Indian Caste System
In all probability some sort of caste divisions already existed when the Aryans arrived [in India], and the Aryans made the most of it.
In theory there are supposed to be four castes only:
- Brahmana (Brahmin), priests and religious teachers;
- Kshatriya, kings, warriors, and aristocrats;
- Vaisya, traders, merchants, and people engaged in other professions; and
- Sudra, cultivators, servants, and so on.
The thesis is that the caste system had a racial origin is supported by the association that seems to have existed between castes and colour.
There is a verse in the Mahabharata, the indian epic of the middle of the first millennium B.C. Bhrigu, in explaining the nature of castes to Bharadvaja, says: ‘Brahmins are fair, Kshatriyas are reddis, Vaisyas are yellowish, and the Sudras are black’ (Mahabharata, Santi Parva, 188, 5).
However, even in those early days the races do not seem to have been by any means pure, and Bharadvaja replied: ‘If different colours indicate different castes, then all castes are mixed castes’ (188, 6).
The distinction between castes by colour is in fact rare even in the earliest literature and, as the Bharadvaja pointed out, mixed complexions seem to have been represented in every caste.
Source: Hinduism by K.M. Sen (1976, first published 1961)