Is there any incidence or statement in the scriptures which shows that varna/caste was not deduced from birth/parentage, and was deduced only from "qualities independent of parentage"(without referring to parentage at all).

The top answer to this question uses this verse as a reference:

catur-varnyam maya srstam
guna-karma-vibhagasah - (BG 4.13)

and says that "They substituted heredity in place of qualities", but doesn't provide any reference to a prior system which didn't consider heredity. All authentic commentaries interpret the word "guna" here to mean that "qualities acquired by birth". So, this verse doesn't seem to fulfill my need.

Also, please note that I'm not asking about the flexibility of varna system.

Please cite direct scriptural references(if possible with links).

Edit: It would do if Shruti(Vedic or Upanishadic) references are provided which show that varna/caste was deduced from birth/parentage, and was not deduced from "qualities independent of parentage".

  • 2
    Heredity is never discounted. Exceptions like Satyakaama were blessed by gurus in spite of heredity not by devaluing or discarding it.
    – user1195
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 2:38
  • 2
    I think the question would be better if you asked for shruti references that show caste is dependent upon parentage. Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 4:28
  • 2
    As said by Swamiji, it would be better if you limit your question to Vedas. As far as i know, Vedas never say Varna is based on birth.
    – The Destroyer
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 5:19
  • @Swami Ji, If I change the question, and if there are no such references in Shrutis, I'll be left without an answer. I would like to hear what Smritis say as well. Obviously, if there is any contradiction, the Shrutis will be valid.
    – SMJoe
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 5:49
  • 1
    You have misunderstood my comment. Change to the following - which shows that varna/caste was deduced from birth/parentage, and was not deduced from "qualities independent of parentage" Commented Apr 8, 2017 at 8:00

6 Answers 6


In 7.11 The Perfect Society: Four Social Classes) of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (Bhāgavata Purāṇa), Nārada Muni says

यस्य यल्लक्षणं प्रोक्तं पुंसो वर्णाभिव्यञ्जकम्।

यदन्यत्रापि दृश्येत तत्तेनैव विनिर्दिशेत् ॥३५

If one shows the symptoms of being a brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya or śūdra, as described above, even if he has appeared [born] in a different class, he should be accepted according to those symptoms of classification.

Vana Parva: Markandeya-Samasya Parva of Mahabharata

A man, may be born in the Sudra caste, but if he is possessed of good qualities, he may attain the state of Vaisya and similarly that of a Kshatriya, and if he is steadfast in rectitude, he may even become a Brahmana.

Vana Parva: Tirtha-yatra Parva of Mahabharata:

Yudhishthira said, '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 a 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.

Santi Parva: Rajadharmanusasana Parva of Mahabharata:

That wretched Brahmana who falls away from his duties and whose behaviour becomes wicked, becomes, O king, a Sudra.

Vana Parva: Tirtha-yatra Parva of Mahabharata:

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.

Few examples are discussed here where varana got changed based on qualities:

  • From the kṣatriya known as Agniveśya came the celebrated brāhmaṇa dynasty known as Āgniveśyāyana. (Source: Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (Bhāgavata Purāṇa) 9.2)

  • In addition to these nineteen sons mentioned above, there were eighty-one younger ones, all born of Ṛṣabhadeva and Jayantī. According to the order of their father, they became well-cultured, well-behaved, very pure in their activities and expert in Vedic knowledge and the performance of Vedic rituals. Thus they all became perfectly qualified brāhmaṇas [from kṣatriyas]. (Source: Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (Bhāgavata Purāṇa) 5.4.13

  • From the son of Manu named Dhṛṣṭa came a kṣatriya caste called Dhārṣṭa. Although the Dhārṣṭas belonged to the kṣatriya caste, they were able to convert themselves into brāhmaṇas. (Source : Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (Bhāgavata Purāṇa) 9.2.17)

  • Vishvamitra was a kshatriya king earlier. Later, he undertook intense penance and attained brahminhood. This is discussed here.

