“Over the time it became difficult for individual to upgrade in the social order, but social mobilization was always evident in Indian society.” Critically Examine.

“Over the time it became difficult for individual to upgrade in the social order, but social mobilization was always evident in Indian society.” Critically Examine.  ©


Social mobility was always present in India but it’s nature kept changing.

Vedic period:

  1. Early Vedic period:
    1. There was no caste division. Occupation was not based on birth. Members of a family could adopt different occupations. However certain differences did exist during the period. Varna or color was the basis of initial differentiation between the Vedic and non-Vedic people. The Vedic people were fair whereas the non-Vedic indigenous people were dark in complexion and spoke a different language. Thus, the Rigveda mentions arya varna and dasa varna. Here dasa has been used in the sense of a group different from the Rigvedic people. Later, dasa came to mean a slave.
    2. The warriors, priests and the ordinary people were the three sections of the Rigvedic tribe. The sudra category came into existence only towards the end of the Rigvedic period. This means that the division of society in the early Vedic period was not sharp. This is indicated by the following verse in the Rigveda: “I am a poet, my father is a physician and my mother grinds grain upon the stone. Striving for wealth, with varied plans, we follow our desires like cattle.”
    3. R S Sharma states that “the Rig Vedic society was neither organized on the basis of social division of labour nor on that of differences in wealth … it was primarily organised on the basis of kin, tribe and lineage.”
  2. In later Vedic phase:
    1. There was the rise and growth of social differentiation in the form of varna system.
    2. The four varnas in which society came to be divided were the brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras.
    3. The shudras, the fourth varna were at the bottom of the social hierarchy. They were ordained to be in the service of the three upper varnas. They were not entitled to the ritual of upanayana samskara (investiture with sacred thread necessary to acquire education). The other three varnas were entitled to such a ceremony and hence they were known as dvijas. This can be construed as the beginning of the imposition of disabilities on the shudras as well as the beginning of the concept of ritual pollution.
  3. Post Mauryan period:
    1. Varna system in Dharma-sastras divide the society into four varnas (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishya and Shudras), those who fall out of this system because of their grievous sins are ostracised as outcastes (untouchables) and considered outside the Varna system.
      1. Olivelle writes, “we see no instance when a term of pure/impure is used with reference to a group of individuals or a varna or caste”. The only mention of impurity in the Shastra texts from the 1st millennium is about people who commit grievous sins and thereby fall out of their varna. These, writes Olivelle, are called “fallen people” and impure, declaring that they be ostracized.
    2. Concepts of Jatis emerged within the varna system through fragmentation, consolidation as well as the incorporation of tribal and foreign communities within a structure which regulated hierarchy through marriage rules and endogamy.
    3. The earliest use of jati in connection with a Varna is found in the Nirukta which speaks of a woman of a shudra jati.
    4. Around second century BC concepts of vratya and varnasamkara were invented because of the assimilation of widely divergent social, economic and cultural groups. These two concepts largely contributed to the formation of separate jatis due to non-performance of the sacred duty (vratya) or because of the mixed marriages of original founder couples (varnasamkara or confusion of class). These theoretical devices, it is believed, were highly successful in extending the Varna system into the jati system. Type of inter-marriages were hypergamous (with the direction of hair i.e Anulom) and hypogammous (against the hair i.e Pratilom).
    5. The vratya and varnasamkara concepts seem to have led to a dilution or modification of the Varna concepts particularly in the early historical period. The notions of vaishya and shudra Varna acquired new meanings which favoured a shift from the relative purity of function to relative purity of birth implied in the transition from Varna to jati.
    6. The process of evolution of jatis under the broad categories of varnas acquired a new dimension in the post-Mauryan period. The chief characteristic of the jati system was the crisis in the old order and the lawgiver’s desperation to preserve brahmanical society, not only by ordaining rigorous measures against the shudras, but also by inventing suitable genealogies for the incorporation of foreign elements into varna society.
    7. Manu lays down that, if in times of distress the vaishya cannot support himself by his own occupations he should take to the occupations of the shudras. This shows that the distinction between the functions of the vaishyas and the shudras was being gradually obliterated.
    8. Possibly they sometimes refused to perform their duties. To prevent this situation, the dharmashastra writers suggested measures of both coercion and concessions. The Satavahanas declared themselves to have been the restorer of varnashramadharma.

Thus, we can see Verna system was more based on individual basis than for community. But with time it shifted to community. There are many legends that talks about up-gradation of person from one class to another with practice of penance and piety. But over the time it became virtually impossible to upgrade but progressively easier to fall.

