Mobility and Varna System!!!

Varna System is a sensitive topic and it has been discussed in depth by many earlier on. However I would like to delve upon one singular question given below.

“ Can you become a Brahmin or Sudra only by birth or is there an opportunity to move up the ladder?

For example, Sham was born to a poor Sudra family, but with education in IIT, he has reached a respectable position in society. He is a senior level manager in a top Multi National…He has reached a thinker position…He is also good mannered…He has become vegetarian out of his health consciousness…

Now he falls in love with a Brahmin girl in his organization. Both fall in love…Both decide to marry.

Now comes the problem…The Girl’s father says you cant marry a Sudra…Sham is confused…He felt bad that inspite of being higher in merit and also earning better than the girl…He is being rejected only because of his caste…He feels that there is no respect for merit, goodness in this world of caste hierarchy…

So Sham being a intellectual should he not be at a higher level…He is no more a worker…He is a thinker…Should he not be a Brahmin as per the Hindu Scriptures or atleast a Vaishya….

Whether the Hindu Scriptures really so stringent about mobility in caste or is it self created and self propagated for vested interests?“

Scriptures clearly state that the fourfold varna is not because of birth but because of differentiation in Guna and Karma.

Lord Krishna says in his Gita (ch-4, verse 13) that “The fourfold-varna (Chaatur-varna) has been created by Me according to the differentiation of ‘GUNA’ and ‘KARMA’; though I am the author thereof know Me as non-doer and immutable.”

Swami Vivekananda explains that it is naturally possible for a person to convert from one varna to another. The same is reproduced below,

“Take a man in his different pursuits, for example: when he is engaged in serving another for pay, he is in Shudra-hood; when he is busy transacting some piece of business for profit, on his account, he is a Vaishya; when he fights to right wrongs then the qualities of a Kshatriya come out in him; and when he meditates on God, or passes his time in conversation about Him, then he is a Braahmana. Naturally, it is quite possible for one to be changed from one Varna into another. Otherwise, how did Vishwamitra become a Braahmana and Parashurama a Kshatriya?”

So it is not that the Vedic Literature gave sanctity for caste system by birth. However vested interests misinterpreted Purusha Suktha which is considered to be the originator of the Varna System. The origin of caste system is from the 90th sukta of the 10th mandala in the Rig Veda which is called the Purusha Sukta. It talks about the entire universe as the body of God (Purusha), and of all creation as emerging from Him.

From his mouth came forth the Brahmins

And of his arms were Rajanya made

From his thighs came the Vaishyas

And his feet gave birth to Sudras.

The fact that Sudras come from the feet has been used to conclude that they are inferior compared to others. But the reality is that no where in Purusha Sukta it is mentioned that the Sudras are inferior to Brahmins.

Now can we take a view that the limbs are not superior and has no role. This narrow view is not correct. Purusha Sukta clearly states that the world can function only if all the four parts work harmonisly. There is a need for thinkers for laying down policy, There is a need for protectors, There is a need for tradesman and there is a need for large number of workers. Yes the quality of work they may do may vary…But that does not mean they are inferior.

Take the example of Lingayats and Brahmins in Karnataka…Many Lingayats consider themselves superior to the Brahmin class. Food cooked or handled by Marka Brahmins of Mysore, for instance, is not eaten by most Hindus, not excluding Harijans.

In Karnataka, it is very common to see a Okkaliga as the head of the village and village priest may be a Brahmin. Does that mean Okkaligas are inferior to Brahmins as per the above theory. As we go deeper and deeper, it is clear there is a mutual dependence of a higher caste on lower castes and vice versa. This is a system of societal existence and does not create a system of hierarchy where a individual entry is determined by his birth.

Now comes the questions

“ Whether regular priest in small temples can be regarded as the same princely priests who where there in the earlier times. The princely priests where thinkers and in effect the current day ministers. For example, some priests like the Mahabrahman funeral priests of Benaras are regarded as Untouchable. So what the vedic literature talks about is the scholarly Brahmins who are good in thinking, defining new policies and creating a new directions for the nation?

Now let us look at what really our sacred texts talk. The Mahabharata-SantiParva Section CLXXXIX, states the duties of the four varnas as below-

The duties of the Brahmana is described below

“Bhrigu said, ‘That person is called a Brahmana who has been sanctified by such rites as those called jata and others; who is pure in behaviour; who is engaged in studying the Vedas; who is devoted to the six well-known acts (of ablutions every morning and evening, silent recitation of mantras, pouring libations on the sacrificial fire, worshipping the deities, doing the duties of hospitality to guests, and offering food to the Viswedevas); who is properly observant of all pious acts; who never takes food without having offered it duly to gods and guests; who is filled with reverence for his preceptor; and who is always devoted to vows and truth. He is called a Brahmana in whom are truth, gifts, abstention from injury to others, compassion, shame, benevolence, and penance.

