Hail, social life! into the pleasing bounds Again I come to pay the common stock My share of service, and, in glad return To taste the comforts, thy protected joys.
The Hindus perfected society. The social organization of the people was based on scientific principles, and was well calculated to ensure progress without party strife. There was no accumulation of wealth in one portion of the community, leaving the other portion in destitute poverty; no social forces stimulating the increase of the wealth of the one and the poverty of the other, as is the tendency of the modern civilization. The keynote of the system, however, was national service. It afforded to every member of the social body, opportunities and means to develop fully his powers and capacities, and to use them for the advancement of the common weal. Everyone was to serve the nation in the sphere in which he was best fitted to act, which, being congenial to his individual genius, was conducive to the highest development of his faculties and powers.
There was thus a wise and statesmanlike classification which procured a general distribution of wealth, expelled misery and want from the land, promoted mental and moral progress, ensured national efficiency, and, above all, made tranquillity compatible with advancement; in one word, dropped manna all round and made life doubly sweet by securing external peace with national efficiency and social happiness— a condition of affairs nowhere else so fully realized.
This classification—this principle of social organization—was the Varnashrama. Mankind were divided into two classes, (1) the Aryas and (2) the Dasyus, or the civilized and the savage. The Aryas were subdivided into:
1. Brahmanas, who devoted themselves to learning and acquiring wisdom and following the liberal arts and sciences.
3. Vaishyas, who devoted themselves to trade and the professions.
4. Sudras (men of low capacities), who served and helped the other three classes. This classification is a necessary one in all civilized countries in some form or other.
It was the glory of ancient Aryavarta that this classification existed there in its perfect form and was based on scientific principles—on the principle of heredity (which has not yet been fully appreciated by European thinkers), the conservation of energy, economy of labour, facility of development, and specialization of faculties.
Literary men, soldiers, doctors, lawyers, clergymen, traders, and servants are to be found in England, France, America, and in every other civilized country of modern times, as they were in Ancient India. The only difference is that in one case the division was perfect and the working of its marvellous mechanism regular, while in the other the classification is imperfect and its working irregular and haphazard.
The Varnashrama was not the same as the caste system of the present day—a travesty of its ancient original. No one was a brahman by blood nor a sudra by birth, [Sanjeev: This is a contradiction of the above cited principle of heredity] but everyone was such as his merits fitted him to be. ‘The people,’ says Col. Olcott, ‘were not, as now, irrevocably walled in by castes, but they were free to rise to the highest social dignities or sink to the lowest positions, according to the inherent qualities they might possess. ‘
The son of a brahman sometimes became a kshatriya, sometimes a vaishya, and sometimes a sudra. At the same time, a sudra as certainly became a brahman or a kshatriya. Shanker Dig Vijaya says:
tUeeuk tk;rs ‘kwnz% laLdkjkn~f}t mP;rsA
osn ikBh Hkosf}iz% czã tkukfr czkã. k%AA
‘By birth all are Sudra, by actions men becomes dwija (twice-born). By reading the Vedas one becomes vipra and becomes brahman by gaining a knowledge of God. ‘
A passage in the Vanparva of the Mahabharata runs thus: ‘He in whom the qualities of truth, munificence, forgiveness, gentleness, abstinence from cruel deeds, contemplation, benevolence are observed, is called a Brahman in the Smriti. A man is not a Sudra by being a Sudra nor a Brahman by being a Brahman. ‘ The Mahabharata (Santiparva) says:
u fo’ks”kks·fLr o. kZuka lo± czkãfena txr~A
czã. kk iwoZ l`”Va fg deZfHkoZ. kZrka xre~AA
‘There are no distinctions of caste. Thus, a world which, as created by Brahma, was at first entirely brahmanic has become divided into classes, in consequence of men’s actions. ‘
