The term evolution comes from the Latin word evolvere, which means to develop or to unfold. It is equivalent to the Sanskrit word vikas, which means more than growth. It describes a series of related changes in a system of some kind. It is a process in which hidden or latent characteristics of a thing reveal themselves. It is an order of change, which unfolds the variety of aspects belonging to the nature of the changing objects. Out of various theories of origin of society— like divine origin theory, the force theory, the social contract theory, the patriarchal and matriarchal theories—the evolution theory offers what we think a generally correct explanation. According to it, the society is the result of a gradual evolution, in that it is a continuous development from unorganized to organized, from simple to complex. Various factors helped in this process. For example, kinship and family were the earliest bonds uniting man with man.
It is generally assumed that the ancient Hindus in India lost themselves so much in speculating over the abstract metaphysical problems of the ultimate nature of worldly things that they never exerted any serious thinking in connection with the more practical and worldly problems, like those of social organization and evolution of society. In fact, they had given serious attention to the problems connected with social organizations, and a system or scheme of social relations has evolved for securing the best possible organization of human life and conduct that they could think of.
A society with all forms of social organization and institutions emerges out of human needs. The human needs define human interests, purposes, and aspirations; and the actual planning or devising different forms of social organization takes place in adjustments of human behavior, individual and social, with these purposes and aspirations. The Indian conception of life and its conduct is also organized in view of these considerations. The fundamental meaning of life and existence as understood by the Hindus permeates through all the forms of social organization, which are intended to regulate and direct the conduct of individual’s life. Therefore, our first task will be to narrate and understand Hindu’s fundamental conceptions regarding human existence as a whole, its purposes, its aspirations, and its mission.
According to the Hindu, this life alone would have no meaning; it has meaning only as a link—even if the last—in a chain of births in the past and in the future; it is a stage of transition from past births toward future birth(s), unless Moksha, or final liberation, is obtained within the span of this life. The soul of a man is, for the Hindu, immortal; the bodies in which he lives during the stages of transition may change. This fundamental idea persists through the whole of the Hindu life from earliest written literature Vedas to today. Indian social thought is shaped in the system-forming endeavor to metaphysics of transcendence since the Vedas more than 40 centuries ago. Whatever might have been the specific socioeconomic conditions in which the creative genius of the Vedic period flourished, approximately 3000 BC to 5000 BC, its influence on the evolution of the Indian society has never waned. In the Vedic literature, including the Upanishads, spontaneity, poetic imagination, and sense of gravity of the fact of existence surpassed intellectualism. Perhaps that is why India, not withstanding her sociopolitical-economic changes, retains its weary mood eternally, a mood running more after the other-worldly and inane than after the empirical and the concrete.
There are two ideological concepts in Hinduism that reveal two aspects of life: the goal of life and the means to achieve that goal. The Hindu view of life can be best brought out by a theory of fourfold objects of life (Purushartha theory). According to this theory, there are four Purusharthas or aims of life: Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. Moksha represents the end of life, the realization of an inner spirituality in men. It means that the true nature of man is spiritual and the mission of life is to unfold it and derive thereby the meaning and joy of it. Artha refers to the acquisitive instinct in men and signifies his acquisitions, enjoyment of wealth, and all that it connotes. By according artha, a place in the scheme of life, Hindu thinkers applauded the pursuit of wealth as a legitimate human aspiration. Kama, the satisfaction of the instinctive life, is recognized as one of the aims of marriage, along with dharma and procreation. Hindu thinkers tried to assign a place of sex in the life of men. But kama does not mean only an instinctive life; it means emotional and aesthetic life as well. Dharma provides a link between the two, the animal and the god in men. Dharma is knowing that kama and artha are means and not ends to Moksha. A life that is dedicated to the unrestrained satisfaction of these urges is undesirable and even dangerous. It is consequently necessary that it should be regulated by the ideal of spiritual realization, dharma.
