Page:A Brief History of the Indian Peoples.djvu/101

This page needs to be proofread.


CASTE AS A TRADE GUILD. 97 quite apart from the rest ; and they have among themselves no fewer than 1886 subdivisions or separate Brahmanical tribes. In like manner, the Kshattriyas or Rajputs number 590 separate tribes in different parts of India. Complexity of Caste.— While, therefore, Indian caste seems at first a very simple arrangement of the people into four classes, it is in reality a very complex one. For it rests upon three distinct systems of division ; namely, upon race, occupation, and geographical position. It is very difficult even to guess at the number of the Indian castes. But there are not fewer than 3000 of them which have separate names, and which regard themselves as separate classes. The different castes cannot intermarry with each other, and most of them cannot eat together. The ordinary rule is that no Hindu of good caste can touch food cooked by a man of inferior caste. By rights, too, each caste should keep to its own occupation. Indeed, there has been a tendency to erect every separate kind of employment or handicraft in each separate Province into a distinct caste. But, as a matter of practice, the castes often change their occupation, and the lower ones sometimes raise themselves in the social scale. Thus the Vaisya caste were in ancient times the tillers of the soil. They have in most Provinces given up this toilsome occupation, and the Vaisyas are now the great merchants and bankers of India. Their fair skins, intelligent faces, and polite bearing, must have altered since the days when their forefathers ploughed, sowed, and reaped under the hot sun. Such changes of employment still occur on a smaller scale throughout India. Caste as a System of Trade-guilds. — The system of caste exercises a great influence upon the industries of the people. Each caste is, in the first place, a trade-guild. It ensures the proper training of the youth of its own special craft ; it makes rules for the conduct of the caste-trade ; it promotes good feeling by feasts or social gatherings. The famous manufactures of mediaeval India, its muslins, silks, cloth of gold, inlaid weapons, and exquisite work in precious stones — were brought to perfection under the care of the castes or trade-guilds. Such guilds may still be found in full work in many parts of India.