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Specific duties and obligations on each Varna

“Four Varnas are mainly the four functional groups, differentiated from each other on the basis of attitude and aptitude, each one catering one of the basic fundamental need of the society”. 

The great ancient Greek philosophers dreamt of an “Ideal society”, in which they divided all people into four groups, not on basis of birth, but on their capabilities and aptitudes and were ranked in the following order –

  • Philosopher Kings” –  People having  intellectual acumen were called Philosopher kings. Their specific duties were to do all intellectual work and set norms for the whole of society.

  • Army men” – People having warrior skills were to protect nation and its people from outside invasions and maintain peace and harmony within country-state.

  • Business Community” – It was supposed to do all kinds of business transactions and,

  • Slaves” – Menial works were assigned to slaves.

What Greek philosophers dreamt for an ideal state, was already practised in ancient India in real life. In ancient India, the whole system was based on the principles of Varna, Dharma and Karma”, It classified the society into four groups called Varna and assigned to each some specific tasks.

According to principle of Varna, all persons were not identical in attitude and aptitude. They differed from one another on the grounds of natural endowments, qualities, physical strength, mental capacity, moral aspirations, likes and dislikes, inclination and expectations. Different activities were assigned to different groups according to their attitude and aptitude.i

According to Smritis it was not birth, but the qualities and deeds, which fitted one into a particular group.ii Later on, upbringing, atmosphere and convenience made the system hereditary. Varna system divided people into following four functional groups.

Brahmins – “Simple living and high thinking” was the motto of this group. On the basis of their natural inclinations, predominantly psychological characteristics, having `Sat and `austerity”. Varna system assigned to Brahmins the work of pursuing knowledge. People having intellectual acumen for performing all intellectual work and setting norms for whole of society were put in this category. 

Though every group was supposed to lead a self restraint and self disciplined life in matter of social, political or economic activities, be it in a case of daily routine, occupation or inter group relationship. But higher a varna was ranked, purer it was considered, greater were the self-restrictions on its behavior through rituals. Brahmans, being placed at highest position in the society, were put under maximum restrictions. They were supposed to lead a simple life, devoted to the spiritual and intellectual pursuits and were denied accumulation of wealth.

According to this principle, in modern India, all intellectuals and knowledgeable persons in various disciplines – policy makers, planners, researchers, legislators etc – irrespective of their present caste or creed may be called Brahmans. But there are some conditions. According to the dictats of Hindu scriptures, the spirit of Brahaminism expects a true Brahmin to possess intellectual and spiritual qualities and to keep himself/herself away from luxury, lust, selfishness, or illusions. They are debarred from accumulating wealth, serving their vested interests, working for self glorification or indulging themselves in the pleasures of material world. Their duty is learning, pursuit of knowledge and setting norms for common man, so that the whole humanity and their society as a whole could benefit from their knowledge.

Kshatriyas – Main function was protection of its people from internal and external aggression. In ancient India, in this group came people having `Rajas quality. For belonging to Kshatriya class, mainly association with political power was necessary. People having warrior skills and men of action having courage, bravery, power were included in this group. Their duty was to protect the people from internal disorders and external aggressions. In modern world, people working in institutions engaged in the task of governance (executive branch of the government) and protecting the nation from external aggression Armed forces of a nation) may be called Khhatriyas.

Vaishyas Serving the needs of a community and providing basic amenities to all is its main function. People having business acumen were included in this category. They were engaged in production, business, trade and commerce. In modern world, business community is equivalent to Vaishyas community of ancient India. It has its own norms and traits.

Shudras – People unable to do the above three tasks or the conquered ones were advised to work under the guidance of any of the above three Varnas or do menial jobs. Mostly people belonging to this category were supposed to be incapable of maintaining self-discipline and contributing to the society directly without any guidance.

People, who fell outside caste system were anti-social elements, adivasis and foreigners, because they did not subscribe to rules and values of the society.

