CASTE AND VARNA – PART 3

Origin of caste?

111. Today’s tweets deal with ‘Origin of caste?’

112. Castes rise and fall in social scale, and old castes die out and new ones are formed, but the four great classes (varna) are stable.

113. They are never more or never less than four of these varnas. And for over 2,000 years their order of precedence were not altered.

114. If caste is defined as a system of groups within the class, which are normally endogamous, commmensal and caste exclusive, we have no real evidence of its existence until comparatively late times. (Bhasham p. 148)

115. TRUTH OF TRUTH IS THAT CASTES DID NOT ORIGINATE FROM 4 VARNAS.

116. It is impossible to show its origin conclusively, and we can do little more than faintly trace its development, since early literature paid scanty attention to it; but it is practically certain that the caste DID NOT originate from the four classes.

117. The Brahman gotras which go back to Vedic times are not castes, since the gotras are exogamous, and members of the same gotras are to be found in many castes. (Bhasham p. 148)

118. Max Weber noted the European trade guilds had all the features of modern Hindu castes, including even untouchability.

119. Hence it is quite possible that many of the modern Indian castes were trade guilds during the mediaval period.

120. With passage of time the trade guilds adopted colors of caste.

121. Basham explains how caste didn’t exist in India before Muslim period (Medieval Age).

122. Bhasham also explains how it originated from tribes & guilds during Muslim period of Indian history.

123. In late medieval times the final caste division took place as exogamy couldn’t work.

124. Bhasham wrote in his celebrated work – “The wonder that was India” as follows:

“It was only in late medieval times that it was finally recognized that exogamy and sharing meals with members of other classes were quite impossible for respectable people. These customs and many others such as widow-remarriage, were classed as kalivarjya — customs once permissible, but to be avoided in this dark Kali Age, when men are no longer naturally righteous.” (p. 148).

125. “…In attempting to account for the remarkable proliferation of castes in 18th – and 19th – century India, authorities credulously accepted the traditional view that by a process of inter marriage and subdivision the 3000 or more castes of modern India had evolved from the four primitive classes, and the term ‘caste’ was applied indiscriminately to both varna or class and jati or caste proper. This is a false terminology; castes rise and fall in social scale, and old castes die out and new ones are formed, but the four great classes are stable. They are never more or less than four, and for over 2,000 years their order of precedence as not altered. … If caste is defined as a system of groups within the class, which are normally endogamous, commensal and caste exclusive, we have no real evidence of its existence until comparatively late times.”(p. 148).

126. “…It is impossible to show its origin conclusively, and we can do little more than faintly trace its development, since early literature paid scanty attention to it; but it is practically certain that the caste did not originate from the four classes. Admittedly it developed later than they, but this proves nothing. There were subdivisions in the four
classes at a very early date, but the Brahman gotras, which go back to Vedic times, are not castes, since the gotras are exogamous, and members of the same gotras are to be found in many castes.” (p. 148).

127. “…Many trades were organized in guilds, in which some authorities have seen the origin of the trade castes; but these trade groups cannot be counted as fully developed castes. A 5th century inscription from Mandsore shows us a guild of silk-weavers emigrating in a body from Lata (the region of the lower Narmada) to Mandsore, and taking up many other crafts and professions, from soldiering to astrology, but still maintaining its guild consciousness. We have no evidence that this group was endogamous or commensal, and it was certainly not craft-exclusive, but its strong corporate sense is that of a caste in the making.” (p. 149)

128. “…Indian society developed a very complex social structure, arising partly from tribal affiliations and partly from professional associations, which was continuously being elaborated by the introduction of new racial groups into the community, and by the development of new crafts. In the Middle Ages the system became more or less rigid, and the social group was now a caste in the modern sense. Prof J.J. Hutton has interpreted the caste system as an adaptation of one of the most primitive of the social relationships, whereby a small clan, living in a comparatively isolated village, would hold itself aloof from its neighbors by a complex system of taboos, and he has found embryonic caste features in the social structure of some of the wild tribes of present-day India. The caste system may well be the natural response of the many small and primitive peoples who were forced to come to terms with a more complex economic and social system. It did not develop out of the four Aryan varnas, and the two systems have never been thoroughly harmonized” (p. 149-150).

129. “Equalitarian religious reformers of the middle ages such as Basava, Ramanand, and Kabir tried to abolish caste among their followers; but their sects soon took characteristics of new castes.” (p. 151)

130. Romila Thapar had changed her racist theory narrating a false Aryan invasion theory. Listen to Premedra Prayadarshi’s monumental treatise.

