Varṇadharma in Dharmashastras

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

Varṇa system is a social division of based on varṇas. The word varṇa derives it's origin from 'vr'. Varṇa system came into existence to distribute the responsibilities among various people to maintain the order of the society. Varṇa system was proposed and established to keep away from encroachment of duties and business in the society. There are four varṇās namely:

  1. Brāmhaṇa
  2. Kṣatriya
  3. Vaiśya
  4. Śūdra

Sometimes transliterated as: Varnadharma in Dharmashastras, VarNadharma in Dharmashastras, Varnadharma in Dharmashastras


The duties instructed to them exclusively are called as ‘Varṇadharma’.

Brāhmaṇa

Brāhmaṇa is the sect which is highly honored amongst all the other sects of the society due to the code of conduct they are expected to follow. According to dharmasāstra, brāhmaṇa is instructed to mainly engage himself in the following activities:

  1. Adhyāyana - In adhyāyana, one keeps oneself well versed in sanātana literature like vedas and purāṇas.
  2. Adhyāpana - It this one, a person teaches the sanātana literature to other varṇas.
  3. Yajña - It is the sacrificial ritual done for the well-being of the society and one’s self.
  4. Yājana - It means guiding others in sacrificial rituals.
  5. Dāna - In this a person does charity to needy people.
  6. Pratigrahaṇa - In this person accepts the charity given by others.
Adhyāpanaṃ cādhyayanaṃ yajanaṃ yājanaṃ tathā | dānaṃ pratigrahaśceti ṣaṭkarmāṇyagrajanmanaḥ ||[1]

In the above six duties, adhyayana, yajña and dāna are the means to attain dharma[2] and therefore are to be performed compulsorily. The other three are called as jīvikā dharmas.[3] Thus according to dharma sāstra there is no wide scope for brāhmaṇa to attain power or wealth but they are instructed to indulge in practices for the well-being of the society. Hence they are accounted to be the most honorable sect by virtue in the society.

Kṣtriya

Kṣtriya is the sect which is responsible for the security and administration of the society.

Pradhānaṃ kṣtriye karma prajānāṃ paripālanaṃ |[4]

Just like brāhmaṇas, kṣtriyas are also instructed to perform adhyayana, yajña and dāna. Their jīvikā dharma is prajā paripālanaṃ which means taking care of security of the society.

Vaiśya

Vaiśya is the sect which is instructed to indulge in business, farming and taking care of the cattle as their jīvikā dharma. Just like brāhmaṇas and kṣtriyas, vaiśyas are also instructed to perform adhyayana, yajña and dāna.

Paśūnāṃ rakṣaṇaṃ dānamijyādhyayanameva ca | vaṇikpathaṃ kusīdaṃ ca vaiśyasya kṛṣimeva ca ||[5]

Śūdra

Śūdra is the sect which is the work-force of the society. Śūdra is instructed to work under any one of the three other varnas i.e. brāhmaṇa, kṣtriya and vaiśya. This is called as ‘dvija śuṣrūṣā’. If one is not interested in dvija śuṣrūṣā one can opt for agriculture under vaiśya as a job or be a sculpture or mason for livelihood. They are also permitted to sell salt, honey, oil, curd, buttermilk and ghee as their livelihood .

Lavaṇaṃ madhu tailaṃ ca dadhi takraṃ ghṛtaṃ payaḥ | na duṣyecchūdrajātīnāṃ kuryātsarveṣu vikriyaṃ ||[6]

References

  1. Manusmṛti-1-88, smṛti muktāphalaṃ, p.go.18
  2. It refers to puṅya or good merits here.
  3. It means the source for a livelihood.
  4. Yājnavalkya smṛti-ācārakāṇḍa-119, smṛti muktāphalaṃ, p.no.64
  5. Manu smṛti-1-90, smṛti muktāphalaṃ, p.no.66
  6. Parāśara smṛti, smṛti muktāphalaṃ, p.no.65