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Three Pillars of Indian Society: Village, Caste & Family

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  • 0:02 Three Pillars of…
  • 1:08 The Village
  • 2:19 The Caste System
  • 4:02 The Family
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explain the three pillars of Indian society. They are the village, the caste system, and the family. In doing so, it will explore the different individual castes as well as describing joint families.

Three Pillars of Indian Society

Growing up, I had the amazing privilege of spending time on other continents and getting to know the people there. While visiting some of these places, I was definitely struck by how tied the people were to their local villages and their extended families. Where we as Americans have our private property and our very private homes, many cultures do not. Instead, large extended families live together, villages share community meals, and people find their identity through their positions within their community. Perhaps one of the best examples of this can be found in the history of India, a heavily-Hindu society, whose three most important pillars are the village, the caste system, and the family.

Today, we'll take a closer look at these pillars as we dive into India's past and its present. As we discuss this, it'll be important for us to remember that we are discussing a very large people group, and for this reason, we'll be doing some generalizing. Also, we'll be discussing India as a traditional society. For this reason, much of our content will be a bit more relevant to the less commercialized and less modernized areas of the country, rather than the larger cities.

The Village

To get things rolling, we'll start with the importance of the village as a pillar of Indian society. Throughout history, India has been a society based manly in agriculture. Yes, it has definitely seen modernization, but to say it is a very agricultural society still holds true. Very different from more commercialized societies, India's lands are still dotted with thousands of villages that rely on agriculture for their survival. Throughout India's history, these small villages have been respected as the foundation of Indian culture.

For this reason, the villages of India have historically been given more autonomy, or the right to self-govern, than villages in surrounding countries and regions. In fact, many historians assert that the rajahs, or Indian kings, would pretty much leave a village alone to rule themselves. All he expected of them was that they pay their taxes. In other words, if his pockets were being kept full, he was more than content to keep his nose out of village life. Rather than having a rajah dictating their everyday life, Indian villages were based on kin groups and governed by a council of leaders.

The Caste System

The next pillar of Indian Society is the caste system. Since a thorough discussion of the Hindu caste system could fill an entire semester, we're just going to do a very, very brief survey of this topic. As we discuss this, it's important to remember that, unlike our system in which money can be earned or lost to move people in and out of classes, Indian caste systems were determined by birth and were, therefore, life-long and permanent. For this reason, the idea of 'movin' on up' was rather impossible to accomplish.

To bite off a bit of this huge subject, the Hindu caste system is a complex stratification of Hindu Society. Formed from the Laws of Manu, an ancient text, which governed everyday life in ancient India, the caste system has governed much of Hindu history and the lives of its people.

To explain, at the top of Hindu society were the Brahmin. This was the priestly caste of Hindu society. The Brahmin were the only ones permitted to teach the texts of Hinduism.

Next were the Kshatriya, or the kings or rulers of Hindu society. These were the guys in charge of government functions and such. Although they were very powerful, it was their duty to protect the other members of their culture.

There were also the Vaishya, who engaged in money-making activities, and the Shudra, the servants or skilled workers for everyone else.

Last were the untouchables. As either products of a mixed marriage between castes or holding a job that was considered forbidden, untouchables were truly outcasts of Hindu society, so much so that they weren't even considered part of the caste system.

Although the 20th century saw laws working to end some of the discrimination of the caste system, its effect is still seen throughout the country.

The Family

The last pillar of Indian society is the family. Throughout much of its history, India's family system has been formed around the joint family, in which the wives of all the sons in a family live with the son's parents and collectively rear children. Then when the dad finally dies, his oldest son takes over as head of the entire crew.

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