Origins of the Caste in Ancient India

Rolf Heiner Koch roheko at MSN.COM
Wed Mar 25 07:39:38 EST 1998


I would be interested for the reference to the
source where the origin of fire is described to
related with forest fire. I am reading in a Jain
text about the origin of culture  this has to be
realted with Rishabha, of course. But Rishabha
appeared a f t e r  the fire was established,
after it fell on the earth from trees which stood
to close together.
I would suggest the fire was established just by
two pieces of wood like we know this from several
aborigines. But the texts do not say this. Any
suggestion?
Mfg RHK
roheko at msn.com
-----Ursprüngliche Nachricht-----
Von: sudheer birodkar <sudheerbirodkar at YAHOO.COM>
An: INDOLOGY at LISTSERV.LIV.AC.UK
<INDOLOGY at LISTSERV.LIV.AC.UK>
Datum: Mittwoch, 25. März 1998 09:53
Betreff: Origins of the Caste in Ancient India


>Dear Readers,
>
>Here is an extract from my page on Origins of the
Caste System in
>Ancient India. I seek critical feedback from
Indologists on the
>hypothesis given below:
>_________________________________________________
_
>Caste is an institution which is truely Indian in
character. So much
>so that even the Concise Oxford Dictionary
defines it as, Hindu
>hereditary class, with members
>socially equal, united in religion, and usually
following same trades
>having no social intercourse with persons of
other castes. The word
>caste itself is derived from the
>Spanish word 'Casto' which means pure or chaste.
In the Indian lexion
>we refer to caste by the words 'Varna' meaning
colour and 'Jati' which
>is derivedfrom the
>root syllable 'Ja' which means 'to be born'.
>
>But etymology apart what matters is that Casteism
is today still a
>living, rather festering, practice which
continues to plague our 20th
>century Indian society. Time
>and again our newspapers carry reports about
caste wars in various
>parts of our country. While reading about
Parliamentary news in
>newspapers, we come across
>references to the Jat Lobby, Maratha Lobby,
Rajput Lobby, Brahmin
>Lobby which brings to the fore the fact that even
at the highest level
>of our country's
>democratic institutions, caste as a factor is
still a living one. And
>this brought to be so as in the electoral
strategies of political
>parties we hear of caste vote banks,
>caste equations in voting patterns, caste-based
reserved
>constituencies, caste politics, ad nauseam.
>
>All this alongwith the recurring caste carnages
and the ongoing caste
>politics are a constant reminder to us Indians
that caste and casteism
>which we have inherited
>from our history are still active and alive
around us. Thus the
>institution and attitude both of which go into
the making of caste and
>casteism in today's India remain an
>enigmatic one for Indians as also for foreign
Indologists. The fact
>that casteist feelings are still part of our
psyche make it all the
>more relevant that we are informed
>about how the institution of caste could have
come into being.
>
>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.
>
>But to examine how the institution of caste could
have originated
>alongwith the auxiliary practices of
untouchability and endogamy we
>will have a peep into the
>society in which the composers of the Rig Veda
lived some three to
>four thousand years back.
>
>BRAHMINS - THOSE BAPTISED BY FIRE
>
>Caste is a gift of centuries of history whose
origin goes back to 3 or
>4 millennia in. The past when the tribal Aryans
roamed the plains of
>Central Asia before
>reaching India. In the new stone age these
tribals lived in conditions
>of savagery and barbarism. There obviously was no
room for caste
>division as each and every
>able-bodied male member had to) help in the
tribe's only vocation of
>hunting and gathering the means of subsistence.
>
>But with the domestication of fire, things began
to change. It became
>necessary for some members of the Aryan tribes to
undertake the task
>of tending the fire and
>prevent it from being extinguished. This was
before the days when
>humans learnt to ignite fire through friction.
Initially the fire must
>have been obtained from an
>already burning source like forest fires.
>
>In these circumstances, before the days of
ignition the task of
>tending the fire was very crucial. The function
of tending the fire
>became a specialised one which
>begun to be passed from father to son and this
select group came to be
>called Agni-hotras i.e. 'preservers of fire'. As
