The Phases of Life (Third and fourth)

Benedict Wong
Dr. Gowler
Religion 100Q – 01J
24 November 2015

The Phases of Life (Third and fourth)

Hinduism has been shown to have a progressive tension between sacrificial religion to obtain a fortunate rebirth, and renunciation to secure liberation from rebirth. The ideals of renunciation to secure liberation from rebirth has been growing in popularity. This is a result of the Brahmin orthodoxy, which can be seen in the pursuit of the four goals of life.

The four goals of life that are deemed worthy of pursuit are (1) Dharma, (2) artha, (3) Kama, (4) moksha. The four stages of life, mainly for the men of the household are (1) sisya, or brahmacarya, (2) Grihastha, (3) vanaprastha, and (4) samnyasa. These categories complement each other, and link with the samskara system, giving a framework for the lives of an orthodox Hindu.

Very briefly, the first phase of life is the Brahmacharya, or the celibate student. This is the phase of formal education, and it lasts until a man’s mid-twenties. During this period, the student is supposed to prepare for his future profession, family, and other social and religious obligations. The second phase of life is the Grihastha, or the married family man. This phase is when the man is supposed to get married and earn a living supporting his family. At this stage of life, Hinduism supports the pursuit of wealth (artha), and the indulgence in sexual pleasures (kama). The second phase of life is supposed to last until the male is about fifty years old, or, according to the Laws of Manu, when a ma’s skin wrinkles and his hair turns gray. At that point, the man should move to the third phase of life. However, many men have trouble moving on past the second phase as they do not want to change their lifestyle to one of asceticism.

Vanaprastha is the third phase of life and is known as the retired life phase, or as the forest hermit phase. This phase of life occurs around the retirement age of 48 to 72 years old. Another way to determine when the householder has entered the third phase of life is when his children have children of their own, as tradition recommends the man to enter into his period of retirement. The man is “expected to retire from family and social life, give up his work, wealth and possessions, and retreat to the forest as a forest hermit to live a more spiritual life.

This phase of life is also known as the forest hermit because vanaprastha splits into residence (prastha) in the forest (vana). It is at this point of the man’s life that he is encouraged to relinquish his possessions and wealth to his wife and children. He has to bequeath his possessions to them because they have greater material needs as they are going through their first and second phases of life. The man is entering the third phase of life then moves out and proceeds to live in a hut in the forest. In the forest, the man is supposed to read scriptural texts and learn from sagely renouncers.

Granted the man’s wife may follow the husband into the third phase of life and follow him into his hermit life. The life of the hermit is supposed to be a celibate one. However, the wife could engage in some social and conjugal relationships with her husband. The physical relationship with the wife would only be transitional as the male in the hermit phase is supposed to “down one’s preoccupations with kama and artha, in the ultimate pursuit of moksha. The third phase is a transitional phase in the householder’s life – the transition from materialistic pursuits to spiritual liberation. If the man’s wife were to follow him into his hermit life, she would ultimately be limited to menial daily tasks such as preparing meals. Also, though the man is supposed to be completely cut off from this family, he can still seek advice from family members if it is necessary.

It is not common for the modern Hindu to enter this stage of life. Most elderly Hindus will continue to live in their family homes with their children. There are, however, quite a few who retire to the hermitage (asrama) of a well-regarded religious teacher, or to relocate to a town with some religious renown. Banaras, a place once known as the Forest of Bliss, is still a popular retirement site, although it is mostly urban now. Further, the modern retired Hindu men and women may go on occasional pilgrimages to different religious sites. They may visit these different religious sites, taking up abode in asramas in places such as Tiruvannamalai, or Pondicheri, or Haridvar or Rishikesh, for weeks at a time.

The fourth phase of life is Sannyasin. This phase is also known as the wandering ascetic or renouncer phase. This phase is traditionally seen as the last part of a man or woman’s life. However, to the modern practicing Hindus, a young person can choose to skip the householder and retirement stage to renounce straight away worldly and materialistic desires. That young person can then dedicate the rest of their lives to spiritual pursuits, particularly moksha. The fourth phase of life is not one that is regularly practiced anymore.

Traditionally, the Samnyasins are expected to leave their family and loved ones and perform their death rites. They are supposed to burn their sacred threads, abandon the household fire, and wander the world in search for the final and highest goal: Liberation or moksha. A renouncer must ignore his consciousness and impulses of “I” and “my,” and must cut himself loose from the limitations of individuality.

The man that just renounced all of his possessions is expect to wear rag robes, “traditionally dyed in a saffron hue to conceal stains.” There are no formal requirements for the lifestyle or spiritual discipline on the methods of the renouncer. The lack of requirement has led to a wide variety of practices for those that do go through the last stage of life. However, there are some common themes. The only possessions that the renouncer is allowed to carry is a staff for support of their old age, and a bowl into which they have different householders donate food and give offerings. Also, renouncers are expected to be constantly on the move. They are nomadic ascetics because they need to avoid remaining too long in one site so as to not develop any attachments to particular places or to take the generosity or companionship of particular persons. For some, the path of renunciation is a form of severe asceticism

The behavioral state of a person attempting the fourth phase of life can be found in the Bhagavad Gita. For example, in hymn 5.3, “One who neither hates nor desires the fruits of his activities is known to be always renounced. Such a person, free from all dualities, easily overcomes material bondage and is completely liberated, O mighty-armed Arjuna.” The hymn is discussing the ultimate goal of liberation

Other characteristics of the person renouncing include non-violence, disarmament, chastity, non-desirous behaviors, poverty, self-restraint, truthfulness, kindness to all living beings, non-stealing, non-acceptance of gifts, non-possessiveness, and purity of speech and mind. These characteristics, however, are not exclusive to the fourth phase of life. They should be sought after throughout an individual’s entire lifetime.

The ultimate goal of the renouncer is to attain moksha or liberation. The definition of liberation, however, differs from traditions. For Yoga traditions, for example, liberation is experiencing the highest Samadhi, or deep awareness in this life. Being a renouncer is ultimately a means to decrease and ending ties of all kind. Granted some people see renouncers as people who abandon society and live a reclusive life. However, renouncers are rejecting the ritual mores of the social world and one’s attachment to materialistic desires. If the renouncer succeeds, the end is a liberated, free, and blissful existence.

Transitioning from the second phase of life to the third is an extremely challenging task. It is difficult to renounce all of one’s possessions and simply become a recluse, especially for the modern Hindus, after spending half a lifetime building one’s wealth. Further, leaving a family behind to pursue religious ambitions can be close to impossible if one is not fully committed to the religion. However, if one can successfully transition into the third phase of life, the transition into the fourth and final phase of life would be must smoother.

Further, transitioning from the third phase of life to the fourth is even more difficult. However, if the recluse is successful in that he can separate himself from all worldly possessions, he may find it easier coping with life as an ascetic. Also, if the renouncer can attain moksha or liberation, the benefits greatly outweigh the costs of living an ascetic life. After all, the final goal of having a liberated, free, and blissful existence is the reason people follow the religion in the first place.


Works cited:


  • Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions. 6th ed. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
  • Fowler, Jeaneane D. Hinduism: Beliefs and Practices. Brighton: Sussex Academic, 1997. Print.
  • Stevenson, Sinclair. The Rites of the Twice-born. New Delhi: Oriental Reprint; Exclusively Distributed by Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi, 1971. Print.
  • Rodrigues, Hillary. Introducing Hinduism. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2006. Print.
  • Morgan, Kenneth W. The Religion of the Hindus. New York: Ronald, 1953. Print.
  • “Bhagavad Gita 5.3.” The Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Ramanuja Madhva Shankara and Others Bhagavad Gita 53 Comments. N.p., 13 Sept. 2012. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.



Taseen Karim

Religion 100Q

Dr. Gowler

21st November 2015


            Hinduism is a religion to almost a billion people in this world. Majority of Hindus live in India and Nepal. It is the main religion of India and has been for thousands of years. The origin of the religion is thought to have started prior to 2000 B.C.E, which is when the Harappa Culture of the Indus Valley thrived. Today, Hinduism is generally known to be a polytheistic religion that unites the worship of many gods with a belief in a single divine reality (Molloy 78). A pivotal part of this great religion is puja, which is a form of worship that an individual addresses to the image of a deity or a pair of deities. This image or an icon of a Hindu deity is called a murti. Puja is a way of expressing love or devotion, which is “Bhakti” in Sanskrit – the ancient language of India and the Vedas – to a deity in some form and it has become the central religious practice of Hinduism (Flood 1996). Hinduism also emphasizes the importance of trying to find salvation through Bhakti Yoga, which is a method people utilize to show devotion.

The history of puja is elementary in the sense that there is not much information of its origin. There are no textual or archeological evidence that Aryans, people that lived in India during the Vedic period, worshiped gods in iconic forms. Scholars believe that puja became popular during the later puranic age of 300-750 C.E. (Cush, Robinson, and York 633). This period was known for theism and the popularity of temple building. Gradually, puja swapped places with vedic sacrifice yajna, which was the main ritual of the time. Unlike yajna, which had to be performed by priests and was meant to appease a deity, puja can be performed by anyone and it means to honor the deity. Puja soon became even more popular after the Bhagavadgita legitimized it as the core of Bhakti, loving devotion.

In contrast to animal sacrifice, puja is the offering of vegetarian food, flowers, and incense to a deity. While the offerings to a deity are usually the same, some deities accept other offerings as well, such as blood (Flood 208). Through puja, a devoted person seeks contact with the gods and he or she does so by offering gifts or prayers to the god. Apart from gods, Brahmans, teachers, virgins, children, cows and other animals, plants, books, the earth, a water jug, or stones can be the focus of a puja as well (Michaels 242).

