Monday, November 14, 2016

Pre-caste Indian society

Were the people of the Harappan Civilization (HC) Dravidians or Indo-Aryans? Archeologists and scholars are divided over conclusions from the study of the bones and skulls found at various Harappan civilization (HC) sites that extend over western and northwestern India and adjoining areas in Pakistan.
Questions surround the political status of the HC. The concept of a ‘state’ is generally accepted to have a centralized economy and leadership, with a hierarchically ranked social system.  But the HC covered a large degree of regional diversity. Evidences of a single state concept are usually palaces, temples and differentiated burial sites – All absent in the HC sites, pointing to city-states surrounded by rural hinterlands. Exchange was the key to social organization, given booming, surprisingly well-organized trade with other countries.
One 2008 study mapped the movement of raw materials to Harappa; that would be converted into items of popular use, such as jewelry etc., among the top exports from the ports.   The jury is still out on the HC’ long history of food production and trade; the corollary may be that it triggered off urbanization as large quantities of food and other crops for exchange were produced.  That led to climate change. But, reasons for such regional changes are usually more complex.
The people were divided into 4 classes:  the learned classes of priests, physicians, astrologers etc. Recovery of swords from what appear to be watchmen’s quarters and ancient fort walls, point to the warrior class to protect the people.  Artisans and traders formed a third class of commercial persons, carpenters, weaver, goldsmiths, shell workers, engravers etc., followed by manual labor and working class folk.
This division later transformed into the Vedic caste system of India, with Brahmins, Kshtriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras, that evolves even today. Before it solidified, caste underwent dramatic changes, with each influx of emigrants over the Himalayas. They came, saw and conquered --- only to submerge themselves in the larger Indian populaces. Today it would be hard to configure original bloodlines.
Four castes grew to literally thousands of castes and sub castes.  How could that happen in a solidified system? Shows that despite khap panchayats and honor killings, inter caste marriage and profession based castes are as old as the hills. Even Rishis married into different castes, didn’t they?
A very today example of how castes multiply: a Sindhi who married a Punjabi.  The children called themselves Panglo-Sindhi.  The eldest married a man with Sindhi-Parsi parents.  What are their children?   One son married a Kashmiri and another a young woman of Gujarati-Sindhi parentage.   How many new combinations does that create?

Ironically, caste that later drew so much derision from European writers was replicated in Europe in Feudal times.   Kings represented gods, kept priests and warriors squabbling, both inter and intra, with the 3rd and 4th classes of trade guilds and serfs.  A casual study of European history would mean a lot of laughs at those historians