I've witnessed many Dwija-s behaving in lowly manner resorting to material pleasures, cruelty, ignorance, etc. & bereft of dhārmic conscience. On the other hand, I have witnessed many Śūdra-s behaving in nobler ways. How to explain this anomaly if we were to accept birth-based varṇa system to be the correct one?

Following questions are worthy of our attention,

  • How can a Dwija affirm that all its forefathers were not a product of intermixing of castes (varṇa-śankara), otherwise the complete generation must be outcaste. i.e, a Brahmaṇa is a Brahmaṇa if and only if all his forefathers since creation were strictly Brahmaṇa?

  • If we classify castes (varṇa) based on karma or guṇa, then how to determine someone's varṇa?

  • Is there really a need of caste (varṇa) at all? Can't all live in unity without any distinction of caste (varṇa)?

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    Very Good Question. Orthodox Hindus (even Current Adishankara Peetams) believe in birth based Varnasrama Dharma. But scriptures do support Guna based Varnasrama Dharma. Indeed, both parties have their own logics. But forgetting Smriti, Sruti ( which includes Vedas, most authoritative Pramana) support Guna based Varnasrama Dharma than birth based Varnasrama Dharma.
    – The Destroyer
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 9:12
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    "How can any Brahmin or Kshatriya affirm that all his/her forefathers were not a result of intermixing of castes,otherwise the complete generation must be outcaste. Means, a Brahmin/Kshatriya is Brahmin/Kshatriya if and only if all his/her forefathers since creation were strictly Brahmin or strictly Kshatriya" The Guna based Caste theory is a recent development and in past people believed and practiced Birth based caste system, so they were pretty strict in preserving their pure blood line especially in case of dwijas. The impure alteration in blood line is known as Varna Sankar BG Chapter 1.
    – Yogi
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 9:56
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    It's very important to differentiate between the two, jati and varna. The present caste system (profession based on birth) is unheard of in shruti. As @Rickross pointed out, probably practicality made both of them combine in dharmasashtras. Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 14:11
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    One must remember that our birth is not a result of a single reaction but rather the sum of karmas,gunas &vasanas accumulated over several births & lifetimes.So birth-based caste is valid. However, if a person is of a higher guna but "lower " varna, then either they belonged to a "higher" varna in the previous birth or are destined to be born into a higher varna. Same applies to those born into higher varna but are of lower gunas. Birth varna is important because it gives mantrAdhikAra. This is important because "daivAdhInam jagatsarvam mantrAdhInam ta dEvatA tanmantram brAhmaNAdhInam"
    – user1195
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 9:31
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    Neither you nor moonstar nor any sage is custodian or authority. Lord Shiva's words are the final words & ultimate authority. Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 17:16

8 Answers 8


The four castes are mentioned in Vedas itself.

ब्राह्मणोऽस्य मुखमासीद् बाहू राजन्यः कृतः । ऊरू तदस्य यद्वैश्यः पद्भ्यां शूद्रो अजायत ॥१२॥

Braahmanno-Asya Mukham-Aasiid Baahuu Raajanyah Krtah | Uuruu Tad-Asya Yad-Vaishyah Padbhyaam Shuudro Ajaayata ||12||

Meaning: 12.1: The Brahmanas were His Mouth, the Kshatriyas became His Arms, 12.2: The Vaishyas were His Thighs, and the Shudras were assigned to His Feet.

Hence the rules related to these 4 varnas are to be strictly followed.The hIndu society is based on these four varnas and their respective inter connected & proper functioning.

If someone wants to destroy this backbone of Hindu society then first thing he needs to do is to create inter-mixing of castes .His job is half done.

In Kali Yuga this system falls apart.And that's why there is overwhelming Adharma everywhere.

In Sanatana Dharma everything is dependent on the caste-system or the varnasharama.To even know what is Dharma Or Adharma we have to first check to which varna the rule is being applied to.

The Dharma Shastras(the Smritis like Manu ,Parashara etc),for example, give laws based on the varnas only.Like these are the rules to be followed by the Brahmins and these are those to be followed by the Sudras and so on.

For example:

Manu Smriti 11.126. One fourth (of the penance) for the murder of a Brahmana is prescribed (as expiation) for (intentionally) killing a Kshatriya, one-eighth for killing a Vaisya; know that it is one-sixteenth for killing a virtuous Sudra.

So,everything is very much caste-dependent.Without a proper varnashrama everything collapses in Hinduism and there is rampant Adharma.

If we classify castes as karma or Guna based then how to determine someone castes ?

There is no definite answer to this.Suppose a Sudra by birth has all the attributes of a Brahmin.How is he gonna prove it?And prove it to whom ,which body etc?Should he have to pass some tests?If yes which are those tests?Are those tests mentioned in Scriptures?.Will he be allowed to wear the sacred thread then if he passes those tests?NO is the answer of course.

Also, Karma-Birth-Guna these three are interwoven.For example what determines our birth(where will we be born .in human yoni or other yonis etc)?Its only the Karmas that we have done in our previous births that determines.

So,birth based caste system is actually karma-based caste system also.

Similarly,what determines our gunas?Its mostly our birth only.

For example,just as the nature of a tree is determined by the quality of the seed and that of the soil on which the seed is being sown,similarly our gunas are dependent on our father(the seed) and our mother(the soil).

So,birth based caste system takes into account the gunas also.

IMHO,to follow a caste system that is entirely based gunas or karma & not at all on birth is absurd and virtually an impossible task .