Puja can be performed in one’s home or the temple. In homes, puja is usually performed before the icon of a deity placed in a separate or purest room of the house and the prayer is usually uttered by a layperson. The first thirteen years of my life were spent in Bangladesh, where the second biggest majority of people in the country were Hindus. Tenants on the ground floor of our building were Hindus. On my way to school every morning I passed by their window and I remember having all my senses aroused. I remember seeing and hearing the performing of the prayers in front of miniature deity statues. I also remember the strong but pleasant smell of incense and loud ringing of the bell from the puja. I have also seen the Hindu temples, or mandir, many times where the icons of deities – murtis – were much larger and a larger number of people perform the prayers together. If the puja is performed in the temple, the temple priest usually conducts it. During the puja in temple, the murti is also bathed and dressed. Next, varieties of foods are offered, along with the burning of incense, loud ringing of bells and banging of drums.

In temples, puja usually consists of a process of bathing the murti, during which various substances are rubbed on the deity’s body. Then the murti is dressed in sacred clothes, adorned with perfumes, and decorated with new jewels. The murti also often receives a dot of red turmeric on its forehead. Along with ringing bells, the deity is then offered boiled rice and fruits, which are later consumed by the priests. After the deity was served the meal, a curtain is drawn back and devotees are allowed to view or “darsan” the deity. Next is, “diparadhana,” of the puja, where the priest waves different camphor lamps in a circular motion before the murti. The puja is now almost complete, and might include loud drumming, pipes, and the blowing of conches at this time. A priest will then take a lamp, known as the arati lamp, to devotees who cup their hands over the flames and touch their eyes and faces, bringing the light and warmth of the deity to themselves (Flood 209). Finally, the devotees accept turmeric powder or white ash from the priest to mark their foreheads and the puja is over. Devotees will usually take away blessed food or “prasada,” which will be eaten later.

Puja tends to vary in rituals in different places. For example, in Minakhsi temple at Madurai, for important occasions a preparatory ritual precedes the puja and it ends with a fire ritual or “homa” (Flood 210). Another example is the famous Jagannath temple at Puri, which has devdasi dancers – temple’s prostitutes married to the deity – to perform sacred dances in front of the shrine. At the famous temple of Guruvayur on the Kerala coast, which attracts many thousands of pilgrims, five daily pujas are performed (Flood 210). They occur between dawn and sunset.

Many wonder, how a Hindu chooses to decide which deity shall be the object of his or her devotion. While there is no one simple answer to the question, some generalizations do exist. First of all, there are several kinds of deities. For most of these deities a devotee simply cannot decide. The decision is made by the circumstances of his or her birth. An example is the lineage deities, khula devam, often known as the “family deities,” which are worshipped by extended family and passed down from one generation to the next through the paternal line (Rinehart 104). Another example is the inheritance of the gama devam, the “village deity” (Rinehart 105). Devotion to other deities, such as the pan-Indian gods and goddesses Ganesha, Shiva, Murugan, Rama, Krishna, and Durga etc. are usually personal choice of the devotee (Rinehart 106).

Hindus also celebrate many festivals throughout the year. Some of these festivals are Mahasivaratri, Durga Puja, Sarasvati Puja, Ganesa Caturthi, Krsnajanmastami, and Ramanavmi. Most of these festivals include puja, darsana, and devotion shown toward the respective deity. But, some of these festivals are more prominent in certain areas than others. Puja for the goddesses Durga and Sarasvati are usually celebrated more and with particular fanfare and devotion in Bengal. On the other hand, birthday of the elephant-headed deity, Ganesa, is special to Hindus of Maharastra and Rajasthan region of India (Kumar 21). Having lived in Bangladesh, I have seen the importance of Durga Puja in the region. It is known to be one of the biggest holidays for Hindus in Bangladesh. For the celebration, the temples are decorated magnificently, murti’s are made larger and more alive than ever, and other glorious fanfares take place.

As previously mentioned, expressing bhakti, which means devotion, to a deity is what makes puja an integral part of Hinduism. Bhagavad-Gita, which is revered as one of the most important texts of Hinduism, recommends spiritual paths as well as quiet contemplation to achieve salvation. Yoga, which means union, is methods that can be used to live spiritually. Yoga allows people to perfect their union with the divine (Molloy 91). Out of the major forms of yoga, Bhakti Yoga is closely related to puja. It is known as the devotional yoga. During the early transitions of Hinduism, around 1300 C.E. the Sri Vaisnava community had split into sub-sects called the ‘northern culture’ or vatakalai and the ‘southern culture’ or tenkalai (Flood 137). While the vatakalai emphasized the Sanskrit scriptures and salvation through traditional bhakti-yoga, the tenkalai emphasized the Tamil scriptures and surrender to the lord by his grace.

According to Ramanuja, who was an early Hindu theologian, bhakti yoga entails both love and knowledge in a shape in which a person is completely submissive to god. This means that the self must take refuge or surrender at the feet of the deity. Ramanuja states that refuge provokes the deity’s saving grace and this grace opens the door to release, by illuminating the devotee’s heart (Olson 158). Bhakti yoga can involve various expressions of devotion. These devotions are mostly rituals performed in pujas, such as chants, songs, food offerings, and the anointing of the murtis. Bhakti yoga can extend also to acts of devotion shown toward one’s guru, parents, or spouse (Molloy 94).

The ultimate goal of a Hindu is to be released from the cycle of life, and achieve moksha – complete freedom (Molloy 92). By showing devotion one is a step closer to moksha, and that is why puja is such a fundamental part of a Hindu’s life. By performing or participating in puja, the person is able to worship and seek contact with the divine deity through its physical manifestations.



Works Cited

Cush, Denise, Catherine A. Robinson, and Michael York. Encyclopedia of Hinduism. London: Routledge, 2008. Print.

Flood, Gavin D. An Introduction to Hinduism. New York, NY: Cambridge UP, 1996. Print.

Kumar, P. Pratap. Contemporary Hinduism. Durham: Acumen Limited, 2013. Print.

Michaels, Axel, and Barbara Harshav. Hinduism: Past and Present. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2004. Print.

Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions: Tradition, Challenge, and Change. 6th ed. Boston: McGraw Hill Higher Education, 2008. Print.

Olson, Carl. The Many Colors of Hinduism: A Thematic-historical Introduction. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2007. Print.

Rinehart, Robin. Contemporary Hinduism: Ritual, Culture, and Practice. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2004. Print.

Hindu Weddings

Kaitlyn Richards

Religion 100Q

Dr. Gowler

24 November 2015

Just as the term “Hinduism” forms a Western blanket that covers and encompasses a variety of beliefs and practices that are different forms of the Sanatana Dharma, or eternal religion, the term “wedding” is a simplification of the week-long tradition of fulfilling the second stage of what the Vedas identified as the four stages of human life: grihasta ashrama, or householder (Molloy). While ages and specifics of rituals vary by region and, occasionally, village, the history that has led to some of the universal practices remain as the foundation for the vibrant, colorful ceremonies that occur today.

While evidence of pre-Aryan fertility rites suggest a cult of a mother goddess or matriarchal social structure, the lowering of the marrying age from fifteen to as young as five years old between the First Vedas (1500 BCE) and the conception of enforced law codes (Carmody) paired with the canonization of patriarchy by the Law of Manu in 2 BCE, reduced the women’s societal role to that of wife and mother (Molloy). Although women’s religious roles declined, their specific role remained of importance, as shaadi, or marriage, is the thirteenth of sixteen ceremonies in a Hindu’s life and a holy sacrament, or sansakara (Ravindra). Karma, the belief that everything that occurs is the consequence of past deeds and Dharma, or duty, fortifies the general belief that unhappy marriages, especially if attributed to the wife, are the result of bad actions they committed in a past life (Ravindra). Dharma fortifies the requirement to remain married regardless of hardships, as marriage is a part of one’s duty to one’s family is one of the most important facets of the religion (Ravindra). Family, in fact, is so important that the marriages are arranged, with varying requirements per region. While the marriages are typically intracaste, with intercaste marriages being more closely associated with “love marriage” (Hawley). In most areas, one cannot be wed to someone that is a part of her or her mother’s gotra, or patrilineal clan (Hawley), while in other areas, members of other clans are also ineligible, as are clans from which men of her own gotra have taken brides (Hawley). In most of Northern India, one should not marry someone from his or her own village, while in Central India, some marriages unite unrelated village “brothers” and “sisters” (Hawley).

Once a prospective bride or groom is found, both families are typically allowed to vet the family and prospective husband or wife before agreeing to the marriage. Some inspections are simple and fast, while others may be rigorous or extensive and the type may vary based on urban or rural location of the families involved. The practices of the inspection vary depending on area, as in the city finding and vetting a prospective bride or groom are typically combined, as ads are placed in newspapers, typically stressing beauty and education in a prospective bride, and education and earning capacity in a groom (Hawley). One public inspection performed in West Bengal included a test of the girl’s knowledge of reading, writing, sewing, and knitting, and her manner of laughing, worship, horoscope, cooking and appearance, as a girl with too dark complexion may be rejected (Hawley). Most urban brides are around the age of seventeen, as they usually wait until graduation from high school, and sometimes college, to get married. In rural areas, “child marriages” are a frequent reality, as the 1955 law that provides legal penalties for those responsible for the marriage of a girl under fifteen or a boy younger than 18 is widely ignored, as village marriages are not recorded with authorities (Hawley). Despite early marriage, most village marriages do not partake in the guana (consummation) ceremony until after the bride has reached puberty (Hawley). In Northern and Central India, monogamy is generally practiced, while some rural Hindu men may take multiple wives and the women of some Himalayan groups may have several husbands (Hawley).

