Color of Skin

Lars Martin Fosse l.m.fosse at
Wed May 14 09:33:05 UTC 1997

At 22:16 13.05.97 BST, you wrote:
>                COLOR OF SKIN
>               **************
>Prof. P. Claus wrote:
>+varna is related to an abstract color scheme, with white
>+associated with Brahman, red with Ksatriya, or yellow with
>+Vaishya, black with Sudra; and various steriotypical behaviours
>+correlated with this.
>Can anybody please give some references? I want to know how black color
>of skin is associated with things mean from Indian writings.

I think the colours that go with the varnas go back to Indo-European times.
You may find relevant information in the following books/papers:

Emily B. Lyle: Dumezil's Three Functions and Indo-European Cosmic Structure.
History of Religions, 22, pp. 25-44.

Brian K. Smith (1992): Canonical Authority and Social Stratification: Veda
and Varna in Ancient Indian Texts. History of Religions, 32 (2), 103-125.

Brian K. Smith (1994): Classifying the Universe: The Ancient Indian varna
System and the origins of caste. New York, Oxford University Press.

As for Latin "niger", there is nothing derogatory in the word. When used
about afro-americans, it acquired a derogatory meaning. It seems to me that
this is due to an all-too-common process: Any term for a socially despised
group acquires a derogatory sense. Compare the Latin word vulgus
(noun)/vulgaris (adj): Originally it simply meant the "people/of the
people", the people here as opposed to the aristocracy. The word was not
derogatory, but the modern use of the word "vulgar" very clearly is. A
hundred years ago you could call an uneducated Norwegian "en simpel man" (=a
simple man") with no offense intended. Today, Norwegian "simpel" has
acquired a derogatory sense: "mean, crude". As for "nigger", it belongs to
the story that a afro-american may call a fellow black brother a nigger
without giving offense. It is us honkeys that must refrain from using the word!

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse Lars Martin Fosse
Haugerudvn. 76, Leil. 114,
0674 Oslo

Tel: +47 22 32 12 19
Fax: +47 22 32 12 19
Email: L.M.Fosse at
Mobile phone: 90 91 91 45

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