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Essay: How Hinduisms Caste System Affects Lives and Identity: A Personal Reflection

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How does it feel to be given a part of your identity through your family history rather than setting it up on your own? Within the religion of Hinduism, its followers are divided into a different caste system with each individual group ranked and treated differently than the other. Living in a largely Hindu society as a kid, I saw a great deal of segregation occurring with people of different caste systems in Schools, Community events and as well as religious establishments. The Practice of the Caste System has been passed down from each generation since the founding of the religion and has been continuing on in India and Nepal whose population is mostly Hindu. The Caste System originated from the Rigveda, which consisted of the sacrifice of a giant man named Purusha. Purusha’s different body parts acknowledged specific groups of people which led to the different names of the caste system. The four different caste systems that are part of the Hinduism that originated from the sacrifice are Brahmin (Knowledge), Kshatriya (Warriors), Vaishya (Farmers) and Shudra (Workers). The four different caste systems identify what specific caste systems role in the society is and the types of jobs and opportunities available for growth and firmness of yourself and the family. It also sets a belief within the caste of how your future will be and whether you have any potential for success.

The origin of the Caste System happened with the sacrifice of Purusha, which can be found in the ancient text known as Rigveda. The Brahmin, which means Knowledge originated from the mouth of Purusha, the Kshatriyas who are the rulers and warriors were resultant from the arms, the Vaishya who are the merchants, traders and farmers were cast from his thighs and Shudra’s who are workers originated from the feet. In the book Eastern Religions by Willard G. Oxtoby and Roy C. Amore, the writer states “Ritual practices, dietary rules and sometimes dialects differ between castes, and inter-caste marriage is still relatively rare.” (Oxtoby 52).  The society is strict and limits upon itself of relating to another caste system and having any social interaction as well. The way of life differs with each caste and is completely ignored by one caste system to another caste system. While there are hundreds of various minor caste systems within the Hindu religion, there are only four major ones that the majority of the society and the religion focus on.

One of the first caste systems is the Brahmins. They are the cast system with the biggest population and is known as the elite. The Brahmin’s originated from the mouth after the sacrifice of Purusha. The Brahmin people are spread across the whole India and Nepal. The group consists of members who are priests and scholars who perform rituals at birth, marriages, deaths and other religious occasions. In a journal Toward a History of the Brahmins by Michael Witzel, he summarizes that over time the Brahmin community is strictly vegetarians, but over time the new generations tend to become lenient and began eating meat. He also that literacy levels with the caste systems is high when compared to other caste systems and hold high-level positions in terms of employment and have better access to administrative and outside resources than the other. Witzel continues on giving a variety of examples from the past and present to show how the Brahmin community has developed over time and the life it has continuously thrived on. Not only are the Brahmins strict but they have certain beliefs that they obey to at all times. Some examples include the symbol of Mangalsutra as a form of recognizing married life for women, which is a black bead necklace with a piece of gold on one end. As a way to identify your marriage, the women also smear Vermillion powder known as Sindur and widow are forbidden to remarry while it is acceptable for widowers to remarry. One interesting concept when it comes to marriage in Hinduism is: It is forbidden and looked down upon if you marry someone of a lower caste than a Brahmin. If a Brahmin male were to marry a Kshatriya female, then the female and their future children would be considered a Brahmin caste and if a Brahmin female marries a Kshatriya Male then she and the children would be considered now part of the Kshatriya caste. While Brahmins are strict with their culture and beliefs, the other castes have a different set of beliefs.

The only caste system that is close to the Brahmins is the Kshatriyas. With the Brahmins, they share similar sets of beliefs and way of life. The Kshatriyas are known as the warriors. The word Kshatriya comes from the word kshatra which means power and authority. The traditional role of a Kshatriya is to defend the society from invaders and robbers and are expected to be brave and be shrewd. The Kshatriya as part of the Hinduism must study the ancient Hindu scriptures under the guidance of a Brahmin priest and are expected to follow the similar rituals that the Brahmin caste believes and participate in. During the lecture and the PBS documentary which we watched in class discusses the life of Buddha who was of a Kshatriya caste before he begins his own spiritual journey. In the lecture, we find out how Buddha before his spiritual journey was doing his duty of reading and learning the spiritual texts from the Brahmin priests as part of the belief with his caste system. In an article called “Violence Against Women In South Asian Countries” by U. Niaz which discusses how “In Hinduism and Buddhism polygamy is allowed and there is no opportunity of divorce or remarriage for women.” (Niaz 174). Just like the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas are also identically strict when it comes to options available for women and are strict with their beliefs as it is a male headed religious society. Just like the Brahmins, however, it is acceptable for men to be remarried, no matter what the circumstances are while women are held to higher beliefs. Just like the role of male and females with the Brahmins and Kshatriyas, it is acceptable to marry individuals of the Brahmin caste. While the Brahmins and Kshatriyas are an identically close caste group, the remaining caste differs in beliefs and ladder when compared to these two castes.

