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:
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.
Ganesh in London
Today I read a blog-post which criticised the Hindu American Foundation’s statement on caste. Though I disagreed with a lot of what the post said I found it to be a well thought-through and clear expression of an opposing view. I wrote a comment in response to the post which I will expand on here.
First a brief background. The Hindu American Foundation published a report on caste, which basically said that caste-based discrimination is not intrinsic to Hinduism and that it was a problem that is being addressed in India. The blog-post I am responding to is by Sandhya Jain. She sees this report as part of an attempt to “recast Hinduism as an International faith” and set up a canon of Hinduism, one defined set of sources and beliefs. The article has comparatively little to say about caste, except that it is part of a dynamic system that has positive virtues. The article should certainly not be seen as an endorsement or acceptance of caste-based discrimination. Here is my response, together with some expansions and comments.
I received several comments from a poster Prasad in response to my article analysing a “Christian conversion” text. It appears that Prasad converted to Christianity after being denied entry into the Hindu temples as an untouchable. He is obviously a sincere and intelligent person, and loss of someone like him is a loss to Hinduism. Why then is there a caste system, and to what extent is it a problem of Hinduism? It seems to me that there are three important questions that relate to whether the caste system is a problem for Hinduism:
- Do Hindus observer the Caste System.
- Do non-Hindus practice the Caste System.
- Is the Caste system central to Hindu beliefs