After a bride and groom are vetted and chosen by both families, the pre-wedding rituals begin. Months before the wedding, a ceremony known as Mangni in Northern India or Nischitartham in South India is held (Gullapalli). In this ceremony, the two families meet to make the engagement official by choosing a muhurat, or auspicious date and time based on horoscopes, having the elders of both families bless the couple, and having the bride and groom receive gifts (Gullapalli). As the muhurat nears, the ceremonies continue, including the Haldi, a ritual holy bath during which turmeric, oil, and water is applied to both the bride and groom by married women, and the Mehendi, during which the bride’s hands and feet are decorated in henna in a ceremony that is somewhat like a bachelorette party in that only females attend (Gullapalli). In Northern India, the Sangeet (music), a ceremony in which the bride’s family hosts an evening of musical entertainment, and Tilak, a ceremony in which vermillion or kumkum is place on the forehead of the groom by all the male members of the bride’s family, take place (Gullapalli). In South India, the Janavasam is a tradition where the groom is paraded around the town on a chariot or open car the evening before the wedding (Gullapalli). During the pre-wedding period, the attire for the bride and groom are purchased, along with gifts that will be gifted to the newly married couple. Traditionally, the bride will wear a sari or lehenga, which is highly ornate with gold and silver embroidery (Gullapalli). The color is of great significance, while red is the most common for its symbolizing prosperity, fertility, and saubhagya, or marital bliss (Gullapalli). In Northern India, the bride also wears a ghunghat, or veil, draped over her hair as a sign of modesty and respect towards the deities worshipped and the elders present (Gullapalli). The groom will wear a dhoti or sherwani that is usually white, off-white, or beige, and in Northern India he may also wear a turban with white flowers tied in suspended strings called a Sehra (Gullapalli). In some South Indian traditions, the bride and groom may have a black mark on their cheek to avoid ill omen and ward off evil (Gullapalli).

The actual shaadi ceremony is around 3 hours long and is usually held at the bride’s home or a wedding hall (Gullapalli). The bride arrives first and waits for her husband’s arrival with a Jaimala/Varamala, or garland, while the groom and his family partake in the Baarat, a giant procession in which there is music, dance, and fireworks (Gullapalli). When the groom arrives, they exchange garlands and the mother of the bride performs the Aarti when he enters the house (Gullapalli). In South India, prior to the groom and bride exchanging garlands, the groom partakes in Kashi Yatra, a ceremony in which he pretends to throw a fit and renounce getting married to instead go to Varnasi and take up sainthood, just for the bride’s father to convince him otherwise (Gullapalli). In Northern India, a tradition called Baasi Jawari or Joothe Churana, or the stealing of the shoes, takes place, during which the bride’s sister’s hide his shoes and demand money for ransom (Gullapalli). The bride and groom are also responsible for performing many pujas, or prayers, two of which include the Gowri Puja for the bride, which worships the Indian Goddess Parvathi, and the Ganesh Puja for the groom to gain blessings so that the wedding runs smoothly (Gullapalli). The Kanyadaan, or giving away of the bride, is one of the most important parts of the main wedding ritual and involves the father giving his daughter to the bride and requesting that he accept her as his equal partner (Gullapalli). The bride and groom are considered wed when the groom ties three knots that symbolize the gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwara into a Mangalsutram/thali, which is a sacred thread that symbolizes his promise to take care of the bride as long as he lives (Gullapalli). The entire wedding is done around an Agni Homam, or sacred fire, as Agni, the fire god, is considered the main witness to the marriage (Gullapalli). The bride and groom then circle the fire seven times symbolizing the seven goals of married life: religious and moral duties, prosperity, spiritual salvation and liberation, and sensual gratification; an act called Saat Phere, which is led first by the wife and then by the husband to signify the equalities of the two partners and their determination to stand by one another (Gullapalli). The wedding ends with the groom applying vermillion or kumkum to the bride’s forehead, welcoming her as a partner for life (Gullapalli) and signifying her new social status as a Bahu, or a member of her husband’s lineage and a symbol of fertility, and a suhagin, or wife with a living husband, which emphasizes the concept that man and woman are only completed in their union (Hawley).

After the wedding, the post-ceremony rituals begin. In the Vidaai ceremony the family of the bride gives her a sobbing farewell and she throws back three handfuls of rice and coin over the shoulders towards her parental home to ensure wealth and prosperity remains in her home forever (“Hindu Wedding”). Afterwards, in the past, a bride would be carried to her husband’s home in a doli (palanquin); however some traditions remain (Hawley). Upon arrival, the newly-weds are greeted with Aarti to ward off bad spirits, the bride then topples a kalash (metal pot) of rice with her right leg, and then the couple can enter the house taking the first step with their right legs (Hawley). In some traditions, the bride steps into a plate of vermillion mixed in water, and walks down the prayer room and the bride and groom perform the Satyanarayana puja to show their gratitude to the Lord (Hawley). All this constitutes the grihapravesh, or house-entry, ceremony. Afterwards, a reception party is organized by the groom’s family in the evening (Hawley). The guana ceremony is scheduled by parents and the bride’s residence is determined by the parents, as some girls stay at home and slowly integrate into her husband’s home, while others stay at their husband’s home until they produce an heir (Hawley). Few girls can go home regularly, as they must be formally called on by their parents, given permission to go by their in-laws, and must be escorted by a responsible male from her natal household (Hawley).

For most women, their wedding will prove to be the highlight of their life, as it is a period of familial and religious fulfillment, as well as one of the few times in a bride’s life that she will be the center of attention and catered to. While, dowry payments, or payments made to the groom’s family by the bride’s family, have sometimes soured relations between a bride and her in-laws or even ended in death to free the son to marry again, the bride gains a new identity and family after her wedding (Molloy). A highly educated male may request a higher asking price for dowry, while the highly educated female may not have to offer as large of a dowry (Hawley). Widowed women are handled differently than widowed men, as Sati, the act of a widow immolating herself on her husband’s funeral pyre, was expected by society, and still occurs even now even though it was abolished over a century ago (Hawley). While many people think of religion as pertaining solely to one’s beliefs about existence and the afterlife, a large part of religion is the way in which it shapes the behaviors and culture of those who practice and believe, and the way in which Hinduism has shaped the cultural practices of marriage can easily be identified and compared to all other religions. It is made very clear throughout the week long endeavor that the events occurring are meant to be one of the most important events in the participants’ lives and should usher in a new life stage for those involved. The marriage is fortified with the belief of dharma which exemplifies the way in which the religion institutes, solidifies, and reproduces specific social structures and beliefs in Hindu society.

Works Cited

“Hindu Wedding.” Rituals, Hindu Marriage Traditions, and Ceremony. Cultural India, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2015. <>.

Carmody, Denise L., and T. L. Brink. Ways to the Center: An Introduction to World Religions. 5th ed. N.p.: Wadsworth, 2002. Print.

Gullapalli, Sravani, and Aparna Raju Sagi. “Indian Wedding Traditions.” Valuable International Perspectives. Rice University, May 2009. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <>.

Hawley, John Stratton, and Vasudha Narayanan. The Life of Hinduism. Berkeley: U of California, 2006. Print.

Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions: Tradition, Challenge, and Change. 6th ed. Boston: McGraw Hill Higher Education, 2013. Print.

Ravindra, Geetha. Impact of Religion and Culture on Divorce in Indian Marriages. N.p.: n.p., n.d. The American Bar Association. The American Bar Association. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <>.

Teachings of Gandhi

Zachary Kio

Religion 100

Dr. Gowler

November 23, 2015

Teachings of Mahatma Gandhi

            Mahatma Gandhi, a world-renowned peace activist, has affected the modern world through his teachings of non-violence and social equality. To this day, his legacy and what he has contributed can be found in all walks of life. The life of Mohandas Gandhi, his original name, spans from 1869 to 1948 to which he was a very prominent political activist in the Eastern Hemisphere (Molloy). From speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. to educational curriculums in higher institutions, elements from the teachings of Gandhi have integrated into almost every realm of society today. Out of all his teachings and legacies that are remembered, there is no doubt that his mentality towards civil disobedience through nonviolence means is the most prominent. The effects of what he has taught has sprouted many more movements and ideologies that have transgressed past his lifetime and into the lives of future generations.

Prior to discussing the effects of his teachings, nonviolence in its true essence, must be discussed. The concept of nonviolence can be captured in the meaning of ahisma, which is a philosophy of causing no injury or harm through means of words, thoughts, or deeds (Mayton 713). This word dates back to ancient Indian and Asian religious traditions that deem it as a way of life that one should uphold (Arapura 392). Although the existence of ahisma dates long before the time of Gandhi, he was the first to apply it on such a large scale during times of political upheaval in 20th Century India (Asirvatham). Molloy defines ahisma as, “nonharm” or “nonviolence” (Molloy). Walker claims that it is impossible for men to completely act in accordance with ahisma because men constantly engage in acts of violence with other men, animals, or even plants (Bajpai 148). Unintentional or not, because all men engage in acts of violence, man can only agree with it in principle while striving to achieve it in practice. Walker makes an interesting point when she claims that gunpowder, in its mere existence, totally defies everything that ahisma stands for because the primary utility of gunpowder is to engage in violence (150). Although man cannot practice ahisma fully, there are those who act in accordance with the principle more than others. In Gandhi’s weekly journal, the Harijan, he described non-violence as being, “the greatest force at the disposal of mankind” (Harijan 2). Gandhi added that it is the strongest weapon to utilize when change is desired; it is stronger than actual destruction of property or violent acts toward others (Harijan 1). In addition, man is defined as, “living freely by his willingness to die” (Harijan 2). This quote in the Harijan is especially important because it displays the type of mentality that a society must have in order for change to be enacted. Man must want something so much that he is willing to get hurt, go to prison, or to even die at the cost of his goals. Gandhi outlines the repercussions of violent acts and how they plant seeds of hatred in future generations when he says, “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent” (Gandhi). In other words, violence is the wrong way to enact change because an infliction of violence on a person will cause a seed to hatred to be planted and an on-going chain of violence, stemming from vengeance, will ensue. Bose says that nonviolence requires courage whereas acts of violence are simply loud (Bose 161). He adds that nonviolence is very difficult to practice because it requires man to be forgiving; forgiving of the disservices committed to him and to relinquish any kind of animosity (161). Furthermore, Bose says that, “self suffering is the chosen substitute for violence to others” (161).

