What is the caste system

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Caste systems are hereditary systems of social class with cultural pluralism in many parts of the world. Today, it is most commonly associated with the Indian 'caste' system, more correctly known as Varna (color) in Hinduism. In a caste society, the assignment of individuals to places in the social hierarchy is decided by social group and cultural heritage. This classification is based on social occupation, endogamy, social culture, social class, and social group. The caste system incorporates the concept of "Matam" (caste respect) which teaches all castes to respect each other. Caste discrimination affects an estimated 250 million people worldwide.[1]oeo


Caste is described by the Oxford English Dictionary as both:

"Each of the hereditary classes of Hindu society, distinguished by relative degrees of ritual purity or pollution and of social status," and "Any exclusive social class".[2]


The Cambridge University Press Dictionary defines caste as:

"A system of dividing Hindu society into classes, or any of these classes"[3]


Caste = Used since 1555, "a race of men," from L. casto "chaste," from castus "pure, cut off, separated," pp. of carere "to be cut off from" (and related to castrate), from PIE base *kes- "to cut (note, the askterisk means theoretical/used by those who believe that Sanskrit was not a source but rather a sister language of Greek and Latin-added by the writer) "Application to Hindu social groups picked up in India in the 17c. from Port. casta "breed, race, caste," the earlier casta raca "unmixed race," from the same L. word. (Online Etymological Dictionary)

One should note the similarity to the Arabic Khalifate and Kalifa, the Punjabi Khalsa and Khalistan where the K is related and interchangable with CH or CA or the Chalis of Jesus—called the Holy Grail. If one takes the earlier Portugese word - raca and transposes the Hindi or Punjabi -ra-ka-or better ka-ra = you have a reference to the sun, of the sun/ sun born (Rajput) or of very pure brilliance like the sun - (a part of many Hindu wedding vows is a promise to produce Brilliant children like the Sun. Again added by the writer.


Hinduism is often now associated with the word caste. The term caste was first used by the Portuguese during their 16th century voyages to India (Vasco Da Gama who first landed in Kalicut in in Calicut on 20 May 1498 actually thought the native Indians were Christians). The term caste comes from the Spanish and Portuguese word "casta" which means "lineage". However, many have stated due to Portuguese ignorance of Indian culture and religious tradition they asserted their own 14th century prejudices when defining the social structures found in Hinduism. The caste system is a composite of class system and Hindu religious beliefs. The system is difficult to define through western structures because it incorporates eastern philosophy and Dharmic laws. Therefore, it can only be fully understood through the context or backdrop of eastern philosophy and dharmic laws, not western philosophy.

Many westerners might make a case for caste and class system being similar. In the west one can choose, seemingly his class. In a British Public House you can have your food and beverage at a lowered price or pay more and sit in the first class section with Lords and Ladies. Anyone can sit in a first class seat on and English airline, or Indian train (?) one just pays double. A hundred years ago this was very different the chances depicted in the movie My Fair Lady, though Cary Grant did lose a heavy cockney accent to become the essence of the debonair (Fr. of good air) western male. But in America where there is 'old money' and 'new money' it is still often hard for those of new wealth to enter certain social stratas. The oldest money I have seen lately in the states is often, people coming from India from extended families who have been building wealth for many more hundreds of years than even the wealthiest Americans.

The four main classes of occupations (Varna in Hinduism) stated in the Rigveda were as follows:

  • 1. Brahmanas (scholars, priests and later often cooks- as their touch was thought to not defile food)
  • 2. Kshatriyas (warriors/soldiers, rulers) the K is silent
  • 3. Vaishyas (merchants, artisans, and farmer/cultivators)
  • 4. Shudras (workers)

The Middleages European Guild system also had some similarities as people were born into their father's profession and taking up another profession was not usually allowed or desired. The serfs of Europe, Russia, China and Japan had no rights, land nor even a family name and could be killed at anytime, for no reason by men of the upper classes.


  • ^ Discrimination, UNICEF
  • ^ AskOxford: caste
  • ^ Cambridge Dictionaries Online - Cambridge University Press