ancient indian caste system kshatriyas
Origin of the Caste System:
The Caste System represents a division of labor based on birth right justified by moral and religious concepts. The Brahmins held the most power in Hindu society , they were priests, otherwise known as the spiritual and intellectual leaders of the society. “They devoted their time to studying, teaching, performing sacrifices, and officiating religious services” (Nigosian 136). The second Varna in the social hierarchy are the Kshatriyas who are the rulers and warriors of the society. Their job was to “Protect, administer, and promote material welfare within the society” (Nigosian 136). The third in the social hierarchy are the Vaishyas who are the farmers, merchants, and traders who really contribute to the economy of India. The fourth and last of the Varnas are known as the Sudras who are laborers that supply the manual labor needed for the economic well-being of India. Later as the development of the caste system continued a fifth group was formed; although not officially considered a Varna, the Chalandalas or “untouchables” had status so low that they did not belong to a caste at all.
Outside of this Hindu caste system were the achhoots – the Dalits or the untouchables.
The system which divides Hindus into rigid hierarchical groups based on their karma (work) and dharma (the Hindi word for religion, but here it means duty) is generally accepted to be more than 3,000 years old.
While the above impacts were gradual, expeditious withdrawal from Varna rules was made possible by the large-scale influence of western notions of liberty, equality, and freedom. These changes can be observed from 1500 CE right through the present. For Western nations, rooted in their own cultural background, it made little sense to approve of this in their eyes antiquated Varna system. Intercepting the Moghul invasion and the near-end sovereignty of multiple Hindu dynasties, British invasion brought with it a fresh worldview based on equality and freedom, incompatible with the Varna system. Massive colonisation, impact of ‘cultural imperialism’ enforced significant alterations on Varna duties. Trade and liberalisation, exchange of culture dented the tiny bit of belief left in continuing the Varna system.
The subsequent rise of Islam, Christianity, and other religions also left their mark on the original Varna system in India. Converted generations reformed their notion of Hinduism in ways that were compatible with the conditions of those times. The rise of Buddhism, too, left its significant footprint on the Varna system’s legitimate continuance in renewed conditions of life. Thus, soulful adherence to Varna duties from the peak of Vedic period eventually diminished to subjective makeshift adherence, owing partly to the discomfort in practising Varna duties and partly to external influence.
The earliest Vedic texts listed the Kshatriya (holders of kshatra, or authority) as first in rank, then the Brahmans (priests and teachers of law), next the Vaishya (merchant-traders), and finally the Sudra (artisans and labourers). Movements of individuals and groups from one class to another, both upward and downward, were not uncommon; a rise in status even to the rank of Kshatriya was a recognized reward for outstanding service to the rulers of the day. The legend that the Kshatriya were destroyed by Parasurama, the sixth avatar of Vishnu, as a punishment for their tyranny is thought by some scholars to reflect a long struggle for supremacy between priests and rulers. Brahmanic texts such as the Manu-smrti (a book of Hindu law) and most other dharmashastras (works of jurisprudence) report a Brahman victory, but epic texts often offer a different account, and it is likely that in social reality rulers have usually ranked first. The persistent representation of deities (especially Vishnu, Krishna, and Rama) as rulers underscores the point, as does the elaborate series of ritual roles and privileges pertaining to kings through most of Hindu history. These largely buttress the image of a ruler as preserver of dharma (religious and moral law) and auspicious wealth. In modern times, the Kshatriya varna includes a broad class of caste groups, differing considerably in status and function but united by their claims to rulership, the pursuit of war, or the possession of land.
Kshatriya, also spelled Kshattriya, or Ksatriya, second highest in ritual status of the four varnas, or social classes, of Hindu India, traditionally the military or ruling class.
It is perhaps no mere coincidence that Mahavira and Gautama, the founders of Jainism and Buddhism respectively, were of this social category. It can be argued that their spiritual voyages in the sixth century B . C . were both prompted by reaction to the excessive ritualism that marked the Vedic sacrifice of the purohita (priests). Some centuries later there was a general understanding that Kshatriyas would abstain from wordly pleasures while they fought to protect the polity and the Brahmans’ place in it. But in fact—if Rajput history can be taken as a guide—Kshatriya warriors when not actually on the battlefield surrounded themselves with luxurious palaces, multiple wives and concubines, fine horses and falcons, and all the pleasures of eating cooked meats.
Fox, Richard G. (1971). Kin, Clan, Raja, and Rule: State-Hinterland Relations in Preindustriai India. Berkeley: University of California Press.