As per what I have read and learnt, In the Purusha Suktam of the Yajur Veda the following lines appear:

brAhmano asya mukhamAseet | bAhoo rAjanya: krta: | ooru tadasya yad vaishya | padbhyAm shoodro ajAyata |

(asya) His (mukham) mouth (Aseet) became (brAhmaNa:)the Brahmin, (bAhoo) his arms (krta:) were made (rAjanya:) Kings. (yad) what were (asya ooru) his thighs, (tad) they weremade into (vaishya:) the merchants, (padbhyAm) and from his feet (shoodro) were the servants (ajAyata) born.

Can someone give me a better source for the reality of the caste system in India? Were the castes to be only associated with the professions of the individual or were they to be carried forth as a heritage with the lineage?

Edits to factor in my opinion on naming of the castes, which have off late taken up a myopic, perverse and prejudiced meaning:

Though I do not concur with the usage of the words "Brahmin", "Kings", "Merchants" and "Servants", I have pasted it as it was from my source. I prefer using the words "Margadarshi","Rakhshak","Sanchaalak" and "Paripaalak".

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    You may have a look at this: are Varna and caste same?. Also note that shudra doesn’t mean servant (as someone who pays and is like a domestic help). Servant must be understood as someone who serves i.e. gives services such as hair cutting, shoe making, pottery, etc. He must give these services or serve in the upper caste in this manner.
    – Archit
    Dec 11 '20 at 18:44
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    Thanks for letting me know. I am aware of who are categorised are shudras. Just so you know, even film actors, singers, directors and artists who appeal to our creative sensibilities and entertain us, also belong to the varna of 'shudras'. This is only for those who read this page and are carried away by the notion of shudras being the serving men/women, paid poorly and living humbly-in reference to your "hair cutting, shoe making, pottery". It is perfectly right. Just that no reader must limit his/her ideas to just that.
    – Krishan
    Dec 16 '20 at 8:22
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    This is only an attempt to go beyond our preconceived notions and break those flimsy barriers that have been erected in our minds by all the thrusting from our milieu and all that is carried forward by our genetic material.
    – Krishan
    Dec 16 '20 at 8:24
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    Yes yes thank you I’m aware of dancers and entertainers being shudras too :). You mean going beyond the western mindset.
    – Archit
    Dec 16 '20 at 9:47
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    Rather I would say, breaking the predominant oriental mindset. Don't know why you call it 'western'. But that too needs a sound thrashing. Imagine if dark Africans had gone around colonizing the world. Black supremacists would have ruled the world. Indian mothers would have been ready to be in gestation for even 18 months if that would guarantee a dark child ;) Sorry!Drifted away. Whatever we may say, the shudras being at the bottom of a so-called 'hierarchy' of Varnas has got mixed up so inextricably with our blood, I still feel a stingy sensation when I say "SHOODRAAS". Ugh! Hate my blood.
    – Krishan
    Dec 16 '20 at 10:24

The following verse (Sanskrit: Sloka) from Srimad Bhagvad-Gita (Chapter 4 - Sloka 13) is most authentic and adequate reference to be quoted

Sanskrit Verse:

चातुर्वर्ण्यं मया सृष्टं गुणकर्मविभागशः । तस्य कर्तारमपि मां विद्ध्यकर्तारमव्ययम् ॥ ४-१३॥

English Transliteration of each syllable with meaning:

chātuḥ-varṇyam — the four categories of occupations; mayā—by me; sṛiṣhṭam—were created; guṇa—of quality; karma—and activities; vibhāgaśhaḥ—according to divisions; tasya—of that; kartāram—the creator; api—although; mām—me; viddhi—know; akartāram—non-doer; avyayam—unchangeable

Meaning In English:

The four categories of occupations were created by me according to people’s qualities and activities. Although I am the creator of this system, know me to be the non-doer and eternal.

After quoting above...let me summarize on both of these words (varna and jati)...and their correct interpretation.

Varna - indicative of set of personality traits, and skills and competencies - which also shapes - what would be the ideal role, responsibilities, and possible contribution(s) of an individual as the small unit in the society.

So there are 4 varnas:

  1. Brahmans - Learning, Teaching, propagation of knowledge (either directly acquired or received from earlier generations) in the society, application of intellectual and creative skills for good of individual, and society.

