The Coming of Aryans : The Caste Systems

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The division of society into four varnas (classes) had its origin in the Rig Vedic period. Members of the priestly class were called Brahmins; those of the warrior class, kshatriyas; agriculturists and traders, vaishyas; and the menials, sudras. It is said that the caste system in the Rig Vedic times was based on occupations of the people and not on birth. Change of caste was common. A Brahmin child could become a kshatriya or a vaishya according to his choice and ability. The Rig-Veda speaks of inter-caste marriages. It says:

'a bard am I , my father is a leech and my mother grinds corn'.

Varna in Sanskrit means colour and the caste system was probably used to distinguish the fair colored Aryans from the darl coloured natives. The people of higher castes (Brahmins, Khatriyas, and Vishyas) were Aryans. The dark skinned natives were the sudras, the lowest class in society, whose duty was to serve the higher classes.

In the beginning, the class system was not rigid. But in the later Vedic period it became rigid when the Brahmins and the kshatriyas became powerful and the vaishyas were made to pay tributes. The sudras became miserable and began to be treated as untouchables.

The caste system, in those days had some advantages. It reduced friction within the society. Marriages within the caste reduced maladjustments in family life. It ensured continuity of occupation as the sons usually followed the fathers occupation. This reduced unemployment and brought about perfection of several arts and crafts. Furthermore, since the caste system was based on the principle of division of labor, the Aryans were able to establish and maintain a sound economy.

But soon caste system became a social evil. It suppressed an individual's talent and became an obstacle for his personal development. It gave rise to untouchability and acted against the feeling of common brotherhood. Because of the mutual jealousies among the various castes, the Hindu society disintegrated and fell an easy prey to foreign invaders and alien religions.

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