11

Each person born as a Hindu has some caste attached to him. As per my understanding he remains in the same caste throughout his life. Currently, I don't think anybody can change his/her caste, but was it possible in the early days of civilization?

Also, Hinduism is a open religion. It allows you to choose your favorite God, the way you want to worship, the custom you want to follow. You can even be an atheist while following Hinduism. Then why is Hinduism so strict with the caste system?

  • You cannot be an atheist and a practitioner of sanatana dharma. The two are mutually exclusive. – user1195 Dec 26 '14 at 10:07
  • 1
    @moonstar2001 You are wrong! That is the beauty of Hinduism. You are forgeting about 'Carvaka'. Here is the link to read more, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C%C4%81rv%C4%81ka – demonofthemist Dec 26 '14 at 14:01
  • 1
    @moonstar2001 Read this also : quora.com/Can-you-be-atheist-while-being-Hindu – demonofthemist Dec 26 '14 at 14:16
  • 1
    No. Caravakism is not a sub-sect of Hinduism. It is a philosophy that took shape while no other religion existed in the world and was propounded by those who were born into the only existing religion. These guys relinquished the authority of the veda and hence are atheists/nAstika vAdas and therefore,by definition, non-Hindus. They are also non-Xians, non-Muslims. – user1195 Dec 26 '14 at 14:25
  • 3
    @rohanAM moonstar2001 is right. Just because a religion happened to originate in the Indian subcontinent does not make it part of Sanatana Dharma. What characterizes Sanatana Dharma is not geographical origin, but rather the fact that it's based on the eternal truths of the Vedas. So Charvakists, although they originated in India, are not part of Sanatana Dharma. The schools of Indian philosophy that are part of Sanatana Dharma are the Astika schools, the ones that accept the authority of the Vedas. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 26 '14 at 16:24
8

The answer depends on what you think is meant by caste. The answer is no if you think of caste as jati or community. The answer is yes if you think of caste as varna which should depend on conduct.

I am posting the relevant Gita verses on varna:

O great hero! The duties of Brahmanas, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and also Sudras have been divided according to the quality born of their own nature. [Gita 18.41]

Serenity, control of the sense, austerity, purity, straight-forwardness, knowledge, insight, and faith in the Supreme Being - these are a Brahman's duties born of his own nature. [Gita 18.42]

Prowess, splendor of personality, unfailing courage, resourcefulness, dauntless in battle, generosity, leadership - these are a Ksatriya's duties born of his specific nature. [Gita 18.43]

Agriculture, cattle-rearing and trade form the duty of the Vaisya springing from his own nature, while the natural duty of a Sudra consists in subordinate service under others. [Gita 18.44]

By being devoted to one's own natural duty, man attains to spiritual competency. Now hear how devotion to one's own natural duty generates spiritual competency. [Gita 18.45]

From whom all beings have emanated and by whom all this universe is pervaded - by worshipping Him through the dedicated performance of one's duty, man attains to spiritual competency. [Gita 18.46]

One's own duty, even if without excellence (i.e. inferior in the scale of worldy values)is more meritorious spiritually than the apparently well-performed duty of another. For no sin is incurred by one doing works ordained according to one's nature. [Gita 18.47]

These verses do not support the last name based hereditary Hindu caste system which led to division in Hindu society. It is a curious fact that the ancient Acharyas ignored ancient interpretations of varna/caste given in the Mahabharata. There have been many points of view regarding the Varna-jati system apart from the one practiced by Hindus. Some of these proposals are:

  1. 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)

