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Caste System


CASTE SYSTEM The 90th verse of the tenth chapter of the Rig Veda, dating back at least to the second millennium b.c., described the origins of the universe from Purusha's (the Cosmic Being) sacrifice of himself on the funeral pyre. From Purusha's mouth came the Brahman, from Purusha's arms the Rajanya (later referred to as Kshatriya), from Purusha's thighs the Vaishya, and from Purusha's feet the Shudra. By implication, Rig Veda X, 90 assigned status rankings to these four categories of humans. The terms "Brahman" (as priest) and rajan (as ruler) were defined in other passages of the Rig Veda, as when the rajan was enjoined to respect the Brahman, who might ritually improve the rajan's chances of success when the rajan conducted cattle raids or waged war. Sub-sequent Vedas described how Brahman priests could enhance benefit and reduce harm when performing large public rituals as well as sacred sacrifices (yajṇas) sponsored by individual sacrificers ( yajamanas).

The four categories of humans who emerged from the sacrifice of Purusha came to be referred to as varnas (colors), a term also used to categorize timber and precious stones. The four categories were not referred to by other contemporary terms such as kula (family), sabha or samiti (assembly), or shreni (occupational guild). By the end of the Vedic period, the Brahman authors of the sacred texts agreed that the four varṇa divisions of society were cosmically ordained, with Brahmans outranking the other three varṇas. This Brahmanical view of society did not go unchallenged. Some persons claiming Kshatriya status maintained Kshatriyas outranked Brahmans. Others denounced the four-varṇa system in its entirety as a device conceived by Brahmans to perpetuate their domination over the rest of society. Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, and Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, were both identified as Kshatriyas, and both taught paths to enlightenment that bypassed Brahman priests and the four varṇa ranks.

Instructions in the Sūtras and Shāstras Regarding Varṇa Conduct

The sūtras ("threads," brief Sanskrit prose aphorisms) and shāstras (more elaborate Sanskrit verse instructions) were composed presumably by Brahmans during the centuries following the sixth century b.c. Some sūtras and shāstras provided instructions regarding the acquisition of wealth and power (e.g., the Artha Shāstra, attributed to Kautilya). Others provided erotic instructions (e.g., the Kāma Sūtra, attributed to Vatsyayana). Still others provided instructions regarding morally correct behavior (dharma).

The Dharma Shāstra attributed to the sage Manu assigned occupations to each of the varṇas. Brahmans were to study, teach, perform sacrifices, and have little to do with temple priests. Kshatriyas were to rule, wage war, sponsor sacrifices, and study. Vaishyas were to farm, breed cattle, trade, lend money, and study. Shudras were to serve the three higher varṇas. Men in the three higher varṇas were considered "twice-born"; their second birth ceremony (upanayana) occurred when they received the sacred thread (janeo) and could study the Vedic texts. Shudras (who were considered "once-born") and women were barred from studying the Vedic texts. According to Manu, men of the "twice-born" varṇas should observe four stages (ashramas) of their lives: celibate student, economically active married householder, retiree, and wandering mendicant. As outlined, the varṇa system consistently privileged the men of higher ranks over men of lower ranks. Men who failed to follow their prescribed occupations sank in social rank. Men of each varṇa were to marry women of the same varn varṇa—thereby making varṇa hereditary. In times of distress, men could marry women in lower varṇas. Those who engaged in the most serious offenses (e.g., drinking spirituous liquor) were to be treated as outcastes. Relatives were to perform their funeral rites and then neither converse with, nor marry, nor share any inheritance with them. Those who had been "outcasted" could be restored among their relatives only after performing appropriately severe penances.

Manu identified mlecchas as barbarians outside the four-varṇa system characteristic of the aryas (noble ones). Inside the four-varṇa system, men of "twice-born" rank who failed to carry out their sacred duties descended to the status of vratyas. Kshatriyas who sank to the ranks of vratyas produced offspring like the yavanas (Greeks), shakas (Scythians), pahlavas (Parthians), and dravidas (southerners)—all identifiable groups living in various parts of the Indian subcontinent. Higher-varṇa men impregnating lower-varṇa women "in accord with the direction of the hair" (anuloma) received more approval than lower-varṇa men impregnating higher-varṇa women "against the hair" (pratiloma). Offspring of these alliances were stigmatized accordingly.