131. Premendra Priyadarshi points out that Romila Thapar earlier subscribed to the racist theory of Indian castes, that the original Indians were subordinated by invading Aryans into lower castes and the Aryans placed themselves in the top castes, however, she changed her mind later and found that castes originated from guilds and tribes. (Thapar 2003: 422).

Romila Thapar earlier (1966) used caste to denote varna and sub-caste to denote jati. But in her latest book she uses the terms varna and jati in English also, and avoids the word caste at most of the places. Thapar wrote: “However, there have been other ways of looking at the origins and functioning of caste society. A concept used equally frequently for caste is jati. It is derived from a root meaning ‘birth‘, and the number of jatisare listed by name and are too numerous to be easily counted. The hierarchical ordering of jatis is neither consistent nor uniform, although hierarchy cannot be denied. The two concepts of jati and varna overlap in part but are also different…But it can also be argued that the two were distinct in origin and had different functions, and that the enveloping of jati by varna, as in the case of Hindu castes, was a historical process…The origin of varna is reasonably clear from the references in the Vedic corpus…The genesis of the jati may have been the clan, prior to its becoming a caste.” (p. 63)

132. “There are close parallels between the clan (tribe) as a form of social organization and the jati.”  (p. 64, bracket added) (Thapar, Romila; The Penguin History of Early India from the Origins to AD 1300, Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2002 reprint 2003).

133. It is on record that many of the Brahmana castes and Rajput caste are products of mobility of clan and tribes (and later, of castes).

134. Thapar notes this phenomenon in the following words:

135. “The temple could also act as a conduit of social mobility. In coastal Andhra, a large herd of cows was donated to Draksharama temple. The herd was …cared for by the local Boya tribal community. In the course of time, and because they were looking after the temple property, these Boyas rose in status from from outcasts to shudras. As shudras they entered the lower echelons of administration and gradually some attained high office.” (p. 390).

136. “A number of new groups entered the established hierarchy of castes. Perhaps most visible were the new kshatriya castes. They were open to those who had acquired political authority and could claim the status through genealogy or an appropriate marriage alliance. Other than those claiming connection with existing kshatriya castes, they were grantees in category of samantas or chiefs that had been inducted into the caste society…By the end of this period, designations such as rauta, ranaka, thakkura and such like were available to those who had received grants of land and became grantees.” (Thapar, Ibid ., p. 462).

137. Thapar (2003:66) also holds identical views about origin of castes from guilds, tribes and religious sects:

138. “The conversion from tribe or clan to caste, or from jana to jati as it is sometimes called, was one of the basic mutations of Indian social history..” (p. 66)

139. “The conversion of clan to jati was not the only avenue to creating castes. Since caste identities were also determined by occupations, various professional associations, particularly urban artisans, gradually coalesced into jatis, beginning to observe jati rules by accepting a social hierarchy that defined marriage circles and inheritance laws, by adhering to common custom and by identifying with a common location.Yet another type of jati was the one that grew out of a religious sect that may have included various jatis to begin with, but started functioning so successfully as a unit that eventually it too became a caste. A striking example of this is the history of the Lingayat caste in the peninsula.” (p. 66)

140. Basham‘s finding that the Hindu caste system became fully developed only during the late Middle Ages, corroborates well with similar findings by other investigators. Raghuvanshi noted that the travellers of the early Medieval Period were silent on the complex caste structure of the society, but by the time of the later Mughals, the institution of caste had grown to maturity, and its ramifications into sub-castes were numerous. ( Raghuvanshi, V.P.S., Indian Society in the Eighteenth Century)

141. Romila Thapar’s Changed Views on the Origins of Caste:

142. Romila Thapar earlier subscribed to the racist theory of Indian castes, that the original Indians were subordinated by invading Aryans into lower castes and the Aryans placed themselves in the top castes. However, Thapar changed her mind and now finds that castes originated from guilds and tribes (Thapar 2003: 422). Historians took longer to understand origin of caste because, as Srinivas had rightly pointed out, many of the Indians can actually never understand the difference between varna and caste.

143. Romila Thapar earlier (1966) used caste to denote varna and sub-caste to denote jati. But in her latest book (2002, reprint 2003) she uses the terms varna and jati in English also, and avoids the word caste at most of the places. Prof Basham also had strongly discouraged the use of word ‘caste’ to mean ― varna, and Srinivas had also held similar views.

