#Thread - slightly longer one on #Kula, #Jati, #Varna and the Traditional View covering history and traditional thought.

And some musings on the #Smriti -s

Among the three

- Kula was the most real and coherent entity
- Jati was an aggregate of Kula-s
- Varna was the characteristic of an aggregate of Jati-s. It was more a perspective or View.

Will elaborate on Varna later in the thread.

The organization of Kula was around a “Profession” and a custom designed Tradition/Sampradaya from the larger Hindu Philosophy.

A Kula always moved together because it was minimally self-contained for the “Purushartha Practice” in that Profession

Jati was the aggregator of a set of Kula-s that shared a Profession or aspects of the Profession and had significant overlap in their Traditional Life.

While the Kula-s ensured the minimal existence, a Jati ensured a thriving existence.

Kula and the Jati were far more social realities. Varna was always a ‘perspective’ or a ‘view’ or an ideal of the Society. The ground always had the Kula & Jati expressing themselves physically.

Varna was a means of checking if the Society was composed of the right balance.

With this high level representation of the framework, let us explore what was the dynamic available to the society.

1. Individuals moving from one Kula to another was quite common but a non-issue

2. Individuals moving from one Jati to another by themselves was a rarity

3. Kula-s moving from one Jati to another Jati was not uncommon and even across Varna-s. This is important.

Brahmanas Kula-s have become Kshatriya or Vaishya or Shudra. The reverse has also happened. Shudra communities have over centuries acquired Brahmanas status too.

What is the trigger

- Conflicts
- Conditions such as Famine
- Situational needs of the Society (facing an assault)

Now, why is it that a Kula moved as an entity? There in lies an essence of Bharateeya Parampara.

The individual in isolation is always weak. The community always sustains life more predictably securing the strong and the weak alike. Hence, the social unit was always a Kula or a section of the Kula that was minimally required to live a secure life.

What about the individual? Was the individual not accorded any dynamic at all.

It is crystal clear that the individual was discouraged from moving out of the community. Both the Text & the Community Practice discouraged it.

Did they ban it or persecute it? A categorical No.

When an individual moved through an Inter Jati Marriage, the following happened.

1. One of the individuals got absorbed into other Jati/Varna - often the woman who would acquire the Jati/Varna of the man.

2. If this occurred in scale, then that would result in a new Jati.

What is the evidence for all of this?

1. The Soota-Kula mentioned all the way from Mahabharata was fundamentally a Brahmana women marrying Kshatriya men and the lot making a new Jati. They were all the while respected as Bards, Royalty, Advisors and some even became Kings.

2. Read Dharampal’s descriptions of various Jati-s. The Jati status changed over centuries.

3. Read British Gazette of various regions. You will see Jati conflicts with claiming status ‘X’ and others denying that status etc., All rooted in movements of individuals & groups

Why this long explanation? To recognise the following.

1. The Kula, Jati, Varna status has never been Static.

2. It has constantly changed through mixing/movement.

3. This movement has neither been the rule nor an Exception.

4. They were not Static but gradual

All Kula-Jati-Varna discussions must recognise this basic minimum reality that it has been dynamic. Cannot push this aside as an Exception, it is just Uncommon.

Whenever needed the movement has occurred, gradually so as to not disturb the order, yet change materialised.

Lets shift to the Varnas.

They have never been a ‘Structural Reality’ of our Society, until the British stepped in. They were always a ‘View’ imposed on the Society from an Analytical stand-point.

This view was also dynamic and multi-dimensional. What do we mean by that?

It was dynamic in the sense that Jati-s could acquire different Varna characteristics. Dharampal provides a lot of evidence to this effect.

It was multi-dimensional in the sense that individuals or Kula-s could acquire a different Varna status within the same Jati.

Potentially, within a Jati X - which was not a Brahmana Jati, some Kula could acquire the Brahmanas Varna status within the Jati X for the purposes of that Jati. They could even get integrated into the Brahmanas Varna.

Priests of all Communities could experience this dynamic.

Scholars who have studied Societies in various Centuries have opined that a proper Varna structure is impossible to establish. Dr. Chidananda Murthy in Karnataka once opined that in a certain Century it seemed as though the Varna system had completely collapsed.

What seemed like a Vaishya Community suddenly seemed like a Kshatriya Community or within that contained a Kshatriya sub-sect. Its simply too confusing and you can never establish a Varna Structure. It was only in the minds of the British.