Take for example,the Upanayana Samskara (which is one of the 40 Samaskaras).The Scriptures give us the following ages when upanayana has to be done for the 3 dvija castes:

Manu Smriti 2.36. In the eighth year after conception, one should perform the initiation (upanayana) of a Brahmana, in the eleventh after conception (that) of a Kshatriya, but in the twelfth that of a Vaisya

Now a eight year old boy does not have any karmas(even if he has that will be very less in amount) and of course then comes the impossible task of determining his gunas.What are the methods of doing that?The Scriptures are also silent on the issue.

But,having said all that,caste system is not entirely based on birth either.Otherwise we won't be having the following & many similar verses in Scriptures:

He who sets his face against righteousness, is but a Chandala by his acts. He gains nothing by being a mendicant, or by worshipping the household fire.

  1. A Brahman, ignorant of the Gayatri hymn, is more unclean than even a Shoodra ; the Brahmans who know the nature and the sanctity of the Gayatri hymn, are honored and revered by all persons.(Parashara Smriti)

Moreover, there is a way of segregating those who are twice borns merely by birth but who are not living their lives accordingly.They are to be treated like the outcasts only by the society.They are called by the name Vratya in Scriptures.

Manu Smriti 10.20. Those (sons) whom the twice-born beget on wives of equal caste, but who, not fulfilling their sacred duties, are excluded from the Savitri, one must designate by the appellation Vratyas.

10.21. But from a Vratya (of the) Brahmana (caste) spring the wicked Bhriggakantaka, the Avantya, the Vatadhana, the Pushpadha, and the Saikha.

10.22. From a Vratya (of the) Kshatriya (caste), the Ghalla, the Malla, the Likkhivi, the Nata, the Karana, the Khasa, and the Dravida

So,even if one is Brahmin by birth (& by samskara) but if he is neglecting his sacred duties then he and his progeny are to be treated like the outcasts only.The rules that are mentioned in scriptures as applicable to the outcasts should apply to these kinds of Brahmin.

But even these rules are not followed nowadays.Varna is basically determined simply by observing whether one is wearing the sacred thread or not.

On your newly added question :

Would be better if answer touches philosophy of non duality ( Adwait Vedanta )

I can talk of advaita vedanta and other philosophies by studying books written on them but i have not achieved that state yet.So,tell me without having realized that state of non-dulaity myself what's the use of just speaking of it?

The Scriptures say to those who have realized the Brahman the Scriptures are of no use.But only for those realized ones not for everyone else.The Scriptures are important for everyone else.

If you say that "i'm free from maya" and "i have achieved Brahman" etc then you are blessed and then you are free from everything not just the caste-system.

But,till that point is reached everyone has to follow certain rules which are called the Dharmas in our scriptures and without following the caste-system,samskaras Dharma can't be followed properly on a large scale.If we see around us in nature every being and even objects are following some patterns and some rules.We too have to follow our rules.And the rules mentioned in our Scriptures are those rules only.My humble opinion.

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    So, you do agree that the better way would be to decide varna based on gunas and not birth, but the reason you cite is practicality. Not very convincing, IMO. Isn't vocational training/entrance exams a way to do that, albeit a western way. Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 14:08
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    @user367180 You are on the right track..but u fumbled with the choice of words here i guess..basically irrespective of varnas everyone has to follow the principles of "Sadachara"(righteous conduct) ..this is clearly mentioned in scriptures
    – Rickross
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 14:19
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    @user367180 If u can go beyond maya which is the most difficult thing to do, then obviously you are free from caste-system..but till that point is reached for ordinary mortals like me we definitely need some kind of rules and that's basically what caste system is in hinduism..If we see around ourselves everywhere in nature we see differences and we also see strict observance of rules..and these rules are different for different beings different objects..so caste system makes a lot of sense to me. now to those who say "im Brahman" "i'm free " etc..I'll simply say good luck dude & move on..
    – Rickross
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 14:32
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    @user367180 I agree with ur points..a sudra whos inclined to knowledge will still read the Vedas because he is bound by his nature..And i don't think these rules will bind someone either..Why wud the Mahamunis compose them then? ..They are there for our betterment only to make our lives blissful..
    – Rickross
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 16:43
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    great answer. To put it simply in scientific terms - birth is a necessary but not sufficient condition to be a brahmana. If his parents are proper brahmins, AND they did all the samskaras for the child, from garbhadana, to upanayana & the child follows all rituals properly, then he is a brahmana.
    – ram
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 17:10

Better we talk about Sukshma Sharir in prior. It is made up of Manas, Buddhi & Ahamkar + 5 tanmatras. A soul (Jeevatma) leaves the body in this form after death. This is a bag whose content decides the next birth of the soul after death. This is explained by Swami Vivekananda (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda/Volume 2/Jnana-Yoga/The Cosmos: The Microcosm) here. -

