Varna, aka: Varṇā, Varṇa; 26 Definition(s)


Varna means something in Buddhism, Pali, Hinduism, Sanskrit, Jainism, Prakrit, the history of ancient India, Marathi. If you want to know the exact meaning, history, etymology or English translation of this term then check out the descriptions on this page. Add your comment or reference to a book if you want to contribute to this summary article.

In Hinduism

Ayurveda (science of life)

Varṇa (वर्ण) is a Sanskrit technical term, translating to the “color” of a plant. It is used throughout Āyurvedic literature such as the Suśruta-saṃhitā and the Caraka-saṃhitā.

Source: Wisdom Library: Āyurveda and botany
Ayurveda book cover
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Āyurveda (आयुर्वेद, ayurveda) is a branch of Indian science dealing with medicine, herbalism, taxology, anatomy, surgery, alchemy and related topics. Traditional practice of Āyurveda in ancient India dates back to at least the first millenium BC. Literature is commonly written in Sanskrit using various poetic metres.

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Dharmashastra (religious law)

Varṇa (वर्ण) refers to “colour”, as in, a visible trait or charecteristic of a human being. When a King (rājan) is investigating a suit in the court, he is to closely watch the variations (ākāra) of the subject. For the colour (varṇa) of a person, this means monitoring for sudden changes of complexion etc. The term is used throughout Dharmaśāstra literature such as the Manusmṛti.

Source: Wisdom Library: Dharma-śāstra
Dharmashastra book cover
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Dharmashastra (धर्मशास्त्र, dharmaśāstra) contains the instructions (shastra) regarding religious conduct of livelihood (dharma), ceremonies, jurisprudence (study of law) and more. It is categorized as smriti, an important and authoritative selection of books dealing with the Hindu lifestyle.

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Natyashastra (theatrics and dramaturgy)

1) Varṇa (वर्ण) refers to “pitch of vowels”. According to the Nāṭyaśāstra, it is part of the ‘vocal representation’ (vācika), which is used in communicating the meaning of the drama and calling forth the sentiment (rasa).

2) Varṇa (वर्ण) is a Sanskrit word referring to the four castes (eg., Brāhmaṇa, Kṣatriya, Vaiśya and Śūdra). Acording to the Nāṭyaśāstra 1.82-88, when Brahmā, Indra and all other gods went to inspect the playhouse (nāṭyamaṇḍapa) designed by Viśvakarmā, he assigned different deities for the protection of the playhouse itself, as well as for the objects relating to dramatic performance (prayoga).

As such, Brahmā assigned Varṇa (as deities) to the pillars (stambha). The protection of the playhouse was enacted because of the jealous Vighnas (malevolent spirits), who began to create terror for the actors.

3) Varṇa (वर्ण, “color”).—There are original (natural) colors, according to Nāṭyaśāstra chapter 23.

The four colors are:

  1. sita (white),
  2. nīla (blue),
  3. pīta (yellow),
  4. rakta (red).

Besides these, there are also many derivative and minor colors (upavarṇa).

4) Varṇa (वर्ण) refers to the production of notes in a particular way, according to the Nāṭyaśāstra chapter 29. The varṇas are used to make up the alaṃkāras (embellishments) of a song.

There are four varṇas defined:

  1. ārohin (ascending),
  2. avarohin (descending),
  3. sthāyin (lit. ‘staying’; monotonic),
  4. saṃcārin (lit. ‘moving together’; mixed).

According to the Nāṭyaśāstra, “these four varṇas having clearly defined aspects, are taken (lit. born of) from the human (lit. physical) voice and they relate to the quality of the three voice registers (sthāna). When a regular (lit. having a characteristic) song (pada) adds at least two varṇas to it, then the varṇas give rise to sentiments (rasa)”.

Source: Wisdom Library: Nāṭya-śāstra

Varṇa (वर्ण, “accent”).—Abhinava explains that they are svaradharmas, i.e., ‘qualities of sound’. They are so called because they make clear the special meaning. They are udātta (acute), anudātta (grave), svarita (circumflex) and kampita (quivering). Svarita and udātta are to be used in the Comic and the Erotic; udātta and kampita in the Heroic, the Furious and the Marvellous; and anudātta, svarita, and kampita in the Pathetic, the Odious and the Terrifble.

