The Castes of Ramayana
by Jyotsna Kamat
First Online: July 05, 2009
Page Last Updated: June 13, 2013
In his book on "Indian Caste" in two volumes, John Wilson has dealt with the
topic elaborately. The first volume divided into tweleve chapters deals with the
evolution and nature of caste system over ages. He has discussed its presence in
Hindu sacred literature, epics, Buddhist literature, as seen by Greeks, in law
books, in later literature, in Harivamsa and in the Puranas.
His observation on caste system as depicted in Ramayana is noteworthy.
Though Vaishyas and Shudras are shown their respective profession, there is no
subordination of castes and ranks, founded on diversities of occupation as has
been exhibited in later times.
In a chapter of Ayodhyakanda, the in habitants of the city of Ayodhya are
represented as going out with Bharata, in an attempt to coax Ramachandra to
come back and occupy the throne. A long list of followers of different
occupations (88 in all) is given. It makes an interesting reading about
professions in contemporary society.
List of Professions Mentioned in Ramayana Epic
- Incense dealer
- Seller-of-wood Sorrel
- Seller of powders
- Betelnut seller
- Worker in withes
- Leaf seller
- Compounder of perfume
- Garment maker
- Destroyer of poisons
- Physician for children
- Coral Worker
- Maker of figures (on floors, etc)
- Player (or Tumbler or Roving Actor)
- Dealer in candied-sugar
- Borer (as of pearls, wood, etc.)
- Fruit seller
- Ivory worker
- Flower seller
- Metallic burnisher
- Instrument maker
- Planter-of-the Lodh-tree.
- Cotton-dealer (or-teazer)
- Maker of bows
- Thread seller
- Varata. (Occupation unknown)
- Dealer in drinks
- Maker of darts and javelins
- Brass founder
- Umbrella maker
- Copper founder
- Maker of inlaid work
- Boiler (Cook)
- Frier (Cook)
- Chief of a guild
- Chief of the townherds
- Dice player
- Cutter-of-crystal, or glassmaker
Most of the occupations have archaic names in Sanskrit. Only English equivalents
Wilson has provided are listed above.
We find that the Kshatriyas not finding place in the list! Brahmins were
there, just behind Bharata who proceeded with his luggage loaded on bullocks.
Wilson has mentioned that in certain North Indian editions of the Valmiki
Ramayana, the professions mentioned are fewer. In my personal copy of
Ramayana, edited by Vidwan N. Ranganatha Sharma the number of occupations
mentioned is only twenty six.
- Indian Caste' – by John Wilson. Vol. I P-224-5, Bombay 1877