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Caste

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.[1] 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,[2] Meiners of Göttingen, and others. Doubts were first suggested by Rossellini, and after Champollion had deciphered the hieroglyphic inscriptions, J. J. Ampère[3] 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 Berri Hassan show in a striking manner the

  1. Irving, Theory and Practice of Caste (London, 1859).
  2. Manual of Archaeology.
  3. Revue des deux mondes, 15th September 1848.