Hindu Caste System & Hinduism:
Vedic vocations (Hindu castes) were
not related to heredity (birth)

(by Dr. Subhash C. Sharma ; Email: lamberdar@yahoo.com; link to: Related topics by the author )


Rather coincidentally, at the dawn of civilization, as the people gathered and lived in clans or tribes (Visha), they collectively - irrespective of their undertakings within Visha (such as in agriculture, woodworking, trade and other vocations) - came to be known as the Vaishya (meaning - belonging to Visha).

To meet the liturgical needs of the society, the Vaishya - from among themselves - would select, on the basis of skills in elocution, the Brahmins (students or orators of the Vedas - compiled knowledge). Similarly, for administrative purposes, Vaishya with qualities of leadership would be selected as Kshatriya (sovereign, tribal chieftain, administrator of Kshatar - dominion or tribal area / town). Furthermore, a Visha (tribe) - in addition to having the Vaishyas (including Brahmins, Kshatriya, cowherders and woodworkers etc.) - also embodied people known as Shudra (meaning - not of tribe) representing all the newcomers (immigrants) to that particular tribe. They included persons from other tribes (such as the vanquished foes and the migrants) and the children born out of inter-tribal unions. Being somewhat new into that tribe and encountering unfamiliar rules, regulations and customs, a Shudra was limited in his vocational options and was generally relegated to providing service and assistance to members of the host tribe. But over time, like a modern day immigrant, he would surpass the tribal or social barriers so as to fully assimilate in that society and pursue other professions. Thus, all the responsibilities related to a Visha could be grouped into four sub-categories: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra; the duties and skills involved with each of them are indicated in the following Sections.

Note also that, in old times, there was no concept of money or cash. People produced things and bartered (traded) them for other goods and services. A producer or trader belonging to Vaishya would include people such as farmer producing grains and milk etc., blacksmith (Lohar) making iron implements, leather-worker (Charmar or Chamar, charm meaning leather) manufacturing shoes, and so on. Thus, for subsistence, a Brahmin would do worship (puja) in a 'Vaishya' farmer's house and get grains and milk in return. Similarly, a Chamar would exchange shoes for food items from a farmer, iron implements from a Lohar, and so on. Similarly, a 'Shudra' servant might work or help in a farmer's field for food in return. If he were to help a Lohar, then Lohar would provide him with food items. Moreover, all these people would give a share of their goods (produce) and services to the Kshatriya (tribal chief) for administration of Visha (tribe or society). Society was basically managed through bartering system.

(Various Social and Cultural Issues)

The ancient society recognized the importance of all. Irrespective of one's skill or background, there was a place for him / her to participate actively and make useful contribution. The ceremonial rites, though conducted by the learned priest, were open to all. People used prayers for atonement and benediction for all. Everyone sent their "heroes" (sons) to the battles for Visha or to protect and assist the Sovereign. A number of important aspects of the ancient society can be further clarified by considering the following passages (with references to one God or BRAHMAN+, and manifesting as Agni, Indra or Savitar) from Vedas& (ancient Hindu texts).

From the RIGVEDA:

"What God shall we adore with our oblation?...He is the God of gods and none beside Him...O Father, thou Creator of Heaven and Earth, by eternal Law ruling - protect us...O Almighty, the Lord of beings, you alone pervade all the created beings..." (Book 10, Hymn: 121.8-10) / p. 98

"We all possess various thoughts and plans and diverse are the callings of men. The carpenter seeks out that which is cracked, the physician the ailing, the priest the worshipper......." (Book 9, Hymn 112.1) / p. 84

"I am a bard, my father is a physician, my mother's job is to grind the corn......" (Book 9, Hymn 112.3) / p. 84

"The man who has awakened to the knowledge, becomes perfect. Let him speak for us to the gods..." (Book 5, Hymn 65.1) / p. 49

"May they, our Fathers who in their skill belong to the lowest order, attain higher one, those of midmost may attain the highest. May they who have attained a life of spirit, the knower of sacrifice, the guileless, help us when called upon...." (Book 10, Hymn 15.1-2) / p. 87

"Let gods lead us, let there be a stable union of the wife and husband... May authority be ever yours (i.e., wife's) in speech. Happy be you and prosper with your children, and be ever watchful to rule the household. Unite yourself with this man your husband. So authority will be yours in speech.. May the kinsman of the bride thrive well.." (Book 10, Hymn 85.26-28) / p. 94

"May the gods grant riches to the men more liberal than the terrifying..." (Book 1, Hymn 185.9) / p. 26


"May gods anoint this man to be without rival, for mighty rule, for mighty dominion and for great splendour. This man, son of such a person, such a woman, of such a clan, is anointed king, O you subjects... He is your lord...He is also sovereign of our learned Brahmins...Let all men protect him." (Kanda 1, Prapathaka 8, Hymn i.8.10.c) / p. 54

"O Agni, may all mortals seek your friendship, the guide of all. May all solicit you for glory, riches and fame. May all of us prosper as you do." (Kanda 1, Prapathaka 3, Hymn i.4.46.a-c) / p. 64

"O Agni, grant glory to our Brahmins, set luster in our Kshatriyas, luster in our Vaishyas, luster in our Shudras.." (Kanda 5, Prapathaka 7, Hymn v.7.6.d) / p. 102

"O god Savitar.. strengthen the life of subjects, strengthen the subjects..." (Kanda 1, Prapathaka 3, Hymn i.3.6.m-n) / p. 34

"O Agni...each fault done in a village or in forest, in society or mind, each sinful act that we have committed to Shudra or Vaishya or by preventing a religious act, even of that sin, you are the expiation..." (Kanda 1, Prapathaka 8, Hymn i.8.3.d) / p. 111

"He who knows well both knowledge and Nescience simultaneously, overcoming death by knowledge attains life immortal." (Isa Upanishad - verse 11) / p. 159

From the SAMVEDA:

"May our subjects be rich and strong with the favor of Indra. May we be wealthy in food, rejoice with them..." (Part Second, Book 4, Ch. 1, Hymn 14) / p. 74


As a part of God's creation (work), the four vocations are subgrouped according to people's guna (skills) and karma (assignments). Know that all work is for Him, even though He is beyond work, in Eternity. (Ch. 4 - verse 13)

Ignorant men, but not the wise, say that Sankhya (variously as: Jnana Yoga , Sanyasa or Surrender, Path of Vision or Wisdom) and Yoga (variously as: Karma Yoga, Tyaga or Renunciation, Path of Action, Bhakti or devotional service, Japaa or Silence, Dhayana or Contemplation / Meditation, Brahamcharya or Austerity, Vaanprastha or Hermitlike) are different paths; but he who gives his self (soul) to one reaches the end of two. (Ch. 5- verse 4)

Even if the greatest sinner worships God with all his soul, he must be considered righteous because of his righteous will. (Ch. 9 - verse 30)

And he shall soon become pure and reach everlasting peace. For this is His covenant that he who adores Him is not lost. (Ch. 9 - verse 31)

God is one in all, but it seems as if he were many; He (as Vishnu / preserver) supports all beings: from Him (as Rudra / destroyer) ensues end, and from Him (as Brahma / creator) ensues beginning. (Ch. 13 - verse 16)

The duties involving Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra are grouped according to people's abilities and skills. (Ch. 18 - verse 41)

The skills for a Brahmin involve serenity, self-harmony, austerity and purity, loving-forgiveness and righteousness; vision, wisdom and faith. (Ch. 18 - verse 42)

The qualities needed according to Kshatriya are: a heroic mind, splendor or inner fire, constancy, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and noble leadership. (Ch. 18 - verse 43)

Trade, agriculture and rearing of cattle may be tackled by Vaishya; and the background (tenure) of a Shudra is also suited to providing support (Ch. 18 - verse 44)

People attain perfection when they find joy in their work. Hear how a person attains perfection and finds joy in his work. (Ch. 18 - verse 45)

A person achieves perfection when his work is - performed with pure feeling of - worship of God, from whom all things come and who is in all. (Ch. 18 - verse 46)

The words of vision and wisdom have been conveyed. Ponder them in the silence of your soul, and then in freedom do your will. (Ch. 18 - verse 63)

Hindu Dharma (Hinduism):
Hinduism is religion based on the Vedas, and also known as the Sanatan Dharma (eternal religion) or Vedic Dharma. In the Vedas, god Bhaga was the bestower of auspicious blessings. It soon became the power of goodness, and he who possessed this power was called Bhagvan. The religion associated with Bhagvan (or Bhagvat) was called Bhagvata Dharma.

Likewise, Indu (Soma-juice or nectar) used to be offered to God as libation in Vedic yajnas (worships), and consumed afterwards by people (Hindu) for health, life, prosperity and progeny. Hindu means as someone propitiated by Indu (the Vedic libation). Note, H -- in Hindu, and pronounced as in hut -- implies auspiciousness or delight.

Religion belonging to Hindu is called Hindu Dharma.

In response to the misconception that the word Hindu originated as some foreigners stepped into India, note that no one from outside could have come to India and started calling the locals Hindu suddenly if such a word (in Sanskrit -- not those foreigners' language) had not already existed there. 'Hindu' also is not related to 'Sindhu' -- a word with similar ending and meaning ocean or river, especially in the west of India.

The words Sindhu (ocean or river) and Hindu (expiated by Indu) are linguistically and phonetically different, and Hindu is not derived from Sindhu. Note that Vedic Sanskrit did use the letters (sounds) 's' and 'dh' and therefore would not replace them with 'h' and 'd', respectively, transforming Sindhu into Hindu. In addition, the ancient Greeks reaching India (circa Alexander the great) could have easily pronounced Sindhu without changing it to Hindu by dropping S in favor of H since they were used to pronounce Sigma (an alphabet in Greek, their mother-toungue) which is syllabically somewhat similar to Sindhu. Furthermore, Muslims entering India for the first time and speaking Arabic or Persian -- languages having alphabets Sad and Sin etc. for 's' sounds -- would not have to substitute H for S in Sindhu (and thus make it Hindu) to pronounce or use it in their own languages. The word Hindu -- not specific to any particular region or area -- was already in use when these foreigners arrived in India, and they did not invent it from Sindhu accidentally or due to necessity.

Women's Issues:
It seems from the above that the ancient society was quite considerate and respectful to those (both men and women) engaged in various vocations, and people were free to make choices or changes in their careers or skills if the opportunity existed. Vedic prayers also indicate that the women had considerable say in selecting their marriage partners, and were espoused to live in monogamous relationships while enjoying same rights as their husbands. Furthermore, in the Vedas there is little evidence of child marriages, dowry system and the practice of suttee or sati (self-immolation of a woman upon her husband's death). Similarly, there is no indication of any stigma relating to widowhood or the remarriage of a widow. Note also that the well-educated, scholarly and charismatic women of yore, who also participated in many philosophical debates with men, included Gargi (the daughter of Vachaknu - from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad) and Vidyottama (wife of the famed poet and writer, Kaalidasa, who started his life as a humble and menial worker in the woods). It is clear that the women or the lowly and humble in the society were neither ignored nor abandoned.

Listed below are a few examples of multi-vocational families and people changing their occupations and life styles.

(a) As indicated in the above, from the Rigveda, the mother of a bard (probably of the scriptures) was working in corn-grinding (an activity usually for a Shudra).

(b) Majority of the Rishis (sages) were both Brahmin and Kshatriya so as to manage their Aashramas (hermitages) effectively.

(c) In the Chandogya Upanishad, Satyakama (the illegitimate, varnasankra, son of a Shudra woman who did not even remember who her son's father was) went on to be accepted and educated for Brahmin work (the Gita: Ch. 18 - verse 42). This shows that the people (including the Shudra and of unknown lineage) had the choice of pursuing any occupation (even that of a Brahmin).

