The Caste System


     When the Aryans first came to India, they were homogeneous people without class distinctions. They were then comrades-in-arms and there was perfect equality among all members of the Aryan society. But when they settled down as rulers of the land, the fear gradually dawned on them that their smaller numbers may be absorbed by the more numerous natives, whom they had conquered and enslaved. To preserve their racial purity, therefore, the fair- skinned Aryans began to distinguish themselves from the dark skinned natives. These natives were later called ‘’Shudras’’.
         The second stage in the evolution of the caste system was not reached until the later Vedic period. The Vedic language, in course of time, had obscure and could not be understood by masses. Sacrifices and ceremonies, too, had become very elaborate and complicate. There came into existence a professional class of priests. They were called ‘’Brahmins’’. Similarly, the pressure of constant wars with the natives, who resisted stubbornly the further expansion of the Aryans, necessitated class of professional soldiers skilled in the arts of war. This class came to be known as ‘’Kshatriyas’’. The rest of the Aryan population, which was devoted to peaceful persuits like agriculture, trade, commerce, etc., was referred to as ‘’Vaishas’’. The ‘’Shudras’’, who performed menial jobs for the Aryan society, were already there.

         Thus the caste system began as a distinction between the Aryans and the non-Aryans but gradually assumed the form of division of labour among the members of the Aryan society. At this stage, it was more a class-system than a caste-system. The class or the caste of the individuals was determined by one test i.e. the occupation of individuals.

         For quite some time the caste system continued to be extremely elastic in character. The choice of an occupation was purely voluntary and migration from one cast another automatic in consequence. Indeed, even a Shudra could become a Brahmin, if his character and occupation merited that rank. The great sage Vyasa, for example, was the son of a fisherwoman while Vasistha was born of a prostitute. As time passed, the caste system began to assume a rigid form. Occupation tended to became hereditary and migration from one caste to another became difficult. The result was that the caste system, which was originally occupational in character, became hereditary in course of time. The caste was now determined not by occupation, but by birth. It was no longer an elastic system, it became very rigid.

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