Respect and status in the society was accorded on the basis to nature and social relevance of their work, contribution of their activities for social subsistence and amount of self-discipline, effort and training required to perform their duties well.

Not all but only those persons having wisdom, character, will-power, spirituality and ability to guide masses and who sacrificed their entire life in pursuit of knowledge and setting norms for the benefit of common men were supposed to be given a high status in society. Any community could seek

to its elevate its social status by adopting or emulating desirable practices like its being ritually clean and pure, observing restrictions for self-discipline, following honestly and sincerely defined rights and duties and working for excellence in their specific areas.

Principles of Dharma and Karma provided the guidelines. Knowledge was supposed to be necessary for giving Dharma and Karma its due meaning, direction and value. Ignorance was considered to be leading to futile efforts destroying direction. Discipline was inculcated amongst ignorant masses, and a sense of direction was given to them through infinite variety of rituals, prayers, practices, customs and meditation.

The principle of Dharma embraced within itself religion, law, duty, righteousness, morality and conformity with truth. In order to keep harmony in society, Principle Dharma prescribed based on inherent qualities and potentialities of its members separate duties appropriate to each Varna.

According to Dharma, right and wrong were relative terms, which depend on the total configuration of the following four variables of an action: –

  • Desa (region) – The culture of a place, in which a person was born.

  • Kala (time) -The period of historical time, in which a person was born.

  • Shrama (Effort) -The efforts required of him at different stages of Life and;

  • Guna (Quality) – Aptitude and innate psycho-biological traits.

Dharma guided individuals to remain true and to fulfil their duties earnestly. It laid importance on being self sufficient and not to be greedy, not to accumulate beyond one’s need, learn to give, observe austerity, simplicity and discipline in life, maintain cleanliness of diet, body and mind, be contented, be self-observant and alert, rise above the animal instincts of mankind etc. Moulding ones life according to Dharma was not an easy task. It required tremendous will power and a strong character. For persons with weak faculties, it was difficult to observe Dharma.

The separate rules of conduct were aimed to inspire every one to perform one’s own duties and obligations, giving everybody opportunities- social, economic physical and spiritual – to do their jobs well and preserve the tradition and lifestyle of their respective communities. The Dharma of Brahmin was not that of a Shudra, or the Dharma of a student not that of an old man.

Principle of Karma believed that the whole world of activities was a result of complex intermixing of three basic qualities of human nature – goodness (Satwa), Passion (Rajas) and dullness (Tamas). `Goodness was associated with purity, peace and knowledge; `Passion with comfort and action; and `Tamas with ignorance, sloth, sleep and carelessness.iii These qualities

 determined the tendencies, potentialities, limitations, traits and character of individuals and gave them direction for action. `Adharma (immoral behavior), Alasya (laziness) and Agyan (ignorance) were held responsible for evils, exploitation, and miseries of the people.

The principle of Karma inspired people to do their own duties sincerely and to channel their efforts, energies and capacities for action par excellence. It taught people that Work is Worship. All types of work were worth pursuing and respectable. Any work done in its true spirit could never be derogatory or a waste. A work was not so much valued for its external reward, as for the intrinsic satisfaction towards realization of Swadharma. It prevented people from blaming others for their failures, miseries, or being revengeful.

i Bhagwat Gita, XVIII 41.

ii Varna 180, 21, 23.

iii Mahabharata, XI6, XIV7, XIV8.

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February 7, 2010 - Posted by | Social and political values and systems |

12 Comments »

  1. You are still following this bull shit ideology and irrelevant epics. Phir to Bhagwan hi apka bhala kare.

    Comment by Laxmi Joshi | February 11, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks for your honest comments on the post. One suggestion – please mind your language. It tells how cultured you are. One comment – it is true that it is a mistake to follow blindly the past ideologies and epics. But it is a bigger mistake to reject everything without giving it a thought. It is the law of nature that present is determined by past and future by present. In a changing world, nothing can be more disabling than its idolization of past; nothing can be more needed than the constant interpretation of past experiences and present circumstances. Present should be a constant challenge to the opinions of past. A structure, a form, an attitude, a tradition, or an outlook, which in the light of modern times appears more effective and beneficial, should be replaced by a better one. At the same time, it is suicidal to sacrifice an ancient structure, form, an attitude or a thought to an increasing passion for change.