...Again, if in the bioplasmic cell the infinite amount of impressions from all time has entered, where and how is it? This is a most impossible position, and until these physiologists can prove how and where those impressions live in that cell, and what they mean by a mental impression sleeping in the physical cell, their position cannot be taken for granted. So far it is clear then, that this impression is in the mind, that the mind comes to take its birth and rebirth, and uses the material which is most proper for it, and that the mind which has made itself fit for only a particular kind of body will have to wait until it gets that material. This we understand. The theory then comes to this, that there is hereditary transmission so far as furnishing the material to the soul is concerned. But the soul migrates and manufactures body after body, and each thought we think, and each deed we do, is stored in it in fine forms, ready to spring up again and take a new shape. When I look at you a wave rises in my mind. It dives down, as it were, and becomes finer and finer, but it does not die. It is ready to start up again as a wave in the shape of memory. So all these impressions are in my mind, and when I die the resultant force of them will be upon me. A ball is here, and each one of us takes a mallet in his hands and strikes the ball from all sides; the ball goes from point to point in the room, and when it reaches the door it flies out. What does it carry out with it? The resultant of all these blows. That will give it its direction. So, what directs the soul when the body dies? The resultant, the sum total of all the works it has done, of the thoughts it has thought. If the resultant is such that it has to manufacture a new body for further experience, it will go to those parents who are ready to supply it with suitable material for that body. Thus, from body to body it will go, sometimes to heaven, and back again to earth, becoming man, or some lower animal. This way it will go on until it has finished its experience, and completed the circle. It then knows its own nature, knows what it is, and ignorance vanishes, its powers become manifest, it becomes perfect; no more is there any necessity for the soul to work through physical bodies, nor is there any necessity for it to work through finer, or mental bodies. It shines in its own light and is free, no more to be born, no more to die...

Therefore since it is the soul or JeevaAtma that has conditioning or attributes, it is clearly evident Varna is solely dependent upon the soul, not the body of parents, as that is the soul which has accumulated all the past impressions in it, not body & fixing the womb according to its resultant accumulations. Now this answer concludes the same which say conduct alone tells the Varna of a person. This concept is further backed up by Lord Shiva as well (from this answer) -

Endued with knowledge and science, purified from all dross, and fully conversant with the Vedas, a pious Kshatriya, by his own acts, becomes a Brahmana. It is with the aid of these acts, O goddess, that a person who has sprung from a degraded order, viz., a Sudra, may become a Brahmana refined of all stains and possessed of Vedic lore, One that is a Brahmana, when he becomes wicked in conduct and observes no distinction in respect of food, falls away from the status of Brahmanahood and becomes a Sudra. Even a Sudra, O goddess, that has purified his soul by pure deeds and that has subjugated all his senses, deserves to be waited upon and served with reverence as a Brahmana. This has been said by the Self-born Brahmana himself. When a pious nature and pious deeds are noticeable in even a Sudra, he should, according to my opinion, be held superior to a person of the three regenerate classes. Neither birth, nor the purificatory rites, nor learning, nor offspring, can be regarded as grounds for conferring upon one the regenerate status. Verily, conduct is the only ground. All Brahmanas in this world are Brahmanas in consequence of conduct. A Sudra, if he is established on good conduct, is regarded as possessed of the status of a Brahmana. The status of Brahma, O auspicious lady, is equal wherever it exists. Even this is my opinion. He, indeed, is a Brahmana in whom the status of Brahma exists,--that condition which is bereft of attributes and which has no stain attached to it.

One can upgrade one's mind through rigorous Sadhna, devotion & love & thus become Brahmin in this birth alone. Further, if parents which were born Shudra but devoted to their life to the divine their progeny would be Brahmin or near to Brahmin because of the explanation above ( Jeevatma would fix into the womb according to its accumulation). This too has been supported by Mandukya Upanishad.

The Sound “U” is Dreaming / Subtle: Taijasa is the consciousness experienced during the dreaming state, and is U, the second letter of Om. This intermediate state operates between the waking and sleeping states, reflecting some qualities of the other two. One who knows this subtler state is superior to others. For one who knows this, knowers of Brahman, the Absolute Reality, will be born into his family. (Verse 10).

Thus it is evident from the above explanation Gunas only describes one's Varna.

Then Why birth based?- Actually, one can only know about Varna of oneself ( if one is honest) but can't know about others. Others can act as being of a nobleman as well. Here comes a birth-based social structure of Varnashram due to impracticality to know someone's Gunas or nature. But birth based works if & only if

  • One is strict in following one's prescribed duties on physical, mental & intellectual level so as to exhaust Karmic debt. ( Explained above)

In such a case, a noble impression accumulated Jeevatma would always fix dvija womb & chaos won't be created. But in Kaliyuga, due to Adharma, Brahmin parents downgraded to Shudra before procreation results into Shudra progeny. And similarly, Shudra born parents become Brahmin by noble deeds before procreation results into Brahmin progeny (using the above explained concepts) by l direct inference. But birth based casteism can again be revived but with two modifications - Upgradation & Downgradation of Varnas based on present deeds because the influence of Kali & the grace of Lord both are very intense, sufficient to change one's Varna in the present life alone.

**Mahabharata incident-** The above explanation is strongly supported by the following dialogues between Yudhishtir & Serpent (Nahusha) narrated [here][4].

The serpent said, "O Yudhishthira, say--Who is a Brahmana and what should be known? By thy speech I infer thee to be highly intelligent."
Yudhishthira said, "O foremost of serpents, he, it is asserted by the wise, in whom are seen the truth, charity, forgiveness, good conduct, benevolence, observance of the rites of his order and mercy is a Brahmana. And, O serpent, that which should be known is even the supreme Brahma, in which is neither happiness nor misery and attaining which beings are not affected with misery; what is thy opinion?"

