There are four varnas in Hinduism. Varnas means the sections of the society. The Hindu society was divided into four varnas. The four varnas are – Brahmins, Khatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. Even today the system of Varnas is followed but not as strictly as it was years back. The first and the most important of them are the Brahmins. Bramha is one of the most important gods of Hinduism. He is the creator of the universe. The Vedas specifically mention about the varnas. This is an important varna as per religion as well and society.
The Brahmins were traditionally priests. The Hindu temples have socio and religious significance in India. The Brahmins were traditionally vegetarians and lived a very simple life. They dedicated their time for the worship of the lord and they were considered to be the most respected in the society. They knew the Vedas and were the most intellectuals too. Many Brahmins also imparted education to the society. It is said that in the time of war the Brahmins were not attacked as per the Hindu customs. The Brahmins were not allowed to learn the use of weapons. This was mainly because there was never a need for a Brahmin to fight a war.
The mention of varna is there even in Buddhism and Jainism. As these religions spread across the world the concept of varnas was also spread to countries like Myanmar, Cambodia and Bali. The societies in these countries show a strong varna system. Even today the system exists. The Brahmins are considered just next to gods. They were basically given the highest responsibility as per the vedas, as they were given responsibility they had to be given the power. They were entrusted with the ability to determine the vision and the values of any society. If the Brahmins did their job well the society would never suffer from any wrong things. The Brahmins would live in such a position that all their needs would be full filled by the society. This was to ensure that the Brahmins would not have to worry about anything as a result they could live a good and spiritual life. Concentrate only on the religious and the spiritual needs of the society.
Brahmins would marry only Brahmins and this was a mandatory rule in ancient India. Today this rule is not followed much as inter cast marriages are common. The Dharmasutra clearly mentions the duties that each varna must do. They also have a list of duties mentioned for a Brahman. These duties are:
- The Brahmins must study the Vedas and they must do it with interest.
- The Brahmins must always tell the truth no matter what.
- The Brahmins must conduct themselves as an Aryan.
- The Brahmins must teach the rituals of a Brahmin only to those who deserve to get the knowledge.
- If the Brahmin gets corrupted they must immediately go through the ritual of purification.
- The Brahmin must have self-control in all the activities that they do.
- The Brahmins must always be gentle to all even to those who are doing wrong.
- The Brahmins must be kind and show equal treatment to all.
- The Brahmins should not hurt any living creature no matter what.
The Brahmins were not allowed to work. They would do the religious rituals and would be paid by others. It was considered a very noble deed to give food and clothes to a Brahmin. All the other varnas of the society would earn and whatever they gave to the Brahmin was used by the Brahmins to feed themselves and their families. Kings and all noble men would usually give huge gifts to the Brahmins. No Brahmin should leave the house without enough food and other items. The Brahmins did enjoy a good life and they got all the luxuries without much hard work.
This power that the Brahmins had was slowly being used by them to create havoc in the society. The Brahmins started to preach that they were gods. All that they said would come true. Knowledge was something that the Brahmins had and they started to transfer selective information to the masses. They started the custom of Sati. They also started to preach that women should not be allowed to study. The custom of polygamy was common among the Brahmins. The Hindu society started to suffer because of the strong position that was given to this one varna. Young girls were made to marry old Brahmins who were about to die. The Brahmins made the cast system in India more rigid and strict that was very bad for the other casts, especially the lower varnas who were not even allowed to enter the temples.
The Vedas gave certain duties to all the varnas and they had to follow them. However, when the Brahmins started to long for power and started to run the society the way they wanted things started to go out of control. Many intellectuals like Vivekaknanda felt that the society was suffering and so was the image of Hinduism. There was a need to stop this and a movement started against the dominance of Brahmins in all the aspects of the society. The society could not take this anymore. Raja Ram Mohan Roy and many other intellectual raised their voice against the atrocities that was being committed by the Brahmins. They stopped Sati and started the custom of widow re marriage. These protests and movements slowly made the position of the Brahmins weak and also the cast system became a little less strict. Today the Brahmins live a more normal life. They do other jobs apart from the jobs of priests. They get married to the people of other casts.
When Vedas have clearly mentioned about the roles of the varnas it is important that those rules are followed and practiced. Vedas basically wanted to assign the right duty for the right people. In this article we have discussed in details about the first varna that is the Brahmins. In the next few articles we will discuss about the remaining three varnas. The father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi also had a strong feeling that the cast system was the main reason for India being considered as a backward country. He wanted india to be free of this cast system and all the citizens of India to be treated equally. We are not supporting any opinion we are just trying to give a detailed idea of why these varnas were made and what each one of them actually meant.