What is the Varna System in Hinduism?

Varna System is an ancient Vedic word in the Sanskrit language. It simply means the class system of Hinduism. Manusmriti, the writer and the father of humans has classified the four Varnas and detailed their responsibilities, duties, occupations, needs, and Dharma. According to the Vedic Story from the Manusrmriti, they are Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. 

    • Brahmins perform their duties with designated occupations such as Vedic scholars, priests, and teachers.

    • Kshatriyas are given the work to perform with designated occupations such as rulers, administrators, and warriors. 

    • Vaishyas are allowed to work as agriculturalists, farmers, and merchants. 

    • Shudras came to be known as artisans, laborers, and servants 

The Original Varna System: Four Divisions of Primordial Purush

Purusha Sukta of the Rig Veda (10.90.11–12) describes that the primordial Purusha, or divine being, has divided himself into four, forming the mouth, arms, thighs, and feet.

    • Brahman is the mouth of a divine being.

    • Rajanya (Kshtriya) is the arm of the primordial purush.

    • Vaishya is the thighs of the Pratham purusha.

    • Shudra is the feet of the infinite purusha or the prima seed of all living beings. 

Every living being—trees, flowers, insects, animals, birds, and humans is no less than the primordial Purusha himself. The Vedas narrate stories of how the divine being divided himself and thrived on Earth. 

    • From the mouth of primordial purusha, Brahman is born.

    • From the arms of primordial purusha, Rajanya is born.

    • From the thighs of the primordial purusha, Vaishya is born.

Varna System: What is the Purpose of Sva-Dharma in Hinduism? 

According to the Vedas, Varna means performing ‘ sva-dharma’ or individual duties. Individual Varnas are allotted duties, according to their nature. 

The Varnas are the four social classes and ashramas, or stages of human life, such as Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha, and Sannyas. 

The Varna System simply means to preserve the purity of the caste in an eternal order and attain Moksha by being dutiful. 

What is the Karma of the Four Varna System as per the Vedas?

Sanatan Dharma and the Indian ancient texts believe in the concept of karma. Indian mythology, such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, encourages living beings to perform their duty and seek liberation from the birth and death cycle. It also encourages people to follow the Varna System—four categories of castes—and follow their duties as specified in the individual duty (sva-dharma). 

First Varna: Duties and Responsibility of Brahmins

Brahmins are associated with knowledge and wisdom. They are revered, renunciate worldly pleasure, and cultivate divine qualities of Brahman, thus called Brahmins. Brahmins are assigned duties to perform by being priests, rishis, gurus, and scholars. They remain brahmachari (celibate). Even if they marry, they are called Brahmachari due to the virtue of reproducing only to continue life on earth but remaining detached. 

A Brahmin woman is more chaste than her husband and is given respect. As per Manu Smriti, a Brahmin woman is allowed to be a Brahmin. However, she is free to choose her husband. Inter-caste marriages are restricted, especially in Shudra, because, due to the union, an impure child is born. 

Second Varna: Duties and Responsibilities of Kshatriya

Kshatriyas are assigned the duty of warriors, kings, rulers of territories, administrators, and leaders. They are bound to learn weaponry, warfare, penance, austerity, administration, moral conduct, justice, and ruling. Kshatriya princes are sent to the Brahmin ashram to learn the four stages of life (Brahmachari, Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha, and Sannyas) and their duties. 

Kshatriya princes must marry a princess to continue their race. They are allowed to choose any woman from all four Varnas with mutual consent. However, Kshatriya, or a Brahmin woman, is their first choice. 

The princess of Kshatriya Varna also performs the same duty as the prince. They have all the rights as princes, such as learning warfare, queenship, and leading the kingdom. Princesses are married to continue their family lineage for the throne and claim sovereignty over territories.

Third Varna: Duties and Responsibilities of Vaishya

Vaishya, the third Varna, is responsible for food agriculture and fulfills the needs of all four Varnas. They perform their duties in society by being traders, moneylenders, and merchants. Vaishyas are sent to the Brahmin ashram to learn how to lead life and prosper in society with the king and administrators. 

Vaishya women are also allowed to do all the same duties as men. They can help their husbands in business, agriculture, cattle rearing, and sharing the burden of duty. Vaishya women are free to choose their husbands from all four Varnas. Women are given rights over ancestral properties, can remarry, and live a life freely. 

Fourth Varna: Duties and Responsibilities of Shudra

Shudra, the last Varna, is the helper and backbone of Brahmin, Kshatriya, and Vaishya. They perform their duties by serving the above social class. However, the Atharva Veda narrates that the Shudra is allowed to hear and learn the Vedas. 

The Mahabharata also narrates the inclusion story of Shudras in ashrams learning the Vedas. A Shudra man is permitted to marry a Shudra woman. However, a Shudra woman can marry any of the four Varnas. 

Why Does the Mahabharata Describe Two Models of the Varna system? 

The Mahabharata, the epic of Indian mythology, is the greatest narrative in Hinduism. It discusses the Varna system as well in Section 12.181. 

The Epic offers two models on Varna. 

    • First is the Varna system of social class.

    • Second is the Varna System of color coding. 

Bhrigu Rishi narrated that Brahmins are white, Kshtriyas are red, Vaishyas are yellow, and Shudras are black. 

What Do the Puranas Say About the Varna System?

Brahma Purana narrates that the melange of varnas would lead humans to hell. Brahmanda Purana says that low and high varnas man and woman association is a sign of Kali Yuga, the age of immorality and virtue decline. 

Indian mythology, ancient texts such as the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Vedas, and Manu Smriti enlighten the Hindus about what the Varna System actually is.

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