The duties of Kshatraiya is described below.

He who is engaged in the profession of battle, who studies the Vedas, who makes gifts (to Brahmanas) and takes wealth (from those he protects) is called a Kshatriya.

The duties of Vaisya is described below.

He who earns fame from keep of cattle, who is employed in agriculture and the means of acquiring wealth, who is pure in behaviour and attends to the study of the Vedas, is called a Vaisya.

The duties of Sudra is described below.

He who takes pleasure in eating every kind of food, who is engaged in doing every kind of work, who is impure in behaviour, who does not study the Vedas, and whose conduct is unclean, is said to be a Sudra.

Now the Sudra of the vedic period is nothing more than the AAM AADMI of the current day. So clearly this section was a very large section doing all the kind of work expect not studying the vedas and whose conduct was unclean. They just say they do all unskilled work, but they dont take a conclusion that they are inferior by existence. They just say that functionally Brahmana’s are better off than the Sudras. The concept of purity and pollution does not exist in the vedic literature.

Now the same versus goes on to tell that the Sudra can be a Brahmana.

If these characteristics be observable in a Sudra, and if they be not found in a Brahmana, then such a Sudra is no Sudra, and, such a Brahmana is no Brahmana.

So clearly it is the qualities which make a person Sudra or a Brahmana and not his birth.

If, again, if Brahmanhood depends on parentage or birth (jàti); that is, that to be a Brahman one must be born of Brahman parents, — this notion is at variance with the known passage of the Smritti, that ACHALA MUNI was born of an elephant, and CESA PINGALA of an owl, and AGASTYA MUNI from the Agasti flower, and COUSIKA MUNI from the Cusa grass, and CAPILA from a monkey, and GAUTAMI RISHI from a creeper that entwined a Saul tree, and DRONA ACHARYA from an earthen pot, and TAITTIRI RISHI from a partridge, and PARSWA RAMA from dust, and SRINGA RISHI from a deer, and VYASA MUNI from a fisherwoman, and KOSHIKA MUNI from a female Sudra, and VISWA MITRA from a Chandalni, and VASISHTHA MUNI from a strumpet. Not one of them had a Brahman mother, and yet all were notoriously called Brahmans;

So clearly there are many instances in our scriptures which clearly shows that the so called maha rishi’s who were revered Brahamanas were not born out of Brahman Parents. So the contention is clear that the mobility across Varna System is possible and is not restricted in our scriptures.

Now one aspect is clear that Brahman is the highest attainment which one human being can have and it is not the intention of the vedic scriptures to classify one set of people born out of birth only in this category. The Mahabharta, Book 13: Anusasana Parva: Section CXLIII states the following


“In days of yore, the Self-born One created the four orders. Through the evil consequence of what acts cloth a Vaisya become a Sudra? Through what acts doth a Kshatriya become a Vaisya and a regenerate person (Brahmana) becomes a Kshatriya? By what means may such degradation of castes be prevented? Through what acts does a Brahmana take birth in his next life, in the Sudra order? Through what acts, O puissant deity, does a Kshatriya also descend to the status of Sudra? O sinless one, O lord of all created beings, do thou, O illustrious one, dispel this doubt of mine. How, again, can the three other orders naturally succeed in attaining to the status of Brahmanhood?’

The above question is the fundamental question which signifies the same question which many of us are asking.

Whether upward or downward mobility in Varna System is possible?

This is what the answer in the scripture

Even this is my opinion He, however, that is born a Brahmana falls away from his status through his own evil acts. Hence, the Brahmana, after having attained to the status of the first order, should always protect it (by his acts).

If one, who is a Kshatriya or Vaisya, lives in the practice of those duties that are assigned to the Brahmana, after the manner of a Brahmana he becomes (in his next life) a Brahmana.

That Brahmana who casts off the duties of his order for following those assigned for the Kshatriya, is regarded as one that has fallen away from the status of a Brahmana and that has become a Kshatriya.

That Brahmana of little understanding, who, impelled by cupidity and folly, follows the practices assigned to Vaisyas forgetful of his status as a Brahmana that is exceedingly difficult to attain, comes to be regarded as one that has become a Vaisya.

Similarly, one that is a Vaisya by birth may, by following the practices of a Sudra, become a Sudra.

