The Four Tiers of the Indian Caste System

The caste system in India is divided into four tiers. In this article, Sadhguru explains why this system was created
The Four Tiers of the Indian Caste System

The caste system in India seems unfair and uncalled for – why divide people based on profession or birth? But was it always so? And is abolishing the caste system the answer to solving the problems associated with it today.

Sadhguru: The Indian caste system can be understood this way. There are four basic castes in what is called Varnashrama Dharma. One is the Shudras, who do menial jobs; Vaishyas, who trade and do business; Kshatriyas, who protect and administer the community or the country; and the Brahmana, who handles the education and the spiritual process of that society.

The four tiers of the Indian caste system

This classification into four tiers of social structure can be understood in different contexts. One way of looking at it is, those who did not take responsibility for their own lives or those who did not take responsibility with the situations in which they lived in, such people were termed as Shudras; he is taking responsibility only for his survival, nothing more. The Vaishya is somebody who takes responsibility for himself, his family and his community. So trading was given to him. Today, the whole system, the whole business atmosphere is very different, but in those times the trader is somebody who stored up grains and all the necessary things that people would need. When there was a scarcity, he gave it out to the community. So in every community there were Vaishyas who took care of this aspect of life – they stored commodities and gave it out when it was needed. These are people who took responsibility for their family and to some extent the smaller community around them. Kshatriyas were people who took responsibility for the whole community or the country. They were the people who bore arms to defend their nation and community and were willing to die to protect the people. They were given administration, and the military apparatus were in their hands.

The brahmins were given education. Spiritual processes and religion were in his hands because the word ‘brahmin’ itself comes from this, that it is somebody who has realized that he is the Brahman or the ‘Divine.’ So a brahmin comes from an ultimate sense of responsibility, an unlimited sense of responsibility. Only a person who has an unlimited sense of responsibility should handle education and religion because they were considered as the most vital aspects of any society.

Difference vs Discrimination

So accordingly, the caste system was made in India. It was a good arrangement for those days. It is just that over a period of time, you became a brahmin by birth not by worth; that is when the trouble started. That is so with every system. Whatever system we create, we must constantly work to keep it clean and make it happen well otherwise every system, no matter how beautiful the system is to start with, can become a source of exploitation.

It is just that over a period of time, you became a brahmin by birth not by worth; that is when the trouble started

Over a period of time, human societies have tried to make every difference into a discrimination. Differences are fine. The world is bound to be different and it is nice that it is different, but we try to make every difference into a discrimination, whether it is race, religion or gender. So when we lost our senses and started making everything discriminatory, the Indian caste system became an ugly system. What was once a very relevant way to develop skills in a society has unfortunately became discriminatory and negative, not productive. When there were no IITs or ITIs, when there were no training centers, your family was the only way to train, isn't it? So it was very important to maintain a blacksmith culture, a goldsmith culture or a cobbler culture; otherwise there would be no skills.

The Indian caste system: Modes of training

This whole caste system in India came when there were no formal training centers for any particular profession. Suppose your father was a blacksmith, so at the age of 6, the moment you were ready, you started playing around with the hammer and anvil. By the time you were 8, your father saw that you anyway wanted to hit it, so it was better to hit it with some purpose. By the time you were 12, you were on the job. By the time you were 18 or 20, you had some craft and expertise on your hand to make your own living.

This whole caste system in India came when there were no formal training centers for any particular profession

So if your father was a blacksmith, you became a blacksmith; if your father was a goldsmith, you became a goldsmith. Each profession developed its own training centers within the family structure because that was the only training center; all the craft, professionalism and skills in the society could only evolve like this. If you are a blacksmith, you do not try to go and do a goldsmith's job, you just do a blacksmith's job because we need a blacksmith in the society. When people multiplied and became a thousand blacksmiths, naturally they had their own way of eating, their own way of marriage and their own way of doing things, so they formed a caste. There is really nothing wrong with it if you look at it on one level. It was just a certain arrangement of convenience for the society. Between a blacksmith and a goldsmith, the kind of hammer they use, how they work, how they look, what and how they eat, everything was naturally distinctly different because the type of work was very different.

It is over a period of time that it became a means for exploitation. We started saying that a man who runs the temple is better than a man who runs the school. A man who runs the school is better than a man who runs the blacksmith shop. These are differences, everybody has to do something. But we established differences as discriminations over a period of time. If we had just maintained the difference, we would have been a nice, colorful culture; but we made it discriminatory.

