Reader’s Question on Caste and Deities

Prajapati - a Caste Deity?

I have received an email from a reader asking about caste and preference for certain deities. Before I answer it I should point out that I don’t believe that hereditary caste is part of Hinduism. I wrote a post “The Caste System” where I discussed this issue .  The Hindu American Foundation’s statement “Not Cast in Caste” also makes it clear that caste and Hinduism are not necessarily linked.

The pertinent part of the email I received  is as follows:

Hello,
My name is Jason and I am a student at Western Michigan University studying Religions of The World. My explorations in religions of India have lead me to the following question about Hinduism:

Preference for certain deities is somewhat caste and profession-linked among Hindus. When matching up the deities with the Indian social divisions, which deities do might go with which groups, and why?

Mainly I am concerned with the Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Kali, and Lakshmi.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read and respond to my message. I look forward to hearing your response.

I decided to respond to this email in a post because though I can give a reasonable theological answer I am sure that some of you reading this know a lot more about the day-to-day practices than I do. Any comments will be most welcome.

Firstly I would say to Jason that the vast majority of Hindus believe in one God and a number of created celestial beings. Very simply, the largest sect of Hinduism is the Vishnava sect, who’s followers see Vishnu as the ultimate God, the next largest Saivas, who see Shiva as God. These two sects cover at least 80% of Hindus (Figures from Encyclopaedia Britannica, quoted on adherents.com makes it 95%). The belief in the ultimate God is irrespective of caste.  For this reason I would say that caste has very little or nothing  to do with the devotion to Shiva or Vishnu. There will be devotees of these major deities across all castes and occupations. I think the same can be said of Kali, who has a strong regional following in some places, especially Kolkata.

However Hindus also have a great devotion to the Devas (celestial beings) as well as God. Some of these have a particular role that might mean that they receive more regular devotion from people of certain occupations. Lakshmi (the Goddess of wealth) may be invoked more frequently by a shop keeper than a farmer, though this is by no means exclusive. Though India is moving away from traditional caste-based occupations, particularly in the cities, these occupations still have more members from their traditional castes.

One area that I know little about are the traditional family deities. Family deities are particular deities that are worshiped and seen as protecting an extended family. I know that there is a Shree Prajapati Association Temple in Bradford, that caters for the Prajapati community, who were originally artisans from Gujurat. I think it is possible that there are family deities that are associated with caste. If so they will be devas rather than the mahadevas. Can any readers tell me more?

 

6 responses to “Reader’s Question on Caste and Deities

  1. havent heard much about a huge ‘sect’ named after Prajapati. However can sya Prajapati is much larger than just to catering to the needs of a fraction of hindus, the noun is almost synonymous with none other than Brahman. Will get back later after getting some references from upanishads.

  2. Priyank chauhan

    As it sir, u have got everything clear for the matter.
    The concept of the family worship, is rather a manifiestation of the same personalized moksha one…
    There are some regional deities linked to some places, but they are believed to bethe maniefeistations of the supreme one…
    As, goddess durga is known as bhangkhari devi in some regions.,

    As u have noted sir, caste system is a deformation of varna system and is, a social factor…
    Caste system is positively observed in indian muslims,christians and some more communities…

    Regards…

  3. DNA tests show that the caste system is 30,000 years old
    And is a form of tribalism and predates Hinduism by several millenia.

    Caste system is transmitted on the male line

    Based on Paternal Y-DNA, as a rule of thumb

    R1A = Upper caste North Indian and South Indian Brahmin and Nairs
    H1 = Backward caste North Indian
    L1 = Non-brahmin South Indian
    R2 = Non-brahmin bengali

    The interesting thing is Indian R1A is ancestral to East European R1A and is the DNA confirmation of the common origin of Indo-European languages
    East European R1A is dated to 11000 years ago and is post ice age expansion out of Punjab into central asia and onto Europe
    R1A is also associated with lactose tolerance and dairy farming

    By the time of the Rig veda, there is only one hymn referencing caste – The purusa sukta, and it treats caste as an established fact

  4. Yes. Family temples ,family deities etc relate either to an ancestor of family, or their ‘kula dev’ or devta, who may a form of shiva , vishnu or devi. I have my kula dev or family god as ‘DAMODAR MAHALAKSHMI’ a form of mahavishnu with Lakshmi devi.
    Castes have caste god different frm Family devta,.
    Eg. for Gouda saraswat brahmin community , i belong to take ‘Venketeswara ‘ of Tirupati temple As our God.
    All these are just different methods to create Bhakti, Lord s just 1, SATCHITANANDA PARABRAHMAN, without any form , infinite , indescribable , .
    He may be called as SADASIVA by Shaivism , NARAYANA by Vaishnava or PARASAKTI by Saktas.
    Same is seen n different forms.
    I would suggest every1 to read Swami Vivekananda buks for vast knowledge.

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