varna system of hindus

What’s your VARNA quotient?

What’s your IQ? What’s your EQ? These days we are also asked what your SQ (spiritual quotient) is. These IQ, EQ, SQ etc are available today only to measure our aptitude, emotions, spirituality etc. But there is a quotient that was discovered thousands of years ago in India, which is based on natural order of things. It is the Varna quotient that is simple, logical and provides a template to understand oneself.

We just can’t help but categorise anything and everything. We have created so many categories, divisions, sub divisions in almost everything we know of. It is no surprise then, that there exists all over the world one sort of division or the other in a society.

Those who know the Indian society would agree that Indian society is one of its kind with categories and categories of people and people, full of diversity and riddle with complexities. It has been that way for thousands of years. But the Indian thinkers of the past, in their wisdom, observed deeply and discovered a system of classification or grouping the very society they lived in.

The four categories…

Brahmins THE THINKERS: We all can identify with this grouping as it is based on our innate tendencies and behaviour. It is famously called the Varna system and according to this system, there are the four categories. They are the four categories of Thinkers, the Leaders, the Profit-minded and the Hands-on-Workers. A society has people in all of these four categories be in Western, Middle Eastern, South Asian or Far Eastern. Here is a simple descriptor of these four categories.

The thinkers are those who are purely intellectually driven. They are the contemplative ones who have a passion for research and study. They create knowledge and they are the policy makers, the scientists, the hardcore R&D guys, the sublime mystics, the philosophers, the educators of the society etc. These people love to think, analyse, categorise, educate and provide roadmaps for mankind.

THE LEADERS: kshatriya
The Leaders are the ones who have a commanding personality and provide leadership. They naturally tend to lead the masses. They are the ones who govern, offer protection to society, are in the military, defence, prevent wrong doing in the society, ensure justice, are the lawyers, cops etc.

The Profit minded people are the corporate guys who live and breathe profit. Business is what they understand. Profit and loss is their fundamental temper. They own capital, run industries and fund enterprises.

They are the ones who work more, do service to society and do the processing, the grassroot workers. They need not be just unskilled workers or those who do menial jobs.


Technically speaking…

vaishyaThe technical terminology used for these categories or Varnas are “Braahmanas” for thinkers, “Kshatriyas” for leaders, “Vaishyas” for the profit minded and “Shudras” for the workers. This four-fold category is not by inheritance or birth but only by mental temperaments. For example a thinker’s son need not be a thinker. A businessman’s son can be a natural thinker or even a worker. The word Braahmana is derived from the noun Brhman (brahmani aacharati iti braahmanah – One who seeks Brhman is a Braahmana). A Kshatriya is a holder of kṣatra or authority. Vaishya is from the noun Vishaha meaning merchant. The Vaishya is colloquially called ‘Bania’ or ‘Vaania’ which is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Vanij’, meaning trader. Shudra is said to share roots with the words shuddha and shucha which mean pure.

We can be a combo of all categories but dominance of a particular mental temperament (Varna Quotient) shows in our behaviour. The VQ or the Varna Quotient is well defined and based on our innate tendencies called ‘Gunas’ which puts us in one of the categories. All Varnas are essential as a society needs them all.

Varna quotient ~ the real facts from ancient sources…

The Indian sourcebooks and the extensive body of knowledge explain these categories. They are very clear about these concepts and candid in its explanations, duties, responsibilities etc.

Lord Krishna says in his Gita (ch-4, verse 13) that “The fourfold-varna (Chaatur-varna) has been created by Me according to the differentiation of ‘GUNA’ and ‘KARMA’; though I am the author thereof know Me as non-doer and immutable.”

To call Varna as caste simply shows a lack of research and an intellectual myopia. In fact there is no such word as ‘caste’ in the Indian vocabulary. It was coined from the word Portuguese word ‘Casta’ by the Portuguese invaders during their maiden voyage to India in the 16th century. The British in India simply continued using this incorrect word.


The generic definition of the term ‘Varna’ comes from ‘Vriyate Iti Varnaha’ implying that one can choose the group and occupation based on your innate tendencies. “Just as a wooden toy elephant cannot be real elephant, and a stuffed deer cannot be a real deer, so, without studying scriptures and the Vedas and the development of intellect, a Braahmana by birth cannot be considered a Braahmana” says the Manu Smriti. A hymn from the Rig Veda goes to the extent of saying, “No one is superior, none inferior. All are brothers marching forward to prosperity”.