According to Manu, the mixing or confusion of varṇas (varṇa samkara) seriously endangered society. Disapproved sexual activities between varṇas generated new birth groups (jatis) with their own names and occupations. In one Manu sequence, if a Shudra male impregnated a Vaishya female, their offspring was a carpenter. If a Brahman male impregnated a Shudra female, their offspring was a fisherman. If a carpenter male impregnated a fisherman female, their offspring was a boatman (a plausible combination of carpenter and fisherman). According to Manu, one of the most offensive mixing of varṇas occurred when a Shudra male impregnated a Brahman female. Manu labeled the offspring of such miscegenation a Chandala. According to Manu, Chandalas were to live apart from other people and never enter villages or towns after dark. They were to eat from broken dishes, carry out the corpses of unclaimed dead, execute criminals, and wear the clothes of the executed and the dead. According to Manu, the varṇa into which one was born was a direct consequence of how one performed one's morally correct behavior (dharma) in one's previous lives. The concept of reincarnation (saṃsāra) and the doctrine of karma (the moral order whereby every virtuous act is rewarded and every evil act is punished) provided an ethical foundation for the four-varṇa system and its permutations.

The Four-Varṇa System and Oral and Written Narratives

The Jataka tales (stories of Buddha's previous births) described Chandalas as persons so polluting that a highstatus maiden had to rinse her eyes with perfumed water after catching a glimpse of a Chandala. Sanskrit poems like those by Kalidasa, plays like those by Shudraka and Bhavabhuti, and the Rāmāyan a and Mahābhārata epics in their multiple-language versions all referred to the four varṇas with their assigned ranks and responsibilities. The Bhagavad Gītā described the origin and separate duties (dharmas) of Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras, and declared: "Better to do one's own duty imperfectly than to do another man's well." Although access to the written four-varṇa heritage was restricted to a literate minority, the concepts of the four-ranked varṇas, their assigned duties, and their levels of pollution were widely recognized throughout North India by means of oral transmissions. In South India, similarly, Tamil narratives and instructional texts such as the Tirukkural described Brahmans, kings, ministers, warriors, merchants, artisans, musicians, and plowmen. But the South Indian narratives largely ignored the four-varṇa system. In fact, the presence of Buddhist and Jain teachers in the Tamil narratives sometimes overshadowed the spiritual stature of Brahmans.

Eyewitness Accounts of the Varṇa System Through History

Around 300 b.c., Seleucus Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, appointed Megasthenes as ambassador to Chandragupta Maurya's court in Pataliputra. According to Megasthenes, the people of India living near Pataliputra were divided into seven groups with fixed occupations and mandatory within-group marriages. First in honor were philosophers, who officiated at sacrifices to the gods and the dead. Three of the remaining six groups were maintained by the royal treasury. Although Megasthenes' description of fixed occupations and mandatory within-group marriages paralleled the shāstras, the fit between Megasthenes' seven groups and the four varṇas was not clear.

At the beginning of the fifth century a.d., a Chinese Buddhist monk, Fahsien, traveled through northern India. In his journals he described Chandalas as fishermen and hunters who sold meat. In a land where, according to Fahsien, people did not kill living creatures or drink intoxicating liquor, Chandalas were considered wicked. They lived apart from others and struck a piece of wood when they entered a city or marketplace so that people could avoid them.

Two centuries later, another Chinese Buddhist monk, Hsieun Tsang, traveled throughout much of India. Hsieun Tsang described four classifications of ranked families that paralleled the shāstras: Brahmans lived purely, observed the most correct principles, and studied and taught the Veda Shāstras; Kshatriyas governed; Vaishyas engaged in commercial exchange and sought profit; and Shudras plowed and tilled the land. Purity and impurity assigned people their places in the four ranks. When people married, they rose or fell according to their new relationships. Hsieu Tsang reported that, in addition to the four classifications, "there are other classes of many kinds that intermarry according to their several callings. It would be difficult to speak of these in detail."

In the eleventh century, Alberuni, a Muslim from the court of Ghazni (in Afghanistan), traveled in India and wrote in Arabic a description of the four-varṇa system. Below the four varṇas came eight craft groups who lived outside the towns of the four varṇas. Five of these craft groups freely intermarried but refused to marry three of the groups: shoemakers, weavers, and woolen-cloth thickeners. Below these eight craft groups came four groups considered "degraded outcasts" (among them Chandalas) who did "dirty work, like the cleansing of the villages" and who were thought of as illegitimate children of a Shudra male and a Brahman female.

