1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Caste

CASTE (through the Fr. from Span. and Port. casta, lineage, Lat. castus, pure). There are not many forms of social organization on a large scale to which the name “caste” has not been applied in a good or in a bad sense. Its Portuguese origin simply suggests the idea of family; but before the word came to be extensively used in modern European languages, it had been for some time identified with the Brahmanic division of Hindu society into classes. The corresponding Hindu word is varna, or colour, and the words gati, kula, gotra, pravara and karana are also used with different shades of meaning. Wherever, therefore, a writer has seen something which reminds him of any part of the extremely indeterminate notion, Indian caste, he has used the word, without regard to any particular age, race, locality or set of social institutions. Thus Palgrave[1] maintains that the colleges of operatives, which inscriptions prove to have existed in Britain during the Roman period, were practically castes, because by the Theodosian code the son was compelled to follow the father’s employment, and marriage into a family involved adoption of the family employment. But these collegia opificum seem to be just the forerunners of the voluntary associations for the regulation of industry and trade, the frith-gilds, and craft-gilds of later times, in which, no doubt, sons had great advantages as apprentices, but which admitted qualified strangers, and for which intermarriage was a matter of social feeling. The history of the formation of gilds shows, in fact, that they were really protests against the authoritative regulation of life from without and above. In the Saxon period, at any rate, there was nothing resembling caste in the strict sense. “The ceorl who had thriven so well as to have five hides of land rose to the rank of a thegn; his wergild became 1200 shillings; the value of his oath and the penalty of trespass against him increased in proportion; his descendants in the third generation became gesithcund. Nor was the character of the thriving defined; it might, so far as the terms of the custom went, be either purchase, or inheritance, or the receipt of royal bounty. The successful merchant might also thrive to thegn-right. The thegn himself might also rise to the rank, the estimation and status of an earl.”[2] It has been said that early German history is, as regards this matter, in contrast with English, and that true castes are to be found in the military associations (Genossenschaften) which arose from the older class of Dienstmannen, and in which every member—page, squire or knight—must prove his knightly descent; the Bauernstand, or rural non-military population; the Bürgerstand, or merchant-class. The ministry of the Catholic Church in the West, was, however, never restricted by blood relation. There is no doubt that at some time or other professions were in most countries hereditary. Thus Prescott[3] tells us that in Peru, notwithstanding the general rule that every man should make himself acquainted with the various arts, “there were certain individuals carefully trained to those occupations which minister to the wants of the more opulent classes. These occupations, like every other calling and office in Peru, always descended from father to son. The division of castes was in this particular as precise as that which existed in Hindustan or Egypt.” Again, Zurita[4] says that in Mexico no one could carry on trade except by right of inheritance, or by public permission. The Fiji carpenters form a separate caste, and in the Tonga Islands all the trades, except tattoo-markers, barbers and club-carvers are hereditary,—the separate classes being named matabooles, mooas and tooas. Nothing is more natural than that a father should teach his son his handicraft, especially if there be no organized system of public instruction; it gives the father help at a cheap rate, it is the easiest introduction to life for the son, and the custom or reputation of the father as a craftsman is often the most important legacy he has to leave. The value of transmitted skill in the simple crafts was very great; and what was once universal in communities still survives in outlying portions of communities which have not been brought within the general market of exchange. But so long as this process remains natural, there can be no question of caste, which implies that the adoption of a new profession is not merely unusual, but wrong and punishable. Then, the word caste has been applied to sacred corporations. A family or a tribe is consecrated to the service of a particular altar, or all the altars of a particular god. Or a semi-sacred class, such as the Brehons or the Bards, is formed, and these, and perhaps some specially dignified professions, become hereditary, the others remaining free. Thus in Peru, the priests of the Sun at Cuzco transmitted their office to their sons; so did the Quipu-camayoc, or public registrars, and the amantas and haravecs, the learned men and singers.[5] In many countries political considerations, or distinctions of race, have prevented intermarriage between classes. Take, for example, the patricians and the plebeians at Rome, or the Σπαρτιᾶται, Λάκωνες or περίοικοι, and the Εἵλωτες at Sparta. In Guatemala it was the law that if any noble married a plebeian woman he should be degraded to the caste of mazequal, or plebeian, and be subject to the duties and services imposed on that class, and that the bulk of his estate should be sequestered to the king.[6] In Madagascar marriage is strictly forbidden between the four classes of Nobles, Hovas, Zarahovas and Andevos,—the lowest of whom, however, are apparently mere slaves. In a sense slavery might be called the lowest of castes, because in most of its forms it does permit some small customary rights to the slave. In a sense, too, the survival in European royalty of the idea of “equality of birth” (Ebenbürtigkeit) is that of a caste conception, and the marriage of one of the members of a European royal family with a person not of royal blood might be described as an infraction of caste rule.