  2. Vaishya - member of business community. Anyone whose purpose of life is mostly focused on creating and acquiring the wealth.

  3. Kshatriya - member of society having great physical and mental capabilities, which are needed to protect the society (to ensure internal and external security of society / state). In English, nearest word to explain this role would be - a warrior or administrator. Therefore, in present context, the Kshtriyas are those who are either into public administration, or in security forces.

  4. Shudra - members of society having one or more technical, professional skills. These skills MUST enable the member to ensure that she / he earns her / his livelihood - by using these earned skil(s).

So what is Jati?

It's an indicative of "what skill set, an individual possess to earn their livelihood to sustain themselves and their family.

Please note that these varnas do NOT have any hierarchy - among themselves. Therefore, I try to company two different varnas - and try to proof or evaluate which is better than other - then basically what I am trying to do is - "to compare an apple with orange"! Which itself is illogical.

And since no varna is higher or lower than other varnas in principle. Last but not least - none of these varna are inferior with other varnas are inferior in ANY WAY.

  • A very good answer, but can you explain a li'l bit more on 'Jati'. Like a big paragraph with examples from real life would do.
    – Krishan
    Dec 18 '20 at 11:20

Root of caste system is human nature and misconception. Rig Veda 9.63 says:

इन्द्रं वर्धन्तो अप्तुर: कृण्वन्तो विश्वमार्यम् । अपघ्नन्तो अराव्णः ॥

This is a prayer to make ALL HUMANS Aryas. Veda makes a distinction between Shudra & Arya meaning 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

So there was clear misconception and human nature at work here. But 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...

Again we find human nature and misconception in this story. But Saraswati considers a Shudra's son superior to all birth-Brahmins combined at being a Brahmin. The birth-Brahmins also later 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 but people still try to twist and discard Vedic scripture because of human nature or misconception from semi-sacred Smritis. People who consider smriti main scripture are called Smartas and they are biggest caste lover. But most Hindus and all other Hindu scripture does not accept this absolutist view.


Meaning of Varna

Varna comes from Vrina dhatu which means "choice". The other words from this root are Varan or to choose; Swayamvar; Aavaran or to cover self; Varnan or to describe.

Varna signifies our choice to perform karma in quest to reach Brahma.

Varna's translation to Caste or Color is incorrect, likely used by European translators to cast racist connotations to this fundamental system.

Origin of Varna System

Varnas are inside us. Each of us has a Brahmin and Kshatriya (and other Varnas) inside us. We can't be clubbed into an exclusive "varna" group and say we'd only do Kshatriya karma or vaishya.

इ॒दं मे॒ ब्रह्म॑ च क्ष॒त्रं चो॒भे श्रिय॑मश्नुताम्।
मयि दे॒वा दधतु॒ ते॒ स्वाहा॑॥५५॥
यजु॰ ३२।१६
The Brahmin inside me and the Kshatriya inside me must synergise together to give me Shree (prosperity and empowerment) And I dedicate all I am gifted in the Yajna of welfare of all.

Karma defines our Varna, and nothing else. This karma is likely the majority kind of work we do, but it can change with time. Eg, Ram was a Kshatriya by diksha but he attained Kshatriya varna by doing primarily Kshatriya karma for whole life (not that he didn't do tap or yagya). Similarly, Vishwamitra was Kshatriya by his diksha and karma in his early part of life, but he became a brahmin by his karma in later part of life.

In beginning, everyone was Brahmin. No other Varna was present Those who got into aggression etc became Kshatriya Those who got into Gauseva farming etc became Vaishyas Those who didn't get in education etc became Shudra
(Mahabharat Shanti Parva 188.10-13)

  • if profession defines our varna then why was intercaste marriages banned in Smritis?? Jul 19 at 4:59
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    Thank you @Archit for the fix.
    – sbharti
    Jul 19 at 8:51
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    @mrgreen there are tons of intercaste marriage in our scriptures. In fact, there are marriages even between species : indra the god was married to shuchi daughter of daitya puloma. Ravan a Rakshash was married to Mandodari daughter of apsaras.
    – sbharti
    Jul 19 at 8:51
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    And for the upvote too :D. Haha just joking.
    – Archit
    Jul 19 at 10:06

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