The theory of Purushardha is given concrete expression in the Hinduism’s scheme of Ashramas. According to this scheme, life is divided into four stages: Brahmacharya, Gruhastha, Vanaprastha, and Sanyasa, with every stage having its own duties and functions. An individual enters to the stage of life, Brahmacharya, by the performance of initiation rights. This ceremony initiates man into disciplined life. The initiation rights mark the beginning of schooling, where study is an important duty in a person’s life. Besides intellectual equipment and disciplined life, the training in character and ethical life are necessary. A student should learn to restrain his senses. In this control of senses, the control of the sex instinct is prominently stressed, and every individual going through this stage is expected to observe complete celibacy. Men thus learn his proper dharma in the first stage. The second stage of life, Gruhastha, is the life of a married man. The aim of marriage, according to Hindu philosophy, was dharma, progeny, and sex. Personal gratification is one of the ends of marriage, but a last place assigned to it clearly indicated that it should not me the guiding rule of life. Marriage is more a social obligation, as its main purpose is the performance of dharma and the perpetuation of family, as well as the continuation of the group through progeny. On entering the third stage of life, Vanaprastha, men continue to perform all the duties of the second stage. But the achievement of this stage lies in the discipline that prepares a man finally for the renunciation of familial ties and social relations. All the bodily comforts have to be gradually dispensed. This austerity is eminent to cultivate in man indifference to his own body. The last stage of life, Sanyasa, is the life of an ascetic. The Hindu ideal of life is Moksha, and that can be achieved, according to the Geetha, by cultivating detachedness to worldly things. The duties of this stage are mainly defined with the purpose of attaining this state of detachment.
In this ideological scheme of Purusharthas and Ashramas, the evolution of life is approached from the point of view of training or nurture of the individual through specifically provided environments at different stages of life; while on a structural scheme of Varna -Caste-Organization, the evolution of life is considered from the point of view of the larger group, and the individual’s position is defined in the group with reference to his innate nature, his tendencies, and disposition.
Hindu society evolved in highly structured caste system. There are many studies about the origins of caste system. One racial theory of the origins of caste talks about the unadulterated and pure blood of Aryan race. However, other explanations endorse the view that caste is mainly occupational in origin. Occupations, which were organized into guilds, became exclusive and stratified into castes. The word Varna is practically all the pure-blood race theorists have in support of their position. They conclude that the difference in color is one of the causes that lay at the foundation of the caste, for the caste originated from Varna (color) organization. As a matter of fact, however, in Sanskrit, the word Varna means appearance, exterior, color, kind, species, caste; and Manu has used Varna synonymously with Jati, which means birth, the form of existence determined by birth, position, rank, family, descent, kind, and species. The theory of the origin of Varna from the various parts of the creator’s body also finds a place in the early scripture of the Indian social thought.
For the historical treatment of Varna-Caste system, the history of India could be divided into four periods: first, the Vedic period, ending about 600 BC and comprising the literary data of the Vedic Samhitas and Brahmanas; second, the post- ‘Vedic period, extending to about the 3rd century of the Christian era; third, the period of the Dharma Shastras, which ended during the 11th century AD. Manu, Yajnavalkya, and Vishnu are the chief exponents of the social ideals of this period. The fourth, modern period began during the beginning of the 19th century. The customs and beliefs of the contemporary Indian society were mostly fixed and classified by the thinkers of this period. During this period, the present-day vernaculars of India were evolving.
In the Rigveda, the earliest literature of the first period, three classes of the society are frequently mentioned, Brahma, Kshatra, and Vis. The origin of four classes (i.e., the addition of Sudra to these three) is repeated in most of the later works of this period. These four classes are described as being of divine origin, and these classes or orders are regularly referred to as Varnas. The literature of the post- ‘Vedic period, while reiterating that there are only four Varnas, mentions certain mixed castes and also a group of outcaste class. The importance of sacrifices and ritualism had been growing, as well as the prestige of the priest, and the creator is said to have apportioned the duties and function of the four castes according to the inherent qualities and capacities of individuals. This period testifies to the rigid stratification and internal solidarity of the four Varnas, and the rules and regulations governing social life and individual conduct differed according to the Varnas to which they belong in the society. The third period of Indian history is marked by two developments in ideals of the Hinduism: first, the glorification of the gifts to Brahmins and, second, schematic growth of imaginary hells as punishment for certain offenders and the progressive application of the doctrine of rebirth. The solidarity of a caste as a unit of social organization was more and more acknowledged.