Caste in India is a question of more than historical interest. It is the great obstacle to government in accordance with modern ideas, and to the work of native religious reformers as well as of Christian missionaries. By some writers caste has been regarded as the great safeguard of social tranquillity, and therefore as the indispensable condition of the progress in certain arts and industries which the Hindus have made. Others, such as James Mill, have denounced it as fatal to the principle of free competition and opposed to individual happiness. The latter view assumes a state of facts which was denied by Colebrooke, one of the highest authorities on Indian matters. Writing in 1798 he says,[7] after pointing out that any person unable to earn a subsistence by the exercise of his profession may follow the trade of a lower caste or even of a higher: “Daily observation shows even Brahmans exercising the menial profession of a Sudra. We are aware that every caste forms itself into clubs or lodges, consisting of the several individuals of that caste residing within a small distance, and that these clubs or lodges govern themselves by particular rules or customs or by-laws. But though some restrictions and limitations, not founded on religious prejudices, are found among their by-laws, it may be received as a general maxim that the occupation appointed for each tribe is entitled merely to a preference. Every profession, with few exceptions, is open to every description of persons; and the discouragement arising from religious prejudices is not greater than what exists in Great Britain from the effects of municipal and corporation laws. In Bengal the numbers of people actually willing to apply to any particular occupation are sufficient for the unlimited extension of any manufacture.” This was corroborated by Elphinstone,[8] who states that, during a long experience of India, he never heard of a single case of degradation from caste; and it is illustrated by the experience of the Indian army, in which men of all castes unite.[9]

The ordinary notion of modern caste is that it involves certain restrictions on marriage, on profession, and on social intercourse, especially that implied in eating and drinking together. How far intermarriage is permitted, what are the effects of a marriage permitted but looked on as irregular, what are the penalties of a marriage forbidden, whether the rules protecting trades and occupations are in effect more than a kind of unionism grown inveterate through custom, by what means caste is lost, and in what circumstances it may be regained,—these are questions on which very little real or definite knowledge exists. Sir H. Risley regards the absolute prohibition of mixed marriages as now the essential and most prominent characteristic. It is very remarkable that the Vedas, on which the whole structure of Brahmanic faith and morals professes to rest, give no countenance to the later regulations of caste. The only passage bearing on the subject is in the Purusha Sukta, the 90th Hymn of the 10th Book of the Rigveda Samhita. “When they divided man, how many did they make him? What was his mouth? what his arms? what are called his thighs and feet? The Brahmana was his mouth, the Raganya was made his arms, the Vaisya became his thighs, the Sudra was born from his feet.” Martin Haug finds in this a subtle allegory that the Brahmans were teachers, the Kshatriyas the warriors of mankind. But this is opposed to the simple and direct language of the Vedic hymns, and to the fact that in the accounts of creation there the origin of many things besides classes of men is attributed in the same fanciful manner to parts of the divine person. It is in the Puranas and the Laws of Manu, neither of which claims direct inspiration, where they differ from the letter of the Veda, that the texts are to be found on which all that is objectionable in caste has been based. Even in the Vishnu Purana, however, the legend of caste speaks of the four classes as being at first “perfectly inclined to conduct springing from religious faith.” It is not till after the whole human race has fallen into sin that separate social duties are assigned to the classes. The same hymn speaks of the evolution of qualities of Brahma. Sattva, or goodness, sprang from the mouth of Brahma; Rajas, or passion, came from his breast; Tamas, or darkness, from his thighs; others he created from his feet. For each one of these gunas, or primitive differences of quality, a thousand couples, male and female, have been created, to which the distinct heavens, or places of perfection of Prajapati, Indra, Maruts and Gandharvas are assigned. To the gunas are related the yugas, or ages: 1st, the Krita, or glorious age of truth and piety, in which apparently no distinctions, at least no grades of excellence were known; 2nd, the Treta, or period of knowledge; 3rd, the Dvapara, or period of sacrifice; 4th, the Kali, or period of darkness. Bunsen supposes there may be an historical element in the legend that Pururava, a great conqueror of the Treta age, founded caste. The yugas are hardly periods of historical chronology, but there is no doubt that the Vayu Purana assigns the definite origin of caste to the Treta period. “The perfect beings of the first age, some tranquil, some fiery, some active and some distressed, were again born in the Treta, as Brahmans, &c., governed by the good and bad actions performed in former births.” The same hymn proceeds to explain that the first arrangement did not work well, and that a second was made, by which force, criminal justice and war were declared to be the business of the Kshatriyas; officiating at sacrifices, sacred study and the receipt of presents to belong to the Brahmans; traffic, cattle and agriculture to the Vaisyas; the mechanical arts and service to the Sudras. The Ramayana hymn suggests that in the four great periods the castes successively arrive at the state of dharma or righteousness. Thus, a Sudra cannot, even by the most rigorous self-mortification, become righteous in the period proper to the salvation of the Vaisyas. As the hymn speaks in the Dvapara age, it speaks of the salvation of Sudras as future, and not yet possible. Wholly in opposition to the story of a fourfold birth from Brahma is the legend that the castes sprang from Manu himself, who is removed by several generations of gods and demi-gods from Brahma. Then, again, the Santiparvan alleges that the world, at first entirely Brahmanic, was separated into castes merely by the evil works of man. Castehood consists in the exercise of certain virtues or vices. Munis, or persons born indiscriminately, frequently rise to the caste of Brahmans, and the offspring of Brahmans sink to a lower level. The serpent observes: “If a man is regarded by you as being a Brahman only in consequence of his conduct, then birth is vain, until action is shown.” But this change of caste takes place only through a second, birth, and not during the life which is spent in virtue. Another poetical conception of caste birth is expressed in the Harivamsa. The Brahmans were formed from an imperishable element (Akshara), the Kshatriyas from a perishable element (Kshara), the Vaisyas from alteration, and the Sudras from a modification of smoke.

