Information on Purusha Sukta (Purusha Suktam)

Purusha Sukta (Purusha Suktam)

There are some scholars who hold that the Aryans brought the caste system with them to India. The Purusha Sukta of the Rig Veda refers to the origin of the caste system in India.

In Purusha Sukta (or Purusha Suktam), the different parts of the Cosmic-being or Creator (Purusha) is mentioned. The Brahmana was his mouth; the Rajanya (Kshatriya) was made his arms; the Vaishya was his thighs; and the Sudra made his feet.

It has been pointed out by some scholars that the Purusha Sukta (or Purusha Suktam) is a testimony to the prevalence caste system in the Rig Vedic Age. While the first three castes mentioned in the Purusha Sukta were indentified with the limbs of the Creator, the Sudra merely spang from his feet. An inferior status was definitely assigned to the Sudras and a distinction was made between them and the first three castes in the Sukta.

Dr. Basham has suggested that the Purusha Sukta reflects the four caste division of the society which developed in the late Rig Vedic period. The Purusha Sukta does not apply to the period as a whole. However many eminent scholars challenge the authenticity of the Purusha Sukta. They point out that:

  1. The Purusha Sukta is a late hymn. The ornamental Sanskrit and the late grammatical construction of the Purusha Sukta prove its late origin. It was perhaps an interpolation. At any rate, if we accept Dr. Basham’s theory, it was composed at a very late period of the Rig Vedic Age. Its evidence can not apply to the whole period.
  2. When the Aryans settled in Punjab, caste system, as such, was unknown to them.
  3. In the Rig Veda, the term Varna means colour not caste. The mature form of caste system was unknown in the Rig Vedic Age.
  4. In the Rig Veda the term Brahmana denoting a caste is very rarely used. This word has a different meaning in the Rig Veda, from the meaning which we know to-day. In the Rig Veda, Brahmana means a man of virtue and intellect. Anyone could claim that status.
  5. The term Kshatriya is rarely used in the Rig Veda, although it is a principal element in caste system.
  6. Caste as a hereditary institution was unknown in the Rig Vedic period.
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