Source: Google Books: Studies in the Nāṭyaśāstra

The four kinds of pronunciation (varṇa) were divided into the high (udātta), low (anudātta), melodic (svarita) and vibrant (kampita) ones.

Source: The Nāṭyaśāstra: the Origin of the Ancient Indian Poetics
Natyashastra book cover
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Natyashastra (नाट्यशास्त्र, nāṭyaśāstra) refers to both the ancient Indian tradition (śāstra) of performing arts, (nāṭya, e.g., theatrics, drama, dance, music), as well as the name of a Sanskrit work dealing with these subjects. It also teaches the rules for composing dramatic plays (nataka) and poetic works (kavya).

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Purana and Itihasa (epic history)

Varṇā (वर्णा).—One of the seven major rivers in Kuśadvīpa, according to the Varāhapurāṇa chapter 87. It is also known by the name Vibhāvarī. Kuśadvīpa is one of the seven islands (dvīpa), ruled over by Vapuṣmān, one of the ten sons of Priyavrata, son of Svāyambhuva Manu, who was created by Brahmā, who was in turn created by Nārāyaṇa, the unknowable all-pervasive primordial being.

The Varāhapurāṇa is categorised as a Mahāpurāṇa, and was originally composed of 24,000 metrical verses, possibly originating from before the 10th century. It is composed of two parts and Sūta is the main narrator.

Source: Wisdom Library: Varāha-purāṇa

Varṇa (वर्ण).—Caste. The four castes of Brāhmaṇa, Kṣatriya, Vaiśya and Śūdra and the eleven castes produced by the intermingling of these four castes, only these are taken into account when we speak of Varṇa. To understand about the four castes of Brāhmaṇa, Kṣatriya, Vaiśya and Śūdra, see under Cāturvarṇya.

To know about the eleven mixed castes that originated from the four castes, see under Ekādaśasaṅkara Varṇas.

Source: Puranic Encyclopaedia

1a) Varṇa (वर्ण).—A Sudharmāna god.*

  • * Brahmāṇḍa-purāṇa IV. 1. 60.

1b) The origin of, from the limbs of Nārāyaṇa;1 of Music; four-fold of Gītaka; sthāyivarṇa, prasaṃcāri, avarohaṇam, ārohaṇa; every varṇa has one of four alamkārassthāpani, kramarejina, pramāda and apramāda.2

  • 1) Vāyu-purāṇa 6. 77.
  • 2) Ib. 87. 6, 8-9.
Source: Cologne Digital Sanskrit Dictionaries: The Purana Index
Purana book cover
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The Purana (पुराण, purāṇas) refers to Sanskrit literature preserving ancient India’s vast cultural history, including historical legends, religious ceremonies, various arts and sciences. The eighteen mahapuranas total over 400,000 shlokas (metrical couplets) and date to at least several centuries BCE.

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Shaktism (Shakta philosophy)

Varṇa (वर्ण) or Varṇādhvā refers to one of the six adhvans being purified during the Kriyāvatī-dīkṣā: an important Śākta ritual described Śāradātilaka-tantra, chapters III-V.—“... Looking with the divine eye he transfers the caitanya of his disciple into himself and unites it with that of his own, thereby effecting a purification of the six adhvans namely: kalā, tattva, bhavana, varṇa, pada, and mantra”.

The word adhvā means ‘path’, and when the above six adhvans (viz. varṇa) are purified they lead to Brahman-experience. Dīkṣā is one of the most important rituals of the Śāktas and so called because it imparts divine knowledge and destroys evil.

The varṇas are the mātṛkā letters.

Source: JSTOR: Tāntric Dīkṣā by Surya Kanta
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Shakta (शाक्त, śākta) or Shaktism (śāktism) represents a tradition of Hinduism where the Goddess (Devi) is revered and worshipped. Shakta literature includes a range of scriptures, including various Agamas and Tantras, although its roots may be traced back to the Vedas.

