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Outline the significant features of the Caste system, and Comment on the criticisms made on the Caste system.

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A) Outline the significant features of the Caste system (14) B) Comment on the criticisms made on the Caste system (6) The caste system, or caturvarna, as K.K.Klostermaier describes is "religious hierarchy; when people are born into their respective castes on account of the karma that they had accumulated in previous lives."1 It is a key feature of life in India and has been for hundreds of years, if not thousands of years, and for just as long it is has been a controversial system (Criticisms coming from Ghandi in 1947 and the Bhakti movement in the middle ages.) The Caste system is a relatively simple idea on the surface, but when one delves more deeply the idea becomes more and more complex. It is a system that reflects one of the more profound ideas in Hinduism: the attainment of Moksha and atonement with Brahman. In order to understand the key features of the caste system, indeed its very existence, it is necessary to examine the key idea underpinning it. It is the ultimate aim of the soul to gain Moksha, thus breaking the reincarnation cycle, and join Brahman.2 The reincarnation "cycle"3 is a term that describes the order of life forms on Earth and how close they are to gaining Moksha, for example a Brahmin is closer to realizing Moksha than a flower. Movement through the cycle is determined by karma in a previous life, for example if one has good karma then one moves up the cycle, however if one has bad karma then one moves down the cycle. ...read more.


By Western standards such an idea is a social taboo, however it must be remembered that Hinduism is a product of Indian philosophy and therefore cannot by judged by western perspectives. The concept of pollution is the possible origin of the approximately three thousand Jatis, another key feature of the Caste system. A Jati meaning "to beget" is a subdivision of each varna, many counted as being outside the caste system. Jati is primarily occupational based, id est a Jati would belong to a potter within the Vasiyas Varna. A Hindu who is born into a particular Jati is expected to carry out the Dharma expected of them in that particular Jati; however this has raised the issue to personal ambition, for example a boy born into a jati for farmers would have to be a farmer, despite his ambition to become a doctor. Furthermore, a Hindu of a Jati is expected to marry another who is endogamous to the Jati, if this social expectation is broken by marrying a person exogamous to the Jati families are often split apart and the couple seek anonymity in a large city. Such a "corruption" of a Jati may result in the formation of a new Jati that derives from the polluted marriage. A new Jati may arise when a new occupation presents itself, and example of this is the fairly recent introduction of the telephone operator. Although there are many key features of the caste system, such as symbols, criticisms etc, there are really four main significant features: the origins, the four Varna and the Jatis the affect of society and Moksha. ...read more.


Missionaries were sent out to "civilise" the native "pagans" to the light of Christianity. Missionaries were successful at converting the dalits and the lower castes; for these subsections of society Christianity presented an attractive alternate life style. More recently another critic of the Caste system had an enormous impact on Indian society, indeed on the world. Mahatma Ghandi, who was a Vaisya, campaigned against the unjust social and economic aspects of the caste system, and did much work to improve the status of the untouchables, which he called "the children of God" or Harijans (a term much resented by the untouchables who preferred the term Dalits.) The caste system is a highly controversial aspect of Hinduism, originating from Vedic times and lasting to the present day. It affects every aspect of Indian society, from marriages to government. It is has been heavily criticised since its creation, and constantly reformed. Indeed in the Bhagavad-Gita Lord Krishna invented the concept of Dharma, which offered reassurance to low caste Hindus for a chance for salvation. Albeit the caste system's origins may have been secular, it has become so embodied with the religion of Hinduism that to criticise the caste system is to criticise Hinduism. Thus it remains the foundation of modern Indian society. Has the caste system outlived its relevance to modern life? From a western perspective it has, westerners see it as inequitable and morally wrong. But in order to understand the true flaws of the caste system it is necessary to view the caste system from a Hindu perspective, only then can a scholar see if the caste system should still exist and the importance it has to Hindu life. ...read more.

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