The Caste System Of India

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The Caste System Of India ---

An Aurobindonian Perspective


It is indeed interesting that while civilizations, empires, nations and other social edifices continue to arise and fall, the Indian caste system seems to be resilient to ravages of history. Outlived, decrepit and out of tune with the current era of globalisation, it still haunts the socio-religious and political scenario of the Indian sub-continent. While the nation gears up to enter the twenty-first century, caste factors are still strong enough to effect political upheavals and continue to be one of the major causes of violence.

It is hardly surprising that neither social reforms nor a modern rational and scientific education have been able to usurp the caste system from the Indian psyche. Inspite of its growing pragmatism, the Indian intelligentsia is peculiarly ambivalent in its attitude to caste factors. Such a deep-rooted and ingrained outlook can not be simplistically explained as a mere social phenomenon. There must be, along with the social perspective, a psychological dimension that has contributed to the acceptance and perpetuation of the caste system in the Indian psyche. That does not however imply that social reform have to be supplemented by psychological maneuvers to help the Indian mind to transcend caste barriers. The predominant determinant of Indian culture arises from her spiritual repertoire. All other knowledge---- psychological or sociological must be read in the background of a vast spiritual gestalt. Any solution that aims to break the fetters of the rigid and obsolete caste system must be derived from a spiritual perspective to be acceptable to the Indian mind. It is difficult for the Indian temperament to throw away at a stroke an age-old practice. Perhaps a better way would be preserve the basic principles of the Sanatana Dharma and revalidate them in the context of the changing times.

The caste systems as we find today is of course of a deviated and deformed version of the original Caturvarna system. Sri Aurobindo examines the problem from three angles :

  1. the socio-economic and political perspective which helps us to understand how the ethical principles enshrined in the Dharma-idea maintained the Caturvarna and how the political changes affecting the structure of the classical Indian community influenced transition of the ancient Caturvarna to the caste-system of later years ;

  2. the socio-cultural and psychological perspective which shows how the spiritual and religious values attached to the Caturvarna evolve into psychological and ethical paradigms and again into conventional prototypes; and

  3. the spiritual and synthetic perspective which justifies and innovative effort to re-use the Vedic-ideas that gave birth to Caturvarna to effectuate another synthesis. This new synthesis is entirely different from Caturvarna in its form yet to consonance with the spirit of the original seed-ideas form which the Caturvarna evolved and hence would be more acceptable to the Indian psyche.


One of the key issues of human existence is the relation between the individual and the collectivity. The conflict between classes as envisaged by Marx is an important consideration but from the psychological standpoint, the conflict between the individual and the society is a more basic conflict to be resolved. The Indian mind aimed at a balance between the free growth of communal life and the full flowering of the individual and for this purpose erected a framework characterized by a triple quartette: (1)
(a) The first quartette was a graded synthesis of the four-fold objects of life : Vital Desire and Hedonistic Enjoyment (Kama), Personal and Communal Interest (Artha), Moral Right and Law (Dharma) and Spirituality (Moksha);

  1. The second quartette was the Chaturvarna or the Four – Fold order of the society;

  2. The third quartette was the Four – fold scale and succession of the hierarchical stages of life; student (Brahmacharya), house holder (Garhasthya), forest recluse (Vanaprastha) and free super-social man (Sannyasa).

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