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Opinion: Is Krishna Responsible For Devising The Caste System? Understanding The Gita

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It is a safe bet to say that while most of us might have heard about “Bhagavad Gita” (or Gita), hardly any of us would have read it. It contains more than 700 verses, not counting the unnumbered opening one in chapter 13!

Not only that, this, possibly over-two-millennia-old classic, could be the only epic in the world that is admired without application of mind and debunked with understandable misunderstanding, as it sanctions the inimical caste divisions in the Hindu polity, as opposed to the Torah, the Bible, and the Quran, that seek to inculcate unity among the respective communities.

Representational image. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The sore point to those at the rough-end-of-the-caste-stick in the “in vogue” Gita is god Krishna’s alleged owning of the creation of the very discriminatory caste system:

chātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sruṣhṭaṁ guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśha
tasya kartāram api mā
ṁ viddhyakartāram avyayam (chapter 4, verse 13)

Well, the plain reading of this Sanskrit shloka (verse) indicates that based on the (human) qualities and (mundane) activates, Krishna created the four varnas (castes), and although he was the creator of this system, he remains a non-doer and unchangeable.

Caste Categorisation Remains Rigid

However, Gita’s modern-day proponents, mostly hailing from its pampered castes, seeking to cover up this embarrassing reality, assert that the envisaged caste system is based on human evolution, not on one’s station of birth.

Granted, but if indeed, it is their conviction that caste only symbolizes an evolutionary human state, then they should have been at the forefront in fighting against the birth-oriented caste system.

Besides, why is there no advocacy whatsoever on their part that the much evolved shudras that abound in the intellectual arena of the day, should be absorbed into the brahmin social fold?

Moreover, have many of the twice-born, by their unbecoming conduct, not become shudras (as per their interpretation)? Such people are fit to be shunted out of the brahmanical arena, but is there any move in that direction?

So their lip service to the Gita hurt Hindus, while exposing their hypocritical whitewashing of the birth-centric caste system. This confirms that the said shloka means what it means i.e., in spite of their non-sectarian spin to it.

Gita And The Four Varnas

Moreover, towards the very end of chapter 18, Krishna is said to have detailed the human qualities and mundane activates of the people belonging to the four main caste groups as follows:

  • Of brahmins, at the apex of the caste pyramid – Tranquility, restraint, austerity, purity, patience, integrity, knowledge, wisdom, and belief in a hereafter (verse 42).
  • Of kshatriyas, the second in the pecking order – Valour, strength, fortitude, skill in weaponry, resolve never to retreat from battle, large-heartedness in charity, and leadership abilities (verse 43).
  • Of vaishyas, the third in line – Agriculture, dairy farming, and commerce are the natural works for those with the qualities of vaishyas.
  • Of shudras, at the caste base – Serving through work is the natural duty for those with the qualities of shudras (verse 44).

It must be noted that, unlike in the case of brahmins and kshatriyas, the (human) qualities of vaishyas and shudras are not spelt out, maybe owing to the fact that the best of them were already bestowed upon the first two.

Thus, it can be said that the Gita, as it is, unmistakably propounds the caste system and unambiguously details the caste characteristics i.e., besides the earmarked social occupations/obligations of its members.

Hence, one should ponder: would Krishna have chosen to reduce shudras, his own people, literally that is, as Krishna himself was a shudra, as menials even as Jehovah, having enabled the Jews to come out of slavery, made them his “chosen people”.

Reading Between The Lines

Well, one need not go beyond the Gita for the right answer.

To begin with, as vague and intelligible as “he remains a non-doer and unchangeable” sounds in the said contentious verse, he was unambiguous in affirming the following, elsewhere in the Gita:

Varied I made vicissitudes  
As the case with attitudes. (chapter 10, verse 5)

Willed I birth of progenitors all
Seven seers great and elders four 
Not to mention sovereign fourteen. (chapter 10, verse 6)

Was not the manner of proclamation of the creation of the “four castes” uncharacteristic of Krishna?

Besides, he also proclaimed that:

Self-Imperishable is brahman 
But dwells it yet there in beings   
Brings that forth is act supreme. (chapter 8, verse 3)

Skies in rooted wind as spreads
Dwell in me though disperse all. (chapter 9, verse 6)

In beings all and objects too  
Within he lies, without as well,
If one comes to grasp this well
It’s perception that’s supreme. (chapter 13, verse 15)

Would Krishna have maintained that he was also the creator of the discriminatory caste system, in the same vein?

Also, contrary to the above cited caste characteristics, elsewhere in the Gita, he affirms that:

Noble or naughty it’s thy make
Self thus thine but shapes thyself (chapter 6, verse 5).

That being the case, how could Krishna have branded every brahmin as virtuous and tagged all the kshatriyas as valourous?

More damningly, as against Krishna’s alleged creation of the four castes based on individual (human) qualities, the Gita characterizes only three human proclivities namely, virtue, passion and delusion.

Virtue, passion so too delusion  
Send I forth though all of them

Come to dwell in none of them (chapter 7, verse 12)

To tie the spirit and body tight
Uses nature as its threads 
Virtue, passion as well delusion (chapter 14, verse 5)

Gita On Women

Above all is this faux pas, having belittled women in chapter 9, verse 32, thus:

Even those who are born of sinful origin—women, vaishyas, and also shudras—they attain the supreme state by taking refuge in me…

Would he have glorified them as well, in verse 34 of the very next chapter i.e., chapter 10? The verse:

I’m the death that devours all
As well brings forth that beings
Besides what makes woman’s glory

If as implied, brahmin and kshatriya women (no exemption to them, as they are clubbed with vaishyas and shudras, men and women together) were to be born of sinful womb (actually it is paapa-yoni, or sinful vulva, in the shloka), it goes without saying that their male siblings would not have been born any differently, right?

Krishna’s Words Have Been Twisted

But, the Gita declares brahmin men as worship-worthy! Yet this nonsensical verse in chapter 9’s verse 32, is taken as Krishna’s word by the foolish world.

What is worse, understandably, the shudras have come to grudge the Gita on this front as well.

If only the Gita’s proponents read it instead of rote learning it, as advised therein:

Scores thought over mere rote learning 
Betters meditation awareness too 
What helps man to find moorings
Are acts his with no axe to grind. (chapter 12, verse 12)

Its opponents should realize that the true nature of godhood is,

None I favor; slight I none 
Devout mine all gain true me (chapter 9, verse 29)

then, it would be crystal clear to both how vested interests have miscarried Krishna’s message to mankind, conveyed to the world by Vyasa, also a progenitor of the latter.

Additional Reading

So, it makes a case for them to own up to the work, albeit after ridding it of its inane interpolations, as was done in this writer’s “Bhagvad Gita: Treatise of Self-help”, that’s in the public domain, as a free ebook, from which the quotes in verses in this article are excerpted. Those in prose are from others sources.

For further perspectives on the Gita, the readers may also read the following pieces online:

  1. Absurdity of Bhagvad Gita’s Caste Biases
  2. Badnām-Gita’s Spoiler Slokas
  3. The Dichotomy Between Hindu Religiosity and Gita’s Spirituality
  4. Mundane Distortions in the Divine Discourse.
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