Varnas and the Caste System | World History | Khan Academy

Posted By on September 27, 2019


– [Instructor] In any
textbook overview of Hinduism you will quickly encounter
the caste system, and the caste system is the
notion that people are born into the roles that they
have to play in society. Now the reason why I put this in quotes is because they’re associated this notion from the various Hindu
scripture of Varnas, but the best translation from Sanskrit into English of Varnas is classes. And it’s interesting
to think about whether they were first intended
to be just social classes, or also hereditary classes
as the caste system implies. What we do know is that as
we approach modern Hinduism over the last several hundred years, it did approach something that was more what you are born into. But we’ll look a little
bit at the scripture and I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether it was more of a social class or if it was a class
that you were born into. Now the four Varnas that
are described in the Vedas and other Hindu scripture, at the top you have the Brahmins who are the priests and the teachers, not to be confused with the god Brahma or the ultimate reality, Brahman. Next you have the Kshatriyas who are the warriors and rulers. And it’s interesting that
at least in Hindu society the Brahmins were considered higher than the warriors, the rulers, the kings. After that you have the Vaishyas who are the farmers, the merchants. And then next the Shudras, the laborers, those who worked in service
to the other three classes. Now you also had and have
people who are outside of these four different classes. Today they refer to themselves as Dalits, which means the oppressed, but sometimes they’ve been
referred to as untouchable, and that’s because in
traditional Hindu society many of these people weren’t
even able to enter temples, they were discriminated against, they didn’t have access to resources, they weren’t even allowed to shake hands or make physical contact
with other members of Hindu society. And we’ll talk a little
bit more about how this may or may not be changing. Now to see the basis of the
Varna system in scripture I will start with this
quote from the Rigveda. Now this is from the Purusha Sukta, and Purusha in the Vedas you
can view as this cosmic being, but they anthropomorphize this being, making it seem or making an
analogy with a human body. “When they divided the Cosmic Being, “how many portions did they make? “What do they call his mouth, his arms? “What do they call his thighs and feet? “The Brahmin was his mouth, “of both arms was the Rajanya made.” The Rajanya you could
view as the Kshatriyas, the warriors and the kings. “His thighs became the Vaishya, “from his feet the Sudra was produced.” So in the Vedas, and there’s some dispute about whether this was
originally in the Vedas or about whether it was added later, to have a creation story, but it is making reference
to these four Varnas. But here it is not 100%
clear whether it’s just talking about the various
classes of society. You’re bound to have some
priests and teachers, some warriors and rulers,
some farmers, merchants, some laborers. Or are they saying
something more fundamental? Now we can go to the
time of the Mahabharata, when the Mahabharata was written and the subset of the Mahabharata which is the Bhagavad Gita, and they also make reference
to this Varna system. So the Bhagavad Gita is
the part of the Mahabharata where you have Krishna talking to Arjuna and reassuring him about his role in life, and this is what Krishna tells Arjuna. “A Brahman’s virtues, born
of his nature, are serenity, “self-control, austerity,
purity, tolerance, “honesty, learning, and to know the truth “of things which be. “A Kshatriya’s pride, born of his nature, “lives in valor,
exuberance, determination, “resourcefulness, bravery in battle, “and generosity and noble
demeanor as a lord of men. “A Vaisya’s task, born with his nature, “is to till the ground,
tend cattle, venture trade. “A Sudra’s state, suiting
his nature, is service.” Arguably in service to
the other three classes. Now once again, it doesn’t
make strict reference to you are born a Brahmin, if your father was a Brahmin
then you have to be a Brahmin, or if your father was a Kshatriya,
you will be a Kshatriya. It is making reference to this idea of being “born of his nature.” So you could interpret that as, this is this idea that you
have some innate gifts, you have some innate tendencies, and those innate tendencies
are going to dictate whether you’re going to
be a Brahmin, a Kshatriya, a Vaisya, or a Shudra. I encourage you as always to look up the primary documents yourself, and especially when you’re
looking at something that is a translation, this is a translation
from Sanskrit to English, how it is translated matters. So try to look up multiple translations and come to your own conclusion. Now regardless of whether
the ancient Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita is over 2,000 years old, if we’re talking about the Vedas and especially if the Purusha Sukta was part of the original Vedas, we’re talking about something
that’s over 3,000 years old, regardless of the original
intent of the Varna system, whether it was supposed to
be just talking about classes as opposed to a hereditary caste, the reality is is over the
last several hundred years in India it did become a caste. People whose parents were
Brahmins became Brahmins. People whose parents were
Kshatriyas became Kshatriyas. And they married amongst themselves, and it did dictate their social status. And so to put all of this in perspective I’m going to give you a quote from really one of India’s founding fathers. So this is a picture of B.R. Ambedkar and he was born a Dalit, and faced significant discrimination
when he was growing up. He wasn’t allowed to sit on chairs or eat next to his fellow students. As you can imagine his family
wouldn’t have had access to nowhere near the
resources that other people in the village or in the city
would have had access to. They would have been
actively discriminated with, they wouldn’t have even been
able to make physical contact with members of the formal Varna system. But despite all of that discrimination he was able to get a significant education and eventually become
India’s first Law Minister, and not only that, but
the principal architect of the Indian Constitution. And this is what he wrote
about the caste system. “Caste is not a physical
object like a wall of bricks “or a line of barbed wire
which prevents the Hindus “from co-mingling and which has
therefore to be pulled down. “Caste is a notion, it
is a state of the mind.” And if you look at modern India or if you talk to modern Hindus, many of them will say hey, we
don’t take caste seriously. We view this as a part of our past, and a part of our past that we’re not necessarily that proud of. But there are still Hindus who do take the caste system seriously, especially if you go into
rural areas and villages. Many of the things that
B.R. Ambedkar faced, this level of discrimination, of Dalits not being able to go a temple, not having access to water resources, this is still happening in India. And in things like
inter-marriage the caste system is still taken reasonably
seriously by a large portion of the Hindu population. Now here’s another quote
from B.R. Ambedkar. “Some men say that they
should be satisfied “with the abolition of
untouchability only, “leaving the caste system alone. “The aim of abolition
of untouchability alone “without trying to
abolish the inequalities “inherent in the caste
system is a rather low aim.”