The many kinds of caste systems

That is not going to change just by stripping off the old caste system – it will just establish itself in a thousand other ways

Human beings make every difference discriminatory simply because every human being is longing to be a little more than what he is right now. One unfortunate way he has found is to put down the person next to him. His longing is actually to feel more, but he does not know how to enhance himself, so the best thing is to depreciate somebody else. It is a very rudimentary mind, but we have worked like that for a long time and we are continuing to work like that. It is time to change it, but that is not going to change just by stripping off the old caste system – it will just establish itself in a thousand other ways. For example do you think there is no caste system in New York City? There is a different kind of caste system based on education, or economic capabilities; all these things create their own kind of discriminatory groups. So it is not going to change unless we revolutionize the human mind.

If there is no sense of inclusiveness in individual human beings there is no way that the systems they create or actions they perform will lead to inclusiveness. If individuals do not experience this inclusiveness, they end up creating very exclusive processes. One basic aspect of spiritual process is that it makes one into an all inclusive human being. At the same time it will hugely equip the individual to be more efficient, more capable, more balanced and in turn more productive.

Editor's Note: Sadhguru looks at the past, present and future of this nation, and explores why this culture matters to every human being on the planet. With images, graphics and Sadhguru’s inspiring words, here’s Bharat as you have never known it!

Bha-ra-ta: The Rhythm of a Nation

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6 years 9 months ago

I don't think we need historical evidence to understand this article. Because Sadhguru trying to make an understanding not a belief. His statements like "Indian caste system came when there were no formal training centers" and "The world is full of difference. we try to make every difference into a discrimination, whether it is race, religion or gender" explains a lot.

5 years 8 months ago

Wish you were right that we can purge. Idealists, socialists all want equality that can never happen. Neither in India nor in west. people in power, followed by educated, followed by skill (most of the IT labour inspite of temporary demand like blacksmith belong here) and followed by menial jobs. Yes the tools change, technology changes but the class remains. Yes the skills that are no more reqd or in demand will be purged. Nobody that is driven towards learning can be deprived - Ambedkar is a real pundit or valmiki or vyasa. Not all Brahmins are pandit neither all shudras can be labour if they don't intend to be.I personally saw leaders in my village who are yadav's when there was nothing called reservations or hatred .

7 years 3 months ago

Dr. Raghavendra Prasad, you are right, and thats what even Sadhguru concludes. You said that the correction which is required is the
assertion that “We belong to one caste – the caste of humanity”. And this has to be systemic change, which is initiated by reformers. Sadhguru says that an individual should tranform into an all-inclusive human being, in other words one caste, or even no caste. Obviously all indiviudals wont attain the transformation at the same time, some at the begining, who will influence the system, and end up reforming the whole.

6 years 5 months ago

A very good article by Sadhguru but I believe many Indians lack the maturity to accept his perception about caste. Critics will usually try to demonise such explanation due to their own inferiority complex.

7 years 3 months ago

Completely agree on this. Today the so called politicians who are opposed to caste system don't allow others to become leaders or ministers from their party. They only allow their children and grand children to become leaders and ministers. So in a way they are saying that the profession of politics belongs to their family and not any outsiders. Unfortunately the so called rationalists and normal people fail to perceive this.
Every political party in India belongs to a dynasty. The dynasty is the modern day equivalent of caste.

5 years 8 months ago

Just to refresh you - we are basically a veg society and even the meat eaters had days when they can and could not - a philosophy of coexistence was nurtured and not forced. while africa, europe and American continents were experiencing slavery - India almost never had it in the same British empire that it was practiced. Most ills including disrespect to caste was a consequence of Zamindari rule.

7 years 3 months ago

Caste is the tribe or the group of people pertaining to one particular profession, culture, following and ancient tribe itself. gotras is something like the family name in the west. it is to prevent inter gene breeding or same family marriage.

6 years 2 months ago

The explanation seems very logical. How does it matter whether we have evidence or not? Would you trust the evidence of someone comes up with it? Your next question would be "how do we know if the evidence is right or not"?

7 years 3 months ago

Where is the historical evidence for this argument ?

5 years 6 months ago

I think the genetic analysis also suggests that over a period of thousands of years different tribes took shape of different castes also as they had different skills unique to the particular tribe. Social needs led to formation of permanent village settlements where there was one dominant caste but one/two families of other castes also settled to cater to different needs e.g. potters, barbers, carpenters, iron-smiths, goldsmiths/silversmiths, cobblers, scavengers,traders etc.

7 years 3 months ago

Everybody understands everything! Therefore newage system should be based on aptitude and interest.
So we have new kind campusus-College of Carpentery, College of Sanitation, University of Masonry and Townbuilding, Indian Institute of Caretaker and Geriatric Nursing.................etc.

