top of page



  • Varna and Jati have played an important role in the social and political structure of India since ancient times.

  • Today, there are more than three thousand castes and sub-castes in India, and castes are related to Varna.

  • In India, Varna and Jati have been interrelated; from Vedic texts to Upanishads and other ancient texts, evidence of the varna system is found.

  • In the Vedic texts, it is written that it was based on labor and occupation.

  • Common occupation and social relations determine caste.

  • Varna divides society into four varnas:

  1. Brahma

  2. Kshatriya

  3. Vaishya, and

  4. Shudra

  • The word “Varna” is believed to originate from a large metal, which means to describe or select; this selection refers to the selection of business.


  • People were classified according to their Varna or castes in ancient India during the Vedic Period (c. 1500-1000 BCE).

  • 'Varna' signifies the colour, kind, order, or class of individuals and specifies their ancestral roots.

  • Different scholars have different views about the origin of the varna system.

  • It is written in the Purusha Sukta of Rigveda that Brahman emerged from the mouth of a great man, Kshatriya emerged from the arm, Vaishya emerged from the thigh, and Shudra emerged from the feet.

  • Brahmins (priests, gurus, etc.), Kshatriyas (warriors, kings, administrators, etc.), Vaishyas (agriculturalists, traders, etc.,sometimes known as Vysyas), and Shudras (labourers) are the four main types.

  • Each Varna has its own set of life principles to follow, and infants must adhere to the Varna's core customs, norms, behaviour, and beliefs.

  • These four Varnas make up a community, and their devotion to the Varna laws ensures that wealth and order are maintained.

  • Individual interests and personal preferences are treated with equal solemnity by a newborn in a certain Varna, in order to resolve the contradiction between personal choice and conventional regulations.

  • Each Varna citizen's rights are constantly paired with their own obligations.

  • The Manu Smriti (an ancient legal treatise from the Vedic Period) and subsequent Dharma Shastras have an extended Varna system with insights and logic.

  • In theory, Varnas are not pure and undeniable lineages, but rather categories, implying that behaviour takes precedence over birth in determining a Varna.

  • Some scholars consider religion and karma as the basis for the emergence of the Varna system.

  • There are four basic needs of society: - First, education, i.e., reading and learning: teaching; Brahman’s work; second, work related to governance and security systems; third, the Kshatriya’s work of economic production and development; and the Shudra’s work of artificial service.

  • The concept that doing Varna obligations would lead to moksha is the fundamental rationale for doing so.

  • Conviction in Karma strengthens one's belief in the Varna life values.


  • It is generally known that the system of Varna developed after the arrival of Aryans in India around 1000 years ago.

  • But since then the Varna System has existed, although there has been a change in its form.

  • The evidence of ancient texts shows that Brahmin class has occupied the highest position among all other civilizations on the planet.

  • The simplicity of the beginning gradually became complicated.

  • The rules and laws prescribed for all castes gave rise to a sense of sangha between the Brahmin Kshatriyas.

  • Shudras were separated from intellectual and religious works in this.

  • During the Vedic period, which lasted from 1500 to 1000 BCE, the caste system was implemented and recognised in ancient India.

  • 6th century BC by then, the varna’s situation had become so complex that Buddha and Mahavira had opposed many of the evils arising in it.

  • Later, Manu also formulated elaborate rules for different classes.

  • Thus, caste was born in place of varna.

  • Some Shudras like Matang, Vidur gained a prestigious place in society at that time by doing good deeds.

  • In the Manusmriti text, the Shakas are called “Vratya Kshatriyas,” who are generally considered to be devout.

  • External invasions had caused chaos in society after the Gupta period, so an attempt was made to establish the varna system by providing it with a solid foundation.


  • The word caste derives from the Spanish and Portuguese “casta”, means “race, lineage, or breed”.

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

  • There are many theories like traditional, racial, political, occupational, evolutionary etc which try to explain the caste system in India.

1. Traditional Theory

  • According to this theory, the caste system is of divine origin. It says the caste system is an extension of the varna system, where the 4 varnas originated from the body of Bramha.

  • At the top of the hierarchy were the Brahmins who were mainly teachers and intellectuals and came from Brahma’s head.

  • Kshatriyas, or the warriors and rulers, came from his arms.

