The Caste System

The Origins of the Caste System

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The Origins of the Caste System

The Hindu caste system is rooted in the traditions of the Aryan people. The Aryans were a group of people from Central Asia who migrated into North India around 1200 BC. The caste system began after the Aryans invaded India and established their own rules for governing society. The Aryans prohibited marriages between their own people and the people of the lands they conquered.

The Brahmins, or high priests, determined a class order by using the hymns of the Vedas, the Aryan’s collection of sacred religious literature. One famous verse from “The Hymn of Man” said,
When they divided the Man, into how many parts did they apportion him? What do they call his mouth, his tow arms, thighs and feet?
His mouth became the Brahmin; his arms were made into the Warrior, his thighs the People, and from his feet the Servants were born.
Using the human body as a metaphor, this hymn divides society into four distinct classes, or castes, based on occupation. The mouth is the Brahmin, priest. The arms are the Shatriyas, warriors and rulers. The thighs are the Vaishyas, skilled workers and farmers. The feet are the Shudras, servants.

Caste Divisions

According to the Hindu religion, society should be divided into four broad classes called VARNAS. A person had the same varna that his or her parents had. And he or she had it from birth to death — there was no way to change it. Hindus did not question the varna system. It was simply considered a part of the way the universe works.

Hindus rank the four varnas from highest to lowest. In descending order of importance and prestige, they are the BRAHMIN, the KSHATRIYA, the VAISYA, and the SHUDRA.

Each varna must observe certain rules of purity. The Brahmins are considered so pure that they may never eat food prepared by anyone but another Brahmin. This means that Brahmins cannot go to a restaurant where the staff are not also Brahmins. The caste system is structured so that people marry within their own caste, but it isn’t unheard of to marry outside of it. In fact, having a woman marry a man of a higher caste is a way for a family to achieve social mobility.

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