The caste system separates many individuals of the Hindu religion into social classes known as varnas. This system, though traditional and thousands of years old, is considered “detrimental to the emergence of a modern society” and “leaves no scope for moral freedom,” as it divides people of the Hindu religion into four separate classes.1 These varna are known as the Shudra, Vaishya, Kshatriya, and the Brahmin. However, below these four social classes are the Dalit, who are also known as the untouchables. They are made up of mostly those who deal with things that would lead to ritual contamination, like dealing with dead bodies and the slaughtering of animals, and are the lowest of the people in the Indian class structure. The Shudra are the peasant and working classes; however, they are still among the lowest of the four social classes. The Vaishya are the merchants, traders, and cultivators of the land, the second lowest class of the caste system. Above the Vaishya are the Kshatriya or the warriors and aristocrats. Finally, the highest of the four varnas are the Brahmin, the class of Hindu priests.2
The caste system’s roots are found in the Rig Veda, which, originally, was not written down. It began as an oral tradition of the Indo-European peoples known as Aryans. However, after the Aryan migrations to India sometime between 2000 BCE and 1500 BCE, the caste system was not as highly structured as it eventually became in Indian society. But the superiority of the Brahmin caste was already well established, even in its earliest periods. Priests and families who were a part of the Brahmin varna were well distinguished from members of other varnas inferior to them.3
Through data from a major temple in South India in the year 1956, information was gathered regarding a few key features of Hinduism such as the gods and the priests. In Hinduism, the gods are extremely important beings and their existence is not something to be doubted. Therefore, the duty of their worship is placed with the Brahmins, or members of the highest varna. The responsibility of worship is crucial to the Hindu people, especially public worship. This particular type of worship is meant to satisfy the gods so that their sakti or power may be used to keep the world preserved and safe and the good of all people be ensured. The success of public worship is said to depend not only on the attendance of devotees, but mainly on the regular and correct performance of the worship by the Brahmin or priest leading the worship.4 In addition, Brahmins study information of the Vedas through oral traditions so it may be memorized.5 The Vedas are the four sacred texts of the Hindu religion and consist of religious knowledge, tradition, and thought. They include the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda, and the Atharvaveda.6
In order to perform the worship vital to the Hindu religion and work in a temple, proper initiation must occur. There are three levels of this initiation which must be passed: Samaya Diksa, Visesa Diksa, and Nirvana Diksa. Only after the individual has gone through the third level, Nirvana Diksa, will they have been fully initiated and able to lead worship services.7
It is clear that the jobs and responsibilities of the Brahmin varna is vital to the worship of the gods in the Hindu religion and vital to the protection of the well-being of human life.