Jati vs Varna
Jati and Varna are two words that are very important while studying Indian social system. These are classifications of the traditional Indian society that confuse many people who are outsiders, especially westerners as they go for literal translation of these words. The western world is aware of the caste system that is prevalent in India, but they make the mistake of treating both Jati and Varna as the caste of an individual where the two terms are not synonymous. This article attempts to highlight the differences between Jati and Varna for the benefit of the readers.
Jati and Varna both play an important role in the life of a Hindu. In ancient India, society had a system of classification that was known as Varna vyavastha or system. This Varna system divided the society into 4 classes that were as follows.
• Brahmins who happened to be the priestly class
• Kshatriyas who happened to be the warrior class
• Vaishyas who happened to be the trader class
• Shudras who happened to be the servant or the laborer class
The word Varna, when translated into Hindi, literally translates into color. However, the Varna system had nothing to do with the color of the skin of an individual. In fact, the Varna system was devised to classify a person on the basis of his attributes or characteristics. However, the system got degenerated with the passage of time and developed into the much maligned caste system that is seen even today. This caste system meant that a person had no chances of upward mobility in the society, and he remained in the caste that he was born into.
The original Varna system was devised to have harmony and cooperation between people living in the society and people in different Varnas did not interfere in each other’s lives to compete. It was when the Varna of a person was decided on the basis of his birth rather than his qualities that it became rotten.
The ancient Varna system did not have much of significance in the social order in the society. If one was a Brahmin, it may have meant a lot to other Varnas, but inside his own Varna, he was just another individual with no identity. The need for identity within a single Varna led to the development of Jati system inside the Varna system. There was no Jati system in ancient India, and even the Chinese Scholar Hsuan Tsang has not mentioned anything about it in his writings. The literal translation of the word Jati gives us the word birth.
Jatis developed much later in India to reflect the trade or profession of a particular community. So, while Gandhi comes from Gandha which means smell, the community of Gandhis is the one that trades in perfumes. Dhobi community came from the word dhona which meant to wash, and thus Dhobis were people who washed other people’s clothes. Thus, a jati is a community engaged in a particular profession or trade. This system of classification continued in modern India till recently, and a person’s surname was enough to let others know all about his profession. However, with modern education system and no discrimination from the state, this caste system or the Jati system is on the decline.
What is the difference between Jati and Varna?
• The Jati was a subdivision of the communities in the Indian social order which was broadly divided into four Varnas.
• Varna is a much older system of classification than Jati.
• Jati helped in identification within one’s own Varna.
• Jati system of classification got degraded into the modern caste system.