There are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings about the caste system in our society. There are two words that are mistakenly interchangeably used. These words are Jaati or Caste and Varna or Nature. People unfortunately and mistakenly use the word caste to describe Varna. I do not feel jaati or caste is an appropriate translation for the word Varna.

Jaati is assigned from birth according to the family that a person is born into. Varna is not assigned according to the family that a person is born into and therefore is not necessarily assigned from birth. In the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita it is said:

Chatur varnyam māyā srushtam guna karma vibhāgashah

This means that Varna is decided only on the basis of a person’s nature and actions. Lord Krishna says that the Varna system has been arranged according to nature and actions to facilitate the division of labour within society. This organisation within society is eternal.

What is often wrongly believed is that a Brahmin is someone who is born in a Brahmin family; a Kshatriya is someone who is born into a Kshatriya family, etc. This however is not compatible with the words of the Gita. Therefore, to clarify this situation once more, Jaati and Varna are distinct entities. Jaati is decided according to birth; Varna is decided according to a person’s nature and actions.

We know from experience that it is not always the case that a king’s son will make a good king. Just because he is the son of a king, it does not mean that he will be the appropriate heir to the throne. Similarly, just because a person is born into a Brahmin family, it does not mean that he/she will be a Brahmin by nature or actions. The four Varnas: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras can be recognised in society by the differences in their nature and actions.

Brahmins are teachers. Kshatriyas are protectors, soldiers, warriors. Vaishyas are business people. Shudras are workers. We can very easily see this division of labour in society. This system also leads to a smooth running of society.

Children often ask why Mataji, Goddess Shakti i.e. goddess of strength is shown to have eight hands. Each pair of hands is representative of the four Varnas in society. The Varna system which is a division of work in society based on personal qualities and skills is effective when each person performs their duty to the best of their ability and skill. When there is unity within the society within the Varnas, then true Shakti, strength and well-being is created.

The qualities of the four Varnas are well defined like physical attributes. We all know that physical attributes and even certain illnesses are inherited in families. There is a higher probability that a child will have diabetes or heart disease if their parents have suffered these illnesses. Also physical properties such as hair and eye colour, body structure and even intelligence can be inherited to a certain extent. Just as these qualities can be inherited, a person’s nature can also be inherited. Therefore, there is a higher chance that a child born in a Brahmin family will have the nature and actions of a Brahmin. Of course this is not 100% certain, but the probability of a Brahmin by nature and action being born in a Brahmin family is higher than that of a child born to non-Brahmin parents. The same holds true for all the four Varnas.

Finally, in answer to the initial question, I would say that when people marry it is not necessary that there Jaati is the same but it is essential that their Varna is the same or compatible.

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