In the early 1600s, al-Badayuni, a historian serving the Mughal emperor Akbar, wrote about a delegation of Brahmans who presented the emperor with Sanskrit verses describing the emperor as a reincarnated Hindu deity, predicted by ancient sages to be a conqueror who honored Brahmans and cows. Al-Badayuni also reported the emperor's decision to have "learned Brahmans" (rather than Muslim judges) decide Hindu court cases, thereby instituting the Brahman-Kshatriya component of the four-varṇa system. In 1674, despite the objections of some Brahmans, the Maratha ruler Shivaji arranged for other Brahmans to perform his sacred-thread ceremony and declare him a Kshatriya, enhancing his authority over rival Maratha nobility.

In the sixteenth century, when Portuguese were settling on India's southwestern coast, they labeled the local intramarrying groups castas. In Brazil and elsewhere in the New World, castas referred to groups that were identified by the proportions of Portuguese, Indian, and African "blood" they had in their veins. In time the French and British modified the Portuguese term casta to "caste" and applied it to the many intramarrying lineages they found in India.

In 1676 a Frenchman, Jean Baptiste Tavernier, published his journal of several trips he had made to India between 1641 and 1668 as a jewel merchant. He described the common belief that there were seventy-two castes in India, all of which, according to the most accomplished priests, emanated from four original castes: Brahmans (philosophers and astrologers, with a university in Banaras [varanasi]); Rajputs (meat-eating warriors, including all rajas) and Ketris (former warriors but currently merchants); Banias (vegetarian traders, money hangers, and bankers with extraordinary business acumen); and Shudras (foot soldiers). People who belonged to none of the four castes followed hereditary trades and married their sons and daughters to members of the same trade. The lowest of these castes ate pigs, removed refuse from people's houses, and consumed other people's leftover food.

More than a century later (between 1792 and 1823), a French Jesuit missionary, the Abbé J. A. Dubois, described India's four ancient castes, the Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras, and their ordained occupations. He then reported that in South India each of the three or four principal divisions of Brahmans was further divided into at least twenty subdivisions. The few Kshatriyas and Vaishyas who existed in South India were also divided and subdivided (although South Indian Brahmans maintained that no true Kshatriyas existed any longer). The Shudras were the most numerous of the four castes. When added to the Pariahs and outcastes, the Shudras represented nine-tenths of South India's population. The highest Shudras were cultivators, who looked down on and refused to eat with such occupational castes as weavers, carpenters, and barbers. Some castes existed in certain districts but not in others. Some castes observed customs no other castes observed, such as the Nairs (whose women had lovers but no husbands), the Nambudiris (who observed special funeral rites for their unmarried women), and the Kallars (some of whom were rulers, while others were robbers). Groups despised in some districts were held in esteem in other districts, depending on their local conduct and power.

The Abbé Dubois also described the "universally and invariably observed" South Indian custom of cross-cousin marriage, wherein one could marry a cousin from one's mother's brother or father's sister, but not a cousin from one's mother's sister or father's brother. South Indian Brahman marriages included the requirement that the bride and groom be descended from different gotras (remote priestly ancestors). Although, according to the Abbé Dubois, castes were the paramount distinctions among Hindus in South India, Hindus were also divided into sects (defined by their worship of Shiva, Vishnu, or a large number of other deities). In South India, Hindus were also divided into right-hand and left-hand factions (unknown in North India and with no known scriptural base). The right-hand factions included most of the higher caste Shudras supported by the lower caste Pariahs. The left-hand factions included the Vaishyas, the artisan castes, and the lowest caste leather workers. Clashes between the right-hand and left-hand factions could suddenly explode with shocking violence over matters of privilege. The Abbé reported one near-violent confrontation (settled peacefully) that was incited when a left-hand-faction leather worker inserted red flowers into his turban—a privilege Pariahs maintained belonged exclusively to the right-hand faction.

