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G.S. GHURYE’S VIEW ON CASTE

Updated on November 5, 2016

He adopted indological approach and thus he primarily relied on scriptures. It was not so exclusively indological as he did supplement it with sociological approach at empirical levels. His source of indological approach is the orientalist view of Indian society. He developed his theory of origin of caste primarily on basis of idea of Herbert Risley.

Radical theory of Aryan invasion was used by orientalists to describe nature of Indian society in his works; he tries to explain origin of caste system and characteristics of caste system today.

Origin:

Ghurye tried to understand the origin and characteristic of Caste System on the basis of ancient text. In his book ‘Caste and Races in India,’ he presented his perspective regarding the Caste System.

According to him, Vedic period starts from Rig-Veda and ends at about 600 B-C. Actually Aryans migrated around 5000 B.C. from Caucasus region and inhabited areas of Iran and Afghanistan. They entered India around 2500 B.C. Aryan society and its people were divided into three categories. They can be more appropriately called classes rather than caste at that time.

In this period, neither the word Jati mentioned, nor was it used in the sense it is being used today. In the case of ‘Varna’ that it was mentioned but not used in today’s sense.

The three categories were Brahman / Kshatriya or Rajanya and Vysy. At that time, Brahman meant the poetry that was composed to propitiate forces of nature. Aryans worshipped forces of nature. This poetry was called Brahman.

Those who excelled in composing the poetry were called brahman. Those who were entrusted with responsibility governing and defending the realism were called Rajanya. Vysy were the commoners who excelled in none of the two.There were three classes because membership was not based on birth. Ghurye cities example from Rig-Vedic period where father was a Brahmin but his son belonged to a Kshatriya. So, it was an occupational division based on excellence.

Besides the above mentioned divisions, there was yet another division of society. The original inhabitants of this region who were conquered by the Aryans were called Dasas. It implied enslavement. Dasas were distinguished with Aryans in terms of skin colours.

Varna was used to mention colour of the skin. There were two kinds of Varna—Aryan Varna—Krishna Varna. So, men belonging to Krishna Varna are not supposed to marry with Aryan Varna women (Pratiloma). Initially Aryan Varna men also didn’t marry Krishna Varna women. But as Aryans were women deficient, they started marrying Krishna Varna women (Anuloma). Anuloma was prescribed but Pratiloma was proscribed. Generally Dasas belonged to Krishna Varna. Aryans were referred to as descendants of Manu and thus were called human. Dasas were referred to as inhuman as they were not descendants of Manu.

In 10th Mandal of Rig-Veda, there is Purusuktha which explains origin of universe. According to that Brahma destroyed himself to create universe. And thus from mouth came Brahman, arm-Kshatriya, thigh-Vysy and feet-Shudras. By this time the word Varna underwent change although Ghurye didn’t explain it. A shallow Indian colour emerged due to Anuloma, Varna now referred to class rather than skin colour. There emerged four folds divisions of society into four Varna’s. There developed Varna Ashram Dharma.

In scriptures also scope of flexibility was given. Prescriptions can be suitably be modified with time, place and individual qualities. This was not done by Ghurye.

Notion of Dwija developed in this Varna Vyavastha. Brahmin and Kshatriya became hereditary groups and Vysy came to be defined as Vysa. The local inhabitants were also now incorporated into Aryan societies who were called shudras. Shudras rendered menial services to other three castes. The top three Varna’s were distinguished from shudras in terms of notion of Dwija. Belief developed that everyone was a shudra at birth. They have to then undergo the upanayanam ceremony to became a Dwija. But Shudras never underwent this ceremony and this they became non-Dwijas.

He does agree that post Vedic literature also talks about Varna charkvai’s which mean people of mixed parentage. Towards the later part is mention of Arthya Vasyansim which nothing but Dalit Castes. They were the last to be incorporated into the Aryan society. So, rigid society existed in later Vedic period. There was further ossification of hierarchy and the development of harsh practices like untouchability developed. There were restrictions on physical touch and contact, strict rules of endogamy, hypergamy, became restricted. This continued till 19th century.

Criticism

- Occupational theory (Nesfield), Political Theory (Abbe Dubois), and Religious theory (Hocart and Senart) - do not agree with the Racial theory of the Caste System supported by Ghurye.

- M.N. Srinivas rejected the perspective of Ghurye by calling it a ‘Text View’ and questioned the validity of this research/perspective.

- Verrier Elwin and Haimendorf do not agree with the perspective of Ghurye that tribes belong to Hindu fold.

- Louis Dumont and others believes that caste is cultural particularistic phenomena which was not accepted by Ghurye.

Conclusion

Hence, it can be concluded that Ghurye’s perspective of Caste System is an Indological perspective which is a debatable and questioned perspective in sociology. The legitimacy of the source behind this perspective of G.S. Ghurye cannot be rejected but caste is very old institution which cannot be understood through a single perspective because of its complexity and hence perspective of Ghurye provides partial understanding of the Caste System.

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