Hinduism Essay, Research Paper
1) Describe the caste system as it has traditionally existed in Indian society.
The caste system traditionally divided the entire Indian population into a strict system of hereditary groups of people. Consisting of mainly four main castes and a fifth group outside of the caste, the system governed the lives of Indians with an iron hand and strict law and for the majority of the Indian population made life very difficult.
The appreciation and acceptance of the caste system relied on the ideas of karma and dharma. Indians believed that people were what they were due to something they achieved in a previous life, karma, and the believer, accepting his situation in life performs the duties expected f him which is dharma. Each of the 3000 individual castes that existed had it’s own rules, rituals, customs and spirits.
An Indian’s place in the caste system was entirely determined by birth, so unlike the traditional Roman system, one could not advance up a caste or two with achievements or recommendations. One could not change his position in the caste system during one lifetime. The caste system imposed uncountable restrictions upon the members of each group, concerning diet, marriage, occupations, behaviour and every aspect of life, even down to various ways of washing and brushing teeth. Caste groups have hereditary occupation, there were castes of gardeners, potters, weavers, barbers etc., the list is endless. One could also only marry and dine within his/her caste group.
The highest caste was the Brahmins or priests, and was the smallest group in the caste system. For members of this caste, it was imperative they keep themselves pure, for the reasons that they handled the sacred objects, and were the people approaching the gods in worship. The traditional colour for this caste was white. The second highest caste group was the Kshatriya, whose traditional colour was red, and these people were rulers or warriors. The third highest caste was the Vaisya, with the colour yellow, with the members being the skilled labourers, and merchants and townspeople, and the fourth caste was the Shudra, the serfs or farm laborers, with the colour black.
The fifth group was known as the untouchables, or outcastes. These people did the worst work in the cities that no one else was prepared to do, so the members of this group were very much the lowest group of people in India. About a fifth of the population belonged to this caste.
2) Explain the relationship between the story of Purusha and the caste system.
The story of Purusha is a myth that can explain the origins of the four caste groups. Purusha was the first man, made by the Creator-God, Brahma. Purusha was sacrificed and from various parts of his body came the four different castes.
The highest caste, the Brahmins or priests, was taken from Purusha’s mouth. The warriors and rulers, the Kshatriya, came from the arms. The third highest caste, the Vaisya, the skilled workers and traders, came from the thighs, and the Shudras, the serfs, servants and unskilled labourers came from the feet.
3) Outline the advantages and/or disadvantages of the caste system, explaining why you believe it is or is not a good way to organise society.
Quite obviously, the caste system is an extremely disadvantageous system of running a country, and was clearly designed and bought into existence only by people who would benefit from the system being in place. A key issue is that the highest caste contained such a small percentage of the Indian population that the system really was not a logical one, and for the thousands of people who were not lucky enough to be born into a high caste, life would have been totally unworth living.
The main point in the running of the caste system was the method behind membership. Because membership was achieved only into the initial caste one was born into, this placed huge constrictions and disadvantages to people born in lower caste groups. The strict rules in place in regard to such things as diet, marriage and occupation were totally illogical, and really were a waste of time, in place only to make people in higher castes feel powerful and important, which is a very bad reason to have the entire Indian society in a system where only a few benefit and have some sort of standard of living. I believe the caste system is a terrible way to organise society.
As far as advantages are concerned, I believe only the few in the highest caste group would have advantages, and there would certainly be many. But is it fair to have, say the Indian population was one hundred; ten extremely happy people, twenty happy people, twenty slightly unhappy people and fifty unhappy people? The caste system was really just a power trip, and clearly the disadvantages entirely outweigh the advantages.
4) Find two examples (past or present) of the caste system in practice. At least one of these is to come from either the Internet or a CD ROM source.
A) Hawaii is an example of the caste system in practice years ago. With society divided into rankings decided by birth, there was no chance of change to a different group. The highest rank was the ali’i, consisting of the chiefs and royalty. Following these came the kahuna, highly skilled people whose advice was ought after before a major project began, including building a house or hollowing a log to make a canoe. The mo’o kahuna were the priests of Lono and Ku, responsible for following rituals and prayers. Besides the priesthood of kahuna, there were other kahuna who were not ali’i but instead, were commoners. The two most important groups of commoners were the black magicians (kahuna ana’ana) and the healers (kahuna lapa’au). The common people were called the makaainana, the farmers, artisans and fisherman, “the people of the land”. A special group of people called kauwa were landless, and an untouchable caste.
B) The traditional caste system of India began more than 3000 years ago, when Aryan-speaking nomadic groups travelled form the north of India in 1500 BC. The Aryan priests, as described in the ancient and sacred literature of India, divided society into the basic caste system. At some stage between 200 BC and 100 AD, the Manu Smitri, or the Law of Manu, was written. The Aryan priest-lawmakers created the four hereditary caste groups still existing today, placing their individual caste group alongside the title of the earthly gods. Next came the Kshatriyas, then the Vaisyas and the Sudras. Outside of these were the untouchables, or Harijans. Occasionally, people were expelled from the groups they were born into and became a part of the Untouchables. The caste system, created by the priests, was made a part of Hindu religious law.