Which of the following have caste?

  1. The physical body including the brain

After allowing for environmental factors like discrimination, do castes have distinguishable bodily characteristics and brain capacity?

  1. The mind

The quality of the mind - in particular qualities arising from early childhood influences.

  1. The Atma
  • Your might want to edit the second option. Mind (manas) is not same as brain in Hinduism. Brain is surely physical but not the same with manas.
    – Lokesh
    Mar 12, 2020 at 17:41
  • mind (manas) falls under 'physical' body just like brain does.
    – ram
    Mar 12, 2020 at 22:45
  • @ram then what do you call that which travels across bodies at time of death?
    – Lokesh
    Mar 13, 2020 at 2:39
  • @Lokesh, that's called Atma
    – ram
    Mar 13, 2020 at 4:04
  • @ram No, that's called Jiva. Atman is pure and doesn't live under illusion.
    – Lokesh
    Mar 13, 2020 at 8:15

4 Answers 4


Where exactly does a person's caste reside?

This is an excellent question, and it has been satisfactorily answered by Vedanta Desikan in the Rahasya Traya Sara:

It has been said, "Tamas is found in great measure in the Shudra, rajas in the kshatriya, and sattvam in the Brahmin." Owing to the preponderance of such qualities as sattva, in the body, a man is entitled to be called a Brahmin, a kshatriya and the like.


The qualities of caste pertaining to the body which are due to the special qualities of the body arise even at the time of birth and remain until death.


The Brahmin-like qualities which arise out of the preponderance of sattvam in the mind may be present in all castes. In such as Prahlada, they are present even at the time of birth. In others, owing to such specific causes as contact with acharyas, these mental qualities are acquired later.

  • here, body includes mind. both are prakriti.
    – ram
    Mar 12, 2020 at 22:44
  • 'It has been said, "Tamas is found in great measure in the Shudra, rajas in the kshatriya, and sattvam in the Brahmin."' - who said it?
    – S K
    Mar 13, 2020 at 0:33
  • Rajas increases in body when you eat onion, garlic etc. Would you say, that time person becomes kshatriya?
    – Lokesh
    Mar 13, 2020 at 2:48
  • 1
    @Lokesh, and if you continue to do it, then in the next birth, you will be demoted to a lower life form. like if you fail 9th standard, you either have to repeat it, or worse go down to 8th standard to learn more
    – ram
    Mar 13, 2020 at 4:11
  • 1
    @ram Sure, body and mind are both made of prakriti but here Desikan is saying that caste resides in the physical body as a particular guna, whereas the sukshma manas can change it's guna based on environment.
    – Ikshvaku
    Mar 13, 2020 at 15:23

The short answer to your question: in the body.

Mahabharatha, Aswamedha parva (40.11)

“Tamas is found in great measure in the sudra, rajas in the Kshatriya, sattva in Brahmin”

Ramanuja’s commentary on Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18.41.-47 states

The deeds of the past determine the present dispositions of men. These dispositions bring about the relative potencies of the Guṇas in each case. The Brāhmaṇa has Sattva dominating over Rajas and Tamas. The Kṣatriya has Rajas in predominance and the other two stand suppressed. In the Vaiśya Rajas and Sattva are subdued and Tamas is slightly dominant. In the Śūdras Tamas is very dominant and the other two are overpowered. The Śāstras properly lay down these qualitative demarcations and formulate the corresponding obligations and occupations of the four groups of men.

According to Vedanta Desika (Srimad-Rahasyatrayasara, Chapter 25)


The qualities of caste pertaining to the body are due to the special qualities of the body, arise at birth and remains until death. However, a person can have the predominance of Tamas in the composition of his body but can very well obtain the quality of sattva in his mind.

The above chapter exclusively talks about the sattvam of the body and the sattvam of the mind and how they are different. The body in the above verse refers only to the body and not to the body-mind complex (or that body includes the mind). Accordingly, the guna of the body can not be changed till death but the guna can be changed in the mind.

Vishnu Purana (6.2.6) extols a person though have a body of Sudra becomes accomplished due to Jnana.

