what is the caste system for hinduism
The key constructors and defenders of the caste system, the Brahmins, claimed that the presence of an organized caste system, with its elaborate rules and required caste duty (dharma), prevented society from degenerating into chaos. The Brahmins thus devised rules for each caste (varna) in accordance with the four stages (ashramas) in the life of a man (the Vedic society was patriarchal): celibate student, married householder, retired forest dweller, and the ascetic stage. This whole system was called varnashrama dharma— the duties of each caste in the four stages of a man’s life. In the first stage, a boy receives his education by studying under a guru, and in the second stage he marries and has children. In the third stage, he retires with his wife to the forest after handing over the responsibility of the household to his oldest son. In the final stage he sends his wife home to their son and renounces all contact with the society by becoming an ascetic, and attempting to pursue moksha with greater intention. Among the four stages of the ashramas, most people only completed the first three. Retired couples usually stayed with their oldest son, and very rarely did a man become an ascetic in his old age. Basically, the concept of the four ashramas sought to synthesize the necessity of order in society and the spiritual liberation (moksha) of the individual.
The traditional caste system consists of a hierarchy of four castes (varnas): Brahmins (priests and teachers), Kshatriyas (rulers and warriors), Vaishyas (merchants and cultivators), and Shudras (servants). The non-Aryans who were incorporated into the Aryan society belonged to the Shudra caste. Those who were rejected on the grounds of ritual impurity were treated as and called Untouchables because members of the four castes did not associate with them. With the expansion and spread of the Hindu worldview throughout India, the division, hierarchy, and names of the traditional castes were not maintained, with the exception of the Brahmins, who claimed and were acknowledged as possessing a degree of ritual purity that retained their superiority above the other castes. The word dharma is central to Hindu belief. Hindus often refer to their religion as Hindu Dharma, basically stating that Hinduism is a way of life rather than a religion.
The lowest of the four ancient social classes, or Varnas-, the Shudras were considered so low as to be prohibited from the study of the “Vedas,” the earliest texts of sacred Indian literature. Shudras are now con-sidered to be a “scheduled caste” by the Indian Government, meaning that they are historically disadvantaged. The government’s 2011 census showed that over 200m Indians belong to a scheduled caste.
Over time, the caste structure became more complex, coalescing into a system known as “Chatuvarnya,” which in turn was reinforced by the authorities of the British Raj. The categories set down by colonial administrators persist today. There are now more than 3,000 castes in India, and an even greater number of sub-castes. Here are six of the most significant:
Some say the caste system would have disappeared by now if the fires were not regularly fanned by politicians.
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In general, a caste is an endogamous hereditary group of families bearing a common name, often claiming a common descent, as a rule professing to follow the same hereditary calling, adhering to the same customs—especially regarding purity, meals, and marriages—and often further divided into smaller endogamous circles. Moreover, tribes, guilds, or religious communities characterized by particular customs—for example, the Lingayats—could easily be regarded as castes. The status of castes varies in different localities. Although social mobility is possible, the mutual relationship of castes is hierarchically determined: local Brahman groups occupy the highest place, and differences in ritual purity are the main criteria of position in the hierarchy. Most impure are the so-called “ untouchables,” officially designated as Scheduled Castes in the constitution of modern India. Many Scheduled Caste groups now prefer the name Dalit (“Crushed” or “Oppressed”). Among the Scheduled Castes, however, there are numerous subdivisions, each of which regards itself as superior to others.
The origin of the caste system is not known with certainty. Hindus maintain that the proliferation of the castes (jatis, literally “births”) was the result of intermarriage (which is prohibited in Hindu works on dharma), which led to the subdivision of the four classes, or varnas. Modern theorists, however, assume that castes arose from differences in family ritual practices, racial distinctions, and occupational differentiation and specialization. Scholars also doubt whether the simple varna system was ever more than a theoretical socioreligious ideal and have emphasized that the highly complex division of Hindu society into nearly 3,000 castes and subcastes was probably in place even in ancient times.
The caste system is seen as way of breaking down society into categories that are different from race, class, tribe, and ethnic group, although individual castes often are made of members of a particular race, class, tribe, and ethnic group. In some cases, castes become almost become separate groups that have many characteristics of an ethnic group or minority. There are four main castes with thousands of subdivisions and individuals castes. (See Different Castes in Separate article).
The caste system is sanctioned by Hinduism. It is regarded as divine in origin and has been perceived that way for centuries. The religion text the Rig Veda (thought to date back as far as 1500 B.C.) defines and justifies the stratification system. According to a sacred Rig Veda hymn, the stratification of human beings came about during creation when the cosmic giant Purisha sacrificed parts of his body to create mankind: “His mouth became the Brahmin, his arms were made into the warrior (Kshatriya), his thighs the People (Vaishiya) and from his feet the Servants (Shudra) were born.” In the Rig Veda the lowest castes are referred to as two-foot cattle.