Gandhi and his teachings rooted from influences that dated back long before his birth. Influences such as Jesus, Thoreau, and Buddha played significant roles in shaping his teachings and they way he applied it during the Indian Independence Movement. Jesus in particular, played an enormous role in defining Gandhi’s morals as he was growing up. As a child, he would read the Christian Bible, specifically the New Testament, and found the content resonating (Bose 160). In his book, Gandhi on Christianity, Gandhi spoke on how the Sermon on the Mount message impacted him so heavily (Gandhi 34). What struck him the most in the Sermon on the Mount was Christ’s teaching on non-retaliation and how one should return good when evil is performed. This new mentality is something Gandhi had not been accustomed to, yet he found great value in the practice. Because Jesus was so successful in adopting new followers using this mentality, Gandhi was fixated on learning more about it and its applications toward the Indian Independence Movement. Ultimately, it was the passion and unconditional love of others by Jesus Christ that transformed Gandhi, so much so that elements of Christianity are found everywhere in the ideals shared by Gandhi.

Another vital influence that shaped Gandhi’s teachings would be his parents. Gandhi always spoke highly of his mother and how devoutly religious she was (Dalton 2). During his childhood, Gandhi’s mother would practice fasting whenever the sun was not shining; she would claim that “God did not want her to eat today” (Dalton 2). In return, Gandhi and his brother would always run outside to check if the sun was out that day so their mother could finally eat (Dalton 2). Although never said explicitly, Gandhi would learn principles such as loyalty, self-control, and self-deprivation by daily examples from his mother (Dalton). With any child, the values they hold when they are adults are largely dependent on the values that are instilled in them as child by the parents. It is thanks to an accumulation of multiple influences that has allowed Gandhi to be the influential political and social activist that he is today.

Gandhi is most known for being a political reformer and activist through his actions during the Indian Independence Movement. A common misconception that arises from Gandhi’s actions in India is that he wanted independence for India. This is wrong; Gandhi wanted something known as swaraj, which translates into self-rule (Dalton 2). The concept of swaraj exists on two plains, the first being a political realm while the second being on a spiritual realm. Independence was freedom to do anything, which carries a negative connotation whereas swaraj means disciplined rule from within which carries a positive connotation (Dalton 2). In a political sense, having swaraj for India would mean India would be free from British imperialism and have complete sovereignty over itself. In a spiritual sense, the idea of swaraj can be found in The Bagavad-Gita where it teaches people to regain control of the ‘self’ (Dalton 4).

Specifically in his active role during the Independence movement for India, Gandhi taught people the correct way to fight injustice. Instead of retaliating with acts of violence, Gandhi implored his followers to only oppose an unfair act and never a person (Gerry 1). An element from Christianity that runs strong with Gandhi’s ideals is the principle of unconditional love. That is, to love your neighbor despite any injustices that he may have caused you. During his time in South Africa and from teachings by Thoreau, Gandhi learned of the power of strikes and protest marches, two powerful weapons that he utilized during the independence movement (Gerry 1). The power of nonviolent forces the opposition to look at themselves and the problems between the oppressed and the suppressors in a different light (Gerry). A principle that Gandhi instilled and emphasized to his followers was the fact that only love could drive out hate and stop the chain of animosity (Gerry 3). A specific instance of Gandhi’s practice can be seen during the Salt Protest in India in 1930 where salt was heavily taxed so Gandhi and his followers marched peacefully to the beach to pick up salt (Gerry 4). In doing so, Gandhi was arrested and put into prison. As a result, over 60,000 people, abiding by Gandhian principles, ‘turned the other cheek’ while the British attempted to stop their march (Gerry 4). This prime example of how 60,000 people followed the footsteps and practices of one man is a testament to amount of people Gandhi touched with his teachings.

Mahatma Gandhi is the cultivation of past iconic influences and will be seed of future leaders that will come and enact change in all realms of society. Through his teachings of nonviolent protest and unconditional love, Gandhi has touched the lives of many and because of this, society today and societies to come will still reap the benefits of the change he has enacted and the process by which one should combat injustice. His teachings have not only freed India from the British, but African-Americans have more civil rights because of Martin Luther King Jr., South Africans have been liberated from apartheid because of Nelson Mandela, along with many more leaders to come.



Bose, Anima. “A Gandhian Perspective on Peace”. Journal of Peace Research 18.2 (1981): 159–164. Web…

Mohandas K. Gandhi, Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, New York: Dover Publications, 1983, p. 2

Ghandi, Mohandas K., “Ahimsa, or the Way of Nonviolence.” A Peace Reader. Ed. Joseph J. Fahey and Richard Armstrong. New York: Paulist Press, 1992. 171-174.

Dalton, Dennis. “Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Power in Action”. Columbia University Press (2012). 2-20.

Walker, Claire. “What Do We Mean by Non-Violence?”. The Journal of Religions and Psychical Research. Volume 17, Number 3. EBSCO Publishing, 2002. 146-149.

Parker, Clifton. “Gandhi’s nonviolent approach offers lessons for peace movements, Stanford scholar says”. Stanford Report, 2004. 1-3.

Asirvatham, Eddy. Political Theory. S.chand.

Mayton, D. M., & Burrows, C. A. (2012), Psychology of Nonviolence, The Encyclopedia of Peace Psychology, Vol. 1, pages 713-716 and 720-723, Wiley-Blackwell.


Bajpai, Shiva (2011). The History of India – From Ancient to Modern Times, Himalayan Academy Publications (Hawaii, USA), ISBN 978-1-934145-38-8; see pages 8, 98


Rev. Gerry Straatemeier, MSW. “Mahatma Gandhi”. AGNT, 2002. 1-4.

Molloy, Michael. “Chapter 3: Hinduism.” Experiencing the World’s Religions. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999. 75+. Print.

Goddess Lakshmi


Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and fortune, (Dimmit) among many other virtues, is the loyal wife of Vishnu. The earliest Vedic literature calls her Sri, and she later developed under the name Lakshmi (Kinsley 18). Her name developed from early Sanskrit and means “goal,” and it “represents the goal of life which includes worldly and spiritual prosperity” (Pandit). Lakshmi, or Sri, is credited as being the “mother of the world” (Dimmit). While Lakshmi is prominent throughout countless facets Hinduism, for this project, I will focus on three key aspects of Lakshmi: her relation to Vishnu, stories of Lakshmi, and her associated symbols.

Lakshmi in relation to Vishnu

Vishnu “represents the force of preservation in the universe,” and he is the “most important object of devotion in India” (Molloy 97). It is common for each male deity have an associated female counterpart. “They are so much a part of the male god, that the god cannot be active without them, and thus are called “shaktis” (“energies”) because they allow the male gods to be effective in the human world” (Molloy 102). Lakshmi is the shakti of Vishnu, and as his consort, she “dispenses good luck and protection” (Molloy 103). The two deities are each other’s counterparts in numerous ways. For example, Vishnu is meaning and Lakshmi is speech, Vishnu is knowledge and Lakshmi is insight, Vishnu is behavior and Lakshmi is conduct (Dimmit) and so on. These are just a few examples of the many ways that Lakshmi and Vishnu compliment each other. Overall, Vishnu “is all that is known as male, and Sri all that is known as female. There is nothing more beyond these two!” (Dimmit).

Devi Lakshmi e Vishnu

Vishnu and Lakshmi sometimes appear as a single divinity. Prior to around A.D. 400 when Lakshmi is almost exclusively associated to Vishnu, Sri is also connected to may other male deities (Kinsley 26). Numerous tales exist of her relation to these Gods, but it is said that Sri is attracted to the many forms that Vishnu takes on, and so she ultimately devotes herself to him in matrimony. Because Vishnu and Lakshmi are so interconnected, she often serves as his subdued counterpart when dealing with his devout followers. “While Vishnu is often conceived of as a stern, easily-perturbed patriarch, Lakshmi represents a more soothing, warm and approachable mother figure who willingly intervenes in the lives of devotees on his behalf” (New World Encyclopedia). She serves as the advocate for mortals on his behalf and as is his rational partner.

The rebirth of Lakshmi and the festival of Diwali

The first story necessary to know in order to study Lakshmi is the churning of the ocean of milk. This is when Lakshmi was reborn. I will provide a very abbreviated version of the story to highlight its relation to Lakshmi, but for the full story, reference the citations at the end of this page. One day, Lakshmi became annoyed with Indra’s arrogance, and so she left into the ocean (BBC). The world became a dark, and without her, there was no good fortune or prosperity. In the story, the gods want to retrieve Lakshmi and the amrita (the nectar of immortality) from the depths of the cosmic ocean (Encyclopedia Britannica). After the Indra consulted Vishnu, who was in his tortoise form of Kurma, they began to work together to fight the demons to obtain the amrita from the sea. The gods and the demons stirred the ocean of milk with a naga (half man, half serpent) by wrapping it around Mount Mandara. The gods pulled from one side and the demons pulled from another. Eventually, after 1000 years, the churning amounted to many treasures. Several deities, including Lakshmi on her lotus flower, emerged from the whirlpool along with many other treasures often associated with Vishnu, and this marks the rebirth of Lakshmi (Encyclopedia Britannica). After retrieving the treasures and Lakshmi, the Gods chased the demons from the world (BBC).