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Kavya (poetry)

Varṇā (वर्णा) is the name a locality mentioned in Rājaśekhara’s 10th-century Kāvyamīmāṃsā.—In the Kāvyamīmāṃsā, Rājaśekhara described it is the river in south India, its source being the Sahya mountain. It is also identified either with the river Kṛṣnā or Beṇā, which is the branch of the Kṛṣnā or rises from the Western Ghats.

Source: Shodhganga: The Kavyamimamsa of Rajasekhara
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Kavya (काव्य, kavya) refers to Sanskrit poetry, a popular ancient Indian tradition of literature. There have been many Sanskrit poets over the ages, hailing from ancient India and beyond. This topic includes mahakavya, or ‘epic poetry’ and natya, or ‘dramatic poetry’.

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Vyakarana (Sanskrit grammar)

Varṇa (वर्ण).—Phonemic unit: a letter The term was in use in ancient times and found used generally in the masculine gender, but occasionally in the neuter gender too; e. g. उपदिष्टा इमे वर्णाः (upadiṣṭā ime varṇāḥ) M. Bh. Ahnika 1. also मा कदाचिदवर्णे भूत् (mā kadācidavarṇe bhūt) M. Bh. on Siva Sutras 3, 4.

Source: Wikisource: A dictionary of Sanskrit grammar
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Vyakarana (व्याकरण, vyākaraṇa) refers to Sanskrit grammar and represents one of the six additional sciences (vedanga) to be studied along with the Vedas. Vyakarana concerns itself with the rules of Sanskrit grammar and linguistic analysis in order to establish the correct context of words and sentences.

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Chandas (prosody, study of Sanskrit metres)

Varṇa (वर्ण).—The Classical metres are divided into three types viz. 1. vṛtta or varṇa, 2. mātrā or jāti 3. gadya. The metres (chandas) which are calculated through letters are called as varṇa type, and the mātrā type is calculated by syllabic instances. The gadya type of metres are not accepted by all prosodicians, but authorities like Gaṅgādāsa, Candraśekhara, Raghunātha and Gopīnātha advocate for this metre.

Source: Shodhganga: a concise history of Sanskrit Chanda literature
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Chandas (छन्दस्) refers to Sanskrit prosody and represents one of the six Vedangas (auxiliary disciplines belonging to the study of the Vedas). The science of prosody (chandas-shastra) focusses on the study of the poetic meters such as the commonly known twenty-six metres mentioned by Pingalas.

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Rasashastra (chemistry and alchemy)

Varṇa (वर्ण) or Varṇamūṣā refers to an “dyeing crucible” and is a type of mūṣā (crucible) used for smelting metals.—Varṇa-mūṣā was again a special kind of crucible which was made of red-coloured earth, juices of red-medicinal herbs such as Mañjiṣṭha (Rubia cordifolio, Linn.), flower of Kusumbha (Carthamus tictorus, Linn.), lac, essences of cochineal and earthworms. This crucible acquired a red colour and bestowed excellent colour to the calx of mercury or other metals, which were roasted in it. Also see Rasaratnasamuccaya 10.17.

Source: Indian Journal of History of Science, 31(4), 1996: Mūṣāvijñāna
Rasashastra book cover
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Rasashastra (रसशास्त्र, rasaśāstra) is an important branch of Ayurveda, specialising in chemical interactions with herbs, metals and minerals. Some texts combine yogic and tantric practices with various alchemical operations. The ultimate goal of Rasashastra is not only to preserve and prolong life, but also to bestow wealth upon humankind.

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Jyotisha (astronomy and astrology)

Varṇa (वर्ण).—lit., colour. 1. One of the four major divisions of humanity in Hinduism. 2. A way of designating unknown quantities in algebra; different unknowns are referred to by the names of different colours. Note: Varṇa is a Sanskrit technical term used in ancient Indian sciences such as Astronomy, Mathematics and Geometry.

Source: Wikibooks (hi): Sanskrit Technical Terms
Jyotisha book cover
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Jyotiṣa (ज्योतिष, jyotisha or jyotish) basically refers to ‘astronomy’ or “Vedic astrology” and represents one of the six additional sciences to be studied along with the Vedas. Jyotiṣa concerns itself with the study and prediction of the movements of celestial bodies, in order to calculate the auspicious time for rituals and ceremonies.