The general result of the foregoing texts is that several contradictory accounts have been given of the origin of caste, and that these are for the most part unintelligible. Caste is described as a late episode in creation, and as born from different parts of different gods, from the mortal Manu, from abstract principles, and from non-entity. It is also described as coeval with creation, as existing in perfection during the Krita period, and subsequently falling into sin. It is also said that only Brahmans existed at first, the others only at later periods. Then the rationalistic theories of the Santiparvan upset the very foundation of caste, viz. hereditary transmission of the caste character.[10] It seems clear that when the Vedas were composed, many persons who were not Brahmans acted as priests, and saints, the “preceptors of gods,” by their “austere fervour,” rose from a lower rank to the dignity of Brahmanhood. Originally, indeed, access to the gods by prayer and sacrifice was open to all classes of the community. As the Brahmans grow in political importance, they make religion an exclusive and sacred business. We find them deciding questions of succession to the throne, and enforcing their decisions. While in the earlier literature there are several instances of Brahmans receiving instruction from the hands of Kshatriyas, in the Puranas and Manu death is made to overtake Kshatriyas who are not submissive to the Brahmans; and in one case Visvamitra, the son of Gadhi, actually obtains Brahmanhood as a reward for his submission. It seems certain that many of the ancient myths were expressly manufactured by the Brahmans to show their superiority in birth and in the favour of Heaven to the Kshatriyas—a poetical effect which is sometimes spoiled by their claiming descent from their rivals. This brings us to a consideration of the theories which have been started to account for the appearance of Brahmanic caste, as it is stereotyped in the Laws of Manu. James Mill, who invariably underestimated the influence on history of “previous states of society,” suggested that the original division must have been the work of some inspired individual, a legislator or a social reformer, who perceived the advantages which would result from a systematic division of labour. The subordination of castes he accounts for by the superstitious terror and the designing lust of power which have so frequently been invoked to explain the natural supremacy of the religious class. Because the ravages of war were dreaded most after the calamities sent by heaven, he finds that the military class properly occupy the second place. This arrangement he apparently contemplates as at no time either necessary or wholesome, and as finally destroyed by the selfish jealousies of caste, and by the degradations which the multiplication of trades made inevitable. Heeren[11] and Klaproth have contended that the division into castes is founded on an original diversity of race, and that the higher castes are possessed of superior beauty. The clear complexion and regular features of the Brahmans are said to distinguish them as completely from the Sudras as the Spanish Creoles were distinguished from the Peruvians. “The high forehead, stout build, and light copper colour of the Brahmins and other castes allied to them, appear in strong contrast with the somewhat low and wide heads, slight make, and dark bronze of the low castes” (Stevenson, quoted by Max Müller, Chips, ii. p. 327).[12] This explanation is, however, generally conjoined with that founded on the tradition of conquest by the higher castes. There is no doubt that the three castes of lighter colour (traivarnika), the white Brahmans, the red Kshatriyas, the yellow Vaisyas, are, at least in the early hymns and Brahmanas, spoken of as the Aryas, the Sanskrit-speaking conquerors, in contradistinction to the dark cloud of the Turanian aborigines Dasyus. In fact ârya, which means noble, is derived from ărya, which means householder, and was the original name of the largest caste, now called Vaisyas. The great Sanskrit scholar, Rudolf von Roth (1821–1895), in his Brahma und die Brahmanan[13] held that the Vedic people advanced from their home in the Punjab, drove the aborigines into the hills, and took possession of the country lying between the Ganges, the Jumna and the Vindhya range. “In this stage of complication and disturbance,” he said, “power naturally fell into the hands of those who did not possess any direct authority,” i.e. the domestic priests of the numerous tribal kings. The Sudras he regarded as a conquered race, perhaps a branch of the Aryan stock, which immigrated at an earlier period into India, perhaps an autochthonous Indian tribe. The latter hypothesis is opposed to the fact that, while the Sudra is debarred from sharing three important Vedic sacrifices, the Bhagasata Purana expressly permits him to sacrifice “without mantras,” and imposes on him duties with reference to Brahmans and cows which one would not expect in the case of a nation strange in blood. But unless a previous subordination of castes among the conquering race be supposed, it seems difficult to see why the warrior-class, who having contributed most to the conquest must have been masters of the situation, should have consented to degradation below the class of Brahmans. The position of the Sudra certainly suggests conquest. But are there sound historical reasons for supposing that Brahmans and Sudras belonged to different nations, or that either class was confined to one nation? The hypothesis was held in a somewhat modified form by Meiners,[14] who supposed that instead of one conquest there may have been two successive immigrations,—the first immigrants being subdued by the second, and then forming an intermediate class between their conquerors and the aborigines; or, if there were no aborigines, the mixture of the two immigrant races would form an intermediate class. In the same way Talboys Wheeler[15] suggested that the Sudra may be the original conquerors of the race now represented by the Pariahs. Most of these explanations seem rather to describe the mode in which the existing institutions of caste might be transplanted from one land to another, from a motherland to its colonies, and altered by its new conditions. Military conquest, though it often introduces servitude, does not naturally lead to the elevation of the priesthood. It is unscientific to assume large historical events, or large ethnological facts, or the existence of some creator of social order.[16]

