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Jāti (in Devanagari: जाति) (the word literally means thus born) is the term used to denote communities and sub-communities in India. It is a term used across religions. In Indian society each jāti typically has an association with a traditional job function or tribe, although religious beliefs (e.g. Sri Vaishnavism or Veera Shaivism) or linguistic groupings define some jatis. A person's surname typically reflects a community (jati) association: thus Gandhi = perfume seller, Dhobi = washerman, Srivastava = military scribe, etc. In any given location in India 500 or more jatis may co-exist, although the exact composition will differ from district to district.

Many jātis found today in India could fit into one varna (occupation categorization) or another as described in Brahminical literature, but there are many others that would straddle two Varnas, based on occupation. As a community in south India put it,"We are soldiers and saddle makers too". This indicates that Indian society since pre-historic times had a very complex political economy. One non-sacred theoretical text, the Laws of Manu, c. 200, codified the social relations between communities from the perspective of the Varna castes although this book was never followed by many and was almost unknown south of the Vindhyas. The book, however, gained prominence when the British administrators and Western scholars used it to gain an understanding of traditional Hindu law in India.

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Jātis of Varnas

Originally, the jāti was effectively a system similar to guilds, and was associated with occupation or tribe or sept. For example, as a general rule goldsmiths, carpenters and barbers form separate communities. Most communities with a significant number of members are divided into sub-communities. The development of sub-communities could arise because of these reasons:

  • Geographical separation: For example purabia (eastern) or pachchaia (western) sections of some communities
  • Variation in standards of conduct: For example, disagreements over the permissibility of widow marriages caused some communities to subdivide.

In several cases, merging of sub-communities have been recorded. A jāti could originally change their occupation and thus association with a varna. Marriages would occur usually within one's community, or sometimes between communities.

At one time there was considerable interest in relative ranking of communities (jātis). There are several ways ranking can be done.

  1. By public reputation of the community in a region
  2. By wealth and influence
  3. Food relationship: Members of a lower community will accept water-based (kachcha) food prepared by members of a higher community.

A consequence of the 3rd rule was that Brahmins were often employed as cooks. The rule was often not applicable if the food items are dry (e.g. roasted grains) or cooked with oil/ghee (pakka).

There are now several thousand communities and sub-communities in India. A jāti is defined by the mutual interaction among the members of the community. The two most common bonds are:

  1. "Roti" (bread): dining together.
  2. "Beti" (daughter): intermarrying together.
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Brahmins(teachers/scholars/priest)

Pancha-Gauda

Those from North or Eastern India

Pancha-Dravida

Living in Dakshinapatha (including Gujarat)

Kshatriya (Kings, Nobles & warrior Chiefs)

Sudra (Service Providers/Artisans)

Vaishya (Agricultrists & Traders)

See also

References


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