Caste system in ancient India not rigid: Author Amish Tripathi

Amish Tripathi — who is known for his interpretations of Indian mythology — cites current genetic research to make his case.

By: IANS | Kolkata | Published: January 25, 2016 2:41 pm
Amish Tripathi, author, caste system, Shiva trilogy, ancient India, genetic research, Rohith Vemula, Hyderabad University, ABVP, Dalit, Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet, Valmiki, Valmiki Ramayana, Ramayana, rishi, sage, Brahmin, Vedas, Bhagvad Gita, guna, karma, Lord Krishna, The Immortals of Meluha, The Secret of the Nagas, The Oath of the Vayuputras, The Scion of Ikshvaku, Ram Chandra, books, Indian mythology “In my books, I actually speak about the caste system. If you see the genetic research that is coming out, it’s very clear the caste system was not based on birth,” says author Amish Tripathi. The author is in session with writer and translator Mohini Gupta at the Jaipur Literature Festival. (Source: PTI)

As India battles the widespread anger following a Dalit research scholar’s suicide, best-selling author Amish Tripathi is trying to drive home the message that in ancient India, the caste system was not rigid and attributed to one’s birth. Rohith Vemula’s death on January 17 in Hyderabad University after being suspended for allegedly assaulting an ABVP leader has resulted in mass protests across India.

Tripathi — who deftly weaves in threads on women’s empowerment and the caste system in his interpretations of Indian mythologies — prefers to reserve his judgement on the Hyderabad University issue since it’s under investigation.

“As far as specific incidents are concerned, learning from the Delhi church attacks and Ranaghat nun rape case (in West Bengal), it turned out the incidents were not how they were portrayed. So, we should stay calm and wait for investigation to conclude.

But he concedes that oppression continues despite the progress the country has made in the last almost 70 years since independence. “At a broader level, there is no doubt oppression does take place. We have made improvements in the last 70 years but there is still a long way to go,” said Tripathi — who burst on to the scene in 2010 with the popular Shiva trilogy.

“In my books, I actually speak about the caste system. If you see the genetic research that is coming out, it’s very clear the caste system was not based on birth. In ancient times it was not rigid,” the 41 year-old IIM-Calcutta alumnus contended.

As examples, he says Maharishi Valmiki — who wrote the Valmiki Ramayana — was not born a Brahmin. “The Maharishi who composed the Mahabharata, who compiled the Vedas, was not born a Brahmin — he was born to a fisher-woman. He became a Brahmin…not just a Brahmin…he became a rishi (sage),” Tripathi underlined.

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In addition to the textual proof, he also lays strong emphasis on current genetic research. “Research shows till around 1,900 to 2,000 years ago, there was heavy intermingling in India between all groups. That’s the first sign of caste system…there is no inter-marrying. Something happened between 1,500 to 2,000 years ago when the inter-marrying stopped. So, some people assume that is when the caste system became rigid.

“In ancient times, most of the evidence points to the fact that the caste system was actually not rigid and that is what I am trying to bring out in my books. It was not based on birth. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna clearly says — I created the four varnas based on ‘guna’ and ‘karma’ based on your attributes and on your karma, not on birth.”

Ascribing his knowledge of mythology and scriptures to his family — his paternal grandfather was a pandit and taught at Banaras Hindu University, while his maternal grandmother was a teacher — Tripathi says his love for India doesn’t mean he can turn a blind eye to issues that need to be dealt with. “I am a deep patriot. I love my country, but I also believe patriotism should not blind us to the things that need to be improved. And, of course, one doesn’t like to be told about our country by Westerners, most of them likely have no love for our country — they just want to come and judge us.

“There’s a difference in the attitude of someone who deeply loves his or her own country and there are things which he feels need to improve,” Tripathi signed off.

The banker-turned-writer penned the hugely successful ‘The Immortals of Meluha’, ‘The Secret of the Nagas’ and ‘The Oath of the Vayuputras’ novels of the Shiva trilogy. His latest ‘Scion of Ikshvaku’ is the first book in the Ram Chandra series — his take on the Indian epic Ramayana. The second book is in progress and talks are on for movie adaptations.

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  1. K
    Jan 26, 2016 at 5:46 am
    How genetic research can establish that there was no caste system in ancient India?Somebody please explain it to me! Amish Tripathi wants to say that people belonging to different castes have different DNA!This is itself casteist! and this guy went to IIM-A! Unbelievably stupid.
    1. O
      Jan 28, 2016 at 5:16 am
      Mr Tripathi and the RSS Parivar who deny that Aryans (or Ancestral North Indians) arrived late in India and also deny the oppressive nature of their dominance should read these extracts from this excellent research by Dr Majumder and his team ( "The absence of significant resemblance with any of the neighboring potions is indicative of the ASI (Ancestral South Indian) and the AAA (Ancestral Austro-Asiatic) being early settlers in India, possibly arriving on the “southern exit” wave out of Africa. The ANI (Ancestral North Indian) and the ATB (Ancestral Tibeto-Burman) can clearly be rooted to the Centarl-South-Asians and East-Asians respectively; they likely entered India through the northwest and northeast corridors, respectively." "The asymmetry of admixture, with ANI potions providing genomic inputs to tribal potions (Autro-Asiatic, Dravidian tribe, and Tibeto-Burman) but not vice versa, is consistent with elite dominance and patriarchy. Males from dominant potions, possibly upper castes, with high ANI component, mated outside of their caste, but their offspring were not allowed to be inducted into the caste."
      1. P
        Jan 27, 2016 at 8:14 am
        Read about chromosomes and genes... Then think how much information they can keep... You can read Schrondinger's what is life... That will fill you with more wonder and information.. And you will also see some praise of Hinduism.. But that is free, main objective is how genes keep on capturing evolution of species.. . The genetic study say that before Islam came to India these castes were marrying into each such the north Indian ancestor and south ancestor genes appear around 65000 years ago... Which is just too old for Aryan invasion theory... So scientists do not believe nor European historians... Only missionary historian will use word invasion... Some other converted to using Aryan migration now.... But genetic study show no large scale migration from anywhere because the intermixing starts at 65000 year ago and continues in all part of India at a slow rate.. 65000 year is too old for historians.. It like telling a second grade kid about quantum physics... At the same time the kind and amount of liturgical sanskrit text Hindus have developed, and their memorization based transfer from guru to disciples shows a long and peacefully existing civilization of huge numbers in India.. The only wars that Hindus mentions are with asurs... And asurs are for them yrians or jorastrians.. So it seems the Iranians are an Aryan branch that Aryan fought vanquished and pushed to south... Aryans never keep any record of things outside of India... Except English argument that India didn't have horse in so and so date... But seems like they have it for long... Much longer than what English claim... We will have to wait till Germans find a rebuttal (that is how philosophy and history improved, English are less reliable).. Indian historians copy English only... That is how they learnt most of their history..
        1. R
          Radhey Shyam
          Jan 25, 2016 at 12:27 pm
          He is right. Perhaps rishi vashishta was sudra and vishwamitra was KHATRI
          1. R
            rajan luthra
            Jan 25, 2016 at 9:59 am
            Had the opportunity of reading Shiva trilogy in 2013. Quite an engaging read, In fact, read the three novels thrice. Quite meaningful statement at the Literary festival albeit diplomatic. He probably can't afford to be explicit given the disposition of fascists and emboldened reactionaries.
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