(c) In ancient India, what was the impact of western world and India on each other?


Contacts with the west:

  1. From the earliest known civilization of ‘Indus valley’, there had been contact with western world. There are discoveries at Mohenjodaro that there was intercourse between the Indus valley and western world.
  2. According to the Jewish chronicles, there was a sea voyage to the east in the time of solomon (c. 800 B.C) and many articles were brought from there. Use of Indian name for merchandise show it was related to India, e.g. Sindhu was probably used for Indian cotton. Habrew Karpas is derived from Sanskrit Karpasa
  3. One of Jataka stories makes a reference to a trading voyage to the kingdom of Bavaria and scholars have interpreted it a was used for Babylon.
  4. These people to people contact and well as contacts between states had led to synthesis between these cultures and resulted into many unique forms of different aspects of civilization.

Impact on India:

  1. Astronomy: Greeks had profound influence on the knowledge of astronomy in India. All the later works on Indian astronomy freely quote the authority of Greeks astronomers (described as Yovanesvara or Yavanacharya).
    1. Gargi Samhita says: Yavanas are barbarians. Yet the science of astronomy originated with them so them must the reverenced like gods.
    2. Name of the Greek planets and certain technical terms of astronomy were frequently used by Indian astronomers in their works.
    3. Indian borrowed from the Greeks the system of making horoscopes.
  2. Art and architecture and literature:
    1. Method of making coin: Learnt to strike coins from double dies.
    2. Town planning ideas:
      1. Jairazbhoy’s view is that Greek town planning ideas may have been introduced in India.
      2. Sir John Marshall the excavator of Taxila, noted that the Mauryan city laid out at random, but the Greek city of Sirkap was planned in a methodical manner.
    3. Jairazbhoy’s view:
      1. Rock edicts of Ashoka were probably inspired by Persian example. There is also possibility that Ashoka’s practice of erecting inscribed pillar may have been influenced by Greek Idea.
      2. In the Indian tradition there is no antecedent for the Jaya Stambhah or pillar of victory, although the sacrificial pillar (yupas) is known in early texts. It is true that column of Ashoka are not pillars of victory in the material sense, but they remain as memories commemorating the victory of morality.
    4. The Sanskrit word for pen,ink, tablet, plaque and book are all derived from Greek words – Kalma from Kalamos, Mela from Melan, Pitika from Pittakion, Phalaka from Plakos, Pustaka from Puxion.
    5. Greeks also influenced Indian Sculpture. Before the Greeks, Barhut and Sanchi was the centers of art. The Gandhara School of Art is a clear example. Physical feature and Drapery were borrowed from the Greeks.
    6. According to Weber and Windisch and V.A. Smith, Indian borrowed the idea of drama from Greek’s drama the saeens, the parasite and the clown.
  3. Mathematics: It is contended by some writers that the Indians borrowed from the Greeks the decimal system of notation in mathematics. However, it is pointed out that is has already been planned by Indian long before Greeks came to India.
  4. Religion: worship of images in Buddhists and Hindus is attributed to Greek influence.
    1. Like the Greeks the Indians were not averse to borrow from peoples who had something really good to give and after borrowing something they assimilated the foreign element in such a manner that in some cases the proof of indebtedness is difficult to elucidate.

Impact on the West:

  1. India exported huge quantity of spices, fabrics and precious gems and aromatic articles to the countries of western world.
  2. India elephants were also on demand.
  3. Medical science: Greek physicians had knowledge of Indian medical science. The Sassanid king Shapur included among the holy books the secular books on medicine, astronomy and metaphysics found in India. Many India medical men resided in Susa to teach student in medical science and treat patients.
  4. Indian philosophy also influenced Greek philosophy.
    1. Sir William Jones pointed out resemblance between Sankhya philosophy and Pythagorean Philosophy. Many scholars opined that latter was derived from the former.
  5. Religion:
    1. Greeks borrowed from Indians their belief in reincarnation and the doctrine of Karma. Also, yoga, meditation and idea of asceticism, they got from India.
    2. Buddhism spread in Western countries in the time of Ashoka. Chinese writers tells us that Buddhism had a stronghold in Parthia. A Parthian prince abdicated the throne and became a Buddhist monk.
    3. Brahmanical religion prevailed in western Asia.
  6. Literature: Some Indian books like the Panchtantra were very popular in western countries and were translated in many languages. Many Indian legends found their way to Europe.