(d) Valmiki (given to chanda - meaning impetuosity - in his early days) started life as a robber. But later in life, after performing penance, he studied to become a Brahmin. He went on to become a great Rishi (sage) and wrote the Ramayana in Sanskrit. Thus, going from being a chandaal (meaning - cruel and brutal person) to a great human being not only demonstrates his personal endeavor, but also that the society was quite accepting of such a process and its outcome. In general, as indicated here and in the Vedic passages, the concept of untouchability (with respect to the Shudra or any one else as a dalit / untouchable) did not exist. Any shunning or condemnation of a person was due mainly to his / her engaging in an activity not useful or acceptable to the society. Above all, it is also clear that any type of socially stigmatic situation could be easily improved through penance and by changing one's behaviour. Incidentally, this type of humane rehabilitation of criminals and sinners is a sign of civilized people long ago; and this humane practice exists even today in various countries claiming to be modern and civilized.

(e) In one of the stories from the Ramayana, Rishi Viswamitra is said to have conducted Yajna (worship) at which the officiating priest was a once Kshatriya and the Yajamaan (worshipper) a Chandaal.

(f) In the Mahabharata, Satyavati (a Shudra-girl whose father was a fisherman), when presented with a marriage proposal from king Shantanu, married him only after he accepted her pre-nuptial agreement. Her own children, in stead of another older heir to the throne, went on to inherit the Kshatriya kingdom as was demanded in the pre-nuptial agreement. This indicates that the intercaste marriages and exchanges were quite prevalent; and that the women and Shudras could make free choices even when there was royalty involved.

(g) Matrimonial and Vocational Choices:
The evolution of society and customs was mainly due to the individual and collective needs and choices (as indicated also in some of the above Vedic quotes on marriage, vocational activities etc.). In addition, the role and influence of various espoused or suggested proclamations such as involving the varnashrama dharma (casteo-monastic orders) etc. - based on non-scriptural (non-Vedic) writings (such as Manusmriti etc. accredited to Manu et al.) - on the development and progress of society at large (across-the-board) was rather insignificant.

The ancient society (generally modest and homogeneous economically) did not restrict the cross-caste matrimonial and occupational choices. In spite of the socially liberal conditions, though, the change in vocation did not always lead to significant economic gains. In addition, some vocations (e.g., Vaishya and Shudra) were inherently conducive for their young to quickly and easily engage in the family business / profession and settle down (socially and economically) early in life. Consequently, the children from these families found the other vocations (such as the Brahmins and, to some extent, the Kshatriya) to be less rewarding and not worth the preparatory effort, which included living and training (and paying the teacher through labor) for decades in hermitages in harsh and forest-like conditions where the knowledge exchange between the guru and the pupils was usually in the oral tradition since the written manuscripts (on papyrus etc.) were scarce. On the other hand, the children from the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas families were predisposed (through the natural and continuous exposure to the family business) and were readily inducted by their parents into their traditional professions. Over time, this type of selecting the professions inadvertently gave rise to the tradition of vocation based families all around even though the society had not sought such an outcome. Note that the society in this respect remained flexible and allowed people (including the Shudra, who also engaged in menial and ignoble pursuits) the freedom of choice in their undertakings (e.g., Satyakama in the above).

In a similar and related context, it was deemed vocationally advantageous and convenient for a couple to marry if they both had the same background, because they would then be able to get involved in their family occupation quickly and easily without facing any uncertainty or requiring any additional apprenticeship. Moreover, the bride or the groom in this type of wedding arrangement would be less likely to encounter any unexpected, unfamiliar, inhospitable and unwanted post-marital social situations. Note also that, in addition to the weddings involving same type of families, the marriages among people from vastly different backgrounds also frequently took place (as in the case of Satyavati and Shantanu) and the society posed no restrictions.

Thus it was basically an arbitrary social custom which arose over time as a matter of convenience whereby the people stuck to their family professions and also married within same type of families (vocations). Note, the lack of relevant information available in print etc. probably also led to the guru-pupil based disciplic tradition for knowledge/spirituality which would otherwise be not as crucial. In any case, people (of any caste) desiring to not follow these customs or to break away from them simply should go on their own - without any fear of repercussions from the state, society or religion - to learn and pursue new vocations; and in the process they would also be able to find compatible and willing marriage partners for themselves within the society at large. Moreover (as regards to the Gita: Ch. 5 - V. 18, Ch. 6 - V. 9, Ch. 9 - V. 32), the priests and temples that serve (cater to) and admit all (Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra including the disadvantaged or Dalit) should be accorded the greatest respect and support.

Illustration of the rise of Subcastes within Castes:
As humans continued to create and adopt new occupations, move to new places and territories, or encounter unfamiliar surroundings and situations, the four primary vocations (castes: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra) developed or transformed into several secondary subcastes characterized by peoples' tasks etc. For example, vocationally speaking, if a person - while trying to become a Brahmin - learnt two Vedas, he would be called a Dwivedi, whereas the learner of three Vedas would be known as a Trivedi. It shows that titles (or subcastes) as Dwivedi and Trivedi basically correspond to certain specific Brahminic pursuits.

Similarly, a Vaishya engaged in forming objects from loha (iron) would be called the Lohar, whereas, the maker of articles from sona (gold) would be called the Sonar. Moreover, if a Sonar's son pursued his father's occupation (business) and was followed by his son, and so on, it would give rise to a subcaste (lineage) called Sonars within the Vaishya caste. Note that such preference or tradition for family business would occur for several reasons. First, the parents generally found it easy and safe to guide their young towards a familiar and time assured vocation. Second, the familiarity with parents' job made it easy for children to learn and practice that occupation. Third, it might probably help in attaining the familial stability and lead to an easy transfer of accumulated knowledge and expertise between generations.