As Benjamin Constant[17] points out, caste rests on the religious idea of an indelible stain resting on certain men, and the social idea of certain functions being committed to certain classes. The idea of physical purity was largely developed under the Mosaic legislation; in fact the internal regulations of the Essenes (who were divided into four classes) resemble the frivolous prohibitions of Brahmanism. As the daily intercourse of men in trade and industry presents numberless occasions on which the stain of real or fancied impurity might be caught, the power of the religious class who define the rules of purity and the penalties of their violation becomes very great. Moreover, the Hindus are deeply religious, and therefore naturally prepared for Purohiti or priest-rule. They were also passionately attached to their national hymns, some of which had led them to victory, while others were associated with the benign influences of nature. Only the priest could chant or teach these hymns, and it was believed that the smallest mistake in pronunciation would draw down the anger of the gods. But however favourable the conditions of spiritual dominion might be, it seems to have been by no more natural process than hard fighting that the Brahmans finally asserted their supremacy. We are told that Parasurama, the great hero of the Brahmans, “cleared the earth thrice seven times of the Kshatriya caste, and filled with their blood the five large lakes of Samauta.” Wheeler thinks that the substitution of blood-sacrifices for offerings of parched grain, clarified butter and soma wine marks an adaptation by the Brahmans of the great military banquets to the purposes of political supremacy. It is not, therefore, till the Brahmanic period of Indian history, which ends with the coming of Sakya Muni, in 600 B.C., that we find the caste-definitions of Manu realized as facts. These are—“To Brahmans he (i.e. Brahma) assigned the duties of reading the Vedas, of teaching, of sacrificing, of assisting others to sacrifice, of giving alms if they be rich, and if indigent of receiving gifts.”[18] The duties of the Kshatriya are “to defend the people, to give alms, to sacrifice, to read the Veda, to shun the allurements of sensual gratification.” The duties of a Vaisya are “to keep herds of cattle, to bestow largesses, to sacrifice, to read the scripture, to carry on trade, to lend at interest, and to cultivate land.” These three castes (the twice born) wear the sacred thread. The one duty of a Sudra is “to serve the before-mentioned classes without depreciating their worth.”[19] The Brahman is entitled by primogeniture to the whole universe; he may eat no flesh but that of victims; he has his peculiar clothes. He is bound to help military and commercial men in distress. He may seize the goods of a Sudra, and whatever the latter acquires by labour or succession beyond a certain amount. The Sudra is to serve the twice born; and even when emancipated cannot be anything but a Sudra. He may not learn the Vedas, and in sacrifice he must omit the sacred texts. A Sudra in distress may turn to a handicraft; and in the same circumstances a Vaisya may stoop to service. Whatever crime a Brahman might commit, his person and property were not to be injured; but whoever struck a Brahman with a blade of grass would become an inferior quadruped during twenty-one transmigrations. In the state the Brahman was above all the ministers; he was the raja’s priest, exempt from taxation, the performer of public sacrifices, the expounder of Manu, and at one time the physician of bodies as well as of souls. He is more liable than less holy persons to pollution, and his ablutions are therefore more frequent. A Kshatriya who slandered a Brahman was to be fined 100 panas (a copper weight of 200 grains); a Vaisya was fined 200 panas; a Sudra was to be whipped. A Brahman slandering any of the lower castes pays 50, 25 or 12 panas. In ordinary salutations a Brahman is asked whether his devotion has prospered; a Kshatriya, whether he has suffered from his wounds; a Vaisya whether his health is secure; a Sudra whether he is in good health.[20] In administering oaths a Brahman is asked to swear by his veracity; a Kshatriya by his weapons, house or elephant; a Vaisya by his kine, grain or goods; a Sudra by all the most frightful penalties of perjury. The Hindu mind is fertile in oaths; before the caste assembly the Dhurm, or caste custom, is sometimes appealed to, or the feet of Brahma, or some cow or god or sacred river, or the bel (the sacred creeper), or the roots of the turmeric plant. The castes are also distinguished by their modes of marriage. Those peculiar to Brahmans seem to be—1st, Brahma, when a daughter, clothed only with a single robe, is given to a man learned in the Veda whom her father has voluntarily invited and respectfully receives; 2nd, Devas or Daiva, when a daughter, in gay attire is given, when the sacrifice is already begun, to the officiating priest. The primitive marriage forms of Rashasas or Rachasa, when a maiden is seized by force from home, while she weeps and calls for help, is said to be appropriate to Kshatriyas. To the two lower castes the ceremony of Asura is open, in which the bridegroom, having given as much wealth as he can afford to the father and paternal kinsman and to the damsel herself, takes her voluntarily as his bride. A Kshatriya woman on her marriage with a Brahman must hold an arrow in her hand; a Vaisya woman marrying one of the sacerdotal or military classes must hold a whip; a Sudra woman marrying one of the upper castes must hold the skirt of a mantle.

