold. The major monarchies in this period in the North though to the Deccan plateau were :

Nanda Dynasty (343 BCE to 321 BCE), Maurya Dynasty (321 BCE to 185 BCE), Shunga- Kanva Dynasty (185 BCE to 26 BCE), Kushan Dynasty (30 CE to 230 CE), Gupta Dynasty (320 CE to 540 CE), Satavahana Dynasty (230 BCE to 200 CE), Chalukyas (543CE – 753CE), Harshavardhana (606 CE – 647 CE), Pallava Dynasty (400 CE – 900 CE)

The chaturvarna caste system was already well in place during the period of the Mahajanapadas of which Nanda dynasty was probably a part. References to the ‘low birth’ or ‘lowly origin’ of Mahapadma Nanda is frequently found in any mention to the king and his clan. This appears to be attested by both the Vedic Puranas as well as by Greco-Roman chronicles. Mention of Mauryas and Nandas as Sudra empires is also not hard to find in the pages of history.

Whether there were innumerable jatis and its proliferation at the beginning of this period is hard to establish. But there appears to be evidence that by the end of the Mauryan Empire and the start of the Sunga era, stratification of society into varnas and jatis was expanding in spite of the Buddhist onslaught on Brahminic ideological hegemony during the latter Mauryan era.

One must also to aware of or open to the supposition that monarchs and dynasties of those times were not necessarily reformist, radical or revolutionary in their outlook, in the modern sense of the words, even if they were considered as successful in governance and in the political sense aggressive and militaristic.

So even if the Nandas, Mauryas and Harsha patronized Buddhists and Jains more, they did not necessarily cross swords with the Brahmin and priestly elites. They even collaborated with the Brahmin class by appointing them as ministers and royal priests. That an orthodox and hard-core Brahmin like Chanakya was the personal advisor and mentor of Chandragupta Maurya, shows that Brahminism faced no threat to their high elitist status from these Sudra/Dalit feudatories.

In the Arthasastra that is attributed to Chanakya, the approval of the social order of chaturvarna is quite clear and unequivocal. A look at the verses of CHAPTER III. THE END OF SCIENCES, leaves very little room for doubt especially with verses like these:

Four varnas

Chaturvarna system: Endorsed by Puranic scripture but older than the Puranas
(Image links to source)

“As the triple Vedas definitely determine the respective duties of the four castes and of the four orders of religious life, they are the most useful.”

“That (duty) of a Sudra is the serving of twice-born (dvijati), agriculture, cattle-breeding, and trade (varta), the profession of artisans and court-bards (karukusilavakarma)”

“The observance of one’s own duty leads one to Svarga and infinite bliss (Anantya). When it is violated, the world will come to an end owing to confusion of castes and duties”.

Hence the king shall never allow people to swerve from their duties; for whoever upholds his own duty, ever adhering to the customs of the Aryas, and following the rules of caste and divisions of religious life, will surely. be happy both here and hereafter. For the world, when maintained in accordance with injunctions of the triple Vedas, will surely progress, but never perish.

We must also be mindful that most histories of these periods or even later are not focused much on their prevailing social economy and its discontents, but more on the military exploits and conquests of their royal heroes. These chronicles may measure the wealth of the kingdom and its prosperity and not necessarily its dispersion and the extent of general poverty. Just because these eras were more successful and prosperous as compared the Mediaeval eras before or during Muslim rule does not mean that there were no social inequalities and crises in those times.

So casteist stratification and its vile consequences did not suddenly spring upon us in the Post-Gupta era. It has been a social evolution in the making as some of Hindu intelligentsia concede, but a perverse, retrogressive and degrading one that started centuries ago.

Ironically the roots, basis and foundations of India’s terminal decline were most probably laid in the ‘Golden Age‘ of the Guptas, which is the toast of Hindutva pride. This is of course a long story and not easy to grasp and needs some perspective in sociology and also the somewhat counter-intuitive hypothesis that actual events and their recognition in public consciousness are always lagging their underlying trends in social and cultural mood settings and milieu.

