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Caste

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[1] 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).[2] 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 Sanscrit scholar, Rudolf von Roth (1821–1895), in his Brahma and die Brahmanan[3] 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,[4] who supposed that instead of one conquest there may have been two successive imrnigrations,—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[5] 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.[6]

As Benjamin Constant[7] 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

  1. Ideen, i. 610.
  2. 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.
  3. Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft, Band i. (quoted by Muir, ubi supra).
  4. De Origine Castarum (Göttingen).
  5. History of India, vol. i. (1867–1871).
  6. 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.
  7. De la religion, ii. 8.