Caste System - Changes in Social Structure of Ancient India, History, UPSC UPSC Notes | EduRev

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Changes in Social Structure of Ancient India

  • Before the advent of the Aryans the territories of India were inhabited by people of numerous races living in different stages of culture. 
  • When the Aryans came, some of the indigenous races were living in fortified cities and had achieved a prosperous urban civilization. 
  • No trace is visible of the community of this pre-Vedic society after the 3rd millennium B.C. 
  • Vedic society was rural and agricultural. The racial war among the Aryans and non-Aryans tribes stressed the need for fortifying tribal settlements. 
  • Within the security of surrounding wall flourished arts and crafts, trade and commerce, and also religious and educational pursuits around the temple and the school.

Caste system

  • In some passages of the Rig-Veda, the Mahabharata and the Pali Canon there are references to a casteless millennium of equality, plenty and piety—this was supposed to have existed in some remote, unrecorded antiquity. 
  • It was the golden age of Krta or Satyayuga when there was only one caste of Deva or Brahamana, when people had no claim to private property and women were not regarded as mere chattel, when crops were grown without toil and everyone was pious and happy.
  • Flood and drought, predatory beasts and the need of some animals, drove the Aryan vis or tribe from place to place. Fire and cattle gave it some stability and bound it to the soil. 
  • There was no place for individual enterprise. Whether for hunting or for animal-keeping, for safety or for settlement the tribe had not worked collectively. 
  • Hence distribution also was collective and equal. Since struggle for existence was hard and the food scare, the goal was expansion of the tribe and of animals for food. 
  • The earliest visit was matriarchal. In the Rig 

Veda and the first canto of the Mahabharata the early tribal fathers (prajapati) were known by the mothers’ names viz, Aditi, Diti, Danu, Vinata, Kadru and Puloma. 

  • Those original mothers were supposed to be the sources of mankind. In course of time human labour was replaced by animal labour. 
  • Cattle produce and animal labour yielded a surplus of wealth. The animal was yoked to the plough and the captive alien harnessed behind. 
  • Like animal man became a booty of plunder and an article of use. Thus came slavery, the two-caste society, social laws and fusion of tribal blood. 
  • When Aryan and non-Aryan tribes settled down and intermingled, the tradition of uni-caste society gave way to the bi-caste society of Deva (gods) and Asura (demons) or the Arya and Dasa. 
  • It was not the result of disintegration of the original vis but was produced by the impact of the hostile aboriginals who were admitted as slaves and wage-earners within the Aryan society. 
  • Then the vis itself was split into three parts. The Vaishyas followed productive pursuits like agriculture, cattle rearing and trade. 
  • The surplus wealth went towards the maintenance of two new castes, the Brahamana and the Kashatriya, marked not by the colour of their skin but by their profession. 
  • The Brahamana performed sacrifices for social laws on the basis of custom and equity. The Kshatriya was charged with the defence of the realm and the running of the administration. 
  • The three varnas specialised in their avocations and each was accorded a place in the social hierarchy suitable to the dignity of its service. 
  • Below the three was the fourth caste of Shudra or Dasa serving the former and no longer an alien race but a subordinate partner within the Aryan system. 
  • The Purusasukta of the Rig Veda gives a mythical story of the origin of the four castes from the mouth, arms, thighs and feet of Brahma. But in the beginning the vocations of the varnas were not strictly hereditary. A Kshatriya could excel in philosophical pursuits and become a Brahmana. 
  • A well-known story in Vedic literature is that of Vishvamitra who was born a Kshatriya but became a Brahmana by acquiring Brahmanical knowledge and virtues. 
  • The Satapatha Brahmana gives a similar story about Janaka, king of Videha. A Brahmana might acquire a kingdom by dint of his valour and become a Kshatriya. 
  • In the Matsya Purana the Brahmanas descended from the saga Bhrigu and are described as founders of royal houses. 
  • The Vaishya and Shudra could improve their status provided they possessed the necessary talents and virtues. Conversely, by choice or by accident, one might be demoted from a higher to a lower caste. 
  • The Aitareya Brahmana and the Puranas give instances of these two categories. Later on, caste and vocation were strictly fixed by heredity according to the laws of the Smritis. 
  • The Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra were separated from and related to one another by a set of laws.
  • During the later Vedic period the span of 100 years of a man was divided into four equal parts of 25 years each and different duties were assigned to him in different parts of life. 
  • These orders or Asramas were called:  
  • Brahmacharya; in which a man was expected to remain with his teacher for studies upto the age of 25 years. 
  • Grihastha; between 25 to 50 years of age and he was expected to marry and remain a householder. 
  •  Vanaprastha; between 50 to 75 years of age and he was expected to live in the jungle as an ascetic with his wife. 
  •  Sanyas; between 75 to 100 years of age and he was expected to pass his life alone as a hermit.
  • The law givers sought to give the caste 

