Eastern Spirituality

Glossary Contents: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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Varna is a Sanskrit word which means colour or class. It may also mean race. Ancient Hindu literature classified all humankind, and all created beings, in principle into four varnas:

  • the Brahmins: priests, teachers and preachers.
  • the Kshatriyas: kings, governors, warriors and soldiers.
  • the Vaishyas: cattle herders, agriculturists, artisans and merchants.
  • the Shudras: labourers and service providers.

This quadruple division is an ancient stratification of society is not to be confused with the much more nuanced jati or "caste". The term "caste" is derived from the Greek word custus, meaning "race" in Greek.

The varna system is discussed in Hindu texts, and understood as idealised human callings. The concept of Varna is generally traced to the Purusha Sukta verse of the Rig Veda, however modern scholarship believes that this verse was inserted at a later date, possibly to create a charter myth.

The commentary on the Varna system in the Manusmriti is oft-cited. Counter to these textual classifications, many Hindu texts and doctrines question and disagree with the Varna system of social classification.

Glossary Contents: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z