Categories Uncategorized

II.3.2.2 Varna and caste

Varna has its first mention in the rig veda. It mentions three varnas- brahma,kshatra, vaishya. There is no direct mention of sudras but references to groups despised by aryans like agoya,chandala, nishadas. It is said that their was no hierarchy in varnas during vedic period and it emerged during brahmanical period.

  1. Brahmanas: They are those, who seek knowledge for its own sake, be it the knowledge of God or the knowledge of the mundane. They are philosophers, academicians, teachers, authors, thinkers and also priests. They can be compared to the modern day education sector.
  2. Kshatriya: They are those, who are interested in politics, administration, and warfare. They include kings, politicians, warriors, soldiers, police, etc. They can be compared to modern day government and defence.
  3. Vaishyas: They are those, who are interested in commerce, businessmen, traders, profit seeker, producers, and suppliers. Modern day industrial and commerce sector.
  4. Shudras: Shudra etymologically means, one whose heart melts to the sorrow and pain of others. These are people who provide service- workers in factories, farmers, workers in BPO, medical, and other services, and even soldiers in the military.

Opler morris defines caste as -“caste is hereditary and endogamous. It regulates social intercourse, graded in rank and has an  assembly which regulates internal affairs”. Ghurye refers to restrictions on feeding and social intercourse, civil and religious disabilities. It is the accepted that religious principles supporting caste system distinguishes it from other social stratification systems in the world. In India, caste system has two models ie Varna model and Jati model.

Senate stated that caste and varna are not identical. Many anthropologists agree that caste is not a sub division of varna. As the origin of caste has nothing with origin of varna, though in the process of  development of caste they came to be associated with varnas and the hierarchy and mobility of a caste came to be stated in varna terms.

Varna and Caste
Both are graded in rank ie hierarchical in nature
Both are realities of Indian social organization.
Both allow mobilities though caste is more rigid than varna.
Both are means of social stratification, means of occupation distribution and social system for creation of order in the society.
Varna Caste

Literally ‘Varna’ means colour and originates from the world ‘Vri’ meaning the choice of one’s occupation.

Caste or ‘Jati’ originates from the root word ‘Jana’ which implies taking birth. Thus, caste is concerned with birth.

Varna’s are only four in number i.e. Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra.

Castes are very large in number. Castes also have many subdivisions known as sub-castes

It is an all-India phenomenon.

There are regional variations mostly based on linguistic differences.

The hierarchical pattern of Varna shows the concept of purity and pollution as the basis of division of society and placements of groups into higher and lower classes i.e. Varna-class correlation is mostly positive.

Caste-class correlation is not always positive, There may be variations in the placement due to economic, political arid educational status of various groups.


As regards the mobility pattern Varna’s are relatively flexible, compared with the castes. With the acquisition of talents and virtues, an individual may improve upon his previous status and vice-versa.

Caste system is based on rigid principles and mobility in the ladder is checked. It is based on a closed type of stratification.


varna is a mere conceptual scheme for hindu society as a whole

caste depicts real situation of hindu society

Varna may be described as an abstract classification of people of a mythical origin. The religious explanation of the Varna system is derived from the Purushashukta and the Rig-Vedic hymn which describes the creation of priests (Brahmins) warriors (Kshatriyas) traders (Vaisyas) and menials (Sudras) from the mouth, arms, thighs and feet of the Creator respectively.

Caste is a concrete grouping based on ritualistic and occupational criteria.

Varna system is free from socio-economic and political disabilities as well as restrictions.

There is no room for untouchability.

Caste system imposes many restrictions on the members.

Untouchability is integral part of caste system.

Though varna and jatis are different social organizational concepts, importance of varna is that it furnishes an all india frame into which  jatis fit and had helped spread of uniform culture throughout the hindu society. At the same time varna model has led to misinterpretation of the realities of caste syatem.

Leave a Reply