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the caste system in pre-british india ...

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I'm reading it...

*edit* wierd this post got accepted without moderation immediately and then I consquently posted another post which did'nt show up?
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*edit* this one also shows up immediately? does the post count and addition of links make posts to be moderated?
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1. From Dirks’ writings, it does appear that the British made the caste system into what is today and hence the blame must fall on the head of the British.

But if you look at Dharampal’s research, we have to conclude that the caste system did have the foundational aspects of the abominable system we see even today. Though, I agree with Dirks and Dharampal, that because of the British, the caste system became more ossified, i am not able to agree that the evil aspects of the caste system was a British creation.

Nonsense the British broke down the rigidity of casteism if anything at all.

"evil aspects"

anti-brahmin sentiment trying to instill guilt amongst Brahmins.
an essay by ram swarup on the caste system of the past in india ....


Past does not guide the present

Logic behind perversion of caste

Ram Sawrup
(From the Indian Express, 13th September, 1996)

Today casteism is rampant. It is a new phenomenon. Old India had castes but
not casteism. In its present form, casteism is a
construct of colonial period, a product of imperial policies and colonial
scholarship. It was strengthened by the breast-beating of
our own "reformers". Today, it has acquired its own momentum and vested

In the old days, the Hindu caste system was integrating principle. It
provided economic security. One had a vocation as soon
as one was born.- a dream for those threatened with chronic unemployment.
The system combined security with freedom; it provided
social space as well as closer identity; here the individual was not
atomised and did not become rootless. There was also no dearth
of social mobility; whole groups of people rose and fell in the social
scale. Rigidity about the old Indian castes is a myth.
Ziegenbbalg writing on the eve of the British advent saw that at least
one-third of the people practised other than their traditional
calling and that "official and political functions, such as those of
teachers, councillors, governors, priests, poets and even kings were
not considered the prerogative of any particular group, but are open to

Nor did India ever have such a plethora of castes as became the order of the
day under the British rule. Megasthenes
gives us seven fold division of the Hindu society; Hsuan Tsang, the Chinese
pilgrim (650 A. D.) mentions four castes. Alberuni too
mentions four main castes and some more groups which did not strictly belong
to the caste system.

Even the list of greatly maligned Manu contained no more than 40 mixed
castes, all related by blood. Even the Chandals were
Brahmins on their father's side. But under the British, Risley gave us 2,378
main castes, and 43 races! There is no count of sub-castes.
Earlier, the 1891 census had already given us 1,156 sub-castes of chamars
alone. To Risley, every caste was also ideally a race and
had its own language.

Caste did not strike early European writers as something specifically
Indian. They knew it in their own countries and saw it
that way. J. S. Mill in his Political Economy said that occupational groups
in Europe were "almost equivalent to an hereditary
distinction of caste".

To these observers, the word caste did not have the connotation it has
today. Gita Dharampal Frick, an orientalist and
linguist tells us that the early European writers on the subject used the
older Greek word Meri which means a portion, share,
contribution. Sebastian Franck (1534) used the German word Rott (rotte)
meaning a "social group" or "cluster". These words suggest
that socially and economically speaking they found castes closer to each
other than ordo or estates in Europe.

The early writers also saw no Brahmin domination though they found much
respect for them. Those like Jurgen Andersen (1669)
who described castes in Gujarat found that Vaishyas and not the Brahmins
were the most important people there.

They also saw no sanskritisation. One caste was not trying to be another; it
was satisfied with being itself. Castes
were not trying to imitate the Brahmins to improve social status; they were
proud of being what they were. There is a Tamil poem by
Kamban in praise of the plough which says that "even being born a Brahmin
does by far endow one with the same excellence as when one
is born into a Vellala family".

There was sanskritisation though but of a very different kind. People tried
to become not Brahmins but Brahma-vadin.
Different castes produced great saints revered by all. Ravi Das, a great
saint, says that though of the family of chamars who still go
around Benares removing dead cattle, yet even the most revered Brahmins now
hold their offspring, namely himself, in great esteem.

With the advent of Islam the Hindu society came under great pressure; it
faced the problem of survival. When the political
power failed, castes took over; they became defence shields and provided
resistance passive and active. But in the process, the
system also acquired undesirable traits like untouchability. Alberuni who
came along with Mahmud Ghaznavi mentions the four
castes but no untouchability. He reports that "much, however, as these
classes differ from each other, they live together in the same
towns and villages, mixed together in the same houses and lodgings."

Another acquired another trait; they became rigid and lost their mobility.
H. A. Rose, Superintendent of Ethnography,
Punjab (1901-1906), author of A Glossary of Punjab Tribes and Castes' says
that during the Muslim period, many Rajputs were
degraded and they became scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Many of them
still retain the Rajput gotra of parihara and parimara.
Similarly, G. W. Briggs in his The Chamars tells us that many chamars still
carry the names and gotra of Rajput clans like
Banaudhiya, Ujjaini, Chandhariya, Sarwariya, Kanaujiya, Chauhan, Chadel,
Saksena, Sakarwar, Bhardarauiya, and Bundela, etc. Dr.K. S.
Lal cites many similar instances in his recent "Growth of Scheduled Tribes
and Castes in Medieval India".

