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Re: regarding casteism Is there historic support ?

From: Rajaram Venkataramani (
Date: Thu Jan 17 2002 - 21:10:40 PST

All the Alwars (12) and Nayanmars (63), who wrote the devotional literature of Tamil were non-Brahmins, but their works are the most revered in Tamil temples, be it Shaivite or Vaishnavite. The same goes for Thirumoolar who wrote Thirumanthiram, a great treatise on yoga. He 
was also from the shepherd community. Kamban who wrote Ramayana, was 
also a non-Brahmin. But these were recognized by brahmin and were glorified b brahmins also. 

Al Beruni in his Indica states that the oppressive regimes of the Muslim invaders and their persecution of Brahmins and the closure of religious schools is forcing the Brahmins to confine teaching of scriptures only to their kith and kin. He wonders if it may lead to regimentation of the society based on birth. That gives us an idea that the the present caste system might have taken roots due to invaders. And was not there before in the same form. 

I am not denying the concept of jati and varna exist in vedic literatures. But was it purely based on birth ? Sri Krishna says that varna is determined by guna and karma - guna karma vibhagasah. I would reuest clarification from scholars. 

  Madhavakkannan V <> wrote: SrI:
SrImathE Gopaladesika mahadesikaya namah:
Dear Charchitha Rangacharya,

You have asked a very valid and great question. This prevails in everyone's 
minds at some time or the other. I had the samee doubt few years ago. And 
the post in this list clarified the same.
I am reproducing that for evryone's understanding and reference. This is 
written by Sri Anand Karalapakkam on the same subject..

VarnAsramam- and Varnasrama dharmam- Let us see what the sAstrAs says. The 
prevailing condition of the society is another issue . SAstrAs are not 
limited by time anyway. Its upto one to follow whatever they can .
Adiyen's motive is to just share the injunctions in the sAstrAs. Please
don't take it otherwise.

Is VarnA ie. jAtI based on the body ? The answer is "yes" . VarnAs are
just based on the type of body one obtains , which is determined by one's 
karmA. Many Smruthis & MahAbhArathA categorically mention this. The 
following pramAnAs would amply explain about the varnA.

All the karmAs enjoined in sAstrAs are strictly varnA based. So, one
just takes up such kainkaryams according to the varnA & does it with full 
dedication & devotion to Sriman NArAyanA.

In the Brahma SootrA (2.3.46) , the sootrakArA affirms that all the
jIvAtmAs are parts (amsA (**)) of Brahman ie. jIvAtmAs are sarIrA to
Brahman since they are being supported & controlled by Brahman , & they
exist only for the pleasure of Brahman . In other words , sarIra sarIrI
bhAvA between the jIvAtmA & the Brahman "Sriman NArAyanA " is established & 
thus jIvAtmAs are only an attribute to Brahman (in that sense they are also

part of Brahman) . But , this gives rise to a very valid doubt . The 
sootrakArA ( VyAsar) answers it in the next sootrA .

(**) amsA : amsA => part . Note that all the parts put together doesn't
make the whole ie. all the jIvAtmAs & achit which are part of Brahman
doesn't become the Brahman , by their totallity . Brahma svaroopam is all 
together different . Neverthless , Brahman is always vishistA ie. one cannot

separate the relationship between the Brahman & its attributes (chit , 
achit) .Since the chit & achit are eternally the "sarIrA" (body) of Brahman 
, they are its parts (amsAs) .

Let us see what Bhagavad RAmAnujA says in Sri BhAshyam :

In the BhAshyam to sootrA 2.3.46 , Bhagavad RAmAnujA puts forth the
question by himself : < start quote >
" But , if all individual souls are equal in so far as being alike parts 
ie.amsAs (bodies / attributes) of Brahman , alike actuated by Brahman & 
alike knowing subjects , what is the reason that , as Scripture teaches ,** 
some of them are allowed to read vedAs & act according to its injunctions , 
while others are excluded therefrom ** & again some are to see , feel & so 
on , while others are excluded from these previleges ?
This question is answered in the next sootrA .

sootrA 2.3.47 : Anuj~nApariharau dehasambhandhAjjyotirAdivat

( Permission & Exclusion result from connection with the body , as in
the case of fire etc )

Although all souls are essentially of the same nature in so far as they
are parts of Brahman , knowing subjects & so on , the permissions &
exclusions referred to are possible since ** each individual soul is
joined to some particular body , pure or impure , whether a BrAhmanA or
KshatriyA or VaishyA or SUdrA & so on **.