The influence of migration on subcastes can be similarly explored. Consider the following example. At some point in history, a certain inhabited area was to be inundated under a new dam and the people had to move and live elsewhere. As they settled in a new area, the locals there would address them as the Damiya (meaning - from the dam). Some of the newcomers might even prefer this new title to that they had before moving to the new place. Moreover, when, for example, a newcomer (migrant or Shudra) started working as Mistree (mason), he would be called a Damiya-Mistree (a Vaishya - usually a person in non-priestly or non-administrative occupation). Similarly, if the person worked as a priest, he would be known as the Damiya-Brahmin. This indicates that the title 'Damiya' had suddenly acquired the status as a subcaste. More importantly, note that two principal castes (Brahmin and Vaishya) had gained subcastes with the same name (Damiya) with reference to totally different tasks (as priests and masons).

The above examples illustrate the manner in which the subcastes are created and the way they relate to the principal castes. Note also that, depending on the circumstances, the newly created subcastes may either co-exist with the original subcastes, or replace some or all of the latter. This surely can lead to drastic fluctuations in their numbers. As this process of creating and retaining of subcastes occurs time and again over vast places and cultures, their numbers remain uncertain and alter frequently making it difficult to keep track of them. Nonetheless, the subcastes are functional in character and subject to easy transformations.

(h) Vedic/Hindu Tenets:
The ancients were in favour of progressive ideas (e.g., about the environment, philosophy / religion and life style) and appear to have conducted their affairs reasonably and democratically. They either shunned or actively opposed the stagnant, blind and baseless practices (rituals) and the intolerant / autocratic persons and beliefs (faiths). The rituals for invocations of the physical, imagery (tales / myths) and the mundane were deemed less rewarding than the meditation of the spiritual, the source (truth / logic) and the divine; (meditation is explained in Ch. 6 of the Gita). Note that the reality expressed in terms of various physical (artistic) forms or through poetry can have different interpretations. For example, in some of the ancient texts, a viman may just be a cart or chariot and not necessarily an airplane or sky-craft.

While considering chatur as four (and bhuj meaning arm, and mukh meaning face or mouth), chatur-bhuj and chatur-mukh are shown as four-armed and four-faced idols. In stead, consider for example, chatur as the skilled one: chatur-bhuj and chatur-mukh will then represent, anthropomorphically (like a human with a face and two arms), a god (deva : friendly and blissful, superior being) who is skilled-armed (or ambidextrous: probably in all the occupations) and skilled-orator (i.e., a fine instructor). Thus, chatur-bhuj and chatur-mukh are, respectively, symbols of the omnipotence and the omniscience of One God, or reflect His excellence in enterprise (as Vishnu) and instruction (as Brahma). God is One: Braham or BRAHMAN (not the Brahmin caste). When He (as Atman) enters the body (or as spirit unites with nature), life begins, and He is called Brahma. As long as He stays in the body, the life continues, and He is seen as preserving it and is called Vishnu. Once He leaves the body, life ends (or body expires); and His departure is seen as if He has worked as Rudra in bringing an end to life. But, throughout, He remains One: Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra are only His aspects of creation, preservation and termination.
Thus, in regard to man-made symbols for displaying various Divine attributes for the purposes of worship and meditation etc., there should be some correspondence between the attribute and the symbol. For example, if omnipotent God is to be represented 'as meaning Vishnu' in human form, it is sufficient and logical to interpret chatur (in chatur-bhuj) as skilled (even as ambidextrous) in all the tasks. Similarly, if omniscient God is to be represented 'as meaning Brahma' in human form, it is sufficient and logical to interpret chatur (in chatur-mukh) as skilled in oratory and knowledge. Thus, there is no need to interpret chatur as four in chatur-bhuj or chatur-mukh; and hence it is unnecessary to assume or create various four-headed and four-armed religious symbols for representing God anthropomorphically. Incidentally, note also in Ch. 11 of the Gita, Arjun - after having realized vision of the Omnipresent encompassing all Creation - wishes (verse 46) to see the lord (mentor) in chatur-bhuj form (holding scepter and circle), which seems to refer only to latter's dexterity. And Arjun's wish is soon fulfilled (Ch. 11 - V. 50) as he is able to see Krishan as a regular (normal looking) person, and there is no suggestion anywhere that the former had an encounter with anyone bearing four arms.

Metaphorically speaking, Shiv-Linga (or Shiv-Lingam) refers only to Shiva - the remover of destruction, i.e., same as the preserver (Vishnu or God), and it necessarily is not a certain special symbol (e.g., shown often in pollex or index form); because in Linga (or Lingam), the word Li (which in second or Object case singular form becomes Lim or Lin with nasal sound ending) means loss or destruction, and ga (or gam) implies removing or going away. Thus, Shiv-Linga (or Shiv-Lingam) symbolizes God's power (attribute) to extricate from destruction or loss.
Note also that the symbol (such as, the pollex, ling or phallus looking), portrayed in various religious rituals (Hindu and elsewhere), has probably the origins in the ancient fire (Agni) sacrifice or worship to God. It appears to be a solid image of jwala (flame) from a yajna (sacrificial fire) and was perhaps introduced long ago as a duplicate for the sacrificial fire. Because creating and lighting of a yajna used to be a very difficult and time-consuming process (as indicated in some of the Vedic hymns also), this image made the worship possible anywhere anytime (i.e., by using it in place of live fire and pouring oblations upon it). Note that the smearing of the solid symbol with ash also points to a close association with fire worship. Similarly, when this fire (Agni) solid (symbol) is placed under a pitcher from which the libation slowly and continuously flows over it, it appears to give the impression of an unending and uninterrupted active worship even during the absence of worshippers. There, the solid symbol represents the live fire in a yajna and the pitcher (with dripping libation) symbolizes the worshipper pouring oblations into the fire. In addition, it is worth noting that some of the practices in present-day worships appear to relate closely to the original fire sacrifice: the lighting of lamps or candles represents the actual or original fire (flame), and the burning of incense recreates the aroma that would be given off by the oblations (soma etc.) into the live fire.
In this regard, the symbols dedicated to Agni (or Shiv, God) should also correspond to logic and not just to myth or fiction. The identification of Agni symbol (i.e., jwala, or Agni-ling: ling meaning symbol) as a phallus is perhaps due to the confusion that their shapes are similar. Note that the early humans were praying and worshipping for everything. They also prayed to God for children (heroes, sons). In this regard, religiously and psychologically, the Agni symbol 'looking like phallus' became the favorite idol. Unfortunately, over time, people forgot about its association with Agni, and identified it only in terms of biology and procreation. (Note: Since Shiva refers also to the auspicious flame or Agni-jwala, Agni-ling or a similar looking object probably was referred to as Shiv-ling.)

