Society witnessed many changes in the traditional concept of varna. This change is reflected in the jati system. This system emerged within the varna system through fragmentation, consolidation as well as the incorporation of tribal and foreign communities.
The varnas were extended in order to provide institutional and ideological base for the growth of a wider society. Concepts of vratya and varnasamkara were invented due to the assimilation of divergent social, economic and cultural groups in 2nd century B.C. These two concepts contributed to the formation of separate jatis. These theoretical devices were successful in extending the Varna system into the jati system. The jati hierarchy is organised on the principle of the absolute purity of the brahmin caste.
Varnas are broad categories that include a large number of jatis in a loose fashion. The vratya and varnasamkara concepts have led to a modification of the Varna concepts in the early historical period. Concepts regarding vaishya and shudra acquired new meanings which favoured a shift from the relative purity of function to relative purity of birth.
Within the varnas, territorial and occupational differences played an important role in the emergence of segmented identities. Castes ranked within these categories emphasize their specialisation in a tradition of learning or territorial affiliation.
The process of evolution of jatis acquired a new dimension in the post-Mauryan period. The jati system witnessed a crisis in the old order. The law makers were desperate to preserve brahmanical society by ordaining rigorous measures against shudras and by inventing suitable genealogies for the incorporation of foreign elements into the society.
During this period women also took to ploughing. The distinction between the functions of the vaishyas and the shudras was being obliterated gradually. The shudras do not appear as peasants, paying taxes to the state. It is presumed that shudras were employed mostly as agricultural workers. Artisans and craftsmen were mostly from the shudra category. They were organised in guilds. They became wealthy thereby leading to high status. The Satavahanas declared themselves to have restored varnashramadharma. From the post-Mauryan era founders of dynasties were often Brahmins, royal titles were sanskritized and kings performed Vedic rituals.
(Last Updated on : 17-11-2011)
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