The prosperity, progress and relative stability of the Gupta era was masking the subtle yet consolidating undercurrents of revivalism of an orthodox and ritualistic Vedic religion in the form of

  • Resurrection and rehabilitation of the priestly Brahmin class
  • Growing proximity of the Brahmin class to the royalty. This was a continuation of the trend begun in the Sunga era, kicked off by the shrewd and crafty Patanjali of the ‘Yoga Sutras’ fame.
  • Proliferation of Dharma Shastra texts, again probably inspired by much celebrated Manava Dharmasastra or Manusmriti (The generally accepted date of 150-100 BCE for Manusmriti places it in the Sunga period)
  • Revival of Vedic ritualism with resumption of Yagnas like the Rajasuya Yagna and the like
  • Composition of additional Puranas, interpolations and extensions to the Maha-puranas (like Bhagavata Purana)
  • Very significantly the improvisation of the Bhagavad Gita, which laid the formal theological basis for caste-based and sectarian discrimination as a spiritual philosophy (Quite likely, its composition must have begun in the Sunga era)

When the Gupta era eventually declined and ended, Brahmanism had taken a vice-like grip on Indian culture and society, with the royal class the Brahmin clergy colluding to keep the masses in perpetual submission and ignorance, in the immediately succeeding centuries.

Surely this is a subject of intense debate and counter-trend theories, which can hopefully be reserved for cogent debate and argument and clarificatory articles.

MF Husain 1981 painting

Demonizing the outsider and ignoring decadence within?
(Image shows a controversial 1981 painting by the late MF Husain. Image links to source.)

At the root of our desperate attempts to glorify our culture and religion, lies a deep-seated sense of inferiority and guilt of the miserable decline and stagnation of our civilization that began more than 1500 years ago. An inability to come to terms with this cultural tragedy and forget the dead past makes many of our intellectuals seek redress and palliatives in the form of a mindless rationalization and worship of antiquity.

This attitude is most conspicuous among the upper crust intellectuals, particularly Brahmins as their ancestors were the culprits who ran our civilization aground and toppled it into an abyss from which it is yet to emerge as a mature society and culture.

This article cited by Satish Chandra, very clearly shows that there is plenty of research available in public domain for analyzing ancient scriptures as well as historical and sociological investigation of the India of Ancient and mediaeval periods.

Of course the ostrich like attitude of Hindu nationalism can and does respond to these realities by ignoring them, pretending and proclaiming the poverty of such research, defaming the authors of such studies as Marxist and westernized or as apologists of Christianity and/or by engaging in its own version of revisionism in defiance of all rules of historical and research methodology.

This post was written by:

- who has written 13 posts on Nirmukta.

An accountant and a man of commerce by background and education, I am a Business Applications analyst by work and profession. I am a lover of diverse intellectual pursuits and interests. I have over time cultivated interests in literature, history and social sciences. In terms of beliefs, I have had in the past my share of swings between irrationality and rationality. As hopefully thinking processes and impulses mature, I am learning to cultivate the faculty of examining all systems and forms of thought and opinions, in whatever it is received and only accept those that accords with reason, logic and understanding.


  • Gaurav Somwanshi

    This is a very powerful and much-needed article. I would love to read more on the social realities of the ancient times- where can I look for sources (books, websites etc)?

  • Thanks Gaurav for your comments!!.

    About the sources that attempt a reasonably realistic deconstruction of society of Ancient India, the answer is not very encouraging. There are more books than there are websites, though not many. For books you can turn to John Muir’s essays on Hindu ‘sacred’ texts, Alberuni’s Indica. PV Kane’s Dharmasastra (it has its share of bais, but still a useful reference for understanding the roots of casteist institutionalization in India). VR Narla’s ‘Truth of the Gita (It has a lot of citations to Indological research). MN Roy’s ‘Fragments of a Prisoners’ Diary’ (especially the Chapter Marx or Manu)

    If you could ping my email I would be more than glad to provide some of this from my collection to you

    • In the article in question, Shankara is mentioned only as an epochal marker and his ideological stances are not examined or critiqued. So what’s the reason for the anguish expressed in the above comment?

      If a critical appraisal of the Advaitic worldview is desired, you can look elsewhere in the site.

      As for the references to Shankara in ‘social discussions’, Episode 7: The Long Twilight of the India Invented series will make useful viewing to get a sense of how the social order further ossified into caste structures in the post-Buddhist era in which Shankara would emerge as an influential authority figure.

      • Still my question stands…..angusih is real….. lack of understanding of a person / ideas leads to very very awkward situations….. Shankara must only be even mentioned when there is a subject of knowledge (gnana) / philospohy…. he should not be disturbed for any other subject….
        (he did try to change society and people…. but he was a failure and his contribution is not in this spehre)

        Lot of stupid people (his followers including) misuse him… very painful….

      • Your given links are of very poor nature….

      • How do references to an important historical figure in chronicles of their time, constitute a ‘misuse’ or abuse?

        What do you find objectionable, factually and in principle, about the linked resources which you dismiss as being of ‘poor nature’?

        Should all discourse on Shankara be limited to hagiographies like the Madhaviya Shankara Vijayam or art films like G V Iyer’s?

