Origin of Caste System in India
Some historians are of opinion that Caste System originated during the Rig Vedic Period. However, most of the historians believe that Caste System was first seen during Later Period only.
Most studies suggest that there was actually no strict caste system in the Rig Veda period. It is for the first time in Purusha Sukta that the word Sudra has been mentioned. Only Dasa or Dasyu were the words that have been used in the Rig Vedic literature.
The development of the caste system actually took place as the Aryans extended their sway over the Gangetic plains. The word Varna has been used in the Vedic literature and it means Aryan color only.
The terms Rajanya, Vaishya and Sudra occur only in the Purusha Sukta. The very word Brahmin has been very scarcely used in the Vedic literature and thus we can say that the Rig Vedic literature did not believe in the superiority of the Brahmins over the other castes.
The transition from the classless and the casteless society of the Rig Veda to the strictly classified society of the Atharva Veda has been variously interpreted by various historians. The Aryans living in the Indo-Gangetic plains did not appreciate the behavior of the people of the North-West who still maintained a very homogeneous life in the North-West region during the days of Atharva Veda.
The concept that the caste system was organized by the Rig Veda itself and was sharpened during the development of the Atharva Veda has not found favor with most of the historians. However, there are a few arguments of the Historians who think that the division of society on the caste basis had originated in the Rig Vedic era itself. Their arguments can be summarized thus:
It is not universally acknowledged that most of the Rig Veda was composed in North-Western region only but it could have been completed in the Gangetic Doab and thus the distinction of the Vratyas of the Indus region in not very convincing.
The term Brahmin has been used to mean the son of a Brahmin and thus the heredity of the priestly class was recognized by the Rig Veda itself.
The leader of the Brahmin class who advised the King on political matters as well, had enjoyed a very superior position and thus the superiority of the priestly class owes its existence to this period only.
Some of these arguments are really very forceful and convincing. It would indicate that the caste system was a Rig Vedic development and not a later development.
Whatever visible roots of the later form of caste system may be traced back in the Rig Vedic period, it is more than certain that the caste as such was not initiated in the age or it was only in a very initial stage which, by the advancement of the time, became suffer and came to be recognized as a sound system for the organization of the society.
One cannot deny the fact that the caste system, with whatever intentions it might have started, rendered more harm than good to the nation as a whole.