they tended to the
>fire they also roasted and
>later cooked food for the entire tribe.
>
>Fire was then, as it still is, an object of
worship as the tribal
>peoples had seen fire as a powerful destructive
medium in forest fires
>and volcanic eruptions. By virtue
>of being placed between the tribe and the
domesticated fire, this
>section of the tribe also performed functions
like making offerings to
>the fire and invoking it to spell
>prosperity for the tribe, victory in war, etc.,
apart from cooking
>which was their primary function. These
Agni-hotras were the prototype
>of the brahmin caste of
>today.
>
>The above theory of the origin of the Brahmin
caste may seem fantastic
>and unbelievable, but even today we can see that
at our weddings or
>any other social and
>religious occasions the cooks are traditionally
Brahmins. In some
>Indian languages the word for cook is Achari
which comes quite close
>to Acharya meaning a
>scholar. In Hindi and Gujarati the word Maharaj
is used to address
>both priests and cooks. Another word which we use
to designate a
>scholar viz. 'Shastri' also
>originally meant a wielder of instruments and not
a scholar according
>to the; noted Sanskritalogist P.V. Kane.
>
>This corollary between cooking and priestly
functions may appear to be
>outrageous and unreal but the etymological
closeness between the
>Sanskrit words given
>below also corroborates this corollary:
>_________________________________________________
_____
> GOD
>
> Shri
>
> Shripati
>
> FAITH
>
> Shradhaa
>
> PRIEST
>
> Shrotriya
>
> Sadhu (ascetic)
>
> Yajakaha
>
> PRAYING
>
> Bhajana
>
> Pathana
>
>_________________________________________________
_____
>
>FOOD
>
>Shri
>
>Shraa, Shraadha (Food offered to God and departed
relatives)
>
>COOK
>
>Shrapayati
>
>Siddha
>
>Pachakaha
>
>COOKING ROASTING
>
>Bhajja
>
>Bharjana
>
>Patharaha
>
>(Source : English-Sanskrit Dictionary by Prof.
Vaman Shivram Apte,
>Mumbai, 1920)
>
>But this apart, Hindu Shastras (religious texts)
have a different
>explanation to offer as per the Holy scriptures '
Brahma Janayate Iti
>Brahamana' i.e. a Brahmin is a
>person who has mastered the essence of Brahma
(Universe). In the
>Bhagavad Geeta, Sri Krishna says that the caste
divisions have been
>created by Him.
>
>But if the earlier theory is correct it would
justify the origin of
>Brahmins as a profession of cooks. It is quite
possible that this is
>the explanation behind the Brahmin
>insistence on cleanliness and purification which
quite logically seem
>to be a corollary of the culinary profession.
>
>In fact even the Yagna fire sacrifice of today is
a ritualisation of
>the original cooking function. During the Yagna;
milk, honey, grains,
>clarified butter and small figures
>of animals Pista Pashu) made from wheat flour
have to be offered to
>the fire. A Yagna is accompanied with mass
feeding of people. As
>mentioned in an earlier
>chapter in the original Yagna ritual, which is
today observed only by
>some Sadhus (ascetics) is a process in which
almost all primitive
>social life has to be recreated.
>You have to produce fire by friction of two
pieces of wood, to build a
>cottage where no iron is used but only specific
wood and grass, to
>milk cows, to make curds,
>pound corn with stone (not even a stone mill),
kill and skin animals,
>boil and cook them". This description brings out
the close resemblance
>between the original
>Yagna ritual and the function of cooking on which
Brahmin's had come
>to acquire hereditary monopoly.
>
>But this hereditary monopoly over the cooking
function in Vedic times
>also gave this section the priestly functions of
invoking the fire-god
>in favour of the tribe. Thus
>they came to be looked upon as representatives of
God, whose word
>carried divine sanction. This being so they also
came to acquire the
>exclusive right of learning
>(and writing) religious scriptures and virtually
of all knowledge.
>This was so as, in ancient India, most knowledge
had scriptural
>overtones. Astrology, Astronomy,
>Mathematics, Philosophy, linguistics, Law, etc.,
were the main areas
>which were developed in ancient India and all
these subjects were
>closely bound up with
>religious dogmas.
>
>Brahmins who had become the clergy, could thus
virtually monopolise
>the areas of acquiring and imparting education,
to the exclusion of
>other castes.
>_________________________________________________
________
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