Caste System

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Caste System

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Although the influence of the caste system in India is now weakening, especially since it "officially" ended with Indian independence, the system did exert a powerful hold for countless generations and continues to have an impact on Indian society. It seems to have been a product of the Aryan migration of 1500 BCE ; it was perhaps utilized to control the indigenous population. Society was divided into five groups, and it was a tenet of Hinduism that the only way to advance to a higher group was to live an exemplary life, following the rules of the caste into which you were born. Then, in your next incarnation, your good Karma would propel you toward birth into a higher caste.

At the top of the system were the Brahmins. These were the priests and scholars. (Western knowledge of the caste system was prevalent enough that in New England the term "Boston Brahmin" became synonymous with wealthy, upper-class society.)

Next down the social scale were the Kshatriyas, the rulers and warriors. They were followed by merchants and tradesmen, called Vaishyas. Lower on the ladder were the Shudras, the peasants.

The dregs of society, about 20 percent of the population, were the "out-castes," those without a caste, also known as the "untouchables."

The system functioned by popular consent. Built into the Hindu religion was the belief that you simply did not associate with people of a lower caste. Vaishyas stood aside on the road whenever a Brahmin walked by, not even letting their shadows get in the way of the person of higher caste.

Although modern Westerners shake their heads at such beliefs, it must be remembered that in pre-Civil War America, religion was used to enforce a similar pattern of social behavior between people of different races.

No one knows exactly when the caste system began. But it may be significant to point out that when Westerners first discovered its existence, during British colonial expansion, there seemed to be a direct correlation between skin color and caste ranking. The lighter the skin, the higher the caste. Even the word Varna, a collective term naming the four castes, means "color" or "appearance." If the caste system was, indeed, an Aryan import, by observing Aryan history in other parts of the world it is hard not to draw the inference that it represented a system of domination by people of white skin who used religion to enforce imposed racism.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The inequality among the different tiers in the higher caste system is far greater than we find in K-12 schools.
With Hindustan the breeding ground of the caste system, it would be interesting to see whether caste was widely accepted in that country.
Although there has been a gradual loosening of the caste system, India has a long way to go before this centuries-old legacy is uprooted for good.
There is no substitute for detailed contextual studies in the social sciences and the historical disciplines, which, of course, will take into account the specific effect of the operation of the caste system and the relevance of the sacred in conferring status.
An important aspect of the findings of the study is the explanation by the author that within the framework of social structure built on caste system which perpetuates relative socioeconomic positions of individuals and groups from one generation to next, parents' fertility behaviour in response to economic change is influenced by the concern of not only their own interest but also of their children's interest.
The system of manual scavenging began in early India, well justified by caste system and continued in medieval times as well.
"During the time of Lord Ram and Lord Hanuman, in our country, no caste system was being followed in the society.
She mentioned Baba Sahib quoting, 'Caste system was not the division of the labour but the division of labourers'.
So I'm afraid unless those who want to turn the clock back to the days before World War II are seeking a period of ethnic cleansing similar to that attempted in the Baltic states, they should accept that there is no caste system in Wales, we all have a common goal to make our local area as prosperous, as friendly, as tolerant, as pleasant and as crime free as we possibly can.
The well-developed, skin color-based caste system is particularly notable and brought to life vividly when the characters confront its consequences and constraints, including the overall violent mistreatment of GENS.
Focusing particularly on the Mahabharata epic of the life of Krishna, he points out inconsistencies noted by scholars; condemns the Gita's continuing negative influence on Indian life for its condoning of violence, immorality, the caste system, and ideas about karma and reincarnation; and compares interpretations by Tilak, Aurobindo, and Gandhi.
As a Christian from North America, I had rarely given much thought to the challenges confronting dalit people, nor to the ethics and theology underlying the caste system.