The Serpent ask again-

The serpent said, "O Yudhishthira, truth, charity, forgiveness, benevolence, benignity, kindness and the Veda which worketh the benefit of the four orders, which is the authority in matters of religion and which is true, are seen even in the Sudra. As regards the object to be known and which thou allegest is without both happiness and misery, I do not see any such that is devoid of these."
Yudhishthira said, "Those characteristics that are present in a Sudra, do not exist in a Brahmana; nor do those that are in a Brahmana exist in a Sudra. And a Sudra is not a Sudra by birth alone nor a Brahmana is Brahmana by birth alone. He, it is said by the wise, in whom are seen those virtues is a Brahmana. And people term him a Sudra in whom those qualities do not exist, even though he be a Brahmana by birth. And again, as for thy assertion that the object to be known (as asserted by me) doth not exist, because nothing exists that is devoid of both (happiness and misery), such indeed is the opinion, O serpent, that nothing exists that is without (them) both. But as in cold, heat doth not exist, nor in heat, cold, so there cannot exist an object in which both (happiness and misery) cannot exist?"

An interesting question again asked by the serpent -

The serpent said, "O king, if thou recognize him as a Brahmana by characteristics, then, O long-lived one, the distinction of caste becometh futile as long as conduct doth not come into play."

To which Yudhishtir replies -

"In human society, O mighty and highly intelligent serpent, it is difficult to ascertain one's caste, because of promiscuous intercourse among the four orders. This is my opinion. Men belonging to all orders (promiscuously) beget offspring upon women of all the orders. And of men, speech, sexual intercourse, birth, and death are common. And to this the Rishis have borne testimony by using as the beginning of sacrifice such expressions as--of what caste so ever we may be, we celebrate the sacrifice. Therefore, those that are wise have asserted that character is the chief essential requisite. The natal ceremony of a person is performed before the division of the umbilical cord. His mother then acts as its Savitri and his father officiates as a priest. He is considered as a Sudra as long as he is not initiated in the Vedas. Doubts have arisen on this point, O prince; of serpents, Swayambhuba Manu has declared, that the mixed castes are to be regarded as better than the (other) classes, if having gone through the ceremonies of purification, the latter do not conform to the rules of good conduct, O excellent snake! Whosoever now conforms to the rules of pure and virtuous conduct, him have I, ere now, designated as a Brahmana."
The serpent replied, "O Yudhishthira, thou art acquainted with all that is fit to be known and having listened to thy words, how can I (now) eat up thy brother Vrikodara!"

Moreover from the above narration, we conclude & note -

  • The serpent was satisfied with the answers implies answers were correct as the serpent was none other than Nahusha who was known as wise, virtuous, learned, etc. ( Qualities that made him King of heaven )
  • Answerer was none other than highly learned Dharmaraj. which strengthens the answers.
  • Dharmaraj actually answering based on wise's words of that time, implies the true theory of casteism in the eyes of wises.

Therefore final answers are.

  • There is no proof all ancestors were strict with their allotted castes & it doesn't matter as long as the current progeny has according conduct. Conduct is sufficient to determine one's caste.

  • Birth based classification is necessary as alike soul fixes into alike womb. But this classification should be flexible in the manner - a Brahmin would fall from his varNa on any act contrary to scriptural injunctions.

  • Varna Dharma or class system is eugenics - it is a pivot of Dharma because, without one's Varna, one's occupation (Swadharma) can't be asserted & when a larger population stray away from its swadharma, adharma escalates that eventually leads to sufferings & evils in the society. Equality is deception; Shouldn't wise secure a higher level in the hierarchy than ignorant ones?

PS: Answer will continually be updated.

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    'Conduct is sufficient to determine one's caste' - how do you decide the conduct of a 10 year old boy? Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 17:09
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    @sv. Yup it's difficult to tell which tree will spring up looking at the seed. But with the time it will be evident. Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 17:54
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    @sv. His aptitude & behavior can be known before 10 years easily using some aptitude tests. And In any case, I have already told one can change his caste in this life as well. Moreover, Parents strict to their Varna will bear alike varna in the most of the cases. I think I have pointed this in the answer itself. Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 4:40
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    I see some statements such as "Answerer was none other than highly learnt Dharmaraj which strengthen the answers" in your answer. What strengthens an answer is not speaking from authority but arriving at something logically which stands the test of time. One can easily quote Shiva, Bhishma, Rama etc. from scriptures with contradicts the Nahuṣa-Yudhiṣṭhira dialogue in Mahābhārata. 'using some aptitude tests' - who's going to conduct these aptitude tests? How do you go about setting the standard for this test? Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 15:03
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    @sv. Simply, one would get a caste of his parents by default but in course of time by passing tests he can be upgraded to upper castes. Now, tests like modern tests with some modifications. and Self realized beings can set standard of various tests. Even today there are tests to enroll into some professions. I am talking related to this. Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 15:20

Caste or Varna is not rigid but dynamic in nature. One can be promoted or demoted to other varnas based on his deeds.

Further, varna is not for superiority or inferiority of anyone. Even non humans and objects have been classified as per varna.

