Brahmans Within the Caste System

by

 Andrea Pintane 

 

The caste system in India is viewed as a "closed system." Only new members are brought into the new caste by birth. Most groups are seen from the inside, as others cannot be a part and see the dynamics of it. Each caste group usually has two types of social groups inside of it. One, which forms incestuous, with nonmarriageable kinship group of relatives of both sides, and the other which is composed of individuals whom can marry each other (Khare 13).

It is known in India, that leadership positions in society are monopolized by a few dominant castes. The Brahmans or Brahmins (there are variations of the spelling) are the dominating, high caste in India. However there are varying "degrees" of Brahmans. Kanya-Kubja, Tamil, Tanjore, and and others of numerous villages are names of Brahmans. Separation of these Brahmans from others is one of several indications of social status. Picture Here Possession of material goods, social power or influence, and social skills, classify grouping (Khare 115). In modern India economic competition and education are predominate. Khare states, "among the Kanya-Kubja Brahmans the most significant indicator of class is their modern occupational status" (67).

  A typical village is divided among individuals within the caste. For example it is first divided into Brahmins, Non-Brahmins, and AdiBrahmins. Second, into landowners, and agricultural laborers. Third, is into the lower hierarchy of the blacksmiths and into the lowest caste of the untouchables (Beteille 58). Thus, Brahmins were the landowners as well as the social elite. In today's time there are several Brahmins who do not own land and a small and increasing number of Non-Brahmins who do. The distribution of power has shifted from the Brahmins to the Non-Brahmins. As Beteille states, "this means that class and power positions are no longer tied to caste in the same way as they were in the past" (59). There is much evidence to show that Brahmins held material power at every level, at every period of Indian history. In most areas there are Brahmin dynasties, holding the dominate caste ideal.

Rules of Eating

Rules are guided by and determined by the Brahmin caste. For example, "one can rank the high castes in order on the basis of whether the Brahmin will accept water, fried food, or boiled food from them; and one can rank the low castes in descending order on the basis of whether their contact pollutes water" (Dumont 80). It's as though the Brahmins set the dietary eating habits for others. A Brahmin eats alone or in a small "pure" square. He must bathe, and his torso is bare. Usually an image of a deity is brought to the kitchen for offerings before eating can be started. If a Brahmin sees an impure woman, child, or person of a lower caste, food is then considered not edible (139). "Food, accordingly, continues to be the mainstay of daily orthodoxy and rituals" (Khare 103).

 

Brahmins cannot eat:

Onions

Garlic

Tomatoes (are thought to be the seeds of a living element)

 

Marriage

  Marriage is considered to be the most important occasion for an elaborate array of the rules. It is also the most crucial achievement for having one's traditional position (Khare 104). The most stringent rules apply to marriage, but this aspect has slowly changed. There are marriages that are not strictly within a certain caste, but rather marriages out of one's caste. "The limits within which intermarriage, commensality and coresidence were formerly confined, have been extended, although they have not by any means disappeared" (Beteille 231). That is to say it is now common to marry into one's sub-caste, given the castes do not distant in traditions.

"A male could legally take any number of wives, but monogamy was the rule for women" (Beteille 30). The marriage of widows was unknown Picture to the first three tiers of Pg 105 the caste, but it is common among the lower castes. A woman is never recognized as having any independence because her father protects her in childhood and her husband protects her in marriage. Hinduism considers a son necessary for the spiritual well being of the family. "The son is light in the highest heaven" (Beteille 30). The adoption of a son is well recognized by Hinduism, for order and rule within the family.

 

Purity

  "The distribution between pure and impure does not account for all the distinctions or segmentation of caste" (Dumont 45). The separation of the caste system is shown by the impurity of the Untouchables. The Untouchables may not use the same wells as the others, access of Hindu temples was forbidden until the Ghandi reform, and many other numerous disabilities (Dumont 47). In present time the Untouchability act has been established, but it cannot transform overnight. Other means of impurity are, hygiene, death, and the menstrual cycle. The Brahmins do not bury their own dead; instead persons of a lower caste do the work. In India the washerman takes care of bedding soiled by the events of birth and menstruation. In this case the washerman is a specialist in impurity. The only way to cleanse one's brush with impurity is to take a bath (48).

 

Education

In 1962, education beyond the fifth grade level was entirely for the high to middle caste males. "The Brahmans alone, who comprised less than 10 percent of the village's population, accounted for one third of the student population" (Freeman 143). Between the 1950's and 1960's there was a rise in the educational knowledge of villages. Education is viewed as a long-term investment for a high paying job within the government system. In the 1960's and 1970's women of high castes were permitted to complete the fifth grade, until pressure from civil servants who wanted more highly educated wives forced reluctant parents to allow their daughters to continue in school (Freeman 149).

 

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