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caste heads

Varna Concept


A display showing different castes in Rajasthan, India, brought to England in 1894 by Frederick Horniman.Now exhibited in the Horniman Museum, London. ©
An important idea that developed in classical Hinduism is that dharma refers especially to a person's responsibility regarding class ( varna ) and stage of life ( ashrama ). This is called varnashrama-dharma. In Hindu history the highest class, the Brahmins, adhered to this doctrine. The class system is a model or ideal of social order thatfirst occurs in the oldest Hindu text, the Rig Veda and the present-day caste (jati)system may be rooted in this. The four classesare:
*. Brahmans or Brahmins - the intellectuals and the priestly class whoperform religious rituals
*. Kshatriya (nobles or warriors) - who traditionally had power
*. Vaishyas (commonersor merchants) - ordinary people who produce, farm, trade and earn a living
*. Shudras (workers) - who traditionally served the higher classes, including labourers, artists, musicians, and clerks
People in the top three classes are known as 'twice born' because they have been born from the womb and secondly through initiation in which boys receive a sacred thread as a symbol of their high status. Although usually considered an initiation for males it must be noted that there are examples of exceptions to this rule, where females receive this initiation.
The twice born traditionally could go through four stages of life or ashramas. The ashrama system is as follows:
*. Brahmacarya - 'celibate student' stage in which males learned the Veda
*. grihastha - 'householder' in which the twice born male can experience the human purposes (purushartha) of responsibility, wealth, and sexual pleasure
*. Vanaprastha - 'hermit'or 'wilderness dweller'in which the twice born male retires from life in the world to take up pilgrimage and religious observances along with his wife
*. Samnyasa - 'renunciation' in which the twice born gives up the world, takes on a saffron robe or, in some sects, goes naked, with a bowl and a staff to seek moksha (liberation) or develop devotion
Correct action in accordance with dharma is also understood as service to humanity and to God.The idea of what has become known as sanatana dharma can be traced back to the puranas. Those who adhere to this idea, addressing one’s eternal dharma or constitution, claim that it transcends other mundane dharmas – that it is the para dharma, the ultimate dharma. It is often associated with bhakti movements, who propose that we are all eternal servants of a personal Deity, thus advocating each act, word, and deed to be acts of devotion. In the 19th Century the concept of sanatana dharma was used by some groups to advocate a unified viewof Hinduism.

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