Today the Indian society is mainly divided on the lines of Brahmins and Non Brahmins. It is not very difficult to understand that such a division of the society is not provided for either in the dharma shAstra-s or the vedas. This man-made division is the height of absurdity considering the fact that vedas do not sanction such a division as the kShatriya-s & vaishya-s are considered to be equal to the Brahmins insofar as the study of veda-s and vedic practices are concerned. Just like brAhman the kShatriya & vaishya are also entitled to upanayana samskAra and gAyatri as is evident from different gRhyasUtra-s for eg, Apastamba says :

“ गर्भाष्टमेषु ब्राह्मणं, गर्भैकादशेषु राजन्यं, गर्भाद्वादशेषु वैश्यम्।। (आपस्तम्बः)” in the eighth year from conception i.e. the 7th year from birth, the brAhman should be intitiated into gAyatri. Similarly, in the 10th year from birth for kShatriya and 11th year for vaishya


brAhmaNaH kShatriyo vaishyaH trayo varNAH dvijAdayaH saMskRtAshcAnyathA shUdrAH evaM vedavido viduH tasmAdayaM suto me.adyaH shUdravat vartate shishuH upanItaH kriyArhaH syAt iti vedeShu nirNayaH rAjJAmekAdashe varShe sadopanayanaM smRtaM aShTame brAhmaNAnAM ca vaishyAnAM dvAdashe kila (devI bhAgavata 7-7)

“The three varNa-s of brAhmaNa, kShatriya and vaishya are dvija (twice born) only if they undergo the upanayana saMskAra otherwise they are indeed considered to be shUdra in the absence of saMskAra”


How then did the kShatriya-s & vaishya-s came to be grouped as “non-brahmins” ? Grouping of certain varNa-s as non-brahmins is therefore unwarranted and uncalled for. It must also be understood that the words ‘varNa’ & ‘jAti’ stand for entirely different concepts and the word varNa cannot by any stretch of imagination be used to mean a particular caste or jAti. It is therefore worthwhile to understand the true concept of varNa.

The entire creation is in the form of three energies namely “brahma” (ब्रह्म) , “kShatra” (क्षत्र) & “visha” (विश). For transactional purposes i.e. lokanirvAha in connection with religious rites pertaining to both daiva (दैव) & mAnuSha (मानुष) the created beings became four fold, into the four varNa-s. It must be understood that the varNa-s are not unique to human creation alone but obtains even in the created divine beings. It is therefore amply clear that the classification into the four varNa-s of the created beings does not actually make a particular varNa superior or inferior to the other varNa-s. Otherwise it would tantamount to attributing superiority or inferiority to the divine beings too.

In all the sacrificial rites of the veda-s, the first offering is given to prajApati, indra, agni & soma. the first ablutions are

प्रजापतये स्वाहा | इन्द्राय स्वाहा | अग्नये स्वाहा | सोमाय स्वाहा |

offered to prajApati, indra, agni & soma and only thereafter the other devata-s are offered havirbhAga. Here prajApati is defined as brAhman, indra as kShatriya, agni as brAhmana and soma as the king of the brAhmaNa-s here.

So Obviously, all are treated with due respects without any deva being treated as superior or inferior. “सोमोस्माकं ब्राह्मणानां राजेत्याह |” “ब्रह्म ह्यग्निः |” “क्षत्रमिन्द्रः|” are but a few of the countless reference to the varNa classification of the divinities in the veda-s.

Further, a prayer to agni in the beginning of yAga goes thus :


“रुचं नो धेहि ब्राह्मणेषु रुचं राजसु नस्कृधि | रुचं विश्येषु शूद्रेषु मयि धेहि रुचा रुचं |” “rucaM no dhehi brAhmaNeShu rucaM rAjasu naskRdhi | rucaM vishyeShu shUdreShu mayi dhehi rucA rucaM |” (YV. Mula samhita K.5. P.7 A.6. - 3 and 4)


which is a prayer to the agni to “bestow upon us the radiance of the brAhmaNa-s, kShatriya-s, vaishya-s & shUdra-s”. Had the kShatriya or vaishya or shUdra been inferior to the brAhmaNa-s, would anyone pray for the energies of these varNa-s?

It must be understood that the varNa classification exists among the devas, the gems, the nine planets, in the animals and even in the letters of sanskrit. “vaiDUrya” (cat’s eye) a particular gem is classified as brAhmaNa, kshatriya, vaishya & shUdra based on its variation in color. Among the nine planets, the sun is kShatriya, but shani, the son of sun is a shUdra. Similarly, budha is classified as a vaishya. But budha is stated to be the son born to chandra & tArA. guru & shukra are stated to be brAhmaNa-s. Now which of the nine planets is superior or inferior ? The soil of the earth is also subject to these varNa classification. By mixing different varNa-s of soil, fertility that is lost can be restored. The soil that has lost its fertility, though called by its original name, can never have the original characteristics unless mixed with fresh fertile soil.

In the creation of humans also, the varnas are subject to changes arising out of various reasons. Manu smRti says a brAhmaNa can become a vaishya in three days if he resorts to selling milk. By indulging in trade, a brAhmaNa will become a vaishya. Similarly a shUdra can become a brAhmaNa by reciting gAyatri. There are umpteen instances of the so called shUdra-s attaining brAhman-hood. Hence, the varNa-s were never created or conceived as water tight compartments. The difference in the varNa-s was actually meant for evolution of mankind by improving the divine powers of “brahma” “kShatra” & “viT” energies through penance and religious practices as enjoined in the veda-s and definitely not for creating inequality or complexes and animosity in the minds of people. By the increase of divine power, the self and the society as a whole and the nation can attain comfort and happiness.