6 years ago

koto koti pranam/ gratitude for your Valuable insight.

7 years 3 months ago

Your posting only helps people to understand how it all started and then perverted into something that is not originally intended. I agree with most of it except the conclusion that only solution is change of human mind. You and I know that the human mind remained the way it was in spite of attempts by many to change. Most often it is the systems that make them behave in certain way. Most often systemic corrections make quantum changes in the human behavior and thinking. You and I agree on how it started and how it was useful in yesterday society. I also agree that it is dividing the society. I do not subscribe to the idea to leave it alone. Today's society can move forward without the intervention of caste system since very few are strictly following parent’s occupation.

Yesterday's food becomes today's feces. The food that was useful and nourished us yesterday is the poison (waste) of today that need to be purged. You don't cling to that waste by saying it was useful yesterday. The caste system of yesterday that harmonized rural agro society has become a black stain on the face of Hinduism by dividing people and became a vehicle of political exploitation as vote banks.

All cultural practices change over and refined over time to satisfy the changing
needs. Examples of this kind of change over time are child and widow marriages,
combined families, women chanting Gayatri and Vedas and the like. Abolishment
of Slavery, women’s voting rights in USA is examples of change. While change of
mind is desirable in the society, unfortunately people mostly remain the same
no matter what. It is the systems that need to change with times. It is the
systemic change that brings quantum change in behavior.

I would agree that any change is not easy. Sustained effort by the committed reformers has done the job in the past and will do it now. May be it will be faster because of internet and other new modes of communication available. Whatever causes the problems, whatever divides and whatever poisons the minds has to purge in a dynamic progressive society. Purification is an ongoing process.

We take shower every day to cleanse our body. We sleep 8 hours a day to cleanse our mind, we use toilet to cleanse our bowels and bladder daily, and we change engine oil in car every 5000 miles. We sweep the floors and cleanse the dishes in our homes daily. We do spring cleaning around the house and remove, discard broken trees and garbage every year.

Similarly our institutions, religions need to be cleansed periodically. This is usually done by reformers or social activists or concerned citizens. A reformer points to the problem and helps us accept that there is a problem that needs addressing and purging. It is for each one of us to accept that need to change and bring the needed change. This process is a must for any progressive organization or religion. Religions that are static and refuse to change for better decay and die. The ones that accept the problems adapt and change with changing needs for the
better, flourish and live forever. Then we will all be witnesses to the
unfolding of a change towards the truth and greater good.

How do we decide what needs to be changed and what needs to be purged is the question? Anything that is causing disruption of harmony and unity in an orderly society, dividing the society and causing problems needs to be addressed and purged.

The caste system by birth worked well in yester years of agro based rural India for a long time. However it is causing more harm now by dividing India and destroying unity of its population. It is depriving a sect of population access to knowledge of the scriptures, by saying that Sudras are not permitted to chant Vedas and Gayatri, preventing their entry into temples, forbidding them drinking water from the same wells, not permitting them living next to us. This practice is against the
very tenets of our great religion, Hinduism. Hence, it is our responsibility as
Hindus to cleanse the body of Hinduism from the divisiveness of caste in our
society. This I believe can be achieved through acceptance of the problem of
caste and make systemic corrections related to caste. That correction is the
assertion that “We belong to one caste – the caste of humanity”. This assertion
and systemic changes in affirmative action will usher in a quantum change. This purging of caste from the face of Hinduism will bring Hinduism to its well deserved place as universal religion.

5 years 4 months ago

Namaskaram Sadhguru could you please throw some light on " Divide and Rule Policy "?

7 years 3 months ago

Naming ceremony, marriage and death funeral play important role to continue caste system.

Both two ends' programs are not in hands of a human being who born but the marriage. One can seriously decide not to accept caste marriage. Nowadays marriage system is on ventilator day by day. Caste system will also crack.

6 years ago

Love is all that is required. All arguments & discussions fail to reach the unlimited. Only Love does. Open your heart & see Krishna. Love him like the gopis. :)

7 years 3 months ago

This helps in Understanding Caste System in Totality.

5 years ago

You can not decide what will people do..people do things because of their choices or their one on this earth likes to do cleaning roads, can not forcefully make a person to do what he/she really dont want to do..everyone has equal sense system..if they do some work than it is their personal matter..and you can not tell a person that he or she cant do this untill he or she is not doing something illegal or unfair.

7 years 3 months ago

Is time to star your won Dynasty and show them how to be a good leader. Don't you think is time to do something different ..look how many kids and women are being rape!!

6 years ago

This Varnasdharma is nowhere to be found in Saivism, it only came much later in Vedanta...