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General definition (in Hinduism)

Varṇā (वर्णा)—One of the five Apsarās (beautiful heavenly dancing girls) who were sent by Indra to break the severe austerity of a saintly person called Acyuta ṛṣi.

Source: Wisdom Library: Hinduism

According to the ancient texts men are classified into four classes or Varnas -

  1. Brahmanas (scholars/priests),
  2. Kshatriyas (kings/warriors),
  3. Vaishyas (artisans/merchants)
  4. and Shudras (peasants/workers).

Generally, it is permitted that a higher caste man marry a lower caste woman, with the children of that marriage attaining the caste of the father. The marriage of a higher caste man with a lower caste woman was deprecated, with the children of that marriage being outside the proper caste system, and having a lower status in society. Specifically, the children born of the union of a Brahmana woman with a Kshatriya man were known as Sutas.

In addition to the four castes and the mixture of these castes, in latter days, people engaged in certain debased callings (such as those who tan animal hides), were considered totally out of the caste system, and even regarded as untouchable. They would be frequently referred to us Chandalas, although this appellation is also applied to those who have committed grievous sins.

Source: Apam Napat: Indian Mythology

Varṇa (वर्ण): Means - colour, Varna refers to the four naturally existing classes of society as given in the Hindu scriptures: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra.

Source: WikiPedia: Hinduism

Varṇa (वर्ण), the system of classification of society into different groups, has been a topic of much controversy, debate, and deliberation. The numerous studies on varṇa fill up whole bookshelves and deal with humongous details. However, we will explore the subject from a broader perspective, using as references our foundational texts and ancient works of literature.

In general, varṇa is a four-fold classification of society, based on attitude and aptitude. The texts of grammar tell us that the word varṇa comes from the root vṛ-varaṇe, ‘to choose.’ According to semantic etymology, the word varṇa comes from vṛṇoteḥ, ‘choosing.’ This suggests that the word initially referred to a self-selection, just like in modern times we choose a career path of our preference.

The four varṇas are:

  1. brāhmaṇa,
  2. kṣatriya,
  3. vaiśya,
  4. and śūdra.

In addition, there are several sub-groups that arose from the inter-mingling of the varṇas.

Source: India Facts: Exploring the World of Varna

In Buddhism

General definition (in Buddhism)

Varṇa (वर्ण, “class”) or Varṇamātsarya refers to “selfishness regarding class” and represents one of the “five selfishnesses” (mātsarya) as defined in the Dharma-saṃgraha (section 78). The Dharma-samgraha (Dharmasangraha) is an extensive glossary of Buddhist technical terms in Sanskrit (eg., varṇa). The work is attributed to Nagarjuna who lived around the 2nd century A.D.

Source: Wisdom Library: Dharma-samgraha

In Jainism

General definition (in Jainism)

Varṇa (वर्ण, “colour”) refers to the object of cakṣu (eye/sight), which represents one of the “five sense-organs” (pañcendriya), according to the 2nd-century Tattvārthasūtra 2.19. Cognition which results by seeing the object of knowledge is called colour (varṇa). How many types of colour are there? They are five namely while, blue, yellow, red and black. What is form of eye sense organ? It is of the form of lentil (masūra-dāla).

Source: Encyclopedia of Jainism: Tattvartha Sutra 2: the Category of the living

Varṇa (वर्ण, “colour”) according to the 2nd-century Tattvārthasūtra 5.23.—“The forms of matter (pudgala) are characterized by touch (sparśa), taste (rasa), smell (gandha) and colour (varṇa)”. What is the meaning of colour (varṇa)? What is seen by the eyes as different is colour. How many types of colour are there? There are five types of colour namely blue, black, yellow, red and white.

Source: Encyclopedia of Jainism: Tattvartha Sutra 5: The category of the non-living

Varṇa (वर्ण, “color”) refers to “color karma” and represents one of the various kinds of Nāma, or “physique-making (karmas)”, which represents one of the eight types of Prakṛti-bandha (species bondage): one of the four kinds of bondage (bandha) according to the 2nd-century Tattvārthasūtra chapter 8. What is meant by colour (varṇa) body-making karma? The karmas rise of which gives the colour attributes to the body are called colour body-making karma.