The same is true of bhangis. William Crooke of Bengal Civil Service tells us
that the "rise of the present Bhangi caste
seems from the names applied to the castes and its subdivisions, to date
from the early period of Mohammedan rule". Old Hindu literature
mentions no bhangis of present function. In traditional Hindu rural society,
he was a corn-measurer, a village policeman, a custodian of
village boundaries. But scavenging came along with the Muslim and British
rule. Their numbers also multiplied. According to 1901
Census, the bhangis were most numerous in the Punjab and the United
Provinces which were the heartland of Muslim domination.

Then came the British who treated all Hindus equally – all as an inferior
race – and fuelled their internal differences.
They attacked Hinduism but cultivated the caste principle, two sides of the
same coin. Hinduism had to be attacked. It gave India the
principles of unity and continuity; it was also India's definition at its
deepest. It held together castes as well as the country. Take
away Hinduism and the country was easily subdued.

Caste in old India was a cooperative and cultural principle.; but it is now
being turned into a principle of social
conflict. In the old dispensation, castes followed dharma and its
restraints; they knew how far they could go. But now a caste is a
law unto itself; it knows no self-restraint except the restraint put on it
by another class engaged in similar self-aggrandisement. The
new self-styled social justice intellectuals and parties do not want castes
without dharma. This may be profitable to some in the short
run but it is suicidal for all in the long run.

In the old days, castes had leaders who represented the culture of the land,
who were natural leaders of their people and
were organic to them. But now a different leadership is coming to the fore;
rootless, demagogic and ambitious, which uses caste
slogans for self-aggrandisement.
Shri VV ji,

Caste as a system definitely seems to have existed in a certain period of time. Roles were divided and followed, more as an organized society rather than anything based on ability or birth. Therefore one sees of rishis like Vatsa, a shudra becoming brahmin or Vishwamitra, a kshatriya becoming brahmin. Also being a brahmin was not the most superior position in the past. It had more to do with a spritual state than a social state. The purusha sukta is explained so differently by some monastic traditions.

The rig ved has verses mentioning stuff that intended to mean like "let those who hoard wealth and do not share with others suffer", so there were people even in those times similar to the ones we consider 'corrupt' today. Plus those rig vedic people ate all sorts of meat, like the southeast asians tend to do today (thais worship brahma and indra and dieties like the dwarapalas that wud be considered asuric for hindus, while hindus themselves have no temples worshipping brahma or indra as standalone dieties, except for a few rare ones). Were the naga southeast asians the rig vedic people? Or atleast part of the tribes that habited the indian regions around early neolithic, before moving into southeast asia, carrying with them some of those old beleifs? Making it easy for buddhism to take root there since they were already following the vedic pantheon? But ofcourse whatever it was, it must have been ages before the puranic period.

The changes people see, as being noted historically, are supposedly from around 1500bc onwards. So changes in that vedic class system in all likelihood started that early. According to historians like kosambi all gotras were matrilineal until the puranic period. Apart from setting rules prohibitting inter varna marriage, the dharma shastras seem to have contributed to making a system of patrilienal gotras. Yet a bengali brahmin bharadwaj gotra does not cluster with a tamil brahmin bharadwaj. Brahmins, like all others, are region specific, or similar to the local people of that region. How did that happen, unless they were tutored under a common teacher and were not biological descendents; or unless there was some other reason. Whatever it was, nobody seems to thought of new dharmashastra based organizations after the muslim invasions. Perhaps by then the society became so chaotic, it wud have been impossible to organize them.

In any case, occupations as a system was ages ago. And certainly it not as rigid as the scriptures have made them out to be. Whatever it was, it was all far too long back in the past. No point blaming anything no matter how "wrong" something seems to us now. So yes i think the current casteism is new and endemic to the country since the colonialists came in.
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cast system

The postings here are interesting and gives out lot of information. But what one feels from living in a village from early life, that there is a friendly co existence among the hindu community. Actuall if one observs all sections worked as a self sufficient group to help the

But if one notices the present day status, there appears to be a
systemetic compain to discreit our society and blaming the cast systems by the interested parties is just one tool for them.

Mohan Parasuram
Intercaste marriages were there during Nayanmar period. Thirugnana Sambandar gave life to a dead Chettiar girl at Mylapore. When her father requested Sambandar to marry her, he refused it, stating that she is like daughter to her and hence cannot marry her. So caste was not a issue for not marrying a Chettiar girl. Sundaramoorthi Nayanar married `Paravai Nachiar' at Tiruvarur and `Sangili Nachiar' at Tiruvotiur with the blessings of Lord Shiva. Both the ladies were not brahmins where as Sundarar is a `Saiva Andanar'.