Note, Agni is a manifestation of BRAHMAN or Iswara. Agni in the male aspect is Shiva, and as female is Shakti. The Agni-jwala (flame) is called Shiva. The common symbols (e.g., long or stubby ling or symbol) for Shiva and Shakti are just solid images of Agni (Yajna fire). Incidentally, Shiva and Shakti always appear together -- perhaps due to their common association with Agni. Moreover, Agni is also probably the biggest destroyer. Thus the connection between Agni and Shiva as the destroyers can be seen. On the other hand, Shankra is the greatest among Rudras; and Rudras are destroyers. Thus Shiva (through a connection with Agni as the greatest destroyer) probably, in His destructive aspect at least, is also identified with Shankra (the greatest Rudra destroyer). Note, Agni probably also is the origin of a number of other dark colored gods (idols), where their color corresponds to dark (black) colored ash (associated with fire or yajna).

In references to Hanumat or Hanuman, the name appears simply to imply a strong-jawed (or a very strong) person and not necessarily a monkey or monkey-chief. Similarly, Ganesha or Ganapati may simply mean Lord (Isha, Pati) of the people (Gana) and not just an elephant-headed figure (ganika meaning a female elephant).

Thus, it seems that there is a tendency to express and endorse a certain specific divine trait as a whole (entire) phenomenon through recognizable art (shapes and forms) and stories (fictional accounts) to make it more appealing and understandable to the masses. Unfortunately, if such a message is not communicated properly or is lost over time, it will mislead and confuse people and may even wrongly imply that there is more than one real source of divinity. Note, as indicated also in Rigveda (Book 1: Hymn 164 # 46) and the Gita (Ch. 13: Verse 16), the Source basically is, locally and universally, the same and complete in essence and attributes.

Similarly, in the Rigveda, the division of Purusha (Being or Spirit) is indicated to have taken place at the beginning; the implication of which really is the transcendence of the (chaotic) old into the (stable) new in terms of evolution of the society. There, the emergence of Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra from the body of Purusha symbolically corresponds, respectively, to their occupations giving the society its voice (arising as if from Purusha's mouth), order (as if through Purusha's arms), form (as if on Purusha's thighs), and change or migration (as if via Purusha's feet).

Furthermore, in the three original (basic to Hinduism) Vedas (Rig, Yajur and Sam) referred to above, little mention or support is shown for astrology; and sorcery, witchcraft, magic and worthless worships are condemned (RV: Book 7, Hymn 104.20, 23-25; Book 10, Hymn 37.4). Similarly (RV: Book 7, Hymn 104.5,7, 13-16), civic or religious (for god or faith) deception (corruption, cheating and wickedness) and exploitation (including coercion, bondage, aggression and plundering) are forbidden and not to be tolerated. Note, the Gita (Ch. 16) reiterates these precepts; and (Ch. 3 - V. 26) favors advancing of religion/spirituality peacefully and by example.

(i) Salvation, Karma, Reincarnation and Metamorphosis:
It was realized long ago that, irrespective of one's background, attaining the immortality or overcoming the death (or the fear of it) is in understanding oneself (individual life or being) - the union between soul (spirit - real, sat or eternal) and body (matter - unreal, asat or transient) - as part of the Supreme (stated also in Ch. 2, 6, 7 & 9 of the Bhagvad Gita). Symbolically, therefore (as stated in Ch. 8 of the Gita), following the path (or going in the time) of clarity (as in the light of day or the sun) about the self is liberating (Ch. 6); whereas, following the path (or going in the time) of confusion (as in the darkness of night or the moon) about the self brings nothing but fear (morbidity). It is worth noting (the Gita: Ch. 6 - verse 45) that, whatever a person's social status or civic duty, the spiritual gains derived from all efforts for achieving the union of one with the One are imminent and cumulative.

In this context, the Karmic principle (i.e., a good or bad action leads to a good or bad outcome) is assumed to influence the course of events taking place during this life and, supposedly, afterwards. Accordingly, each experience or action by a person affects him in body* and soul in the next situation or future. Each experience itself is a life/Janma : its beginning and end symbolically being birth and death. Moreover, according to the Karmic principle, even when the body dies, the soul continues to live and may feel the residual effect of the preceding existence. The reincarnation therefore symbolically represents the extension of this principle during the hereafter. It is, in other words, a new opportunity or promise to accrue spiritual gains on the basis of actions during previous life. Note also that reincarnation merely presents to a person a new possibility (opportunity) arising out of countless influences, and, depending upon the new surroundings (people, environment etc.) and the future actions by the individual himself, it may or may not fully materialize (the Gita: Ch. 18 - verse 14). For example, as indicated above, even though Satyakama started as a Shudra (in a non-Brahmin vocation), he went on, through his own initiative and effort and with the help of his guru, to acquire new skills to become a Brahmin (the profession of choice for him). Thus, reincarnation - being associated with the soul - appears to be unimportant with regards to the worldly pursuits such as involving vocations (castes) etc. Similarly, salvation (Moksha) - which also relates to the soul - is achievable by all (irrespective of their background), and can be easily attained by uniting (elevating) one's soul with God by practicing good deeds and penance etc. The Gita, to this end, states (in Ch. 2) - in response to a query in Ch. 1 (verse 42) regarding the rituals to ancestors - that God's grace and the good deeds by a person during his own lifetime are important to seek salvation.