7 years 3 months ago


4 years 11 months ago

That was the point made exactly by Dr. Prasad I believe. Why does Sadhguru stop short of saying that we need this to be reformed? It might not be his mission, but if thinkers like him suggest that we should abolish this system, things can start changing for the better.

7 years 3 months ago

Is in your face!! sorry, but think about it.....

6 years ago

Cast is not by birth but it is by practice among the four broader segments like Brahmin, Kshathriya, Vaisya and Sudra. The division among human or any creature in this world is inseparable in the system of nature and humans are the elevated animals and hence they will surely follow the system of difference. we can only avoid discrimination and not the differences.

7 years 3 months ago

I totally agree with you Dr. Raghavendra Prasad. The way have presented the thoughts is awesome. I read this article and it refreshed my mind .
Thanks for sharing your words with us.

4 years 11 months ago

Which goal is easier to achieve? Reintroducing the caste system in its original form and expecting transformed people all over the country who understand its essence? or abolish caste system and advocate that the government provide professional education, which it does now to a significant extent?

7 years 3 months ago

Beautifully depicted Dr Prasad, you rightly mentioned cleansing is required. How on this earth someone can write either in the scripture or religion " ill treat fellow human being just because he belongs to a lower caste" This is man made to suit their interests. Our religious leaders need to speak loud and clear. I wonder why they are quiet ?

6 years ago

perfect. I keep saying this often. That the problem is not with classifying which is basic intelligence but with gradation based on our convenience. and Indians are experts in this. as soon as a new field comes the first thing we do is to grade people to feel superior. this is especially done by parents due to comparitive nature of family status. like my son does a better job than yours. e.g., even in a new field like IT we have already created caste/status based on jobs. like directors/VP on top, then managers then software developers, then testers, then tech support, then hardware and sysadmins, BPO, call centre, then electrical and facilities, then admin, then security etc. this is very evident in every company today.
Mind you this level of discrimination is not there in the west, where an electricial and or an engineer or a civil worker or a painter all get more or less same pay and same status in society irrespective of physical or mental work done and thus they excel in engineering and finesse and attention to detail and thus countries like germany have a name for engineering , while in India everyone wants to be a manager and no one wants to lift the tool or do the engineering. hence produce poor quality and finally we got a name only for slave suppliers and managers which we imagine to be IT jobs while in reality its just body shopping and body suppliers.

7 years 3 months ago

Difference between Caste and Gotras?

4 years 7 months ago

Castism wasn't bad.. It became worse due to bad rulers.. Otherwise in Castism.. There is nothing worse
Har jaati ka har banda koi bhi kaam kar sakta tha.. This is in veda..rajput ka ladka singing, puja,social service bhi, chamaar ka soldier, singing bhi.. But there were some rules to do all this at some extent... Hum bol to dete hain bekar h castism.. Sc st ki wajah s.. Can anyone tell aj k time mey kinki halat kharab h.. All swaran jaatiyo ki.. Coz hum log khud capable h job, padhne k.. We are not handicapped, we don't need any quota... Train rukwa rukwa k, humare baski ne h.. We are general and will be general.. Mostly foreign country or badi jagho pr brahman,rajput, baniya he kaam karte hain.. Without quota

7 years 2 months ago

One question, We had universities which were teaching peoples from around the world, so saying that there were no training facilities is wrong and thus entire logic fails.

6 years ago

One which was started in a community with good motive of division of labour began changing with next generations of people who accumulated wealth, power so much that they took administration in their hands. Poor went on becoming poor and the rich became super rich. With huge financial crisis and famines and loans and huge family to feed on, they become bonded and enslaved for generations.

7 years 3 months ago

Good question! But I dont think there can be evidence for many things Sadhguru says. He does so based on his own perception of things. So I guess we either believe, if we find the argument reasonable and logical..Else dont believe. Either way, it doesnt matter whether we believe it or not...

