The Hindu Caste System Essay Research Paper

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The Hindu Caste System Essay, Research Paper I. INTRODUCTION Are you really what you eat? Why are people born with certain unique tendencies? Are matter and spirit separate, or the same? Although seemingly unrelated, these questions are unified by the subject under consideration in this paper: the Hindu caste system. The caste system itself is unified by the concern of ritual purity. According to the Encyclop?dia Britannica: the caste system has been a dominating aspect of social organization for thousands of years. A caste, generally designated by the term jati (”birth”), refers to a strictly regulated social community into which one is born. In general, a person is expected to marry someone within the same jati, follow a particular set of rules for proper behavior (in

such matters as kinship, occupation, and diet), and interact with other jatis according to the group’s position in the social hierarchy. (”India”) Among Hindus, the thousands of jatis are grouped into four large clusters called varnas, which is loosely translated as ?color?. Whether this refers to skin color or to attributes of character depends on one?s perspective. Kelly Ross, a non-Hindu college philosophy instructor, believes that ?these sound suspiciously like skin colors; and, indeed, there is an expectation in India that higher caste people will have lighter skin.? In contrast, a Hindu web page asserts that this is not a reference to skin color, but to the fact that colors are associated with types of personalities (?The Caste System). For instance, if warriors are

referred to as ?red?, this implies their passionate nature, and not their skin color. Each varna has a traditional function to fulfill for the good of the whole society. Brahmins, the priests, are at the top of the social hierarchy, followed by Kshatriyas, the warriors; Vaishyas, originally peasants, but later merchants; and Sudras, the serfs. The particular varna in which a jati is ranked depends, in part, on its relative level of “impurity,” determined by the group’s traditional contact with any of a number of “pollutants,” such as blood, menstrual flow, saliva, dung, leather, dirt, and hair. Restrictions between the castes were established to prevent the relative “purity” of a particular jati from being corrupted by the “pollution” of a lower caste. This

paper first outlines how the caste system is likely to have been formed over time, and then briefly describes three theories from anthropology that attempt to explain its ideology. In all three, the theme of ritual purity is strongly apparent. The goal of this paper is to provide this information in a condensed format for fellow classmates. 1 II. DICUSSION A. Origins Hinduism and the Hindu caste system emerged from a blending of the culture of the Aryans and the native people already living in northern India. The Aryans were nomadic, pastoral warriors, organized into tribes, who entered northwestern India in the second millennium BC, their forebears having come from Northern Eurasia (Wasson 209). The Aryan tribes were already split into two social classes before invading India:

the nobility and commoners, similar to the ancient Greek patricians and plebeians. The chief was primarily a war leader. He was aided by a general and a priest, who was the predecessor of the later priesthood known today as the Brahmins (Basham 34). Since then, the worldly and spiritual powers have been in the hands of different specialists: worldly power in the hands of the king, spiritual power in the hands of the priest. A critical development during this time was that the ritual power of the priest became more important than the secular power of the king, who was expected to protect and depend upon the priest (Dumont 72). The Brahmins were eventually placed at the pinnacle of the social ladder, probably influenced by their claims to superior purity. Quoting the French