      Comment by latasinha | February 13, 2010 | Reply

  2. Any structure ,form,attitude or thought has the ability to withstand times if it humaanitarian . One should be able to explain why shudra is shudra and cannot be a brahmin .
    why,the shudra cannot have more abilities than brahmin?

    Comment by santhosh | February 25, 2010 | Reply

    • You have raised three basic questions –
      i Has caste system lost its validity seeing that any structure, form attitude or thought could withstand times, only if it is humanitarian.
      ii Why Shudra is shudra?
      Iii Who says a Shudra cannot have more abilities than a Brahmin? In the past despite their being Shudra according to present standard Balmiki- writer of Ramayana, Vyas of Mahabharata, Kabir ,Sant Ravidas etc. have always been given more respect than crores of Brahmins. There is no need for a Shudra to be called Brahmin. There is nothing great in belonging to Brahmin community or anything disgraceful in belonging to Shudra community. All are human beings contributing something worthwhile to the society. It is not the birth, but the deeds that make a person great.
      Usually, suspicions about anything arises in mind when fundamentals are not clear. Please see the posts in the web-site – latasinha.wordpress.com. I hope it will help yuo to clear your doubts about Indian society and to form your own opininion about it -.
      1.Origin of caste system of India
      2.Classification of society in India – Past and present
      3.Specific duties and obligations on each Varna,
      4.Are Brahmins/upper castes oppressors or exploiters?
      5.Start of Census operations in India.
      6. Principles of Dharma Varna and Karma in India.
      7.Dalits and discrimination.
      8.Dalits seeking foreign intervention?