        How exactly does the discourse diminish in quality if Shankara is studied in his historical context like in this documentary “The Pilgrim’s Progress” from the India Invented series?

  • I appreciate your vision and I also appreciate that you keep a low tone criticism with full affection of the many unknown and scrutinized things in this above dialog of yours. But as you yourself have claimed this dialog requires a huge study and eras that run from at least 2500 BC till at least 1300 BC. The society of India has changed so many times, revived so many times and has been in period of bliss and depraved situations several times. In fact you can always account the mere presence of Epics like Mahabharata as a reflection of the worsened situation of the Indian society because of which the whole Mahabharata had to be fought! So this takes us to the horizontal dimension of doing a comparative study with other social systems across the world and also in light of the social evolutionary theories as to how much a criticism one should go about. There has to be a much deeper argument which also tries to compare the society with some the best social system that ever existed. Given that ‘Ram Rajya’ or the ideal society has mostly been in theories and has always and currently a topic of philosophy only then one should be very well ready for accepting imperfections as there are even in today’s society.

    Given that you yourself have put your argument as a very liberal dialog open to imperfection, I would try to put it in a very decent fashion that the biggest flaw in your above description and the ignorant or less researched work presented above is the total wrong understanding of the caste system origination and the chronology of Manusmriti which was the basis of the caste system and was compiled by most probably Parsurama in 2350 BC [1] and he was the son of King Bhrigu which makes it more old than the Code of Hammurabi and has got drastic similarities with the of Hammurabi Code. And it was Manusmriti that has been flowing as a subtle knowledge in all the major texts that came after that Vedas, Upnishads, Mahabharat, Purans, Ramayana and then in a more political framework in form of Arthshastra and Chanakya neeti. I think we need to do a much deeper study. This should not be taken as my revolt against your argument but rather its credibility. I on the contrary love such open views and the learning that we can do from past mistakes or past reverent things.

    • [1] Manu’s Land and Trade Laws, AYYAR, 1967.

      • Also the blur statements you make that: “At the root of our desperate attempts to glorify our culture and religion, lies a deep-seated sense of inferiority and guilt of the miserable decline and stagnation of our civilization that began more than 1500 years ago.”, I think should be seen in an analogical context of Renaissance of 13th century Europe where they revere the ancient Greek culture and try to come up with those ancient moral values and a total revivalism of ancient things. Now the same Greek culture through the Roman age ended up into Dark ages but still Renaissance was a huge success for the west. The whole concept of Vishnu avatars, the reason why something like Gita was ever written, the whole revitalizing of the social system through Chanakya and the later things like Bhakti Movement are instances of Renaissance. I would also agree to the whole Buddhism and Jainism as a revolt in a bad society full of adharma where the dharma is not practiced in the right sense and a socenty where there is disparity through castes rather than taking castes as something that categorizes the various dharma that one can take in a particular society. And yes the ideal caste system is secular and free as its a segregation on the basis of dharma not blood and such segregation build the whole frame work of any society even today in form of modern concepts like party system , democracy and republic, center-state duality political system, etc. Now the worse caste system that one sees today is the worst form we see which was made much more abhor during the Mughal and the benevolent Britishers. And hence we abhor it. But still we have states in India and if you start making criticism of Rajasthan if you are from UP on n number of reasons and the vice-versa and you start blaming the whole multi-state political system you are being foolish. The theories are always right and the implementations are wrong and error prone. One should wisely understand that errors are there and that one should chose a system or theory that has least possibility of such errors and also the cost to transition into such a change for a particular current system.

    • Ankit,

      While I take due note of your comments, I can notice some of your points that need to be contested.

      I did not mention that period of 2500 BCE to 1300 BCE needs to be studied in detail. For the claim of the 3000 year time-line of casteism in India to be plausible, we only need to mainly examine whether casteism began prior to 1000 BCE. This would be the Yajur Vedic (YV) era. Since the 10th Mandala of the RV has the Purusha sukta which has clearest first mention of the Chaturvarna system in Indian Shritis, and that is the last Mandala of the extant RV, it can be reasonably speculated that some of it could be co-terminus with the YV texts.

      Some passages of the YV contain clear mention of the words/phrase Sudras, and some authors of YV ask to be excused /forgiven for the crimes they have committed against the ‘lower’ castes.

      There are at least 7 or 8 or maybe even more Manus in Vedic mythology. What is the evidence that it was the son of Bhrigu that composed the Manava dharmasastras so that the timeline of Manusmriti can be pushed beyond 2000 BCE

      Also MS claims to be based on the authority of the Vedas and Vedanta, which makes it unlikely that it could have preceeded the primary scriptures of Vedic system.

