Chaturvarna (4 Varnas)

Mahabharata : Chaturvarna (Varna system)

This work is a compilation of contents from maharshi Vyasa’s epic Mahabharata on the subject of Chaturvarna (four Varnas). I studied Vyasa Mahabharata full time for 2 years. While doing it I created an extensive topic wise indexed content across about 20 topics. Please see the Tab ‘Mahabharata’ in this site for more information.

This work has material collected and compiled from this work of mine. I have also included one brief extract from Sri Aurobindo’s ‘Essays on Gita’.

Varna system, now known commonly as caste system, is a deep rooted social order in Hindu society. It has remained unshakable over thousands of years. A study of this epic reveals the following key points:

(i) This order was established based on the level of evolution of the jeeva (soul) towards liberation. A jeeva could go through various varnas in its different births based on its karmas of past births.

(ii) The four basic varnas (Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vysya & Shudra in that order of hierarchy) were regarded equally by the scholars & philosophers even though there was a hierarchy based on the point above.

(iii) Many believed that the varna of a person even though known by virtue of birth, can only be accepted so based on his nature, character and actions rather than mere birth. This was particularly so for brahmana who is on top.

(iv) Children born to man of higher varna and woman of same or lower varna were well accepted in the social order and belonged to one of the four varnas. (natural order or anuloma krama).

(v) Children born to man of lower varna and woman of higher varna (known as varna sankara; reverse order, known as viloma krama) were considered highly objectionable and were considered of mixed caste and outcastes with many of them not considered respectable. They all fell outside the four varnas.

(vi) Children born from mating between men & women of different outcastes among themselves and with the four main varnas resulted in several other types of ‘outcastes’.

(vii) Dharmas and karmas were defined for each varna clearly. But there were also common dharma & karma applicable to all varnas. These were all aimed at taking the jeeva towards liberation by elevating the consciousness gradually.

The contents are grouped under following major topics:

  • Jeeva as a unit and not present body
  • Origin & purpose
  • Nature, characteristics, qualities
  • Dharma & karmas of varnas
  • Relative superiority of varnas
  • Hierarchy & rights over assets
  • Fall from, change in & migration of varnas
  • Varnas & ashramas
  • Prescribed, allowed & forbidden karmas
  • Norms for interaction & mingling in society
  • Mix up for varnas (varna sankara)
  • Varnas & administration/governance
  • Varnas & dharmas over yugas

I hope the readers will find this work useful in understanding this system in our society in Mahabharata times & now.

Download PDF here: (1.75 MB; 56 pages)


For other Topic based compilations from Mahabharata see under Menus ‘Mahabharata’ and ‘More Compilations’.

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