Indeed, a Brahmana, falling away from the duties of his own order, may descend to the status of even a Sudra,

Such a Brahmana, falling away from the order of his birth and turned out of it, without attaining to the region of Brahmana (which is his goal if he duly observes his own duties), sinks into Hell and in his next birth becomes born as a Sudra.

A highly blessed Kshatriya or a Vaisya, that abandons those practices of his that are consistent with the duties laid down for his order, and follows the practices laid down for the Sudra, falls away from his own order and becomes a person of mixed caste.

It is in this way that a Brahmana. or a Kshatriya, or a Vaisya, sinks into the status of a Sudra. That man who has attained to clearness of vision through practice of the duties of his own order, who is endued with knowledge and science, who is pure (in body and mind), who is conversant with every duty and devoted to the practice of all his duties, is sure to enjoy the rewards of righteousness.

So clearly from the above it can be concluded that downward mobility in Varna System is possible. So inspite of being born as a Brahmin, the same person can come down to Shudra if he has not attained the good qualities and deeds as mentioned in the scriptures.

I shall now recite to thee, O goddess, a saying uttered by Brahma (the Self-born) on this subject. Those that are righteous and desirous of acquiring merit always pursue with firmness the culture of the soul. The food that comes from cruel and fierce persons is censurable. So also is the food that has been cooked for serving a large number of persons. The same is said of the food that is cooked in view of the first Sraddha of a deceased person. So also is the food that is stained in consequence of the usual faults and the food that is supplied by a Sudra. These should never be taken by a Brahmana at any time 1. The food of a Sudra, O goddess, is always disapproved of by the high-souled deities. Even this, I think, is the authority enunciated by the Grandsire with his own mouth. If a Brahmana, who has set up the sacred fire and who performs sacrifices, were to die with any portion of a Sudra’s food remaining undigested in his stomach, he is sure to take birth in his next life as a Sudra. In consequence of those remains of a Sudra’s food in his stomach, he falls away from the status of a Brahmana. Such a Brahmana becomes invested with the status of a Sudra. There is no doubt in this. This Brahmana in his next life becomes invested with the status of that order upon whose food he subsists through life or with the undigested portion of whose food in his stomach he breathes his last. That man who, having attained to the auspicious status of a Brahmana which is so difficult to acquire, disregards it and eats interdicted food, falls away from his high status. That Brahmana who drinks alcohol, who becomes guilty of Brahmanicide or mean in his behaviour, or a thief, or who breaks his vows, or becomes impure, or unmindful of his Vedic studies, or sinful, or characterised by cupidity, or guilty of cunning or cheating, or who does not observe vows, or who weds a Sudra woman, or who derives his subsistence by pandering to the lusts of other people or who sells the Soma plant, or who serves a person of an order below his, falls away from his status of Brahmanahood. That Brahmana who violates the bed of his preceptor, or who cherishes malice towards him, or who takes pleasure in speaking ill of him, falls away from the status of Brahmanahood even if he be conversant with Brahman. By these good acts, again, O goddess, when performed, a Sudra becomes a Brahmana, and a Vaisya becomes a Kshatriya. The Sudra should perform all the duties laid down for him, properly and according to the ordinance. He should always wait, with obedience and humility, upon person of the three other orders and serve them with care. Always adhering to the path of righteousness, the Sudra should cheerfully do all this. He should honour the deities and persons of the regenerate orders. He should observe the vow of hospitality to all persons. With senses kept under subjection and becoming abstemious in food, he should never approach his wife except in her season. He should ever search after persons that are holy and pure. As regards food, he should eat that which remains after the needs of all persons have been satisfied.

So clearly the Sudra can become a Brahmin by attaining all the virtues defined in the scriptures.

