Varna (Caste) Background

  • Varna = Social classBrahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishya and Shudras
  • Jati = refers to a specific caste
  • Origins
    • Traced back to Aryan invasion in India - second millennium BC.
    • They who devised a class system
    • Initially only three varnas - Shudras then introduced
  • Purpose
    • Create and maintain rigid social structure between invaders and inhabitants
  • Scriptual basis
    • Rig veda includes a creation myth
    • In a hymn the classes are compared to the body of a primeval man, Purusa;
      • "The Brahmin was in his mouth, of both his arms was the Kshatriya made.  His thighs became the Vaishya, from his feet the Shudra was produced"
    • The word varna is not used and is the only hymn to include 'Vaishya' and 'Shudra'
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Varna - Four Varnas

  • Brahmin
    • Should teach, conduct sacrifices and give to charity
  • Kshatriya
    • Should protect all creatures and carry out righteous administration
    • Support Brahmins and prepare for war and march with army and stand firm in battle
    • Responsible for collection of taxes for defense of the realm
  • Vaishya
    • Concered with duties such as; agriculture, trade, cattle rearing, banking
  • Shudra
    • Employed by others and render service to others.
    • Loyal, take pride and follow moral principles
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Varna - Dalits (untouchables)

  • Unclean
  • Impure
  • Occupations
    • Handling dead bodies
    • Disposing of waste
  • These considered polluting to the individual and contagious
  • Unfit to have contact with 'pure' sections of society - higher varnas
  • If a member of a higher varna was to come into contact with an untouchable they were considered polluted
    • Had to wash repeatedly and engage in long rituals in order to cleanse
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Varna - Functions

  • Belived the system was central in ensuring social harmony and order
  • Assigns occupations - the Varna and Jati to which a person belongs is often linked with occupation.  With Vaishya there are jatis of bakers, sheep hearders, metal workers etc.
  • Seperates the different varnas according to purity and impurity
    • The higher the persons is in the system, the higher level of impurity they must maintain
    • The lower the person, the more likely they are to transmit impurity
  • Purity restrictions are more frequent withing; marriage, drink, food and touch
  • Marriage is only possible between individuals of the same varna
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Ashrama - The Student Stage

  • For boys of the first three varnas
  • Begins with the initiation rite
  • A boy is traditionally expected to live away from home and study with a Guru to foster spiritual values
  • He will enter studenthood as an adolescent and will then spend most of his teenage years studying
  • Their duties include;
    • Studying the Vedas and other texts
    • Living a simple and celibate life
    • Serving the guru and collecting alms for him
    • Learning how to setup and maintain household worship
    • Developing appropriate qualities; humility, discipline, simplicity etc.
  • A student should gain knowledge through a course of study and should show regard to parents and teachers for their experiences in life
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Ashrama - The Householders Stage

  • Usually entered into when a Hindu decides to marry and accept family responsibilites
  • Getting married and having children is now considered a sacred duty
  • He is expected to celebrate festivals, perform rituals, give to charity and care for aged parents
  • A settled, well run house is considered essential for stability
  • He must;
    • Make money and enjoy pleasure in an ethnical manner
    • Perform sacrifice
    • Protect and nourish family
    • Teach children spiritual values
    • Give to charity
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Ashrama - The Retired Person Stage

  • Retirement from any daily work
  • The stage after a man has fulfilled all his social, religious and family obligations
  • He hands over the running of the household to his son
  • Spends his time reading his favourite holy texts
  • Some may go on a pilgrimage
  • He is often called upon to give advice on various matters due to his experience and is very respected
  • All sexual relations are forbidden
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Ashrama - The Ascetic Stage

  • This stage is optional
  • A man gives up all ties to worldly life such as his family name, belongings and becomes a wandering holy man
  • Renounces the world and leaves his wife
  • Renounces social and religious duties and meditates on the mystery of death and rebirth
  • Abandons all hope, desire, fear and responsibility and begs for food
  • Treated with great respect
  • Has a new name and will burn an effigy on his body to show that he is dead to the world
  • Knows if he will achieve Moksha and will be buried rather than cremated
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  • Refers to four codes of conduct
  • Dharma - Fulfiling ones purpose
  • Artha - Prosperity
  • Kama - Desire, sexuality and enjoyment
  • Moksha - Pursuit of the goal of spiritual liberation
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Dharma - Dharma

  • Meaning 'many things' - In this context meaning 'ones destiny or purpose'
  • Generally refers to one's vocation or career which is defined by class
  • The dharma of most women is to be a housewife and mother
  • Another aspet is paying off the five debts - they believe that they are born into these debts
  • The debts are;
    • To the gods - paid by rituals and offerings
    • To parents and teachers - paid by supporting them, having children and passing on knowledge
    • To guests - paid by hospitality and respect
    • To other human beings - paid by respect
    • All other living things - paid by offering good will, food or appropriate help
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Dharma - Artha

  • Prosperity or success in worldly pursuits
  • Although a Hindu's ultimate goal is to achieve Moksha, the pursuit of wealth and prosperity is regarded as an appropriate pursuit for the householder

  • Ensures social order as there would be no society if everyone dedicated worldly life to meditate
  • While Hindu's are encouraged to make money, it must be within the boundaries of Dharma
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Dharma - Kama

  • Meaning 'Desire'
  • Refers to romantic love and sexual pleasure, though it can refer to desire in general
  • An appropriate pursuit for the householder
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Dharma - Moksha

  • Ultimate end of Hindu life

  • Understood as; liberation from rebirth,enlightenment, self realisation or union with God
  • Highest purpose of life although few achieve it
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