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Bharat Ek Khoj 04:Caste Formation


For long the Aryans remained in Afghanistan and in Northern
India. Then they came further down
the plains of the Ganga and Jamuna. They called all Northern India
Aryavarta like the other people of olden
times, they settled down on the banks
of rivers. Gautama chanted the sacred
Vedic hymn. I will make oblations to the
sacred fire with butter. When the sacred fire heard this
he came down to earth. Agni, then went burning all that
was in his path. Forests and all living things
were burnt. The rivers dried Below the mountains in the
North, flowed the river The Barhmin’s could never
cross that river The Eastern bank of the river
was a marsh. They could not find a place on
earth. And after many fire sacrifices the marshes were now fertile. Madhava of Videha then said to
Agni. Where am I to abide? He said
“To the east of the river”. Thus was formed the boundary
of Kosala and Videha. The later Rig Vedic people were
a combination of settled farmers and tribal
communities. These Indo Aryan groups who
advanced eastwards from the Punjab not later than
1000 BC differed considerably from the
original Vedic people. This period is distinguished by
the use of iron while the use of the wooden
plough, and the skills of the potter,
weaver, and carpenter added to its prosperity. added to its prosperity. With his team of six oxen he
ploughs through the six seasons and as the year unwinds he
doubles the oxen. An Agni, feared by the Earth
now saw the division of the ploughed and
the unploughed and spared Earth his scorching
anger. Around 800 B.C the thickly
forested area of the Ganga Basin was cleared with the use of iron
ploughshares. This led to the creation of
surplus. In turn it led to the
establishment of large rural settlements. This surplus production would
not have been possible without a new social
organization which made possible a constant
supply of labour. In this society a new servile
class was created and thus the caste system
came into existence with Brahmins Kshatriyas,
Vaishyas and Shudras. When gods prepared the
sacrifice with Purusha With Purusha (Men) their
offering seasons mingled with the
offering Oil was spring, incense was
summer, the holy gift was autumn. When they divided man how
many portions did they make, what do they call his mouth,his
arms ? What do they call his thighs and
feet? From his mouth brahmin, from
arms Khastriya his thighs the Vaishya from his
feet came the Shudra. Thus began the caste system in
India, Which was dependent on the
labour work of the Shudras. About the same time in Greece
and Egypt the system of slavery began. The Shudras however did not
suffer the atrocities inflicted on slaves in Greece. Initially Shudras were an
integral part of the tribe and were allowed to participate
in the ceremonies. Later with the advent of the
state Shudras came to be saddled
with several restriction. In the Ramayana, Rama
punished Shambuka the Shudra for partaking in rites reserved
for the Brahmins. This certainly is a later
interpolation by the Brahmins to emphasise their superiority. Alas! Oh my child, what terrible
crime did I commit in my past to deserve the death
of my only son. My son died before his time. Is this possible in the
auspicious rule of Rama ? It is therefore Rama who is
guilty Why blame the king? It is your
own Karma. My karma ? Oh what shall
do? Where will I go? I who never spoke a lie nor
injured an animal. I who never caused sorrow to
any living being. Return to us our son O King! Or we will immolate ourselves
in front of your gate and the curse of killing a
Brahmin will be upon you. And yet if after killing Brahmins
you can be at peace then, O Rama, may you flourish
among your brothers! In the land ruled by the great
Ikshavaku Dynasty Where there is no safety even
for children how are we secure in this great
kingdom of Rama. Only when a ruler fails in his
duties, do such heinous things happen.