144. Thapar writes:

“One of the current debates relating to the beginning of Indian history involves both archeology and linguistics, and attempts to differentiate between indigenous and alien peoples. … To categorize some people as indigenous and others as alien, to argueabout the first inhabitants of the subcontinent, and to try and sort out these categories for the remote past, is to attempt the impossible. (p.xxiv)

145. Thapar continues:

“It was not just the landscape that changed, but society also changed and often quite noticeably. But this was a proposition unacceptable to colonial perceptions that insisted on the unchanging character of Indian history and society. (p. xxiv)

“That the study of institutions did not receive much emphasis was in part due to the belief that they did not undergo much change: an idea derived from the conviction that Indian culture had been static, largely owing to the gloomy, fatalistic attitude to life. (p. xxv)

146. Again Thapar says:

“The formation of caste is now being explored as a way of understanding how Indian society functioned. Various possibilities include the emergence of castes from clans of forest dwellers, professional groups or religious sects. Caste is therefore seen as a less rigid and frozen system than it was previously thought to be, but at the same time this raises a new set of interesting questions for social historians. (p. xxvii)

147. “However, there have been other ways of looking at the origins and functioning of caste society. A concept used equally frequently for caste is jati. It is derived from a root meaning ‘birth’, and the number of jatis are listed by name and are too numerousto be easily counted. The hierarchical ordering of jatis is neither consistent nor uniform, although hierarchy cannot be denied. The two concepts of jati and varna overlap in part but are also different…But it can also be argued that the two were distinct in origin and had different functions, and that the enveloping of jati by varna,as in the case of Hindu castes, was a historical process…The origin of varna is reasonably clear from the references in the Vedic corpus…The genesis of the jati may have been the clan, prior to its becoming a caste. (p.63).

148. “There are close parallels between the clan (tribe) as a form of social organization and the jati. (p. 64) Thus we have noted views of Hutton, Basham and Thapar that the caste system did not originate from the ancient Hindu varna system. It is on record that many of the brahmana castes and Rajput caste are products of mobility of clan and tribes (and later, of castes).

149. Thapar notes this phenomenon in the following words:

The temple could also act as a conduit of social mobility. In coastal Andhra, a largeherd of cows was donated to Draksharama temple. The herd was …cared for by the local Boya tribal community. In the course of time, and because they were looking after the temple property, these Boyas rose in status from from outcasts to shudras. As shudras they entered the lower echelons of administration and gradually some attained high office. (p. 390).

150. A number of new groups entered the established hierarchy of castes. Perhaps most visible were the new kshatriya castes. They were open to those who had acquired political authority and could claim the status through geneology or an appropriate marriage alliance. Other than those claiming connection with existing kshatriya castes, they were grantees in category of samantas or chiefs that had been inducted into the caste society…By the end of this period, designations such as rauta, ranaka, thakkura and such like were available to those who had received grants of land and became grantees. (Thapar, Ibid ., p. 462).

In this way the tribe is a local group whereas caste is a socialgroup.

151. The study of a Central Himalayan tribe Tharu reveals that though they have a tribal matrix and continue to practice certain distinctive tribal customs, richer elite among them have a tendency to claim kshatriya-hood and may possibly merge into Rajputs. One such example is the landed peasantry Tharus of Champaran district of Bihar in India.

152. A largesection of Tharu tribe has named itself Rana Tharu. Rana is the feudal aristocratic Rajput caste of Nepal and also in Rajasthan state of India. Thus affluent among the Tharus have been placed at a higher level in the caste hierarchy. Khasa is another Himalayan tribe, which has been accepted as a Rajput (upper caste) in the Hindu caste society of Uttarakhanda state of India.

153. In fact conversion of tribals into Rajput was such a general feature that Sinha coined the concept of Rajput-Tribe Continuum. Thus Bhumij, Munda and Gond tribes of Central Inida were able to establish their kingdoms (Munda Raj in Chotanagpur; Bhumij state in Barabhumand Raj Gond state of Gondwana), which added to their claims of Kshatriya status, and often melting into the Rajput caste by specific groups of these tribes.

154. Other Authors on Conversion of Tribes into Castes:

In this context, von Furer-Haimendorf examines the case of Gond tribe. He finds that this tribe cleared the forests, and settled on the land as farming tribe. Later others (non-Gonds)came into the area. Yet with passage of time, although the Gonds are tribes till date, yet arevery near to an upper caste in the spectrum. He notes: “Even the mainstream Hindu immigrant populations see Gonds as having attributes of purity. If a Hindu is asked how he evaluates the Gonds‘ status in varna system, he will say that Gonds … must therefore be considered as high castes.”

155. Many Gonds were indeed able to enter Hindu caste system as a Rajput (upper caste) clan. Max Weber too noted that when an Indian tribe loses its territorial significance it assumes.