In his paper ‘Sanskrit as a Living Language in India’, read before the International Congress of Orientalists at Berlin, on the 14 September 1881, Mr Shyamji Krishnavarma said: ‘We read in the Aitareya Brahmana (II. 3. 19), for example, that Kavasha Ailusha, who was a sudra and son of a low woman, was greatly respected for his literary attainments, and admitted into the class of Rishis. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of his life is that he, sudra as he was, distinguished himself as the rishi of some of the hymns of the Rig Veda (Rig, X. 30– 4). It is distinctly stated in the Chandogyopanishad that Jabala, who is otherwise called Satyakama, had no gotra, or family name whatever (Chan-Upa, IV. 4); all that we know about his parentage is that he was the son of a woman named Jabala, and that he is called after his mother. Though born of unknown parents, Jabala is said to have been the founder of a school of the Yajur Veda. Even in the Apastamba Sutra (II. 5–10) and the Manusmriti (X. 65), we find that a sudra can become a brahman and a brahman can become a sudra, according to their good or bad deeds. Panini mentions the name of a celebrated grammarian called Cakravarmana in the sixth chapter of his Ashtadhyayi
(p. VI. 1. 130); now Cakravarmana was a kshatriya by birth, since he has the prescribed Kshatriya termination at the end of his name, which is a patronymic of Cakravarmana. ‘ Who were Visvamitra and Valmiki but sudras. Even so late as the time of the Greek invasion of India, the caste system had not become petrified into its present state. The Greeks describe four castes. Megasthenes says that a Hindu of any caste may become a Sophist (brahman). Arrian counts seven classes: Sophists, agriculturists, herdsmen, handicrafts and artizens [sic], warriors, inspectors and councillors. (See Strabo, Lib XV. )
Colonel Tod says: ‘In the early ages of these Solar and Lunar dynasties, the priestly office was not hereditary in families; it was a profession, and the genealogies exhibit frequent instances of branches of these races terminating their martial career in the commencement of a religious sect or “gotra” and of their descendants reassuming their warlike occupations. ‘47
There was no hereditary caste. The people enjoyed the advantages of hereditary genius without the serious drawbacks of a rigid system of caste based on birth.
‘The one great object which the promoters of the hereditary system seem to have had in view was to secure to each class a high degree of efficiency in its own sphere. ‘ ‘Hereditary genius’ is now a subject of serious enquiry amongst the enlightened men of Europe and America, and the evolution theory as applied to sociology, when fully worked out, will fully show the merits of the system. In fact the India of the time of Manu will appear to have reached a stage of civilization of which the brilliant ‘modern European civilization’ only gives us glimpses.
Even the system in its present form has not been an unmitigated evil. It has been the great conservative principle of the constitution of Hindu society, though originally it was a conservative as well as a progressive one. It is this principle of the Hindu social constitution which has enabled the nation to sustain, without being shattered to pieces, the tremendous shocks given by the numerous political convulsions and religious upheavals that have occurred during the last thousand years. ‘The system of caste,’ says Sir Henry Cotton, ‘far from being the source of all troubles which can be traced in Hindu society, has rendered most important service in the past, and still continues to sustain order and solidarity. ‘
As regards its importance from a European point of view, Mr Sidney Low in his recent book, A Vision of India, says: ‘There is no doubt that it is the main cause of the fundamental stability and contentment by which Indian society has been braced for centuries against the shocks of politics and the cataclysms of Nature. It provides every man with his place, his career, his occupation, his circle of friends. It makes him at the outset, a member of a corporate body; it protects him through life from the canker of social jealousy and unfulfilled aspirations; it ensures him companionship and a sense of community with others in like case with himself. The caste organization is to the Hindu his club, his trade-union, his benefit society, his philanthropic society. There are no work-houses in India, and none are as yet needed. The obligation to provide for kinsfolk and friends in distress is universally acknowledged; nor can it be questioned that this is due to the recognition of the strength of family ties and of the bonds created by associations and common pursuits which is fostered by the caste principle. An India without caste, as things stand at present, it is not quite easy to imagine.’