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Varna System

The protagonists of chaturvarnya do not seem to have considered what is to happen to women in their system. Are they also to be divided into four classes, Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra? Or are they to be allowed to take the status of their husbands? If the status of the woman is to be the consequence of marriage, what becomes of the underlying principle of chaturvarnya—namely, that the status of a person should be based upon the worth of that person? If they are to be classified according to their worth, is their classification to be nominal or real?” ― B R Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste

Origin of Varna order


Varna is first mentioned in the ancient Sanskrit Rig Veda's Purusha Suktam verse. Purusha is the eternal being, composed of the four Varnas. Brahmins constitute the mouth, Kshatriyas from the arms, Vaishyas form the thighs and Shudras from the feet. Similarly, a society is formed by these four Varnas, which are equipped to maintain wealth and order by their adherence to the Varna laws.


The following is a translation of the pertinent verse from the 'Purusha Sukta', which is the 90th Sukta of the 10th mandala of the Rig Veda. It speaks of the entire cosmos as God's (Purusha) body and all creation as emanating from Him.


From his mouth came forth the Brahmins


And of his arms were Rajanya made


From his thighs came the Vaishyas


And his feet gave birth to Sudras.


On a literal reading, this appears to describe a hierarchical class system, with Brahmins having the most prestigious position and Sudras emerging from the foot. And this has largely become the accepted interpretation of the text among academics.






Significance and Mandate


The primary motive for following to Varna obligations is the concept that being diligent results in moksha. Belief in Karma and Dharma strengthens one's belief in the Varna life ideals. According to the Vedas, it is a human's ideal duty to seek freedom from subsequent birth and death and to be free of soul transmigration, which is feasible when one adheres to the responsibilities and ideals of one's respective Varna. If an individual diverges from the path laid by varna order, according to the Vedas, it will result in an unstable society that is disordered and will lead to Pralay.


Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras comprise society's four tiers, each with their own set of responsibilities and ideal temperament. Men in the first three hierarchical castes are referred to as the twice-born; they are born first of their parents and then of their guru following their holy thread initiation. The Vedas contain an embryonic form of the Varna system, which is later extended and amended in the Upanishads and Dharma Shastras.


Evaluation


Ambedkar is a towering figure in history; he was a vehement opponent of the varna system, which perpetuates caste prejudice. He dedicated his entire life to the upliftment of Dalits. He argued that Hinduism could never become a missionary religion due to the seeming promotion of discriminating practices. He exhorted the populace to burn manusmriti as a symbol of their opposition to the wicked practice. Ambedkar advocated for the abolition of the caste system, which he believed was incapable of improvement.


Gandhi, on the other hand, saw varna in a completely different light; he saw it purely as dharma or the obligations prescribed by shastras. He was an opponent of untouchability and a supporter of the Harijan samaj’s cause. Gandhi was opposed to the caste system and not Varnashrama, he saw it as being horizontal and cohesive not necessarily oppressive and vertical. He advocated for social transformation in response to the caste system's flaws.

According to Ambedkar, the caste issue is a political one, and he desired a political solution for the depressed classes' upliftment. Ambedkar insisted that political democracy was useless unless it included the so-called depressed classes on an equal footing. Gandhi defined caste as a social concern. He desired to improve it by influencing people's hearts and minds. Ambedkar took a rights-based approach, whereas Gandhi took a faith- and spiritual-based approach. That is why Ambedkar referred to downtrodden classes as Dalits (to provide them with a political identity), whilst Gandhi referred to them as Harijan (to sensitize upper caste for the plight of depressed classes by invoking spirituality).


“A just society is that society in which ascending sense of reverence and descending sense of contempt is dissolved into the creation of a compassionate society” ~ B.R. Ambedkar,

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