  • 4
    This is the best answer! Commented Sep 15, 2018 at 18:10
  • 4
    In this system there will be no Upanyana, the fundamental Vedic Samskara.. Because how will people determine the Gunas of a 8 yr old kid or that of a 11 yr old kid? So theories like this are only good to read in forums but they can't be followed in practice
    – Rickross
    Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 6:28
  • 4
    It is not followed never ever was followed and the reason for that is simple: it is impractical to be followed. Gunas can change within no time.. for e.g a person who is engrossed in grief has become a Sudra.. Take for e.g Rama lamenting for Sita or for Lakshmana.. Did Rama's Varna changed to Sudra from Kshatriya on those times? Rules of initiations can not depend on subtle and occasional changes of Guna.. Also we can not always know what our nature is in truth how will others determine it? No scriptures gave the rules for such tests either.
    – Rickross
    Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 10:24
  • 3
    @Rickross I think Rama lamenting for Sita or for Lakshmana is not the right example or not the enough to declare someone Sudra..But there are many examples for varna change...if someone did something that is permitted to other varna then 1)they had to do something to overcome from that or 2)they were outcasted or 3)they were cursed or 4)their varna got changed...
    – YDS
    Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 10:46
  • 3
    Yes that is enough because of the etymology of Sudra... Guna based system is absurd for practicing that's why it is not followed.. @YDS
    – Rickross
    Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 12:30

There is one reference in Mahabharata that clearly states that Varna is independent of birth and specifies conduct to be the only ground.

Maheshwara said, ‘..Neither birth, nor the purificatory rites, nor learning, nor offspring, can be regarded as grounds for conferring upon one the regenerate status. Verily, the 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 a Brahma, O auspicious lady [Uma], is equal wherever it exists. Even this is my opinion. He, indeed, is a Brahmana in which the status of Brahma exists – that condition which is bereft of attributes and which has no stain attached to it. of human beings in four orders dependent on birth is only for purposes of classification.The boon giving Brahma, when he created all creatures, himself said that the distribution of human beings in four orders dependent on birth is only for purposes of classification.'

Mahabharata Anusasana Parva Section CXLIII

Moreover the birth based caste system is an invalid system since it violates the guidelines given in Hindu scriptures.


Everything written in Hindu scripture is not valid. A scriptural statement can be invalid if it does not satisfy reason.

Primacy of reason

Bhishma Said:

Even the words heard from an ignorant person, if in themselves they be fraught with sense, come to be regarded as pious and wise. In days of old, Usanas said unto the Daityas this truth, which should remove all doubts, that scriptures are no scriptures if they cannot stand the test of reason.

Mahabharata Shanti Parva Section CXLII

Acharya Shankara says:

The appeal to the infallibility of the Vedic injunction is misconceived. The infallibility in question refers only to the unseen forces or apurva, and is admissible only in regards to matters not confined to the sphere of direct perceptions, etc ... Even a hundred statements of sruti to the effect that fire is cold and non-luminous won't prove valid. If it does make such a statement, its import will have to be interpreted differently. Otherwise, validity won't attach to it. Nothing in conflict with the means of valid cognition or with its own statements may be imputed to sruti.

REF: Srimad Bhagavad Gita Bhasya 18.66 of Sri Sankaracarya translation by Dr. A. G. Krishna Warrier, p. 629.

Rejection of discriminatory verses

Any discriminatory verse in Hindu scripture is also automatically invalid according to Hindu scripture and should not be followed. This is necessary because Hinduism is not an organized dharma and does not have any central body to oversee the content of Hindu spiritual texts.

If a holy act is against the interest of other members of the society, it should not be practiced. It is Dharma which is the source of Artha and even of Kama.

Kurma Purana I.2.54

The implication of the Kurma Purana verse is that the hereditary caste system practiced by Hindus is an invalid system on the grounds of discrimination.