There are five types of colour (varṇa) body-making karmas namely:

  1. black (kṛṣṇa),
  2. blue (nīla),
  3. yellow (pīta),
  4. red (rakta),
  5. white (śukla).
Source: Encyclopedia of Jainism: Tattvartha Sutra 8: Bondage of karmas
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Jainism is an Indian religion of Dharma whose doctrine revolves around harmlessness (ahimsa) towards every living being. The two major branches (Digambara and Svetambara) of Jainism stimulate self-control (or, shramana, ‘self-reliance’) and spiritual development through a path of peace for the soul to progess to the ultimate goal.

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Languages of India and abroad

Marathi-English dictionary

varṇa (वर्ण).—m S A color, hue, tint. 2 A class, order, tribe, caste. 3 A letter of the alphabet. 4 The color of gold upon the touchstone (as indicating its quality). 5 In arithmetic. A co-efficient.

--- OR ---

varṇa (वर्ण).—m (Popular corruption of vraṇa) An ulcer.

Source: DDSA: The Molesworth Marathi and English Dictionary

varṇa (वर्ण).—m A colour. A class. A letter of the alphabet. A co-efficient.

Source: DDSA: The Aryabhusan school dictionary, Marathi-English
context information

Marathi is an Indo-European language having over 70 million native speakers people in (predominantly) Maharashtra India. Marathi, like many other Indo-Aryan languages, evolved from early forms of Prakrit, which itself is a subset of Sanskrit, one of the most ancient languages of the world.

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Sanskrit-English dictionary

Varṇa (वर्ण).—[varṇ-ac Uṇ.3.1]

1) A colour, hue; अन्तःशुद्धस्त्वमपि भविता वर्णमात्रेण कृष्णः (antaḥśuddhastvamapi bhavitā varṇamātreṇa kṛṣṇaḥ) Me.51.

2) A paint, dye, paint-colour; see वर्ण् (varṇ) (1).

3) Colour, complexion, beauty; विविक्तवर्णाभरणा सुखश्रुतिः (viviktavarṇābharaṇā sukhaśrutiḥ) Ki.14.3; त्वय्यादातुं जलमवनते शार्ङ्गिणो वर्णचौरे (tvayyādātuṃ jalamavanate śārṅgiṇo varṇacaure) Me.48; R.8.42.

4) Look, countenance; मध्यस्थवर्ण इव दृश्यते (madhyasthavarṇa iva dṛśyate) Madhyamavyāyoga 1; किं त्वं शङ्कितवर्ण इव (kiṃ tvaṃ śaṅkitavarṇa iva) Chārudatta 4; अवदातिका परशङ्कितवर्णेव दृश्यते (avadātikā paraśaṅkitavarṇeva dṛśyate) Pratimā 1.

5) A class of men, tribe, caste (especially applied to the four principal castes, brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya and śūdra); वर्णानामानुपूर्व्येण (varṇānāmānupūrvyeṇa) Vārt; न कश्चिद्वर्णानामपथमपकृष्टोऽपि भजते (na kaścidvarṇānāmapathamapakṛṣṭo'pi bhajate) Ś.5. 1; R.5.19.

6) A class, race, tribe, kind, species; as in सवर्णम् अक्षरम् (savarṇam akṣaram); ब्रह्मणा पूर्वसृष्टं हि कर्मभिर्वर्णतां गतम् (brahmaṇā pūrvasṛṣṭaṃ hi karmabhirvarṇatāṃ gatam) Mb.12. 188.1.

7) (a) A letter, character, sound; न मे वर्ण- विचारक्षमा दृष्टिः (na me varṇa- vicārakṣamā dṛṣṭiḥ) V.5; Ki.14.3. (b) A word, syllable; S. D.9.

8) Fame, glory, celebrity, renown; राजा प्रजा- रञ्जनलब्धवर्णः (rājā prajā- rañjanalabdhavarṇaḥ) R.6.21.