Diwali, which was celebrated on November 11th this year, is known as the “Festival of Lights.” On the third day of Diwali festival, the night of Amavasya, is the most important for the celebration of Lakshmi. On this day, “strains of joyous sounds of bells and drums float from the temples as man is invoking Goddess Laxmi in a wondrous holy “pouring-in” of her heart” (Lakshmi Puja on Diwali). Diwali is celebrated by Hindu’s all over the world, and is often recognized for its colorful displays, a multitude of lights, and hymns honoring Lakshmi on her day. It is said that on this joyous day, Sri “showers her blessings on man for plenty and prosperity” (Lakshmi Puja on Diwali). A puja is a ceremony that is carried out at in order to worship a deity, and specifically on this day during Diwali, Lakshmi is honored with a Puja. While Diwali is also concentrated around other stories, in North and West India, Lakshmi is a central figure for worship. In tandem with the theme of the festival of lights, many Hindu’s light the lamps in their home to serve as a light to guide Sri’s path. People also extensively clean their houses for Lakshmi because it is said she will visit the cleanest houses first (Lakshmi Puja on Diwali).

Lakshmi and her associated symbols

As noted earlier, Lakshmi is a very maternal figure in Hinduism. In later Hinduism history, her fertility is connected to rich agricultural production. Her son is named Kardama, meaning mud, which pairs with her description as being like fertile soil in a harvest (Kinsley 20). Early villagers, particularly women, worshipped Lakshmi in the form of cow dung in certain instances, because of her relation to abundant harvests (Kinsley 19).

In almost all of the pictures of Sri, she is sitting on top of a lotus flower. Lakshmi is often related to fertility, and the lotus is a symbol that is most commonly used to represent that. The lotus flower symbolizes fertility and life in how it is rooted into primordial waters (Kinsley 21). It is representative of the entire created world (Kinsley 21). The lotus grows from the naval of Vishnu, which represents the beginning of cosmic creation, and Lakshmi “is the nectar (the rasa) of creation which lends to creation its distinctive flavor and beauty” (Kinsley 21). Also in pictures of Lakshmi, she is almost always seen wearing a red dress and possesses gold coins, “which denotes prosperity” (Pundit).

The lotus also has a second symbolic meaning. The flower is rooted in mud, but blossoms above the water, and this image symbolizes the purity and spiritual power of Lakshmi (Kinsley 21). Just as Lakshmi sits atop the lotus, other gods and goddesses in Hinduism do that same to mark their spiritual authority (Kinsley 21). The mud from which the lotus grows is representative of the material world, and it is said that figures, such as Sri, who sit above the mud on the lotus exist in a “state of refinement that transcends the material world” (Kinsley 21).

In addition to the lotus flower, Lakshmi is commonly associated with elephants. Elephants, quite often seen in images of Lakshmi, also have many associated meanings. Ancient Hinduism tradition says that elephants once had wings and flew amongst the clouds and showered the earth with rain from their trunks (Kinsley 22). These so called “sky elephants” were, “cursed by a sage when they landed on a tree under which he was meditating and broke his concentration” (Kinsley 22). From this story, elephants thus lost their wings and remained on earth, but are still known for providing water from their trunks. This abundance of water goes in tandem with the symbol of Lakshmi’s fertility, and thus they are often depicted as showering her with their trunks in pictures (Kinsley 22). Another meaning of the elephants relate to their royal authority. Because many kings in ancient India kept many elephants, they were used for military campaigns as well as for ceremonial processions (Kinsley 22). Because of their strong connection to royalty, Sri also became associated with royal authority. In keeping with Hinduism in total, the symbolism of the elephants is widespread and varied. Other accounts that say the elephants represent the prestige associated with wealth. The elephants exist to serve as a reminder “to not earn wealth merely to acquire name and fame or only to satisfy his own material desires, but should share it with others in order to bring happiness to others in addition to himself” (Pundit). Additionally, some say that the elephants represent the four ends of human life as well. Regardless, elephants are almost always associated with and are present in pictures of Lakshmi.

Another common aspects of her physical appearance that is often present in pictures of Lakshmi are her multiple arms. “The four arms represent the four directions in space and thus symbolize omnipresence and omnipotence of the goddess” (Pandit). In addition, the four hand “represent the four ends of human life: dharma (righteousness) karma (genuine desires), artha (wealth) and moksha (liberation from birth and death)” (Pandit). These stages of life are a central theme in Hinduism and guide the lives of many Hindu’s

Overall, Lakshmi is a deity worth knowing in Hinduism. She is the primary symbol of wealth and prosperity, and her association with the Supreme Being Vishnu is highly relevant to her image as the “mother of the world.”



Works Cited

“Churning of the Ocean of Milk | Hindu Mythology.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 19 Feb. 2015. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.

Dimmitt, Cornelia. Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Purāṇas. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1978. Print.

Kinsley, David R. Hindu Goddesses Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Berkeley: U of California, 1988. Print.

“Lakshmi.” BBC News. BBC, 24 Sept. 2009. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.

“Lakshmi Puja on Diwali.” Lakshmi Puja,,Lakshmi Pujan,Laxmi Diwali Pujan,Laxmi Puja 2015. Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India (SCFI). Web. 24 Nov. 2015.

Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions: Tradition, Challenge, and Change. 4th ed. Boston: McGraw Hill Higher Education, 2008. Print.

“New World Encyclopedia.” New World Encyclopedia, . 27 Jun 2009, 11:12 UTC. 24 Nov 2015, <>.

Pandit, Bansi. “Hindu Deities: Goddess Lakshmi.” Hindu Deities: Goddess Lakshmi. Kashmir. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.


The Caste System (Brahmin and Kshatriya)


The Caste system is the social hierarchy in India. It is not limited to ancient India, it is still prevalent today. According to S. A Nigosian in World Religions, the caste system, “Is its (India) system of social stratification”(Nigosian 136).  Jati and Varna are classifications of the traditional Indian Society. Jati and Varna are two classifications that are very different, but both play a vital role in the life of a Hindu. The system of classification, Varna is a system that existed in the Vedic Society that divided the society into four classes Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (skilled traders, merchants), and Shudras (unskilled workers). (The Chalandalas or “untouchables” is not considered part of the Varna system) Varna literally translates to color, but the system has nothing to do with an individual’s skin color, but has everything to do with classifying individuals based on their characteristics and attributes. The Varna system was originally created to give structure to Indian society based on each individual’s qualities, not based on one’s birth right which is what it has developed into. Social order in Hindu society comes from Post- Vedic times, Jati system, or the sub-castes within each Varna, gives a sense of identity to each member of a specific Varna. A Jati is considered a community that has a particular profession. You used to be able to determine someone’s trade or profession by their surname, but because of the modern education system, and lack of discrimination by the state, the Jati system is currently quickly deteriorating.

The Caste System represents a division of labor based on birth right justified by moral and religious concepts. The Brahmins held the most power in Hindu society , they were priests, otherwise known as the spiritual and intellectual leaders of the society. “They devoted their time  to studying, teaching, performing sacrifices, and officiating religious services” (Nigosian 136). The second Varna in the social hierarchy are the Kshatriyas who are the rulers and warriors of the society. Their job was to “Protect, administer, and promote material welfare within the society” (Nigosian 136). The third in the social hierarchy are the Vaishyas who are the farmers, merchants, and traders who really contribute to the economy of India. The fourth and last of the Varnas are known as the Sudras who are laborers that supply the manual labor needed for the economic well-being of India. Later as the development of the caste system continued a fifth group was formed; although not officially considered a Varna, the Chalandalas or “untouchables” had status so low that they did not belong to a caste at all.

The justification of this “social stratification” is linked to the justification of Karma and Samsara. Karma refers to action, each person’s birth is directly related to the past karma from the previous life of that individual, birth into the Brahmin Varna is a result of good karma. “Those who’s conduct here has been good will quickly contain some good birth – birth as a Brahmin, birth as a kshatriya, or birth as a vaisya. But those who conduct here has been evil will quickly attain some evil birth – birth as a dog, birth as a pig, or birth as a chandala” (Chandogya Upanishad 5.10.7). According to this, Karma determines birth into a class, which in turn defines one’s social and religious status, which in turn describes one’s duties and obligations to that specific status. Samsara refers to the “wheel of life, the circle of constant rebirth” (Molloy 87). Hindus believe in reincarnation and that the Karma from one’s previous life leads to where that individual is placed into in society.

Origin of the Caste System:

The Caste System today is a result of the end of the Mughal era and the British colonial government in India. The Mughal empire was ruled by a Persianate Dynasty of Chagatai Turco-Mongol origin and was prominent throughout large areas of the Indian subcontinent. The end of this era caused there to be an increase of men who deemed themselves powerful and associated themselves with kings and priests. The British colonial government later continues this development in 1860 and 1920 by separating Indians into castes. They only allowed individuals in the upper castes to hold professions and trades of importance. In 1920 that policy changed and the colonial government started a policy that reserved a certain percentage of government jobs for the individuals in the lower castes. When India gained its independence in 1947 from the British Empire new policies were enforced that helped to improve the socioeconomic conditions of its lower caste population. In 1950 many affirmative actions initiatives were taken by the Supreme Court of India. Discrimination against the lower castes is now considered illegal in India under Article 15 of its constitution.