  • I begg to disagree here. There is no proof for Tamas more in Physical Body of a Sudra than Physical Body of a Bramhana. Vajrasuchi says all have similar bodies. Only mental qualities matter. And when a Sudra knows or realises Brahman he verify becomes Brahman. Jun 15, 2021 at 6:04
  • Then is the body the Brahmin? No, it is not so, because the body which is composed of the five elements, is the same in all classes of human beings down to the chandalas (outcastes), etc. And it is also observed that old age and death, virtue [dharma] and vice [adharma] are found to be common to all human beings. There is also no absolute distinction (in the complexion of the four classes) that the Brahmin is of the white complexion, that the Kshatriya is of the red complexion, that the Vaishya is of the tawny complexion, that the Sudra is of the dark complexion. Verse 5 Vajrasuchi Up Jun 15, 2021 at 6:06
  • @SethuSrivatsaKoduru I do not know. I just quoted from Ramanuja and Vedanta Desika because of what one of my friends, who is a Sri Vaishnava told me. There is no question when anyone (including a cow) realises Brahman, he verily becomes Brahman.
    Jun 15, 2021 at 12:03

TLDR, Short answer: Vedic Caste is by birth, as it is by birth, it is in body, as soul can take birth in different castes, the caste cannot be in soul. So the caste is in body and it is by birth.

A person of higher caste can loose his/her caste without proper practices and behaviour. But one cannot ascend caste hierarchy by good practices in the same birth, but doing so one can be born in higher castes in next births.

The objection that caste cannot be of the body as it is all panchatattva is meaningless. As caste itself is a feature of the panchatattva body. The Trigunas themselves belong to panchatattvas and matter.

सत्त्वं रजस्तम इति गुणा: प्रकृतिसम्भवा: | निबध्नन्ति महाबाहो देहे देहिनमव्ययम् ||14.5||

O mighty-armed Arjun, the material energy consists of three guṇas (modes)—sattva (goodness), rajas (passion), and tamas (ignorance). These modes bind the eternal soul to the perishable body

-Bhagavad Gita 14.5

Let's understand this with some examples:

It's like asking where is the colour a person, and if the answer is it is in the body in the form of skin. You can't say, "it cannot be so, as all bodies and skins are made of panchatattva and all panchatattva are same", because the way panchatattva is combined in different proportion and structure gives different colour. Colour itself is the feature of the panchatattva.

Why is onion tamasic and wheat is sattvic? It's all panchatattva. But it's difference in quality belongs to the panchatattva itself.

Why is Gold and Iron different? It is all panchatattva. But the difference itself is a feature of panchatattva.

In the same way caste is a feature of the body like hair(Straight or Curly), colour(Dark and Light), height(Short and Tall), gender(Male and Female) etc, caste(Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra) is an attribute of body itself.

Long answer :

First of all, many scriptures which speak against birth based caste system, often are not considered necessarily authentic. For Eg: Vajra Suchika Upanishad, speaks against caste system, may not be considered authentic Upanishad by many. It is attributed to Shankaraacharya in some 18th century manuscript. It even has some association with Buddhism.

The date as well as the author of Vajrasuchi Upanishad is unclear. The Upanishad is attributed to Sankaracharya in the manuscripts discovered by early 1800s

The relationship between the Vajrasuchi text of Buddhism and Vajrasuchi Upanishad of Hinduism has long been of interest to scholars.


So the authenticity of this Upanishad is questionable, as also no accepted great Vedanta Acharya has written a commentry on this.

So to know the authentic opinion of Vedic Hinduism, we need to look at accepted authentic main stream Vedic Hinduism.

Vedic religion is understood by:

1. Vedas and Upanishads
2. Bhagavad Gita
3. Brahma Sutras and Acharyas works

This is called Prasthana Traya, which is mainstream Vedic religion.

We can also use the following as supporting evidence.

4. Itihaasa (Mahabharata)
5. Smrutis
6. Puranas

This is Vedic Hinduism.

One important thing to note is body is birth related. So wherever birth or yoni is mentioned we can infer that it is related to body. A soul is never born and knowledge of the mind can change through learning and forgetting, richness and respect can change through money and society, but body is always linked to birth. Things like Race and Gender and Heridetary diseases and strengths are related to birth and to this list Caste is to be added as Caste is birth related. We can see that only bodily features are birth related, therefore Caste belongs to body.

