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QUOTATIONS ON THE CASTE SYSTEM
FROM THE ANCIENT RELIGIOUS TEXTS OF INDIA
ANCIENT EASTERN INFLUENCES
The caste system in India is a highly controversial subject. There are serious differences of opinion among respected historians in India about the nature and the extent of the caste system in ancient India. We do not suggest that we are going to resolve these scholarly disputes. However, we do believe it is relevant to cite the original sources in ancient texts that are used in these debates.
We feel these quotes are particularly relevant since they also had a major role in the development of intellectual theories about racism in the west. For example, the study of ancient India was a major part of Nazi political ideology in Germany.
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Dasyus = Dark Skinned Peoples
Panis = Semites, Phoenicians
Source: Rig Veda
"The mighty Thunderer with his fair-complexioned friends won the land, the sunlight, and the waters." (Rig Veda I.100.18)
"Indra in battles helps his Aryan worshipper, he who hath hundred helps at hand in every fray, in frays that win the light of heaven. Plaguing the lawless he gave up to Manu's seed the dusky skin; Blazing, 'twere, he burns each covetous man away, he burns the tyrannous away." (Rig Veda I.130.8)
"Thou, Hero, winner of the spoil, urgest to speed the car of man. Burn, like a vessel with the flame, the lawless Dasyu, Conqueror!" (Rig Veda I.175.3)
"Stirrer to action of the poor and
lowly, of priest, of suppliant who sings his praises; Who, fair-faced, favors
him who presses Soma with stones made ready, He, O men, is Indra." (Rig Veda II
"He gained possession of the Sun and Horses, Indra obtained the Cow who feedeth many. Treasure of gold he won; he smote the Dasyus, and gave protection to the Aryan color." (Rig Veda III.34.9)
"For thou art he, O Indra, who stormeth all castles of the foe, Slayer of Dasyus, man's Supporter, Lord of Heaven." (Rig Veda VIII.87.6)
"Blowing away with supernatural might from earth and from the heavens the swarthy skin which Indra hates." (Rig Veda IX.73.5)
CHAPTER I, pp. 40-42
Seeing these kinsmen, O Krishna! standing (here) desirous to engage in battle, my limbs droop down; my mouth is quite dried up; a tremor comes on my body; and my hairs stand on end; the Gandiva (bow) slips from my hand; my skin burns intensely. I am unable, too, to stand up; my mind whirls round, as it were ... What joy shall be ours, O Ganardana! after killing Dhritarashtra's sons? Killing these felons we shall only incur sin. ... O Ganârdana! should not we, who do see the evils flowing from the extinction of a family, learn to refrain from that sin? On the extinction of a family, the eternal rites of families are destroyed. Those rites being destroyed, impiety predominates over the whole family. In consequence of the predominance of impiety, O Krishna! the women of the family become corrupt; and the women becoming corrupt, O descendant of Vrishni! intermingling of castes results; that intermingling necessarily leads the family and the destroyers of the family to hell; for when the ceremonies of (offering) the balls of food and water (to them) fail, their ancestors fall down (to hell). By these transgressions of the destroyers of families, which occasion intermingling of castes, the eternal rites of castes and rites, of families are subverted. And O Ganardana! we have heard that men whose family-rites are subverted, must necessarily live in hell.
CHAPTER III, pp. 54-55
Whatever a great man does, that other men also do. And people follow whatever he receives as authority. There is nothing, O son of Pritha! for me to do in (all) the three worlds, nothing to acquire which has not been acquired. Still I do engage in action. For should I at any time not engage without sloth in action, men would follow in my path from all sides, O son of Pritha! If I did not perform actions, these worlds would be destroyed, I should be the cause of caste intermingling; and I should be ruining these people.
CHAPTER IX, p. 85
Even if a very ill-conducted man worships me, not worshipping any one else, he must certainly be deemed to be good, for he has well resolved. He soon becomes devout of heart, and obtains lasting tranquility. (You may) affirm, O son of Kuntî! that my devotee is never ruined. For, O son of Pritha! even those who are of sinful birth, women, Vaisyas; and Sudras likewise, resorting to me, attain the supreme goal.