As in the case of fire & so on ' : All fire is of the same kind , &
yet one willingly fetches fire from the house of a BrAhmanA , while one
shuns fire from a place where dead bodies are burnt. And from a BrAhmanA
one accepts food without any objection , while one refuses food from a low 
person "


The essence is that with respect to jIvAtma svaroopam , all are
alike. So, no one is either a BrAhmanA or kshatriyA or GruhastA or
sanyAsi etc . One is simply a jIvAtmA , a servant of Sriman NArAyanA . But ,

as long as the jIvAtmA is in this material world , it is inseparably united 
with a particular type of body . So , the dharmAs for that varnA has to be 
followed . sAstrAs are the commands of Sriman NArAyanA to the jIvAtmAs in 
the material world & not for muktAs / nitya soorIs, since it is only the 
baddha jIvAtmAs that are associated with material bodies . So, being in this

material world & doing so many actions like eating, sleeping etc based on 
body , one should not adopt a double standard & refrain from the karmA 
prescribed in the sAstrAs for each varnA , under the pretext that one is 
only a jIvAtmA & not the body . It is the same sAstrA that tells one to be a

jIvAtmA apart from body & also instructs one to perform karmA based on 

So, a series of questions arises : "If one gets a lowly birth ,
does it mean that he is unfit for performing kainkaryams unto Sriman
NArAyanA ? Can such a person not attain moksham by the end of that life
itself ? Should a bhAgavathA from low births be eulogized or not ?"

Because of the birth , one would have to take up the allotted
kainkaryams prescribed in the sAstrAs. This doesn't mean that one is
debarred from performing any sort of kainkaryams unto Sriman NArAyanA.

In Bhagavad GItA , Sri KrishnA says " Woman , VaishyAs & SUdrAs -those
who are of sinful birth , whoever they might be - they obtain , O pArthA! 
the highest state (moksham) , if they seek My protection " (9.32)

VishnuDharmA (10.2.29) states : "Though DharmavyAdhA & others belonged
to low & gruesome castes , yet since , in their previous births , they had 
performed Bhakti YogA , they continued in their latest life & having
completed therein , attained their goal like Sramani (Sabari) "

Note : The person starting the bhakti yogA should be of the first three
varnAs. In future births , the jIvAtmA may land up taking any type of body 
according to the left over sins.

Though the caste may be considered low ,everyone is eligible for
moksham through prapatti . There is no restriction in it. Anyone can
become a Sri VaishnavA through samAsrayanam. These things are intimately
tied up with the jIvAtmA . So , there are no restrictions. But ,
restrictions come into play only in the case of karmAs to be performed
since the type of body acquired is taken into account .

Once one becomes a devotee of Sriman NArAyanA , irrespective of
his/her caste , one should eulogize them . Any vaishnavA is always
glorious .

IthihAsa SamucchayA (27.26) says " Whether a devotee of BhagavAn Sriman
NArAyanA be a soodrA , a huntsman or a man who eats dog's flesh ; the man 
who looks upon him as identical with other men of those respective castes 
will go to hell" .

Though a devotee might be from a particular caste which is in general
considered low , he is neverthless far supreme than the other persons of
his caste.

SwAmi Desikan quotes lots & lots of pramAnams (proof) to show that a 
VaishnavA should be adored irrespective of his caste. Just because of the 
caste , one might be debarred from reciting vedAs. This doesn't mean that he

can't be a supreme devotee ( eg: AzhvArs like NammAzhvAr has no parallel as 
a devotee ) .