If, indeed, the Sudra desires to be a Vaisya (in his next life), he should also abstain from meat of animals not slain in sacrifices. If a Vaisya wishes to be a Brahmana (in his next life), he should observe even these duties. He should be truthful in speech, and free from pride or arrogance. He should rise superior to all pairs of opposites (such as heat and cold, joy and sorrow, etc.) He should be observant of the duties of peace and tranquillity. He should adore the deities in sacrifices, attend with devotion to the study and recitation of the Vedas, and become pure in body and mind. He should keep his senses under subjection, honour the Brahmanas, and seek the welfare of all the orders. Leading the domestic mode of life and eating only twice a day at the prescribed hours he should gratify his hunger with only such food as remains after the needs have been satisfied of all the members of his family with dependants and guests. He should be abstemious in food, and act without being impelled by the desire of reward. He should be free from egotism. He should adore the deities in the Agnihotra and pour libations according to the ordinance. Observing the duties of hospitality towards all persons, he should, as already said, eat the food that remains after serving all others for whom it has been cooked. He should, according to the ordinance laid down, worship the three fires. Such a Vaisya of pure conduct takes birth in his next life in a high Kshatriya family. 1 If a Vaisya, after having taken birth as a Kshatriya, goes through the usual purificatory rites, becomes invested with the sacred thread, and betakes himself to the observance of vows, he becomes, in his next life, an honoured Brahmana. Indeed, after his birth as a Kshatriya, he should make presents, adore the deities in great sacrifices with plentiful Dakshinas, study the Vedas, and desirous of attaining to Heaven should worship the three fires. He should interfere for dispelling the sorrows of the distressed, and should always righteously cherish and protect those subjects that own his sway. He should be truthful, and do all acts that have truth in them, and seek happiness in conduct like this. He should award punishments that are righteous, without laying aside the rod of chastisement for good. He should induce men to do righteous deeds. Guided by considerations of policy (in the matter of swaying his people), he should take a sixth of the produce of the fields. 1 He should never indulge in sexual pleasure, but live cheerfully and in independence, well-conversant with the science of Wealth or Profit. Of righteous soul, he should seek his wedded spouse only in her season. He should always observe fasts, keep his soul under control, devote himself to the study of the Vedas, and be pure in body and mind. He should sleep on blades of Kusa grass spread out in his fire, chamber. He should pursue the aggregate of Three (viz., Righteousness, Wealth, and Pleasure), and be always cheerful. Unto Sudras desirous of food, he should always answer that it is ready. He should never desire any thing from motives of gain or pleasure. He should worship the Pitris and gods and guests. In his own house he should live the life of a mendicant. He should duly adore the deities in his Agnihotra, morning, noon, and evening every day, by pouring libations agreeably to the ordinance. With his face turned towards the foe, he should cast off his life-breath in battle fought for the benefit of kine and Brahmanas. Or he may enter the triple fires sanctified with Mantras and cast off his body. By pursuing this line of conduct he takes birth in his next life as a Brahmana. Endued with knowledge and science, purified from all dross, and fully conversant with the Vedas, a pious Kshatriya, by his own acts, becomes a Brahmana. It is with the aid of these acts, O goddess, that a person who has sprung from a degraded order, viz., a Sudra, may become a Brahmana refined of all stains and possessed of Vedic lore, One that is a Brahmana, when he becomes wicked in conduct and observes no distinction in respect of food, falls away from the status of Brahmanahood and becomes a Sudra. Even a Sudra, O goddess, that has purified his soul by pure deeds and that has subjugated all his senses, deserves to be waited upon and served with reverence as a Brahmana. This has been said by the Self-born Brahmana himself. When a pious nature and pious deeds are noticeable in even a Sudra, he should, according to my opinion, be held superior to a person of the three regenerate classes. Neither birth, nor the purificatory rites, nor learning, nor offspring, can be regarded as grounds for conferring upon one the regenerate status. Verily, conduct is the only ground. All Brahmanas in this world are Brahmanas in consequence of conduct. A Sudra, if he is established on good conduct, is regarded as possessed of the status of a Brahmana. The status of Brahma, O auspicious lady, is equal wherever it exists. Even this is my opinion. He, indeed, is a Brahmana in whom the status of Brahma exists, — that condition which is bereft of attributes and which has no stain attached to it. The boon-giving Brahma, while he created all creatures, himself said that the distribution of human beings into the four orders dependent on birth is only for purposes of classification. The Brahmana is a great field in this world, — a field equipped with feet for it moves from place to place. He who plants seeds in that field, O beautiful lady, reaps the crop in the next world. That Brahmana who wishes to achieve his own good should always live upon the remains of the food that may be there in his house after gratifying the needs of all others. He should always adhere to the path of righteousness. Indeed, he should tread along the path that belongs to Brahma. He should live engaged in the study of the Samhitas and remaining at home he should discharge all the duties of a householder. He should always be devoted to the study of the Vedas, but he should never derive the means of subsistence from such study. That Brahmana who always conducts himself thus, adhering to the path of righteousness, worshipping his sacred fire, and engaged in the study of the Vedas, comes to be regarded as Brahma. The status of a Brahmana once gained, it should always be protected with care, O thou of sweet smiles, by avoiding the stain of contact with persons born in inferior orders, and by abstaining from the acceptance of gifts. I have thus told thee a mystery, viz., the manner in which a Sudra may become a Brahmana, or that by which a Brahmana falls away from his own pure status and becomes a Sudra.”

