Indian Caste Life System

Describe the traditional caste system. Which caste do priests or “Brahmin” belong to and how is their role essential to the religious traditions of Hindus?

The varna, or caste, system of India is a blueprint for the social and economic hierarchy employed throughout the country. At its core, the caste system has been implemented to partition the population into five broad groups. The four main groups are the brahmin, the priestly class; kshatriya, the rulers, warrior and administrators class; vaishya, the producer class consisting primarily of farmers and merchants; and the shudra, or the servant class (Brodd et al.

, 104-105). The fifth class, which is considered to be below the shudra, is the “untouchables,” which makes up roughly 20% of India’s population.

Traditionally, the varna to which a person belongs has been considered a birthright. Like many class systems implemented throughout history, power and status has been focused into, or excluded from, these distinct groups through endogamy, or the marriage between persons belonging to the same group.

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This is similar to the monarch system practiced by much of Western Europe where royalty was only allowed to marry with members of other royal families, keeping the power concentrated and, “in the family,” so to speak. Fortunately, for members of the lower classes, the barriers between these castes have begun to fade with time. This blending of caste members can be attributed to many factors, including the implementation of jatis, or subcastes. While members of a jati are still not permitted to marry above or below their designated level, it does allow for lateral movements through the socioeconomic gradient.

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Many believe this move has made the social hierarchy as a whole more fluid (Brodd et al., 105). Another contributing factor to the breakdown of the strict, traditional caste was the maturation and modernization of Indian society. During the nineteenth-century, Hindu reformers helped transition the country to a more progressive and equal social structure. These reformers posited that inter-caste marriage is essential to the social and economic advancement of Indian society. Further, the traditional concept of birthright gave way to marriage criteria that could be acquired, such as education, employment, and financial status (Brodd et al., 106).

While the three top castes are distinctly separate, they were constructed in a manner such that each one supports the others in some way. This symbiotic relationship between them is akin to a three-legged stool. Each leg holds the others up, and without one, the whole system fails. The brahmin possessed spiritual and ritual knowledge and used this position to add legitimacy to kings and other holders of power. In essence, the brahmin ordained the ruling class and bestowed on them the blessings of the gods. In return, members of the kshatriya would lavish the brahmin with gifts, currency, and land while the vaishya sponsored their priestly activities (Brodd et al., 105). However, despite being well taken care of by the other classes, the brahmin was held to a relatively strict code of conduct. A few of these rules always include to be truthful, be gentle and steadfast, have self-control, never hurt any living creature, and be kind and liberal towards everyone (The Upanayana).

As the industrialized areas of India began moving toward a more diverse and less segregated population, rural areas lagged behind in adopting the more fluid caste system. This has been especially difficult for the “untouchables,” which are located below the shudras as the lowest class in the Indian hierarchy. Despite being the outcasts of the society, the untouchables account for roughly 20% of the population, even in the present time (Brodd et al., 105). The Indian government has recognized the impact of being untouchable, as such they have passed legislation in an attempt to help counteract the, sometimes very open, prejudice against them. These measures include requiring companies to employ a certain percent of lower-caste workers as well as creating government and education occupations that can only be filled by the lower castes.

The caste system of India is deeply rooted in social, economic, and religious tradition. While the separation between the different castes isn’t as concretely defined as it once was, it still plays a large roll in the day-to-day workings of the country. Fortunately, many initiatives have been taken to allow for a more fluid, dynamic, and diverse socioeconomic landscape for the people of India.

Works Cited

  1. Brodd, Jeffrey, et al. “INVITATION TO WORLD RELIGIONS.” INVITATION TO WORLD RELIGIONS, OXFORD University Press, 2018, pp. 103–106.
  2. Prasad, R.C. The Upanayana: the Hindu Ceremonies of the Sacred Thread. M. Banarsidass, 1997.

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Indian Caste Life System. (2021, Dec 31). Retrieved from

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