How little the system described by Manu applies to the existing castes of India may be seen in these facts—(1) that there is no artisan caste mentioned by Manu; (2) that eating with another caste, or eating food prepared by another caste, is not said by him to involve loss of caste, though these are now among the most frequent sources of degradation. The system must have been profoundly modified by the teaching of Buddha: “As the four rivers which fall into the Ganges lose their names as soon as they mingle their waters with the holy river, so all who believe in Buddha cease to be Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sudras.” After Buddha, Sudra dynasties ruled in many parts of India, and under the Mogul dynasty the Cayets, a race of Sudras, had almost a monopoly of public offices. But Buddha did not wish to abolish caste. Thus it is related that a Brahman Pundit who had embraced the doctrines of Buddha nevertheless found it necessary, when his king touched him, to wash from head to foot.[21] Alexander the Great found no castes in the Punjab, but Megasthenes had left an account of the ryots and tradesmen, the military order and the gymnosophists (including the Buddhist Germanes) whom he found in the country of the Ganges.[22] From his use of the word gymnosophist it is probable that Megasthenes confounded the Brahmans with the hermits or fakirs; and this explains his statement that any Hindu might become a Brahman. Megasthenes spent some time at the court of Sandracottus (Chandragupta Maurya), a contemporary of Seleucus Nicator. All the later Greeks[23] follow his statement and concur in enumerating seven Indian castes—sophists, agriculturists, herdsmen, artisans, warriors, inspectors, councillors. On the revival of Brahmanism it was found that the second and third castes had disappeared, and that the field was now occupied by the Brahmans, the Sudras, and a host of mixed castes, sprung from the original twelve, Unulum and Prutilum, left-hand and right-hand, which were formed by the crossing of the four original castes. Manu himself gives a list of these impure castes, and the Ain-i-Akbari (1556–1605) makes the positive statement that there were then 500 tribes bearing the name of Kshatriya, while the real caste no longer existed. Most of these subdivisions are really trade-organizations, many of them living in village-communities, which trace descent from a pure caste. Thus in Bengal there are the Vaidya or Baidya, the physicians, who, Manu says, originated in the marriage of a Brahman father and a Vaisya mother.

As Colebrooke said, Brahmans and Sudras enter into all trades, but Brahmans (who are profoundly ignorant even of their own scriptures) have succeeded in maintaining their monopoly of Vedic learning, which really means a superficial acquaintance with the Puranas and Manu. Though they have succeeded in excluding others from sacred employment, only a portion of the caste are actually engaged in religious ceremonies, in sacred study, or even in religious begging. Many are privates in the army, many water-carriers, many domestic servants. And they have, like other castes, many subdivisions which prevent intimate association and intermarriage. The ideal Brahman is gone: the priest “with his hair and beard clipped, his passions subdued, his mantle white, his body pure, golden rings in his ear.” But the hold which caste has on the Hindu minds may, perhaps, be most clearly seen in the history of the Christian missions and in comparatively recent times. The Jesuits Xavier and Fra dei Nobili did everything but become Brahmans in order to convert the south of India—they put on a dress of cavy or yellow colour, they made frequent ablutions, they lived on vegetables and milk, they put on their foreheads the sandalwood paste used by the Brahmans—and Gregory XV. published a bull sanctioning caste regulations in the Christian churches of India. The Danish mission of Tranquebar, the German mission of the heroic Schwarz, whose headquarters were Tanjore, also permitted caste to be retained by their followers. Even the priests of Buddha, whose life was a protest against caste, re-erected the system in the island of Ceylon, where the radis or radias were reduced to much the same state as the Pariahs.[24] Protestant missions have made but little progress, even in recent years. The number of native converts to Christianity rose from 1,246,000 in 1872 to 2,664,000 in 1901; these figures, however, are by themselves rather misleading, for Christianity appears to have touched the higher classes in India not at all, only the out-castes.

