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Varna System

by Anubhav Bakshi
Varnas - Balancing the Society

‘वर्ण व्यवस्था’ or the Varna System is one of the oldest and at the same time arguably the most controversial concepts in Hinduism. We find the first mention of the Varna System in the Purusha Suktam verse of the Rig Veda. And then again in Mahabharata and Gita.

The class division that we follow today is the much diluted and corrupted version of this scientific and efficient system. Varna system helps to bring order to chaos called society. A society where no one is aware of their respective roles is always doomed to fail and eventually collapse. Varna system prevents that from happening.

There is a big misconception amongst people that the caste system that we follow today has its foundation in the Varna system. But the truth can never be afar. The Varna system mentioned in our Vedas was a brilliant and elaborate idea based on Karma, Guna, and ability. Birth played no part in the assignment of Varna. The system was fair and scientific.

On the other hand, the caste system prevalent today is the result of greed for money and power. Birth became the selection procedure, and oppression became its weapon. 

In this blog, I will discuss the Varna System as suggested in Vedas and how this can bring about a positive change in the functioning of a society. I will also discuss how this Varna system can still be effective in today’s world.

Varna System – The Objective

Hinduism believes that the objective of all humans is to attain Moksha. And there are many paths to reach that destination. One of the most important and easiest paths to attain Moksha is Karma Marg. Even Shri Krishna in his epic poem Gita grants Karma the highest importance. However, this path becomes obstructive if no one is aware of the Karma they must perform to attain Moksha.

And that is why the Varna system is mentioned in the Vedas. This system was created to create a society where everyone is sure of their role. This not only creates a balanced but also a just society.

How does the Varna System work?

ब्राह्मणऽस्य॒ मुख॑मासीत् । 
बा॒हू रा॑ज॒न्य॑: कृ॒तः | 
ऊ॒रू तद॑स्य॒ यद्वैश्य॑: । 
प॒द्भ्याग्ं शू॒द्रो अ॑जायत ।।

Purusha Sukta,
Rig Veda

Vedas describe Adi Purusha as the first being in the universe. And his existence is constituted by a combination of the four Varnas.

•   Brahmins represent its mouth

•   Kshatriyas its arms

•   Vaishyas its thighs

•   Shudras its feet.

Let us try to understand the roles of these Varnas in society:


Brahmana Varna is given the top status in society because they are the teachers. They provide education and spiritual leadership. They determine the vision and values of the Society.

Through the renunciation of worldly pleasures and by devoting their lives to seeking divine and worldly knowledge, they become the guiding lights to society. 

Brahman Varna comprises Priests, Gurus, Rishis, Teachers and Scholars. 

A Brahman must remain in a constant quest for knowledge and should not indulge in commercial activities. He is supposed to survive on the grants from other Varnas and nature. And other Varnas must take care of Brahmanas and offer them grains, cows and land to build Ashrams.


The Arms of Adi Purusha; Kshatriyas are the protectors. They are warriors, Kings and administrators. Their responsibility is to protect Society. 

A Kshatriya should portray considerable strength of body and character. Their fundamental duty is to protect their territory and their subjects, ensure the rule of the law and justice, and maintain peace and prosperity in their land. 

A Kshatriya should seek spiritual and ethical guidance from the Brahmanas and work to bring prosperity to the kingdom by working with the Vaishya Varnas.


They are the productive class. They must protect animals and the land, create wealth and prosperity.

Vaishyas are represented by Agriculturists, Traders, Money Lenders, and those involved in commercial activities. They should work in close coordination with the administrators of the kingdom and thereby ensuring the constant boost to the economy. 

Being the richest of all four Varnas, they bear the burden of sustenance for the entire society, just like the strong thighs keep the body steady.


The last of four Varnas are in no way the least important. Shudras are called the feet of Adi Purusha, but they are the backbone of this entire structure. An orderly society will crumble if the feet are weak. They are the service providers, artisans and labourers.

A Shudra would serve Brahmana in their Ashramas, Kshatriyas in their palaces and courts, and Vaishyas in their commercial activities. 

Any activities that do not come under the definition of the other three Varnas are assigned to the Shudras. Shudra Varna is a thread that ties all the other Varnas together.

Varnas and their roles

Classification of Varnas

There are broadly three classifications based on which a Varna is assigned to a person. Let’s have a look at these classifications, and then we can decide which is the ideal choice for a perfect society.

1. Based on Jati/Birth

This classification allocates Varnas to a person based on their birthplace. A person born to a Brahmin family is a Brahmin. Similarly, a person born in a Kshatriya family is a Kshatriya; a person born in a Vaishya family is a Vaishya, and one born to a Shudra is a Shudra. 

We follow this classification in our society. 

2. Based on Karma

This classification chooses Karma or profession as the deciding factor in assigning a Varna to a person. A person who dedicates his life to the study and propagation of the scriptures is called a Karma Brahmana. 

A politician or a soldier or a General is a Karma Kshatriya. One who is involved in a profession like commerce, business etc. is called a Karma Vaishya. 

The fourth kind of person is working in the Service industry and is called a Karma Shudra.

3. Based on Guna

This classification is based on the character of a person. In this classification, the birth or Karma does not affect the decision. A person with religious and spiritual nature is called a Guna Brahmana (Brahmin by character). A person who shows traits of courage, leadership and strength is a Guna Kshatriya (Kshatriya by character). 

Similarly, an individual with excellent business sense and who is commercially inclined and good with numbers is called a Guna Vaishya (Vaishya by character). 