  1. Chandogya Upanishad

तद्य इह रमणीयचरणा अभ्याशो ह यत्ते रमणीयां योनिमापद्येरन्ब्राह्मणयोनिं वा क्षत्रिययोनिं वा वैश्ययोनिं वाथ य इह कपूयचरणा अभ्याशो ह यत्ते कपूयां योनिमापद्येरञ्श्वयोनिं वा सूकरयोनिं वा चण्डालयोनिं वा ॥ ५.१०.७ ॥

  1. Among them, those who did good work in this world [in their past life] attain a good birth accordingly. They are born as a brāhmin, a kṣatriya, or a vaiśya. But those who did bad work in this world [in their past life] attain a bad birth accordingly, being born as a dog, a pig, or as a casteless person. - 5.10.7
  1. Bhagavad Gita

मां हि पार्थ व्यपाश्रित्य येऽपि स्यु: पापयोनय: | स्त्रियो
वैश्यास्तथा शूद्रास्तेऽपि यान्ति परां गतिम् ॥9.32॥

For, O son of Prtha, even those who are born of sin-women, Vaisyas, as also Sudras, even they reach the highest Goal by taking shelter under Me. - 9.32

  1. Brahma Sutras, Samanvaya Adhyaya, Apasudradhikaranam: Topic 9 (Sutras 34-38)

Relevant extracts from Adi Shankaracharya Bhashya.

A Sudra by birth cannot have Upanayana and other Samskaras without which the Vedas cannot be studied. Hence the Sudras are not entitled to the study of the Vedas.

  1. Mahabharata

केन वा कर्मणा विप्रः शूद्रयॊनौ परजायते कषत्रियः शूद्र ताम एति केन वा कर्मणा विभॊ 13.131.4

Through what acts does a Brahmana take birth in his next life, in the Sudra order? Through what acts, O puissant deity, does a Kshatriya also descend to the status of Sudra

बराह्मण्यं देवि दुष्प्रापं निसर्गाद बराह्मणः शुभे कषत्रियॊ वैश्यशूद्रौ वा निसर्गाद इति मे मतिः 13.131.6

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

Kisari Mohan Ganguli writes,

Nisargat is literally through creation or original nature, or birth. Of course, what is implied is that one becomes a Brahmana, or Kshatriya, or Vaisya or Sudra, through original creation as such, by the Self-born, that is, birth.” Translation Reference - Book 13 Chapter 143

  1. Smritis

Manu Smriti - Uses the Jaati for caste, which literally means Birth

जातिमात्रोपजीवी वा कामं स्याद् ब्राह्मणब्रुवः । धर्मप्रवक्ता नृपतेर्न शूद्रः कथं चन ?? ॥ 8.20 ॥

A Brahmana who is only a Brahman by decent, one has neither studied nor performed any other act required by the Vedas may, at the king’s pleasure, interpret the law to him, act as the judge, but never a Shudra.”(however learned he may be). - 8.20

सर्ववर्णेषु तुल्यासु पत्नीष्वक्षतयोनिषु । आनुलोम्येन सम्भूता जात्या ज्ञेयास्त एव ते ॥10.5॥

Among all castes, those only who are born of consorts wedded in the natural order, as virgins of equal status, are to be regarded as the same (as their father)

Apastamba Dharma-sutra (There are) four castes--Brāhmaṇas, Kṣatriyas, Vaiśyas, and Śūdras. Amongst these, each preceding (caste) is superior by birth to the one following.

Yājñavalkya Smruti

Children born to men of a certain caste from women of the same caste, are also of the same caste;—sons born of unblamable marriages are the perpetuators of the race - 1.20

Vishnu Smriti

Sons [begotten] on women equal in caste [to their husbands] are equal in caste [to their fathers]. [Sons begotten] on women of lower castes, become of the caste of their mothers. Sons begotten on women of higher castes are despised by the twice-born. - 16.1-3

  1. Puranas

Shiva Purana

O excellent sage, birth as a man is very difficult to obtain; especially that as a Brahmin - Uma Samhita 44.13

Agni Purana

Since the binding of the girdle of the muñja grass (at the time of investiture of the sacred thread), the brahmins and others (are supposed to) take a second birth. One’s caste is decided from that of the mother in the natural order of castes. 150.10

Contrary to the natural order the son of a brahmin woman through a śūdra (is known as) Caṇḍāla, from a kṣatriya (as) sūta and from a vaiśya (as) devala. 150.11

It is clear that, from all these sources that caste has birth as a necessary condition and not sufficient condition.