Gradually, then, the caste system became ordered and stabilized, with priests giving religious interpretation of all questions of the moment.
From this system of Varna organization, new castes came to be formed: (a) by groups separating from the present body and migrating to areas out of the range of normal communication; (b) by occupational changes within the caste; (c) by religious schisms; (d) by fragments from other caste grouping about some common objective; (e) by the offspring of crossings between two or more castes or by sex. When a new caste is formed and established, it will originally claim specialty in some vocation, and it will claim distinction on the basis of some fictitious or real cultural heritage, which it will always try to guard. Thus, caste has been a potent factor in stabilizing the cultural pattern of India. Village life was so coordinated that every caste has its proper place and duties. The joint family system is another potent factor in the continuance of cultural traditions. The traditional authority of the head over the junior members of the family was so awe inspiring that the juniors never thought of expressing their differences, whatever their convictions might be. The subordination and superordination designed to regulate the lives of different members in the hierarchy of the joint household, recognition of the family as a unit for all social relationships, and the place assigned to the family as a judicial unit in family quarrels all tended to give the family such enormous influence that the individual lost his identity in it. The social environment made the individual feel that he had no interest apart from those of the family.
India occupies a center stage in human evolution. It has served as a major corridor for the dispersal of modern humans, which started from Africa about 100,000 years ago. The date of entry of modern humans into India remains uncertain. However, modern human remains dating back to the late Pleistocene (55,000-25,000 years before present) have been found, and by the middle Paleolithic period (50,000-20,000 years before present), humans appear to have spread to many parts of India. A recent anthropological discovery provided molecular genetic evidence that a major population expansion of modern humans took place within India.
India is a land of enormous genetic, cultural, and linguistic diversity. With the exception of Africa, India harbors more genetic diversity than comparable global regions. It is generally accepted that the tribal people, who contribute 8.08% of the total population, are the original inhabitants of India. There are an estimated 461 tribal communities in India, who speak about 750 dialects. Contemporary nontribal populations of India tend to belong to overall Hindu religious fold and/or are hierarchically arranged in Varna-Caste organizations. The nontribals predominantly speak languages that belong to the Indo-Aryan or Dravidian families. These two linguistic groups have been the major contributors to the development of Indian culture and society. The extensive sharing of one or two Haplotypes across population groups within India, irrespective of their geographical location, linguistic affinity, or social proximity, reveals a fundamental unity of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) lineages in India, despite the extensive cultural and linguistic diversity. Since mtDNA is maternally inherited, it is believed that there was a relatively small number of female lineages in India.
Evolution implies change along a definite line, and also a certain continuity throughout the change. Evolution of society and its cultural ideology and traditions requires profound social, economical, and ideological changes. As a matter of fact, a transformation of the cultural pattern in India became inevitable by virtue of the new economic organization, ideology, and administrative system the British introduced. Capitalism in the economic field, liberalism in ideological domain, and the principle of equality in the social and political systems helped change Indian society. Education, particularly education for women, brought a tremendous change in Hindu marriage and in family ideals and practices. The Industrial Revolution, which had begun before the arrival of British in India but was accelerated by them, brought industrial cities into existence and encouraged the flow of the rural population to these cities. Slowly, city life contributed to the evolution of new mode of family life, which was found to be inconsistent with the old Hindu cultural patterns.
Social changes in Indian society have also been brought on by the processes of Sanskritization and Westernization. The term Sanskritization, as first used by M. N. Srinivas, describes the process of cultural and social mobility in the traditional social structure of India—that is, during the periods of relative closure of the Hindu social system. It is an endogamous source of social change. Evolution in Indian society has also happened due to Westernization, which can be defined as the changes brought about in Indian society and culture as a result of about 200 years of British rule, the term subsuming the changes occurring at different levels—technology, institutions, ideology, and values. Emphasis on human-itarianism and rationalism is a part of Westernization, which led to a series of institutional and social reforms in India.
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