Viṣṇu Purāṇa | Book 1 - Chapter 6

Chapter VI

Origin of the four castes: their primitive state. Progress of society. Different kinds of grain. Efficacy of sacrifice. Duties of men: regions assigned them after death.

MAITREYA.--Thou hast briefly noticed, illustrious sage, the creation termed Arvāksrotas, or that of mankind: now explain to me more fully how Brahmā accomplished it; how he created the four different castes; what duties he assigned to the Brahmans and the rest.


Formerly, oh best of Brahmans, when the truth-meditating Brahmā was desirous of creating the world,

there sprang from his mouth beings especially endowed with the quality of goodness; others from his breast, pervaded by the quality of foulness; others from his thighs, in whom foulness and darkness prevailed; and others from his feet, in whom the quality of darkness predominated.

These were, in succession, beings of the several castes, Brahmans, Kṣatriyas, Vaiṣyas, and Śūdras, produced from the mouth, the breast, the thighs, and the feet of Brahmā.

These he created for the performance of sacrifices, the four castes being the fit instruments of their celebration.

By sacrifices, oh thou who knowest the truth, the gods are nourished; and by the rain which they bestow, mankind are supported: and thus sacrifices, the source of happiness, are performed by pious men, attached to their duties, attentive to prescribed obligations, and walking in the paths of virtue.

Men acquire (by them) heavenly fruition, or final felicity: they go, after death, to whatever sphere they aspire to, as the consequence of their human nature.

The beings who were created by Brahmā, of these four castes, were at first endowed with righteousness and perfect faith; they abode wherever they pleased, unchecked by any impediment; their hearts were free from guile; they were pure, made free from soil, by observance of sacred institutes.

In their sanctified minds Hari dwelt; and they were filled with perfect wisdom, by which they contemplated the glory of Viṣṇu.

After a while (after the Tretā age had continued for some period), that portion of Hari which has been described as one with Kāla (time) infused into created beings sin, as yet feeble though formidable, or passion and the like: the impediment of soul's liberation, the seed of iniquity, sprung from darkness and desire.

The innate perfectness of human nature was then no more evolved: the eight kinds of perfection, Rasollāsā and the rest were impaired; and these being enfeebled, and sin gaining strength, mortals were afflicted with pain, arising from susceptibility to contrasts, as heat and cold, and the like.

They therefore constructed places of refuge, protected by trees, by mountains, or by water; surrounded them by a ditch or a wall, and formed villages and cities; and in them erected appropriate dwellings, as defences against the sun and the cold.

Having thus provided security against the weather, men next began to employ themselves in manual labour, as a means of livelihood, (and cultivated) the seventeen kinds of useful grain--rice, barley, wheat, millet, sesame, panic, and various sorts of lentils, beans, and peas.

These are the kinds cultivated for domestic use: but there are fourteen kinds which may be offered in sacrifice; they are, rice, barley, Māṣa, wheat, millet, and sesame; Priyangu is the seventh, and kulattha, pulse, the eighth: the others are, Syāmāka, a sort of panic; Nīvāra, uncultivated rice; Jarttila, wild sesame; Gavedukā (coix); Markata, wild panic; and (a plant called) the seed or barley of the Bambu (Venuyava).

These, cultivated or wild, are the fourteen grains that were produced for purposes of offering in sacrifice; and sacrifice (the cause of rain) is their origin also: they again, with sacrifice, are the great cause of the perpetuation of the human race, as those understand who can discriminate cause and effect.

Thence sacrifices were offered daily; the performance of which, oh best of Munis, is of essential service to mankind, and expiates the offences of those by whom they are observed.

Those, however, in whose hearts the dross of sin derived from Time (Kāla) was still more developed, assented not to sacrifices, but reviled both them and all that resulted from them, the gods, and the followers of the Vedas. Those abusers of the Vedas, of evil disposition and conduct, and seceders from the path of enjoined duties, were plunged in wickedness.

The means of subsistence having been provided for the beings he had created, Brahmā prescribed laws suited to their station and faculties, the duties of the several castes and orders, and the regions of those of the different castes who were observant of their duties.

The heaven of the Pitris is the region of devout Brahmans. The sphere of Indra, of Kṣatriyas who fly not from the field. The region of the winds is assigned to the Vaiṣyas who are diligent in their occupations and submissive. Śūdras are elevated to the sphere of the Gandharvas.

Those Brahmans who lead religious lives go to the world of the eighty-eight thousand saints: and that of the seven Ṛṣis is the seat of pious anchorets and hermits.

The world of ancestors is that of respectable householders: and the region of Brahmā is the asylum of religious mendicants.

The imperishable region of the Yogis is the highest seat of Viṣṇu, where they perpetually meditate upon the Supreme Being, with minds intent on him alone: the sphere where they reside, the gods themselves cannot behold.

The sun, the moon, the planets, shall repeatedly be, and cease to be; but those who internally repeat the mystic adoration of the divinity, shall never know decay.

For those who neglect their duties, who revile the Vedas, and obstruct religious rites, the places assigned after death are the terrific regions of darkness, of deep gloom, of fear, and of great terror; the fearful hell of sharp swords, the hell of scourges and of a waveless sea.