Posted by Lewis Heart

This article has 35 comments

  1. no doubt we reached to great heights to MARS , but we Indians still are very low on humanitarian values among each others on these pity issues of CASTE.

    Reply
  2. Superb explanation with references, but In India its totally reveres now, Person's aptitude/nature doesnt mater but where he/she born does a lot.

    Reply
  3. I hear the caste system still has some subtle effects like what college you can go to or what job position you can get or how much of a raise you can get…

    Reply
  4. it became rigid part of society as in ancient period persons were likely to follow their family business or profession and that too for 4 generations or even 23-25 generations even in modern day we see a family full of doctors or family of lawyers businessmen etc nowadays it is considered only during marriages and getting govt jobs on basis of low caste reservation

    Reply
  5. it was badly interpreted by aristocrats during ancient times but now the things are much changed but there is a possibility of another divide in society as missionaries took advantages of these social evils and converted a significant low caste people to other religions by providing them money which is harmful to the future 95% of the Christians in India are the result of this activity

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  6. Well tried but the problem is that the narrator is not well equipped regarding the topic, for e.g. he doesn't defines castes ? Secondly does not discuss theories of origins of caste system ? Lastly discussing marriage without discussing Gotra should be a crime, since more than caste it is Gotra & social classes which have defined marriages throughout the history of Indian subcontinent.

    Some aspects of 'Caste system' are discussed by Sumit Guha author of book – Beyond Caste in video titled – Prof. Sumit Guha, "Asia, Europe and America in the Making of 'Caste'".

    Reply
  7. misunderstanding starts when u start considering feet lower in status than mind ,who decide mind is greater than feet, mind has its own importance and feet gas it's own,I am also a shudra.And I didn't face any untouchability and discrimination.

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  8. i am brahmin … but i am against this caste system …
    i think those who started this system thought to make it as position or job … like doctor and lawyer … which will be only held by the one who earned that position rather than pass on to next generation …
    obviously people misused the original purpose ..

    Reply
  9. Chapter 4:13 makes it clear Varnas are based on Gunas (Sattva, Rajas, Tamas) & Actions.

    ChaturVarnyam Maya srishtyam Guna Karma vibhagaha.
    I created the 4 fold varnas based on one's Qualities and actions.

