The ancient Aryans fenced themselves in the high doctrine of descent and purity of blood. They established four "Varnas"( Varna means colour, alphabet and class but here, Varna means the section of society which denotes its occupation.), Brahmins, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras on the basis of their occupations. The caste system is merely an extension of the ancient Aryan's Varna system.
A caste is defined as an indigenous group or collection of groups bearing a common name and having a common traditional occupation. They are linked together by these and other ties such as the tradition of a common origin and the possession of the same tutelary deity, and of the same social status, ceremonial observance and family priests. They regard themselves and are regarded by others as forming a single homogenous community.
A distinctive feature of the caste system is that each caste is divided into exogamous, patrilineal sub divisions known as Gotra within which marriage is as strictly prohibited as it is outside the endogamous caste. In this way a caste means the biggest group of persons of the same religion (excepting Jains, Sikhs and Hindus of the same caste among themselves) outside which a man cannot marry.
The caste system was an essential part of the Hindu society of Marwar region. Bernier in the middle of seventeenth century recorded that the Hindu Society was divided into four castes such as Brahmins, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras. To these four classes was added one more class called Chandalam (blacks) but did not count it within the fold of caste structure.
They considered the Chandalam untouchables as "low and infamous, that they lived outside the inhabited places and towns occupied by the other Castes." This caste structure continued in the beginn¬ing of the early nineteenth century Rajasthan.
Broughton noticed that the Bhangi (Scavanger) was among the category of untouchables. He described the Bhangis as set of men of the lowest caste, or no caste at all. They performed the vilest works for the living. On the death of a person they were given all his paraphernalia to a Bhangi which no one else was permitted to touch. Everything used by the dead was deemed unclean. James Tod had subscribed to this degrading social condition of the Bhangis at Rani Khera. Bishop Heber saw the dwellings of untoucha¬bles outside the ramparts of Bharatpur town in January 1825.
Popabai-ri-Varta a part of the Vat Sangrah refers to a tax called Mashan Bhom levied by the sweepers at the cremation ground.
In the beginning of 20th century there were 158 hindu and muslim casts found in Marwar during Mardamshumari held on 1st march 1931.
Amongst Mohammedans too the cast system crept and several castes and sub-castes like Mochi, Kayamkhani, Khanzada, Silawat, Lakhera, Rangrej, Chadwa, Mirasi, Pinjara, Sindhi, Kunjara, Ghnchi etc. were developed. They did not intermarry, and observed ceremonial feasts separately. If anyone violates any of the social restrictions, he is excommunicated and is not allowed to smoke or take water from the hand of the others. He is, however, allowed to rejoin his community after paying of some fine as punishment.
Importance of Pandits or Brahmins in daily life
The Hindu religious rules were framed by the Pandits of Kashi (Benares) and the sixteen Sanskars (or rites) were performed by the Brahmin priests. The Brahmins still exercise good influence on the Hindu community. They preside over all the religious functions of the Hindus. Auspicious dates are indicated by Brahmins for every religious ceremony.
Nomenclature ceremony is performed by them; marriages are contracted through their agency, other ceremonies such as investiture with the sacred thread, purification or construction of a house are all conducted by the Brahmins. They are almanacs incarnate and move about all day long predicting and counting various stars and auspicious dates. Manucci and Tavernier noted that the Rajput rulers kept Brahmans and astrologers for consultations.
Religious beliefs span a wide spectrum from subtle philosophical and metaphysical concepts to superstitious awe before the Unknown. These different attitudes shade imperceptibly into one another, and in the case of the Hindus they are deeply interpenetrated with a sacerdotal ritualistic, even which give the populace a way of life in which religion is in an enveloping form. Hindus, whether well-instructed and versed in their philosophy or of lesser clay, have a common middle ground of beliefs that asserts the immortality of the soul and its reincarnation in various forms, human, animal and even vegetable, depending upon one's Karma (merit or demerit earned by one's actions) in any particular birth. But Moksha (liberation) from this cycle of birth and death is possible if the reckoning according to the merit calculus of one's Karma was overwhelmingly on the credit side and divine grace was available in addition. Hinduism prescribes broadly three paths to Moksha- Karma (Action), Janana (Knowledge) and Bhakti (devotion). Of the three, Bhakti is considered the least difficult and therefore the most popular.
Among the common superstitions are belief in good and evil spirits and omens. Thus a donkey, a cat, a cow, a bird or a woman carrying a pitcher, depending upon whether it is empty or full of water, can be a good or bad omen. A sneeze or a fall of a lizard brings bad luck. Moles depending upon where they are in one's body are good or bad. Astrology plays an important part in the lives of the people.