  • 2
    "Otherwise it would tantamount to attributing superiority or inferiority to the divine beings too".. so what ? Ashvini kumaras, even though they are devas, did not get havis (rice-ghee offering in fire). Even in Asuras, there are 4 varnas - Ravana was a Brahmana (varna) in Asura (jati) and did veda-adhyanana. Each varna has its own freedoms and restrictions. As long as each one follows his own, no problem. The problem occurs because everyone wants to jump from one to another.
    – ram
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 6:19
  • 1
    From the scriptural references you provide, The Apastamba and Devi Bhagwata verse themselves clearly mention Brahmanas, Vaishyas and Kshatriyas distinctly. It is to be noted that they don't mention Shudras. Also, that these varnas become Shudra without sanskara doesn't prove the converse that Shudras become "dwijas" by sanskara.
    – SMJoe
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 18:44
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    As regards the Yajurveda verse, there are many verses in the Vedas which pray for all living beings, even animals and insects as well as humans, in the same verse. This doesn't mean that all these living species are equal and have no distinction. Thus, just because all the four varnas are prayed for in the same verse doesn't imply anything.
    – SMJoe
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 18:47
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    As to the distinction of Devas that you mention, there surely are distinctions and even evident hierarchy among the Devas in the Vedas.
    – SMJoe
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 18:49
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    My take is that birth was the most important deciding factor for varna. There are rare exceptions to the rule, due to extraordinary situations, as in Satyakama - unknown parentage,(remember that he was primarily asked about his father by the Rishis), Valmiki - extreme spiritual prowess. If Varna was not based on birth, how could Varna Sankara occur? That Varna Sankara was feared, and was seen as the end of Dharma, itself shows that Varna was based upon birth.
    – SMJoe
    Commented Apr 8, 2017 at 7:05

IMO Rickross's answer above is correct, Varna is based on birth and samskaras, with guna being only something that each Varna should strive for, and also the consequential behaviors of each varna due to their samskaaras, and not the defining feature of somebody's varna.

Most people quote Bhagavad Gita verses 18.41 to 18.44 in support of the Guna-based varna theory.

For example,

18.41: Brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, vaiśyas and śūdras are distinguished by the qualities born of their own natures in accordance with the material modes, O chastiser of the enemy.

This verse is not advocating guna-based varna theory. It is saying that members of these varnas have these (or should have) these qualities, and not that people's varnas are defined by these qualities.

Note that this verse uses Sanskrit words like "Karmaani" (actions and impressions of previous lives) and "Svabhaava" (inherent nature). The body that you are born into is dependent on your karma and impressions from previous lives; you didn't randomly get this body, but got it to experience the fruits associated with the birth. One who is born as a human has different karma than a king, than a deva, than an insect, than a plant, etc. Thus, your birth into a family, upbringing by parents, and contact with members of society close to you influences your actions and work (karmaani) and nature (guna or svabhaava). It is also true that genetics and ancestry has a huge influence on your nature.

Guna-based varna system doesn't work, because for example, let's take this verse:

18.42: Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom and religiousness – these are the natural qualities by which the brāhmaṇas work.

and also this verse:

18.43: Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership are the natural qualities of work for the kṣatriyas.

A lot of non-Hindu people have these qualities, Mlecchas (non-Vedic) and atheists can also exhibit these qualities, this doesn't mean they are Brahmins, etc. A Muslim soldier can exhibit these qualities that are associated with a kshatriya, but this doesn't qualify him to be part of the kshatriya-varna.

Moreover, how can you guarantee somebody has these qualities? From birth to the time of around 25 years of age most people go through phases and exhibit all sorts of qualities. It's not practical to determine somebody's varna after 25 years; that's 25 years gone to waste.

People also exhibit different qualities at different times. Sometimes I'm calm, serene, tolerant, self-controlled, and sometimes I'm not. Sometimes I'm courageous and heroic. Does that mean I'm temporarily a Brahmin for the duration of having those qualities, and immediately non-Brahmin and a Kshatriya when I don't have those qualities? Most of the Saptarishis are Brahmins and sometimes they get angry/desirous, does this mean they are not Brahmins for the duration of their lapse of self-control?

Also, one can have qualities of both brahmins and kshatriyas, meaning he can be self-controlled, tolerant, and also determined, heroic, courageous, etc. A soldier can exhibit qualities like self-control and austerity. Does that mean he's both a Brahmin and Kshatriya? The answer is no to this and the last question due to the absurdity.

It is also difficult to determine if somebody has certain qualities because it can come down to opinion. One person can think an individual is generous, while another person doesn't think he's generous, etc.

Guna-based varna system also contradicts Manu smriti as Rickross points out, since a Brahmin must get his sacred thread at the age of 8, before he has developed any sort of consistent personality.

So, due to all these difficulties pointed out, the guna-based varna system is impractical and an impossibility. What is objective is determining somebody's varna based on his birth (and this is acceptable for the reasons given above), and the Manusmriti gives all sorts of cases when the mom and dad are of a different caste, etc.

But again as Rickross mentioned, birth isn't the only qualification, because it must be backed up with work, behavior, and following dharma. A Brahman who drinks alcohol and visits prostitutes loses his Brahmin-hood.

So, varna is determined by birth, samskaras, AND guna.

However, it is important to note that this is just the norm and that there are certain exceptions, but these are just exceptions do not refute the norm. For example, Vishvamitra was a Kshatriya but he displayed Brahminical qualities, and Parashurama was the son of Jamadagni (Brahmin) but he was a notoriously famous warrior.

The Sruti or Smrti does not give any example of someone upgrading their varna during their lifetime.

With all this said, if a Sudra has sattvic qualities and desires Moksha, he is certainly qualified, at least according to Sri Vaishnavism, because he can do Sharanagati, chant the Ashtaksharam mantra, read the Bhagavad Gita, and other Smritis, and do Pancharatra rituals. His only prohibition is that he cannot study the Vedas.

