Do Sruti texts mention birth-based or guna-based varna?[1].

To elaborate (further), are there any instances in Śruti scriptures which explicitly support either or both of birth-based varna and guna-based varna?

Note: I understand that there is already a question regarding Birth-based alone since its OP was only interested in that aspect but this question is asking a more holistic question and hence not duplicate. Thanks.

[1]: Shout out to user ram for the inspiration.

  • This question needs to be sharpened. Both the varna and jati depend on birth. Varna depends on the guna and karma of previous life that is inherited at birth. Jati depends only on birth in an endogamous group and the guna and karma of previous life don't matter. The question should replace birth-based varna by birth in an endogamous group based Varna.. Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 4:01

4 Answers 4


Shukla Yajurveda clearly mentions varna as birth-based. As per Shukla Yajurveda 22.22 -(translation of T.H. Griffith from The Texts of White Yajurveda)- O Brahman! Let there be born in the kingdom the Brahmin illustrious for religious knowledge; let there be born the Rajanya, heroic, skilled archer, piercing with shafts, mighty warriors; the cow giving abundant milk; the ox good at carrying; the swift courser; the industrious woman.

Here birth is explicitly mentioned with the word JAAYATAAM. Varnas have been practiced as birth -based since at least Treta Yuga for all 4 varnas and was accepted and practiced by kings and rishis alike for two Yugas...! Moreover, we have to take karma theory too into consideration. Hence varnas are definitely birth-based.


Do Sruti texts mention either or both of birth-based varna and guna-based varna?

There are several Sruti texts that state Varna is based on birth. I've listed a few below:

Chhandogya Upanishad 5.10.7 - Those whose conduct has been good here will shortly get birth such as a Brahmana (brahmana yonim), a kshatriya, or a vaishya. But those whose conduct has been evil will be born in evil births shortly such as the birth of a dog (shva yonim), or as a pig, or a chandala.

The word used is "yonim", and it means birth or womb, and is used to refer to birth as a dog (shva), and pig, and since it's also used along with the names of castes, it must be taken to mean that one is born into those castes just like animals, so it doesn't merely mean being born as a person with Brahmanical qualities. It means being born into the womb (yoni) of a Brahmin, and a person born into such a womb naturally acquires Brahminical qualities due to gene transfer.

Maitrayani Samhita 1.4.1 - We know not if we are brahmins or non-Brahmins. ...Therefore, when recounting our gotra-pravaras, say that the devas are our fathers.

This verse from the Maitrayani shakha of the Krishna Yajur Veda is referred to in Jaimini's Mimamsa Sutras, and commented on by Shabara swami. The sutra reads:

On account of the failings of women, (there can be no certainty regarding one's caste); specially as the son belongs to the progenitor.

This sutra is based on the Maitrayani samhita verse. Shabara comments on the sutra as follows:

The meaning of the eulogistic passage is that even a non-Brahmana would become a Brahmana by the recounting of his pravaras [meaning a non-Brahmana can claim he is a Brahmana by recounting Brahmanical gotra pravaras, and hence it is necessary for the Brahmana to also recount his pravaras, as one can never be sure of one's Brahmanahood]. It is difficult to know if one is really a Brahmana; - and this is what is figuratively spoken of as 'we do not know'; and the difficulty in knowing it for certain is due to the 'failings of women'.

This vedic verse shows that caste is determined by gotra pravaras (ancestral lineages), and hence caste is inherited and based on birth.

If caste was determined by guna or self-identification/self-claiming, like the followers of Vivekananda and reformist Vedantins believe, then this verse would not mention gotra pravaras at all since it wouldn't be relevant.

And another verse is from the Ashwamedha section of the Taittiriya Brahmana, which reads:

‘When a Sudra woman is the mistress of an Arya, she does not seek wealth for prosperity’. Therefore they (the priests) do not bestow royal consecration on the son of a Vaishya woman."

This shows that only kshatriyas by birth are allowed to be consecrated as kings, and no other caste.

