Varna (Hinduism)

Varṇa (Sanskrit: वर्ण, romanizedvarṇa), a Sanskrit word with several meanings including type, order, colour or class,[1][2] was used to refer to social classes in Hindu texts like the Manusmriti.[1][3][4] These and other Hindu texts classified the society in principle into four varnas:[1][5]

Communities which belong to one of the four varnas or classes are called savarna or "caste Hindus". The Dalits and scheduled tribes who do not belong to any varna, are called avarna.[7][8]

This quadruple division is a form of social stratification, quite different from the more nuanced system Jātis which correspond to the European term "caste".[9]

The varna system is discussed in Hindu texts, and understood as idealised human callings.[10][11] The concept is generally traced to the Purusha Sukta verse of the Rig Veda.

The commentary on the Varna system in the Manusmriti is oft-cited.[12] Counter to these textual classifications, many Hindu texts and doctrines question and disagree with the Varna system of social classification.[13]

Etymology and origins

The Sanskrit term varna is derived from the root vṛ, meaning "to cover, to envelop, count, classify consider, describe or choose" (compare vṛtra).[14]

The word appears in the Rigveda, where it means "colour, outward appearance, exterior, form, figure or shape".[3] The word means "color, tint, dye or pigment" in the Mahabharata.[3] Varna contextually means "colour, race, tribe, species, kind, sort, nature, character, quality, property" of an object or people in some Vedic and medieval texts.[3] Varna refers to four social classes in the Manusmriti.[3][4]