Crimes flourish, Chaos prevails and death
creeps in prematurely. Counsel me on how I should
answer the Brahmin at my gate who overwhelms with his
accusations for the death of his son. O King, comprehend the case
of the child’s untimely death and then act as you deem fit. I will abide by your advice. O virtuous king, in the Sata
Yuga only Brahmins practiced tapasya and thus achieved Brahma. There were no untimely deaths. Wisdom was the rule. In the Treta Yuga the four
castes were created then both Brahmins and
Kshatriyas practiced tapasya. The Vaishyas traded the Shudras dedicated their
lives to the service of the first three castes. Every Varna followed his Swa
Dharma. In the Dvapara Yuga adharma
increased, even Vaishyas practiced
tapasya. But the Shudras O king were
even then forbidden to do so. O King ! In the Kali Yuga only it
is possible for a Shudra to do tapasya But to do so in the Dvapara or
Treta Yuga a gneveous crime. What are you saying learned
sage? Are such rites being practiced in
our kingdom? Yes, a Shudra has dared to try
and gain merit through Tapasya. He must be sentenced to death. How can one who is attempting
to gain moksha be killed? lord, you even punished
Ravana with death Was he not a learned ascetic? But he was also a sinful being Still he was a Brahmin! and he is a Shudra, all the more
reason to kill for daring to practice penance. Is Shambuka a sinful being ? The king who fails to punish
such a Shudra merits hell. Let Dharma be restored!
your subjects live long Let the Brahmin Child’s life be
restored. Peasant communities absorbed
many hunting and food gathering tribes who were reduced to a servile
labour class outside the Varna (caste)
system. Master, the dog have stopped
barking someone is striking at the Must be some Nisadas who live
in these forests. Earlier there were two hunting
communities. Chandal and Nisada. Mahabharata has the Well
known story of Eklavya. Which reflects the late Vedic
attitude towards these tribes. The dog’s mouth has been
sealed with arrows. Such superb marksmanship. Who could have done this? Let
us find out. Who are you? How dare you
hunt in the royal jungle? Master! I seek your blessings Who are you to seek my
blessings and call me Master? I am Ekalavya, the Nisada. Son of the tribal King Vyadhraj You do not remember me
Master. You have seen me once before. Ten years ago I came to you.
Wanting to be your pupil. And then ? You refused to teach me. Rightly so. I can teach only
Brahmins and Kshatriyas not a lowly born like you. What can I do if I am of a low
birth? I had no choice. Is my skill and
talent of no worth? man is born in a lowly
situation that is his fate. Accept it. But how did you acquire such
skills which even my beloved pupil
Arjuna does not possess? With your blessings, Master. Come, see for yourself. I created this image of yours
Master! From it I draw inspiration. Such skill without a Guru? You
are indeed blessed! Because of the Master, I am
What I am, O’ prince. I only wish you ask for an
offering. Why? What have I taught you? Don’t spurn me. Can you not
accept my offering? No harm in that Master. Accept
his wish. If you insist, but will you be able
to give what I ask? Most certainly, please ask. Leave it be. You cannot
what I ask. Why not O’ Master? I may not be a son of the
Kauravas or the Pandavas but I am chief Vyadhraja’s son. All our wealth is yours Master. It is not wealth I seek. I want as my fee, the thumb of
your right hand. What are you asking for
Master? Are you blessing him or cursing
him? It was he who offered to give a
fee. I will give you my thumb Master. But before that may I ask you a
question? What question? Would you ever demand the
right hand of Arjuna? or Bhima his arm? And if you
ask will they comply? Then why demand my thumb
Master? Do you desire my death? Forget it and go your way I will give you your fee Master. Here is your fee Master. Why this cruelty, my Master? To save Dharma my son don’t
you know that the art of warfare should not be taught
to Shudras? If Shudras are taught the arts of
warfare They will aspire for power like
the Kshatriyas. By asking for his thumb I
rendered him harmless. This is unjust. If allowed to become a warrior,
this Shudra would surely be your rival
one-day. But with your help I would be
capable of defeating him. No, Arjuna you would stand no
chance against him. In that why? Did I not give you my word that you would be the greatest
warrior of your age? Today I kept my promise. No Master, today I saw the
greatest marksman ever, Others may call me the
Greatest marksman Eklavya’s thumbless right hand
will always mock me. The stories of Shambuka and
Eklavya show society, as the Brahmins would like it to
be. However the reality of that
society was different. In the caste system a certain
amount of mobility existed. which is seen in the story of “A
son of three fathers”. In which hand shall I place the
oblation? Your Majesty one of these
hands is certainly the hand that was impaled on a stake For it bears the mark of an iron
pin. The second is the hand of a
Brahmin For it holds stalls of sacred
grass. The third hand wears a royal
ring and belongs to a king. Then place the oblation in the
king’s hand. We should ensure that only the
