Caste System in India - History & Annihilation

May 2013
1,721
The abode of the lord of the north
Actually that is not true. People did change caste based on political power and economic power they could muster. There was always a chance of being down the caste ladder (Like Kayasth were Brahmins in Kashmir but fell to position of Shudras later on). Nairs on the other hand were Dalits who became kshatriyas.
Nairs by-default weren't Kshatriyas. They were just glorified sudras, who managed to obtain feudal powers through their proximity with Brahmins. Their kshatriya like status came into being probably after the rise of two prominent Nair ruling families viz. Travancore and Calicut.
 

Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,298
New Delhi, India
Actually, a person could change caste, if he has enough power to exert on the society. Many ancient ruling clans, such as the Mauryas and Guptas, even though originally from lower castes, later rose to high-caste statuses through sheer power and patronizing Brahminism respectively.
In medieval era, we have ruling families in Kerala such as that of the Zamorin, and of the Maharajas of Travancore. They were technically sudras, but went on to patronize brahminism and ended up obtaining the rituals and the titles of Kshatriyas.
It does not matter much in modern India with a Scheduled Caste President and a Prime Minister from 'Other Backward Classes'.
 
Apr 2019
167
India
Dear Aupmany
For example Draupadi prevents Karna from participating in her 'Swayambar' as he was not a kshatriya. Dronacharya refuses to teach archery to Eklavya. Bhishma disallows Karna from fighting in the army led by Bhishma as latter was not a Kshatriya.



Rajeev
Draupadi did not reject Karna. There is a common consensus among the scholars that the rejection of Karna(which is found in only few manuscripts) is an interpolation. Because just after rejection the poet says Karna failed just like other kshatriyas !
Dhristadyumna while announcing his sister's swaywara clearly says that any man of beauty/high birth/might will get his sister if he is able to win the contest.
If Karna is not eligible then neither he would have been invited to the contest nor he would have given the chance to participate at the first place.

On the contrary there are many instances where brahmins are made fun of.
Like Draunacharya's poverty and his humiliation in court of Drupada. Drupada says he'll give him cows and land but he'll give him it as 'bhiksha' to poor brahmin not as a gift to a gurubhai/childhood friend. He humiliates him further by saying that even though Dronacharya's knowledge is superior to him, it's still of no use sine he doesn't have the power to apply it in real world.
I don't know why anyone doesn't feel pity for Drona just because he is a Brahmin. His wife was giving rice-water to his son when he asked for milk.


Same way at the time when every kshatriya elite falied at swayamwar, Dhristadyumna asked to the general public to participate (not only brahmins) and that's when Arjuna rises in brahmin disguise. At that point Duruodhana makes his fun saying that he is just a poor penniless brahmin so he should not challenge the kshatriyas. Again a brahimn was made fun of in a public event.


Not just this the fact that brahmins were never attacked/killed is just a fantasy.
Right after Arjuna wins the swayamwar the elite kshatriyas declared that since a poor brahmin won instead of them they have been humiliated by Drupada!

Not only this they launched an attack on Arjun in the leadership of 'honourable' Karna and said they will throw Draupadi in very fire she as born from !

Karna only stops when Arjuna says he had Brahmastra and Karna says he is letting him go because he is a brahmin !

Again Karan humiliates Ashwatthama in Viart Parva saying since he is a brahmin he is not worthy of talking about kshatriya matters. In response Ashwatthama taunts Karan is so proud of humiliating Draupadi to win the kingdom.


Brahmins even though considered elite lots were not exactly in position of power. Drona and kripa though respected were still subservient to the orders of the royal family. They had no voice.
The raeson brahmins are mentioned a lot of times is beacuse pandavas spend lot of time in their company. All of these brahmins were just wandering in wilderness and surviving on roots, fruits and alms. Althought brahmins were qualified to give council to the kings/royalty but it was still the matter of choice for them to follow their advice.
 
Apr 2019
167
India
Bheeshma did not refuse to fight under Krana due to his birth on the contrary he was aware of the secret of birth of Karna !
Prior to war Duryodhan asks Bheeshma to assess the skills of their main fighters. Bheeshma rates Karna as 'Ardharathi' on the ground of his habit of running away from the battlefield. This remark impales Karna's ego and he decides that he won't participate in the war untill Bheeshma falls down !
Bheeshma was an invincible warrior and nearly immortal so he was naturally first choice of Duryodhana.
On his deathbed Bheeshma revealed he knew of his birth and only reason he disliked him because of lack of humility in his(Karna's) character. Bheeshma also did not want him to fight with his uterine brothers. He even requests him to disengage himself from the war but Karna did not listen.

Only instance when Karna was truly humiliated for his birth was during Rangbhoomi but then again Karna was trying to cut someoen else's birthday cake. Rangbhoomi's event was prepared to showcase the skills of Hastinapur's princes to Hastinapur's people so Karna did not need to gatecrash the event.

If we compare Karna to other main characters of Mahabharat then his life was not only comfortable but almost free of humiliations. He was brought up in city of Champa which was ruled by Sutas. His dad Adhirath(who loved him a lot) was friend with Dhritrashtra so he was educated by Kripacharya, Dronacharya and also Parashuram. He was always in royal comforts and he got the kingdom of Anga without any efforts just through his onnections. He and Duryodhana had long lasting friendship due to their common hatered for pandavas. He had wives, sons, grandsons, wealth and what not except good sense of judgement.


Krishna was also ridiculed for being a cowherd and was not considered a proper kshatriya. He also had a Suta lineage . His whole life was filled with struggles. Pandavas were humiliated in numerous ways and large part of their lives was spend in forest. Draupadi's humiliation has no parallel in Sanskrit literature but still these characters showed no resentments and surprisingly drew no sympathy from certain section of people.
 