    Reply
  10. I dont think khan academy is really worth my time. They are repeating sh** from books that are out dated. Narrator said mahabharat happened 2000 years ago. Can't they upgrade them selves. What is the advantage of digital technology if you are going to repeat same stuff that is printed 50 years ago. I want to see them make a video on islam.

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  11. Politician don't want to tell the truth for vote bank. Caste is not the jati and Jati is not the Varna and Varna is apply on one man or woman, not on any jati. All jati is equal. Who thinks my jati is come under this or that Varna we must call him slave of foreign power during slavery. Now we are independent not ruling by colonizers. 100 years enough to completely change the culture of any country by foreign but India is ruled 1000 years by foreign. VM

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  12. Caste system will disappear eventually. Old generation will die, young generation with modern (i.e. correct) interpretation will take over. Old generation and rural population are still in the dark ages unfortunately.

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  13. SO what BR ambedkar did is, he kept reservation for all the oppressed classes in the government institutions, mind you many of them are from well to do families and economically sound, and they are exploiting this system to easily get admissions in colleges and jobs later on, with minimal effort(about 50% reservation is kept for them, In top colleges like IITs, IIMs). This sad reality prevents INDIA from rising to its potential, and it just shatters the concept of a democracy.

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  14. Lets face it, there are two types of people who are interested in this topic. One type which would like to exploit it for their own vested interests and the other type which see it as a study in human psychology and would like to know more about it.

    This concept of Varna system has long been misinterpreted as caste system.  Varna translates to “color” in Sanskrit and not “caste”. Also it is not talking about skin color here, but color attributed to a more subtle concept called Gunas.

    If you agree about the two types of people I mentioned earlier, and mind you, I did not say anything about one being good/bad or superior/inferior.  If you had formed an opinion then it was yours. This is exactly the type of distinction Varna system is talking about.

    Generally the Hindu philosophies are individual centric. Meaning they talk about upliftment of individuals with the understanding that society will improve when that happens. This confuses many people who tend to think of these philosophies as society centric.

    Few points to reflect upon
    1. Hindu scriptures only talks about Varna system.
    2. There is no mention of a particular Varna to be superior to other.
    3. This is a Individual centric philosophy.
    4. The fifth caste (Dalit) mentioned in the video is not found in Hindu scriptures.

    Reply
  15. Hinduism is so much more than caste system. Manu smrti was obscure until the British weaponized it. Nobodies religion in india focuses on caste. Vaisnavas, anti caste, Saiva, anti caste, Sakta, anti caste. Those are the big three right there. Then buddhism which is like the counter culture of Hinduism also anti caste. European focus on caste is the by-product of the hermeneutics of suspicion inherited from the protestant dislike for priests which traces back to antisemetism and the blame upon the jews for the crucifixion.

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  16. Worst System Ever: Hindu Caste System- The Bitter Hidden Truth Revealed- Jati in India
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BS8bYCwIg-M

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  17. Great lecture, Mr. Khan! A Body without a Head will FAIL or FALL!!! For a more Peaceful World… 2:21 Brahmins; Priesthood; Saints natural qualities:~ Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom and religiousness. vs. Kshatriyas; Presidents; Kings; Queens; Emperors natural qualities:~ Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership. This is why it's IMPERATIVE for the Priesthood to make the final decision (s) on ALL major world peace talks! The Brahmins represent GOD or the Cosmic Being HEAD, and the World Leaders represents His ARMs… The Head is superior to the arms! However, for centuries, the Arms or Kinghood have been making most of the world final decisions, and barring the Head or Priesthood, Isn't it? Therefore a Body without a Head will FAIL or FALL!!!

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  18. This is one of the biggest lie by the Britishers about Hinduism. According to Hinduism, there are 4 Varnas (social hierarchy) — Brahmins (Teachers) Kshatriyas (Warriors), Vaishyas (Merchants) and Shudras (Laborers). These were not decided by birth in family. They were decided by their characteristics and Karma. Those Hindus who were knowledgeable were called Brahmins. Those who were good in fighting at wars were called Kshatriyas. Varna-system (not caste-system) of Hinduism was being polluted with time. Hence caste-discrimination is rooted into culture of India. It is not rooted into Hinduism.

    Reply
  19. I think you understand hinduism much better than indians!
    Probably because u don't have any prior notions of it which come from the Indian society.

    Reply

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