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I INTRODUCTION Are you really what you eat Why are people born with certain unique tendencies Are matter and spirit separate or the same Although seemingly unrelated these questions are unified by the subject under consideration in this paper the Hindu caste system The caste system itself is unified by the concern of ritual purity According to the Encyclopdia Britannica the caste system has been a dominating aspect of social organization for thousands of years A caste generally designated by the term jati birth refers to a strictly regulated social community into which one is born In general a person is expected to marry someone within the same jati follow a particular set of rules for proper behavior in such matters as kinship occupation and diet and interact with other jatis according to the groups position in the social hierarchy India Among Hindus the thousands of jatis are grouped into four large clusters called varnas which is loosely translated as color Whether this refers to skin color or to attributes of character depends on ones perspective Kelly Ross a non-Hindu college philosophy instructor believes that these sound suspiciously like skin colors and indeed there is an expectation in India that higher caste people will have lighter skin In contrast a Hindu web page asserts that this is not a reference to skin color but to the fact that colors are associated with types of personalities The Caste System For instance if warriors are referred to as red this implies their passionate nature and not their skin color Each varna has a traditional function to fulfill for the good of the whole society Brahmins the priests are at the top of the social hierarchy followed by Kshatriyas the warriors Vaishyas originally peasants but later merchants and Sudras the serfs The particular varna in which a jati is ranked depends in part on its relative level of impurity determined by the groups traditional contact with any of
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