How is Brahmin-Varna determined based on one’s birth?

By Sunil Kumar

Vedic society was generally non-stratified into a rigid caste system unlike later(a myriad of castes with Vivekananda famously describing Kerala as a madhouse of caste in the late 19th century); but it was based mostly on kin, lineage and affiliation etc.

The first two verses of the Purusha sukta (Suk...

Visit The first two verses of the Purusha sukta (Suktam/Sooktam), with Sayana’s commentary. Page of Max Müller’s Rig-Veda-sanhita, the Sacred Hymns of the Brahmans (reprint, London 1974). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The Purusha Sukta(hymn 10.90) in the Rig Veda; generally considered by experts as a later insertion(nevertheless clear indicator of a caste framework) describes the Purusha(cosmic being) and his characteristics;

11. When they divided Purusa how many portions did they make?

What do they call his mouth, his arms? What do they call his thighs and feet?

12. The Brahman was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rajanya(Kshatriya) made.

His thighs became the Vaishya, from his feet the Shudra was produced.

Also; in the Bhagavad Gita(Chapter 4, Verse 13) Lord Krishna makes the following assertion;

चातुर्वर्ण्यं मया सृष्टं गुणकर्मविभागश: |

तस्य कर्तारमपि मां विद्ध्यकर्तारमव्ययम् || 13||

chātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛiṣhṭaṁ guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśhaḥ

tasya kartāram api māṁ viddhyakartāram avyayam

“The four categories of occupations were created by me according to people’s qualities and activities. Although I am the creator of this system, know me to be the non-doer and eternal.”

In modern terms; this is more liberal; as Krishna is clearly mentioning that the attributes of the person should determine their social standing(or the caste construct).

Although later; the system became entrenched due to various external pressures; and Brahmins started referring to themselves as dvija(twice-born)- from the Manusmriti; all of this was a result of generations of historical churn.

Historian Ram Sharan Sharma also asserts that “the Rig Vedic society was neither organized on the basis of social division of labour nor on that of differences in wealth; but largely kulas(affiliations etc).

So; the Brahmin Varna depending on one’s birth is definitely a later development. Also; some of them do give a fair exposition of Vedic society; but yes; the varna system should be based on the original Vedic construct.(fluid acceptance)



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