Our ancestors were way smarter than you think you are. With all our smart-tech and apps, we have reached the level where most of us cannot even spell “opalescent” without checking it on Google first. And oh yeah, Google! Our answer for everything. It’s the grandfather of our generation – we run to Grandfather Google to explain to us the mysteries of this world. And he slowly smiles at our naivete, silently sends all our data to FBI, while enamoring us with his answers.
In case you did not yet recognize, I am not a big fan of technology even though I use it just like you do. Yet, it scares me and I think that’s wise.
Enough advice from Grandma Reema.
My point is, we have very little understanding of how smart our seniors were. A look into the article below will show you at least enough to stop bitchin’ about some stuff you and I well, bitch, about.
THE HINDU CASTE SYSTEM
The Hindu caste system is fascinating and flabbergasting. Most people don’t understand the reason behind it and can’t imagine that there could have been any rational “humane” reason.
And this is true for Hindus and non-Hindus alike. Being a Hindu who grew up in India and is living in Europe, I face this question so much – why do you Hindus have the caste system?
Very few people have an idea of what reasons created the Hindu caste and gotra system. On the fact of it, it just seems so discriminatory and inhuman.
A lot of papers online on this topic have an undercurrent of sarcasm and disdain for this inhumane categorization of people on the basis of nothing else but birth.
I understand this attitude, having had it for quite a long time.
Unfortunately, modern day Hindus, specially in India, have very little idea of what Hinduism is really about. Even the most fastidious followers have never bothered to read any of the Vedas or Puranas or even the Bhagavad Gita (one of the coolest books you can get to read, I promise you).
Which is why I have been trying to dig up answers behind the Hindu caste system, and I have been inevitably finding many answers to this baffling but sophisticated system that was set up long long ago.
DISTRIBUTION OF POWER
One explanation of the Hindu caste system is that there are 4 sources of power in any society in any time. And these are:
Possession of land is a source of power as the more land you have, the more resources of the land you control. You also therefore control the people who need the land, for building their homes or agriculture or business. This was given to the shudras.
Knowledge of course is a source of power. By using it, you get an advantage over other people, and thus kings kept their wise men near to them, as does today’s system. This was controlled by the Brahmans.
Need I explain this?
This was controlled by the vaishyas.
Controlling army and weapons is a source of power. Ever heard of Russia? Or USA? Or Iran? Or anything at all?
And this was controlled by the Kshatriyas.
So, the Hindu caste system sought to avoid the concentration of these 4 sources within the hands of anyone. Hence, it divided these 4 among the people, thus resulting in the 4 main castes of people who carried on the system from generation to generation.
Of course, today this is debatable but it cannot be denied that there seems to be some sense in drafting such a system. Seems pretty neat.
BASED ON RESPONSIBILITIES
The next possible explanation behind the Hindu caste system is that the one who takes most responsibility for the society, gets the higher position.
So, for example, Brahmans with their access to knowledge and wisdom take responsibility of not just themselves but of the salvation of the whole society by looking after the system of faith and worship, maintaining the temples, handing out knowledge, they deserve to be at the highest position.
(Image from here)
Kshatriyas then take the second highest place because, next to Brahmans, they take care of the whole society too by protecting the country. They take care of the physical safety of everyone in the fact of external danger and thus, they deserve the second highest place.
Vaishyas do not take so much responsibility for the well-being of the society. By running the commerce, they maintain healthy economic channels and prosperity but mainly and mostly for themselves. Their work does not result in the general help for everyone.
And finally, shudras by raising crops, selling the produce and consuming it, take care only of themselves. Hence, they take the lowest place.
Again, seemingly reasonable. Right?
And now finally, I will explain the third explanation which is mostly for the Hindu gotra system – which is the sub-division of the 4 main castes. Every main caste has castes within itself and these are called gotras.
THE HINDU GOTRA SYSTEM
A lot of recent anthropological research has started taking the genealogical turn and they are finding meanings behind surnames, names, birth locations, and in all of this the Y chromosome is a very useful little guy.
Similarly, some ideas propose that the reasons behind the Hindu caste and sub-caste (gotra) system are actually to preserve the genetic lineages in their pure forms and in this the Y chromosome plays a very important role.
The Hindu gotra system clearly is a neat way to establish genetic lineages. And it is primarily through the males because it is the males who pass on the Y chromosome from generation to generation without distortion.
Every human has X and Y chromosomes in them. Females have XX whereas males have XY. We have 23 such pairs in every cell and in each of them 1 comes from the father and one comes from the mother. In females all of them are XX whereas one is X and another is Y in males, which makes them males.
So it is one tiny little Y chromosome that makes a male a male. And men get this deciding Y chromosome only from their father because females carry no Y chromosome in their bodies. Thus, the Y chromosome is carried from the father to the son, and henceforth. Thus, this helps establish a clear genetic lineage all the way back to the root ancestor.
The Gotra system was probably created to preserve these genetic lineages. At that time, we obviously did not have today’s neat DNA analysis technology so our ancestors came up with their cool way of preserving it.
Chromosomes in a woman’s body, the X chromosomes, can cross over. And these X chromosomes, which come from father and mother, can be the chromosomes of the mother’s father or the father’s mother. But this is not the case with the Y chromosome. It simply just gets transferred from father to son, undisturbed, uncross-overed.
Hence Y chromosome carries the pure genetic line.
Which is why, having a son has been so important. Because sons carry the gene line. And the gene lines can end if there is no male in one generation to pass on the Y chromosome to the next generation.
Because of this simple reason, one can understand that daughters do not carry the pure genetic line the way sons do.
This is also why women changed their gotras and surnames after marriage because they now would help bring forth the next generation of the family of her husband because her son would carry the Y chromosome of his father.
This is also the reason behind arranged marriages. Marriages had to be arranged to marry within the right gotra and to avoid marrying a man from the same gotra. Because a man from the same gotra was technically the brother as he came from the same genetic lineage.
Each gotra line continues from one male ancestor. Hence, people within that gotra are technically descendants from the same ancestor and are thus, siblings.
Also inter-family reproduction is not very healthy as it does not give the chromosomes a chance to develop and repair.
Overall, while we have little confirmed answers, looking at such ideas with an open mind can help a lot. All the above seem good possibilities.