Which Caste Is The Highest In India?

By Antonia Čirjak on February 11 2020 in Society

Tamil brahmin couple on their wedding day
  • The Indian caste system has been in existence since 2000 BC.
  • The Brahmins, who sit at the top of the caste system, are able to fill the most important possitions in the society, especially those connected to spiritual guidance.
  • Brahmins are strict vegetarians, and they also choose not to smoke or drink (something that is completely forbidden for women).

It might seem odd or even incomprehensible to a modern, 21st-century human that there are still countries in the world today that have specific social groups. We often forget (or choose to disregard) that the world still operates in those terms, albeit far more covertly then it used to be the case. The sad fact is, this sort of classification has existed for as long as there has been human life no matter how hard we try to push the chafing truth to the outskirts of our mind.  That might be the reason why many among us find the overt Indian caste system so fascinating. 

Indian Caste System - The Six Most Important Castes 

The system itself has been a part of Indian culture from the second millennium BC since the Sanskrit text mentions dichotomizing people into groups or Varnas. In those early days, four major groups emerged: the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas, and the Shudras. Consequently, this system grew and became far more intricate until it was finally called Chatuvarnya, which was augmented by the British Raj

Brahmin priests conduct the aarti evening prayer service.
Brahmin priests conduct the aarti evening prayer service. Credit: steve estvanik / Shutterstock.com

More than 5,000 castes exist in India today with even more sub-casts. The already mentioned four major castes expanded to include two more - the Adivasi and the Dalits. 

At the Very Top Sit the Brahmins 

The Brahmins are at the very top of Indian society. They are the highest caste in Hinduism, and they traditionally occupy the roles of teachers and priests, they were (and are), in a manner of speaking, sentinels of the ancient sacred knowledge. The Brahmins’ role was and still is spiritual guidance as well as undertaking the rites during deaths, marriages, and births as well as other important occasions. 

However, in practice, many Brahmins also take up other occupations such as typically white-collar jobs or various positions in government and law. Some Brahmins opt to become farmers (80 percent of Brahmins in the state of Uttar Pradesh), artisans and go into trade, work as bankers, or even cooks. Brahmins can opt to do any job they like, but only the member of the Brahmin cast can ever occupy the position of a priest

Politicians And Vegetarians

The Brahmins have always played an important part when it comes to the political scene in India, with many of them becoming cabinet Ministers, MPs, Chief Ministers, and Members of State Legislative Assemblies. After all, Nehru, the first and longest-ruling Indian Prime Minister, was a Brahmin. 

Unidentified Brahmin Student taking religious education in the traditional Brahmin school at Varadaraja Perumal Temple.
Unidentified Brahmin Student taking religious education in the traditional Brahmin school at Varadaraja Perumal Temple. Credit: CRS PHOTO / Shutterstock.com.

Another interesting factoid about Brahmins is that they adhere to a strict vegetarian diet with men often choosing to forgo smoking and alcohol (which is absolutely prohibited to women). They also follow a rather harsh religious daily routine. As expected, members of the Brahmin caste are highly literate as opposed to other Indian castes.

The Brahmin are Hindu (though some have converted to Christianity in the late 19th century), which means they worship more than one god. Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Kali, and Durga are some of the gods worshiped by the Brahmin people. According to the available data, Brahmins make up some 5 percent of the total Indian population. 

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