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Social and political Values and Systems in India.

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.

February 7, 2010 Posted by | Social and political values and systems | | 12 Comments


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