CHAPTER XVIII, pp. 126-127
The duties of Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, and Vaisyas, and of Sudras, too, O terror of your foes! are distinguished according to the qualities born of nature. Tranquility, restraint of the senses, penance, purity, forgiveness, straightforwardness, also knowledge, experience, and belief (in a future world), this is the natural duty of Brahmanas. Valor, glory, courage, dexterity, not slinking away from battle, gifts, exercise of lordly power, this is the natural duty of Kshatriyas. Agriculture, tending cattle, trade, (this) is the natural duty of Vaisyas, And the natural duty of Sudras, too, consists in service. (Every) man intent on his own respective duties obtains perfection.
BOOK I, CHAPTER III
Hence the king shall never allow people to swerve from their duties; for whoever upholds his own duty, ever adhering to the customs of the Aryas, and following the rules of caste and divisions of religious life, will surely. be happy both here and hereafter. For the world, when maintained in accordance with injunctions of the triple Vedas, will surely progress, but never perish.
BOOK II, Chapter I
Villages consisting each of not less than a hundred families and of not more than five-hundred families of agricultural people of súdra caste, with boundaries extending as far as a krósa (2250 yds.) or two, and capable of protecting each other shall be formed. Boundaries shall be denoted by a river, a mountain, forests, bulbous plants (grishti), caves, artificial buildings (sétubandha), or by trees such as sálmali (silk cotton tree), samí (Acacia Suma), and kshíravriksha (milky trees).
BOOK II, CHAPTER IV
In the midst of the houses of the people of all the four castes and to the north from the centre of the ground inside the fort, the king’s palace, facing either the north or the east shall, as described elsewhere (Chapter XX, Book I), be constructed occupying one-ninth of the whole site inside the fort.
On the eastern side, merchants trading in scents, garlands, grains, and liquids, together with expert artisans and the people of Kshatriya caste shall have their habitations.
To the south, the superintendents of the city, of commerce, of manufactories, and of the army as well as those who trade in cooked rice, liquor, and flesh, besides prostitutes, musicians, and the people of Vaisya caste shall live.
To the west, artisans manufacturing worsted threads, cotton threads, bamboo-mats, skins, armors, weapons, and gloves as well as the people of Súdra caste shall have their dwellings.
To the north, the royal tutelary deity of the city, ironsmiths, artisans working on precious stones, as well as Bráhmans shall reside.
BOOK II, CHAPTER 37
A Gopa shall keep the accounts of ten households, twenty households, or forty households. He shall not only know the caste, gotra, the name, and occupation of both men and women in those households, but also ascertain their income and expenditure.
BOOK III, CHAPTER II
If a husband either is of bad character or is long gone abroad or has become a traitor to his king or is likely to endanger the life of his wife or has fallen from his caste or has lost virility, he may be abandoned by his wife.
BOOK III, CHAPTER IV
Wives who belong to Sudra, Vaisya, Kshatriya or Brahman caste, and who have not given birth to children should wait as long as a year for their husbands who have gone abroad for a short time; ... If the husband is a Bráhman, studying abroad, his wife who has no issue should wait for him for ten years; but if she has given birth to children, she should wait for twelve years. If the husband is of Kshatriya caste, his wife should wait for him till her death.
BOOK III, CHAPTER V
Persons fallen from caste, persons born of outcaste men, and eunuchs shall have no share [of familial inheritance]; likewise idiots, lunatics, the blind and lepers. If the idiots, etc., have wives with property, their issues who are not equally idiots, etc., shall share inheritance. All these persons excepting those that are fallen from caste shall be entitled to only food and clothing.
BOOK III, CHAPTER VII
Partition of inheritance shall be made in accordance with the customs prevalent in the country, caste, guild (sangha), or the village of the inheritors.
