Project Conversion

Project Conversion

Hinduism/Day 19: The Varnas (caste system)


The varnas, otherwise known in the West as the “caste” system, is probably the most controversial and villainized aspect in all of Indian culture and Hindu theology. Because Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma) is such an ancient and integrated faith and way of life, one must be willing to peel back thousands of years of History, tradition, culture, and perspectives in order to glean the foundation of this social system that has come to be so reviled that its very usage is now illegal in modern India. I will briefly explore the varnas here, as well as deliver an introduction to their relevance from a scriptural basis and how the caste concept has evolved over the centuries.

Varnas or, “colors”, are designations to one’s social position based on a mixture of the three gunas, or physical/mental/emotional dispositions within them. These gunas are sattva (creative, inspiring, mentally quiet), rajas (restless, dynamic, fierce), and tamas (lazy, negligent, dull).


The Brahmanas

The Brahmanas are the intellectual and spiritual class, designated with the color white. Members of this group are more sattvik centered with a rajasik base and are charged with the spiritual and intellectual well-being of society.






The Kshatriyas

The Kshatriyas are the warrior, leader, and administrative class with a color designation of red. This class exhibits rajasik qualities with a sattvik base. Their duty is to protect and nurture society. The hero Arjuna of the Bhagavad Gita was a Kshatriya.








The Vaishya

The Vaisya are the tradesmen and business class of society, designated with the color brown. Members of this class possess rajasik qualities with a tamasik base. They are responsible for running society’s economic interests.









The Shudras


The Shudras are the laborers, designated black, and are charged with providing labor for society’s progress and well-being. They display tamasik qualities with a rajasik base.









There is another caste called the dalit or, “Untouchables.” This class was made infamous by such caste opponents as Mahatma Gandhi, who called for equality among the castes.

The Varnas in theology:

The earliest concept of a class-based society rose within the oral tradition of the Rig Veda, the oldest holy text within the Hindu tradition. Within, we receive an illustration of how these groups of men came to be:


The Brâhmana was his mouth, of both his arms was the Râjanya made. His thighs became the Vaishya, his feet became the Sûdra.

The “his” refers to Purusha or, the primordial man–cosmic soul. Others have interpreted this story to reflect Mankind as rising from the various parts of Brahma himself. Indeed, opponents of the caste system’s evolution into a rigid and limiting institution point out that if the classes in fact derived from Brahma himself, then all parts are equal and holy.

Interestingly enough, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita (“Song of the Lord”)…

Those desiring success in their actions worship the gods; through action in the world of mortals, their desires are quickly fulfilled. The distinctions  of caste, guna, and karma have come from me. I am their cause, but I myself am changeless and beyond all action.  


Because the Bhagavad Gita is a lesson in becoming one with the divine Self (in this case, Lord Krishna), Krishna is telling Arjuna that the eternal Self–the cosmic Cause that makes up our souls–is incorruptible and therefore transcends the varnas. Even the Brahmanas must climb to reach moksha–liberation, and therefore we are all equal.

From a social perspective, the varnas were classifications based on personal dispositions that, as a whole, created a balanced society in which everyone played a productive role.


The balance of the varnas, with Lord Krishna as the center (Cause).

Of course as Mankind often does, the original intent of a harmonious society became tainted by the ambitions and reinterpretations men placed on the meaning of the classes. The caste system as we’ve known it in recent history evolved into a rigid system of ascription in which that was virtually no hope of movement. One’s occupation and lifestyle was now a part of their genetics. Corrupt holy men rationalized this with twisted versions of karma and dharma. This new philosophy, designed to protect the lineage of the few and privileged, contradicts the scriptures in which Lord Krishna himself had been born a simple cowherd and other notable rishis (holy men) as well as avatars of Vishnu had traversed the classes based on effort and developed aptitude toward other occupations.


It would be unfair to point a finger at the Indian subcontinent for such abuses based on a warped view of scripture. Indeed, few religious or philosophical traditions are clean of the stain of atrocities justified by interpretation of holy writ. Our duty then is to dig into the muck and bring to light the true meaning behind these words within the context of their times of mention. Only with these insights, brought about by deep self-examination, will we be able to wash ourselves of the grim of prejudice based upon misguided and antiquated pretences. This is work left to only a few at present who have the courage to get their hands dirty. It seems then, that we would all do well to be an unclean “Untouchable” from time to time after all. 

Comments read comments(3)
post a comment

Pingback: the caste system of hinduism - CASTE SYSTEM – CASTE SYSTEM


posted January 21, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Indeed it is. Ego, it seems, will twist any combination of words–divinely inspired or otherwise–to serve its own ends. I have hope, however, that we as a people will overcome this.

report abuse


posted January 20, 2011 at 10:45 pm

HI Andrew, Very well-written, pithy, and intriguing look into an oft-vilified aspect of Hindusim. It’s no coincidence how the elite can transmogrify a divine inkling into an abused practice.

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

Another Blog To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Project Conversion. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Religion 101 Happy Reading! ...

posted 2:34:58pm Aug. 02, 2012 | read full post »

Is God an Immersionist?
In the world of faith, folks often point out the obvious fact that God does not belong to a particular creed, religion, race, or school of philosophy. This sentiment establishes the divine as one which transcends divisive terms of ...

posted 7:00:59am Jul. 12, 2012 | read full post »

Immersion in Relationships: Five Ways to Bring your Relationships to Life
I did something last night with my wife that we haven't done in a very long time... Okay, not from that far back, but it ...

posted 10:58:33am Jul. 10, 2012 | read full post »

The Path of Immersion: An Introduction and How Entering the Path Leads to a Deeper Sense of Self
Today marks my official declaration of fidelity and discipleship to the Path of Immersion. Along with that declaration, I also invite you to join me in whatever capacity feels the most suitable. The Path of Immersion is not one which demands ...

posted 6:00:19am Jul. 09, 2012 | read full post »

Farewell, Project Conversion: The End of an Adventure
When I converted to Christianity at the age of 15, I assumed the faith with a passionate resolve. Despite the positive instruction from my pastor and others, I (for reasons I cannot explain) transformed into a fiery evangelist, launching ...

posted 12:49:25pm Jul. 05, 2012 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.