That is caste = Birth + Rituals + Behaviour. Even if one of it is missing a person will loose the caste. It is a necessary condition and not a sufficient condition.

Given that ritual and behaviour can be practiced and cultivated by anyone the necessary condition for caste becomes body and birth. Therefore caste is in body.

  • @hanugm example what? No answer to tells it properly. Give link to the answer and the specific verse. The Shiva Purana which states caste conversion, doesn't specify whether it's in the same birth or next birth. So caste of the body cannot be changed when there are many sources which say it is from birth.
    – user28152
    Aug 1, 2022 at 6:48
  • @hanugm but why are assuming that it will happen in the same birth. Nothing about birth is said. But elsewhere in Shiva Purana clearly says caste is from birth. So is it self contradictory?? . Shiva Purana Uma Samhita 44.13 O excellent sage, birth as a man is very difficult to obtain; especially that as a Brahmin.
    – user28152
    Aug 1, 2022 at 8:28
  • @hanugm The story of Matanga from Skanda Purana, says he became Brahmin and went to Brahmaloma means what?? It means he gave up his human body. So it was not in the same birth
    – user28152
    Aug 1, 2022 at 8:30
  • @hanugm Yes him becoming Brahmana and entering Brahma lok seem to be simultaneous or next after one another. Shiva Purana doesn't say explicitly that caste conversion is possible in the same birth. See of chanting lakhs was enough to change in the same body why did Matanga struggle so much? Lord Indra could have said just do japam for some lakhs of times and you will convert to a Brahmin. If by bathing one converts into Brahmin in the same birth, then anyone can do it. What is the point of Caste business?? It means by repeatedly bathing in future birth one will become a brahmin.
    – user28152
    Aug 1, 2022 at 8:56
  • @hanugm yes in Sukra Niti they became through penances in different births. Not in the same births.
    – user28152
    Aug 1, 2022 at 8:57

Caste can mean either jati or Varna. I am assuming here the word caste is being used in the Varna sense. Varna is based on conduct and hence is based on mind. It is a pity that the great Acharyas cherry picked only those verses that support their pro-caste stand and ignored those verses that don't support their position.

Yudhisthira 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) begat 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 server may be, we celebrate the sacrifice. Therefore, those that are wise have asserted that character is the chief essential requisite ... whatsoever now conforms to the rules of pure and virtuous conduct, him have I, ere now, designated as a Brahmana.

Mahabharata Aranya Parva Section CLXXIX

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

The first step in any spiritual practice is to free the mind from the Gunas, i.e., transcend one's Varna.

It is the view of wise men that the mind is the cause of both the bondage and liberation of embodied beings. If the mind is attached to the Gunas of Prakriti and their products, it leads to bondage; but when it begins to feel delight and attraction for the Lord (Purusha), it leads to liberation. When the mind is freed from the impurities of lust and greed generated by the sense of ‘I’ and ‘mine’, it attains to purity and rests in equanimity, being unaffected by pleasure or pain. Then the Jiva, endowed with knowledge, renunciation and devotion, experiences in truth the Supreme Spirit transcending Nature (Prakriti) – Kevala (untouched by anything), eternal, self-effulgent, subtle, indivisible and unconcerned – as well as Prakriti with all its binding power destroyed.

Srimad Bhagavata Purana III.25.15-18

If the Varnas depend on the body then spiritual practice would require weight lifting and not mental dhyana, japa etc..

  • 1
    Sir I think this is cherry picking verse and giving your own reading of it. There are clearly other verses which state it is from body. Varna = Jati. As Manu uses it so and all the Acharyas agree. Even Yudhishthira is saying when birth cannot be known we need behaviour. If birth can be known?? Behaviour. As I have said birth is a necessary condition and not sufficient condition.
    – user28152
    Aug 1, 2022 at 6:54
  • Please refer to my answer. hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/52392/27936
    – user28152
    Aug 1, 2022 at 6:59
  • 1
    Caste is a touchy subject uses previously to oppress people. We should be careful not to do that. But it doesn't mean we whitewash it and change the meaning. It is clear by the works of all the great purva Acharyas, like Shankara, Ramanuja etc. So they didn't know Vedas and Puranas? And we know better than them? No caste is birth based. It is a form of segregation of genetics a form of isolative eugenics. It's a touchy subject. But truth should be preserved.
    – user28152
    Aug 1, 2022 at 7:01

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