The Caste System

The caste system, a complex network of interdependent yet separated, hereditary, endogamous, occupationally specialized, and hierarchically ordered social groups, the origins of which are definitely from the tribal, religious and cultural differences between various groups that can be seen anywhere in the entire world. However, the distinction between the tribalism in the rest of the world and the tribalism as a social institution in the Indian continent is its complexity and its persistence.   Caste as an institution of tribalism transcends religion, region, and nation.  Brahmins, Muslims, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis, Sikhs, Vaishnavites, Shaivites, Veera Shaivites, Shaktites, Christians, Secular humanists, Communists, etc., and others anywhere in the world and in India are all subject to the overarching dictates of the tribe.  Attempts to break the caste system were made time and again from the days of Lord Buddha. Religions like Buddhism, Veera Shaivism, etc., succeeded momentarily, but the system always resurrected itself with vengeance.  Even Islam failed to destroy this tribalism, e.g., Muslim Pashtoons of Afghanistan are different from other Muslims of Afghanistan, Muslim Kurds of Turkey are different from Turkish Muslims, Mohajirs of Pakistan are different from the rest, and so on.

There is no universal system of caste throughout India.  The belief that the Vedic varnashrama dharma was the “caste system in embryo,” is flawed and foolish. One may argue that in any society, including European or modern American society, there are four underlying varnas (colors, divisions, groups, categories, classes, etc.), the four groups being, intellectuals and priests ( Brahmin varna), rulers and warriors (Kshatriya varna), agriculturists and business persons (Vaishya varna), and other workers (Shudra varna).  Without these four social classes there is no society in this world.  Thus if the society is the God, his/her head is the intellectuals and priests, shoulders are the warriors and military, the trunk is the business and agricultural community and finally the legs are the workers who fulfil the basic needs of the society starting from the work in agricultural fields to the temple construction, without which society cannot go forward.  Anybody can become a Brahmin varna (intellectual group), but one has to be born into Brahmin caste to be a Brahmin caste. However, conversion to Brahmin tribe or religion is possible, just like modern Judaism allows conversion to Jewish faith, and hence there are several sub-castes within the Brahmin tribe and Jewish tribe.  If there is a confusion regarding varna (class/category) and caste (tribe), it is because the word Brahmin has several meanings including the ultimate God, earthly God, intellectual, teacher, priest, Brahmin tribe/caste etc.  The caste (tribe) system is different from the ideal vedik varna system.  Varna depends on a tribe's social status that can be changed, whereas caste/tribe is by birth and cannot be changed by conversion.  Tribal identity of the offspring can be modified by inter-marriage.

The castes in Andhra Pradesh can be divided into two distinct categories. Brahmin, Komati, Reddy, Kamma, Velama, Kapu, Nayudu, Relli, Mala, Madiga, Yeraka, Yanadi etc., castes are based on their tribal, cultural and religious differences, while the castes like Chakali (washerman), Kummari (potter), Kammari (smith), Kamsali (goldsmith), Mangali (barber) etc are based on their duties.  With a few exceptions like the Brahmin caste, all these castes are uniquely localized in Andhra Pradesh.  Each caste has a deity and distinct social formalities. The interaction between various castes is difficult because of these religious, cultural and tribal considerations.  Although caste means tribe, there is a subtle difference between tribe and caste as understood in the Indian context.  Caste is a tribe that usually lives in villages and cities of modern society, whereas tribe is a tribe that lives in hills and forests away from the modern society.

If we look back into History:
Satavahana Dynasty (221BC-218AD) supported Brahmanism. The decline of Budhism and Jainism started with the first Satavahana ruler, Simukha, a Jain initially and converted to Brahminism. Satakarni I was the champion of Vedic religion and performed Rajasuya and Ashwamedha sacrifices.

After Satavahana dynasty Andhra Pradesh was divided into several kingdoms, such as Ikshvakus, Brihatpalayanas, Anandas, Salankayanas, Pitrubhaktas, Matharas, Vasishtas etc.  Ikshwaku dynasti supported BudhismChalukya dynasty (540-1075 AD) was a warrior tribe/caste dynasty and was Vaishnavite, but upheld tribal/caste differences and Vedic learning and supported BrahminsVishnuvardhana was a staunch Vaishnavite and revived Aswamedha , but his queen was a devout Jain! Later kings of the dynasty converted to Shaivism.  Toward the end of the dynasty Virashaivism came to Andhra Pradesh from Karnataka.  Buddhism totally declined because of lack of royal support.