A famous quote from Padmottaram (29.81) : " Of all forms of ArAdhanam
(say homage,adoration etc) , ArAdhanam to Lord Vishnu is the best , but
superior even to this is the excellent ArAdhanam (homage ,adoration etc)
offered to Vishnu's devotees. "

There are also pramAnAs of the following type which stress the
importance of paying respects/adoration to devotees irrespective of their 
caste :

MahAbhArathA : AswamedhikA parvA (118.32) : "Those sUdrAs who have
devotion to BhagavAn are not sUdrAs ; they who are devotees of BhagavAn
are Brahmins. Those who have no bhakti to BhagavAn (JanArdanA) , whatever 
might be his caste - they alone are sUdrAs "

So , by the presence or absence in them of the specific attribute of
bhakti (devotion; not to be confused with bhakti yogA) to Sriman NArAyanA, 
men of lower castes are called by the names of the higher , & men of higher 
castes are called by the names of lower respectively .

Then one might possibly come up with the question " Does the
devotees of Sriman NArAyanA belong to one and the same caste ? "
If it is so , then it contradicts with all the pramAnams of the type "
Thus will the devotee of Lord who is a Brahmin conduct himself and thus
will the devotee who is a sUdrA conduct himself etc ".

Consider the following pramAnA :

MahAbhArathA : AswamedhikA parvA (116.8) :" Auspicious qualities
which carry esteem do not arise from caste . The demigods (devAs) consider 
as a Brahmin even a chandAlA who conducts himself in accordance with his 
caste "

It is also evident from many pramAnams quoted above that the caste of
a devotee doesn't change because of his devotion , though he has to be
highly respected & adored for his devotion ( the terms used in the
pramAnAs inherently assumes that a devotee belongs to a particular varnA). 
For that matter , even though a strI (lady) is a great devotee of Sriman 
NArAyanA & is a BrAhmini , sastrAs doesn't allow her to recite vedAs, 
perform Agnihotrams etc. On top of these , yuga dharmA also imposes 
restrictions .

There are pramAnams which state that the prapannAs from various castes are 
equal ,which is in the sense of attainment of the final goal , namely 
moksham . So , there is a kulam called Sri Vaishnava kulam wherein everyone 
are so great that all are certain to reach Sri Vaikuntam since they adopt 
prapatti . But this word kulam is not be confused with caste (ie. jAti/varnA


PeriAzhvAr in his Thirup pallAndu says "pandaik kulaththai thavirthu
pallAndu ..." (We will give up our former kulam & sing pallAndu to
perumAL ).

So , instead of being a materialist , now one becomes a Sri VaishnavA
fixed in kainkaryams .

Let us see Sri Peria AchAn PiLLai's conclusion on Thirumangai
AzhwAr's pAsurm 1.1.9 " kulam tharum ..." ( "The name "NArAyanA" ,
confers a (higher) kulam .." ) :

"If a man who is low by birth & by conduct attains contact with BhagavAn
, one who has both should shrink from calling him low , because of the
potency of his devotion to BhagavAn "

Sri PiLLai LokAchAryA says that one must have high reverence for a
prapannA , whatever may be his caste & is one of the greatest offenses to 
treat him with indifference , disregard , ill will or contempt on the
ground of his caste .

But these doesn't advocate the change of varnA according to devotion ,
since by very definition varnA is based on body.

Sri Peria AcchAn PiLLai very categorically states this in his commentary
to the verse 219.6.5 in Garuda PurAnam :

verse :
"Bhakti or devotion is of eight kinds. If bhakti is found in a mleccha, he 
should be considered a devout and knowing Brahmin. To him , giving is
proper & taking is proper .He should be treated with the same reverence as I

myself "

Sri PVP's commentary : " This doesn't mean that strIs (ladies) can be given 
in marriage to him and the like , but he may be given the gift of knowledge 
and the like "

So AchArya reminds us that inter-dining ,inter-marriage (say between
a BrAhmana strI & a sUdra man , even though both of them are devotees )
etc are prohibited in sAstrAs (smruthIs are the main references for these).

For instance in MahAbhArathA: Aswamedhika ParvA 118.14 , BhagavAn says 
"Therefore , a sUdrA shouldn't utter My names with pranavA " . Only a 
devotee is going to recite the names of BhagavAn Sriman NArAyanA . But He 
Himself instructs such devotees , not to utter pranavA.