Swami Vivekananda explains “Take a man in his different pursuits, for example: when he is engaged in serving another for pay, he is in Shudra-hood; when he is busy transacting some piece of business for profit, on his account, he is a Vaishya; when he fights to right wrongs then the qualities of a Kshatriya come out in him; and when he meditates on God, or passes his time in conversation about Him, then he is a Braahmana. Naturally, it is quite possible for one to be changed from one Varna into another. Otherwise, how did Vishwamitra become a Braahmana and Parashurama a Kshatriya?”

The ancient Varna system may or may not be in ideal practice, but it’s a flexible natural order of mankind and makes sense even today. In fact many sections of society follow this naturally without any such stratification. The Varna quotient basically makes us who we are and what we do, in line with our inner callings. So what’s our dominant mental temperament – your Varna quotient? Are we the kind of a “Braahmana”, a “Kshatriya”, a “Vaishya” or a “Shudra”? There is obviously no right or wrong answer.

There is only a true answer that only we know of. That determines who we really are inside despite how we want to see ourselves as. 

~ Ram Lingam blogs his insights on India and Indian culture at India Sutra    


Click here to post a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  • I don’t belong to any varna …In ancient times my ancestors were marked as avarna…

    • Vineeth, would like to know more about your background. It is an interesting fact to know and study

  • This is very true. One must understand his or her dominant potential which will fall in any of four category without doubt. Though we may have to adapt more than one of the four in today concept which is now drastically changed. This change has led us in confusions of varna. Varna becomes further more difficult to understand when we have to write caste in filling any form or application.

    Another confusion arises when son or daughter of high regarded varna in the society automatically becomes respectable even if his or her dominant potential does not fall in the respective category. And ego does not allow to accept the reality. There is fear of stigma from the society in the form of rituals and marriages.

    Our children must be taught about our scriptures starting right from home without depending on school curriculum. Their doubts must be cleared immediately.

  • Varna has nothing to do with religion or cast.It is only the description of personalities.It is not necessary that a child should inherit the personality of his father or he could not have his own personality.

  • sudropi sheela sampanno, gunavan brahmano bhavet ….

  • Swami Paramarthananda of Chennai in his Geetha lectures (available in the CDs) in lecture Nos.58 and 59, commenting on verse 13 of chapter 4 of the Bhagavad Gita, “Chatur varnam maya sristva …”, explains this concept beautifully. One can profit greatly by listening to it. Ex. A jati brahmana (birth based) can be a guna vaisya (by character) and be a karma sudra (working for others); like that everyone can be classified in different groups based on their birth, character and profession.


  • The best I ever read so far. Thank you for sharing .

  • One famous saint / Kathakaar of Gujarat is Moraribapu, who is well known for his Tulidas Ramcharit Manas Katha.
    He defines the cast system that when one is born he is Shudra, and later by his Karma is known as Baniya or Vaishya who engage them selves in business / trading / selling / , those who engage them selves in teaching the core Values of Life, universe , Spirituality are known as Brahmins as the are knowing the Brahma / vishwa, which is within and Without. Those who are leaders/ kings / warriors who protect the poor, destitute, needy of society are Kshatryas and those who are neither of these three are Shudras people who are helping the other three casts in physically. Those who are neither Brahmins, Kshatryas, or Vaishyas as classified by their work or Karma are then Shudras. Usually Brahmins who are teachers of core vAlues of life are given yagnopavit or Janoi.

  • Very good article sir,
    Some proof that we won’t inherit, instead learn as we grow can be found in , Dr. Bruce Lipton’s “the biology of belief”…
    My Varna (or caste) is based on my work/thinking and not inherited from parents… There is obviously a need to map today’s work classification to new Varna or caste system ??
    The human evolution and understanding is so well documented in our Vedas, we fail to understand them and ask “show me the proof”… Experiences of our Vedic wisdom can’t be explained but experienced…

  • I wish this truth about the varna system of our nation reaches and is understood by everyone which will help us to get rid of our dirty caste system

  • In practice the Varna is now by birth. This has come about because of the ego and attachment to one’s pro genies. Only solution is by abolishing the Varna from every kind of record, policy and practice.

  • Spot on. The reason for increasing violence in the society is the ignorance about our source,our innate nature.People need to learn the Vedas and ancient knowledge.Thanks for this post.

  • Look at the present state of caste killing in Indian villages. Village headman has all kinds of power to destroy families in the name of lower caste peoples’ rights. Caste was deep rooted. We need field exercises to teach the new identity and new explanation for old,rotten theories.
    How are we going to accomplish? Any suggestion?

  • So very true to the core… the best part “NO such word as caste in the Indian vocabulary”.

  • You are right that varna and caste are different and I think we all have the hidden quality of brahmana, ksatriya, baisya and sudra.