  • 3
    Read 18.41 in Sanskrit "brāhmaṇa-kṣatriya-viśāṁ śūdrāṇāṁ ca parantapa karmāṇi pravibhaktāni svabhāva-prabhavair guṇaiḥ" It clearly says Guna, Swabhava . Also, prabhavair is not exactly birth or from dhatu "Ja" which means birth
    – The Destroyer
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 1:04
  • 1
    It also says karmas, so birth is important to as explained.
    – Ikshvaku
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 1:06
  • 1
    Yes. But it doesn't say explicitly about birth. It says Svabhava and different Gunas
    – The Destroyer
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 1:06
  • 1
    Right, but Manusmriti says birth is a qualification too.
    – Ikshvaku
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 1:07

The caste stastem prescribed in scriptures is based on both birth and karma. But How? Let me quote a passage from Mahabharat.

The illustrious one said, 'The status of a Brahmana, O goddess, is exceedingly difficult to attain. O auspicious lady, one becomes a Brahmana through original creation or birth. After the same manner the Kshatriya, the Vaisya, and the Sudra, all become so through original creation. Even this is my opinion 1. He, however, that is born a Brahmana falls away from his status through his own evil acts. Hence, the Brahmana, after having attained to the status of the first order, should always protect it (by his acts). If one, who is a Kshatriya or Vaisya, lives in the practice of those duties that are assigned to the Brahmana, after the manner of a Brahmana he becomes (in his next life) a Brahmana. That Brahmana who casts off the duties of his order for following those assigned for the Kshatriya, is regarded as one that has fallen away from the status of a Brahmana and that has become a Kshatriya. That Brahmana of little understanding, who, impelled by cupidity and folly, follows the practices assigned to Vaisyas forgetful of his status as a Brahmana that is exceedingly difficult to attain, comes to be regarded as one that has become a Vaisya. Similarly, one that is a Vaisya by birth may, by following the practices of a Sudra, become a Sudra. Indeed, a Brahmana, falling away from the duties of his own order, may descend to the status of even a Sudra, Such a Brahmana, falling away from the order of his birth and turned out of it, without attaining to the region of Brahmana (which is his goal if he duly observes his own duties), sinks into Hell and in his next birth becomes born as a Sudra. A highly blessed Kshatriya or a Vaisya, that abandons those practices of his that are consistent with the duties laid down for his order, and follows the practices laid down for the Sudra, falls away from his own order and becomes a person of mixed caste. It is in this way that a Brahmana.

[Anushasan Parva CXLIII]

If a person reads the highlighted words then he will think that it is against Birth based caste system. But if you read the whole passage, you will realize that a Shudras could become Brahmin through karma in next birth. If a person do good karma in this birth than he will born in a family of a brahmin but if he do evil acts, he borns in a womb of a Shudras women. I am quoting more scriptures in its support.

Garuda Purana Chapter 4

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Apastamba Dharma Sutra, Prasna 2, Patala 1, Kanda 2.6 Thus after having undergone a long punishment in the next world, a person who has stolen (the gold of a Brahmana) or killed a (Brahmana) is born again, in case he was a Brahmana as a Kandala, in case he was a Kshatriya as a Paulkasa, in case he was a. Vaisya as a Vaina.

Skanda Purana V.iii.171.14-22 “…O excellent Brahmanas, these people fall into terrible hell and are reborn as Candalas: those who do not take holy bath regularly; those who do not practise Japa, Homa, worship of Suras, hospitality to other people, performance of Pitr Sraddha during Parvas and also regular Dana…”

Chandogya Upanishad 5.10.7. ‘Those whose conduct has been good, will quickly attain some good birth, the birth of a Brahmana, or a Kshatriya, or a Vaisya. But those whose conduct has been evil, will quickly attain an evil birth, the birth of a dog, or a hog, or a Kandala.”

Those who believes in the karma and rebirth concept of Hinduism will not find any injustice in Birth based caste system.


The inbuilt assumption in Hinduism is that the system works. In other words, there is no difference between birth-based and guNa-based varNa. They are supposed to be the same. One's varNa is a reward or punishment for karmas done in previous births. The karmas done in previous births affect the guNas associated with the soul. The soul or AtmA is reborn into a varNa that is supposed to be consistent with its guNas. Thus, in this system, the Brahmanas should only be populated by souls that are steeped in sattva guNa; the Kshatriyas, similarly, only by those jIvas possessing AtmAs steeped in rajas; the Vaishyas, similarly, only by those jIvas possessing a mixture of rajas and tamas; and the Shudras, only by those jIvas dominated by tamas.

From the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 14, Verse 14, Krishna says

http://www.bhagavad-gita.org/Gita/verse-14-14.html (all the verses I am quoting, translations, and commentaries are derived from this same website)

yadA sattvE pravRuddhe tu pralayam yAti dEha-bhRut tadottama-vidAm lokAn amalAn pratipadyatE

When the embodied being transitions death, predominated by the mode of goodness – at that time, the pure worlds with the highest knowledge are attained.

As Ramanujacharya explains it,

"Lord Krishna explains that when the jIva, or embodied being, is in sattva guNa, or mode of goodness, at the time of death, then numerous blessed regions, where the knowers of AtmA tattva, or knowledge of the immortal soul, reside, are reached. The word amalAn means pure, exempt from blemish, and devoid of ignorance. The understanding is that the fate of a jIva, who dies under the influence of sattva guNa, would be that the next birth would take place in the environment of pious and holy people that have realised AtmA tattva; and so, combined with an inner impulse to pursue this way of life, and with opportunity in abundance, one would continue in sattva guNa, purifying one's existence by performing spiritual activities, until one achieves perfection."