real father accepts the oblation and not
others. Father of kind Chandraprabha
stretch your hand to receive the oblation. What does this mean? I will consult the Brahmins and
let your Majesty know. king, wouldn’t you like to know
the story of the three hands? Which only I know.Three
hands? Women don’t interfere let the
Brahmins deal with it. listen to my tale O king, and
then let the Brahmins decide. In the port city of Taralipti lived
a merchant whose name is Dhanpal richest of the rich and is very happy with his small
family His wife name is Sheelvati. had a daughter named
Dhanavati who was of marriageable age. One day he was summoned by
the king and ordered to go across the seas to
undertake some trade. Father ! Father ! Mother, there is a messenger
form the court for father. Don’t shout your father is
praying. Let us join him in the prayers
for his safe return. Lord of the merchants our
saviour, Preserve us from wild beasts
and brigand Grant us wealth. May the rivers of the Earth flow
with milk May our trade flourish and his
profits mutiply: May we prosper in our trade
and triumph over rivals Accept our offerings, and
destroy those who would bring evil upon
us. Don’t worry. I will hurry back to
get Dhanavati married if this trip is a success we will
be rich. I only wish you were not in
charge of the kings goods. It is such responsibility,if
something went wrong Nothing will happen. And I will
get a large share of the profit because of the risk. Look after
Dhanavati protect her. The Vaishya (merchant class)
consisted of peasants, Herdsmen, artisans and
Traders known as vanika They were the principal
taxpayers On whose taxes and tribute the Brahmins and
Kshatriyas prospered. And sometimes the merchants
Traded on behalf of kings ike Dhanpal in our story. And so Dhanpal set forth and
many months passed. I have just come from the port
with the news that the ships bearing your royal goods sank
in a storm. Where did you get this news? From the master of another
ship who picked up a survivor. He died on the spot. There is no survivor on the ship.
Whose ship was it ? Dhanpal’s This man has brought me bad
luck. Has he any heirs? Only a young daughter. Confiscate his property and
bring his daughter to court. Take the southern road out of
the city less people to hide from. Thank you. You have saved the honour of a
widow and her daughter. That is why neighbours are for.
Hurry up, don’t waste time! Who has done this to you? I am condemned forever by the
vile king of this country because I stood for truth and
justice. I led a group of Shudras in their fight to be treated as
human beings. Even on the stake my spirit
refuses to leave So great is my desire for
revenge. And it seems God has sent you
to my aid. How can we help you? We too
are victims of the king’s greed! Listen to my prayers, mother
give me your daughter. Of what use would she be to
you? I shall leave no son behind
when I die. And without a son none can
avenge the wrongs done to me. But she will bear me a son by
proxy. Who will be my heir This is my prayer. Do what I ask you. How can I sacrifice her youth to
widowhood ? Do you see that tree? Go dig under it. You will find three rubies
beyond compare one is for you, other for him who plants the
seed in my wife’s womb and the third to bring up my son
as a Kshatriya so he can rid this land of this
recursed king. Truly the Gods have sent us to
you. I too crave revenge upon this
vile king Janasandha. I Promise As you said I will do the same I give you my young girl. I can now go to join my
ancestors in peace. And so Sheelavati and
Dhanavati found themselves in the city of
Vakraloka. A kind Brahmin gave them a
house to live in and several days passed. Then Sheelavati remembered
the promise she had made to the rebel on the stake, her
daughters husband, and made arrangements to
fulfill the promise. Sister are you happy? Do you
like the house? We are grateful to you. Have you found the man
asked for? You have given me a hard task. I pity your daughter. If only her husband had a
younger brother, things would be easier. I know nothing about her
husband. We had only one thing in
common the desire to revenge ourselves
on that vile king. A learned teacher lives nearby. He has a handsome young
pupil named Manashvamin. Have you spoken to him? No! I wanted you to meet him
first. Where is the need for that? If you say he is the right man
we accept your judgement. Then you better prepare your
daughter. She will do what I ask. I have to tell you something. Please stop coming to meet my
daughter or her child. Mother! Keep quiet! Why can’t I meet my wife and
child? She is not your wife. The mother of my child is not
my wife? Listen, you have no rights on
Dhanavati and her child. You were paid for your services. Your relations with her ended at
that moment. Mother, please don’t send him
away. Does mere payment end
human bonds? Don’t ask such questi
Please leave. I want my wife and child. I will not leave her so easily I warn you. Let him stay. Have pity on us mother. Don’t worry Dhanavati. I will consult my Master. He will
find a way out. Go where you like get out! Don’t cry. We must
rememberthe promise we made. What brings you here sister?
