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.

References in periodicals archive ?
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