      Comment by latasinha | February 26, 2010 | Reply

    • Thank you for your thought provoking comment.
      Varna/caste system, stratifying society into four groups Brahmins, Khhatriyas, Vaishyas and shudra, was conceived thousands of years ago and has been evolved slowly over time. It was accepted by all and worked well till British rule started in India.
      The whole system has survived vicissitudes of time, saved itself by erosion from within and assault from outside because of its adaptability. But it has also acted as a shield by not allowing Mughal rulers or British missionaries to sweep its own established society off its roots. Had it not been so, India would have been a society totally different than what it is now.
      Not only in the past, but in present scenario also, caste appears to most of Indians a very dear, natural, valid and useful social institution. Had it become obsolete for the modern society, it would have given way to some other system. Its very survival is the proof of its usefulness to even modern Indian society. The system has given to India a solid social structure with a system of thought, a way of life and sense of direction, which still covers its entire social fabric.
      So far, it has withstood the test of time and kept on coping with the slow changes time brought in. Once changed, the system never returned to its original form. Its shades have been different during the periods of industrialization and modernization and globalization.It has neither repulsed any trend vehemently, nor allowed others to sweep its own established culture off its roots. It presents one of the oldest social institution and a continuous and uninterrupted living culture still existing in the whole world.
      2) I appreciate your questions –
      a) Why a Shudra is Shudra and cannot be a Brahmin?
      According to Hindu philosophy, all persons are not identical and differ from one another on the grounds of natural endowments, attitude and aptitude. Also the whole world of activities is a result of complex intermixing of three basic qualities of human nature – goodness (Satva) associated with purity, peace and knowledge; Passion (Rajas)with comfort and action; and dullness (Tamas) with ignorance, sloth, sleep and carelessness. These qualities determines physical strength, mental capacity, aspirations, likes and dislikes, inclinations, expectations, tendencies, potentialities, limitations, traits and character of individuals and gave them direction for action.
      On the above grounds, Hindu’s Varna system, has classified Hindu society into four Varnas embracing numerous castes and sub-castes within its fold. It has assigned different duties to different groups according to their natural instincts, attitude, aptitude and qualities –
      Brahmins – People having flair for learning and possessing intellectual and spiritual qualities were assigned the task of learning, pursuit of knowledge and setting norms for common man, so that whole society could benefit from their knowledge.
      Khshtriyas – having warrior skills and men of action to rule and defend the community were put in this group. Their duty was to protect the people from internal disorders and external aggressions.
      Vaishyas – Persons having business acumen were included in this group. They were to carry on business and be engaged in production, trade and commerce.
      Shudras – People unable to do above three tasks or conquered ones to do were put in this category. They were advised to do menial jobs and work under the guidance of any of the above three Varnas.
      People, who fell outside caste system, were anti-social elements, adivasis living in far off places and foreigners. They did not subscribe to rules and values of the caste system.
      According to Hindu Shastras, it was not the birth but the deeds, attitude and nature of a persn, that determined, to which group a person belonged. As the number of different social groups increased due to assimilation of different groups at different points of time, different social groups came to be known as castes.
      Groups of lower-caste individuals could seek to elevate status of their caste by attempting to emulate the practices of higher castes.
      Like any other organic body, society is also supposed to behave, function or develop. It needs the services of all its constituents, each part doing a particular function and each part being equally important and indispensible for the whole body. All its parts need equal attention and care for balanced growth of the whole body. Co-ordinated functioning of all parts together keeps the whole system fit and alive.
      3) Why Shudras cannot have more abilities than Brahmins?
      Some deformities have developed into caste-system during the domination of alien’s rule for centuries in India. But traditional caste barriers and evil practices developed into the system started breaking slowly but steadily after the Independence.
      Earlier, persons who had the aspiration and potential to do and perform well outside their traditional occupation did not have access to opportunities. Process of modernization and industrialization, technological developments, especially in the areas of transport, means of communication and information technology has made closer interaction with the whole world a reality.
      With the reformatory movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, introduction of modern education, attempts of constitution-framers, spread of education, and growth of awareness among people, many changes have come about in the thinking, attitude and aspirations of all the people. Caste is no longer a barrier. Caste system has become more liberal and less restrictive. Hence, the labels of Brahmins or Shudras do not matter much now in matter of occupations and availing the benefits of modern avenues.
      For rising up one needs opportunity and one is having it now. Any individual can achieve anything s(he) wants. There is no dearth of opportunities. From all sections of society, people are acquiring necessary qualifications and are entering into different areas of their choice. And they are doing well in almost all the spheres. Yes, now nobody can prevent anybody to shed the label of shudra and putting on the label of Brahmin. All are equal in the eyes of the law of the land.
      4) As far as earning the respect is concerned, there have been many persons, who are called ‘backward’ or ‘untouchable’ according to present yardsticks, but got more respect of the whole society. In ancient India like Nand and Yashoda (Lord Krishna’s foster parents). Lord Rama, a king, ate half-eaten berries of Shabri – an untouchable. Vashishtha, the principal of the conservative school of Brahmanism (son of a prostitute) or Vyasa of Mahabharata fame and Balmiki, the original author of Ramayana (both untouchables) were revered as philosophers or spiritual teachers all over India
      During medieval India also, Sant Ravidas, Namdev, Tukaram, Malika, Sunderdas and several other saints, belonging to lower ranks according to present standards earned the same respect as any higher caste saint. There had been many instances, when people of lower ranks became kings in the past. Many warrior kings of Shudra and tribal origin sought Brahmins’ help to acquire Kshatriyas status for themselves.
      In modern times also, many persons are occupying important places in power corridors of government or Public or Private sectors like Jagjivan Ram, Mayavati, Meera Kumar and a large number of bureaucrats at all the levels of government services.

      Comment by latasinha | October 31, 2010 | Reply

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