varna and jati

Lars Martin Fosse lmfosse at ONLINE.NO
Mon May 24 21:20:47 UTC 1999

Hans Henrich Hock wrote:

>  More
> important, to give a "racial" or "skin color" definition for varNa is
> almost certainly incorrect.  The colors associated with the varNas in Vedic
> Prose texts generally are:  white (i.e. pure) for the brahmin, red (the
> color of blood shed in battle?) for the kSatriya, yellow (the color of ripe
> grain or the color of gold ?) for the vaizya, and black (the opposite of
> white, i.e. ritually impure, not permitted to participate in sacrifices
> etc.) for the zuudra.  While white and black could possibly be considered
> "racial" designations (at least by modern racialist or racist definitions),
> yellow and especially red would hardly make sense as skin color
> designations in India (or, for that matter, anywhere else in the case of
> red).

I would like to add some info from Eddic Rigsthula. In this poem Heimdall walks
on earth engendering the social classes. He starts with the thralls, which are
described as black in the sense of blackhaired, filthy, dirty. Then he goes on
to produce free peasants, who are described as reddish in hair colour and skin.
Finally, he produces the class of earls (aristocracy) who are fair. It is
obvious that race has nothing to do with this, since the three categories
belong to the same population. But the at the same time, the heraldic colours
have been transferred to physical characteristics. Therefore, it is possible
that the heraldic colours on a secondary basis may have been associated with
certain phenotypes. However, this is not very likely. As Bernard Sergent shows
in his recent book, Genese de l'Inde, there must have been a not inconsiderable
influence from the pre-Aryan (Harappan) culture on the Aryan sacrifice. This
would indicate that the Aryans on arrival in North India made alliances at all
social levels, and that they coopted people at the higher levels of society.
This strategy of cooption was apparently pursued all over India, with the
result that there are lots of quite dark brahmins. It is also found in other
Indo-European areas. Therefore, if varna is associated with skin colour at all,
it is so only secondarily.

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse

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