  2. The sage Bhrigu said, ‘There is really no distinction between the different orders. The whole world at first consisted of Brahmanas. Created (equal) by Brahman, men have, in consequence of their acts, become distributed into different orders. They that became fond of indulging in desire and enjoying pleasures, possessed of the attributes of severity and wrath, endued with courage, and unmindful of the duties of piety and worship, - these Brahmanas possessing the attributes of passion, - became Kshatriyas. Those Brahmanas again who, without attending to the duties laid down for them, became possessed of both the attributes of Goodness and Passion, and took to the professions of cattle-rearing and agriculture, became Vaisyas. Those Brahmanas again that became fond of untruth and injuring other creatures, possessed of cupidity, - engaged in all kinds of acts for a living, and fallen away from the purity of behaviour, and thus wedded to the attributes of Darkness, became Sudras. Separated by these occupations, Brahmanas, falling away from their order, became members of the other three orders. All the four orders, therefore, have always the right to the performance of all pious duties and of sacrifices. Even thus were the four orders at first created equal by Brahman who ordained for all of them (the observances disclosed in) the words of Brahma (in the Vedas). Through cupidity alone, many fell away, and became possessed by ignorance. The Brahmanas are always devoted to the scripture on Brahma; and mindful of vows and restraints, are capable of grasping the conception of Brahma. Their penances therefore never go for nothing. They amongst them are not Brahmanas that are incapable of understanding that every created thing is Supreme Brahma. (Mahabharata Santi Parva Section CLXXXVIII )

  3. The famous Rishi Yajnavalkya continued,’ ..All orders of men are Brahmanas. All are sprung from Brahma. All men utter Brahma. Aided by an understanding that is derived from and directed to Brahma. I inculcated this science teaching of Prakriti and Purusha. Indeed this whole universe is Brahma. From the mouth of Brahma sprung the Brahmanas; from his arms, sprung the Kshatriyas; from his navel, the Vaisysa; and from his feet, the Sudras. All the orders, (having sprung in this way) should not be regarded as pilfering from one another. Impelled by ignorance, all men meet with death and attain, O King, to birth that is the cause of acts. Divested of knowledge, all orders of men, dragged in terrible ignorance, fall into varied orders of being due to the principles that flow from Prakriti. For this reason, all should, by every means, seek to acquire knowledge. I have told thee that every person is entitled to strive for its acquisition. One that is possessed of knowledge is a Brahmana. Others, (viz., Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas and Sudras) are possessed of knowledge. Hence this science of emancipation is always open to them all. (Mahabharata Santi Parva Section CCCXIX)

From these 3 views and that of the Gita what comes across is that the Hindu view is that all humans are not equal in conduct. There are good people and there are bad people. That is a fact of life. However, they should all be treated equally and given equal opportunity to improve themselves precisely because they are all supreme Brahma. Where Hindus have gone wrong with their practice is to freeze an entire jati or community into a single Varna. That is the nonsensical thing about Hindu practice. The Varna system is for an individual and all individuals have to be respected and given equal opportunity to improve themselves even though there are real differences between individuals. The idea that all humans are equal is clearly nonsense (then why should we celebrate Einstein or Rabindranath specially?) but all humans should be treated with an equal eye as suggested by the Gita.

The varna idea applies even to non-Hindus. Some people accuse the Rig Veda of casteism because of its conception of different orders of humans as emerging from different parts of Brahman. A Mahabharata passage from Anusasana Parva Section CXLIII even rejects such an idea:

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.'

Varna system was flexible and changing of Varna was allowed.

Change of Varna

Narada said, 'If in members born in a certain Varna the qualities pertaining to another Varna are seen, they (the former) are to be classified as belonging to the latter Varna.'

Srimad Bhagavata Purana VII.11.35

Actual Examples of Change of Varna

I am supplementing my answer with actual examples of persons changing Varna.

Bhagavan Rishabha, realising that the region of his advent was a place dominated by Vedic rituals, adopted the life of a religious student under a teacher with gifts, came back home with his blessings. He adopted the householder’s station of life in order to teach the world about the duties of that order, observed all the ceremonials and duties laid down in the scriptures, married a girl named Jayanti given to him by Indra, and begot by her a hundred sons equal to himself in all respects. Of all these sons, Bharata was the eldest and noblest. This Ajanabha Varsha came to be known after him as Bharatavarsha. Next to him, the eldest nine other sons ….. were elder to the remaining ninety. Among these ninety, another nine … became great devotees and teachers of the Bhakti cult. ….. The remaining eighty one of the brothers, who were humble in nature, learned in the Vedas, adepts in sacrificial rites, and extremely pure through their observances, became Brahmanas according to their father’s instruction.

