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The Castes of Ramayana


by Jyotsna  Kamat
First Online: July 05, 2009
Page Last Updated: February 25, 2017


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

  1. Jeweler
  2. Pork-dealer
  3. Potter
  4. Fishmonger
  5. Mechanic
  6. Painter
  7. Partridge-keeper
  8. Grain-dealer
  9. Huckster
  10. Plasterer
  11. Perfumer
  12. Architect
  13. Goldsmith
  14. Carpenter
  15. Seedsman
  16. Dresser
  17. Brickmaker
  18. Cheesemaker
  19. Physician
  20. Incense dealer
  21. Seller-of-wood Sorrel
  22. Washerman
  23. Actor
  24. Seller of powders
  25. Encomiast
  26. Maghada
  27. Betelnut seller
  28. Worker in withes
  29. Leaf seller
  30. Compounder of perfume
  31. Garment maker
  32. Blacksmith
  33. Carpenter
  34. Artisan
  35. Destroyer of poisons
  36. Goldsmith
  37. Exorcist
  38. Usurer
  39. Physician for children
  40. Coral Worker
  41. Maker of figures (on floors, etc)
  42. Refiner
  43. Player (or Tumbler or Roving Actor)
  44. Dealer in candied-sugar
  1. Planter
  2. Man-of-arms
  3. Brazier
  4. Peacock-keeper
  5. Borer (as of pearls, wood, etc.)
  6. Splitter
  7. Fruit seller
  8. Ivory worker
  9. Flower seller
  10. Dealer-in-nectar
  11. Metallic burnisher
  12.  Instrument maker
  13. Bather
  14. Distiller
  15. Gardener
  16. Flesher
  17. Weaver
  18. Planter-of-the Lodh-tree.
  19. Cotton-dealer (or-teazer)
  20. Suta
  21. Maker of bows
  22. Thread seller
  23. Panegyrist
  24. Armorer
  25. Varata. (Occupation unknown)
  26. Draftsman
  27. Dealer in drinks
  28. Currier
  29. Maker of darts and javelins
  30. Brass founder
  31. Umbrella maker
  32. Copper founder
  33. Hairdresser
  34. Maker of inlaid work
  35. Boiler (Cook)
  36. Coppersmith
  37. Frier (Cook)
  38. Chief of a guild
  39. Baker
  40. Chief of the townherds
  41. Confectioner
  42. Dice player
  43. Merchant
  44. 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.


Reference:

  • Indian Caste' by John Wilson. Vol. I P-224-5, Bombay 1877

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