BOOK III, CHAPTER XVIII
If among Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, Sudras, and outcastes (antávasáyins), any one of a lower caste abuses the habits of one of a higher caste, the fines imposed shall increase from 3 panas upwards (commencing from the lowest caste). If any one of a higher caste abuses one of a lower caste, fines imposed shall decrease from 2 panas.
BOOK IV, CHAPTER VI
Persons ... whose caste and avocation are very low; who keep false appearances or put on different caste signs; who change their ancestral customs under false excuses; whose notoriety is already marked; ... may be suspected to be either murderers or robbers or offenders guilty of misappropriation of treasure-trove or deposits or to be any other kind of knaves subsisting by foul means secretly employed. Thus the seizure of criminals on suspicion is dealt with.
BOOK IV, CHAPTER VIII
Whether an accused is a stranger or a relative to a complainant, his defense witness shall, in the presence of the complainant, be asked as to the defendant's country, caste, family, name, occupation, property, friends, and residence.
BOOK IV, CHAPTER X
When a man contemptuously rushes against the hands or legs of any person of a higher caste, or of a teacher, or mounts the horse, elephant, coach, etc., of the king, he shall have one of his legs and one of his hands cut off or pay a fine of 700 panas. When a Súdra calls himself a Bráhman, or when any person steals the property of gods, conspires against the king, or destroys both the eyes of another, he shall either have his eyes destroyed by the application of poisonous ointment, or pay a fine of 800 panas.
BOOK IV, CHAPTER XIII
A Kshatriya who commits adultery with an unguarded Brahman woman shall be punished with the highest amercement; a Vaisya doing the same shall be deprived of the whole of his property; and a Sudra shall be burnt alive wound round in mats. A man who commits adultery with a woman of low caste shall be banished with prescribed mark branded on his fore-head, or shall be degraded to the same caste. A Súdra or a svapáka who commits adultery with a woman of low caste shall be put to death, while the woman shall have her ears and nose cut off.
BOOK VII, CHAPTER XI
In colonizing a land with four castes, colonization with the lowest caste is better, inasmuch as it is serviceable in various ways, plentiful, and permanent.
Source: Khandogya Upanishad
V, Tenth Kanda,7
'Those whose conduct has been good, will quickly attain some good birth, the birth of a Brahmana, or a Kshatriya, or a Vaisya. But those whose conduct has been evil, will quickly attain an evil birth, the birth of a dog, or a hog, or a Kandala.
The name Manusmriti is the conjunction of "Manu," the mystery shrouded name of the creator of the book and "smriti" meaning what is fit/deserves to be remembered. The English translation of the title is The Ordinances of Manu, which is the name given to the text by the translator George Bühler. These quotations have been compiled from the online Bühler translation of The Ordinances of Manu
1. The great sages approached Manu, who was seated with a collected mind, and, having duly worshipped him, spoke as follows:
2. 'Deign, divine one, to declare to us precisely and in due order the sacred laws of each of the (four chief) castes (varna) and of the intermediate ones.
8. He, desiring to produce beings of many kinds from his own body, first with a thought created the waters, and placed his seed in them.
9. That (seed) became a golden egg, in brilliancy equal to the sun; in that (egg) he himself was born as Brahman, the progenitor of the whole world.
31. But for the sake of the prosperity of the worlds he caused the Brahmana, the Kshatriya, the Vaisya, and the Sudra to proceed from his mouth, his arms, his thighs, and his feet.
87. But in order to protect this universe He, the most resplendent one, assigned separate (duties and) occupations to those who sprang from his mouth, arms, thighs, and feet.
88. To Brahmanas he assigned teaching and studying (the Veda), sacrificing for their own benefit and for others, giving and accepting (of alms).
89. The Kshatriya he commanded to protect the people, to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifices, to study (the Veda), and to abstain from attaching himself to sensual pleasures;
90. The Vaisya to tend cattle, to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifices, to study (the Veda), to trade, to lend money, and to cultivate land.
91. One occupation only the lord prescribed to the Sudra, to serve meekly even these (other) three castes.
92. Man is stated to be purer above the navel (than below); hence the Self-existent (Svayambhu) has declared the purest (part) of him (to be) his mouth.
