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Varna refers to the categorization of the Hindu society by four castes, hypothesized by the Brahmins and their sacred texts. This quadruple division is not to be confused with Jāti or even the much finer division of the contemporary caste system in India. The four varnas, or chatur varna, are mentioned in ancient texts in the following (stratified) order, from top to bottom,
- the Brahmins: vedic priests.
- the Kshatriya: kings, governors and soldiers.
- the Vaishyas: cattle herders, agriculturists, artisansand merchants.
- the Shudras: labourers and service providers.
Separate and shunned by society, including the Shudras, were the "untouchables" such as the Dalit and the Chandaal (cāṇḍāla), who had to deal with the disposal of dead bodies and are described as dirty and polluted. There was a belief that one's Karma in the past, resulted in one's condition in this birth. "Now people here whose conduct is good can expect to quickly attain a pleasant birth, like that of a Brahmin, the Kshatriya, or the Vaishya. But people of evil conduct can expect to enter a foul womb, like that of a dog, a pig, or a Chandaal".
Caste politics is a controversial issue in the contemporary Republic of India and the varna concept forms a part of those politics.
Etymology and origins 
Varna is a Sanskrit term varṇa (वर्ण) is derived from the root vṛ, meaning "to cover, to envelop" (compare vṛtra). Derived meanings include "kind, sort, character, quality". All these meanings are already present in the Rigveda's use of the word.
The earliest application to the formal division into four social classes appears in the late Rigvedic Purusha Sukta (RV 10.90.11–12), which has the Brahman, Rajanya (= Kshatriya), Vaishya and Shudra classes emerging from the mouth, arms, thighs and feet of the primordial giant, Purusha, respectively. Other Vedic texts and the Manusmriti, a law text dating to roughly between 200 BCE and 200 CE follow suit.
The varna system of the Brahminical society is described in the various Puranas and Smritis, among others. Manusmriti, is one of numerous Dharmashastra texts reflecting the laws and society of Maurya period India and being a reference work for the Brahmins of Bengal especially, was relied upon by the British colonial administrators and scholars based in Calcutta, the capital city. Manusmriti was almost unknown south of the Vindhyas. The modern Hindu caste system recognizes many more social groupings not mentioned in the Hindu scriptures and only theoretically accepts the necessity of following prescribed duties.
Rigvedic evidence of such a quadruple division of society has been compared to similar systems, especially with a view to reconstructing hypothetical Proto-Indo-European society. Such comparison is at the basis of the trifunctional hypothesis presented by Georges Dumézil. Dumézil postulates a basic division of society into a priesthood (Brahmins), warrior class or nobility (Kshatriyas) and commoners (Vaishyas), augmented by a class of unfree serfs (Shudras), as was done in ancient Iran and Greece as well (where the fourth class is called pan-Hellenes).
Hindu tradition 
The concept of dharma deals mainly with the duties of the different varṇas and āśhramas (life cycles).
Manusmriti is often quoted in reference to the Varna system as an inherited social class system. However, it is a compilation that was popular in Bengal and does not form a part of Hindu Scriptures and is therefore of limited relevance to justify or explain the prevalence of caste system in India. The Manusmṛti has been treated by many British colonialists and Missionaries as a rigid religious text, which it is not. The text which deals with elaborate restrictions and punishments for various castes, does not mention untouchability any where except in two short stanzas in the context of menstruating women, a dead person, family of a newly deceased person as well as Chandalas who handle corpses.
"Twice born" 
The first three varnas are seen as "twice born" and they are allowed to study the Vedas. In India and Nepal the sub-communities within a varna are called "jaat" or "jati" (the varna is also used instead of jaat). Traditionally, individuals marry only within their jati. People are born into a jati and normally it cannot be changed, though there were some exceptions in Hindu Scriptures. For example, the sage Vishwamitra was born as a Kshatriya and by deep tapas (meditation) became Brahmin rishi. Good deeds during one's lifetime can allow a low class jati member to be born in to the upper caste and study the Vedas.
Traditional occupations 
The occupations of the Vaishya are those connected with trade, the cultivation of the land and the breeding of cattle; while those of a Kshatriya consist in ruling and protecting the people, administering justice and expounding all dharma. Both share with the Brahmin the privilege of reading the Vedas. To the Brahmin belongs the right of teaching and expounding the sacred texts and other knowledge. Shudras provided services and labour to all the society.
Manusmriti assigns cattle rearing as Vaisya occupation, however there are sources in available literature that Kshatriyas also owned and reared the cattle and cattle-wealth was mainstay of their households.Emperors of Kosala and Prince of Kasi are some of many examples.
Tantric view 
The Tantric movement that developed as a tradition distinct from orthodox Hinduism between the 8th and 11th centuries CE also relaxed many societal strictures regarding class and community distinction. However it would be an over generalization to say that the Tantrics did away with all social restrictions, as N. N. Bhattacharyya explains:
"For example, Tantra according to its very nature has nothing to do with the [class] system but in the later Tantras [class] elements are pronounced. This is because although many of our known Tantric teachers were non-Brāhmaṇas, rather belonging to the lower ranks of society, almost all of the known authors of the Tantric treatises were Brāhmaṇas."
Varna and jāti 
The terms varna (theoretical classification based on occupation) and jāti (caste) are two distinct concepts: while varna is the idealised four-part division envisaged by the above described Twice-Borns, jāti (community) refers to the thousands of actual endogamous groups prevalent across the subcontinent. A jati may be divided into exogamous groups based on same gotras (गोत्र). The classical authors scarcely speak of anything other than the varnas; even Indologists sometimes confuse the two.