Kakatiya Dynasty (1000-1323 AD) was an indigenous power that sprang from the local people (the so-called vedic fourth class, the Sudras). Jainism was prominent during 11th century but was wiped out by Shaivism during this period.  Reddy dynasty (1325-1424AD) was established by Kammas, Velamas, and Reddis, powerful local jatis/tribes/castes.  Vijayanagara empire (1336-1678 AD), Vijayanagaram city as capital, was ruled by four dynasties in succession:1) Sangama, 2) Saluva, 3) Tuluva, and 4) Aravidu dynasties.  With the threat of Islam (an alien religion and culture), various local religions/tribes/castes came together (christened by Islamic invaders as Hindus) to fight against Islam, during this period. The Vijayanagara rulers hailed from local peasant communities and tried to perpetuate or protect the individual religious/tribal/caste identities.

Today, the society in India is categorized into four broad groups, viz., 1) Forward Communities (FC), 2) Backward Communities (BC), 3) Scheduled Castes (SC), and 4) Scheduled Tribes (ST).  This system was created after independence from the British rule of the Indian continent.  Preferential quotas and reservations were established for BCs, SCs, and STs.  The Constitution of India endorses and enforces such discrimination.  This system reinforces the old caste system, while broadly categorizing them.  Here again, any caste can be included into FC community if one attains a certain social stature.  Similarly, if a caste proves to the government that their social and economic status is below that of FC, that caste may be either included into BC, SC, or ST, depending upon their social, economic and ethnic background.  Even today, the social interactions such as marriage and festivals are influenced by caste/tribe.  Inter-caste and inter-religious social intercourse is still not fully accepted.  One can see the power of caste over the society clearly in politics.

The caste/tribal identities of the Chief Minsisters of Andhra Pradesh since the formation of the state on 11-01-1956


Name (First/given name and Last/family/sur name) of the CM

 Tribe (Caste)


Snjivareddy Neelam

Reddi (FC)

1956 and 1962


Sanjivaiah Damodaram

??? (SC)



Brahmanadareddy Kasu

Reddi (Christian?)



Venaktanarasimharao Pamulaparti

Niyogi Brahmin



Vengalarao Jalagam

Velama (FC)



Channareddy Marri

Reddi (FC)

1978 and 1989


Anjaiah Tanguturi (alias Ramakrishnareddi Talla ??)

Kapu-Reddi (BC/FC ??)



Venkatramreddy Bhavanam

Reddi (FC)



Vijayabhaskarareddy Kotla

Reddi (FC)



Tarakaramarao Nandamuri

Kamma (FC)

1983, 84 and 85


Bhaskararao Nadendla

Kamma (FC)



Janardhanareddy Nedurumalli

Reddi (Christian)



Vijayabhaskarareddy Kotla

Reddi (FC)



Chandrababunaidu Narra

Kamma (FC) 



Rajasekharreddy Yedugurisandinti

Reddi (FC, Christian)


Kammas, Reddis, and Velamas belong to indigenous and immigrant agricultural communities and ruling class who are now classified as forward classes (FC).  As mentioned earlier, ancient Andhra rulers were mostly powerful local agricultural communities, who supported the jati/caste/tribal/religious distinctions in the name of law and order in the society to protect the tribal/religious purity.

From the times of Buddha there were attempts to dismantle tribalism (the so called caste system), but the tribalism was always revived by the kings who converted to new religions like proselytizing Vaishnavism or Shaivism that were against tribalism. The tribes/castes were revised several times by religious conversions, e.g., upward revision of non-Brahmin local priests and thereby creating new Brahmin sub-castes. Inter-caste marriages among various tribes, though not accepted by all, are taking place nowadays.

As mentioned earlier, the Indian Constitution revised and defined the tribes/castes into four new categories. The law provides strict penalties for those who try to convert into any lower caste to gain benefits. By law, the caste is determined at the birth.  Thus, labeling and separation of the society into well-defined castes has been perfected by the so called secular government, and caste politics continue to be the rule of the game! Each tribe is more aware of its identity than ever before.  The four class system is reinvigorated into a new Phoenix of four heads and hundreds of colors once again and will live so long as the castes are strictly confined and defined by the preferential quotas/affirmative action.

Even in the North America, where the caste based segregation was abolished officially, the tribalism among various groups of different skin color and ethnicities continues.

More on Caste visit Caste/Tribal Diversity in Andhra Pradesh. See also:
"The Indian Continent: Intellectual Property and Computers," ref. 18   for a story of Nehru-Gandhi dynasty;
Mark Galanter, Law and Society in Modern India, Oxford University Press, New York, 1994, pp. 103-141;
Robert W. Stern, Changing India, Cambridge University Press, New York, p.43 and pp. 52-83;
Karen Isaksen Leonard, The South Asian Americans, Greenwood Press, Westport, p. 95.

Caste in Other Countries:
British Tribes
South Africa

Sri Lanka

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