The British and the Caste System

The caste system became an object of serious British concern when the East India Company established law courts in its Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta presidencies. In civil cases (involving such matters as marriage, adoption, and inheritance), the company courts hired Muslim and Hindu advisers to help the British judges apply Shariʿa laws to Muslims and shāstra laws to Hindus. In 1794 William Jones published his English version of Manu's Dharma Shāstra (in which he translated varṇ as "caste" and Dharma Shāstra as "laws"). The "Laws of Manu" soon acquired almost-canonical status in the company courts. British judges recognized the discrepancies between Manu's and other shāstras' instructions for the original four "castes" and the observed practices of the hundreds of "castes" and "subcastes" appearing before them in their courts. After the 1858 transfer of authority from the East India Company to the British crown, British judges decided civil cases on the basis of precedents (as occurred with common law in Britain) and "native customs." Only if precedents could not be found would British judges turn to English translations of Hindu and Muslim "law" books to make decisions.

British officials were encouraged to prepare ethnographic manuals and gazetteers of the people in their districts, including their race, caste, religion or sect, habits, and customs. These materials could be useful when recruiting for military service, identifying "criminal" groups, and controlling the land markets of "agricultural" and "merchant" groups. Starting in 1872, the Reverend M. A. Sherring published his three-volume Hindu Tribes and Castes, listing Brahmans and Kshatriyas at the top and continuing down the ranks of the varṇas to the lowest castes.

The British recorded their first all-India census in 1871 and 1872. They noted respondents' caste identities and tribal affiliations and tried, often with considerable difficulty, to place each group within the four-varṇa framework. W. C. Plowden, who had been responsible for the census report from the North-West provinces, later wrote that securing correct information from the castes and tribes in his region had been so confused and so difficult that he hoped no census would try to obtain similar information in the future. Government offices began receiving hundreds of petitions and memorials by castes and caste groups claiming higher status than that ascribed to them by the census. The 1881 census rendered a population of Brahmans, Rajputs, 207 "other castes" with minimum populations of 100,000 each, and 65 castes with lower populations spread over two or more provinces. The 1891 census abandoned varṇas and reported 60 subgroups divided into six broad occupational categories. In 1891 Herbert Risley published his two-volume The Tribes and Castes of Bengal, and in 1896 William Crooke published The Tribes and Castes of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh. Both authors identified castes, subcastes, tribes, and subtribes, and described their manners, customs, kinship systems, and occupational patterns. The 1901 census, under the supervision of Risley, reintroduced castes and fit them into a British-constructed eleven-rank varṇa system, including four subdivisions of Shudras, three subdivisions of polluting castes, and ending with castes that denied the sacerdotal authority of Brahmans. The 1901 census included measurements of nasal and cranial indices to test the hypothesis that India's highest castes represented the purest racial types (i.e., the "invading Aryans") while the lowest castes reflected the greatest racial intermixing with the "original Dravidian inhabitants." The data failed to support the hypothesis.

The 1911 census commissioner suggested that perhaps the census should record India's lowest castes (referred to as untouchables, outcastes, or depressed classes) as not even Hindus, arousing considerable public agitation. Following the 1921 census, increasing dissatisfaction with the changing figures and overall accuracy of the caste returns and the "pestiferous deluge of representations" by caste groups throughout India filing for higher caste status led J. H. Hutton, the 1931 census commissioner, to announce that beginning with the 1931 census, in most instances castes would no longer be recorded. The 1931 census did report that Brahman castes (about 6% of India's total population) were most concentrated in Jammu and Kashmir (34%) and less concentrated in Madras province (3%). The census also mentioned that during caste enumerations Brahmans were sometimes "manufactured on the spot" from tribal and other local kinds of priests. M. W. M. Yeatts, superintendent of the 1931 Madras census, reported that castes' nomenclatures were changing so fast that exact comparisons could not be made between one census and another.

By 1931 a new factor had entered caste record keeping. E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker, Mohandas Gandhi, B. R. Ambedkar, and others had drawn the wider public's attention to the fact that approximately one-fifth of India's population (variously called untouchables, outcastes, backward castes, exterior castes, adivasis, adi-Hindus, depressed classes, and in South India adi-Dravidas) were being systematically discriminated against. Gandhi referred to them as harijans (children of God) in an effort to reverse their designated stigma. Reformers called on the British government to identify these disadvantaged groups in order to end their longstanding historical disabilities. Hutton, the 1931 census commissioner, instructed provincial superintendents to draw up their own lists of groups handicapped on account of their "degraded position in the Hindu social scheme." Handicaps generally included such ritual disabilities as denial of admission to Hindu temples and the perceptions by higher castes that members of these groups caused ritual pollution. Groups meeting local "degraded" criteria were listed (i.e., "scheduled") in 1936 to enable them to receive special electoral representation according to the Government of India Act of 1935. Their official designation became "scheduled castes" (SCs) and, later, "scheduled tribes" (STs).