The Ground Reality was a Kala-Jati Network that was reasonably dynamic but largely strict where different Jati-s had different Varna characteristics - variably in Time, Space, Complexity.

That is why you do not see too much conflict until the British came.

Now, do we mean that this was a beautifully successful system that thrived without problems and creating exploitative situations.

Certainly not. That it deteriorated from time to time and people of wisdom constantly came and elevated it is quite certain.

In this Millennium, you will find innumerable situations where the Society deteriorated. Communities suffered. But it never lost its flexibility/reformability until the British came.

In the British era, something significant happened. I will cover that in a different thread.

Let me now come to the Smriti Texts. At the outset, the Smriti-s seem to be painting a totally different picture - as has been told to us - of a rigid hierarchical Top-Down System.

We are all too apologetic of it by the virtue of our English Education.

1. Smriti-s are not a Constitution equivalent Texts. They are not Law Books.
2. Smriti-s are not Society Description Texts.
3. Smriti-s are Consultative Texts.

In Summary, Smriti-s are not presenting to us ‘A Model’ of the Society.

What do we mean by Consultative Texts? Why is that important? What is the evidence in favour of this?

Consultative Texts mean that they are looked at when you have a complex problem to resolve. Not on a daily basis. And you consult them through certain experts.

How does the Society Function then? It functions because every Community has evolved a complex Tradition consisting of Practices, Rituals, Customs, Ceremonies that covers 80% of life. It is passed from generation to generation and needs no consultation/validation/certification

The only thing that requires anything more than this is the King’s Court.

If you look at history you will find separate ‘Law’ Texts at various points in history. But never are the Smriti-s used as direct Law Books.

From time to time, Traditional scholars have evolved a governing framework for Kings.

They use Smritis, but they are not alone. Along with it, the Vedas, the Itihasa-Purana, Dharma-Sutras and so on. They have the right competence to derive a Justice Framework.

This also is the reason why we have multiple Smriti-s. As Perspectives changed, the Smritis changed. Different Smriti-s gained prominence at different points in time.

A Traditional Judge of an era had scholarship in a lot of Smriti-s & the ability to invoke it for a Context.

If you carefully read the Smriti Texts, they are conversational in nature. A Rishi is addressing a group of Brahmanas, or Kings or something like this.

This is why at places you find an exaggerated rhetoric. The Modern Scholarship misunderstands this rhetoric.

Eg., Manu Smriti is extremely praising of the Brahmanas at one place. In the same text, the ‘Materialistic Brahmanas’ are dealt with harsh and demeaning words.

Because we read this as ‘Descriptive Text’ or ‘Social Model’ we end up taking this rhetoric more seriously.

It is meant to emphasise a specific aspect and its danger. So, if you read the text completely and in the Context of the Chapter that is written, and as a Conversation/Address to a group of people, a wholly different perspective emerges.


1. Is applicable only within a Time, Space, Context.
2. Is a perspective throwing text than Law Book.
3. Ought to be Rewritten for a different Context.
4. Does contain Universal Principles. Extracting this from Temporal aspects requires some Traditional Scholarship.

5. Can it be wrong? It can be. But determining that requires some deep scholarship.

6. Community Practice always are more superior to everything else from an immediacy standpoint. A Smriti line cannot override a Community tradition. Nobody goes to Smritis to validate that

If these factors are considered, then we will read the Smriti-s differently.

All this changed during the British, because they evolved this ‘literal reading’, ‘model reading’ of the Smritis and imagined Indian society as a mirror of Smritis.

This reading of it as a Law Book, Sociology Book, History Book, Political Science Book we learnt from the British which has now crept into Modern Academics.

In reality it is written from a Consultative perspective, as an Exception Book, as a Principles Book, with some Code of Conduct.

Its perspective is to trigger a thought process within the Society and Consulting people - so that they derive what is needed for the Context.

To understand this better we need to understand that our Culture is not ‘Explanatory Culture’ but ‘Performative Culture’ and these Texts are an aid in the journey of Performance. They are Instruments of Thought and Action. In this case, a Triggering/Bootstrapping Instrument.

Read from this perspective, the scope of misunderstanding of the Smritis would be very minimal.


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14 Sep
The Seven Levels in which Life is organised in Bharateeya Parampara.

1. The Philosophy (The Tatva and the Siddhanta)
2. The Principles (The Sutra)
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5. The Practices – (The Shastra Paddhati)

6. The Customs (The Achara and Reeti)
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Level-1 is the Philosophical Top

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There are 3 basis.

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