Origins of the Caste in Ancient India

JR Gardner jgardner at BLUE.WEEG.UIOWA.EDU
Wed Mar 25 04:26:30 EST 1998

As Van Buitenen, among others, has noted (The Large Aatman, HR 4(1), 1964:
103ff), it is somewhat remarkable the level of sophistication with which
the puruSa "appears" in the RV.  It is a remarkably uncommon word, with
less than 20 total occurrences (7 of which are in the Sukta cited here, RV
10.90).  Elsewhere in the RV, the puruSa is not quite so auspicious as it
is in 10.90-- it is prone to sin in 4.12.4, and 7.57.4, cf also 10.15.6.
However Agni is the mysterious "puruSa" of plants in 10.51.8, while the
hymn to healing herbs, 10.97, refers to the selfsame(?) puruSa as
vulnerable to disease.  There is reason, from several quarters of
research, to consider the RV's final composition as reflective of
several--if not many--cultural views upon the individual and society.
Since 10.90 is the lynchpin of the caste system, it would be time well
spent to full decipher why--in 10.90 alone of all the RV--the puruSa is
the paradigmatic prototypical creative sacrifice-- a role assigned to no
other entity in the RV--even the aatman.  Elizarenkova (1995, Language and
Style of teh Vedic RSis, p. 67) suggests puruSa might well reflect an
incorporation from a language different from teh RV.

In short, I think the question of caste is pivotal. However, the so-called
"origins" in RV 10.90 are hardly a given and may, in many ways, point to
an uncharted realm of discovery in Vedic studies which could electrify the
sociologist, anthropologist, and linguist alike.  No, I'm not suggesting
we "change" the caste system.  Instead, a critical inquiry into its
"origins" in the RV is more than warranted.  Incidentally, RV 10.90 is
among the absolute latest, last additions to the RV as well (Oldenberg,
1888, Arnold, 1880, etc.).

Incidentally, there is no such thing as a "kshatriya" in 10.90-- the word
is raajanyaH-- again, a study in an of itself.  One should consider, for
instance, the respective references to raajanyaH and kshatriya in the ZB
for instance which do not support their complete synonymity.

I have no idea how much else may have been said in this posting-- it's
3:30am, and I only commented upon what I know something about.  45-screen
postings are, in general, impossible to digest.  But the point of 10.90
struck a chord.It's likely that the 10.90 issue is relevant to the Indus
Valley discussion as well.



On Wed, 25 Mar 1998, sudheer birodkar wrote:
> Possible Origins of the Caste System
> Our scriptures already have an answer to this. The Purusha Sukta of
> the Rig Veda says that the four fold division of society into Brahmins
> (priests), Kshatriyas
> (warriors), Vaishyas (cultivators) and Shudras (menial servants) has
> been created by primeval man 'Purusha'. From Purusha's brain have
> emerged the Brahmins,
> from his forearms have emerged the kshatriyas from his abdomen have
> emerged the Vaishyas and from his feet have emerged the Shudras.

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