The Caste System after India's Independence

Through its Constitution, the government of India initiated a policy of affirmative action referred to as "protective discrimination" or "compensatory discrimination." Article 17 of India's Constitution declared that untouchability was abolished and that any disability arising out of untouchability was an offense "punishable in accordance with law." Articles 330 and 331 reserved seats in the national Parliament and state assemblies, and Article 335 reserved "posts" (jobs) in the central and state governments for members of the scheduled castes and tribes. To address the constitutional guarantees in Article 16 of equal rights for all Indian citizens, the Constitution stipulated that the policies of reserved seats and reserved posts for scheduled castes and tribes would end after ten years. Every subsequent decade, Parliament amended the constitution to extend the scheduled-caste and scheduled-tribe reservations another ten years.

In 1960 the government of India published a nationwide list of 405 scheduled castes and 225 scheduled tribes, arranged in alphabetical order. Some of them were "scheduled" in certain localities but not in neighboring localities. Some were called by different names in different linguistic regions of India (suggesting that these castes were not actually intramarrying groups). In 1976 the government of India published an amended state-by-state list of 841 scheduled castes and 510 scheduled tribes. Some castes were still "scheduled" in certain localities but not in neighboring localities, and some castes were called by two or more names in the same and neighboring localities. When caste identities were unclear, India's Constitution assigned to Parliament and the president the final decisions regarding a group's "scheduled" or "nonscheduled" status. According to the published lists, scheduled castes comprised about 17 percent of India's population and scheduled tribes comprised about 7.5 percent, for a total of 22.5 percent. Members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes throughout India began labeling themselves Dalits, a Marathi term for "oppressed" used by Dr. Ambedkar. Soon references were being made to Dalit activism and agitation as well as Dalit poetry, literature, drama, art, and film.

Article 15(4) of India's Constitution authorized the state to make special provisions "for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens." Article 16(4) of India's Constitution authorized the state to provide equal opportunities of public employment for "any backward class of citizens" inadequately represented in state services. The term "Other Backward Classes" (OBCs) was already in official use to identify groups in different parts of India that were entitled to educational concessions. The Constitution, however, gave no formal criteria to identify the "backward classes" to which it referred.

In 1978 the ruling Janata Party appointed B. P. Mandal to head the Backward Classes Commission. The Mandal Commission's task was to determine the criteria for identifying India's "socially and educationally backward classes" and to recommend steps for their advancement. Between 1978 and 1980 the commission generated an "Other Backward Class" (OBC) list of 3,743 castes and a more underprivileged "Depressed Backward Class" list of 2,108 castes. On 31 December 1980, the Mandal Commission submitted its report, recommending that 27 percent of central and state government jobs should be reserved for OBCs. In 1992 the Supreme Court ruled that "caste" could be used to identify "backward classes," that "backward classes" could include non-Hindus such as Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians, and that the "creamy layer" (i.e., the wealthiest members) of the backward classes could not receive backward-class benefits.

Ever since India's first elections in the 1950s, party strategies and electoral outcomes were explained partly in terms of castes and caste groups. Castes were sometimes described as "vote banks." The years following the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations saw the emergence, especially in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, of candidates and political parties specifically representing the backward classes or scheduled castes.

Prior to India's independence, a number of anthropologists, including G. S. Ghurye, had suggested that India's caste system stemmed from the efforts of Brahmans (and "invading Aryans") to maintain their racial purity among the "resident Dravidians." India's many contemporary castes resulted primarily from fission and segmentation of the original four varṇas. After independence, anthropologist Irawati Karve, applying the categories of castes, caste clusters, and groups of caste clusters, used physical anthropological data to argue that some members of the same caste clusters (e.g., Brahmans, Kumbhars) could not be biologically related to other members of the same caste clusters (challenging the fission-segmentation hypothesis).

In 1953 H. N. C. Stevenson presented the thesis that in India a caste's ritual status rested on its purity and pollution behavior patterns. Louis Dumont, McKim Marriott, and others extended and elaborated upon Stevenson's purity and pollution thesis. An awkward nonfitting observation was that third-ranked Vaishyas consistently observed purity and pollution behaviors more strictly than second-ranked Kshatriyas (who often transgressed purity and pollution norms).

