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Indian Caste Ststem

(For more such blogs refer to my website - https://www.thegaudiyatreasuresofbengal.com/)



The Caste system of India is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and deplored societal arrangements of the world today. Many Indians and most westerners perceive the caste system as  a societal evil that has been instrumental in the higher castes exploiting the lower ones through the ages. While it cannot be denied that the caste system in India has been grossly misutilised lately in serving the ego of the so called 'higher caste' , it is worthwhile investigating how the Caste system came into existence in the first place , how the society was divided into the various castes, what was the system intended for and most interestingly, how it facilitated the overall for development of the Vedic society. Let us now find out what the vedic scriptures have to tell us about the subject.


Bhagavad Gita, which is regarded as the essence of all vedic literatures, describes the qualities of the people belonging to the four castes:


Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom and religiousness—these are the natural qualities by which the brahmanas work.

[B.G. 18.42]


Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership are the natural qualities of work for the ksatriyas. [B.G. 18.43]


Farming, cow protection and business are the natural work for the vaisyas, and for the sudras there is labor and service to others. [B.G. 18.44]


In addition to this, Krishna also says :

“It is better to engage in one’s own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another’s occupation and perform it perfectly. Duties prescribed according to one’s nature are never affected by sinful reactions.” [B.G. 18.47]


So what makes a person Brahmin, Kshatriya, vaishya or Sudra ? Is it his birth? Is it his upbringing ? or is it his qualities?


Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita that he has created this system:-


catur-varnyam maya srstam


tasya kartaram api mam

viddhy akartaram avyayam


Translation- According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer, being unchangeable. (Bhagavad Gita 4.13)


So the Vedas recognize different people have different skills and qualifications, but it is no by birth, it is by guna [qualification] and karma [work]. So if someone born of a sudra [worker] father becomes qualified [guna] and works as [karma] a brahmana he should be accepted as a brahmana. In the same way if the son of a brahmana doesn’t have the qualifications of a brahmana or work as a brahmana then he is not a brahmana. There are so many examples of this in the Vedic scriptures.




“If a person considers himself to be a Brahmana by birth but engages in [such things as] taking care of cows, buffalos, goats, horses, camels, or sheep, or acts as a messenger, tax collector, businessman, painter [artist], or dancer, he should be considered as not a real Brahmana, even though he may be very expert or powerful.”

(BP, 38.36-37)


“Brahmanas who have deviated from the path of righteousness as propagated by the scriptures are to be considered fallen [from their social status], even though they may belong to a very aristocratic family, and have performed all the required purificatory rituals, and carefully studied the Vedas. No amount of accomplishments gives one the right to justify sinful behavior.” (BP, 38.42-43)


“Thus, it can be understood how a Brahmana can become a Shudra, a Shudra can become a Brahmana, a Kshatriya can become a Brahmana or a Vaishya, and so on.” (BP, 38.47)


For example, “Vyasadeva was the son of a fisherman’s daughter, his father Parashara was born from a woman who was a dog-eater. Shukadeva was born from a female parrot, Vashishtha was the son of a prostitute…” and others sages like Kanada, Shringi,. Mandapala, and Mandavya all had questionable births, and yet all were highly qualified Brahmanas, and recognized as such.




“According to Svayambhuva Manu, the principal characteristic of a Brahmana is that he possesses spiritual knowledge, is enriched with the power of penance, and maintains a state of purity. According to this understanding, anyone, whether he belongs to an upper, middle, or lower caste, if he never indulges in sinful

activities, he must be considered a Brahmana. It is said that an honest and well-behaved Shudra is better than an arrogant Brahmana, and a Brahmana who disregards the prescribed codes of good conduct is inferior to a Shudra. A Shudra that does not keep wine in his shop or in his house is called an honest Shudra.” (BP, 42.29-32)



In the Srimad Bhagavad Gita ( 4.13 ), the Lord states : “According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.”He clearly points out that this classification is based on not on birth but on the qualities, consciousness and abilities of an individual.