The pre-Ramanuja Sri Vaishnava scholar Yamunacharya has stated:

Every man has some Vedic rites for which he is not qualified: the Brahmin is not qualified for the royal consecration, the Kshatriya for the ritual drinking of soma.

So it is proven that the Vedas talk about a birth-based caste system.

  • Please clarify what do you mean when you say caste? I have explicitly asked regarding varna i.e., classification into Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra, etc,. Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 7:09
  • 1
    @DirghaChintayanti By caste I mean varna; Brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya, shudra, etc.
    – Ikshvaku
    Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 11:35
  • 2
    Excellent answer
    – user22253
    Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 9:31

First of all, Krishna Yajurveda is mixed with the Brahmana portion. Purusha Sukta is talking about the creation of 4 Varnas obviously not humans because we came with Manu and the Saptrishis. Rig Veda 9.63 says:

इन्द्रं वर्धन्तो अप्तुर: कृण्वन्तो विश्वमार्यम् । अपघ्नन्तो अराव्णः ॥

This is a prayer to make all humans Aryas. So when Krishna Yajurveda is making a distinction between Shudra & Arya it means bad people and noble people. Of course, birth is as per karma but this is a very clear message from the Veda itself that Varna can be changed! Now if we see Upanishads or Brahmanas we almost always get the same picture. Look at Chandogya Upanishad talks about the initiation story of another Upanishad's author:

Gautama asked him, ‘O Somya, what is your lineage?’ Satyakāma said: ‘Sir, I do not know what my lineage is. When I asked my mother, she said to me: “I was very busy serving many people when I was young, and I had you. As this was the situation, I know nothing about your lineage. My name is Jabālā, and your name is Satyakāma.” So, sir, I am Satyakāma Jābāla’. Gautama said to him: ‘No non-brāhmin could speak like this.

So the son of a highly impure shudra woman and unknown man was declared Brahmin. Now look at the story of Vedic author Vatsa found in Tandya Brahmana 14.6.6, Jaiminiya Brahmana 3.234:

The two sons of Kanva, Medhatithi and Trioka, contended about the sacred lore (brahman). They said : ' Come, let us cross the flaming fire'. They crossed the flaming fire. Tris'oka crossed over it (unharmed), but of the other it scorched the eye-lashes. Ho (Trisoka) said to him (to Medhatithi) : ' I have vanquished thee '. ' No ', said he, 'thou art the son of an Asura-mother ; even the deities have not wished to touch thee'. Then, they (said): 'Come, let us cross the water'. They crossed the flowing Rathaspa. Tris'oka crossed over it (unharmed), but of the other the rims of his cart were moistened by the water of the Rathaspa (translation uncertain, text corrupted !). He (TriSoka) said to him (to Medhatithi): 'I have vanquished thee'.

let us walk according to the rite through fire (to decide) which of us two is the better brahmin

Agni preferred Shudra's son. Shudra's son was a superior Brahmin compared to birth-Brahmin. Another example from the Brahmanas is in Kausitaki Brāhmana 12.3 and Aitareya Brāhmana 8.19

"You are the son of a female slave. We will not eat with you" (dāsya vai tvam putro si na vayam tvaya saha bhaksayisyama iti). Kavasa became angry and ran away. He recited a hymn of praise to Sarasvati, who then followed after him: sarasvatim etena suktena tustava tam heyam iyaya. Realizing what had happened, the surprised seers hurried to him to express their reverence: "0 seer, homage be to you. Do not harm us. You indeed are the best of us...

Saraswati considers a Shudra's son superior to all birth-Brahmins combined at being a Brahmin. The birth-Brahmins also accept they are inferior to him. He authored a part of Rig Veda. There are 108 canonical Upanishads as per Muktika Upanishad. One of them is Vajrasuchika Upanishad which says

It is said that a Brahmana is so because of his caste. This is not acceptable because there are diverse communities in the world... ...Among these many have attained the highest rank, despite of their lower birth and given proof of their wisdom. Therefore a Brahmana is not so because of his community.