In 1952 sociologist M. N. Srinivas defined "Sanskritization" as low castes' (and other lower groups') efforts to raise their status by emulating Brahmans' (or other varṇas') beliefs and ways of life by becoming vegetarians, prohibiting their widows from remarrying, and so on. An alternative to "Sanskritization" was "Westernization"—a many-layered concept extending from Western technology to the experimental method of modern science. Sub-sequent studies of castes and caste clusters suggested that the varṇa hierarchy was one of several widely acknowledged South Asian hierarchies, according to which jatis (birth groups, lineages) were ranked by others and ranked themselves, using often-contested ranking criteria. In addition to whichever jatis may have evolved from fission and segmentation, jatis also became defined through economic and political gains and losses, status manipulation (sometimes involving revised genealogies and Brahmans' endorsements), "outcasting" by one caste segment of another caste segment (and failures of the "outcasted" segment to be reinstated through apologies, fines, feasts, etc.), alliances between groups seeking larger numbers, migrations, relocations, sponsorships, and a host of other social dynamics associated with groups seeking higher status and other collective advantages within culturally shared status hierarchies.

The Future of the Caste System

Buddhists and Jains have criticized Brahmanical rituals and the four-varṇa hierarchy since the fifth century b.c. Between the seventh and tenth centuries a.d., South Indian poets, some from the lowest castes, bypassed Brahman intermediaries and addressed their devotions directly to representatives of the divine who could ignore their low caste origins and release them from their endless cycles of rebirths. In twelfth century Mysore, Basava started the Lingayat movement, whose followers renounced caste, only in the end to become much like an intramarrying caste themselves. In the fifteenth century in North India, Ramanand and Kabir called for the abolition of castes. In sixteenth-century Punjab, Guru Nanak and his Sikh followers stressed interdining and the breaking down of castes. In nineteenth-century North India, both the Brahmo Samaj and the Ārya Samāj denounced caste hierarchies. In 1919 in Tamil Nadu an anti-Brahman "Justice for Non-Brahman" political party was founded, followed in 1925 by the "Respect Movement," which called for Hindus to stop using Brahmans to conduct their marriages. Mahatma Gandhi denounced caste as a "travesty" of the classical four-varṇa system and called for the "absolute social equality" of the varṇas and the abolition of untouchability.

When India became independent, many hoped for a "casteless, classless" society. India's Constitution called for "equality of status and of opportunity." Yet throughout the remainder of the twentieth century, India's caste system continued to flourish socially, economically, and politically. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, India's caste system was still reflected in employment and voting behavior, the activities of castes negotiating for different SC, ST, and OBC statuses, and in marriage negotiations. The matrimonial sections of newspapers' classified advertisements continued to list "brides wanted for . . ." and "grooms wanted for . . ." with references to specific castes and gotras.

Westerners from philosopher Georg Hegel on foresaw the end of the caste system in India. Karl Marx predicted that the Indian railway system and modern industry would "dissolve" the hereditary occupations "upon which rest the Indian castes." Christian and Muslim missionaries hoped that conversion to a faith denying reincarnation would undercut the moral legitimacy of the caste system, thereby ending castes at least among Muslims and Christians. Yet scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and other backward classes continued to exist among India's Muslims and Christians. Castes and the caste system also continued to exist outside India in neighboring Nepal and Sri Lanka. And castes and the caste system played various complex roles in the diaspora of Indian communities around the world.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the term "caste" continued to describe three different phenomena in India: the four varṇas; the thousands of publicly identified kinship groups referred to as "castes" in census tracts and other official documents; and lineages of related families from among which parents arranged their children's marriages. India's caste system will continue to exist as long as individuals feel that the varṇa or census rankings of their castes are important; that their castes are their final bases for educational, sickness, and old-age support; and that their responsibilities as parents include finding suitable brides and grooms for their children from within designated castes.

Joseph W. Elder

See alsoBrāhmaṇas ; Dalits ; Hinduism (Dharma) ; Mandal Commission Report ; Sabhas and Samitis


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Dubois, Abbé J. A. Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies. Translated by Henry K. Beauchamp. 3rd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906.

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