Probably caste differences have cropped during the subsequent periods and we cannot blame British alone for that
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personally, i think, we should take ownership for our attitudes, and not blame anyone else.

when something goes good, don't we all jump first to claim credit. there is indeed a strong feeling among tamil brahmins, i think, that we are the key initiators of the i.t. revolution in india.

i don't know if this is true, but i have heard this claim several times.

so, why don't we also accept the warts. the caste system is the biggest wart in modern hinduism, and the treatment of the dalits, is worth a court case as crime against humanity.

not many of us, acknowledge, that even though we do not personally practise such discrimination anymore, that we do have a moral responsibility for the same.

the british is a faded memory in our psyche. 60 years have elapsed since they left. sometimes, i wonder, whether we have progressed enough in the 3 post british generations.

let us not blame the british. let us retrospect, and come up with solutions, instead of finding excuses for shortcomings.
Intercaste marriages were there during Nayanmar period. Thirugnana Sambandar gave life to a dead Chettiar girl at Mylapore. When her father requested Sambandar to marry her, he refused it, stating that she is like daughter to her and hence cannot marry her. So caste was not a issue for not marrying a Chettiar girl. Sundaramoorthi Nayanar married `Paravai Nachiar' at Tiruvarur and `Sangili Nachiar' at Tiruvotiur with the blessings of Lord Shiva. Both the ladies were not brahmins where as Sundarar is a `Saiva Andanar'.

Often in a society where hierachies exist especially when based along racial lines, it is a norm for males of the dominant/superior group to have courtship with females of the lower/inferior group.

Brahmin society is very patriarchal. You are a Brahmin if your Father is a Brahmin.

In South - Central - North East India, regions that were later occupied by Brahmins, as Brahmins originate from North West India/Pakistan, the migrations were largely male mediated so its very likely that even in the earlier stages Brahmin males husbanded local females.

Vaishyas and Brahmins are the ones who upheld caste system in the regions outside North West especially in the South.

It is extremely likely that many Brahmins sought wives from Vaishyas; i.e Chettiars and it was probably even a norm.

Even today you can see that Chettiars and Brahmins are physically closest to each other. Near my house there are a Chettiar family running a food stall, their skin colour is light brown and their features are sharp and I wondered if they could be Iyers/Iyengars.

The difference in features/genetics between North Western vs South - Central - North Eastern Brahmins is largely due to intermixing strictly on the maternal side.
Even today you can see that Chettiars and Brahmins are physically closest to each other. Near my house there are a Chettiar family running a food stall, their skin colour is light brown and their features are sharp and I wondered if they could be Iyers/Iyengars.


Even a casual sampling of "Brahmins" and "Non-Brahmins" will show skin color is not a determinant of caste. South Asians are very conscious of skin color. Fair skin is "superior" and dark skin is "inferior".

Among Iyengars, Vadakalai Iyengars often look down upon Thenkalai Iyengars as though they were NB's converted by Bhagavat Ramanuja. Skin color is often cited to support this ridiculous claim.

This type of prejudice flows from what Salman Rushdie says in his novel Midnights Children, "Children are the vessels into which the parents pour their poison."

Here is a verse from a poem called Kapilar Agaval from 16th century CE.

பார்ப்பன மாந்தர்காள் பகர்வது கேண்மின்


ஓட்டிய மிலேச்சரூணர் சிங்களர்
இட்டிடைச் சோனகர் யவனர் சீனத்தர்
பற்பலர் நாட்டிலும் பார்ப்பா ரிலையால்
முற்படைப் பதனில் வேறாகிய முறைமைபோல்
நால்வகைச்சாதியிந் நாட்டினி னாட்டினீர்
மேல்வகை கீழ்வகை விளங்குவ தொழுகால் ....

(Oh! Brahmins listen to this ...
there are no Brahmins in foreign lands,
yet they are no worse off,
You invented the four Jathis as if it was natural at the beginning,
but, upper and lower are characterized by only by conduct)

Genetically, the entire human race 99.9% identical. All of us belong to one group, human beings, that is it.

Brahmins are not claiming that they are superior than other communities. Villages still have community clusters. But brahmin clusters popularly known as `agraharams' have practically vanished. But other communities still maintain their clusters.

I earnestly feel, other communities have developed an inferiority complex among themselves.

Brahmins have practically vacated Government jobs as well as public sector jobs. TB have migrated to other parts of India as well as abroad. TB population has come down from 4% to 3% in Tamilnadu. I am sure it will come down further in the near future as most of the old aged people only continue to live Tamilnadu.

The way the youngsters among TB community (both boys and girls) migrated to Software services and migrated to USA & other places is the envy of other communities now.

Let the Government introduce 100% reservation for other communities. Still our community is capable of managing itself.

Why other communities have developed an inferiority complex? Is it the problem of TB community ? Whenever other community create problem for us, we simply withdraw without any fight and develop our skills in some other field.

Again and again telling that our community has a superiority complex is a wrong notion. Instead, let other communities introspect, why they have developed an inferiority complex among themselves.
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