Forecasts are made and consultation with priests are held before fixing the auspicious and avoiding the inauspicious day for every important act and even for the commencement of a journey to ensure the success of the mission. Quivering of certain parts of the body can be lucky or unlucky. Names of certain men, women, animals or places can be inauspicious and should not therefore be altered. Some colours are regarded as auspicious while others are considered evil. Jewels and precious stones are considered to have different effects. Amulets and charms are believed to be efficacious in warding off evil spirits. Visits to certain shrines are undertaken as penance or vows for prayers answered or simply for warding off the effort of evil spirits and witchcrafts.
Amar Singh-ra-Duha contains an account of the superstitions of the time. The instances are : If a bird called deradi raises its wings in the right side it is auspicious to observe it. If it itches its arm, it will bring good luck to an observer. If ones way is crossed by a cat, it is unlucky. The author describes similar other superstitions of the age. Shakunavali is a part of a manuscript copied about V.S. 1714. It deals with the signs of good and bad omens. The colophon indicates that Dipawali was an auspicious day for completing literary works. Shakunjovari-Vidhi dated 1714, copied by Vatsa says that the roaring of a lion indicates victory for an army on march. Sona-ri-parsi, part of a manuscript dated V. S. 1753, preserves the names of about five hundred words indicating bad or good omens. Shakunavali dated V.S. 1793, was prepared for Bai Khichani to find out omens. It refers to the names of various animals which determined the ill or bad omens, if they were passed by some one.
Like other parts of India, the people of Marwar also believe in sixteen sanskars of Hindu life style as prescribed in Brahmin literature. A Hindu has to pass through certain ceremonials from birth to death and these are termed sanskaras. Sanskaras begin from the time of one's conception in his or her mother's womb and last till after death. They are sixteen in number, and their references are found in contemporary evidences. Bhagwat Dashma skandha, V.S. 1667, painted by Govind gives illustrations from Krishna's life, illustrations of Jatakarma Sanskara, a village school and its outdoor games as 'netrabandhana', 'nilayam-krida','phal-kse pan', 'Shalar', etc.
The pregnant woman has to undergo many sanskars. The women of the family participate in them. She goes to her parent's house where she delivers the child. The woman who gives birth to a child is kept separately in lonely room for a week. She is fed there. Her clothes are not allowed to be mixed with those of others. In her room, they keep an iron or water vessel to ward off the witches and ghosts and evil spirits. She is not allowed to touch anything; she is considered impure. After twenty two days, she washes herself, bathes and cleanses her person. Her room is white washed and swept clean. Now she can participate in the household activities.
In respectable families the simanton-nayan-sanskara or the ceremony to ensure the safety of the child in the womb was performed by offering ghee to the fire and by observing local rites. In the jata-karma-sanskara, or the birth ceremony, the child was fed with a spoonful of a mixture of honey and ghee. In honour of the birth of the child great rejoicings were observed which included songs and distribu¬tion of coconuts and other articles.
Well-to-do persons offered cows to the Brahmins on such occasions. At the nam-karana-sasnkara which was performed either on the 10th day or the 40th day of the birth of the child, a name was chosen for the child and a horoscope, containing an account of good and evil stars, was prepared. At the anna-prasanna-sanskara or first feeding ceremony, held usually in the sixth month, the child was given kheer or rice cooked with milk and sugar, to the accom¬paniment of the Vedic verses and oblations of ghee poured into the fire.
In the third year, the male child's tonsure or the chuda-karma ceremony was observed. It was then that amidst pious rites the child's scalp was shaved, and only a topknot was retained. Another sanskara was the vidya-adhyayana, when the child at the age of 4 or 5 was first taught to learn the alphabets.
All ceremonies were observed by women singing songs suitable for the occasion. But in the case of girls it was not incumbent to perform these ceremonies with care and attention. Many of these ceremonies were rarely practiced in their prescribed form by the lower classes.
The Brahmans, the Ksatriyas and the Vaisyas observed upanayana, the rite of initiation. At this ceremony the boy was to be clad in the garments of an ascetic. He was to be given a staff in his hand. A sacred-thread (Yajnopavita) was to be hung over his left shoulder and under his right arm, and he was expected to wear it always from that day forward. At the time of the performance of the ceremony Gayatri mantra, the most famous verse from the hymns of the Rig Veda, addressed to the old solar god 'Savitur', was whispered into the ear of the boy.
It seems that the initiation ceremony was confined to the Brahmins, who maintain it to the present day, while others 'twice born' ceased to perform it in its full form. In royal Ksatriya families it was performed in a formal manner on the occasion of marriage. Bhatt Jagajiwan in his book Ajitodaya, refers to the rites of 'Jatkarma' and the marriage ceremony in 18th century. Raja-Risalu-ri-Vat copied in V.S. 1822 refers to the namkarana Sanskara and gambling.