 

Know The Important Facts

  • The formulation of the theory of zero and the consequent evolution of the decimal system are to be credited to the scientists of Gupta age.
  • Aryabhatta (wrote Surya Sidhanta and   Aryab-hattiyam) was the first Indian astronomer to discover and declare that the earth rotates around its axis.
  • Varahamihira wrote Brihat Samhita, Pancha Siddhantika, and Brihatjataka etc.
  • His Brihat Samhita was a book on physical geography, astronomy, botany and natural history.
  • Brahmagupta gave the law of gravity.
  • The Vaisesika philosophers gave the atomic theory.
  • Varahamihiea used mercury and iron for making the medicine system as inflexible rigidity. The codes of Gautama, Bodhayana and Apastamba followed by later canon fixed the varna irrevocably to birth and imposed restrictions on marriage and social relations. 
  • The narratives of the Ramayana and Mahabharata and the Jataka stories of the Pali canon further show that the first varna not only remained in enjoyment of dignity and position, but also rose to wealth and power. 
  • The Brahmana was assigned revenues of villages or tax-free lands called brahmadeya by royal charter. 
  • The Digha Nikaya of the Pali canon mentions brahmana owners of thousands of hectares of land which they cultivated by means of slaves and wage earners and who lived like princes on their toil. 
  • Unlike the Brahmanas, the Kshatriyas and the Vaishyas do not appear in the post-Buddhist period with the precision of a well-defined caste determined by heredity. State-crafts and military vocation were not confined to one group. 
  • There is no lack of Brahmana, Vaishya and Shudra royal dynasties in the annals of India. The Satavahanas called themselves Brahmanas, the Guptas were Vaishyas and the Nandas Shudras.
  • The Vaishyas were the most numerous caste and they show none of the traits of a social class. Some of them climbed  up to the highest rung of the economic ladder. 
  • The merchant sent his cargo across the seas as far as Mesopotamia and the East Indies. 
  • The Gramabhojaka enjoyed local revenue and the big landowner belonged to the same fortunate fraternity. But the Vaishyas were not limited to these wealthy few. 
  • They were small peasants, artisans, hawkers and petty officials who formed the main bulk of the varna.
  • The Shudras were mainly slaves and men working for wages. While slavery originated from the right of the strong over the weak, the wage system grew out of destitution and poverty. As servants of the upper castes they were an integral part of the Aryan society. 
  • Below the Shudras were the degraded races called the Mlecchas. They were outside the caste system and the pale of Aryan society.
  • In course of time the four castes ramified and were interwoven into a baffling maze of sub castes and mixed castes. Inter caste marriage in defiance of canonical laws went side by side with the rise of new crafts and vocations. 
  • The progeny of mixed marriage was given a 

 

Know The Important Facts

  • Periplus Maris Erythreai (Periplus of the Erythrean Sea) means a sailing chart of the Red sea.
  • Kauseya means silk.
  • During the pre-Gupta period Indian trade with Rome increased enormously by sea.
  • Pepper, muslins, ivory, tortoise shells, drugs, indigo, perfumes, silks, brocades, cloth of gold and precious stones were exported to Rome.
  • India imported from the West copper, tin, lead, glass, antimony, linen, coral, and wine.
  • The Periplus mentions at least 20 Indian ports.
      

new caste name and a new craft of profession. 

  • Eight kinds of marriages are mentioned in the Arthasastra viz. four customary-Arsa, Davia, Brahma, Prajjapatya and four later additions marriage with dowry suggestive of sale (Asura) by free mutual choice (Gandharva), kidnapping (Rakshasa) and rape (Paishacha). The result was further ramification of the caste system. 
  • During the 4th century B.C. Megasthenes observed the existence of seven castes—Brahmanas or philosophers, cultivators of land, herdsmen and hunters, artisans and traders, soldiers, spies and councilors. Apart from the first, these were actually vocational groups, not castes based on heredity. 
  • Megasthenes remarks that vacations were not necessarily fixed by parentage and that divisions of vocation had become more apparent than those of birth.
  • During the pre-Maurya period caste system became more rigid and birth became the basis of caste. 
  • The varna system became the basis of law, both civil and criminal. If a person belonged to a higher varna he was expected to keep a higher moral conduct. 
  • The Shudras were deprived of several legal and religious rights and were relegated to the lowest order. The Buddhist and the Jaina teachings greatly reduced the influence of the Brahmanas. 
  • The Vaishyas became wealthier. The Buddhist texts refer to the ‘Chandalas’ who lived outside the towns. People were scared even of touching the ‘Chandalas’. 
  • The Buddhist and Jaina influences struck at the ashrama system which became weak and obsolete.
  • During the Maurya period the caste system 

 