9) A good quality, merit, virtue; त्रिवर्णा वर्णिताऽस्माभिः किं भूयः श्रोतुमिच्छसि (trivarṇā varṇitā'smābhiḥ kiṃ bhūyaḥ śrotumicchasi) Bhāg.11.3.16.

1) Praise; स्वगुणोच्चगिरो मुनिव्रताः परवर्णग्रहणेष्वसाधवः (svaguṇoccagiro munivratāḥ paravarṇagrahaṇeṣvasādhavaḥ) Śi.16. 29.

11) Dress, decoration.

12) Outward appearance, form, figure.

13) A cloak, mantle.

14) A covering, lid.

15) The order or arrangement of a subject in a song (gītakrama); अभिध्यायन्वर्णरतिप्रमोदानतिदीर्घे जीविते को रमेत (abhidhyāyanvarṇaratipramodānatidīrghe jīvite ko rameta) Kaṭh.1.28; उपात्तवर्णे चरिते पिनाकिनः (upāttavarṇe carite pinākinaḥ) Ku.5.56 'celebrated in song, made the subject of a song.'

16) The housings of an elephant.

17) A quality, property; जङ्गमानामसंख्येयाः स्थावराणां च जातयः । तेषां विविधवर्णानां कुतो वर्णविनिश्चयः (jaṅgamānāmasaṃkhyeyāḥ sthāvarāṇāṃ ca jātayaḥ | teṣāṃ vividhavarṇānāṃ kuto varṇaviniścayaḥ) || Mb.12.188.9.

18) A religious observance.

19) An unknown quantity.

2) The number 'one'.

21) Application of perfumed unguents to the body.

22) Gold.

23) A musical mode.

-rṇā Cajanus Indicus (Mar. tūra).

-rṇam 1 Saffron.

2) A coloured unguent or perfume.

Derivable forms: varṇaḥ (वर्णः).

Source: DDSA: The practical Sanskrit-English dictionary
context information

Sanskrit, also spelled संस्कृतम् (saṃskṛtam), is an ancient language of India commonly seen as the grandmother of the Indo-European language family. Closely allied with Prakrit and Pali, Sanskrit is more exhaustive in both grammar and terms and has the most extensive collection of literature in the world, greatly surpassing its sister-languages Greek and Latin.

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Relevant definitions

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Kṛṣṇavarṇa (कृष्णवर्ण).—mfn. (-rṇa-rṇā-rṇaṃ) 1. Black or dark blue, A Sudra. 2. A name of Rahu ...
Varṇadharma (वर्णधर्म).—the peculiar duties of a caste. Derivable forms: varṇadharmaḥ (वर्णधर्म...
Dhūmravarṇa (धूम्रवर्ण).—mfn. (-rṇaḥ-rṇā-rṇaṃ) Of a smoky hue. m. (-rṇaḥ) Incense. f. (-rṇā) Fl...
Varṇahīna (वर्णहीन).—a. outcast.Varṇahīna is a Sanskrit compound consisting of the terms varṇa ...
Varṇasaṃhāra (वर्णसंहार).—an assemblage of different castes. Derivable forms: varṇasaṃhāraḥ (वर...
Ekavarṇa (एकवर्ण).—a. 1) of one colour. 2) identical, same. 3) of one tribe or caste. 4) involv...
Varṇamālā (वर्णमाला).—the alphabet. Varṇamālā is a Sanskrit compound consisting of the terms va...
Raktavarṇa (रक्तवर्ण).—a. red-coloured. (-rṇaḥ) 1 redcolour. 2) cochineal insect. (-rṇam) gold....
Suvarṇavarṇa (सुवर्णवर्ण).—Name of Viṣṇu. Derivable forms: suvarṇavarṇaḥ (सुवर्णवर्णः).Suvarṇav...
Varṇāpeta (वर्णापेत).—mfn. (-taḥ-tā-taṃ) Degraded, outcaste. E. varṇa and apeta devoid of.
Hiraṇyavarṇā (हिरण्यवर्णा).—f. (-rṇā) A particular river. E. hiraṇya gold, and varṇa colour.
Varṇadūṣaka (वर्णदूषक).—mfn. (-kaḥ-kā-kaṃ) Disturbing or violating the distinctions of caste. E...

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