      Most of the historical consensus that I have come across on Manusmriti gives it a date range of 180 BCE to 200 CE. That places it in the Sunga era.

      Your estimate of 2350 BCE for Manava dharmasastras is way out of line and will place it in the IVC timeline. But philology and lingiustics or even archeology provide no support for this incredible hypothesis of yours.

      This article took the timeline starting with the Mahajanapadas era, specifically the one that ended in Nanda dynasty which was overtaken by the Mauryan era. The end timeline is era before the birth of Adi Sankara.

      Your claim that Arthasastra revitalized the social system of its era has very little evidence at the ground level. The village style feudal system was very much in vogue. We have Indo-Greek travelogues and accounts to counter the fanciful fairy tale picture that Puranas and Mahabhasyas may seek to provide.

      Your reference to the Bhakti Movement in one of your comments is also out of place as the this movement is a post-Adi Sankara event and feature. Even though it contained revolt against social discrimination, it failed to dislodge the caste structure. Its artistic and creative legacy is immense, but it failed to be a social or political revolution or renaissance

      • Well I am no Historian but I do not know are you one. Sorry can you clarify your academic credentials. Second, I can only point out to the reference which is among highly reputed analysis of Manusmriti: Manu’s Land and Trade Laws, AYYAR, 1967. This I think you did not care to look at also and are claiming it be my own hypothesis. I quoted my reference. Also when you say, “Also MS claims to be based on the authority of the Vedas and Vedanta, which makes it unlikely that it could have preceeded the primary scriptures of Vedic system”, this statement can you come up with some part of Manusmriti which says so as AYYAR makes it absolutely clear that there is no reference of vedas in MS and in fact the Mahabharata mentions the caste system being originated by Parshuram. Let me tell you that this AYYAR book is a considerably important text and repudiates many of the foreign and Indian claims of MS and its origination time. It is much more established because he comes up with huge archeological evidences with lots of other main foreign archeologists involved and not just chronological inferences on the study of various texts. My main aim was to show you that when one is refuting a framework one has to go back to the real origin of it only then one can shake the foundations. I am no historian and so I gave you a reference. And if you want to come up with a theory then better refute AYYAR, then you come up with the exact date and real origin of caste system and then make a detailed study of each era and the implications of caste system in India in those segments of Indian history.

        “There are at least 7 or 8 or maybe even more Manus in Vedic mythology. What is the evidence that it was the son of Bhrigu that composed the Manava dharmasastras so that the timeline of Manusmriti can be pushed beyond 2000 BCE ” — Yes there is a lot of debate of multiple Manu’s but these all are non-archeological and text based inferences. AYYAR thrashes all these arguments with archeological evidences and takes Manusmriti 1000 year before Vedas themselves. Thus I do not even know on what exact basis you are making a statement that 7-8 Manus in “Vedic Mythology”. I would buy your comment even if you say 7-8 Manus by various historians and their interpretations not by Vedas.

        “This article took the timeline starting with the Mahajanapadas era, specifically the one that ended in Nanda dynasty which was overtaken by the Mauryan era. The end timeline is era before the birth of Adi Sankara.” — Why only this era ? Have you got any explanation for such specificity when the phenomena is 4-5 thousand year long.

        “Your claim that Arthasastra revitalized the social system of its era has very little evidence at the ground level. The village style feudal system was very much in vogue. We have Indo-Greek travelogues and accounts to counter the fanciful fairy tale picture that Puranas and Mahabhasyas may seek to provide.” — I told this as an example the revitalization / clear re-establishment of the caste system of Manu and just want to point out that this system has been in India for 4-5 thousand years with cycles of bad and good times. But you seem to be against such a powerful treatise as Arth-shastra also. You seem to be getting anti-indological of some kind.

        As I have mentioned in the previous replies that if you are saying that some thing was bad then you got to give some argument as to how much a bad it was and come up with a comparative analysis of that with other social systems. You lack in the number of times the caste system is repudiated in the historical texts. You cannot bring down a system just because you think that presence of caste itself is bad, caste based discrimination is bad. One should also understand that no system at least in the known history was Ramrajya: ideal system. I can come up with dozen of evidences from various genetic studies conducted that there was frequent admixing of the various castes and that there was no prominent tendencies suggesting that the caste systems was in fact not blood based rather Dharma based.

        I am not against you and as I said I am liberal to learn the reality. But if you come up with blur refutations over such a topic whose origin itself are unclear with large number of studies done by historians, archeologists, in genetics and sociology have failed to come up to a concord and a satisfactory origins and the implications of caste system over the life in India across thousands of year, then you are just being puzzled. I appreciate your learning and the seemingly extensive literature surveys but I would say that first you write a clear book on the basis of this phenomena only. Criticism we will do later.

