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Social Structure of Ancient India

Social Structure

In ancient India, society was divided into four parts (varnas): brahmins, kshatriyas, vaisyas, and sudras. The Rajputs eventually came to occupy the place in society of the kshatriyas. In that ancient era, this system was very fluid and flexible. Ibbetson writes in his book, "In the earlier Hinduism we find that, while caste distinctions were primarily based upon occupation, considerable license in this respect was permitted to the several castes, while the possibility of the individual rising [or falling] from one caste to another was distinctly recognized (4)."

The original intent of caste was to provide a convenient social structure to the Indian civilization, with the actions of an individual determining their rank in society. A parallel may be drawn to the West's social classification of people into different classes such as the middle class and the wealthy class. An individual's accumulation of wealth can easily propel them from one class to another.

However, this basic Indian classification would eventually be expanded and intolerably abused. Different levels of status came to be associated with each caste, and changing one's status in life became virtually impossible. As a result, the caste system of today hardly represents its original intent and has lost much of its intended usefulness. In fact, the mere mention of the word "caste" nowadays brings negative connotations to many people's minds.

Within the above framework, Ibbetson identifies two principles, the community of blood and the community of occupation (2). The community of occupation reflects one's caste. The community of blood reflects one's tribe. The Mair Rajputs are a tribe, as it is a community related by blood. That does not mean that all Mair Rajputs are related to one another. Instead, since marriages form bonds of blood, the Mair Rajputs traditionally marry only other Mair Rajputs. The caste of the Mair Rajputs eventually has come to be goldsmiths, because that is currently their predominant occupation.

Here is a possible method of classification that should reduce some confusion. The asli kaum or original community of the Mairs is the Rajput community. The Mairs, as far as I can tell, are a conglomeration of branches of different Rajput tribes. The Mair Rajputs collectively form a jaath, or tribe. The "traditional" trade or occupation of the Mairs is goldsmithing. The gothras, or families, are the sections that comprise the Mair Rajput tribe.

Contact the author: Rajesh Verma
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