The word Brahmin translates to “Supreme Self” or the first of the gods. Brahmin is the highest Varna in Vedic Hinduism. The population of India that is considered a member of the Brahmin caste according to the article “The Joshua project” is about 60,481,000 people. That’s approximately 4.3 percent of the total Indian population. The Brahmin Varna consists of priests, and individuals of this specific Varna are separated into sub-castes called gotras. Because of the religious and cultural diversity Brahmins are divided into these sub- castes. Only some members are priests, other members have held professions as educators, law makers, scholars, doctors, writers, poets, land owners, and politicians. According to Nancy Auerbach in her book Living Hinduism the Brahmin is associated with Sanatana Dharma which was in early Hinduism and is a code of ethics, or a way of living in order to achieve “mosksha” a sense of liberation and enlightenment. As the developments of the caste system continues, Brahmins became an influential Varna in India and discriminated against the other lower castes.

Most Brahmins are located in the Northern states of India which includes Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, and small concentrations in the southern states which includes Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala. This territorial division led to the creation of two groups among the Brahmin: the Panch Gour (northerners) and the Panch Dravida (Southerners). These two groups are separated by the central Indian Vindhya mountain range that almost bisects the country into two parts.

Brahmin came from the term Brahman, which is a magical force. The name Brahmin was given to the first trained priest who held a sacrifice. After the end of the Red Vedic period in 1000 BC, the term “Brahmin” became universally known as the term for all members of the priestly class. Around 900 BC the Brahmins were divided in to exogamous clans that restricted matrimonial choice and dictated ritual. This system is still intact today where it is frowned upon to marry someone of another caste. The Rig Veda is one of the most sacred Hindu scripture, and it contains the mythological origin of the Brahmin. The god Prajapati (Lord of beings) is identified with Brahma who is the creator in the Hindu trinity and was later sacrificed by his children. This sacrifice is said to have produced the universe and that the Brahmin originated from his mouth.

Traditionally the Brahmin are supposed to become priests, but in actuality they hold a wide variety of occupations. Many members practice agriculture, while others hold white collar jobs. The Brahmin are allowed to follow any profession, but no one except a Brahmin can become a priest. Members of this Varna tend to be strict vegetarians. It is a socio-spiritual obligation to feed Brahmin at ceremonies. Brahmin men have more freedom then Brahmin women. Men try to avoid alcohol and smoking whereas for women it is strictly forbidden. The socially acceptable age for marriage also varies between the sexes. Women can get married starting from as young as 18 whereas men get married at an older age. Marriages tend to be arranged by parents and monogamy is expected. Widows are not allowed to remarry whereas widowers are allowed to.  Although Brahmin women are second to men, they do hold a higher level of education than other women in Indian society.

Overall Brahmins hold a high status in Hindu society, and are considered to be smart and influential. They set the standard of social conduct and morality due to their leadership in society. Hindu priesthood  is dominated by Brahmins, but other castes due in fact  have “sacred specialists” but their status does not compare to that of a Brahmin.


 The term Kshatriya comes from kshatra which means authority and power. This authority and power is not based on successful leadership, but more on sovereignty over certain territories.  Kshatriya is the second Varna within the social hierarchy. The Brahmin and the Kshatriya make up the upper castes, 20 percent of India’s population is within this category. The Kshatriya constitutes the ruling and military elite, the warriors. Their purpose in the society is to fight as warriors during war and govern in time of peace. They had a duty to protect the citizens from harm, to ensure that each individual performed their prescribed duty and advanced spiritually in their specific Varna. In addition to that they are responsible for the protection of the political cosmic order (dharma). Kshatriyas initially achieved their status on merits of their aptitude (guna), conduct (karma), and nature (swabhava). As the caste system later developed, merit became irrelevant status became hereditary.

It is said that when Brahma was procreating, a “negative energy” emerged from him. The negative energy took the form of Rakshasas also known as devils who started to torture Brahma. Brahma asked Lord Vishnu for help, who later killed them. Lord Vishnu then explained to Brahma that  when positive energy is used, negative energy will also emerge. Because of this Lord Vishnu tells Brahma that a special race of humans should be created to protect the entire human race. The Rig Veda contains a different story of origin for the varnas. In this Hindu scripture, Brahmin originated from the mouth of Brahma, while Kshatriya originated from the arms.

The two primary roles of the Kshatriya Varna were to govern the land and to wage war, which led to professions as rulers and soldiers. The male children in Kshatriya were considered symbols of masculinity whereas the female child needed to be gentle and well behaved. Like Brahmin and the rest of the Varnas, men and women were not allowed to marry outside their specific Varna. Kshatriyas also hold a high status of power, second only to the Brahmin. They make sure everyone stays within their Varna.


Ellwood, Robert S., and Barbara A. McGraw. Many Peoples, Many Faiths: Women and Men in   the World Religions. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999. Print.

“Kshatriyas.” New World Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.

Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions: Tradition, Challenge, and Change.  Boston: McGraw Hill Higher Education, 2008. Print.

Nigosian, S. A. World Religions: A Historical Approach. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000.      Print.

“People Groups.” : Joshua Project. Global Mapping International, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.

V, Jayaram. Chandogya Upanishad. S.l.: Pure Life Vision, 2013. Print.

The first two stages of life

Jacqueline Verdin

Dr. Gowler

Religion 100Q

November 24, 2015

Hinduism: The first two stages of life

            The system of beliefs and ideas that exists in Hinduism, unlike many religions, is a very unique and diverse one. This is in part due to the multiplicity of ideas, beliefs, and practices that have through the years changed or evolved in order to fit the needs of different individuals. Within these, there exists the belief that the life of a person is comprised of four stages, of which only the first two will be further developed in this paper. These stages known as “ashramas” are brahmachari, grihastha, vanaprastha, and sannyasa. To fully understand these, however, one must know how the belief of these stages was developed, why the stages are important, who follows the belief, and what practices make up the different stages.

To start, it is essential to be familiar with some of the central concepts of Hinduism such as rebirth, karma, samsara, and moksha. Within the religion, it is believed that everyone upon death is reborn or reincarnated into either a “lower” form such as an “animal, insect, and possibly even a plant”, or a “higher” form such as “superhuman beings and demigods” (Molloy 84). The thing then that determines one’s upward or downward mobility when reborn is karma, the “moral law of cause and effect” (Molloy 84). In other words, if a person performs good actions then he or she will be reborn into a higher form. As a result of this concept, people are encouraged to do good deeds, yet sooner or later, the everyday world of change and suffering leading to rebirth gets tiring, and people want to escape it (Molloy 85). This cycle is what is known as samsara. Now, to escape samsara is to attain moksha or “liberation”, which is the ultimate goal. Through the teaching of the Upanishads, more and more people were driven to attain liberation. In response to the growing popularity of moksha, the Brahmin orthodoxy around sixth century BCE “forged a compromise” in which the goals of life such as dharma, artha, kama, and moksha were to be attained in four different stages as we know them today (Rodrigues 89).

Given that these goals are deemed to be worthy of pursuit, following the four stages of life provide a path of assistance to attain liberation. This is so because within them, there are in addition to “renouncing materialism and worldly pleasures”, aspects of marriage, social status, and material wealth, that are considered crucial in the path to attaining moksha (Fowler 25).Yet, in a modern India, fewer people actually go through all four, although it is expected. The primary reasons for this have to do with the concept of the caste system and gender. For example, because it is believed that each person has a role in society depending on their place in the caste system, “shudras” or unskilled workers do not have a role that allows them to go through the stages. In fact, a third of the Indian population is made up of the lower class that cannot afford a formal education. As such, it is usually the men who are born into a twice-born family that have both the support and financial means to participate in all four stages. In terms of gender, women are generally excluded from this religious practice while men are encouraged to engage in it. Additionally, men have the ability to choose whether or not they want to pursue any if not all of the stages. This element of choice then gives the followers of Hinduism an opportunity to choose the stage or stages that work for them and their religious and financial needs.

The first stage of life or the first asrama is called brahmacharin which translates to “progressing with Brahman” (Rodrigues 90). As such, this term “brahmacharin” references the period in which the student devotes himself entirely to gaining spiritual knowledge through studying Vedic teachings and learning discipline, which usually starts at the age of twelve and ends at fifteen or ideally twenty-five. During this time, the child is first exposed to “the properties of dharmic upbringing” through observing the acts of his family members, their moral sensibilities, and their performing of rituals (Rodrigues 89). In other words, the family is the spiritual teacher of the child until the moment of his upanayana, a traditional rite of passage called “samskara” that marks the child’s entrance into this first stage. This passage happens when the student is accepted by a guru who will start his formal Vedic education. At this point, a ceremony takes  place in which  the boy receives a “sacred thread” called “Yajñopaveetam’’ that symbolizes the start of his educational journey. Furthermore, this student stage also known as the sisya stage is how knowledge that can lead to liberation is transferred. Here, the student is required to leave home to live in seclusion with his guru. During this period, the student studies the Vedas and books like the Ramayana and the Mahabharta along with subjects such as science, philosophy, scriptures, and logic. The studying of all of these things in combination ensure that the student is well rounded and prepared to excel in not only his religious life but also in his  social life and in maintaining and raising his future family. In addition to such studies, the sisya must follow celibacy, which is a stage of abstaining from sexual activity and marriage. However, within this abstinence, the student is supposed to not allow for the secretion of semen. The reason for this is that “the spilling of semen is regarded as ritually polluting, while the retention of semen is believed to build up a purifying inner heat and confer great spiritual potency” (Rodrigues 90). Furthermore, because semen is what allows for the creation of a new life, it is looked down upon to engage in sexual activity prior to the second stage, where it is essential for have children. Looking back at the goals, all that he has learned in addition to following celibacy will help him attain dharma, which is righteousness. As such, after completing this formal education, the student may choose to continue his studies or to marry, which is that start of the second stage.

