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".

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    Heredity is never discounted. Exceptions like Satyakaama were blessed by gurus in spite of heredity not by devaluing or discarding it.
    – user1195
    Apr 7 '17 at 2:38
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    I think the question would be better if you asked for shruti references that show caste is dependent upon parentage. Apr 7 '17 at 4:28
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    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
    Apr 7 '17 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
    Apr 7 '17 at 5:49
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    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" Apr 8 '17 at 8:00

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.

  • 5
    Thousands of Shudras have I encountered, haven't I got any single Shudra who showed Brahminical charm so far. Sep 15 '18 at 17:31
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    This is the best answer! Sep 15 '18 at 18:10
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    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
    Sep 16 '18 at 6:28
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    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
    Sep 16 '18 at 10:24
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    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
    Sep 16 '18 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

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    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.
    – mar
    Sep 15 '18 at 15:55
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    You are inserting the word alone arbitrarily to justify your stand. The word is not there in the quotation I provided. Sep 15 '18 at 23:33
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    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
    – mar
    Sep 16 '18 at 3:23
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    Very sad that you equate human beings with fish and deer. Sep 17 '18 at 13:31
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    @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
    Jan 10 '19 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.

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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).

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    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
    Apr 8 '17 at 15:59
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    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. Apr 8 '17 at 16:36
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    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
    Apr 8 '17 at 18:39
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    @KeshavSrinivasan That is not the only verse which says so. There are many other verses with similar purport.
    – Rickross
    Apr 9 '17 at 5:16
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    @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. Apr 9 '17 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
    Mar 22 at 14:03
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    @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. Mar 22 at 15:07
  • Thank you. 3. What were the boundaries roughly speaking? I thought Rathores were from Rashtrakutas of Maharashtra and Kuntala
    – Adiyarkku
    Mar 22 at 18:40
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    @Archit I am not sure, TBH. Mar 23 at 4:01

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