The above scripture clearly shows that there is internal mobility possible with in the varna system and the rigidity as seen in the current system is not the one which was envisaged. A Sudra could move up the ladder till Brahmanas by achieving various qualities and doing rightful deeds. While a Brahaman who does not have the right qualities and does wrong deeds may become Shudra over time.

It can be concluded from above that the Brahmanhood is not truly derivable from birth. The Manusmirti’s and also proofs from Manava Dharama clearly shows that moment the Brahman eats flesh, he immediately loses his rank. If he sells some things like salt, milk, he becomes a Sudra in three days. So Brahmanhood is the highest spirtual state that can be attained by any body where selfless work is the main goal. The Vedic literature does not subscribe to the varna system based on birth and it is this that has created a malaise in the system.

It is a known fact that many sudras where indeed masters of the four vedas and many other vedic scriptures. Although the vedic scriptures allowed the upward mobility, the same was not allowed. For example, Ravan was deeply versed in all the four vedas. So it is clear that many Shudras inspite of mastering vedas, where not allowed to become Brahman. Eventually varna system took the shape of the caste by birth which is prevalent in India.

The varna status is more important than your educational and economic status in the modern day India.

There are many poor Brahmins/Kshtraiyas/Vaishyas…Beileve it or not…They would rather prefer death then marrying their daughters or sons to Sudras. They fail to understand that by following the various good deeds and practices a Sudra can become a Brahmin. Once he has achieved a educational or economic status, the Vedic literature allows movement above the ladder. However the rigidity build over centuries is resulting in blocking inter caste marriages inspite of same economic and educational status.

Again, tell me, is a Brahman’s sense of pleasure and pain different from that of a Kshatriya? Does not the one sustain life in the same way, and find death from the same causes as the other? Do they differ in intellectual faculties, in their actions, or the objects of those actions; in the manner of their birth, or in their subjection to fear and hope? Not a whit.

The distinctions between Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras, are founded merely on the observance of divers rites, and the practice of different professions; as is clearly proved by the conversation of BAISHAM PAYANA RISHI with YUDHISTHIRA RAJA, which was as follows:

One day the son of PANDU, named YUDHISTHIRA, who was the wise man of his age, joining his hands reverentially, asked BAISHAM PAYANA, Whom do you call a Brahman; and what are the signs of Brahmanhood? BAISHAM answered, The first sign of a Brahman is, that he possesses long-suffering and the rest of the virtues, and never is guilty of violence and wrong doing; that he never eats flesh; and never hurts a sentient thing. The second sign is, that he never takes that which belongs to another without the owner’s consent, even though he find it in the road. The third sign, that he masters all worldly affections and desires, and is absolutely indifferent to earthly considerations. The fourth, that whether he is born a man, or a god, or a beast, he never yields to sexual desires. The fifth, that he possesses the following five pure qualities, truth, mercy, command of the senses, universal benevolence, and penance.* Whoever possesses these five signs of Brahmanhood I acknowledge to be a Brahman; and, if he possess them not, he is a Sudra. Brahmanhood depends not on race (Kuli), or birth (Jat), nor on the performance of certain ceremonies. If a Bhandál is virtuous, and possesses the signs above noted, he is a Brahman. Oh! YUDHISTHIRA, formerly in this world of ours there was but one caste. The division into four castes originated with diversity of rites and of avocations. All men were born of woman in like manner. All are subject to the same physical necessities, and have the same organs and senses. But he whose conduct is uniformly good is a Brahman; and if it be otherwise he is a Sudra; aye, lower than a Sudra. The Sudra who, on the other hand, possesses these virtues is a Brahman.

So my conclusion from the scriptures is that upward and downward mobility in varna system is allowed. Now many Shudras of today are engaged in the work of Brahamanas, Kshatriyas and Vishayas…Does that mean they naturally become Brahamanas?

Sham who is a Shudra by Varna System but functionally a thinker in his work should be allowed to marry any one of the four varnas because he has become a deemed Brahamana/Kshtraiya by logic given in our own scriptures.

Instead what is seen is that many Sham’s in India are being killed in the name of honor….The concept of purity and pollution is so much ingrained in the Indian Society that even a brilliant Sham from IIT cannot marry a girl from a Poor Brahmin Family…

The color of caste cannot be greater than the color of Guna( qualities) and Karma( deeds). This is what is written in our Hindu Scriptures..

Author: M.S.Nethrapal

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