It is still the general law that to constitute a good marriage the parties must belong to the same caste, but to unconnected families. Undoubtedly, however, the three higher castes were always permitted to intermarry with the caste next below their own, the issue taking the lower caste or sometimes forming a new class. A Sudra need not marry a wife of the same caste or sect as himself. In 1871 it was decided by the judicial committee of the privy council that a marriage between a zemindar (landowner) of the Malavar class, a subdivision of the Sudra caste, with a woman of the Vellala class of Sudras is lawful. Generally also a woman may not marry beneath her own caste. The feeling is not so strong against a man marrying even in the lowest caste, for Manu permits the son of a Brahman and a Sudra mother to raise his family to the highest caste in the seventh generation. The illegitimacy resulting from an invalid marriage does not render incapable of caste; at least it does not so disqualify the lawful children of the bastard. On a forfeiture of caste by either spouse intercourse ceases between the spouses: if the out-caste be a sonless woman, she is accounted dead, and funeral rites are performed for her; if she have a son, he is bound to maintain her. It is remarkable that the professional concubinage of the dancing-girl does not involve degradation, if it be with a person of the same caste. This suggests that whatever may be the function of caste, it is not a safe guardian of public morality. The rules as to prohibited degrees in marriage used to be very strict, but they are now relaxed. An act of 1856 legalized remarriage by widows in all the castes, with a conditional forfeiture of the deceased husband’s estate, unless the husband has expressly sanctioned the second marriage. The later Indian Marriage Act was directed against the iniquitous child marriages; it requires a minimum age. In many ways the theoretical inferiority of the Sudra absolves him from the restraints which the letter of the law lays on the higher castes. Thus a Sudra may adopt a daughter’s or sister’s son, though this is contrary to the general rule that the adopter should be able to marry the mother of the adopted person. The rule requiring the person adopted to be of the same caste and gotra or family as the adopter is also dispensed with in the case of Sudras. In fact, it is only a married person whom a Sudra may not adopt. As regards inheritance the Sudra does not come off so well in competition with the other castes. “The sons of a Brahamana in the several tribes have four shares or three or two or one; the children of a Kshatriya have three portions or two or one; and those of a Vaisya take two parts or one.” This refers to the case permitted by law, and not unknown in practice, of a Brahman having four wives of different castes, a Kshatriya three, and so on. But all sons of inferior caste are excluded from property coming by gift to the father; and a Sudra son is also excluded from land acquired by purchase. It must be recollected, however, that under an act of 1850, loss of caste no longer affects the capacity to inherit or to be adopted. In cases of succession ab intestato on failure of the preceptor, pupil, and fellow-student (heirs called by the Hindu law after relatives), a priest, or any Brahman, many succeed. Where a Sudra is the only son of a Brahman, the Sapinda, or next of kin, would take two-thirds of the inheritance; where he is the only son of any other twice-born father, the Sapinda would take one-half. Possibly, the rule of equal division among sons of equal caste did not at first apply to Brahmans, who, as the eldest sons of God, would perhaps observe the custom of primogeniture among themselves. On the other hand it was laid down in the judicial committee in 1869, contrary to the collected opinions of the Pundits of the Sudder court, that, in default of lawful children, the illegitimate children of the Sudra caste inherit their putative father’s estate, and, even if there be lawful children, are entitled to maintenance out of the estate. It had previously been decided by Sir Edward Ryan in 1857 that the illegitimate children of a Rajput, or of any other member of a superior caste, have no right of inheritance even under will, but a mere right to maintenance, provided the children are docile. It seems then that the Kshatriya and Vaisya castes, though in one sense non-existent, still control Hindu succession.

With regard to Persia the Zend Avesta speaks of a fourfold division of the ancient inhabitants of Iran into priests, warriors, agriculturists and artificers; and also of a sevenfold division corresponding to the seven amschespands, or servants of Ormuzd. This was no invention of Zoroaster, but a tradition from the golden age of Jemshid or Diemschid. The priestly caste of Magi was divided into Herbeds or disciples, Mobeds or masters, and Destur Mobeds or complete masters. The last-named were alone entitled to read the liturgies of Ormuzd; they alone predicted the future and carried the sacred costi, or girdle, havan, or cup, and barsom, or bunch of twigs. The Zend word baresma is supposed to be connected with Brahma, or sacred element, of which the symbol was a bunch of kusa grass, generally called veda. The Persian and Hindu religions are further connected by the ceremony called Homa in the one and Soma in the other. Haug, in his Tract on the Origin of Brahmanism (quoted by Muir, ubi supra), maintains that the division in the Zend Avesta of the followers of Ahura Mazda into Atharvas, Rathaesvas, and Vastrya was precisely equivalent to the three superior Indian castes. He also asserts that only the sons of priests (Atharvas) could become priests, a rule still in force among the Parsis. The Book of Daniel rather suggests that the Magi were an elective body; and as regards the secular classes there does not seem to be a trace of hereditary employment or religious subordination. There is a legend in the Dabistan of a great conqueror, Mahabad, who divided the Abyssinians into the usual four castes; and Strabo mentions a similar classification of the Iberians into kings, priests, soldiers, husbandmen and menials.