Why Caste system ?


In Bhagavad-gita [4.13] there is the statement catur-varnyam maya srishtam: this system was created by Vishnu [God]. So since varnashrama is a creation of the Supreme, it cannot be changed. It is prevalent everywhere. It is like the sun. The sun is a creation of the Supreme. The sunshine is there in America, in Russia, and in India—everywhere. Similarly, this varnashrama system is prevalent everywhere in some form or another.

Take, for example, the brah-manas, the most intelligent class of men.

They are the brains of the society. The kshatriyas are the administrative class; then the vaishyas are the productive class, and the shudras are the worker class.


These four classes of men are prevalent everywhere under different names. Because it is created by the original creator, so it is prevalent everywhere, varnashrama-dharma. (Srila Prabhupada : Moscow, June 22, 1971)


The great sage Parashara tells us how human society can satisfy the Supreme Lord, even though He is already full in all opulences:



purushena parah puman

vishnur aradhyate pantha

nanyat tat-tosha-karanam


“The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Vishnu, is worshiped by the proper execution of prescribed duties in the system of varna and ashrama. There is no other way to satisfy the Lord.” (Vishnu Purana 3.8.9)


In the original Varnashrama system (caste system), the society was divided into four classes depending on one's character, quality,training and work.

The focus is spiritual advancement and spiritual satisfaction for each member of society.


The current Indian system is something like accepting the sons of supreme court judges as supreme court judges… It’s nonsense. They have to be qualified, they have to attend the university and pass the course, then they have to work under a qualified judge and get the practical experience, then they may be able to become supreme court judges…


So there is actually nothing stopping anyone from bettering his position in the Indian system in the scriptures… But also there is no need for everyone to strive to be supreme court judges. Anyone, from any social position can be liberated by performing his own work…

This varnashrama system, as stated before, is prevalent everywhere.Even in the big corporate firms we find that people who are intelligent are entrusted with the duty of making policy decisions, formulating strategies,etc.

Next come people who are entrusted with enforcing those policies across the organisation and setting targets for various departments and punishments if those targetrs are not adhered to.


Then , we have Managers or team leads who are responsible for the productivity of their individual business units and last but not the least, we have the employees who perform the work and report to their respective departmental managers.


So this is a system of effective governance and is non-different from the Varnashrama system of dividing the society into classes based on one's qualities.


We have to remember, however, that the whole system is divided into these classes , so that the organisation performs to the best of its capability. The objective is not , however, for the leaders to exploit the labourers.


Similarly, the ultimate objective of the Varnashrama Dharma , is to please Krishna, the supreme personality of Godhead, by performing actions according to one's tendencies which slowly result in the elevation of one's consciousness, ultimately resulting in one becoming a pure devotee of the lord.


How Varnashrama System can elevates one's consciousness

According to the Varnashrama Dharma , the society needs to be divided into four distinct classes - Brahmana (Priestly class), Kshatriya (military class), Vaishya (Productive class) and shudra (labourer class).


Additionally , there are four stages defined in the life of a person for his spiritual upliftment, in the below order - 

Brahmacharya (life of a student where he needs to learn the scriptures under the guidance of a bonafide spiritual master and learn to control his senses) , 

Grihasta (household life where one can enjoy his senses in a regulated manner.One also needs to take care of his family so that they can mutually help each other advance in their spiritual lives), 

Vanaprastha (voluntary retirement from family life, when one goes to the forest so that his senses may not bewilder him anymore and he can fully focus on attaining the Supreme), 

Sannyasa (The renounced order of life in which one only lives for the pleasure of the lord preaching about His holy Name and glories).


Prabhupada refers to Varnashrama Dharma as “man’s steppingstone for spiritual understanding.”

yataḥ pravṛttir bhūtānāṁ

yena sarvam idaṁ tatam

sva-karmaṇā tam abhyarcya

siddhiṁ vindati mānavaḥ


By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings and who is all-pervading, a man can attain perfection through performing his own work. [Bg 18:46.]