The supposed metamorphoses of God as Ram and Krishan etc., heroes of the early civilizations (in epics Ramayana and Mahabharata etc.), should be taken in spiritual/moralistic/philosophical context. The reverence (mainly ritualistic or for a reward) to them - dedicated according to their physical eminence and existence, and based primarily on the stories which appear to be skewed over time into myths/tales (Pauranic etc.) - thus needs to reduce. Note that God alone is deemed worthy of all worships (the Gita: Ch. 9 - V. 24, Chs. 10 & 4) since all the eminence and creation -- including even all the gods and goddesses associated with various places, times or events -- are ultimately due to Him. Incidentally, when Krishan speaks in the Gita, he is not only speaking as a friend (well-wisher) and charioteer (worker and assistant) of Arjuna, but he is also advising Arjuna in the capacity of a guru. Above all, in essence, Krishan also is both BRAHMAN (Iswara) and Atman in the Gita.

Note also in this regard that the notion of a personal God sometimes results in a very informal devotee�deity relationship. The devotee often uses various preferred salutations, representations and rituals (worships and offerings) to express his unique love and reverence towards the 'kind and caring' deity. But, when many people engaging in this manner - in their own special ways of worships ,etc., are viewed collectively, their society is seen to be overly ritualistic and following many gods, even though, in reality the ultimate object of reverence remains One. (Note, the Gita: Ch. 9-V. 26).


The vocational choice long ago was mainly need-based (personal and tribal) and circumstantial (in terms of the availability of labor at a place or time, natural disasters and battles among tribes). It inspired that the societal tasks and responsibilities be dispensed solely in terms of a person's nature or qualification (Guna) and his active undertaking or assignment (Karma). It was a great vision at work that is referred to also in the Bhagvad Gita (as in the original Sanskrit verse 13 of Ch. 4, where the reference is made only to Guna - nature / qualification, and it does not mean born nature). Incidentally, the original vocations seem to have been similar to the present jobs that also require compatibility between the worker's qualifications and the potential assignment.

Inherently, the above system satisfied one and the all. The Gita (Ch. 18 - verse 41) further elaborates that all occupations are important and correspond to various needs or segments of the society and are dispensed according to ability (svabhava) on the basis (prabhva) of qualification (guna; which does not mean born nature). The duties relating to each adopted vocation (as explained in the above Introduction: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra) are also listed in the Gita (Ch. 18 - verses 42, 43 & 44). It is also indicated in the Gita (Ch. 5 - verse 4) that all spiritual paths are applicable and bring same results to people with different vocations. The Gita (Ch. 16 & 18) stresses that, while it is of utmost importance to recognize and adhere to one's own responsibility or the task at hand, there is no other special advantage or basis (in terms of ritualism or one's heredity) for pursuing a particular undertaking. A socially necessary and useful activity for the physical well-being of person is as important as any worship/puja for his/her salvation (The Gita: Ch. 3 - verse 8). The Gita (Ch. 3 - verse 35) further notes that taking care of one's own responsibility (purpose/dharma) merits higher than venturing needlessly elsewhere, since keeping one's own obligation (even in a miniscule way) leads to satisfaction that outweighs the trappings, uncertainty and formidableness associated with another's task. It is also stated in the Gita (Ch. 12, Ch. 18 - verses 45 & 46) that, no matter what a person's duty or task (whether shubh - appealing, or ashubh - unappealing), he attains perfection or heavenly bliss if he is fully dedicated to it and performs it with pleasure and interest as if it were a service to the Lord (Transcendent or the Manifest). Lord, God or Hari (Saviour) is expressed (Ch. 17) divinely (in accordance with tattva**) as OM TAT SAT (Creator, Master and the Righteous). (Creation seems to arise from OM during contemplation as the omniscient, TAT is what maintains it through omnipotence, and it has the noble and righteous end according to SAT.) Note also that God is one, yet He can manifest in more ways than one (Ch. 4 & 9); and He dwells in the heart of all (Ch. 18). He is One in all (stated above; the Gita: Ch. 13 - verse 16). In addition, one need not be preoccupied about the hereafter (or the heaven and the hell) as long as he understands the good from the bad (Ch. 16 of the Gita) and the redemption (spiritual) through penance (monetarily free and as stated in the Gita: Ch. 9 - verses 30 & 31).

Thus, the Vedic religion (Hinduism) is universal and progressive: the Hindu way of life is open to all, and without any discrimination on the basis of gender, race, heredity, beliefs, occupation, social status or background, and the place of origin. It is very logical (promotes knowledge and science / vigyan - the Gita: Ch. 6 - verse 8), encourages reasoning (the Gita: Ch. 18 - verses 63, 71 & 72), and is quite easy to understand and practice (as indicated in Ch. 3, 9 & 16 of the Gita). It is based on the fundamental principle of 'one to One relationship' or unity between a person and the universal God. In other words (e.g. the Gita: Ch. 9 - v. 10 & 29), everyone abides identically to the supreme, is significant to the creation, and has the same right to seek and realize the divine. In conclusion and at the personal level, one easily attains perfection and heavenly bliss in any activity (duty) if he / she keeps anger, lust and greed in check (the Gita: Ch. 16); stays mindful of the Lord (the Gita: Ch. 8), such as in the sense of the mantra (sacred words) 'Hari OM TAT SAT' (the universal God is the means of salvation); and through that undertaking (activity) adores / serves Him and His creation (the Gita: Ch. 11 & 18).

Thus it is also clear from the above that one (of any caste or background) need not feel disadvantaged, discriminated, dispossessed or deprived of spirituality as a Hindu if he / she pursues God by own free will in a manner convenient or appropriate to him / her. Remember that everyone is entitled to the same inspiration (guidance) and bliss (love) from God, who (as the source of vision and benediction) is the ultimate (greatest) guru / prophet (the Gita: Ch. 11) and friend / benefactor (the Gita: Ch. 5).