SAstrAs always explicitly mention the dharmAs of a varnA . Consider the
following verse from VarAha PurAnam ( 139.53) :
"The man born of the caste of those who eat dog's flesh woke up as
soon as the day dawned , finished his observance which consisted in
singing the praise of Bhagavan and returned after uttering the mantra
'Namo NArAyanA ' "

According to the specific varnA, the mantrA needs to be recited
with/without pranavam etc. sAstrAs explicitly enjoins the recitation of
the mantrA like "Namo NArAyanA + dative suffix " prefixed by pranavA ,
when the Upadesam is for say a BrAhmanA .

The point is that one must have high reverence for a devotee irrespective of

his caste , but the code of conduct between the devotees of various varnAs 
(which in one sense a restriction / limit) is specified by sAstrAs.

For instance , if the sAstrAs eulogizes the devotees of Sriman
NArAyanA as follows ( Vihagendra SamhitA) : "The man who is always
thinking of Sriman NArAyanA - whatever be the calling (vritti) he follows 
for his living , that is adoration ; whatever he says (jalpah) is japam; 
whatever he sees is meditation or dhyAnA ; the water that has received 
contact with his feet is incomparably holy water ; whatever is left after he

has eaten will purify ; his mere words are a sacred mantrA; whatever he 
touches becomes pure " .

What a grand eulogy of the devotees of Sriman NArAyanA ! All are true; but 
the eulogy is restricted by the sAstrAs again ie. it shouldn't
violate sAstrAs.

"his mere words are a sacred mantrA " : If a devotee speaks on
materialistic affairs , it doesn't become a mantrA .

"whatever he touches becomes pure " : Can a devotee touch liquor &
say it has become pure & drink? For instance , in VarAhapurAnam , Lord
VarAhA says " The VaishnavA who touches blood even without knowing what it 
is - I never condone his offence , O goddess of earth , even after
thousand apologies " . So , the eulogy is restricted again by pramAnAs. It 
holds good as long as it doesn't violate sAstrAs .

So the pramAnAs which eulogize the devotees from all castes are valid
as long as it doesn't violate other pramAnAs.
Now , the question arises as to how to deal with those born in a
BrAhmanA family & doesn't perform karmA according to that varnA .
Enough PramAnAs are present (some already quoted) which verily chastises
such persons. If a BrAhmanA is not a devotee of Sriman NArAyanA , he has
to be considered a chandAlA only ie. no more can he be respected as a
BrAhmanA .

A very popular quote from DakshaSmruthi : "The man (whomsoever are
ordered to perform ) who doesn't perform the rites pertaining to sandhyA
is ** always impure ** & is * unfit * for the performance of any
other rite. Whatever other rite or karmA he may perform , he will not
obtain the fruit thereof " .

Such men who doesn't perform SandhyAvandanam eventhough born in a
BrAhmanA family can't enter perumAL sannidhi , can't enter temples , can't 
prostrate to elders , perumAL & the like , can't dine with other BrAhmanAs 
etc , since they are always impure ( nithya theetu ie. permanant Asoucham) .

A dhoora strI (ladies in menstrual cycle) is prohibited to do certain 
activities because of the theetu . Similarly , the men who according to 
their varnA should perform SandhyAvandanam , somehow doesn't perform it, 
gets theetu & is thus forbidden from performing many activities .

Thus , by "BrAhmanAs" sAstrAs mean those born in BrAhmanA family & live upto

the standards of BrAhmanA & likewise.

Now let us see the Ultimate Analysis by which all the previous
discussions would become very clear :

Sathvam Of the Body & the Sathvam of the Mind :

SwAmi Desikan explains the difference between the sathvam of the body &
the sathvam of the mind.

MahAbhArathA :Aswamedhika ParvA (40.11) states " Tamas (ignorance,
sloth etc) is found in great measure in the sUdrA , rajas in the kshatriyA 
and sathvam in the BrAhmin " .

The qualities of caste pertaining to the body which are due to the
special qualities of the body ,arise even at the time of birth & remains
until death. Thus , the varnA is fixed by birth , due to the type of body. 
These qualities of body which can't be observed by naked eye , somehow make 
the body either pure or impure for the performance of certain karmAs.

