Caste in India

1.    Great Tradition and Little Tradition

a.    “Great” tradition(s) -- wide spread, draws on Sanskrit texts, more uniformity

                                     i.     Based on authority of Brahamanical, sanskritic texts

b.    “Little” traditions -- popular Hinduism, vernacular (Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Hindi)

                                     i.     Diversity, regional differences

c.    How are the two related?

Varnadharma / Jatidharma


2.    Dharmashastras - “treatises on dharma”

a.    Manavadharmashastra: The laws of Manu (200 BCE - 100 CE)

b.    Two principle ideals: social life should be organized into well-regulated classes; individual life should have definite stages: varna, ashrama, dharma

c.    Svadharma: the story of Ekalavya

3.    Jati (“genus” or “birth”)

a.    Over 2000 jatis

b.    Distinctive customs, dress, diet – jati is thought to inhere in one’s nature

c.    Pollution and purity: how and how not to mingle

                                     i.     Jati ranking, occupation

                                    ii.     Receiving pollution from bodily excretions (menstrual blood); Kinship (shared pollution); other castes (proximity, food, water, touch, intermarriage, intercourse)

                                  iii.     How to remove pollution: bathing, drinking pure substances

                                  iv.     Purity as basis for contact with gods

d.    Pranam: polluted for you, purifying for me

e.    Jati is not only hierarchical


Ashramadharma/ Samskaras


4.    4 Ashramas (caturashrama):

a.    Brahmacaryastudenthood.

b.    Grhastya – householder.

c.    Vanaprasthya – life in the forest.

d.    Sanyasa – renunciation.

5.    Samskaras (life cycle rites) and issues of purity

a.    Birth and Early Childhood

b.    Annaprasana (first food): fuller entry into real of purity and impurity

c.    Mundan (cudakarma): haircutting

d.    Death

                                     i.     Intense pollution to close agnates: cut off from normal interactions outside house and with deities; heads shaved

                                    ii.     Danger to others: bhut-pret.  Remain ghost until transformed into ancestral spirit (pitri).  Untimely deaths.



1.    “Great” and “Little” traditions

2.    varna

3.    jati

4.    ashramadharma (the four ashramas)

5.    Samskaras