Introduction to the Caste system in Nepal
The earliest available historical documents of Nepal describe that caste system was deep rooted in Nepali society in the Lichhavi period. The society was divided into four castes and a kind of hierarchy placing the Brahmans at the top was established. The second, third and the fourth position in the hierarchy were given to Khestriyas, Vaishyas, and Sudras respectively. Different occupations were prescribed for these castes.
Duties & Responsibilities
Brahmans had the responsibilities of conducting worships and studying Vedas and Puranas. Khestriyas were to rule and perform marital duties. Vaisyas were the merchants and Sudras, the untouchables were to do the works that were considered to be of the inferior kind, at the time. Different kinds of foods were also prescribed for the different castes.
Brahmans were to abstain from meat, liquor and many other things and were suggested to eat only those things which matches with their meditative temperament and priestly duties. The rigid system was once weakened by various factors during a period between the Lichhavi regime and Malla regime. However, it was reinvigorated by Jayastiti Malla in the Malla period.
Various historical documents and inscriptions show the existence of such a system. Inscription of 1392 AD. situated in Kumbehswor, Patan, the inscription of Kochu, Tole, Farping (1406 AD), Yaksha Malla’s inscription of Bhaktapur Palace Swuare (1456 AD), and a number of others mention the various aspects of caste system.
Other ethnic groups outside the system also were significant elements of social structure. However, caste ranks equating the status of Brahmans and Khertiyas were not given to them. They were not strictly obtained by the system. Diplomatic adjustments were made whereas various religious customs related with marriage, birth, death, etc. were observed in accordance with the caste system among the groups included by the system.
Now, the discriminatory caste system is limited to only religious rituals. Nepali society at present is guided by other broader humanitarian concerns. Cast discrimination is prohibited by the law of the country and is punishable.
This Article and upcoming posts are extracted from the book, TOURIST INFORMATION DIRECTORY, 1997. by my Late Father Journalist, Sociologist & Anthropologists, Er. Ramesh Chandra Bandhu Bhattarai.