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Caste has no Religious Connection and Hence Shouldn’t be Associated With Hindu Dharma

Caste has no Religious Connection and Hence Shouldn’t be Associated With Hindu Dharma

  • Hindu Awareness Workshop held at Carmel Clay Schools Educational Services Center in Carmel, Indiana, helped explain the tenets of the Hindu religion and also dispel some misconceptions.

On June 23, a Hindu Awareness Workshop was made available to all Carmel Clay Schools (CCS) teachers. This initiative was part of an effort to increase and acknowledge diversity and cultural differences in a school environment. By attending this workshop, teachers got to learn about Hinduism, view posters of the Darshana exhibition, and try delicious Indian food.

Asini Jayarapu, Arya Goel and I, all CCS students, lead this workshop. We Hindu Americans created a presentation that touched upon topics such as Hindus around the world, the concept of divinity, Hindu practices, beliefs, and misconceptions. The presentation included information on Hinduism’s contributions to science, arts, architecture, and other contributions toward the improvement of quality of life such as yoga and Ayurveda.

Hinduism is the 3rd largest religion in the world, consisting of 1.16 billion followers, representing 15% of the population. Hinduism is the oldest active religion. It has deep and ancient roots, for it has been practiced and has evolved over thousands of years due to the philosophical contributions of many. Additionally, it is also crucial to remember that all Hindus aren’t exclusively Indian and all Indians aren’t Hindus. Hinduism has amassed a following of diverse people all over the world.

An important Hindu tradition is greeting with a Namaste. Namaste means, “I bow to the divinity in you.” Hindus see divinity in everything, from the largest ocean to the smallest insect. Hindus believe that all religious paths are valid and will lead to the same ultimate truth. They value the belief of pluralism, or multiple paths coexisting simultaneously leading to the same divinity.

Another core Hindu belief is Dharma, or, “that which sustains.” It is believed to be a natural law that sustains, protects, and nourishes society, thus bringing harmony. It focuses on duty and responsibility toward one another and cultivates good core qualities among Hindus.

Historically, Indian society had different roles that were necessary to make the community prosper. However, as colonial powers took control, they created the hierarchy known as the “caste system” dividing these roles into different castes.

As Hinduism made its way into the Western world, misconceptions began to arise, one being vegetarianism. Many have come to believe that all Hindus are vegetarian, however, vegetarianism is a choice for most Hindus. When you look at the typical Hindu meal, most components of the food can be traced back to cows. Their generosity has generated a reverence for them, therefore Hindus don’t eat beef. Hinduism is also commonly mistaken for a polytheistic religion. In Hinduism, each deity is the manifestation of one truth, or “Brahman.” Since Hindus have imagined Brahman in many different forms, it has caused the misconception that Hinduism is a polytheistic religion.

Perhaps the greatest misconception is the caste system. It is important to know that this concept has no religious connection, and hence shouldn’t be associated with Hindu Dharma. Historically, Indian society had different roles that were necessary to make the community prosper. However, as colonial powers took control, they created the hierarchy known as the “caste system” dividing these roles into different castes.

A CCS elementary school teacher asked: “Do Hindus worship the same God as other religions?”

The word “God” is a poor translation of the Sanskrit word “Bhagwan.” The divinity that other faiths worship is a different interpretation of the Brahman Hindus pray to. So simply, Hindus don’t exactly worship the same divinity, however, the Hindu view validates all manifestations.

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Many teachers had questions, like this, throughout the presentation. Many of these questions to the average Hindu would have seemed elementary, but to teachers, they were things they had never learned. It caused us Hindus to realize how little our own teachers had known about so many of their students when it came to their personal life.

When it came to answering these questions, it became slightly tricky because such questions that seem easy to answer, cause many to overthink them. Luckily, the Darshana posters set around the room had encompassed much of the information teachers needed to know. They ranged from explaining Namaste to the meaning of Dharma and the different festivals Hindus celebrate. These posters combined both simplicity and appeal, causing their audience to acquire knowledge effectively.

(Arya Goel and Asini Jayarapu also contributed to this story)

Eesha Singh is a rising sophomore at Carmel High School. She is a volunteer of the Carmel chapter, Sadhana Shakha, of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh for 8 years.

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  • Hindu dharm is a way of life where there is no regimentation or hard and fast rules and rituals to be compulsorily followed by every body who claims to be the follower of Hindu Dharm. Dharm is the word which denotes the duty of a person towards various things such as society,nation,towards relatives ,institution where one is working or connected in various capacity,towards one’s profession and so on and so forth. The person may be highly religious or atheist or somebody who worships different deity of his belief depending upon his inclination –all together may claim to be Hindus.There is complete democracy. The only condition is that one should not encroach upon the freedom of others in any way whatsoever. Thus Hindu society is an umbrella under which one may lead his life as he wishes. The caste system is not an intrinsic part of Hindu Dharm at all. Th e practice of untouchability and many evil traditions are not part of philosophy of Hindu Dharm. On the contrary the practices which cause the division and controversies, have no place in the definition of Hindu Dharm There are only two divisions Good and evil
    The practices which envisage to binding the society together . can be said as good and those which cause division are bad.

  • I liked what you wrote about all religious paths being valid and the value of pluralism in Hinduism. Growing up in India, I found that many people had images of a number of Hindu deities in their family shrines, and quite often images of Jesus Christ as well. I hope that Hindus in India and the world over will uphold these principles and protect all the religious faiths of the Indian people.
    However, I believe that it is very misleading to assert that the caste system was brought into India by the British. And it is a whitewashing of the unpleasant truth to describe caste in Indian society as ” different roles that were necessary to make the community prosper”, when in fact it is a hierarchical and inherently unequal social pyramid based on birth, not talents or achievement. The claim in your title, “caste has no religious connection” cannot be supported historically either, since caste has long been associated with Hinduism. In fact, one of the features of Buddhism when in emerged in India back in 600 BCE is that it rejected the Hindu caste system. To my mind it is not shameful to acknowledge that India, like most societies in the world, had historical wrongs that need to be set right to achieve true democracy. The caste system, along with its outcastes, is one of those wrongs.

    • Josna, you make a good point. And I agree that the connection exists, but not through ‘religion’. It’s through ‘social’ progression. Let me explain by being more nuanced. The main point here is that “Caste” is not the same as “Varna”. Hinduism has the concept of Varna according to which every person born is a Shudra (who’s fundamental duty is self-maintenance. Something that the child’s parents do for him/her when they are infants, and they learn it to do for themselves as they grow older). Now as the child grows, he/she, through their karma, interests and capabilities take on a path of being 1) a Brahmin (the intellectual in the society, whose role is to educate the society), 2) a Kshatriya (the soldier, whose role is to protect the society), or 3) a Vaishya (who becomes a trader or businessman for the society). If the child grows up taking one none of 3 roles, he/she remains on the path they were born on i.e. Shudra (the one who takes care of the basic maintenance work of the society).

      If you think about this Varna system. It’s a superb way to have a sustainable society. Now the problem happens over time when natural human territorial tendencies start molding the society into separate ‘classes’ – It’s the same as what goes on today – a politician’s child gets into politics, a billionaire businessman’s kid does business etc. etc. The same tendency back then led a Brahmin’s child to be a brahmin, a Kshatriya’s child to be a Kshatriya and a Vaishya’s to be a Vaishya. And over time these camps crystalized leading to a class of Shudra’s who ended up getting the short end of the stick.

      I hope this explains how “Caste System” is connected to Hindu society NOT religion.

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