Social Scientist. v 19, no. 214-15 (Mar-April 1991) p. 41.


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SUVIRA JAISWAL*

Varna Ideology and Social Change^

The traditional view of the varnas is that they are of divine origin, fixed and universal. The varna stratification pervades the entire universe1 and is related to the three basic qualities of nature, satya (goodness or purity), rajas (passion) and tamos (darkness or ignorance). These qualities are inherent and inborn in every object or being. Hence, in its conception varna stratification is both functional and hierarchical. Occupations have to be hereditary as function and aptitude are determined by birth and these stand in a hierarchical relation sanctified by religion. Any transgression is sinful as it means a reversal of the natural order, which is to be maintained by distancing the varnas from each other through the practice of endogamy. Thu^ as far as the ideology of varna is concerned, social change affecting the functions or position of a varna is an aberration, a straying away from the normal, causing the confusion of the varnas.

The question arises as to what was the process leading to the formation of this ideology, what was its relationship to empirical reality and how was it related to social change. It also, involves the problem of the intemalization of this ideology by those who stood at the lower rungs of the varna ladder.

As to the beginnings of this ideology, theories which trace it to the peculiar genius of the Indo-Europeans or of pre-historic or proto-historic non-Aryans are highly speculative, based on a subjective and not rarely mistaken interpretation of data.2 This is not the place to examine such theories in detail but mention may be made of two, namely, the views of Georges Dumezil and those of D.D. Kosambi as both have made a deep impression on Indologists and historians.

Dumezil argued3 that the tripartite social order of priests, warriors and commoners was characteristic of the Indo-Europeans, who had a predilection towards a three-fold categorization. This typified their

* Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

** Paper presented at the symposium on 'Ideology and Social Change* at the 51st session of the Indian History Congree, 29 December 1990.

Social Scientist, Vol. 19, Nos. 3-4, March-April 1991



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