The early man did everything himself. He searched, hunted, cooked and ate his own food. He found a place of living for himself, and everything for his clothing and other needs. But everyone was not equally intelligent to think, skilled to improve, apt at problem solving, or strong to defend in the face of dangers. Thus people started doing jobs that suited their individuality, capability, tastes, and skills. They depended upon each other.
Interdependence in Relations
The stronger started protecting weaker. In return weaker provided them food and other services. The one who was more experienced and intelligent, emerged as leader or adviser, and commanded the rest to follow his advice and commands. Those who were unskilled and timid, accepted to be followers, did unskilled jobs and obeyed the commands of those who were superior and more competent. Thus men inter-depended on each other according to their individual, capabilities, leadership traits and needs. Humans got classified into various segments in every society all over the world. With this the system of social classification based on interdependence started. Consequently some customs to regulate barter deals had to be evolved.
Varna System of Barter Relationships
Varna means something that is voluntarily adopted by an individual. It is not thrust upon by someone else. Sage Manu has been the first social regulator for the mankind. He formalized barter relationships in the human society. He classified the population of the society in to four ‘Varnas’, keeping in mind the traits required by persons to perform various functions in interdependent group. His classification was based on ‘division of labor’, ‘dignity of labor’ and the ‘interdependence’ of individuals by traits and skills on each other.
Thus society functions were classified under four broad groups relevant to the time. The new formed groups were titled Shudra, Vaisha, Khashatriya, and Brahmana. Sage Manu matched aptitudes and skills to the demands of the job. Even today, job descriptions and job specifications continue to be structured on the technique initiated by Sage Manu. With passage of time more vocations have also brought under those broad social groups.
Shudras – Unskilled workers
To begin with, everyone was primitive, unskilled, and savage at birth. All shared the same platform in respect of personal traits. Collectively all of them lacked inquisitiveness, knowledge, enthusiasm, courage, and even motivation to work harder than bare minimum required to meet their immediate needs. Because of poor communication skill they could not barter group products with neighboring groups to supplement their resources. All of them carried their own load in hunting group and performed all sorts of jobs irrespective of their personal likes or dislikes. Collectively were classified under the title Shudras.
They had to be led by one person who possessed more skills and courage than the rest. The structure of society, which started developing in the shape of a pyramid.
Vaisha – Skilled workers
Gradually hunting groups advanced and some Shudras learnt farming. They could supplement their food and clothing requirements from the agricultural produce. They reared animals and held livestock as additional assets to offer the same to others in exchange of their manual services. They got settled at places where farming could be done. Due to their skills life was more comfortable than the nomadic hunters and Shudras.
Being better skilled, their activities involved resource generation, conservation and distribution of materials and livestock. Additional vocations emerged, as some persons were required to make and repairs tools for agriculture, making shelters, and other house hold items. The additional traits required for resource generation were business sense, skills, entrepreneurship, trading, hard work, flexibility, interactive skills, tact, risk taking, perseverance and adaptability. Therefore those possessing such additional skills and traits came to be classified as Vaishas. They were identified as the business community among hunters and workers. In the beginning they engaged ‘Shudras’ for manual work by offering them food, clothing or other items, and as the civilization advanced further, by paying them wages. The position of Vaishas was above the Shudras in the structure of society.
Kshatriyas – Administrators and Protectors
Agriculture produce, livestock, standing crops and habitats were vulnerable to attacks from neighboring nomadic groups who could take away by force the fruits of their hard work. Thus arose the need to spare some persons from the group to be on guard throughout the day and night to protect the habitat and assets of the group. They were required to be spared from agricultural duties and allied jobs to practice weaponry. In lieu, their personal needs had to be looked after by other group members, to provide them food, clothing and other necessities of life.
The traits required for this class of persons were courage, proficiency in fighting, initiative, drive, and loyalty towards the group. With passage of time, this segment got actively involved with the administration, coordination, and supervision of the group activities. They were called Kshatriyas.
The Kshatriyas protected the society with the strength of their arms and were responsible for the maintenance of law and order including administration of justice. The title and stature of group leader was elevated to be called King and the concept of Kingship developed. A brave person with saintly traits was preferred to rule the country according to Dharma. In general interest and well-being of group, Kshatriyas were placed under the King and given authority to disciple the errant in the group.
Brahmin – The Intellectuals
Since everyone was busy with tasks related to generation of resources, protection, and administration, additional persons had to be found within the group to oversee that Kshatriyas that they observed ‘Dharma’ while using their powers.
They were also made responsible for generation of ideas, their assimilation and propagation to the group members. Thus, those who were the best, farsighted, mature, perfectionists, learned and experienced, were assigned the task to lead and train the society. The learned men were called Brahmin (Intellectuals). It came to be their duty to acquire knowledge, and impart the same to others.
For their knowledge and leadership they were placed at the top of the society’s ladder and were entitled to respect, cooperation and obedience from all the other segments. They were to live simple and exemplary life. As thinking, meditation, and leadership traits are not equally distributed in human beings, it was natural that entry to the upper most segment of society remained open only to the few who were qualified and had leadership traits and intellectual superiority. This intellectual group therefore, emerged as the most powerful and envied group of society.
Traits based Stratification
It can be visualized that the formation of the Varna pyramid took its roots from the ground towards top and not otherwise. As and when people improved in skills and proficiency, they moved upwards. Those who did little for their self-development remained at the bottom of the pyramid whatever be their identity.
Sage Manu clearly stipulated that any Brahmin without knowledge was only name sake like a wooden elephant or artificial deer –
यथा काष्ठमयो हस्ती .यथा चर्ममयो मृगः। यश्र्च विप्रोSनधीयानस्त्रयस्ते नां बिभ्रति ।। (Manusmruti 157)
While in other civilizations people were ‘captured’ and mustered at the lower levels as slaves, and conquers descended from the top as masters, in Hindu society Brahmins were never inducted from outside. Every one born ‘without knowledge’ was regarded as a Shudra, and it was only after acquiring skills and knowledge (Gyana) that person was graded to higher Varna.
This organizational structure is being followed by all the civilized societies of the world even today. Modern Corporations in the field of business and manufacturing also have job classification conceptually similar to the titles created by Sage Manu. The Directors are like Brahmins, Executives perform like Kshatriyas, Technical Personnel are similar to Vaishyas, and Unskilled Workmen are at the lowest pedestal like Shudras. Only the titles have been named differently. As and when a person improved his profile he was allowed to join the upper group.
Caste system was a functional division of society in to four occupations based on the temperaments, traits and capabilities of individuals. With passage of time the identification turned hereditary and now with free lancing of occupations it has lost its occupational relevance. Now it is being used mainly as an extension of personal identification.
Chand K Sharma
(Next: Splashes – 23/72 – Evaluation of Varna System)