In the beginning, there was nirakar, Purush a mere facsimile. Varnas the elements, smaller parts of his greater whole. There was Brahman, his intellect, the him closest to it. Ksatriya, the shoulders and hands to protect the brain. The Vaishya, the stomach, which fed and kept it all running. And the Shudra, or legs, supported the whole system. Smaller men moved amongst these varnas, the wise Brahman, the strong Ksatriya, and so on. A competition to be Brahman, to understand Bramh, to see all nirakar. Your Satv, Raj, Thum were who you were. All born Shudra, all potentially Brahman. A meritocracy.
These varnas are eternal, a pyramid of life, the universal order of creatures, of things. A harmonious system, fully functional.
Top, small, ruled bottom, big. The brain controlled the body. Such was, is, and always will be nature. But bottom could filter up, and all listened.
The caste system we know today is the varnas solidified, opaque instead of the true transparent. It is protection from evolution–hence, a system that has evolved to protect, a paradoxical beast of a moldy order. Retaining the order that at one point was, forever.
So how to accomplish? Freeze time itself.
One must identify an organizational tool to break a system down into its component parts. Occupation, a common proxy for one’s place within the order, will do. Good choice.
But how to keep that consistent–a milkman a milkman, a warrior a warrior?
God and filth. You, sir, were born to be a milkman, and to be anything except is a violation of the natural order. Not merit, but birth, placement from way above. So you can’t go up, and who wants to go down. But why not help someone else up? Their job is worse. It’s good to help.
No. They’re filthy, unholy, and interaction, by osmosis, renders you just as filthy as them. So better just to stay a milkman, and that way, when reborn, you’ll be a banker!
To buttress this, create unions, identities. If you’re a trucker, you’re a teamster. A gardener, and you’re a ______. At first there were only four, but endless distinctions emerged, the logical light of divide and rule philosophy. The men of Ksatriya became Ksatriyas. Traditions grew, merchant’s sons became merchant’s grandparents, and jati was born. Job identity, rights, status–all determined by birth. No room for evolution. The pyramid was no longer comprised of fluid bands, but instead of tiny, solid blocks, all lower (and dirtier) or higher (and holier) than each other. No meaningful communications between groups, only observation and envy, with occasional top-down bullying, retaliation a sin. A new band of the pyramid, dirty and reviled, therefore populous and resentful, was formed. All, though strongly defined, wholly dependent on other alien sects for their survival.
And so with all determined by birth and no room for competition or growth, how did anything change? Marriage was the last way. So, naturally, marriage between jatis was regulated, interlopers outcast from all human relations, possibly this life’s worst fate. Specific laws and practices, occasionally broken, to maintain the purity of the group, of the jati. Marriages arranged, not for love, to keep evolution not in the hands of tempting infatuations, but square within traditions cradle. Satv, Raj, Thum had no import. Control people, and by controlling people’s every action, desire, and moral, control the pyramid of life itself.
But why control, anyway? Fear, so really love. It was, of course, top-down: One Brahmin saw his less than Bramh son and decreed that he too should be Brahmin, though undeserving he may be. Enough such decisions and protectionist policies are eventually implemented on a wider, much more far-reaching scale than “I won’t teach your son, I’ll teach mine. Small-time protection became institutionalized. Passion for the Bramh, pride in their accomplishments, and protection of their offspring’s pride and future passion–from love springs fear, from fear springs jati.
When the French named the peculiar institution of India “caste”, coming from the Spanish and Portuguese “casta” derived from the Latin “castus”, or purity, their assessment of the institution’s core was sound. Caste is purity–not from dirty or of belief, but of society itself. An attempt to retain an illusory “purity” of a bygone era.
I wrote this to answer the question “What is Caste” in my ISP, a study of Caste in India. A topic merely theoretical becomes increasingly tangible. Through Caste, I am coming to understand aspects of India, and my Indian experience is now inexorably intertwined with the teachings of my guru, Ratnakar-ji. This is my India, one of them.