The Caste System

An explanation of the topic and how it relates to Hinduism

What is the Caste System?

The caste system is a 5 tier pyramid which categorizes people, ranging from the Brahmans at the top to the Dalits, untouchables, at the bottom. The Brahmans to the Vaishyas are considered twice born, meaning they have underwent a spiritual rebirth during adolescence.

The Different Classes of the Caste System

  • Brahmans- This class consists of intellectual and spiritual leaders, in Hindu society that would make them the philosophers, religious leaders, and teachers.
  • Kshatriyas- Born administrators, which means they are protectors of society (politicians, police, and military).
  • Vaishyas- These are the agricultural manufacturers, making them the trading class.
  • Shudras- This class consists of subsistence farmers, as well as unskilled laborers. Essentially, this class is the servant class which helps the upper classes.
  • Dalits (untouchables)- The class that is not a class, it is the lowest. They are outcasts. A 1950 legislation was passed to prevent discrimination directed towards this class.

A Brief History of the Caste System

The caste system dates back to 1200 B.C.E. The earliest writings of the caste system exist in the Vedas (religious texts of Hindus). It was at one time less strict than it currently is. The caste system was not "set in stone", meaning those of lower classes could marry up, until British colonization. The British enforced the caste system during their rule of India, and harsh discrimination began to form between those of different castes. Peace keepers, such as Mahatma Gandhi, tried to integrate the classes into the more democratic Indian society, but there is still segregation of the classes.

How Does the Caste System Relate to Hinduism?

This system began with Hindu roots, but has now spread to multiple religions. Also, according to the Law of Karma (a Hindu law), if one commits bad deeds in one life, they will descend in the caste system, but if they do good deeds, they ascend in the system. If a Brahman does good deeds, it ascends to be a cow.