The second asrama called “grihastha”, is the householder stage. Within this period of time, the male will end his celibacy state and move forward to marrying, raising, and supporting the newly created family, which occurs after the formal education has been completed. This, however, is the case for only the wealthier families who could afford this education to begin with. As for the families who could not afford to send their children to study, they often have them start working at a young age. Marriage for them, or entrance into this second stage then happens only when they are considered old enough and have found a partner that suits them. It is important to note that because “Hindus have always felt it important to raise a family…despite immense poverty, a couple will continue to have many children” (Fowler 26). This willingness to have children despite hardships only emphasizes that importance that family has within the Hindu religion. Yet, while there is a disparity here caused by monetary aspects, both castes besides a small percentage participate in arranged marriages, in which it is expected that life be created. Unlike in the previous stage where the men had to refrain from pleasures such as allowing for the secretion of semen, in this stage it is encouraged to do so, because the creation of life is a very goal essential for the continuation of lines of belief. Additionally, this stage is set up to meet one of the life goals called kama, which is sensory pleasure. To further understand kama, it is in short, “the experience of pleasure or the fulfillment of desires, and particularly deals with love and sexual gratification” (Rodrigues 91). The performance of fulfilling such desires is in many ways beneficial to the well-being of the marriage. For example, the wife and husband as a result create a bond and an attraction towards each other that allows for them to enjoy each other’s company. Moving forward within the second stage grihastha, it is expected that all men within this stage work at a “trade or profession” to support the family but also to attain wealth, which is in Hinduism, “a necessary goal in life at some stage” (Fowler 27). Yet, this stage does not solely revolve around intercourse and money. Here, the men are expected to perform “cyclical rituals” to make sure that their children are learning the ways of righteousness that like said before, lead to liberation. In other words, this stage “supports and upholds dharma” (Rodrigues 91). Because this stage fulfills two of the life goals, one of them being pleasure, it is considered to be the best of the four, yet this is of course dependent on the individual himself.

While it is nearly impossible to learn and understand the entire Hindu religion, due to its complexity, age, and growth, it is possible to understand the general idea of some of the major concepts such as the stages of life. Like already stated, these different stages of life serve as a pathway to achieve liberation as well as goals such as dharma and kama. As such, following the four stages is encouraged and an essential part of Hinduism.

Works cited

Fowler, Jeaneane D. Hinduism: Beliefs and Practices. Brighton: Sussex Academic, 1997. Print.

Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions: Tradition, Challenge, and Change. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2010. Print.


Rodrigues, Hillary. Introducing Hinduism. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2006. Print.

Life of Gandhi

Alan Liu

Dr. Gowler

Religion 100Q

November 24, 2015

Life of Gandhi

            “One man cannot do right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department. Life is one indivisible whole.” (Attenborough, 19) This is one of the most famous quotes wrote by Gandhi, a great activist and non-violence protestor in the modern century. Just exactly as Gandhi’s quote, a man need to be consist and keep doing the right things in order to do well in life. Many people know Gandhi for his later work, however, his life from childhood had also embrace the idea of insisting his own idea and share love to a bigger community, while keeping all the good habits from childhood for later life.

On October 2nd, 1869, Mohandas Gandhi was born in Porbandar, a coastal town in India. At a very young age, Gandhi already noticed the social rank differences between people. He found out that the son of “a jailer employed by the British” in his hometown earned about 20 rupees a month. (Gandhi 9) But Gandhi’s father, served as ruler of Porbandar, earned about 300 rupees a month. Gandhi was very surprised by the heavy work that man did on a daily base in order to keep that job, while earning only 10 percent of his dad. Based on later memories, Gandhi described this event as first time to see the real world, where everyone might not have been that equal after all. (John 25) Born in a rich and powerful family did not make him have any distance with ordinarily people, but actually helped him to have a much better understanding about the differences among people. He started to have more sympathy towards less powerful and fortunate people. Under the control of Great Britain, there were a huge number of religion conflicts and Gandhi has expressed a lot of reactions towards these conflicts. When Ganhi is 11, he heard a “white evangelist pour ‘abuse on Hindus and their gods’” in his school. (Gandhi, 8) Young Gandhi could not believe what he has heard and refused to have any further connection or communication with that white young man. Furthermore, Gandhi chose to not even go near him. Also, Gandhi was really angered when he heard that “a local Hindu converting to Christianity had been forced to eat beef and drink liquor”. (Gandhi, 10) Without too much understanding about Hinduism in his early age, Gandhi still deeply believed in religion freedom and encouraged everyone around him to not judge others’ religion views. Besides religion conflict, child marriage also was a huge event for young Gandhi. At 12 years old, Gandhi was married to Kastur, who he later had four children with. Tasting this tradition himself as a child, Gandhi learned a lot about this marriage, which he has no choice towards or even any understanding about marriage itself at that time. He did not like this kind of things that he has no control of. He had read “from cover to cover” books about conjugal love and child marriages in India. (Gandhi, 7) Although Gandhi did not understand too much about these sensitive topics, he noticed a lot about the distances and hostile created by child marriage from these books. His childhood experience actually made him become much closer towards the social conflict and prepared him as a person, who loved everyone and is willing to stand up for others.

Followed by his childhood in India is Gandhi’s education in Britain, where he learned more about power of insisting and the importance of sticking with his decisions. On the ship to England, lots of Indian and European passenger warned him that he could not survive without eating meat. They could not understand Gandhi’s choice at all and tried to make him change his diet so many times. They even said that Gandhi would die “in the Red Sea or in the Mediterranean Sea, and without question in the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel” if he did not consume any meat. (Ray, 55) But Gandhi stayed with his decisions and still hold his original believe. “Pray excuse me,’ he said, ‘I admit it is necessary to eat meat. But I cannot break my vow. Give me up as foolish or obstinate. A vow is a vow.” (Gandhi, 28) Gandhi deeply believed in vegetarian and he was not willing to give up this believe for anything, no matter how others disagree with him, or asking him to change. This became one of few believes that he insisted for life. Gandhi wanted to be the person he chose to be, not whom others wanted him to be. He did not want to be a powerful people who can easily influence others, but a person with inner firmness and an internal spirit with a specific goal that attract people to come towards him. On the road of being vegetarian Gandhi showed how insist he was towards goals he want to achieve, even at a very young age. Similar spirit and actions could be seen later in his non-violence protest in South Africa and India, where he had a lot of firmness towards what his believes are and did not back off until he reached his goal, the independence of India and equal treatment for all people. Another thing Gandhi learned in years at England is a better understanding about religion. This is the first time for Gandhi to read Bhagavad Gita and he chose Hinduism as the religion to follow for life. At the same time, he also had a much clearer view towards the Hindu-Muslim friendship and made some Muslim friend while he was at London. Despite the conflict happening back home, Gandhi kept a very good relationship with his friends. As he recalled later, this made him believe that he can actually work around the Hindu-Muslim conflicts, which was seen by others as impossible. He started to have a great sympathy towards believers for all religions and claimed that there is no dominate God, but preferred God by different people. This provides him with more understanding for dealing with later cross religion issues.

After finished education in London and went back to India briefly, Gandhi chose to go to South Africa for work. Just after a couple days, he experienced racial discrimination again, but this time it was directly towards himself. After Gandhi brought a first class ticket for the train, the official denied Gandhi’s rights to sit in the first class. That official forced Gandhi to sit in the third class and called police to kick Gandhi off the train when he refused to do so. Although strongly disagreed with that official’s action, he chose to accept the fact and boarded on the third class next day. This event had a huge impact towards Gandhi’s later life because this is the first time for him to see the dark side of racial discrimination personally. Being treated with a different attitude and denied rights for so many times in South Africa, Gandhi used his past experiences and the power of insist to took one more step than he did in the past. He started to fight for race equality and freedom, not willing to give up even after being threat that he would end up in jail. The event that made Gandhi well known in many countries was the protest against the Transvaal Asiatic Registration. This act, approved on March 22, 1907, asked Indians and other Asians to re-register themselves at the local authority in order to prevent illegal. (Hardiman, 35) This was also the first time for Gandhi to develop and use the method of satyagraha, the famous method known later during the pursue of independence for India. Gandhi described the method used in the Transvaal Asiatic Registration protest as “the force generated by nonviolence is infinitely greater than the force of all the arms invented by man’s ingenuity”. (Attenborough, 55) Gandhi asked all Indian and Asian people to hold hands and stand together to protest this unequal treatment. This movement attracted a lot of local and global attention. While Gandhi gained a huge success from the movement, he became the prisoner of the British government. Gandhi went to the jail without any fear and experienced “not the slightest hesitation in entering the prisoner’s box”. (Gandhi, 128) Just like the dedication he had towards vegetarian in his early age, Gandhi would not give up his goals, race equality, and would sacrifice his life in order to achieve his goals. And he knew that these government official will not be able to stop him from doing what he is doing, to make South Africa a better country and to let everyone enjoy equal treatment.

After the success of South Africa, Gandhi moved back to India in 1915. After years of work and huge protests, like non-cooperation and the salt march, India finally gained its freedom on August 15, 1947. Gandhi used his non-violence protest and his teaching of religion to create a fairer and more equal world for India. Unfortunately, he was assassinated on January 30, 1948. Gandhi has done so many great things for his people, for India and South Africa, and for the whole world. Life of Gandhi was long and detailed, but everything started when he was a young passionate kid who love to insist on what he believes and understand the differences between people, treating them with peace and love. The idea of non-violence did not come up in one night, but it was a process of learning and trying. Just like the life of Gandhi, it was a process of collecting, trying, teaching, and honoring. Gandhi might be known as Bapu for what he has done for the independence of India, but instead, he should be known for insist the same idea from a kid to an old man, loving the world with what he has and fight for others with what he has. This is Gandhi, the person we look up to.