At one time it was the universal opinion that in Egypt there were at least two great castes, priests and warriors, the functions of which were transmitted from father to son, the minor professions grouped under the great castes being also subject to hereditary transmission. This opinion was held by Otfried Müller,[25] Meiners of Göttingen, and others. Doubts were first suggested by Rossellini, and after Champollion had deciphered the hieroglyphic inscriptions, J. J. Ampère[26] boldly announced that there were in Egypt no castes strictly so called; that in particular the professions of priest, soldier, judge, &c., were not hereditary; and that the division of Egyptian society was merely that which is generally found in certain stages of social growth between the liberal professions and the mechanical arts and trades. No difference of colour, or indeed of any feature, has been observed in the monumental pictures of the different Egyptian castes. From an inspection of numerous tombs, sarcophagi, and funeral stones, which frequently enumerate the names and professions of several kinsfolk of the deceased, Ampère concluded that sacerdotal and military functions were sometimes united in the same person, and might even be combined with civil functions; that intermarriage might certainly take place between the sacred and military orders; and that the members of the same natural family did frequently adopt the different occupations which had been supposed to be the exclusive property of the castes. The tombs of Beni Hassan show in a striking manner the Egyptian tendency to accumulate, rather than to separate, employments. Occasionally families were set apart for the worship of a particular divinity. An interesting “section” of Egyptian society is afforded by a granite monument preserved in the museum at Naples. Nine figures in bas-relief represent the deceased, his father, three brothers, a paternal uncle, and the father and two brothers of his wife. Another side contains the mother, wife, wife’s mother and maternal aunts. The deceased is described as a military officer and superintendent of buildings; his elder brother as a priest and architect; his third brother as a provincial governor, and his father as a priest of Ammon. The family of the wife is exclusively sacerdotal. Egyptian caste, therefore, permitted two brothers to be of different castes, and one person to be of more castes than one, and of different castes from those to which his father or wife belonged. The lower employments, commerce, agriculture, even medicine, are never mentioned on the tombs. The absolute statements about caste in Egypt, circulated by such writers as Reynier and De Goguet, have, no doubt, been founded on passages in Herodotus (ii. 143, 164), who mentions seven classes, and makes war an hereditary profession; in Diodorus Siculus (i. 2-8), who mentions five classes and a hereditary priesthood; and in Plato, who, anxious to illustrate the principle of compulsory division of labour, on which his republic was based, speaks in the Timaeus of a total separation of the six classes—priests, soldiers, husbandmen, artisans, hunters and shepherds. Heeren (ii. 594) does not hesitate to ascribe the formation of Egyptian caste to the meeting of different races. According to the chronology constructed by Bunsen the division into castes began in the period 10,000–9000, and was completed along with the introduction of animal worship and the improvement of writing under the third dynasty in the 6th or 7th century of the Old Empire. The Scholiast of Apollonius Rhodius, on the authority of Dicaearchus, in the Second Book of Hellas, mentions a king, Sesonchosis, who, about 3712 B.C., “enacted that no one should abandon his father’s trade, for this he considered as leading to avarice.” Bunsen conjectures that this may refer to Sesostoris, the lawgiver of Manetho’s third or Memphite dynasty, the eighth from Menes, who introduced writing, building with hewn stone, and medicine; possibly, also, to Sesostris, who, Aristotle says (Polit. vii. 1), introduced caste to Crete. He further observes that in Egypt there was never a conquered indigenous race. There was one nation with one language and one religion; the public panegyrics embraced the whole people; every Egyptian was the child and friend of the gods. The kings were generally warriors, and latterly adopted into the sacerdotal caste. Intermarriage was the rule, except between the swineherds and all other classes. “Every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians” (Gen. xlvi. 34).

The comprehensive essay by Sir H. H. Risley in the introductory volume of the Indian Census Report for 1901 is the best recent account of caste in India. See also, besides the works mentioned in the text, Sir Denzil Ibbetson’s Report on the Punjab Census (1881); W. Crooke, Things Indian (1905) and other books by this author on Indian religion and caste; Senart, Les Castes dans l’Inde (1896); Jogendra Nath Bhattacharya, Hindu Castes and Sects (1896). There is an interesting chapter on the subject in Sidney Low’s Vision of India (1906). See also India, Indian Law, and Hinduism.