Similarly, in 14-15, Krishna says that

rajasi pralayam gatvA karma-sangiShu jAyatE tathA pralInas tamasi mUDha-yOniShu jAyatE

Succumbing to death in the mode of passion, one takes birth among those beings attached to fruitful activities; similarly, dying in the mode of ignorance, one takes birth from the womb of an animal.

As Shridhara Swami explains it:

"Continuing, Lord Krishna explains that the result of raja guNa, or mode of passion, being predominant at the time of death is that the jIva, or embodied being, is born into families that are involved in vigorous activity. Likewise, the result of tama guNa, or mode of ignorance, being predominant at the moment of death is that the jIva is born in the wombs of irrational species as animals."

Similarly, Ramanujacharya explains this verse thus:

"Now Lord Krishna explains that when a jIva, or embodied being, dies while in raja guNa, or the mode of passion, one takes birth among those who perform activities out of desire for rewards; and having been born as such, will endeavour mightily to accomplish works that would be rewarded by immense wealth and power, even up unto the heavenly spheres. Similarly, if one dies while under the influence of tama guNa, or the mode of ignorance, then such jIvas will be born from the wombs of animals such as pigs and dogs, where one would be completely incapacitated to perform any activity that would give any spiritual benefit."

Likewise, Acharya Keshava Kashmiri explains this verse thus:

"Lord Krishna states that if death comes upon a jIva, or embodied being, while predisposed to raja guNa, or the mode of passion, then one takes birth next from those who are obsessed to perform actions in anticipation of rewards. Also, a jIva dying while under the influence of tama guNa, or mode of ignorance, is forced to take birth as an animal in the next life."

And Shankaracharya explains the verse thus:

"If he meets death when rajas is predominant, he is born among men, who are attached to action. The “irrational” refers to cattle and the like."

("mUDha-yOnishu" means "womb of irrational being," i.e., animal.)

So one's varNa in a future birth (as a sattva-dominant, rajas-dominant, or tamas-dominant soul is determined by the guNa in which one dies. This guNa is the result of one's actions in millions of past births. As is seen in Chapter 18, those who are steeped in sattva guNa are the Brahmana varNa; those who are steeped in rajas guNa are the Kshatriya varNa, and those who are steeped in tamas guNa are the Shudra varNa.

For instance, 18-42 says about the Brahmana varNa:

shamO damas tapaha shaucam kshAntir Arjavam Eva ca jnAnam vijnAnam Astikyam brahma-karma svabhAva-jam

The actions of a Brahmana, arising from his own nature, are serenity, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge of the Vedas, wisdom, and firm faith.

Note that this arises from birth ("arising from his own nature"), not nurture. This is the link between guNa and varNa.

So why doesn't this system seem to correspond to reality?

Well, when there is a contradiction, one of the assumptions must be wrong. Maybe the system is wrong?


There is a difference between caste and casteism. The present birth system was done on the basis of breeding specific castes. It was actually an experiment. This was made to ensure that the Gunas or qualities of Brahmins or Kshatriyas come out.

Also earlier some of the Shudras became great saints or warriors. Somewhere down the line, we let somebody else take control or translate our systems and we have the present result. And the Brahmins seem to be Brahmins only by birth, not by qualities, same goes for Kshatriyas or Vaishyas.

You can find Swami Chinmayananda talking about it here and here

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Mr. Alien
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 20:33

The word "caste" is generally translated to the Indian languages by 'jaati'. The word jaati comes from the root "jan", which means birth. So if we accept the word 'jaati', we have to accept that it is determined by birth.

According two Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnath, jati has to be birth-based because of three reasons:

  1. Sraddha kriyas and mantras are mostly Vedic. Sraddha has to be done one day after the ending of Asaochha, "Asauchaantaat dwitiye ahni". The number of days of Asaucha are different for different jatis, as these are mentioned in the Smritis. According to the smritis, caste is birth-based. By the way, a common saying goes as: Satatapa recommended ten days' asaucha for all castes. But Omkarnathji did not find this vachana in Satatapa-samhita.

  2. Smirities are regarded higher than the Puranas in position of authority by the Indian tradition. So even if Mahabharata or some other Puranas say that caste is not bases on birth, we have to accept the injunctions of the smritis in this regard.

  3. Omkarnathji points out that one can be brahmin by birth, but sudra by work.Again one can be sudra by birth but brahmin by work.According to our scriptures, a brahmin without sandhya, gayatri and sadachara becomes fallen.But there is no such rule for sudra. So the Shastras places the sudras in advantageous position. However, Omkarnathji did not accept that sudras can perform the kriyakarmas meant for brahmins.He says if we want to get the fruit of karma according to the satras, we have to follow the rules dictated by the Sastras.

By the way, a sloka is famous which states that one is born always as sudra and sanskaras make him dwija. But in some versions of Taitteriya -Samhita, the sloka reads as:

Janmana brahmano jneyo sanskarad dwija uchchhyate. Vedapathi bhaved vipraha soutriyas trivir uchchyate, meaning: one is born as brahmin by birth, becomes dwija after upanayana, becomes vipra after reading the Vedas and all three together make a Sautriya.

(Reference: M-kar baba, Sitaramdas Omkarnath, Omkarnathn Rachanavali, vol.7)

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