Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Caste Mean?

A caste is a social group that includes people of the same economic status, occupation or rank. In India, the rigid caste system divides people by social distinctions into hereditary groups that have specific limitations and privileges, depending on where the person is on the social strata. Although it is illegal in India today to discriminate based on caste, the system traditionally prevented those in the lower castes from improving their economic and social status.

The caste system is rooted in Hinduism, but there has also been Hindu opposition to the barriers that castes present — the most famous being the non-violent protest by Mahatma Ghandi.

Yoga developed outside the restrictions of society and, therefore, provided a means of salvation, regardless of caste.


Yogapedia Explains Caste

Caste is a word derived from Portuguese, meaning “lineage.” The closest Indian terms are varna, meaning “color” or “class,” and jati, meaning “birth.” The former is the term generally used for the caste system. The latter term describes any group that has characteristics in common, but is also used to describe the Hindu castes.

Among other things, an individual’s caste dictates the type of occupation they can pursue and with whom they may socialize and marry. Hinduism, however, offers a path to moving up in caste via reincarnation. Someone who fulfills his duty (dharma) in one life may improve his social position in the next life.

The traditional Hindu castes include:

  • Brahmin – the priestly and teacher caste. Salvation (moksha) is achieved through Jnana yoga (learning and knowledge).
  • Kshatriya – the ruler and public service caste (traditionally, the warrior caste). Moksha is achieved through Karma yoga (good works).
  • Vaishya – the business and merchant caste. Moksha is attained through Bhakti yoga (devotion to the Divine).
  • Sudra/Dalit – the semi-skilled and unskilled workers. Moksha is also attained through Bhakti yoga.

Traditionally, the caste system did not include the lowest members of society, who were known as the “untouchables.” That term is now politically incorrect and they are typically included in the Sudra caste.

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