The third caste groups are known as the Vaishyas. They originated from the thighs of Purusha and their role within the Hindu society is known as farmers or traders. While the Brahmins and Kshatriyas believed and focused on education, the Vaishya’s focused on reading religious scriptures and wanted to be elite and be known as “twice born” like the Brahmins. Over time, they became focused on the role of merchants and stretched their role of trading, money lending, land owning. According to the text “Indian Caste System” by Hayavadana Rao states in the book about a claim made in the religious Hindu book Bhagavad-Gita. He says in the Bhagavad-Gita, it is stated that “Agriculture, breeding cattle, trade is the natural duty of the Vaisyas.” (Rao 59). Not only is it an acceptable role for the Vaishyas but it is their duty to feed others first, breed and trade to keep the society operational and stable. This further proves the claim of Rao about how the Vaishya were more frugally achievable at all times and easily thrived in the society even when being part of the lower caste. As time progressed on, Rao states how the Vaishya helped build up temples and local institutes with their wealth and knowledge of trade and business. While the Brahmins and Kshatriyas held identical strict beliefs, the Vaishya’s held a great amount of those beliefs as well but were not strict like in the case of marriage. Even while being ranked low in the caste system, the means for survival was convenient as the Vaishya’s thrived well with their business like mind and their monetary success, other lower caste groups always have tough times.

The Shudra’s are the last major caste system of the Hinduism religion. The Shudra’s originated from the feet from the sacrifice of Purusha. The role of Shudra was any rigid labor or any dirty work that was available. In terms of growth and immovability, the Shudra’s had few limited options and are heavily discriminated within the society by all the different castes. According to Bruce Lincoln states that the Shudra’s do not earn the same rights and privileges as the three upper castes. Few cases of examples Lincoln provides are the cases where Shudra’s are denied access to the temple and prohibited from using the certain public facilities such as schools or health care. Not only does it reflect how low that they are treated in the society, they are considered as irrelevant in the role and growth of the society and looked down upon. The jobs that most of the Shudra occupy are janitorial work, servants for the other three upper castes. While they are not treated the same, many of the individuals of the group are essential for survival and daily chores that is needed by the three upper level castes. With not much opportunity and lack of wealth, the majority of the parents cannot afford the cost of education. So the children do not receive any form of education, unlike the other three castes above and are often forced to marry early and introduced to labor market from an early age. With limited means of opportunity, the kids tend to perform the same jobs as their parents and continues on for the rest of the life. As the time progresses, there is not much future potential in terms of role or job growth in the society, so several people continue to remain looked down upon and mistreated greatly.

Having to witness the segregation within the caste system as a kid made me question about the gods, priests, faith and culture just like Buddha did. Even though I exist as Brahmin, I hated the role of the caste system in every daily aspect of my life at locations such as the temple, school, hospital and means of transportation and etc. Even though I had masses of questions, it was precisely rude or looked upon to question the practices that have been passed down for several generations. Slowly with the growth and rise of new generations, some of the practices of segregation within the caste system are slowly fading away and over time the practices will eventually come to an end as more people are being aware of it.

There was a great deal of information I learned through my research about the religion and some of the core practices have been continuing on and some which have worn away over time. Knowing the origin of the caste system and how it came into form gave me a better insight of the religion which I can inform others. The sacrifice of Purusha made a significant impact and growth of Hinduism in different parts of India and other countries which now mostly practice the religions and its traditions as well. Over time, the practice and the types of the caste system will slowly fade as parts of inter-caste marriages and the society slowly being increasingly aware of it.

Word Count: 1898 words

Works Cited

Oxtoby, Willard Gurdon., and Roy C. Amore. World Religions: Eastern Traditions. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.

Witzel, Michael. “Toward a History of the Brahmins.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 113.2 (1993): 264-68. Web.

Solso, Allsion. “Buddhism.” Lecture.

The Buddha. Dir. David Grubin. PBS, 28 July 2013. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.

Niaz, U. “Violence Against Women in South Asian Countries.” Archives Of Women’s Mental Health 6.3 (2003): 173-184. Academic Search Complete. Web. 16 Oct. 2016

Rao, C. Hayavadana. Indian Caste System. New Delhi: J. Jetley, 1931. Web.

Lincoln, Bruce. History of Religions 36.4 (1997): 393-95. Web.

Lubin, Timothy. Aśoka’s Disparagement of Domestic Ritual and Its Validation by the Brahmins (n.d.): 29-39. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.

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