Know The Important Facts

  • During the Gupta period there was a decline in the Roman trade and also the three major southern ports Muziris, Arikamedu, and Kaveripattanam declined.
  • Chinasunka was Chinese silk.
  • From the Amarakosa we learn that mashaparni, a medicinal plant, was acquired from Kamboja.
  • The Cosmas’ Indicplecustes of the middle of the sixth century inform us that the ports of the east and west coast of India were linked together through Sri Lanka.
  • Sind Sauvira was famous for horses and assessee.
  • Chandragupta II was the first Gupta king to issue silver coins. He issued the silver coins on the model of silver coin of Sakas of western and central India.
  • The fine textiles known as dukula were made of fibres of a plant.
  • Silver coins of the Gupta period were known as rupyaka.
  • Kakini was copper coin.

 

had become very rigid and the whole Hindu society was based on the caste system. 

  • The post-Mauryan phase witnessed far-reaching social changes. Different non-Aryan tribes and even foreigners, like Sakas, Yavanas, Kushan, and Parthians etc., who had entered India were gradually assimilated into the society and they soon formed an integral part of it. 
  • The gradual absorption of these foreign elements in the Indian society is one of the most striking features of the social development of this period. 
  • As they were conquerors and warriors, many of them were merged in the Kshatriya fold. Another important social change was inter-marriages between different groups giving birth to new castes. 
  • The inter-caste marriage known as pratiloma and anuloma were common. All this gave rise to the new mixed caste known as varna-sankar. Vaideh, avantya, satvani etc. were such new mixed castes. 
  • There were persons who were down-graded in society on account of not fulfilling their sacred duties. They were styled as Vratyas and formed a caste of their own. 
  • The number of Shudras was also swelling and untouchability was prevalent in society. 
  • The Gupta period marked the revival of Hinduism. The fourfold division of the society on the basis of castes was emphasised and efforts were made to establish the supremacy of the Brahmanas. 
  • Increased trade and commerce brought about prosperity, raised the living standard and created a rich commercial and trading class which helped in the growth of a city culture. 
  • The supremacy of the Brahmanas was asserted but other castes were also assigned respectable status while the Kshatriyas were given a status practically equal to that of the Brahmanas, and also the right to perform religious rites. 
  • The status of the Vaishyas and Shudras also improved. A clear distinction was made between the Sudras and slaves and also between Shuras and Chandalas. 

 

Sons of Different Kinds

  • Aurasa: Natural legitimate son.
  • Putrika-putra: Born of a girl appointed to raise male issue by a father who has no sons.
  • Datta: A son given away by his parents according to prescribed ceremony to another person who adopts him as his son.
  • Upagata: One who offers himself as a son to a person who adopts him.
  • Kritika: One who is affectionately adopted as a son without any ceremony.
  • Krita: One who is obtained by purchase from his parents and adopted as a son.
  • Kshetraja: Son begotten on one’s wife by another appointed by him for the purpose.
  • Gudhaja: A son begotten on one’s wife in secret in the house of relatives, without appointment by their husband.
  • Apavidha: A son disowned by his parents and adopted by another by ceremony.
  • Karina: Son born to a maiden before marriage.
  • Sahodha: Son of the girl carried at the time of marriage.
  • Paunarbhava: Son of the re-married woman.

 

Literature
 Sankaracharya    Commentaries on the Upanisads Gitabhasya, Brahma-sutra-bhasya Upadeshasahasri
      Atma-bodha.
     Ramanuja    Sribhasya on the Brahma sutra, Gitabhasya Vedantasara.
     Udayana    Kusumanjali.
Astrology
     Bhattotpala    Commented on Barahamil ra’s work, Horashastra.
     Sripati    Ratnamala.
Mathematics
     Mahaviracharya    Ganitasarasamgraha.
     Sridhara    Trisati
     Bhaskaracharya    Lilavati Bijaganita.
Law
     Medhatithi    Commentary on Manusmriti.
     Vijananesvara    Mitaksara (Commentary on the Yajnavalkya Smriti).
     Hemadri    Chaturvarga-
     Chinta-mani.

 

  • There were no restrictions on inter-dining between different castes except the Shudras. 
  • The same way, though, generally, marriage took place within one’s own caste yet there were no restrictions on inter-caste marriage.
  • The far south beyond the Krishna had civilised social institution at the time when the Aryans settled in north- western India. Gradually, as the Aryans crossed the barriers of the Vindhyas and penetrated into the far south a mixed culture evolved out of the intercourse. Sanskrit and Tamil prevailed side by side. 
  • Caste-system and slavery appeared in almost the same form as in the north. Rigours of widowhood and burning of widows became established social practice. 
  • But women were not entirely shut out from knowledge and literary activity. 
  • Avvai and Andal, two poetesses, came into prominence in Tamil literature.
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