Self-explanatory. I have given examples from 7 Vedic texts against birth-based system.

  • pl give citations from Chandogya Upanishad as well as Vajrasuchika Upanishad Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 19:13
  • R. Kaushik—King Manu and Saptarishis are not Almighty to have CREATED humans. Manu ji was mind born son of Brahma..s your argument is wrong. Secondly when P. Sukta is showing exactly which varna emerged from which part of His body it isus humans that are being talked about!!! Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 20:02
  • Vedas are Apaurusheya and only compiled by Veda Vyasa so question of who AUTHORED the Veda does not arise! Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 20:05
  • No, as per Puraan all humanity started with Manu, his wife and children, along with Saptrishis. These people changed varnas/classifications according to their work. In fact, according to Puraan distinction between varnas was also started much later than the original days........ Manusmriti has TOTALLY DIFFERENT origin story (humans from body parts. this also has different interpretations by commentators like Medhātithi) but it is worthless because Vedas themselves declare only Itihaas-Puraan as eternal, divine or FIFTH VEDA.
    – R. Kaushik
    Commented Nov 24, 2020 at 5:46
  • Exclamation marks =/= argument. The fact is MANY THINGS IN UNIVERSE HAVE VARNA.............. Even Gods have it like Sun is kshatriya varna but his own son Saturn is of shudra varna. Shukra is Brahmin and his daughter married a kshatriya. Budh is vaishya. Gemstones also have varna. Rashi and nakshatra have varna too.
    – R. Kaushik
    Commented Nov 24, 2020 at 6:01

In the Shruti there is no clear thing written about Varna, but I have some reference about it. As per the Shruti, There was only one Varna Brahmana and they were later divided by the Brahmin.

  • Brihadarankya Upanishad1:4:11-13
  1. Verily in the beginning this was Brahman, oneonly. That being one, was not strong enough. It created still further the most excellent Kshatra (power), viz. those Kshatras (powers) among the Devas,--Indra, Varuna, Soma, Rudra, Parganya, Yama, Mrityu, Îsâna. Therefore there is nothing beyond the Kshatra, and therefore at the Râgasûya sacrifice the Brâhmana sits down below the Kshatriya. He confers that glory on the Kshatra alone. But Brahman is the birth-place of the Kshatra. Therefore though a king is exalted, he sits down at the end (of the sacrifice) below the Brahman, as his birth-place. He who injures him, injures his own birth-place. He becomes worse, because he has injured one better than himself.
  2. He was not strong enough. He created the Vis (people), the classes of Devas which in their different orders are called Vasus, Rudras, Âdityas, Visve Devas, Maruts.
  3. He was not strong enough. He created the Sûdra colour (caste), as Pûshan (as nourisher). This earth verily is Pûshan (the nourisher); for the earth nourishes all this whatsoever.

Brihadarankya not tell about the reason of their division. It is explained here by sage Bhrigu that they were separated because of there KARMA.

Maxmuller, one of the earliest translators of Shruti texts accepted about Varna that it was not birth based.

It is admitted on all hands by all western scholars also that in the most ancient. Vedic religion, there was no caste system based on birth. — (Prof. Max Muller writes in ‘Chips from a German Workshop’ Vol. 11, P. 837)]

  • 2
    Maxmuller's translations are not accepted as authority by any Vedic scholar (who actually learns Vedas at patashalas) in India. Those who are interested in accepting a westerner's interpretation as truth are free to do so at their own safety/peril.
    – ram
    Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 5:27
  • @ram I know that he was a paid scholar. Where I used his translation? Can you tell me? Commented Jun 30, 2020 at 2:32
  • 1
    it's in your own answer: "Maxmuller, one of the earliest translators of Shruti texts accepted about Varna that it was not birth based."
    – ram
    Commented Jun 30, 2020 at 3:29
  • @ram was I wrong? It is true that he translated Shruti texts. It is another thing that it is not acccepted by scholars. Commented Jun 30, 2020 at 3:58

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