93. As the Brahmana sprang from (Brahman's) mouth, as he was the first-born, and as he possesses the Veda, he is by right the lord of this whole creation.
94. For the Self-existent (Svayambhu), having performed austerities, produced him first from his own mouth, in order that the offerings might be conveyed to the gods and manes and that this universe might be preserved.
96. Of created beings the most excellent are said to be those which are animated; of the animated, those which subsist by intelligence; of the intelligent, mankind; and of men, the Brahmanas;
97. Of Brahmanas, those learned (in the Veda); of the learned, those who recognise (the necessity and the manner of performing the prescribed duties); of those who possess this knowledge, those who perform them; of the performers, those who know the Brahman.
98. The very birth of a Brahmana is an eternal incarnation of the sacred law; for he is born to (fulfill) the sacred law, and becomes one with Brahman.
99. A Brahmana, coming into existence, is born as the highest on earth, the lord of all created beings, for the protection of the treasury of the law.
100. Whatever exists in the world is, the property of the Brahmana; on account of the excellence of his origin The Brahmana is, indeed, entitled to all.
101. The Brahmana eats but his own food, wears but his own apparel, bestows but his own in alms; other mortals subsist through the benevolence of the Brahmana.
116. (The law concerning) the behaviour of Vaisyas and Sudras, the origin of the mixed castes, the law for all castes in times of distress and the law of penances,
117. The threefold course of transmigrations, the result of (good or bad) actions, (the manner of attaining) supreme bliss and the examination of the good and bad qualities of actions,
118. The primeval laws of countries, of castes (gati), of families, and the rules concerning heretics and companies (of traders and the like)- (all that) Manu has declared in these Institutes.
6. The whole Veda is the (first) source of the sacred law, next the tradition and the virtuous conduct of those who know the (Veda further), also the customs of holy men, and (finally) self-satisfaction.
7. Whatever law has been ordained for any (person) by Manu, that has been fully declared in the Veda: for that (sage was) omniscient.
17. That land, created by the gods, which lies between the two divine rivers Sarasvati and Drishadvati, the (sages) call Brahmavarta.
18. The custom handed down in regular succession (since time immemorial) among the (four chief) castes (varna) and the mixed (races) of that country, is called the conduct of virtuous men.
19. The plain of the Kurus, the (country of the) Matsyas, Pankalas, and Surasenakas, these (form), indeed, the country of the Brahmarshis (Brahmanical sages, which ranks) immediately after Brahmavarta.
20. From a Brahmana, born in that country, let all men on earth learn their several usages.
21. That (country) which (lies) between the Himavat and the Vindhya (mountains) to the east of Prayaga and to the west of Vinasana (the place where the river Sarasvati disappears) is called Madhyadesa (the central region).
22. But (the tract) between those two mountains (just mentioned), which (extends) as far as the eastern and the western oceans, the wise call Aryavarta (the country of the Aryans).
29. Before the navel-string is cut, the Gatakarman (birth-rite) must be performed for a male (child); and while sacred formulas are being recited, he must be fed with gold, honey, and butter.
31. Let (the first part of) a Brahmana's name (denote something) auspicious, a Kshatriya's be connected with power, and a Vaisya's with wealth, but a Sudra's (express something) contemptible.
32. (The second part of) a Brahmana's (name) shall be (a word) implying happiness, of a Kshatriya's (a word) implying protection, of a Vaisya's (a term) expressive of thriving, and of a Sudra's (an expression) denoting service.
37. (The initiation) of a Brahmana who desires proficiency in sacred learning should take place in the fifth (year after conception), (that) of a Kshatriya who wishes to become powerful in the sixth, (and that) of a Vaisya who longs for (success in his) business in the eighth.
38. The (time for the) Savitri (initiation) of a Brahmana does not pass until the completion of the sixteenth year (after conception), of a Kshatriya until the completion of the twenty-second, and of a Vaisya until the completion of the twenty-fourth.