We have to understand that a person , according to his previous karma, is born under the influence of certain modes of material nature (goodness,passion,ignorance). Dictated by the modes of material nature he is born in, and guided by his own sensual desires, the person gradually develops certain qualities.

But unless a person is completely free from material hankerings,he cannot directly approach God, who lies beyond the material realm. Hence this system of Varnashrama Dharma is put in place which assists in the gradual spiritual development of an individual. 

In Varnashrama dharma, a person serves God, as per his own individual capacity, position and tendencies. The Brahmanas, being the most advanced spiritually, distribute the message of Godhead to one and all. The kshatriyas, serve the society by protecting the brahmanas, by protecting its spiritual culture, and its citizens from enemies so that there can an environment of holistic spiritual development in society. The Vaishyas do business and sustain the economic development of the society and perfect their lives by serving the brahmanas and the kshatriyas.The sudras, whereas , serve the classes higher to them.


The various classes of men, under the influence of various modes of material nature, are attached to the various sense objects in varying degrees. The sensual attachments are in the following increasing order - Brahmanas, kshatriyas, Vaishyas,sudras.


In the Varnashrama dharma, a Shudra,for example,being totally in the mode of ignorance, is governed strictly by a definite set of rules.Care is taken to ensure that a shudra does not hamper the spiritual practices relevant to the higher classes. A fixed set of duties are also defined for a shudra, which he would be capable of performing, such that in this process of performing the duties, he would also be able to associate with the higher modes of nature,namely passion and goodness, in an appropiate way. Gradually , by performing his duties and associating with the higher modes of nature more and more, his consciousness gets uplifted.


A person, born in the mode of passion, for example would be naturally very attached to sense gratification. For him to realize that 'Love of God' is the ultimate goal of life, might be initially very difficult, as he is too engrossed and infatuated with the sense objects. In Varnashrama Dharma, such people are advised to continue having sense gratification , but in a regulated manner. At the same time, such people must perform yajnas (sacrifices) which would help them gradually purify their tastes and thereby consciousness- like performing charity, visiting holy places, service to the people who have dedicated themselves to the lord,etc


In this way the Varnashrama system, gradually helps one elevate his consciousness by one's performing his set of prescribed duties. In this way, by dedicating atleast some fruits of one's labor directly/indirectly to the Supreme lord, one can purify his existence.


The stage of perfection however, is attained when one fully dedicates not only the fruits of his action, but the action itself to the supreme lord.


yat karoṣi yad aśnāsi
yaj juhoṣi dadāsi yat
yat tapasyasi kaunteya
tat kuruṣva mad-arpaṇam


Translation - Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform – do that, O son of Kuntī, as an offering to Me.

Acting in such consciousness, the devotee of the lord at once transcends the modes of material nature and the miseries of material existence no longer continues to affect him. Such a devotee sees everything in Krishna and Krishna in everything and is the most suitable candidate to attain the highest perfection in life - Love of God. 

Such a person is called a Vaishnava and his status is even greater than that of a Brahmana. A brahmana might be very elevated in his consciousness and perform his prescribed duties perfectly,but  he might not be willing to sacrifice his everything for the sake of pleasing God. A vaishnava , however, does not think twice of even going to hell, for the sake of pleasing the Lord. While the mode of goodness still acts upon the Brahmanas, the Vaishnavas ,infused with God's Love, completely transcend the material modes.


yoginam api sarvesam 
sraddhavan bhajate yo mam 
sa me yuktatamo matah

TRANSLATION- And of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all.


The Goal of the varnashrama dharma is to slowly elevate the consciousness of an individual , so that he can come to the stage of becoming a vaishnava, where he can appreciate his eternal inseparable relationship with the Supreme lord,His causeless mercy and finally immerse himself in Krishna Prema or Love of God.


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