4 years 6 months ago

How is it that the Shudra is responsible 'only for himself' while the Vaishya is responsible for the 'whole family and community' and the Kshatriya for the country and the Brahmin for the whole whatever? The Shudra is doing the so-called 'menial' job to sustain his family, isn't he? Who is looking after the Shudra's wife and children as he does the menial job? Is it the Vaishya, Kshatriya or Brahmana? Of course, it is the Shudra himself who is responsible for feeding his family! Again, the guru says the Vaishya stores grains and other necessities that are distributed during time of need and so he is supposed to be 'responsible' for the community. Vaishya is a merchant who sells commodities - does business - and makes profits for himself. Whereas it is the Shudra does the real work of tilling the soil, sowing seeds, harvesting, carrying the produce to the storehouses etc - for which he is paid only the slave's wages while he does the work for the whole community and is responsible for its sustenance in a selfless manner (as he is paid little or none for the quantum of work he is doing). Is the Vaishya the one whose main job is to store things so that they could be released during times of need? Who actually does the physical work of reaping the harvest, processing it, taking it to the granaries? Of course, it is the Shudra This is the real, 'menial' work involved and it is the Shudra who does it. What does the Vaishya do? He supervises, manages and directs the Shudras to do the work of storing. But what the Vaishya does is to manage the sale of the grains and doing business. Of course, his aim is the profit from his business and not the storing of grains for everybody's use in times of need. Therefore who does the more responsible and selfless work? Is it the Vaishya or the Shudra? What the Vaishya does is to rule the Shudras. What does the Kshatriyas do? He rules the Vaishyas with the police and military under his control, collects taxes from the Vaishyas. And what does the Brahmana do? Brahmana is the ultimate conman. He makes a fool of the Kshatriyas and Vaishyas by professing knowledge that isn't there. He professes knowledge of God's intentions and therefore advises on the uncertainties of life - about what's going to happen, about disease, death, the outcome of wars in future and what all should be done to avert dangers and catastrophes. All the knowledge involved in building, architecture, masonry, carpentry, metal work, agriculture are with the Shudras who does these 'menial jobs'. Yet the Brahmin is supposed to be in charge of education and knowledge. What education is this? Astrology, communion with the spirit, with the various Gods etc. The Brahmin has no real skill, no knowledge of any economically productive craft, but knows only to mediate between the everyone and God. And this is why he is the master con-man - knowing nothing, but pretending to be in charge of all knowledge.

Therefore the long and short of it is that - in ancient Hindu society, it was only the Shudra who did the selfless work and was responsible for the sustenance of the community and the country. The Vaishya exploited the Shudras and made money. The Kshatriya exploited the Vaishyas and Shudras and accumulated wealth and power. The Brahmanas conned all the three other castes and made his livelihood secure. He had the supreme power without any real knowledge or skills

7 years 2 months ago

Dear Dr Raghavendra,

I would disagree with part of what you have written, vis a vis Sadhguru's article. Sadhguru has certainly explained, how it all began and how it did metamorphosed into something really ugly, but why he did not administer the removal is because the initial purpose was the scientific division of labor to target and develop important skills, which are not otherwise developed in our educational institutes, but certainly are important skills for the society.

Sadhguru's idea is to retain the same in its initial form, to develop the skills, where ever it can (certainly doesn't mean, everyone has to chose parental skills, but it was generally done in the past), however not to let it create the ugly divide and blame Hinduism and let the rabble rouses, pick the debate and denigrate it to a real cheap level.

Most of the instances that you have provided like Women voting rights or Women chanting vedas, were specific or targeted social evils, which never ever created in first place to have any positive impact, they were meant to discriminate from day one, so cannot be compared with caste system.

Options could be, that either we create professional schools to completely dismantle caste systems, but in a country where even elementary education is a dream this is far fetched or I would agree that in its current form, this should certainly be switched off and reintroduced in its initial form when people start behaving like human beings, that they are ought to be.



5 years 11 months ago

A very interesting post on the caste system. Thank you for sharing! We are quick to judge the system as it currently is, but perhaps we should instead look at its evolution and learn not to make the same mistakes with other systems which are in place - and perhaps even cast a critical look at these systems and see if they are still useful, or just a perverted relic from the past...

7 years 3 months ago

This article is really informative and interesting at the same time. Thank you for posting this.

3 years 1 month ago

Valmiki (born non brahmin become brahmin), Parasuran (born in brahmin family become kshatriya)... there are many more such examples.

6 years 9 months ago

The best explanation on the evolution of the caste system and its degeneration into an exploitative set up in the long run. Caste is fundamental all over the world and all are equal in the sense of the karma yoga they perform in society be it a king in a palace or the street sweeper. Lord Jesus was a carpenter. Surnames like Smith, Gold smith, Baker etc are common in Britain which may point to their ancestral callings.However, all the evil that has happened in the past must be condemned in no uncertain terms. The basic divinity that resides in every human soul does not belong to any particular caste and we must learn to recognize and worship that.

5 years 10 months ago

Is a farmer is Shutra ?

7 years 3 months ago

As usual very perceptive article from Sadhguru especially the piece that in our quest to have a larger slice of life people tend to pull the other person down. This is the bane that confronts us today. Also as Sadhguru says there are subtler forms of discrimination being practiced now. Modern education may be one such ploy. Transformative spirituality that Sadhguru is one way of getting out of this