Srimad Bhagavata Purana, V.4.8-13

Several sons of King Rishava changed their Varna under the instruction of their father.

7

In his writings (Complete Works), Vivekananda gives examples of people whose caste has changed. Vivekananda said it was possible in 3 ways:

  1. Another caste offers and accepts you as a member of their caste. This is done when the members of the caste think it will bring prestige to their caste to have a particular person a member of their caste. This is a group decision.
  2. A caste decides as a group to change their caste. The whole caste changes caste as a group, not an individual.
  3. Finally, it is possible for a Brahmin to lose his caste. If a Brahmin accepts work that is not fitting for a Brahmin then he and his family lose their caste and assume the caste of the work they are doing. I think that Vivekananda said it was 16 years of non-Brahmin work. There is an example of this in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna also.

You may look in The Laws of Manu. He may have something on this.

Can't give exact passages for the above, it would take too much time to scour through to find and the question is not worth the time.

  • 2
    "Can't give exact passages for the above, it would take too much time to scour through to find and the question is not worth the time." Well, whether it's worth the time or not, answers on this site should be backed up with sources, so it would be better if you found specific citations for your claims. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 27 '14 at 22:08
2

It was and is never possible to change caste unless you are a super tApasa and realise brahman like Sage Viswamitra did. He was born a kshatriya but attained brahmarshi status through penance. You can attain brahman from any caste by following swadharma, but for the purpose of leading a dharmic life in this world, you have to live with the caste you were born into.

  • 1
    You must not forget that , viswamitra changed his caste during satya yuga , when people used to live for tens of thousand years. – tekkk Dec 25 '14 at 17:11
  • 1
    @sysinit Correct.The question asked "was it possible in the early days of civilization"?. Just for information though, even in Kali Yuga it is possible to prolong your physical life through tapas or attain a siddha sareera and continue tapas. Devaraha Baba is supposed to have lived for >800 yrs. – user1195 Dec 25 '14 at 17:18
  • 1
    Its always said that , once kaliyuga commences , materialism increases gradually. There would not be abrupt change in properties of yuga.Also its said clearly that , for first 10000 years kaliyuga , dharma would survive. So it would still be possible to extend life , with tapas,yoga and meditation. – tekkk Dec 25 '14 at 18:09
  • @sysinit Not sure what you are arguing here? – user1195 Dec 26 '14 at 0:12
  • 1
    I agree with your answer, but you should cite sources for the fact that caste is fixed from birth. And by the way, it wasn't a realization of Brahman that was directly responsible for Vishwamitra's changing of caste, but rather the fact that Brahma appeared before Vishwamitra and offered him a boon, and Vishwamitra asked to change castes. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 26 '14 at 16:28
1

In the second paragraph, you probably meant to say: "Even you can be an atheistic person... "

In the early days of civilization, the caste system was not as rigid as it seems now or seemed a few centuries back. First, the caste system was not built up just for the sake of it, in fact, it had a scientific reason. The main rationale for this was the concept of "Division of Labour". Some people were assigned to be of some caste so that they perform some pre-allocated tasks in the society. Some were to worship, some were to be soldiers etc.

Second, the caste system was not imposed upon on birth. It was not like that the child should be in a particular caste just because his parents were.

All castes were deemed equal. There was no concept of a lower or an upper caste. This notion got developed later on so that a few people (the so-called upper caste) could take advantage on others.

As for whether one can change a caste or not after being assigned to one, I am not sure, but probably it was allowed in the early ages.

You must log in to answer this question.

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