39. After those (periods men of) these three (castes) who have not received the sacrament at the proper time, become Vratyas (outcasts), excluded from the Savitri (initiation) and despised by the Aryans.
41. Let students, according to the order (of their castes), wear (as upper dresses) the skins of black antelopes, spotted deer, and he-goats, and (lower garments) made of hemp, flax or wool.
42. The girdle of a Brahmana shall consist of a of a triple cord of Munga grass, smooth and soft; (that) of a Kshatriya, of a bowstring, made of Murva fibres; (that) of a Vaisya, of hempen threads.
119. One must not sit down on a couch or seat which a superior occupies; and he who occupies a couch or seat shall rise to meet a (superior), and (afterwards) salute him.
127. Let him ask a Brahmana, on meeting him, after (his health, with the word) kusala, a Kshatriya (with the word) anamaya, a Vaisya (with the word) kshema, and a Sudra (with the word) anarogya.
136. Wealth, kindred, age, (the due performance of) rites, and, fifthly, sacred learning are titles to respect; but each later-named (cause) is more weighty (than the preceding ones).
137. Whatever man of the three (highest) castes possesses most of those five, both in number and degree, that man is worthy of honour among them; and (so is) also a Sudra who has entered the tenth (decade of his life).
223. If a woman or a man of low caste perform anything (leading to) happiness, let him diligently practise it, as well as (any other permitted act) in which his heart finds pleasure.
238. He who possesses faith may receive pure learning even from a man of lower caste, the highest law even from the lowest, and an excellent wife even from a base family.
12. For the first marriage of twice-born men (wives) of equal caste are recommended; but for those who through desire proceed (to marry again) the following females, (chosen) according to the (direct) order (of the castes), are most approved.
13. It is declared that a Sudra woman alone (can be) the wife of a Sudra, she and one of his own caste (the wives) of a Vaisya, those two and one of his own caste (the wives) of a Kshatriya, those three and one of his own caste (the wives) of a Brahmana.
15. Twice-born men who, in their folly, wed wives of the low (Sudra) caste, soon degrade their families and their children to the state of Sudras.
16. According to Atri and to (Gautama) the son of Utathya, he who weds a Sudra woman becomes an outcast, according to Saunaka on the birth of a son, and according to Bhrigu he who has (male) offspring from a (Sudra female, alone).
17. A Brahmana who takes a Sudra wife to his bed, will (after death) sink into hell; if he begets a child by her, he will lose the rank of a Brahmana.
163. She who cohabits with a man of higher caste, forsaking her own husband who belongs to a lower one, will become contemptible in this world, and is called a remarried woman (parapurva).
17. Punishment is (in reality) the king (and) the male, that the manager of affairs, that the ruler, and that is called the surety for the four orders' obedience to the law.
35. The king has been created (to be) the protector of the castes (varna) and orders, who, all according to their rank, discharge their several duties.
37. When a learned Brahmin has found treasure, deposited in former (times), he may take even the whole (of it); for he is the master of everything.
270. A sudra who insults a twice born man with gross invective, shall have his tongue cut out; for he is of low origin.
271. If he mentions names and castes of the (twice born) with contumely, an iron nail, ten fingers long, shall be thrust red hot into his mouth.
410. The King should order each man of the mercantile class to practice trade, or money lending or agriculture and attendance on cattle; and each man of the servile class to act in the service of the twice born.
3. Her father protects (her) in childhood, her husband protects (her) in youth and her sons protect (her) in old age; a woman is never fit for independence.
18. Women have no business with the text of the Veda.
189. The property of a Brahmana must never be taken by the king, that is a settled rule; but (the property of men) of other castes the king may take on failure of all (heirs).
121. If a Sudra (unable to subsist by serving Brahmanas) seeks a livelihood, he may serve Kshatriyas, or he may also seek to maintain himself by attending on a wealthy Vaisya.
122. But let a Sudra serve Brahmans, either for the sake of heaven or with a view to both this life and the text, for he who is called the servant of a Brahmana thereby gains all his ends.