Modern India 
Opposition within Hinduism 
Critics point that the effect of communities (jatis) inheriting varna was to bind certain communities to sources of influence, power and economy while locking out others and thus create more affluence for jatis in higher classes and severe poverty for jatis in lower classes and the outcaste Dalit. In the last 150 years Indian movements arose to throw off the economic and political yoke of an inherited class system that emerged over time, and replace it with what they believed to be true Varnashrama dharma as described in the Vedas.
While the [varna] system was originally evolved for the necessary classification of human duty in order to preserve the organic stability of society, its original meaning and its philosophical foundation was forgotten through the passage of time, and bigotry and fanaticism took its place through the preponderance of egoism, greed and hatred, contrary to the practice of true religion as a social expression of inner spiritual aspiration for a gradual ascent, by stages, to God Almighty. Vidura, famous in the Mahabharata, was born of a Shudra woman. But he had the power to summon the son of Brahma, from Brahmaloka, by mere thought. Which orthodox Brahmin can achieve this astounding feat? It is, therefore, necessary for everyone to have consideration for the facts of world-unity and goodwill, Sarvabhuta-hita, as the great Lord mentions in the Bhagavad Gita. Justice is more than law. No one's body is by itself a Brahmin, because it is constituted of the five gross elements,- earth, water, fire, air and ether. Else, it would be a sin on the part of a son to consign to flames the lifeless body of a Brahmin father. It is, therefore, not proper to victimise a colleague by an action plan of any religious community wedded to fundamentalist doctrines.—
Paramahansa Yogananda also opposed what he called to the un-Vedic inherited social status as we know it today. He taught that varna originated in a higher age, but became degraded through ignorance and self-interest. Yogananda said:
These were (originally) symbolic designations of the stages of spiritual refinement. They were not intended as social categories. And they were not intended to be hereditary. Things changed as the yugas [cycles of time] descended toward mental darkness. People in the higher [classes] wanted to make sure their children were accepted as members of their own [class]. Thus, ego-identification caused them to freeze the ancient classifications into what is called the ‘caste system.’ Such was not the original intention. In obvious fact, however, the offspring of a brahmin may be a shudra by nature. And a peasant, sometimes, is a real saint.—Conversations with Yogananda, Crystal Clarity Publishers, 2003
See also 
- Forward Castes
- Backward Class
- Four occupations – fourfold Confucian division
- Hindu reform movements
- Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar
- Mark Juergensmeyer, (2006) The Oxford Handbook of Global Religions (Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology), p. 54
- Walter Hazen, (2003) Inside Hinduisum (Milliken Publishiong company, St.Louis, Missouri, U.S.A) p.4 
- Arun Kumar (2002). Encyclopaedia of Teaching of Agriculture. Anmol Publications PVT. LTD. pp. 411–. ISBN 978-81-261-1316-3. Retrieved 4 July 2011.
- Macdonell-Keith II 252, note 42
- Flood, Gavin, "The Śaiva Traditions" in: Flood (2005; paperback edition of Flood 2003) p.208
- N. N. Bhattacharyya. History of the Tantric Religion, p. 44-5.
- Dumont, Louis (1980), Homo hierarchicus: the caste system and its implications, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 66–67, ISBN 0-226-16963-4
Further reading 
- Ambedkar, B.R. (1946) Who were the Shudras?
- Alain Danielou (1976). Les Quatre Sens de la Vie, Paris
- Sri Aurobindo (1970), The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity, War and Self-Determination, (Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust), ISBN 81-7058-281-4 (hardcover), ISBN 81-7058-014-5 (paperback)
- Ravi Batra, "The Downfall of Communism and Communism: a New Study of History", Macmillan, New York, NY, USA, 1978
- Sohail Inayatullah, Understanding P. R. Sarkar: The Indian Episteme, Macrohistory and Transformative Knowledge, Brill Academic Publishers, 2002, ISBN 90-04-12842-5.
- Elst, Koenraad Update on the Aryan Invasion Debate. 1999. ISBN 81-86471-77-4 
- Kane, Pandurang Vaman: History of Dharmasastra: (ancient and mediaeval, religious and civil law) -- Poona : Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1962–1975
- "Brahmanotpatti-martanda" Harikrishna Shastri, (Sanskrit), 1871
- Jati Bhaskar", Jwalaprasd Mishra, (Hindi), published by Khemaraj Shrikrishnadas,1914.
- G.S. Ghurye (1961). Caste, Class and Occupation. Popular Book Depot, Bombay.
- G.S. Ghurye (1969). Caste and Race in India, Popular Prakashan, Mumbai 1969 (1932)
- Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar (1967) Human Society-2, Ananda Marga Publications, Anandanagar, P.O.Baglata,Dist. Purulia, West Bengal, India.
- Ghanshyam Shah, Caste and Democratic Politics in India, 2004
- Welzer, Albrecht. 1994. Credo, Quia Occidentale: A Note on Sanskrit varna and its Misinterpretation in Literature on Mamamsa and Vyakarana. In: Studies in Mamamsa: Dr Mandan Mishra Felicitation Volume edited by R.C. Dwivedi. Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass.
- Caste, Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age, by Susan Bayly and Gordon Johnson.
- Lal, Vinay (2005), Introducing Hinduism, New York: Totem Books, pp. 132–33, ISBN 978-1-84046-626-3
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