  1. History of Rise and Progress of the English Constitution, i. 332.
  2. Stubbs’ Constitutional History of England, i. p. 162.
  3. History of Peru, i. 143.
  4. Rapport sur les différentes classes de chefs dans la nouvelle Espagne (1840), p. 223.
  5. Something like this is to be found in the Russian notion of chin, or status according to official hierarchy of ranks, as modified by the custom of myestnichestvo, by which no one entering the public service could be placed beneath a person who had been subject to his father’s orders. Hereditary nobility at one time belonged to every servant, military or civil, above a certain rank, and a family remaining out of office for two generations lost its rights of nobility; but in 1854 the privilege was confined to army colonels and state councillors of the 4th class. At one time, therefore, the razryadniya knighi, or special registers, superseded by Peter the Great’s barkhatnaya kniga, or Velvet Book, contained a complete code of social privilege and precedence. Peter’s “tabel o rangakh” contained fourteen classes. The subject is treated of in the 1600 articles of the ninth volume of the Russian Code Svod Zakonov. The Russian Nobility, though deprived of their exemptions from conscription, personal taxation and corporal punishment, still retain many advantages in the public service.
  6. Juarros, Hist. of Guatemala, Tr. (London, 1823).
  7. Life and Essays of H. T. Colebrooke, i. p. 104.
  8. History of India.
  9. “The crudities and cruelties of the caste system need not blind us to its other aspects. There is no doubt that it is the main cause of the fundamental stability and contentment by which Indian society has been braced up for centuries against the shocks of politics and the cataclysms of Nature. It provides every man with his place, his career, his occupation, his circle of friends. It makes him, at the outset, a member of a corporate body: it protects him through life from the canker of social jealousy and unfulfilled aspirations; it ensures him companionship and a sense of community with others in like case with himself. The caste organization is to the Hindu his club, his trade union, his benefit society, his philanthropic society. An Indian without caste, as things stand at present, is not quite easy to imagine.” (Sidney Low, Vision of India, 1906, ch. xv. p. 263).
  10. Muir’s Sanskrit Texts, vol. i. (1868).
  11. Ideen, i. 610.
  12. The idea of a conquering white race is strangely repeated in the later history of India. The Rajputs and Brahmans are succeeded by the Mussulmans, the Turks, the Afghans. There was an aristocracy of colour under the Mogul dynasty. But under an Indian climate it could not last many generations. The Brahmans of southern India were as black as the lowest castes; the Chandalas are said to be descended from Brahmans. According to Manu the Chandala must not dwell within town; his sole wealth must be dogs and asses; his clothes must consist of the mantles of deceased persons; his dishes must be broken pots. Surely this vituperative description must apply to an aboriginal race.
  13. Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft, Band i. (quoted by Muir, ubi supra).
  14. De Origine Castarum (Göttingen).
  15. History of India, vol. i. (1867–1871).
  16. For a characteristic appreciation of caste see Comte, Cours de philosophie positive, vi. c. 8. He regards the hereditary transmission of functions under the rule of a sacerdotal class as a necessary and universal stage of social progress, greatly modified by war and colonization. The morality of caste was, he contends, an improvement on what preceded; but its permanence was impossible, because “the political rule of intelligence is hostile to human progress.” The seclusion of women and the preservation of industrial inventions were features of caste; and the higher priests were also magistrates, philosophers, artists, engineers, and physicians.
  17. De la religion, ii. 8.
  18. The great mass of the Brahmans were in reality mendicants, who lived on the festivals of birth, marriage, and death, and on the fines exacted for infractions of caste rule. Others had establishments called Muths, endowed with Jagir villages. There were two distinct orders of officiating priests—the Purohita, or family priest, who performed all the domestic rites, and probably gave advice in secular matters, and the Guru, who is the head of a religious sect, making tours of superintendence and exaction, and having the power to degrade from caste and to restore. In some cases the Guru is recognized as the Mehitra or officer of the caste assembly, from whom he receives Huks, or salary, and an exemption from house and stamp taxes, and service as begarree (Steele’s Law and Customs of Hindoo Castes within the Dekhan Provinces, 1826; later edition, 1868). Expulsion from caste follows on a number of moral offences (e.g. assault, murder, &c.), as well as ceremonial offences (e.g. eating prohibited food, eating with persons of lower caste, abstaining from funeral rites, having connexion with a low-caste woman). Exclusion means that it is not allowed to eat with or enter the houses of the members of the caste, the offender being in theory not degraded but dead. For some heinous offences, i.e. against the express letter of the Shasters, no readmission is possible. But generally this depends on the ability of the out-caste to pay a fine, and to supply the caste with an expiatory feast of sweetmeats. He has also to go through the Sashtanyam, or prostration of eight members, and to drink the Panchakaryam, i.e. drink of the five products of the cow (Description of People of India, Abbé J. A. Dubois, Missionary in Mysore, Eng. Trans., London, 1817; edition by Pope, Madras, 1862).
  19. Manu. x. 88-90.
  20. Wheeler ii. 533.
  21. Travels of Fah Hian, c. 27.
  22. Strabo, Ind. sec. 59.
  23. Arrian, Indic. c. 11, 12; Diod. Sic. ii. c. 40, 41; and Strabo xv. 1.
  24. Irving, Theory and Practice of Caste (London, 1859).
  25. Manual of Archaeology.
  26. Revue des deux mondes, 15th September 1848.