123. The service of the Brahmana alone is declared to be an excellent occupation for a Sudra; for whatever else besides this he may perform will bear no fruit.
124. They must allot to him (Sudra) out of their own family property a suitable maintenance, after considering his ability, his industry and the number of those whom he is bound to support.
125. The remnants of their food must be given to him, as well as their old clothes, the refuge of their grain and their old household furniture.
129. No collection of wealth must be made by a Sudra even though he be able to do it; for a Sudra who has acquired wealth gives pain to Brahmana.
4. If the Sudra intentionally listens for committing to memory the Veda, then his ears should be filled with (molten) lead; if he utters the Veda, then his tongue should be cut off.
96. All those (doctrines), differing from the (Veda), which spring up and (soon) perish, are worthless and false, because they are of modern date.
97. The four castes, the three worlds, the four orders, the past, the present, and the future are all severally known by means of the Veda.
Source:Vishnusmriti - The Institutes of Vishnu
1. Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sudras are the four castes.
2. The first three of these are (called) twice-born.
3. For them the whole number of ceremonies, which begin with the impregnation and end with the ceremony of burning the dead body, have to be performed with (the recitation of) Mantras.
4. Their duties are.
5. For a Brahmana, to teach (the Veda);
6. For a Kshatriya, constant practice in arms;
7. For a Vaisya, the tending of cattle;
8. For a Sudra, to serve the twice-born;
9. For all the twice-born, to sacrifice and to study (the Veda).
10. Again, their modes of livelihood are:
11. For a Brahmana, to sacrifice for others and to receive alms;
12. For a Kshatriya, to protect the world (and receive due reward, in form of taxes);
13. For a Vaisya, tillage, keeping cows (and other cattle), traffic, lending money upon interest, and growing seeds;
14. For a Sudra, all branches of art (such as painting and the other fine arts);
15. In times of distress, each caste may follow the occupation of that next (below) to it in rank.
16. Forbearance, veracity, restraint, purity, liberality, self-control, not to kill (any living obedience towards one's Gurus, visiting places of pilgrimage, sympathy (with the afflicted),
17. Straightforwardness, freedom from covetousness, reverence towards gods and Brahmanas, and freedom from anger are duties common (to all castes).
24. If a (low-born) man through pride give instruction (to a member of the highest caste) concerning his duty, let the king order hot oil to be dropped into his mouth.
25. If a (low-born man) mentions the name or caste of a superior revilingly, an iron pin, ten inches long, shall be thrust into his mouth (red hot).
104. If one who (being a member of the Kandala or some other low caste) must not be touched, intentionally defiles by his touch one who (as a member of a twice-born caste) may be touched (by other twice-born persons only), he shall be put to death.
105. If a woman in her courses (touches such a person), she shall be lashed with a whip.
1. If a man has several wives of his own caste, he shall perform his religious duties together with the eldest (or first-married) wife.
2. (If he has several) wives of divers castes (he shall perform them) even with the youngest wife if she is of the same caste as himself.
3. On failure of a wife of his own caste (he shall perform them) with one belonging to the caste next below his own; so also in cases of distress (i.e. when the wife who is equal in caste to him happens to be absent, or when she has met with a calamity);
4. But no twice-born man ever with a Sudra wife.
5. A union of a twice-born man with a Sudra wife can never produce religious merit; it is from carnal desire only that he marries her, being blinded by lust.
6. Men of the three first castes, who through folly marry a woman of the lowest caste, quickly degrade their families and progeny to the state of Sûdras.
7, If his oblations to the gods and manes and (his hospitable attentions) to guests are offered principally through her hands, the gods and manes (and the guests) will not eat such offerings, and he will not go to heaven.
5. The Namadheya (naming-rite) [of a newborn child] must be performed as soon as the term of impurity (caused by the birth of the child) is over.
6. (The name to be chosen should be) auspicious in the case of a Brahmana;
7. Indicating power in the case of a Kshatriya;
8. Indicating wealth in the case of a Vaisya;
9. Indicating contempt in the case of a Sudra.