Works Cited

Hardiman, David. Gandhi in His Time and Ours: The Global Legacy of His Ideas. New York:

Columbia UP, 2003. Print.

Ray, Sibnarayan. Gandhi India and the World; an International Symposium. Philadelphia:

Temple UP, 1970. Print.

Gandhi, and Richard Attenborough. The Words of Gandhi. New York, NY: Newmarket, 1982.


Gandhi, Rajmohan. Gandhi: The Man, His People, and the Empire. Berkeley: U of California,

  1. Print.

Gandhi, Mahatma, and Anthony J. Parel. Gandhi, Freedom and Self-rule. New Delhi: Vistaar

Publications, 2002. Print.

Gandhi, and John Dear. Mohandas Gandhi: Essential Writings. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2002.


Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions. 6th ed. N.p.: McGraw-Hill, 2013. Print.


Caste System: Vaishyas, Sudras, and Untouchables

Sophia Lee

Dr. Gowler

Religion 100 Q

25 Wednesday 2015

Hindu Project: Caste System (Vaishyas, Sudras, and Untouchables)

The Hindu Caste system is based of lineage and occupation. It is divided into 4 distinct categories: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Sudras. There are also the Untouchables whom are considered the “caste-less”. The Caste system greatly affects the life of many individual who live a society where the system is used, whether you’d be in one of the four castes or be an untouchable. This research essay will cover the origins and the lower half of the Castes including Vaishyas, Sudras, and the Untouchables.

In Hindu texts, Varna is understood as idealistic human callings. Varna can represent many things such as character, quality, nature, color, and class. There was no higher or lower Varna, originally people were assigned to do what they were most qualified for or what ever matched their personal characteristics (but later on people were assigned certain job based on birth) (Philosophy). Varna is not the origin of caste, but it did give the framework of thought to the Indian society. Ironically, Varna emerged from tolerance and trust and it did not promote cruel competition or rivalry, rather it promoted harmony and cooperation. “Though it may now have degenerated into an instrument of oppression and intolerance and tends to perpetuate inequality and develop the spirit of exclusiveness, these unfortunate effects were not the central motives of the varna system” (Jain).

There are people who think that castes largely correspond to race or physical type. Sir Herbert thinks that the nose is the primary feature in determining the different social ranks using the “average nasal index”. He didn’t mean that each caste had a distinctive physical feature, but he is implying that castes can be distinguished in this way to determine who is of higher and lower rank (Rao 4). “The biological theory claims that all existing things inherit three one of three categories or qualities. Varna means different shades of texture or color and represents mental temper. There are three Gunas:” (Deshpande) Sattava (white), Rajas (red), and Tamas (black). These three Gunas are also classified to have their own characteristics. Sattava are wise, intelligent, honest, good, and other positive things. Rajas have qualities such as passion, pride, and valor. Tamas are dull, stupid, not creative, and other negative things (Deshpande).

The religious theory states that according to the Rig Veda (ancient Hindu book) the Purush (primal man) destroyed himself to create a society where the different parts of his body represented the four Varnas. Brahmins came from his head, Kshatriyas came from his hands, Vaishyas came from his thighs, and Sudras came from his feet. Examples of what this represents are “Brahmans, who were derived from the head of Purush, are considered the intelligent and most powerful varna because of their wisdom and education and are a representation of the brain. In the same way, Kshatriyas, considered the warrior caste, were created by arms, which represent strength” (Deshpande). Another theory states that the Varnas came from the body organs of Brahma (creator of the world in Hinduism).

Historically, the caste system is believed to have begun with the arrival of the Aryans in India around 1500 BC. The Aryans contained the first mention and a background of the elements that make up the caste system. The Aryans came from southern Europe and northern Asia with fair skin that distinguished them from the native Indians. The Aryans completely ignored the cultures of the Indian people and conquered regions in the north. The Indians were forced to move down south where the mountains were (Deshpande).

The Vaishyas are third in the Caste System, otherwise known as the common people. According to Yanjur Veda “Vaisya among men…brutes from the belly. As they have been created from the storehouse of food (belly) so they are the food (or inteneded to be enjoyed by others). Therefore, they (Vaisyas) are more numerous than others (among men) because many gods were created” (Rao 54). Some also say that the Vaishyas are from the thighs of the Purush. The Bhagavad-Gita further supports the claim that “Agriculture, breeding cattle, trade, (this) is the natural duty of the Vaisyas” (59). The duty of the Vaishyas is sacrifice, giving gifts, agriculture, breeding, and trade. However, later the Sudras take over agriculture and breeding and the Vaishyas become traders, merchants, landowners, and money-lenders. They became strong economically because of their close relation to commerce. They also helped with the construction of public facilities such as hospitals and temples. The Vaishyas placed importance on artisan and technical education; merchants helped India industrialize and created major corporations that became economic powerhouses. The Vaishyas also focused on religious education, because they wanted to be “twice-born”. They shared dvjia status with the upper two castes, Brahmin and Kshatriya, which is being “twice-born”. They achieve their spiritual rebirth during the Upanayanam ceremony. Vaishyas played an important part of the society, but were still considered a part of the lower caste. They were not classified as high social class because of the two upper classes; this provoked hostile feelings towards the upper classes. They started to support anti-Brahmin sects such as Buddhism and Jainism, which are reformist religious beliefs (Vaishyas).

The Sudras are the lowest rank of the Caste System. They are normally artisans and laborers. A large portion of this caste is a product of the mating of an upper caste and an Untouchable or a Sudra. Ancient texts support the claim that Sudras exist to serve the other three castes. “The duty…That of a Sudra is the serving of twice-born, agriculture and cattle-breeding and trade, profession of artisans and court-bards” (Rao 61). It says in the Bhagavad-Gita that “And the natural duty of the Sudras, too, consists in service” (59) further supporting the claim that the Sudras are given a purpose of service. The Sudras are not as harshly discriminated against as the Untouchables, but they still deal with a lot of discrimination from the upper castes. The Sudras are not permitted the same rights and privileges as the three upper castes. For example, they do not have the same access to temples and they are prohibited from the public facilities that the upper castes commonly use. According to Yanjur Veda “Sudra among men… brutes from his feet. Therefore the Sudra… are dependent on other (castes). As no god was created from the feet, so the Sudra is not competent to perform sacrifice. As the Sudra… were created from the feet, so they live by exerting their feet” (54). They were also unable to be “twice-born”, so they couldn’t share the dvija status with the other three castes. Since, they weren’t able to be “twice-born” they weren’t able to part take in Upanayanam. Due to the inequality of the Caste System, many Sudras converted to egalitarian faiths such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

Based on the Hindu law codes, the Untouchables were the product of a Brahmin mother and a Sudra father. However, this theory is not validated by historical facts. The Untouchables came into existence around the end of the Later Vedic Era. “During this era the Aryans, who have been mainly herders, advanced into upper and middle reaches of the Ganga basin and formed an agrarian society…There is a very close relationship between the establishment of Untouchability and the formation of agrarian society” (Kotani 11). This era was also a time when the Brahmins secured their position at the top of society with “their monopoly of the priesthood” (11). The Brahmins legitimized their position by emphasizing their purity. The Ksayriyas living in the upper and middle reaches of the Ganga basin, used the Brahmin’s ideology of purity to their advantage to create the Untouchables. “The existence of untouchables functioned to displace the dissatisfaction of the direct producers, vaisyas and sudras, with the varna-based society, this ensuring stable social order” (Kotani 11). Thus, the Untouchables were placed outside the Varna framework. They became targets of social discrimination and existed to do the impure (but needed) work in the Aryan society. Also, the Untouchables were prohibited to perform religious practices of the “twice-borns” (12). They lived in the outskirts of cities and villages, segregated from the rest of the community. Their material wealth was of the lowest standard, which led to many ill or crippled people. Some of the occupations that the Untouchables had include hunters, arrow makers, woodworkers, executioner, dead animal disposers, scavengers, and earth workers (13).

In the end the Caste System cannot exist without the role of each and every caste including the Untouchables. Mobility within the Caste System is rare and not likely to happen throughout one’s lifetime. Most people stay in the same caste their whole life and marry within their caste. It was rare to see an individual leave his or her caste to take on his or her own path. However, in contemporary society people are becoming more caste aware. Castes can interact more and it is more common to leave the occupations of one’s ancestors. This does not mean the discrimination and inequality doesn’t exist, there is still a long way left for equal rights and equal treatment. Many people are rising to support liberation movements for the Untouchables and the Sudras.




Work Cited

Deshpande, Manali S. History on the Indian Caste System and its Impact on India Today. San

Luis Obispo, 2010. digitalcommon.calpoly. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

Jain, Pankaj. “The Caste System of Hindu Society”. Huffington Post. N.p. 20 April 2012. Web.

23 Nov. 2015. <

Kotani, H. Caste System, Untouchability and the Depressed. New Delhi: Ajay Kumar Jain for

Manohar Publishers and Distributors, 1997. Print.


“Philosophy 312: Oriental Philosophy. Hinduism: The Caste System, Reincarnation, and Karma”.

Philosophy Lander. N.p. n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2015. <


Rao, C. Hayavadana. Indian Caste System. New Delhi: J. Jetley, 1931. Print.

“Vaishyas”. Gurjari. N.p. n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2015. <