Thursday, February 25, 2016

Caste means profession!

Readers would have got by now that the caste is nothing but the profession one adapts for the livelihood. Also we have seen that how new castes emerged with new innovations and inventions and how some castes disappeared as their professions no more were required. It was the flexible system, unlike the pyramid of Vedic Varna system it was horizontal. People could move from one to other professions easily. We have many historical evidences to prove this fact.

 The problem of the scholars is invariably they have tried to analyze Indian social system through Vedic glasses. One must bear in mind that Vedic literature naturally would talk about its own system. This is why Vedic literature doesn’t provide any definition of origin of the caste system. “Jati” (Caste) was never ever foundation of their social order. It was Varna, descending order of the social classes. Larger segment of the Indian society always remained non-Vedic, following their pre-Vedic religious and social order. Hence connecting both, Vedic and non-Vedic, was wrong which created social confusion. 

The Smriti’s started giving strange explanations of origin of the castes. They found it in anulom and pratilom marriages. The offspring’s of such marriages would form certain caste. Social history doesn’t support it. It was a lame explanation in absence of the knowledge of practical reasons that formed a caste. Dr. Ajay Mitra Shastri says in this regard that, as various occupations became ancestral, they formed the castes. To adjust the castes in Varna system Smriti’s considered anulom (marriage of lower Varna woman with high Varna man)and pratilom (marriage of high Varna woman with lowerVarna man) marriages being responsible for emergence of various castes. However, the attempt seems to have failed as people mentioned their own castes in various donations inscriptions.  (Itihas: Parachin Kal (Vol.1) Maharashtra State Gazetteer, page 489)   

However, the idea that was invented to explain the castes (professions) of non-Vedic masses through Vedic perspective; was certainly insulting as the definition treated them as a product of corrupt marital ties. This couldn’t have been accepted by the masses or rather they may not even know it because they anyway were forbidden from Vedic literature. What we can say is it was a fine example of moral corruption of Vedics.  

Here Dr. Shastri is referring to the donation inscriptions in Buddhist caves of early history of Maharashtra. We also know the instances of numerous Shudra kings, mentioned by Mahabharata, Satapatha Brahmana and Manu. Dr. Shastri sates that there were many Shudra kings came in the power in early and medieval era as well, and with proud they have mentioned their Shudra origin in inscriptions. However there are rare instances where kings are referring themselves as Kshatriyas. 

Most of the occupational professions were controlled by the non-Vedic masses. They were money lenders, artisans, landlords, peasants, knights, traders, sea farers, service providers and soldiers. Vedic’s too on small scale have seen to be entering in to such professions during Mauryan era those were prohibited to them by Smritis. What we can see that the social mobility did prevail. 

Warrior was never ever a permanent class in INDIAN society. Kings seldom established their permanent salaried forces. The Farmers and peasant would be part time soldiers while most of the times landlords being their commanders. They would assemble their army in the times of the needs to join the expeditions. Such profession couldn’t have been traditional. It was occupation of choice, unrelated to Vedic social system simply because they were not part of it. 

Vedic kings appear in the history in form of Shungas and Kanvas. Revival of Vedicism is attributed to their reign. Maurya’s were non-Vedic and so were the Satvahana’s, the most powerful dynasties of India. THE WARRING Clans like Yodheya, Abhira, Kuntal, Shakya etc. too were non-Vedic, not belonging to any Varna of Vedic social order. In fact the influence of Vedic religion is nowhere to be traced in iconography of ancient times. Had it been influential we could note some presence of it in numismatics or inscriptions.  But this also is not the case.
When we hardly can trace influence of Vedicism in early era, except for few regions of north, it is unscientific to say that Indian social order was  influenced by Vedic code in those times. People in inscriptions inscribed their castes, but not Varna is also a proof to indicate Vedic social order had not been accepted by the people at large.

People have mentioned their castes (professions) with pride in the donation inscriptions. Such  castes include Halik (ploughers), Sutar (carpenter), Sonar (Goldsmith) Lohar (Blacksmith) Teli (oil makers), Vinkar (Weavers), Koli (Fishermen), Mali (gardener), Charmakar (Cobbler) etc. It would appear that the donor castes were rich enough to donate. They could accumulate wealth and spend it as per their own choice without any social or religious restrictions.

Also we can see that many castes of early centuries of our era no more exist, such as Ploughers (Halik). Hence there is no proof that the caste system was rigid from its inception. Many new castes appeared and old were vanished. Also there was a caste “Odyantrik” (makers of water-run-machines) which also is no more now.

We can safely conclude that the caste meant profession. The names of the caste too clearly suggest profession. It was a flexible and horizontal system. Status or dignity of the profession would naturally depend on the financial or authoritative status it would provide. There could be up and downs depending on the economic and political circumstances. We are aware that many people lost their professions during waning era of the Indus civilization as foreign trade came to gradual halt and worsening climatic changes. Naturally people turned to other professions for survival. However evidences indicate that the independent invention of glass making helped some to establish other profession (caste) for survival. No one can claim, under the circumstances, that his ancestors always belonged to the same caste to which he belongs now! Pride of the caste hence is unnatural.

So there is no shred of the evidence to show that caste system was rigid, birth based since its beginning and it was enforced upon indigenous people by invading barbaric Vedics. It originated with the professions those human being invented, innovated in course of the time for survival. It has nothing to do with any religious doctrine. confusing caste system with the Vedic religion's  social Varna system have already done irreparable harm to Indian society. The caste customs have entirely different origin that we will discuss in next chapters.

This also would mean that the status or prestige of the castes solely were dependent on the economic strength or weakness that would provide. The needs of the society are ever changing bringing ups and downs in every profession. Many professions become extinct as there remains no anymore requirement and new professions flourish with the demand.

Such social situation we can find to be prevailing till tenth century AD. The birth based rigid caste system seems to have been emerged after this era. We will naturally have to discuss what led society to enter in a dark era from its original free atmosphere? When Varna system did start plaguing non-Vedic masses and how did they accept supremacy of Vedic religion though they largely remained non-Vedics and continued to follow their pre-Vedic faith?

We shall probe this vital question in next chapters.


  1. Very detailed and yet simplistic in prose. Do you have an fb account?

  2. Very detailed and yet simplistic in prose. Do you have an fb account?

  3. Extremely informative blog. I will be going through most of the posts! So it looks like the castes were very similar to the guilds in medieval Europe, makes sense. Do you think offspring would be more likely to 'follow in the father's footsteps', and gradually that maybe the reason it became caste 'by birth' rather than choice. Also, the idea that they did not have standing armies makes sense as that would be a massive expense to feed, clothe, provide salaries etc during times of peace.

  4. Also, I'm not so sure that the rigidity of the caste system happened so late (10th c AD). Genetic studies indicate that caste based endogamy started much earlier, maybe even coinciding with the writing of the Manu Smriti. Here is the link to the study if you're interested.