Likes: Aupmanyav

Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,298
New Delhi, India
Mahabharata is a novel. It is natural to have contrasts in a novel, these make the novel interesting. Every thing is expanded. Krishna was raised by a chief of cow-herders (Nanda), but he ws the son of a kshatriya couple, Do you think if it was not that, Kamsa would have given his sister in marriage to Vasudeva? However, I appreciate your knowledge of Mahabharata.
 

Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,298
New Delhi, India
Yeah, there are politicians who depend on the caste and religious frictions for their own benefit. They would not let castes system wither. Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was asked by the Supreme Court whether the government will base affirmative action on castes or economic criteria, he and his party said 'Castes'.
 
Oct 2015
1,013
India
Draupadi did not reject Karna. There is a common consensus among the scholars that the rejection of Karna(which is found in only few manuscripts) is an interpolation. Because just after rejection the poet says Karna failed just like other kshatriyas !
Dhristadyumna while announcing his sister's swaywara clearly says that any man of beauty/high birth/might will get his sister if he is able to win the contest.
If Karna is not eligible then neither he would have been invited to the contest nor he would have given the chance to participate at the first place.

On the contrary there are many instances where brahmins are made fun of.
Like Draunacharya's poverty and his humiliation in court of Drupada. Drupada says he'll give him cows and land but he'll give him it as 'bhiksha' to poor brahmin not as a gift to a gurubhai/childhood friend. He humiliates him further by saying that even though Dronacharya's knowledge is superior to him, it's still of no use sine he doesn't have the power to apply it in real world.
I don't know why anyone doesn't feel pity for Drona just because he is a Brahmin. His wife was giving rice-water to his son when he asked for milk.


Same way at the time when every kshatriya elite falied at swayamwar, Dhristadyumna asked to the general public to participate (not only brahmins) and that's when Arjuna rises in brahmin disguise. At that point Duruodhana makes his fun saying that he is just a poor penniless brahmin so he should not challenge the kshatriyas. Again a brahimn was made fun of in a public event.


Not just this the fact that brahmins were never attacked/killed is just a fantasy.
Right after Arjuna wins the swayamwar the elite kshatriyas declared that since a poor brahmin won instead of them they have been humiliated by Drupada!

Not only this they launched an attack on Arjun in the leadership of 'honourable' Karna and said they will throw Draupadi in very fire she as born from !

Karna only stops when Arjuna says he had Brahmastra and Karna says he is letting him go because he is a brahmin !

Again Karan humiliates Ashwatthama in Viart Parva saying since he is a brahmin he is not worthy of talking about kshatriya matters. In response Ashwatthama taunts Karan is so proud of humiliating Draupadi to win the kingdom.


Brahmins even though considered elite lots were not exactly in position of power. Drona and kripa though respected were still subservient to the orders of the royal family. They had no voice.
The raeson brahmins are mentioned a lot of times is beacuse pandavas spend lot of time in their company. All of these brahmins were just wandering in wilderness and surviving on roots, fruits and alms. Althought brahmins were qualified to give council to the kings/royalty but it was still the matter of choice for them to follow their advice.
Hi @Kamayani

I do not have access to critical edition of Mahabharat and the one available to me (and most of us perhaps) is Krishna Mohan Ganguli's translation at: sacredtexts.com. On this edition I base my view. Translation by MN Dutt is also available for free download. Amongst the two, I like Ganguli's translation.

The debate here is more on Varna System and not so much on Karna. The suggestion in Post # 377 was that at philosophical / intellectual level, Mahabharata rejects caste system. It said that caste was not determined by birth but by actions of a person in his lifetime. In both the stories cited, it is Yudhisthir (Dharmaraj, son of Dharma) is made to say it. In fact some sections specifically saay that all four Varnas must here Mahabharat. However, some of the stories in the same Mahabharat show that Varna System was practiced to some degree.

Since you seem to have a view that Karna was not discriminated on account of his caste, here is a long story about Sage Matanga from Mahabharata which asserts that Varna is determined by birth and not deeds (Anusasana Parva, Sections 27-29). In this story, Indra is brought in and tells sage Matanga that brahminhood can be attained only by birth. [1]

While Brahmins have played a very important role in rise of Indic civilization In India and outside India; we can not deny that Varna system existed. The situation of Varna system described in Mahabharata may be from around c. 200 BCE to 200 CE) and shows evolution of the concept.

In any case, today discriminative aspects Varna System is outlawed as per our Constitution and several affirmative actions initiated.

[1] Anusasana Parva - AncientVoice
 
Oct 2015
1,013
India
Hi @Dan Howard

Both - religion and caste - have always played an important part in Indian elections. These boundaries (faultlines, some say) were drawn, strengthened, and nurtured during British colonial rule for their own purposes and are part of the system. But this is past now.

Democracy is a system which gives one vote to every adult. In this system the person who gets the maximum votes rules. So effectively, democracy aims to alleviate the needs / demands of the majority. All democracies work this way.

From India's independence (1947) and onwards the role of caste and religion in elections has effectively protected the rights of these disadvantaged minorities and helped them get still more rights (sometimes unfairly more). There is nothing wrong with it.

Talking about caste vote-banks will take too much time. It is easier to summarize the religious vote-banks. Christians historically have been the vote-bank of Congress. For the forthcoming elections about half a dozen Christian bishops / religious-leaders have issued advisories (in velied terms) to vote for Congress. I have elsewhere written the Church in India is also a political party as well. Muslim religious leaders also favor Congress but their vote bank is somewhat divided.

These differences - religion and caste - matter in elections as to who gets to rule. But when economy grows - all sections grow well. So both - religion and caste play a role and will continue to do so for at least a decade more.
 

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