  • Vaishyas, or the traders, were created from his thighs.

  • At the bottom were the Shudras, who came from Brahma’s feet.

  • The mouth signifies its use for preaching, learning etc, the arms – protections, thighs – to cultivate or business, feet – helps the whole body, so the duty of the Shudras is to serve all the others.

  • The sub-castes emerged later due to intermarriages between the 4 varnas.

  • The proponents of this theory cite Purushasukta of Rigveda, Manusmriti etc to support their stand.

2. Breed-based Theory

  • The Sanskrit word for Jati (caste) is varna, which means color.

  • The caste system took its birth after the arrival of Aryans in India.

  • Rig Vedic literature emphasizes very significantly the difference between Aryans and non-Aryans.

  • The varna system prevalent during the Vedic period was mainly based on the division of labor and occupation.

  • The Rig Veda often mentions the three classes: Brahma, Kshatra, and Vis.

  • Brahma and Kshatra represented the poet-priest and warrior-chief, respectively. Vis included all the common people.

  • The name of the fourth class, “Shudra,” appears only once in the Rig Veda. The Shudra class represented domestic servants.

3. Political Theory

  • According to this theory, the caste system is a clever tool invented by Brahmins to place themselves on the highest ladder of the social hierarchy.

  • The Brahmins also combined the concept of the king’s spiritual merit through a priest or priests to get the support of the ruler of the country.

3. Professional Theory

  • The hierarchy of Jati is according to occupation.

  • Occupations that were considered superior and respectable made those individuals better than those who were engaged in dirty businesses.

  • Occupational differentiation and many subspecies, such as blacksmiths, chamars, and Teli (oil pressers), came along with functional differentiation.

4. Developmental Theory

  • According to this theory, the caste system did not come into existence on any particular date.

  • It is the result of a long process of social development.

  • Family-based business

  • Brahmins want to keep themselves pure.

  • Lack of rigid unitary control of the state.

  • Reluctance of rulers to enforce a uniform standard of law and custom

  • The “Karma” and “Dharma” theories also explain the origin of the caste system.

  • Confirmation of one’s religion occurs even at birth in the rich upper caste, and the violation gives rise to the lower and poorer castes.

  1. Geographical isolation of the Indian peninsula

  2. Foreign invasions

  3. Rural social structure

  • The caste system developed strongly after the Mauryan period, mainly after the establishment of the Shunga dynasty by Pushyamitra Shunga,; this dynasty was the strong protector of “Brahmanism.”


1. Division of Society

  • Society is divided into various small social groups called castes.

  • Each of these races is a well-developed social group, the membership of which is determined by birth.

2. Hierarchy

  • According to Louis Dumont, castes teach us a fundamental social theory of hierarchy.

  • At the top of this hierarchy is the Brahmin caste, and at the bottom is the untouchable caste.

  • There are intermediate castes in the middle, whose relative status is not always clear.

3. Endogamy

  • Endogamy is the chief characteristic of caste, i.e. the members of a caste or sub-caste should marry within their own caste or sub-caste.

  • The violation of the rule of endogamy would mean ostracism and loss of caste.

  • However, hypergamy and hypogamy (marriage with a person of lower social status) were also prevalent.

4. Hereditary status and occupation

  • The Greek traveler Megasthenes of India in 300 BC mentioned hereditary occupation as one of the two characteristics of the caste system, the other being endogamy.

5. Restrictions on food and drink

  • The taboo of cooking, which defines individuals who can cook food.

  • The taboo of eating can determine the ritual to be followed in the meal.

  • A prohibition that relates to the person with whom one can take food.

  • Brahmins in North India only accepted cooked food (cooked in ghee) from certain castes below them.

  • However, no person will accept raw (cooked in water) food prepared by the lower caste.

  • Beef was not allowed by any caste except Harijans.

6. A special name

  • Every race has a special name, although we can recognize it. Sometimes, a business is also associated with a particular caste.

7. Caste Panchayat

  • The status of each caste is carefully protected not only by caste laws but also by conventions.

  • These are implemented openly by the community through a governing body or board called a caste panchayat.


  • It continued the traditional social organization of India.

  • It has accommodated multiple communities by ensuring each of them a monopoly of a specific means of livelihood.

