Hindi Language Blog

The Caste System Posted by on Nov 26, 2009 in Hindi Language

In Hindi the term  जाति is the word for caste. The caste system consists of the ब्राह्मण class. The ब्राह्मण class is the class of priests, scholars and teachers. There’s also the क्षत्रिय class, composed of soldiers, kings and nobles. The trading class is the वैश्य class. Then there’s the शूद्र, who are artisans, farmers and laborers. Lastly there’s the दलित class. The दलित class is also known as the “untouchables”. There are laws prohibiting discrimination against this caste, but prejudices against this caste still exist. You’ve probably noticed that the classes tend to be divided by occupation and वर्ण (also known as social order).

Theorectically speaking, the ब्राह्मण class is considered the highest class in terms of ranking. This is because the people of this class have devoted their life to learning and teaching the वेद, which are sacred Hindu writings. Within the ब्राह्मण community itself, there is a ranking system that is determined by region and गोत्र (clan or lineage). These subcastes may be divided even further by the शाखा or the vedic schools to which a member of the ब्राह्मण class may be affiliated with. Members of this class stay alive through the charity of others. This is because certain restrictions like killing animals and prohibitions on selling/trading goods decrease the prospects for any other work not related to teaching the वेद.

The next in rank is the क्षत्रिय class. Nowadays there is less of a functional role for those of the क्षत्रिय class, but families that are descended from the क्षत्रिय class are still proud of their ancestor’s lineage. In the past the क्षत्रिय class was well respected because they protected the people from danger. Indian legends and epics, which are still told today, describe a glorious past in which warriors were viewed as heroes rather than murderers. The क्षत्रिय class holds itself to a code of war, or a set of ethics toward enemies and women. Some families treat this code of war very seriously and live by it to honor their family.

The next in rank is the merchant class or the वैश्य caste. The वैश्य caste is primarily responsible for growing grain, herding cows, and trading goods. This caste is believed to contain the first capitalists of India. Sometimes there is some overlap between the वैश्य caste and the शूद्र caste. The main distinction is that the शूद्र caste is considered lower in rank than the वैश्य caste. At the lower end of the शूद्र spectrum is the दलित class. People like street cleaners, corpse handlers, and washermen belong to this group. There are prejudices against this group because people feel that the दलित are impure because of the nature of their work.

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  1. Prashobh Karunakaran:

    One of my friend did an in-depth study of the history of China and noticed that it swayed from a militant king conquering China and this group of soldiers becoming wealthy as they take over all production centers and making everyone else slaves. Wealth and copious living brought about lots of problems in both physical and mental health. An analogy is the huge alcohol drinking problem in USA in the 1920s which resulted in the clamoring against alcohol consumption by the religious leaders and woman, which led to the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s. The militant conquers were no more basking in the sun on their horses to derive health benefits or performing physical feats that builds both muscular strength as well as mental self confidence. These factors led a few among these elite to start moving to religion, especially Buddhism. The meditation and mantra recitation in Buddhism nourishes their mind as well as their physique. Seeing the “repairs” religion has done to the first few, others among the elite followed suite. Eventually all the elite became involved in religion and there was insufficient warriors to defend the country. Then time will be ripe for an outside king to send his spies to survey China, only to laugh at the military incompetency and thereby easily conquering China. Comparatively in India there is a fixed militant caste whose members know that their main spiritual duty is not to perform spiritual practices but to serve God by being the best warriors they can be. The militant people have the awareness in the back of their mind that the religious rituals can be properly done by the Brahmins for the good of the country and the production of food and other necessasities is taken cared of by the Vaisyas and Sudras. Therefore the caste system brings about more stability such that there are genuine experts and professionals in all major fields.