Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Caturvarnyam included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Cāturvarṇyam

(The four Castes, Classes).


The purāṇas tell that Brahmā created the four castes like Brahmins, Kṣatriyas, Vaiśyas and Śūdras and assigned to them duties and rules of procedure.


Brahmā got ready for the work of Creation, concentrating his mind on the universal soul, the embodiment of Truth. And, the first to be born from his face were people with sublime qualities, and them he called Brahmins. Then emerged from his chest people in whom the heroic or militant qualities preponderated. (Rājasa). Them the Creator named Kṣatriyas. Then from his thighs were born people in whom rajas and tamas preponderated, and they were called Vaiśyas. And, lastly Brahmā brought forth from his feet another sect of people, and as tamas (darkness, cultural darkness) preponderated in them they were named Śūdras. The system of four castes is called Cāturvarṇyam. (Viṣṇu Purāṇa, Part 1, Chapter 6).

Code of conduct.

Ahiṃsā (non-violence), Satyavāda (speaking truth), Bhūtadāya (love for all living beings), Tīrthasevā (resort to holy places), Dāna (gifts), Brahmacarya (celibacy), Vimatsaratva (absence of malice), Service of Devas, Brahmins and Gurus (elders), to attend to all dharmas (duties), Pitṛpūjā (worship of elders) eternal loyalty to King, to accomplish objects in conformity with the injunction of the Śāstras, not to commit cruel deeds, Titikṣā (forbearance, to put up with equanimity the pair of opposites such as pleasure and pain, heat and cold), belief in God—these codes of conduct are common to all Castes and in all the four stations in life. Now, the special codes for each of the four castes.


To perform and get performed Yajñas, to study and to teach the Vedas, to give gifts and to receive gifts—these form the dharma (duties) of the Brahmin. Brahmins take their second birth (dvija) on the upanayana (wearing of the sacred thread). The caste of the mother is the caste of the child. But children born to Brahmins of their non-Brahmin wives are not Brahmins. Children born of a Brahmin woman to a Śūdrā are called Caṇḍālas. Sons born of Brahmin women to Kṣatriyas are called Sūtas, and sons born of a Brahmin woman to a Vaiśya are called Vaidehikas. The Brahmin shall not adopt the profession of the other castes. The twice-born are, however, allowed in certain circumstances, the profession of agriculture, protection of cows, commerce and kusīda (to lend money on interest). But, he shall not trade in gorasa (milk and other cow products) lavaṇa (salt) and flesh. If he be an agriculturist, the Brahmin may till the earth, cut medicinal plants and destroy pests. But, he must purify the soul by performing yajñas and worshipping Devas. The soil should be ploughed with eight oxen attached to the plough. He may sustain himself either with Ṛta (food got by begging) or Amṛta (food got not by begging). The suffix "Śarmā" should be added to the names of Brahmin children. Upanayana (wearing of the sacred thread) should be done when the child is eight years old. The mauñji (girdle around the waist) to be worn after upanayana should be made either of muñja grass or of the bark of trees. Brahmin brahmacārins should wear hides, and when they beg for alms the sentence should commence with the word 'Bhavati', e.g. "Bhavati, bhikṣāṃ dehi). The Brahmin can marry in all the castes, but he shall perform ritual only along with the wife of his own caste.

ii) Kṣatriya.

To give gifts according to rules, study Vedas and perform yajñas form the duty of the Kṣatriya. To look after and take care of good people and to punish evil-doers are his especial duties. Names of Kṣatriya children should take the suffix "Varmā". After upanayana the child should wear tiger skin. He should carry a daṇḍa (rod) of the Arayāl (peepal) tree. When the Kṣatriya brahmacārin begs for alms the word 'bhavati' should be used in the middle of the sentence, e.g. "Bhikṣāṃ bhavati dehi". The Kṣatriya can marry in the other castes, except the Brahmin. At the time of wedding the Kṣatriya woman should hold an arrow in her hand.

iii) Vaiśya.

Agriculture, protection of cows and trade are the special duties of the Vaiśya. Children born of Brahmin women to Vaiśyas are called Vaidehikas. Names of Vaiśya children should have the suffix 'gupta' after them. After upanayana the Vaiśya brahmacārin should wear sheep’s skin. He should carry a daṇḍa made of a branch of the Kūvala tree. The Vaiśya may have a wife of his own caste and one of the Śūdra caste. At the time of wedding the Vaiśya woman should hold a cane in her hand.

iv) Śūdra.

Service to the Brahmin and architecture form the duties of the Śūdra. Children born to Kṣatriya women by Śūdras are called Pulkasas. Children born to Brahmin women by Śūdras are called Caṇḍālas, and sons born to Śūdras by Vaiśya women are called Āyogavas.

The Caṇḍāla’s profession is to hang criminals sentenced to death, and to live by women. The Pulkasa must live by hunting. Āyogava is to act on the stage and live by architecture. The Caṇḍāla should live outside the village. The Caṇḍāla has a right to take the clothes on corpses. He shall not have any physical contacts with the others. He will attain salvation if he died in the course of protecting others. The suffix 'dāsa' should be added to his name. He shall marry only from his own caste. (Agni Purāṇa, 4 Chapters from 151).

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