        “Your reference to the Bhakti Movement in one of your comments is also out of place as the this movement is a post-Adi Sankara event and feature. Even though it contained revolt against social discrimination, it failed to dislodge the caste structure. Its artistic and creative legacy is immense, but it failed to be a social or political revolution or renaissance” — Who said that it was aimed for the dislodging caste system but rather dislodging the discrimination and the getting rid of the impedance the caste system caused for spreading the true message of Vedas ? And it was definitely a relief for the common people to practice Vedantic philosophy in a more pragmatic fashion and this tradition is existing even til now in majority of the Hindu homes. Another note is that renaissance is not revolution though its relearning process culminated in most of the major social and political revolutions. It was indeed a renaissance. For me this was just an example to tell you that the system that you are talking about has been spread across a massive time span with periods of revival. I am fine when you say that its post- Shankara but then you first answer why you take this specific period of yours. If so then you should not be making implication of the system in general, that it was wrong in general, and bring the discussions to the modern world context and coming up with abhorring statements. WHY not be positive for things you do not know with perfection.

        • Ankit,

          I have googled “Manu’s Land and Trade Laws, AYYAR, 1967″ and could not find any document or PDF bearing that name.

          Even if such a document exists, it is AYYAR’s word against the word of so many historians both Indian (SN Dasgupta, PV Kane, RC Majumdar and foreign (Winternitz, Hopkins, Wilson, Muir etc). I would go with the hypothesis of known historians than some obscure AYYAR

          To answer your dispute about the Manusmriti’s derivative authority please read CHAPTER XII –
          Transmigration from this link http://www.bergen.edu/phr/121/ManuGC.pdf

          And you may also read CHAPTER X – Castes & Mixed Castes. It leaves very little doubt about casteist sanction and endorsement

  • sir i wana to tell you only one thing…….. i accept that in hinduism there is cast system exist but you have also noted that every particular class has given a particular work……. in the begning the every folk are given a particular work for eg some take the work of teaching some join defence some join bussness and some used to work as servent or doing some important works which others hesitate to do . ……………….. in bigning all the process may have gone smothely but when some persons of socity which think theirselvs superior start sowing the seeds of hate for person doing the low jobs……………….. ……….. there have to note one thing caste system was created to protect the interfaring of ones work by others ( i.e a person who is a solder can not interfare with the job of bussnesman and to ensure job of one comunity ) but it goes bad after sometime when the person doing higher job start thinking theirselvs suprior so in this way a well palned system gone into vain and left a evil behind it.
    ……………… so it is not the hinduism which ask to do hate for comunity doing low jobs and genrating less income these are just the ……..individual thoughts of some persons of ancient times which change their real meaning………. there are many hindus which does not regard some cast as low as an example from ramayan ram was a kshtrya and his friend whome he met in jungle was a bheel what ram ate with him hug him so …………….. puting the cast system as a evil created by hinduism is bad it is created by only some person of ancient time which changed the whole meaning of cast system ………so it is not from the begning but addad later.

  • Caste is part of our identity and gives us a place in the society. I have been asked about my caste countless times.

    I do not know when it started and why. I feel history behind caste is debatable.

    But, what keeps the system going?

    It is better to get rid of this system for lot of reasons. Who feeds this system?

  • A vitriolic essay. But, casteism is a vile disease in need of obliteration. I’ll agree on that. However, I couldn’t help myself from laughing at one of the very last sentences regarding your critics thinking that you are Christian or Muslim apologetics. But, do you have articles where either of the two religions are addressed? I can’t locate any. Help me out, por favor.

  • My Take on Caste System :

    Caste System :

    Caste System is the most notorious stick to beat Hinduism – so here I explore its origin, history, similar situation in other parts of the world, current situation, etc.

    Word ‘Caste’ is a Portuguese word for ‘lineage, race, breed’ – Hindu equivalent is Varna

    Origin and system prior to 1AD:

    There is no mention of birth based caste system in Vedas. “Vedic system of Varnashrama has been mentioned in the Vedic literature in many places, such as in the Purusha Sukta verses of the Rig-veda (Book Ten, Hymn 90). But there is no indication in these verses that say that birth is the essential quality for one’s varna”

    Central concept of Hinduism being debate and discussion – one story in Mahabharata relates to discussion between Sages Brigu and Bharadwaja on counters of division of labour.