  • 5
    It does not mean birth is not a requirement. It means birth ALONE is not sufficient. Birth (to brahmin parents) + Purificatory rites (samskara) + learning (vedas) + CONDUCT (achara & anushtana) are required. You're misinterpreting. When Vedas say 'na karmana na prajaya' - meaning you cannot attain moksha by karma or progeny etc. they mean you cannot attain moksha by those ALONE. it does not mean you can simply neglect all of them.
    – ram
    Commented Sep 15, 2018 at 15:55
  • 4
    You are inserting the word alone arbitrarily to justify your stand. The word is not there in the quotation I provided. Commented Sep 15, 2018 at 23:33
  • 2
    by that logic, you can teach a fish or a deer gayatri mantra and karma yoga and good conduct. you can try all you want, but it won't be of much use. you're confusing the 'anyone can attain moksha' statement, with 'everyone can attain moksha'. do you really think people got a dvija birth by chance ? good conduct in previous life leads to good birth in this life. good birth in this life implies good conduct in previous life. i've repeated this many times - very rare exceptions for changing varna exist, but telling everyone they're eligible for vedas is highly misleading
    – ram
    Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 3:23
  • 2
    Very sad that you equate human beings with fish and deer. Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 13:31
  • 3
    @PradipGangopadhyay How and who will even determine what someone's caste is based on their qualities? And what if you exhibit qualities of all 4 castes? Therefore, the guna based caste system is refuted.
    – Ikshvaku
    Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 0:35

If we say varnas can be determined entirely neglecting the birth factor then that will clearly contradict the Purusha Suktam which says how the four castes came out of (or born of) four parts of the Purusha's body.

enter image description here

brāhmaṇo'sya mukhamāsīd bāhū rājanyaḥ kṛtaḥ, ūrū tadasya yad vaiśyaḥ padbhyāgï śūdro ajāyata.

The Brahmana (spiritual wisdom and splendour) was His mouth; the Kshatriya (administrative and military prowess) His arms became. His thighs were the Vaisya (commercial and business enterprise); of His feet the Sudra (productive and sustaining force) was born.

So, the varnas very much depend on how they were born to start with. Then how can we expect that varnas can be decided by entirely neglecting the birth factor?

For example, the Sudras are the ones who were born out of the Purusha's feet. So, the birth factor is the first deciding factor for determining the varnas. Then how can we ignore it?

Then of course come the Samskara and the conduct factors. Because the scriptures say that everyone is a Sudra by birth; & one becomes a Dvija only by Samskaras.

See, the following verse from Manu Smriti, that says birth, samskara (purificatory rituals) and conduct all collectively determine a Brahmin. The purport is all those three factors are important and we can't neglect anyone of them.

Manu Smriti 10.3. On account of his pre-eminence, on account of the superiority of his origin, on account of his observance of (particular) restrictive rules, and on account of his particular sanctification the Brahmana is the lord of (all) castes (varna).

  • 2
    At many places .. For example : 2.172. (He who has not been initiated) should not pronounce (any) Vedic text excepting (those required for) the performance of funeral rites, since he is on a level with a Sudra before his birth from the Veda.-Manu @KeshavSrinivasan
    – Rickross
    Commented Apr 8, 2017 at 15:59
  • 2
    OK, but "on a level with a Sudra" is not the same as being one, it just means that he has no more right to chant the Vedas than a Sudra does. Commented Apr 8, 2017 at 16:36
  • 2
    You are saying actual literal first brahmin man, first kshatriya man etc were born out of various parts of purusha? Not mental qualities which are characteristic of four varna? Medatithi seems to take that account as metaphorical not literal. wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/…
    – Aks
    Commented Apr 8, 2017 at 18:39
  • 2
    @KeshavSrinivasan That is not the only verse which says so. There are many other verses with similar purport.
    – Rickross
    Commented Apr 9, 2017 at 5:16
  • 8
    @Rickross I can't quite agree with the main argument presented. The Varnas originating from 4 parts of Purusha's body is completely different from a sudra being born from another sudra. One happens once during creation, while the other is literally happening each time a child is born. Birth is important, but because it is decided based on the guna-karma of a the soul being born, and not the other way around. Based on the qualities and nature/karma of a soul, it is born in an appropriate family. That does not completely determine soul's fate though, since there is always free will. Commented Apr 9, 2017 at 11:57

Yes, hereditary occupations eventually makes for a caste (varṇa) within 7th generation if followed successively generation after generation.