156. William Crooke quotes from Risley that Rajput‘s development from original tribes can be with more or less confidence be assumed. He notes that often Bhil or Gond tribal man becomes leader of his sept and claims to be a Rajput sept. He is not at once admitted into the matrimonial fold of the Rajputs, but if he is rich enough and persistent in his claim, this boon is granted sooner or later. As a result of this constant conversion of tribes into Rajputs,Rajput became the single largest caste of India with widest territorial distribution. Trend to become Rajput was most marked during the Muslim period. It is because in any feudalarchy,it is the feudal caste which wields maximum power, respect and avenues. Purity of blood and supremacy of lineage are powerful ideologies during feudal period. Muslim period of India was the Golden Age of feudalism, and Dark Age for knowledge and capitalism.

157. William Crooke too noted this relationship between tribes and the Rajputs (an upper caste). “Dravidian Gond(tribe) were enrolled as Rajputs.” “Raja of Singrauli was a pure Kharwar (tribe), but became a banbansi Kshatriya during the life of the author.” “Col Sleeman gives the case of an Oudh Pasi who became a Rajput…”. “The names of many septs (of Rajputs), as Baghel, Ahban, Kalhans, and Nagbansi, suggest a totemistic origin, and Nagbansi suggests a totemistic origin which would bring them in line with the Chandrabanshi, who are promoted Dravidian Cheros and other similar septs of undoubtedly aboriginal race.

158. Kharwar is a tribe. Many Rajput (upper caste Hindu) dynasties have been said to belong to Kharwar group. Apart from the ones mentioned by Crooke, there is documentary evidence of Kharwar Rajput in Mirzapur, which revolted in 1857.

159. More such relations between tribes and Rajputs have been noted by Sadasivan from records of older authors, “Dr Francis Buchanan upon evidence states that the Pratihara Rajputs of Sahabad are descendants of tribe of Bhars. ‘Chandels’ observes Vincent Smith ‘who appear to have their descent from the Gonds closely connected with another tribe the Bhars, first carved out a petty principality near Chhatrapur’. Sir Denzil Ibbetson is also almost certain that the so called Rajput families were aboriginal, and he instanced the Chandels. ‘Recent investigation has shown’ writes H. A. Rose (A Glossory of Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and the North-West Province) that the ‘Pratihara’ (Parihar) clan of the Rajputs was really a section of the Gujars and other fireborn Rajput clans, Solanki (Chalukyas), Punwars (Paramaras), Chauhans (Chahumanas or Chahuvamsha) must be assigned similar origin”.

160. Views of Srinivas on Origin of Castes from Tribes:

Srinivas gave a very well studied view of caste tribe relationship:

“The category of Shudra subsumes, in fact, the vast majority of non-Brahminical castes which have little in common. It may at one end include a rich, powerful and highly Sanskritized group while at the other end may be tribes whose assimilation to Hindu fold is only marginal. The Shudra-category spans such a wide structural and cultural gulf that its sociological utility is very limited.”

161. “It is well known that occasionally a shudra caste has, after the acquisition of economic and political power, Sanskritized its customs and ways, and has succeeded in laying claim to be kshatriyas. The classic example of the RajGonds, originally a tribe, but who successfully claimed to be kshatriyas after becoming rulers of a tract in Central India, shows up the deficiency of the varna-classification. The term kshatriya, for instance, does not refer to a closed ruling group which has always been there since the time of the Vedas. More often it refers to the position attained or claimed by a local group whose traditions and luck enabled it to seize politico-economic power.”(pp. 65-66). – Srinivas.

162. “But in Southern India the Lingayats claim equality with, if not superiorityto the Brahmin, and orthodox Lingayats do not eat food cooked or handled by the Brahmin. The Lingayats have priests of their own caste who also minister to several other non-Brahmin castes. Such a challenge to the ritual superiority of the Brahmin is not unknown though not frequent. The claim of a particular caste to be Brahmin is, however, more often challenged. Food cooked or handled by Marka Brahmins of Mysore, for instance, is not eaten by most Hindus, not excluding Harijans.” (Ibid. p. 66) – Srinivas

163. “It is necessary to stress here that innumerable small castes in a region do not occupy clear and permanent positions in the system. Nebulousness as to position is of the essence of the system in operation as distinct from the system in conception. The varna-model has been the cause of misinterpretation of the realities of the caste system. A point that has emerged from recent field-research is that the position of a caste in the hierarchy may vary from village to village. It is not only that the hierarchy is nebulous here and there, and the castes are mobile over a period of time, but the hierarchy is also to some extent local. The varna scheme offers a perfect contrast to this picture.”(Ibid,p. 67). – Srinivas

164. In some countries (like Arabic speaking and other Muslim countries) caste word is not used by English language authors and media and instead ‘tribe’ word isoften used. In these situations ‘tribe’ often means a caste and nothing else. Though caste exists as an entity in these Muslim nations too, yet its existence is denied by English media by resorting to use of the word ‘tribe’ instead of caste. This is done deliberately to reserve the use of the word caste “exclusively” for India.

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