    “ All the four orders, therefore, have always the right to the performance of all pious duties and of sacrifices. Even thus were the four orders at first created equal by Brahman who ordained for all of them (the observances disclosed in) the words of Brahma (in the Vedas)”

    Caste system was not based on chance of taking birth in a particular family. There was movement of people from one caste to another – meaning it was not rigid. This can also be seen in the following examples :

    a. Aitareya Rishi was son of a Daasa or criminal but became a Brahmin of highest order and wrote Aitareya Brahman and Aitareyopanishad. Aitareya Brahman is considered critical to understand Rigveda.
    b. Ailush Rishi was son of a Daasi, gambler and of low character. However he researched on Rigveda and made several discoveries. Not only was he invited by Rishis but also made an Acharya. (Aitareya Brahman 2.19)
    c. Satyakaam Jaabaal was son of a prostitute but became a Brahmin.
    d. Prishadh was son of King Daksha but became a Shudra. Further he did Tapasya to achieve salvation after repenting. (Vishnu Puran 4.1.14)
    Had Tapasya been banned for Shudra as per the fake story from Uttar Ramayan, how could Prishadh do so?
    e. Nabhag, soon of King Nedishtha became Vaishya. Many of his sons again became Kshatriya. (Vishnu Puran 4.1.13)
    f. Dhrist was son of Nabhag (Vaishya) but became Brahmin and his son became Kshatriya (VP 4.2.2)
    g. Further in his generation, some became Brahmin again (VP 9.2.23)
    h. As per Bhagvat, Agniveshya became Brahmin though born to a king.
    i. Rathotar born in Kshatriya family became a Brahmin as per Vishnu Puran and Bhagvat.
    j. Haarit became Brahmin though born to Kshatriya (VP 4.3.5)
    k. Shaunak became Brahmin though born in Kshatriya family. (VP 4.8.1). In fact, as per Vayu Puran, Vishnu Puran and Harivansh Puran, sons of Shaunak Rishi belonged to all four Varnas.
    Similar examples exist of Gritsamad, Veethavya and Vritsamati.
    l. Matanga was son of Chandal but became a Brahmin.
    m. Raavan was born from Pulatsya Rishi but became a Rakshas.
    n. Pravriddha was son of Raghu King but became a Rakshas.
    o. Trishanku was a king but became a Chandal
    p. Sons of Vishwamitra became Shudra. Vishwamitra himself was a Kshatriya who later became a Brahmin.
    q. Vidur was son of a servant but became a Brahmin and minister of Hastinapur empire.
    r. Krishna is a Yadava which was considered a backward caste.
    s. Chandragupta Maurya, one of the greatest king to rule India was a ‘Dasiputra’
    t. “Ved Vyasha” who was a Maharishi, who wrote the “Mahabharat”, Gita, collection of Vedas, Puranas -his mother was a fisher women.
    Maharishi “Valmiki” who wrote the “Ramayan” was considered as child of a Dalit women.
    ‘Kalidasha” who is the greatest poet our country has produced, was a Hunter.

    This is further proved by genetic study :

    “Researchers found that people from different genetic populations in India began mixing about 4,200 years ago, but the mingling stopped around 1,900 years ago, according to the analysis published today (Aug. 8) in the American Journal of Human Genetics.”

    Caste System in first Millennium:

    The movement of people from one caste to the other, based on their skills, became rare – Transgression of from one caste to another was discouraged. – maybe with the influence of much maligned Manu Smiriti.

    Manu Smiriti, apart from classifying people into castes, covered whole gamut of society ‘Code of Human Ethics’. “Friedrich Nietzsche greatly preferred the ‘healthier, higher, wider world’ of the Hindu social code
    Mânava-Dharma-Shâstra (‘Code of Human Ethics’), also known as Manu-Smrti (‘Manu’s Classic’), to ‘the Christian sick-house and dungeon atmosphere” For detailed insight into Manu Smiriti visit the link : http://www.academia.edu/4034270/Manu_as_a_weapon_against_egalitarianism_Nietzsche_and_Hindu_political_philosophy

    Each caste had its specified duties, rights and punishments. There was no discrimination between organized classes – Shudras were important part of society

    Hindu Society at the end of first millennium :

    “Between the latter two classes there is no very
    great distance. Much, however, as these classes differ
    from each other, they live together in the same towns
    and villages, mixed together in the same houses and

    But there were people who were left out of caste system and were classified as per their profession :
    ” These eight guilds are the fuller, shoemaker, juggler, the basket and shield maker, the sailor, fisherman, the hunter of wild animals and of birds, and the weaver.

    The four castes do not live together with them in one and the same place.
    These guilds live near the villages and towns of the four castes, but outside them.“

    “The people called Hadi, Doma (Domba), Candala,and Badhatau (sic) are not reckoned amongst any caste or guild. They are occupied with dirty work, like the cleansing of the villages and other services. They are considered as one sole class, and distinguished only by their occupations. In fact, they are considered like illegitimate children”

    “The worst of all are the Badhatau, who not only devour the
    flesh of dead animals, but even of dogs and other beasts.”

    “Whilst according to the Hindu philosophers, liberation is
    common to all castes and to the whole human race, if their intention of obtaining it is perfect. This view is based on the saying of Vyasa : ” Learn to know the twenty-five things thoroughly. Then you may follow whatever religion you like; you will no doubt be liberated.” This view is also based on the fact that Vasudeva was a descendant of a Sudra family,
    and also on the following saying of his, which he addressed to Arjuna: “God distributes recompense without injustice and without partiality. He reckons the good as bad if people in doing good forget him; he reckons the bad as good if people in doing bad remember him and do not forget him, whether those people be Vaisya or Sudra or women. How much more will this
    be the case when they are Brahmana or Kshatriya.”

    Al Beruni’s India


    Reviewing the above references of Al Beruni’s – one can conclude the following at the end of millinium :
    Caste was no longer flexible ie it became rigid
    The lowest rung of people were NOT based on racial division but rather on moral division – as low caste were considered to be progeny of inter caste marriage.- this is result of the Manu’s code.
    Lower status people were also due to the association with ‘dirty work’.
    There was no discrimination as far as religion was concerned – as every class of people stand a chance to be liberated.

    Meaning the code of ‘Manu Smiriti’ was selectively used to suit the society’s need. Al Beruni also mentions in his book “Hindu laws, Alberuni observed are derived from their rishis, the pillars of their religion and not from the prophets i.e. Narayana.. “Narayana only comes into this world in the form of human figure to set the world right when things have gone wrong. HINDUS CAN EASILY ABROGATE THEIR LAWS FOR THEY BELIEVE SUCH CHANGES ARE NECESSITATED BY THE CHANGE OF NATURE OF MAN. Many things which are now forbidden were allowed before”. (Sachau:106-7)

    Interesting explanation for the origin of caste system (maybe there is truth in them):
    – “Did Ahmisa cause a professional monopoly driven caste system to ossify and metamorphose into a system of segregation?

    If ‘do not kill’ and ‘do not even hurt animals’ principle is taken to the logical extreme, the pure vegetarians (brahmins?) would shun those whose economic survival depends on killing animals, creating leather, fishing, eating meat, etc (untouchables?). The cattlemen, the farmers, the workers cause more unavoidable injury than say those who sit and read and meditate on ideas/sutras, or who count money/merchants. The warrior group would have needed a carve out, rituals to absolve the ‘kill and injure others with just cause.

    If it isn’t the emphasis of Ahimsa as the highest virtue, what has the basis for a hierarchy? Why is a person who earns a living by hunting or fishing or processing meat or producing leather or dealing with dead bodies lower or shunned, than say a farmer or tool maker or pottery maker or a merchant?”

    Comparative System prevalent in other parts of the world (one cannot discuss anything with absolute – it has to be compared with other systems prevalent at other places at those times) :

    Similar Caste system was prevalent in Persia :

    “When Ardashir ben Babak restored the Persian empire, he also restored the classes or castes of the population in the following way :—

    The first class were the knights and princes.

    The second class the monks, the fire-priests, and the

    The third class the physicians, astronomers, and other
    men of science.

    The fourth class the husbandmen and artisans.

    And within these classes there were subdivisions, distinct from each other, like the species within a genus.”
    Al Beruni’s India

    Caste system and untouchability remained alive in the following societies :

    Gypsies in India and Europe
    Burakumin in Japan
    Baekjeong in Korea
    Cagots in France
    Dalit in South Asia
    Ragyabpa in Tibet
    Akhdam in Islamic Yemen
    China’s jianmin

    In all cases, the shunned untouchables worked with dead bodies, or killed animals, fished, worked with leather, etc.


    “Ragyabpa – Untouchables[edit]
    The ragyabpa or untouchable caste were the lowest level, and they performed the ‘unclean’ work. This included fishermen, butchers, executioners, corpse disposers, blacksmiths, goldsmiths and prostitutes. Ragyabpa were also divided into three divisions: for instance a goldsmith was in the highest untouchable class, and was not regarded as being as defiled as an executioner, who was in the lowest.

    They were regarded as both polluted and polluting, membership of the caste was hereditary, and escape from the untouchable status was not possible.[16]”

    So Caste System or untouchability / discrimination was a universal phenomena based on the ‘dirty work’

    Hindus did not have a slave system which was prevalent in most of the other parts of the world. Now on one hand u have people with less privileges but r free and on the other hand in slave system – one human is owning the other human without any rights. Slave can be bought or sold or raped as desired.

    Caste System in second millennium :

    As mentioned in the following write-up : https://www.facebook.com/raman.sehgal.92/posts/10202006091185192?notif_t=like

    With the coming of Islamic invaders – whose philosophy was just the opposite of Hindus in every respect – Hindu religion became internalized – there were no more debates / discussions and society became rigid. The effect was that lowest rung of society suffered the consequences – again this was not unique to Hinduism.

    Hindus who converted to Christianity and Islam – to ‘escape’ Hindu Caste System were relegated to the different caste system within these societies. So Caste System was not sole perverse of Hinduism.

    Fact is the caste like structures exist in multiracial societies, and its purpose is to preserve racial purity of the fair race peoples.

    e.g Casta system in Brazil. Even today, Hispanic origin communities, pure spanish and all, still do not marry other races, mixed and natives and blacks.

    Apart from Slave System – western world was divided into Classes – where high class people looked down upon low class people. Nobles usually married within nobility and commoners were there to serve them.

    Modern Age :
    It were Hindus who started the reform movement by referring to the basic texts of Hinduism – as Vedas, etc did not have heredity caste system.

    Gandhi – the most famous Hindu of last century – is on record saying that he condemns caste system and in case there is any mention of it in any holy book – than he would prefer to burn that book. – this statement means a lot – that Hindus r ready to make amends to the ills – they r ready to look in – reflect and change according to the changing times.

    In 1947 when after 1000 years, Hindu’s came to political power – apart from adult franchise – low castes were positively discriminated and untouchability made a crime. The situation now is that one cannot even call a low caste person by his ‘jati’ name – that itself will result in non-bail able warrants.

    Just for comparison – blacks were given voting rights in only 1965.

    The result is that Caste system is almost non-existent in urban areas (where in most house holds – it is low caste women who make food and do other chores) – I have not seen anyone refusing to eat in any restaurant because it has low caste people as workers – whereas it is decreasing at alarming rate in rural areas.

    The decrease in caste system would have been at a faster pace but for socialist policies – recently I was reading articles of Dalit Entrepreneurs – who r owning companies worth hundreds of crores who keep high caste – as drivers, cooks, etc. – their remedy is capitalistic policies – so that there is more movement of people and where only determined factor is one’s skill. This will eliminate caste system but will create ‘class system’ instead – which I think is OK – we can never have a totally egalitarian society – that can only be in books or our dreams.

    But is caste system that bad? Obviously looking down upon the people at the lower rung is bad and so is not letting anyone with better skill to move up the ladder. Here is an article by an American longing for Caste System : http://www.amerika.org/darwinism/the-caste-system/.

  • All the typing goes in support of the caste theory to justify it by comparing the Indian cruelty with the whole world. The dead body and feces are not the only property of low caste, once someone born into this world, he become another body supposed to be buried by any moment- carrying his own feces all the time of his life within his so-called hygienic/divine body and it is mandatory for his/her survival; no other way! Stinking is something that is not only belongs to low caste, but everyone should measure their own level of stinking- which is hell of anything cannot be compared at all and being suppressed by possible means but not for long. So, We know science and biology but we don’t know and consider humanity and rationality, it is a failed intelligence of educated, and we are not dare to disown/correct our idiotic establishment and its old bunches. Waste of centuries and growth of science and tech! Strategy of survival makes the human to go on digging for justification of his committed errors. Caste change theory, caste by birth theory ….all shows level of innocence and foolishness to scale and recognize the intellectualism of individual by attributing particular caste name. Intellectualism is not the property of one particular caste or group name.

  • @pannaichan : so you could not pin point any wrong facts mentioned in my write-up – your only problem is that ‘two wrongs’ do not make it ‘right’.

    1. We do not live in isolated world all our values are relative to each other and to the time. You are juxtaposing current morality – which effectively took birth 50 years ago – onto the system that is thousands year old. In case u want to compare the things than do that with the systems prevalent at the other parts of the world.

    2. It is from within hindu religion that reforms started and is an on going process. Hindus have initiated the most comprehensive positive discrimination anywhere in world.

    3. The pace of reforms would have been faster had it not been for the socialist mindset of the founders of this nation. It is ironical that the so called Bharmin – Baniya party is in favour of capitalism – that would usher in society based on skills of the individual.

    • Raman,

      It was not the Hindus who initiated the stringent of reforms or affirmative action. Most Hindus loathed Ambedkar when he talked about reforms and reservations. Many Hindus still loathe him and still keep whining about reservations. All you are doing is to erase that bit of inconvenient history and substituting with your own revisionist crap.

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