Yājñavalkya (1.96).—‘Caste becomes elevated during the fifth or the seventh generation; similarly after five or seven generations one acquires that caste of which he has followed the occupations.

And this makes complete sense, for example (might not take literally), it's obviously impossible that all of my forefather since creation or even current manvantra have been Kṣatriya-s. Of course, I have a record of all my paternal ancestors back to the mighty Jayachandra but I don't have any proof that they all married within the same varṇa? Moreover, what about ancestors prior to the Jayachandra?

  • Just 2-3 out of topic history questions (may ask more when you reply)- 1. Did Jaychand hold sway over Panchala (Rohilkhand) kingdom and Awadh (Kosala) kingdom, was he originally Kannauji or Awadhi? 2. Did his dynasty end (apparently not as per your answer) with Muslim invasion, if survived, then what was their post, did they form part of the Muslim army or subedar, etc? 3. what was the traditional extent of the Panchala Kingdom (between which rivers or minor hills?)
    – Adiyarkku
    Commented Mar 22, 2021 at 14:03
  • 1
    @Archit 1. Kannauj 2. All the Rathores are his descandants. (At least Rajputs have records of their ancestors that goes back to their ancestors like Prithviraj Chauhan, Jaichand, etc.) 3. That was different in different point of time. Commented Mar 22, 2021 at 15:07
  • Thank you. 3. What were the boundaries roughly speaking? I thought Rathores were from Rashtrakutas of Maharashtra and Kuntala
    – Adiyarkku
    Commented Mar 22, 2021 at 18:40
  • 1
    @Archit I am not sure, TBH. Commented Mar 23, 2021 at 4:01

Not by birth are the Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaisya, Sudra and Mlechchha separated, but by virtues and works. - Sukra Niti (Sukracharya's system of morals) 1.75-76

(references are to lines, not to slokas)


  • Sukra-Niti-Sara translated by Prof. Benoy Kumar Sarkar. Series - The Sacred Books of the Hindus. Vol. XIII (Part I and II), 1913.

Varnashram is Based on Guna and Karma. Ones Svabhav as well as Karma is the basis of ones Varna. It's neither birth nor Choice. Based on activities of past life, one gets a particular Varna Svabhav in this life and is expected to work acc to ones inate nature. Acc to Dharma Shastras and Puranas this Svabhav can be passed on from Father to son but it still doesn't make birth an independent factor. If a Pure Bramhan and a Pure Bramhana unite within a Marriage (Anulom Vivah) and Perform the 10 Samskaras then generally in their house those children are born who are destined to have Bramhan Svabhav based on their past lives karma's. However if the Samskaras are not performed then the child born is Bramha Bandhu and doesn't generally exhibit Bramhminical Qualities, similarly if Marriage was not done in Same Varna then they give birth to a Population of Varna Sankar. In all circumstances the Svabhav and Karma are the primary Factor, if even after Anulom Vivah and Samskaras the child born shows the Quality Different then that of parents then the child should be encouraged to take up the karma of the Varna that the child is showing Lakshanas of (Srimad Bhagvatam 7.11.35).

In Kaliyug the entire population is of Varna Sankar, Shudras and Bramha Bandhus therefore the only way to identify the Varna is by looking at the symptoms of the child. No other way.

Therefore some verses which talk about birth in context of Varna are about that birth that happened after Anulom Vivah and 10 Samskaras. And Primary Factor is always Qualities and Karma. If a person lacks Qualities of that Varna then they Disrupt that Varnashram System.

Hari Bhaktas are not bound by Apa Shudra Adhikaran so they should never be considered low born no matter what.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .