In continuation to my earlier article on “Brahmins are Born, not Made”, I would like to put forth my views on all the Varnas – Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra and the other Jaatis which don’t come under these Varnas. These views of mine are not drawing on any verses in any scripture, but my understanding of what could be the Varnas. If there is any error of understanding, it is my own, so please bear with me.

When we talk about Brahmins being those people who can achieve Brahmn the fastest, it is not because Brahmins are somewhere above the others. It is because of the work that they are supposed to do. And what is that? Brahmins are supposed to view everything from the perspective of the Brahmaand ie. they have to have a vision which encompasses the entire humanity, animal kingdom and Nature, not to mention the entire Universe. They were not supposed to think of self comfort. Their work was to unite Man to the Divine, whether it was through Knowledge, Language, Maths & Science, Yagnas, Rituals or even art forms like Dance and Music. That is why even the BrahmRishis were those whose goal was welfare to the entire creation. And after doing whatever was to be done, Brahmins were expected to offer the entire action and its results to Brahmn – “Brahmaarpanamasthu”. If one has such pure goals, one is obviously on the path to Brahmn. If any Brahmin does not do this, he/she cannot claim reservation for achieving Brahmn. Now this did not mean that they couldn’t do any work for their own selves or for society, as and when the time & situation demanded that from them. They also fought for wars for their Kings, they even traded in goods like oil and milk, they also tilled the soil as farmers and they also did all other menial work as and when required. But that was not their primary identity. The Sandhya-Vandan that every Brahmin does (expected to do compulsorily), includes welfare for the entire creation.

What was the role of the Kshatriyas? Well, Kshatriyas worked towards upliftment of their Kshetra ie. their region/kingdom and the people in that Kshetra. That is why they protected the land in their kingdom, the cattle, the crops, the people in the kingdom. They also had to administer law and justice and ensure that Dharma was protected in the kingdom. It was their duty to ensure that all Varnas were able to primarily fulfill their duties of the Varna they were born into ie. for example, a Brahmin should be able to do his Yagnas without fear, a Vaishya could trade within his boundaries or outside his kingdom without being cheated, etc. Again, though this was their main identity, a Kshatriya was not stopped from reaching out to the Divine or from doing the work of any other Varnas. For example, he/she could perform elaborate Yagnas as the Yajman, could work in his fields, could trade/produce various items, etc. But by and large, a Kshatriya is expected to keep the welfare of the entire region in his mind. A Kshatriya ensures that the Kingdom and its people live a contented and peaceful life. By doing this he/she attains Swarga/Moksha.

Vaishyas were the ones on whom all the other Varnas and the Avarnas depended on for their livelihood. They were the ones who were taxed the most because they were the ones who were supposed to earn the most also, through their produce and the trade of the produce. If a Vaishya were to not do his duty, the region would become poor and its people would suffer from lack of incomes and also food and other products. So, one could say that the Vaishya made sure that every family and every town/village prospered. Again, this did not mean that the Vaishya could not get involved in other activities. He/she could reach out to the Divine by doing Yagnas, by building Temples (if I am not mistaken, most Temples must have been commissioned by Vaishyas) and by doing Daan. They also fought for their Rashtra when the need arose, paid for maintaining the King’s army and were also land owners and farmers. In fact, they also grew more crops than what they required so that it could be sold to people from other regions. Even today, Vaishyas stay rooted in family ties and work towards benefiting every section of society through their business, trading and philanthropic activities.

What about the Shudras, whom some people consider as “lower castes”? Frankly, it is the Shudras who ensured that people in our country led a comfortable life inside and outside their homes. It is demeaning to call them “lower caste” at all. If it were not for the Shudras, none of the other Varnas would have been able to concentrate on what they were primarily meant to do. For example, if a Yagna has to be conducted, one needs wood, twigs, bricks, ghee, grains, fruits and so many other things. It is the Shudra who made sure that there would be no shortage of all these things with his work. The Shudra was the one who looked after the welfare of every individual, at the end of the day. If one wanted a house to be built, it was the Shudra who would be called to build it. If one wanted a weapon, utensils, clothes, roads, anything for personal comfort or use, it was the Shudra to the rescue. He/she ensured that the Temple was built to perfection and with devotion. His/her work was more physical in nature and not for him/her was NityaPuja and Nityakarma. The Shudra was steeped in Bhakti towards the Divine more than in elaborate Pujas. Again this did not mean that he/she could not perform Pujas or do any other work as done by the above three Varnas. He too ruled kingdoms, fought wars, traded in metals, and did a lot more when the need arose. But primarily, his main concern was personal welfare.

Those whom we call Dalits or the Tribals today were the Avarnas. They did not fit into any of the above Varnas. What was their responsibility in society? They were the ones who were rooted to the ground and to Nature. It was their duty that the balance between humans and nature was maintained. They dealt with every work related to water, soil, forests, trees, mountains and so on. They kept the environment healthy with their work of disposing of unwanted items. For example, when any cattle died, it was their duty to dispose off the same. They were the ones who made leather of the dead animal skin and made sure that nothing was wasted and all unwanted things were disposed off without harming water or soil. They lived in the outskirts of the habitations because of that. They also helped in cremations. Why were they called Avarnas? This was because they had their own rules which they followed and they did not follow the rules set by the Rulers those days. Rituals of marriage and other ceremonies too were different from that of the other Varnas. Polyandry and polygamy, either or both were practiced.  The rules of justice and law set for those living within the towns or villages did not apply to them. Their rituals were also were somewhat different from that of the others because they mainly worshipped Nature like Trees, Snakes (Naaga) or hillocks/stones which had forms of life in them. They worshipped Shiva and Parvati too in Swaroopas or names as slightly different from those usually worshipped by the Varnas for example, Vanadurga, Bhairava, etc. Keeping in mind their lifestyle, the offerings to their Devi-Devatas also would be different. So usually, they did not enter the Temples within the towns or villages. But they too were an important part of society and they contributed to society equally much. Their knowledge of water bodies, trees, medicinal plants, forests, gathering honey and gum/lac, etc. was very much important in keeping the society healthy.

Now coming to the famous lines in the Purusha Sukta about how the Purusha has been divided into 4 parts – the Brahmins are the face, the Kshatriyas are the arms, the Vaishyas are the thighs and the Shudras are the feet. The eyes in the face can encompass the widest view. The arms can round up a smaller area between them. The thighs have the strongest bone in the body, which cannot be easily broken. The feet are that part of the body connected to Mother Earth always, one small part at a time. The eternal Purusha is so simply and beautifully described as being linked from the smallest fraction to the largest, with inborn strength to carry it all. To misunderstand and draw mischievous attributes to our sacred Shlokas has become a national pastime now and this has to be countered. We are born into a family based on our basic Gunas and our past Karmas. If one were to view this positively one would realize how based on the Jaati we were born into, we could enhance our vision and work to excel in it and become better individuals, contributing to society in a better way.

Note: Image taken randomly from the Net

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