You could have sent for me. It is a matter for your ears only. Something important? My daughter has given her
heart to this Brahmin. He too claims her as his wife. On this matter he seeks his
Guru’s counsel. And my daughter is weeping
her heart out; I do not know what to do. Accept the inevitable. You do your best to keep your
word. I want my daughter to be happy but I will never forgive myself
for breaking my promise. The child has a purpose in life. I cannot allow anyone to lead
him away from it. Then steal your heart and take
the next step. Our king Suryaprabha longs
a son. To the east is a ghat where the
king comes to bathe. Leave the child there. The king is bound to see him. The rest is up to God. What a beautiful child, with all
the auspicious signs, all symbols presaging royalty. God himself has granted me a
son. How do you know all this? Who
are you? I am your grand mother, and
the ruby is your father’s. The rebel? How can he be my
father? It was the Brahmin who gave
life to me, and king Suryaprabha brought
me up with love and care, and taught me all I know. How can I recognize the rebel
as my father? Don’t say like this Son! He is your father. Because he
gave this to you First fulfill his desire over the
wicked King Janasandha. That is the purpose of your life! Although this story was written
at a later age, it reflects the attitude of the late
Vedic period. A rebel whose caste is not
identified marries a Vaisya woman who has a son from a
Brahmin. The son is adopted by a king
who is a Kshatriya. This indicates a great degree of
social mobility. Further the rebel’s right as
Chandraprabha’s father is associated and not the
Brahmin’s, or the Kshatriya’s. Thus an individuals rights are
recognized, despite his caste. Thus an individuals rights are
recognized, despite his caste. For many centuries the
Shudras continued to suffer because of caste
divisions. This song sung by bonded
labourers in Gujarat today expresses a sentiment
perhaps shared by the slaves and Shudras of an
earlier age. I go in darkness I return in
darkness. whole life is in darkness. There is no ray of light any
where. I go in darkness I return in
darkness. There is no ray of light any
where. The old Indian structure had
some virtues and could not have lasted so
long without them. But the ultimate weakness and
failing of the system was that it degraded a mass of
human beings and gave them no opportunity to get
out of that condition educationally, culturally or
economically. It is curious and significant that throughout the long span of
Indian history there have been repeated
warnings given by great men against priest craft
and the rigidity of the caste system and powerful movements have
risen against them. Yet slowly, imperceptibly
almost, it seems, as if it were the inevitable course of
destiny, caste has grown and spread and seized every
aspect of Indian life in its strangling grip. Conditions today are changing
so much that it seems impossible for the caste
system to endure. The breakup of such a huge
and ancient organization ike caste may well lead to a
disruption of social life and the development on a vast
scale of abnormalities in individual behaviour unless
some other social structure more suited to the
time and to the genius of the people takes its place.

Joseph Wolf

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