Closing Comment:
It is okay for a person - having no one to extend to him objective or satisfactory help and guidance in the matters relating to spiritual fulfillment, prayer and the place to pray - to choose a mode of worship suited to his needs and resources. Incidentally, worthless worships, myths / tales, hate-mongering and evil/corrupt deeds are detrimental to spirituality / faith. It is also worth noting that all - men, women, believers, nonbelievers and others - have the same rights and freedoms and they all deserve equal protection and consideration under a law that is constantly evolving with time and according to the need of the society. Thus, a contemporary civil legal code - progressive and reflective of the peoples and times - seems preferable to a law that may be perceived as antiquated, dictatorial, discriminatory, cultist or religious. The notion that a group / nation run by decree will be foremost in freedoms and human rights is misguided. A diverse, pluralistic and progressive society subjected to an autocratic or religious law / rule can quickly drift into a puritanical, singular and regressive system as the dissenting people either run away from it or totally succumb to the ruling dogma to ensure their own safety. Thus, the sectarian territorialization or vision of the world must cease, and any regime adverse to progressiveness should be shunned. In addition, the practices of casteism (social stratification in terms of vocation or caste)***, animal abuse, child labor, gender discrimination, dowry, veil (e.g. the body and face covering apparel) etc. must stop. It is also in the interest of humanity to rise above various tenets and practices and, while not ignoring the local issues, tackle serious global problems: rapidly deteriorating environment, depleting natural resources, disappearing flora and fauna, and overpopulation - already indicating a population exceeding the reasonable limit of about five billion people worldwide.


(a) RIGVEDA by Dr. B.R. Kishore, D.P.B. (Diamond Pocket Books Ltd., New Delhi, India); Book (Ch.) # 1, 5, 7, 8, 9 & 10.

(b) YAJURVEDA by Dr. B.R. Kishore, D.P.B.; Book (Ch.) # 6, 9, 10, 11, 17, 19, 31 & 32.

(c) SAMVEDA by Dr. B.R. Kishore, D.P.B.; Uttararchika / Part Second: Book 4 (Ch. # 1).

(d) The Upanishads by S. Prabhavananda & F. Manchester, the Vedanta Society of Southern California, Vedanta Press, Hollywood (Ca), U.S.A., 1957

(e) Bhagvad Gita, Gita Press, Gorakhpur, India

(f) The Bhagavad Gita by Juan Mascaro, Penguin Books, Baltimore (Md), U.S.A., 1962

(g) Ramayana by C. Rajagopalachari, B.V.B. (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India, 1996)

(h) Mahabharata by C. Rajagopalachari, B.V.B.

(i) The Encyclopaedia Indica (Vol. 4), (Editor) N. Vasu, B.R. Publishing Corp., Delhi, 1986

(j) The Rig Veda (Ralph T.H. Griffith, Translator; 1896): http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rigveda/

(k) Indian Philosophy (Vol. 2), Radhakrishnan, S. Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1989; ISBN 0195638204.


Note - 1:


Hinduism is a monotheistic religion with one God (Brahman) assuming many forms and names. Brahman, as Nirguna, has no attributes (is formless and unmanifested), whereas as Saguna (or Iswara) is manifested and with attributes. People use many different names for God. Consider for example the following hymns from Rig Veda.

"They call him Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni, and he is heavenly nobly-winged Garutman.
To what is One, sages give many a title they call it Agni, Yama, Matarisvan." RV (Book 1, Hymn 164.46)

"He in his might surveyed the floods containing productive force and generating Worship.
He is the God, and none beside him. What God shall we adore with our oblation?" RV (Book 10, Hymn 121.8)

Thus various forms (names and perceptions) symbolizing Brahman reflect different visions according to many sages and seers. Note that, like any particular prophet, each sage advances his own concept of God which seems unique (in name and form / image) and may be classed as monomorphic (one view). This concept of divine -- monotheistic and monomorphic -- is usually accepted and followed by the adherents of that particular sage. This is just like any monotheistic religion after a certain prophet. But in Hinduism, this situation is further augmented due to accumulated visions of God from many sages -- each sage's vision being separately monotheistic and monomorphic -- resulting in monotheism with a polymorphic view where one God is perceived in many different ways and with various capabilities (e.g. Nirguna, Unmanifest, Saguna, Manifest, Transcendent, Immanent, and so on). Note that this is not polytheism, because God is still one, even though He is portrayed differently according to different people (sages, etc.) and situations.

Hinduism is also not henotheistic, where people believe in one god but are not concerned if he is the only god. Note that Brahman is one even though He has many names. For henotheism, there should exist a parallel (or competing) deity against Brahman but such is not the case. In addition, even the different Avtars (reincarnations) are not considered as independent of Iswara.

Hinduism is not pantheistic either, since there is no direct identification of God with universe. Note, God and universe (belonging to the Absolute or Reality -- which also consists of souls) are considered as distinct from each other in Hindu religio-philosophy.

Furthermore, polymorphically speaking, God may be worshipped, for example, by a farmer as Varuna (meaning the lord of water) and by a carpenter as Vishvakarma (meaning architect of the world). Since water -- potential boon from Varuna -- is important in agriculture for bringing good harvest etc., the farmer easily, conveniently and even inadvertently is drawn towards the deity known as Varuna. Meanwhile, the carpenter identifies himself professionally more closely with Vishvakarma (the Constructor). People thus have a tendency to assign and accept various functional or phenomenal labels for God, and perceive, worship, and meditate on Him accordingly. In spite of having different names, Brahman (God) still remains one and the Hinduism monotheistic. Note also that worshipping Varuna and Vishvakarma just amounts to worshipping God in two different aspects of water and construction, respectively. In reality, worship of either Varuna or Vishvakarma or both of them together still amounts to -- including the potential benefits -- the worship of one Brahman. The Real, possessing various attributes (i.e. God as Varuna or as Vishvakarma), should not be seen as accumulating them mathematically. Thus, one (as Varuna) + one (as Vishvakarma) is not to be construed as two, but still One (God).