But, a sUdrA eventhough has the predominance of Tamas in the
composition of his body , can very well obtain the quality of sathvam
in his mind. It is because of the preponderance of sathvam in the minds of 
sUdrAs & the like , the sAstrAs eulogize them & instructs everyone to
respect them highly for their devotion to Sriman NArAyanA. For great
devotees like PrahlAdA , the preponderance of sathvam in the mind was
present from the very birth. Anyone can obtain the preponderance of
sathvam in one's mind by the mercy of a SadAchAryA .

It must be noted that if a man born in other castes acquires the higher
virtues , he will be extolled highly as stated in the Vishnu PurAnA slokA 
6.2.6 : " Men are to be honoured in the following order of preference - for 
the possession of vidyA (J~nAnA) , of right karmA , of age, of relatives & 
of wealth . Even a sUdrA possesing these is fit to be honoured in old age " 

It is ** very very important ** to note that the excellence arising
from the body & from qualities of the mind were to cause pride or
arrogance , it would lead to evil consequences . One should for certain
develop Akinchanyam ( feeling of lowliness / lack of virtues) in the lines 
of AzhvArs & AchAryAs who have set the right example :

Tirucchanda Viruttam (90) : " I was not born in any of the four castes
where dharmA could be practised " (your referred pAsuram, Charchitha)
Stotra Ratnam (61) : "I was born in a family renowned in the world
wherein everyone was pure & performed yogA (upAsanA) , where everyone knew 
the truth about prakruti with its three qualities and the jIvAs , where 
everyone had their mind firmly fixed at Your (Sriman NArAyanA) Lotus Feet & 
yet I inclined to commit sin & am now sunk in samsArA, O Saviour ".

KArpanya (utter humility , lowliness etc) is very essential for a
PrapannA , since it forms as one of the angAs of Prapatti .

Thus , though there are regulations regarding castes and the code of
conduct pertaining to each caste, there is nothing to prevent a person
from being honoured "in the mind" .

Exceptional cases / Doubts :

a. What about AzhvArs from lowly castes ? : AzhvArs as true devotees
of Sriman NArAyanA lived according to the varnAshrama dharmA. They never 
violated it. No one can even be compared for the exaltedness of their 
supreme devotion unto Sriman NArAyanA . Anyway AzhvArs are certainly 
exceptional cases . The point is that , they are Nitya SoorIs having taken 
the incarnation out of their mercy to preach to the suffering jIvAtmAs.

b. VidurA : VidurA himself says "As I was born a sUdrA , I can't teach
any further " (MahabhArathA:Udyoga ParvA 41.5 ) , since initiation into
vidyAs (upAsanAs) , mantrAs and the like should be only from a BrAhmanA.
But Sri KrishnA ate at his house because he was certainly a premier

Anyway ApasthambA in his dharma sootrA (2.2.4) states that SUdrAs who
are under the supervision of AryAs are competent to cook for AryAs . In
yugAs other than kali , sUdrAs having great qualities were permitted to
cook the food for AryAs under their own supervision. MahAbhArathA:
UdyogaparvA 91.43 says " The pure VidurA having the qualities necessary
for it , brought the food ".

c. VisvAmitrA : He became a BrAhmanA after being a kshatriyA because of
the special causes , as the charu ( oblation of grain cooked in milk and
other things) eaten by his mother without knowing that it was intended for 
producing a Brahmin child .

There are some more episodes which may seem to be contradictory , but
actually they aren't .

Performance of Rites according to VarnA & AshramA :

Lord KrishnA in His GIta Upadesam says "One shouldn't give up karmA
ordained for the varnAs & the AshramAs .Their omission arising from
ignorance is renunciation due to tamas " & "He who gives up karmA because 
it is painful & fatiguing to the body - he renounces owing to rajas and does

not obtain the fruit of renunciation " (Bhagavad GItA 18.7,8 ).

Rather , one should perform the prescribed karmAs with sAthvIka
tyAgam ( kartrutva tyAgam ie. without the doership attitude + mamatA
tyAgam ie. without the attitude of "mine" + phala tyAgam ie. without any
want of fruits / solely for the pleasure of Sriman NArAyanA) .

To perform the karmA ordained for a man with the thought that it is
an end in itself and that it ought to be done without the desire for gain of

any kind - this is O ArjunA , tyAgam (renunciation) due to sathhvam " 
(Bhagavad GItA 18.9 ).

Glories of VarnAshrama DharmA :

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