  • Provided social security and social recognition to individuals. It is the individual’s caste that canalizes his choice in marriage, plays the roles of the state-club, the orphanage and the benefits society.

  • Besides, it also provides him with health insurance benefits. It even provides for his funeral.

  • It has handed over the knowledge and skills of the hereditary occupation of a caste from one generation to another, which has helped the preservation of culture and ensured productivity.

  • Caste plays a crucial role in the process of socialization by teaching individuals the culture and traditions, values and norms of their society.

  • It has also led to interdependent interaction between different castes, through jajmani relationships. Caste acted as a trade union and protected its members from the exploitation.

  • Promoted political stability, as Kshatriyas were generally protected from political competition, conflict and violence by the caste system.

  • Maintained racial purity through endogamy.

  • Specialization led to quality production of goods and thus promoted economic development. For eg: Many handicraft items of India gained international recognition due to this.


  • The caste system imposes a curb on economic and intellectual advancement and is a major obstacle in the way of social reforms as it restricts economic and intellectual opportunities to a certain section of the population.

  1. It reduces the efficiency of labor and prevents the full mobility of labor, capital, and productive effort.

  2. It perpetuates the exploitation of economically weaker and socially inferior castes, especially the untouchables.

  3. It has caused untold hardships for women by insisting on practices such as child marriage, widow-remarriage prohibition, women’s segregation, and so on.

  4. She opposes real democracy by giving political monopolies to Kshatriyas in the past and acting as a vote bank in the current political scenario. There are political parties that represent only one caste. For example, the BSP was formed by Kanshi Ram mainly to represent SCs, STs, and OBCs.

  5. It has stood in the way of national and collective consciousness and proved disruptive rather than a unifying factor. Caste conflicts are widely prevalent in politics, reservations in jobs and education, inter-caste marriages, etc., such as the demand for Jati reservation and agitation by the Patidar community.

  6. There is scope for religious conversion. Due to the atrocities of the upper castes, the people of the lower castes are converting to Islam and Christianity.

  7. The caste system stands in the way of modernization by forcing an individual to act strictly according to caste norms, resisting change.


  • There has been a cultural continuity in India that no other civilization has had.

  • Ancient systems, religions, and cultures of other civilizations are mostly gone.

  • In India, history exists, and even external empires co-opted the system rather than replacing it.

  • Caste has been merged into a modern religion, making it difficult to remove it.

  • India has integrated many systems more easily. What is known as “caste” in Portuguese or English is actually composed of 3 different components: caste, mass, and character. Caste is a commercial identity. The mass is an ethnic identity. Character is a philosophical identity. They have been more tightly mixed over the centuries.

  • In the world’s most transformative period—the last 3 centuries—India spent most of it under European colonialism. As a result, India has changed numerous times. Most of the changes in the system came only in 1950, when India became a republic.

  • Theoretically, caste as a cultural phenomenon (i.e., as a matter of ideology or value system) is found only in India, whereas when it is seen as a structural phenomenon, it is also found in other societies.

  • The structural-specific view of caste states that the caste system is confined to Indian society.




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.

​Literally ‘Varna’ means colour and originates from the world ‘Vri’ meaning the choice of one’s occupation. Hence Varna is concerned with one’s colour or occupation.

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

​It is an all-India phenomenon

​Presence of regional variations mostly based on linguistic differences.

​Mobility pattern Varna’s are relatively flexible with one’s talent and knowledge, compared with the castes

​It is based on rigid principles and mobility is less. It is a closed type of stratification

​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.


  • Despite differing views on the origins of caste, society accepts this system.

  • In practice, the concept of high and low stratification in the caste system is reflected.

  • The Constitution forbids discrimination on the basis of caste and caste, but some traditions in society are based on caste and caste.

  • Therefore, it can be said that varna and caste are a medium for understanding Indian society, whose existence can be seen from the Vedic era.

14,691 views4 comments


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
Feb 08
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.



Dec 30, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

very nice content. thank you


Pooja Yadav
Pooja Yadav
Dec 30, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Thank you so much mam


Nov 23, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

thanks a lott for providing these notes I've been having a hard time understanding the readings and sol notes and your notes really help in understanding them

bottom of page