Vedic vocations were not related to heredity
Rather coincidentally, at the
dawn of civilization, as the people gathered and lived in clans or tribes (Visha),
they collectively - irrespective of their undertakings within Visha (such as in
agriculture, woodworking, trade and other vocations) - came to be known as the
Vaishaya (meaning - of Visha).
To meet the liturgical and administrative needs of the society, the Vaishaya -
from among themselves - would select (based, respectively, on skills in
elocution and leadership) Brahmin (student or orator of the Vedas - compiled
knowledge) and Kshatariya (tribal chieftain, administrator of Kshatar - dominion
or tribal area / town). Furthermore, a Visha (tribe) - in addition to having the
Vaishaya (including Brahmins and Kshatariya etc.) - also embodied people known
as Shudra (meaning - not of tribe) representing all the newcomers to that
particular tribe. They included persons from other tribes (such as the
vanquished foes and the migrants from other tribes) and the children born out of
inter-tribal unions. Being somewhat new into that tribe and encountering
unfamiliar rules, regulations and customs, a Shudra was limited in his
vocational options and was generally relegated to providing service and
assistance to members of the host tribe. But over time, like a modern day
immigrant, he would surpass the tribal or social barriers so as to fully
assimilate in that society and pursue other professions.
The importance of a person's skill to satisfy the need of the ancient society
can be further elaborated by considering the following in the Rig Veda ( the
most ancient Hindu text):
"We all possess various thoughts and plans and diverse are the callings of
men. The carpenter seeks out that which is cracked, the physician the
ailing, the priest the worshipper.......
"I am a bard, my father is a physician, my mother's job is to grind the
"May they who have attained a life of spirit, the knower of sacrifice, the
guileless, help us when called upon...."
Thus, the vocational choice long ago was essentially need-based (personal and
tribal) and circumstantial (in terms of availability of labour in a certain
place at a certain time, and battles among tribes). It inspired that the
societal tasks and responsibilities be dispensed solely in terms of a person's
nature or qualifications (Guna) and his active undertaking or assignment
(Karma). It was a great vision at work - referred to also in the Gita (Ch.
4) - that is valid even today (for example, the jobs requiring compatibility
between the worker's qualifications and the potential assignment.)
Inherently, the above system satisfied one and the all. In this regard,
the Gita (Ch. 18) further elaborates that all occupations are important and
correspond to various needs or segments of the society. The Gita stresses
that, while it is of utmost importance to recognize and adhere to one's own
responsibility or the task at hand, there is no other special advantage or basis
(in terms of divinity or one's heredity) for pursuing a particular undertaking.
It is also stated there that, no matter whatever a person's duty or task, he
attains perfection or heavenly bliss only if he is fully dedicated to it and
performs it with pleasure and interest as if it were a service to the Lord.