And finally, a service-oriented person who likes to take care of everyone’s needs is called Guna Shudra (Shudra by character).

The Right Approach

The literal meaning of the word ‘Varna’ is colour. And there is a classification of Varna based on colour. Sage Bhrigu stated, “Brahmins Varna was White, Kshatriyas was Red, Vaishyas was Yellow, and the Shudras’ Black. These colours are created according to the Sattva, Rajas and Tamas gunas and their properties.

However, another renowned sage Bharadwaja countered this theory by stating that colours are seen among all the Varnas, that desire, anger, fear, greed, grief, anxiety, hunger and toil prevails over all human beings, that bile and blood flow from all human bodies, so what distinguishes the Varnas. He refused to categorise Varna on the basis of colour.

However, out of the above three classifications, we can simply discard the one based on birth, as this can never ensure the right people for the right job. It is not a guarantee that a child born into a Brahmin family would possess the intellectual strength required to carry the lineage forward. The child may be good at other activities like administration, commerce or even service. So to classify him as a Brahmin would be detrimental to the cause of creating an efficient system.

Classification of Varna based on Karma can be a valid option. However, the best classification for the Varna system that would lead to a balanced society, would be based on Guna. 

A person can always change his Karma. A Kshatriya King Kaushika can turn into a Brahmin Vishwamitra by the virtue of his Karma. And a Brahmin Parashurama can take up weapons and annihilate all the Kshatriyas from the face of the earth.

However, a person would never change his Guna. Guna is inherent. It is something a person is born with. It is the nature of a person. A person who takes pleasure in the service of society will always choose Shudra Varna. He would know the importance of the work that he loves to do.

In Bhagwat Gita Lord Krishna says:

चातुर्वर्ण्यं मया सृष्टं गुणकर्मविभागश: |
तस्य कर्तारमपि मां विद्ध्यकर्तारमव्ययम् ||

The four categories of occupations were created by me according to people’s qualities and activities. Although I am the creator of this system, know me to be the non-doer and eternal.”

This means that Guna and Karma should only be the criteria for assigning a Varna to a person.

The following video explains this issue beautifully. Here the great Chanakya is debating other Brahmins about the Varna system:

Varna Jati system explained by Trinetra108

Untouchables – The Fifth Varna?

Today many of us equate Shudra varna with the untouchables in society. This is an absolute abomination of the Varna System. None of the Vedic texts or the other religious texts of Hinduism mentions Varna being untouchable. This word or classification never existed in the Hindu Varna system.

Varna system is a scientific tool to distribute Karma according to Guna. And every Varna is assigned specific duties, which are crucial to the efficient working of a society. Varnas are like cogs in the wheel of civilization. If anyone of the cogs is weak it would collapse the entire system.

Untouchable is a term that was added much later when the greed for power, money, and legacy lead to the corruption of the Varna System. As the basis of classification turned into Birth or Jati, it led to discrimination. 

Further, the term untouchable is coined to persecute those who did not comply with the new discriminatory rules of society. 

Our sacred texts state that all the beings in this world were created by Brahma. And Hinduism teaches that we should see the Bhahmn in every being. So, calling anyone untouchable is like insulting the creation of God. 

Some ignorant people may argue that being the feet of the Adi Purush, Shudras are the lowest amongst the Varnas. But the words in our Vedas and other scriptures need to be understood based on their context and not the face value. 

Brahmans are called the Mouth or Head because they delve into the pursuit of knowledge. Kshatriyas responsible for the protection and symbolizing strength are equated to the strong arms. 

Similarly, as thighs have the strongest muscles in the body to support their weight, Vaishyas’ economic activities support and sustain the entire economy of the society. And who can walk in this world without their feet? Like our feet, the Shudras keep society moving. If they stop doing their duty, society will come to a halt and usher into chaos. 

Relevance of Varna System in Today’s World

In present times when most of the world is finding it hard to fight the inequalities in society, the Varna system can emerge as an answer. The system is simple yet, efficient. All the inequalities based on caste, colour or creed can be removed, and a system based on equality and efficiency can be created that would ensure happiness and contentment for all.

In a country like India where the caste has been the biggest hindrance in the way of social harmony and equality of opportunities, we need a system that identifies the Gunas or the character/calibre of a person and assign him/her a role suitable to that. 

This would ensure not only efficiency but also a sense of satisfaction in the mind of every person. As a society, we need to move away from the Varna system based on Birth, because that only adds to the imbalance in the social order. 


The sacred texts of Hinduism contain many concepts like Varna System. And all these concepts have only one goal; to ensure order and balance in society so that people can focus on their Karma. And by doing that they clear their path towards the attainment of Moksha.

But these concepts need to be studied in detail, by focusing on their context, rather than the literal meaning. Varna system can be used to create an efficient and successful civilization. But at the same time, a little tweak in the interpretation can lead to chaos and centuries of inequality and injustice.

It is time to right the wrongs commited in the name of Varna system. Nothing written in Hindu sacred texts can ever go against any human. Hinduism was and is based on the sense of equality. Every person is equal and has a similar goal, just the paths to reach there are different.

We should re-read our Vedas and other sacred texts and understand the context of the words written in them. Varna System is a tool to bring order and balance in a society, and it should be used to achieve only that.

What are your thoughts and takeaways from the concept of Varna Pranali/System? Is there anything else you want me to talk about in my blog?

Don’t forget to send your comments and suggestions. Learn about the concepts of Hinduism in Unfolding Beliefs and read interesting Mythological stories and their hidden lessons in Stories. All in Decoding Hinduism.

Till next time.

Anubhav Bakshi

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