Depending on the basic attributes, God (Hari or Savior) is called Om -- the creator (Omniscient, Brahma, the chaturmukh); Tat -- the preserver / master (Omnipotent, Vishnu, the chaturbhuj); and Sat -- the destroyer (Rudra or Shiva -- good and righteous; RV: Book 5, Hymn 44.2).

Furthermore, in the earthly regions, Iswara (and His power) may manifest as Agni; in the mid-air, as Indra; and in the heavens, as Savitar. Note that the personality or symbol used as a deity in meditation or worship is mainly for spiritual significance and to reflect the real power (God) behind it. Physical and material aspects of the symbol used in worship are less important.

True bhakti (devotion) and the type (method) of worship depend on a person's nature and temperament. Moreover, even if the object of adoration remains the same, there may be several ways to approach it. In addition, Brahman as Nirguna (unmanifested) is simply believed in. The direct worship of Nirguna Brahman is not possible, because it is not known (as Nirguna) and therefore can not be worshipped. The believer therefore simply recognizes the entire creation as a reflection of God and acts accordingly (Gita: Ch 12).

In the case of Saguna Brahman, there are two types of worship -- one is of a personal God as the Immanent, and the other by using symbols. In case of the Immanent, worship usually occurs in the form of pure meditation and at the spiritual level. On the other hand, when a worshipper views God as being external to him, then the worship is symbolic. Here, symbols (objects and deities etc.) used are generally prakrit (comprising of prakrti / nature and therefore involving three modes or gunas -- sattva, rajas, and tamas). Note that the worshipper in this case needs to be careful as to what exactly the object of adoration (such as the deity) and the method of worship (yajna etc.) stand for, because that will determine the outcome (fruits) of such worship.

Object of meditation (worship) should be beyond or above the Law of Karma. It should not become part of the sansara (world) -- as a soul or the constituent matter -- and be not existing at times in the mode of darkness or ignorance (Tamas). Note that only Brahman is above and beyond Karma, is changeless, and meets these conditions (Gita: Ch. 5 - V. 29). On the other hand, if the meditation (worship) is intended towards a secondary figure (such as a guru or a deity) who is subject to the Law of Karma, the results from such effort will also be secondary (Gita: Ch. 9 - V. 25). The meditation (worship) symbols and methods should be therefore carefully selected.

Note also that the religious offerings and gifts, though important, are voluntary and motivated by faith and love. Moreover, worships and rituals should not be performed miserly and with a desire for vainglory (RV: Book 7 - Hymn 32.9; Gita: Ch. 9 - V. 26, Ch. 16 - V. 17, Ch. 17 - V. 13).


Note - 2:

& Vedas and Vedic hymns

Consider the following hymns as example.

"We all have various thoughts and plans, and diverse are the ways (castes / vocations) of people.
The Brahmin seeks the worshipper, the carpenter seeks the cracked, and physician the ailing. Flow, Indu, flow for Indra's sake!" RV (Book 9, Hymn 112.1)

"The smith with ripe and seasoned plants, with feathers of the birds of air,
With stones, and with enkindled flames, seeks him who has gold. Flow, Indu, flow for Indra's sake." RV (Book 9, Hymn 112.2)

"I am a singer, my dad is a physician, my mother's job is to grind corn with stones.
Striving for wealth, with varied plans (vocations), we follow our desires like a cowherder after his kine.
Flow, Indu, flow for Indra's sake." RV (Book 9, Hymn 112.3)

"Like, a horse would rather pull an easy cart, a joyful host desires the laugh and jest.
The male desires his mate's approach, the frog is eager for the flood. Flow, Indu, flow for Indra's sake." RV (Book 9, Hymn 112.4)


As is clear in the above, Vedas represent acquired, accumulated and compiled ancient knowledge. Not only the Brahmins wrote or contributed to this (Vedic) knowledge, but it came from all sources and castes (vocations). Some of the Vedic hymns (such as in the above) were composed by regular workers and the children of Shudra. Note also that there are only three original Vedas (Rig, Yajur and Sam) -- that are basic to Hinduism -- and Atharva Veda is not one of them.

Vedic vocations (castes, varna) seem to have arisen according to need (for wealth), opportunity (where work existed �Ee.g. Brahmin looks for worshipper, and physician looks for sick, etc.) and qualification (Brahmin has priestly background, carpenter specializes in wood-working, etc.). Moreover, in one family there are people with three different occupations (singer / entertainer, physician / healer, corn-grinder / worker). Choice of vocation, in addition to pursuing the wealth to live on, also seems to be based on combining a natural and acquired talent (e.g. a joyful host) with aesthetic aspirations (seeking laugh and jest from appreciative audience). Vocations (castes) therefore are not based on heredity.

In the above Vedic hymns, a woman's importance (as an occupational contributor, and as a companion / mate) is also recognized and valued in the same manner as that of a man. It indicates that the women had a high social standing and even might be at par with men.


Note - 3:

* Constituents of the body (as in the Gita: Ch. 7 - V. 4):
physical (earth, water, fire, air, space); and subtle or derived (mind, intellect, ego).


Note - 4:

** God and Creation are inseparable.


Note - 5:

*** Caste system (vocation, jati-kram) basically represents the elaboration or description of various vocations (castes or varna) in a society in terms of people's talents / qualifications (guna) and the corresponding jobs (karma). Casteism ( jati-vad, jati-pana or jatiyat), on the other hand, is the social stratification (or society becoming rigidly divided) in terms of those vocations or castes. It arises mainly when children automatically and naturally start inheriting jobs (occupations) of their parents. To get rid of casteism, people should be encouraged to engage in all types of occupations.
Note that, as a rule, Srutis (Vedas) always have precedence over Smritis, (including Manu-Smriti and Puranas). Therefore, in matters of controversy regarding casteism etc., follow the advice of the sruti and not the smriti.


(Yr. 2001)