Tuesday 28th May 2024,
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Back to the Basics: Understanding Jati, Varna, Gotra and Kula

Back to the Basics: Understanding Jati, Varna, Gotra and Kula

Speak to any intellectual on the world wide web or real life as to what the solution is for the problems that Hindus are facing today, you are more likely than not to compulsorily hear that the “caste system” is the biggest problem that Hindus have.  This a standard ripped off reply that your standard Hindu intellectual who probably never has bothered to read about his Dharma from the original sources, but relies on crypto Marxist polemic literature written other bigger intellectuals. Either ways by claiming that the so called Caste System is the fundamental problem, what these intellectuals are doing is fundamentally faulting the basics of Hinduism indirectly, without understanding what the varnashrama or jati are and how they function.

The purpose of this article is not so much about making revolutionary proposals that will solve every single problem that Hindus face today, rather to arrive at an understanding at what the different terms such as jati, varna, gotra and kula actually mean in the light of the traditional understanding and not through a crypto- marxist prism. So let us pick each one of these terms and understanding the legalistic meaning of these terms and how they define us:

  1. Varna : The term varna is to be understood in the light of the varnaashrama. The varnashrama is  basically the four chaturvarna as described both by sruti (Vedas) and smriti. The sruti and smriti proclaim that there are four varnasBrahmana, Kshytriya, Vaisya and Shudra. Now let us first define these four varnas before progressing ahead.

Brahmana – The very basic definition of a brahmana is an individual who has mastered the four Vedas not merely by rote learning but also understanding the meaning. Further a Brahmana’s major functions are to act as a priest, teacher, jurist, etc. In short do the work that takes a very high IQ level and is mostly literary in nature.

Kshytriya – A Kshytriya is someone who is upholds Dharma by standing up and fighting by means of an armed war. Amongst other functions of a Kshytriya are to provide governance, administration of a dharmic state, etc

Vaisya  – A Vaisya is an individual who supports Dharma by engaging in trade, agriculture, etc.

Shudra – A Shudra is someone who supports Dharma by providing services that don’t require ownership of property or is entrepreneurial in nature.

As Hindus we know that all human beings are born with different capabilities (an easily verifiable fact) which later in life lead them to pick up different skill sets. It’s these skill sets and their capabilities that give individuals a greater ease at performing certain functions better than others. What the dharmashatras do is classify the four categories of human beings based on their skill set and their abilities to perform certain functions. While all varnas are to be respected some varnas have traditionally been more respected than others. This is  merely due to  the nature of their functions in the material world. It’s the same as a cryogenic scientist being more respected than a cryogenic engineer. While both the scientist and engineer are important, it’s always the scientist who gives the basic concept without which the engineer can’t build a cryogenic engine. Taking the same analogy further the engineer would again be more respected than a simple technician, although the job of the technician is not less important in terms of need for production of the engine as that of the engineer. Human society tends to act as a pyramid, the scarcer your skill set is the greater the demand.

Furthermore, Varna is not something necessarily hereditary. If the son of a brahmana is not fit to function as one, then he is to be assigned to a varna that is more suited to him and the same follows for people belonging to any other varna.

  1. JatiJati is something that is often confused with Varna by a lot of Hindus. While varna relates to your abilities and capabilities and hence your position in the varnasharama, jati relates to your tribal origin. While it’s true that in the course of Hindu History, several jatis have come to be identified with certain varnas, the fact doesn’t change that they’re not the same. While there are only four varnas, there are hundreds and thousands of jatis. Each jati relating to a certain ethnic or tribal origin.

    As example, sarasvata is a jati which is traditionally identified with the brahmana varna and hence the name sarasvasta brahmana, then you have groups like Rajputs who were traditionally identified with the kshytriya varna. However there is nothing that stops a person of the Rajput jati from becoming a brahmana should he qualify for the same. Likewise gujjar, jats, thevars, nairs, bunts etc all form jati groups and not a varna, even though their jatis are identified with a certain varna depending on their historical occupations. However due to several historical reasons each one of this jati has been come to become identified with a certain varna, due the large numbers of the populations of these individual jatis that associated themselves with a certain profession.
  1. Gotra The word gotra relates to the closest known ancestor of an individual. This ancestor is in most cases related in blood with some exceptions, as your gotra can also change if someone in your family was adopted by a person of another gotra or if you convert to Hinduism from another religion and were given a gotradaan from an existing Hindu. Gotra is essential during karmakanda (rituals) where every the yajamana (the person who is sponsoring the ritual) is supposed to make offerings to his ancestors. Gotra  also serves as a genetic marker in many cases, as most Hindu groups don’t perform marriages that within the same lineage.
  1. Kula Kula means your family or family background. Since Hinduism is a religion that is both individual as well community based religion, a lot of importance is laid on a person’s family background. In the days gone by such information was duly documented and was used when a person would stand for appointment for certain official positions.

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