Origins of the caste system in India
Account for the origins of the caste system in India. How was the social structure in India different from that of Mesopotamia and Egypt?
Most empires had a unique and well-organized social class system. The Mesopotamians and Egyptians were good examples of that. Another example of this was the Aryans, from India. They had a unique social structure called the caste system. This system was different from the Mesopotamian and Egyptian social structure in many ways.
The caste system was a very well-defined and well-enforced system. It was based on sharp hereditary distinctions between individuals and groups, according to their occupations and roles in society. The word “caste” itself has a root that means a social class of hereditary and usually unchangeable status. When the Aryans first settled in India, they most likely had a simple social system led by warrior chiefs and priests. Later, however, as Aryans interacted with Dravidians, the Aryans used the color of their complexion to refine the major social classes.
After about 1000 B.C.E., the Aryans defined their social system to four main “varnas” (major social classes): priests; warriors and aristocrats; cultivators, artisans, and merchants; and landless peasants and serfs. Centuries later, another social classes was added called the untouchables. Members of this class performed dirt and unpleasant tasks such as butchering animals or handling dead bodies. Members of this class were considered too polluted to touch.
Later on, a more elaborate scheme of social classifications emerged in the caste system. This was the result of more specialization of labor. The caste system deeply influenced the lives of Indian people through history. Not following the caste rules could lead to expulsion from the group, which was very undesirable. The caste system also enabled foreign people to enter the social structure. By the end of the Vedic age, the caste system had become an established foundation of the society. Castes played a large role in maintaining social discipline in India.
The caste system in India was both similar and different from the Mesopotamian and Egyptian social structure. They were both similar in that they were both very well-defined. Also, they had similar major social classes, such as priests, cultivators, and landless peasants. However, they were different in that originally, the caste systems' social classes were based on skin complexion. They were also different because the caste system included many different subcastes or different “jatis”. The Mesopotamians and Egyptians did not have subcastes. Finally, the caste system impacted the Aryan's lives more than the Mesopotamian and Egyptian social structures. People of the same subcaste ate with one another, intermarried, and even cared for those who became ill or fell on hard times.
The caste system was a very important part of Indian culture and society. It was a large social foundation of the Aryan Empire. In this system, the caste that individuals were in mattered more than many other things. The caste system was truly a very unique system, as shown by the many differences between the Mesopotamian and Egyptian social structure.