Students shall submit at least two papers of 1500 words in length, one expository in nature and one which expresses a position or argument; both of which should include a list of works consulted and/or cited. Acceptable submissions may include college level research papers, published articles, or any papers submitted for other requirements in any of ADF.s Study Programs. Papers must demonstrate thorough research techniques, employ reliable sources, demonstrate a clear writing style, be well organized and make use of standard English syntax, usage and grammar.
Hinduism and the Caste System
By Amber Doty
Paper to Express a Position
Growing up as a woman in the United States I was given many freedoms that women in other parts of the world do not get. I get to choose my education, my family, my career, where I wanted to live, and numerous other decisions. My parents had their own ideas of what they wanted me to become, but overall it was my decision. In parts of our society there are still some stereotypes held about the role of a woman and the expectations of them to get married and have a family. However, in our culture it is actually the woman’s choice as to with who and when or if that will happen. When a woman does marry a man, she is still allowed to have her own opinion, desires, and thoughts. She is also allowed to have her own career and household chores and child raising duties are split between the couple. In fact, in Midwestern Nebraska, where I grew up, often the woman’s household chores include typical “male” work, such as working in a field or helping to brand cattle.
Within the caste system of the Hindu faith, a woman’s place seems very different. They are defined completely by the man that they are attached to, be it their father or their husband. They also don’t often have a say in who their husband may be. It is this extreme difference in society that first gave me the desire to learn more about the Hindu culture and their caste system. I tried to keep an open mind as I began exploring the basic beliefs of Hinduism. Hindus believe in a divine creator as well as many different deities. They attend temple for worship and follow the teachings found in a group of texts called the Vedas, a word which translates to mean “knowledge” (BBC, 2009). The Vedas contain the prayers, songs, rituals, and teachings of the Hindu people. Hinduism is one of the largest religions in the world and, although it originated in India, members of the Hindu faith can now be found across the globe. Hindus believe in a cycle of reincarnation and rebirth. They are taught that leading a virtuous life can lead to better future lives. Part of this belief in reincarnation is incorporated directly into the caste system. It is believed that if you live a virtuous life you will be reincarnated in the next life into the Brahmin caste, therefore being rewarded for your positive past life. This is the ultimate goal of the Hindu faith.
Reading through the information about Hinduism I quickly began to realize that the culture built around the Hindu people plays a very large part in their religious beliefs. The food they eat, who they can marry, where they can practice their faith, and what careers they can have are all determined by their position within the caste system. This realization was very interesting to me and made me decide to further explore the Hindu society and their caste system. A caste system is defined as “a division of society based on differences of wealth, inherited rank or privilege, profession, occupation, or race.” (Merriam Webster, 2012) Growing up in the United States we are taught that each person is free to become whoever they want to be, despite where they come from. We encourage people to dream big and reach for their goals, at least in theory. Each person if given the freedom to do what they wish, where they wish, as long as it doesn’t break any laws. The Hindu caste system, on the other hand, has very rigid expectations of their members which includes being born into a caste and staying within it.
The Indian caste system is broken down into four main groups: Brahmin, the priests; Kshatriya, the nobles and the warriors; Vaisya, the farmers and merchants; and Shudra, who are the servants (Flesher, 1997). Outside of these caste groups there is another group of people who are known as the “Untouchables.” They are viewed as outcasts from society and are completely avoided by all members of the Hindu faith. Each of these large caste groups is subdivided into many smaller groups that are based on location, career, family, and other characteristcs. I originally began digging into each of these divisions, but quickly decided not to let myself get lost within the seemingly endless division of groups and focused on these five primary divisions.
Within the caste system there is very little ability to move between the different caste sections. This means that you automatically inherit the caste your parents are in when you are born. If the parents are of two different castes, often neither caste will claim the child, which is one of many reasons that cross-caste relationships are rare. It is technically possible for someone to switch to a higher caste group if they were to marry a member of that caste, however, it is also possible that the member of the higher caste will instead be forced down into the lower caste group (Pouwels, 2005). Within some of the subcastes it is strictly prohibited and people are forced to marry within their own caste, often in an arranged marriage.
The highest tier of the Hindu caste system is the Brahmin. This group consists of the priests and holy members of the Hindu faith, similar to the priests and monks of other faiths. They are the people that are responsible for all of the rituals, marriages, funerals, and other services that are performed within the Hindu culture. Brahmin are traditionally very well educated and are often advisors to the highest government officials. They wear a “sacred thread” under their clothing, which is made of twine (Bellman, 2007). They are looked to as the “wisemen” of the community and often pass down the mythology and culture to the people. Becoming a Brahmin is the ultimate goal in Hindu reincarnation. They believe that the karma from your current life will effect how you will be born in your next life and that you will be reborn over and over until your are reborn as a Brahmin (Matthews, 2010).
The second layer of the caste system is Kshatirya. This group is made up of the leaders and warriors of the Hindu religion. In the past some people were actually granted a position in this caste despite holding a lower rank due to some action they performed in their life, however it slowly evolved to be yet another hereditary caste. This was the class of Kings and nobility before democracy was put into place (D'Souza, 2011). Even though the caste system is not officially in place in India in modern day, it is not that rare to find members of the Kshatirya caste in political offices within the governement.
The third level in the caste system is Vaishya. They members of Vaishya caste were the farmers and traders of the Hindu culture. This group controlled most of the exchange that happened (Indian Culture Online, 2012). The Vaishya were often travelling merchants. This gave them the chance to spread the Hindu culture across parts of Asia. They are a staple of the Hindu culture as they are responsible for much of the food and goods that are used by the other castes. They grow many different crops, build many of the different facilities, and make most of the items that are used in daily life.
The lowest and largest tier of the official caste system is the Sudra. They were the servants to the other tiers of the system. They held several different positions, such as maids and blacksmiths, but were treated very differently than the other three castes. In many places the Shudra are not even allowed to worhip in the Hindu temples. They were viewed only as servants and often were completely illiterate with no education at all. People are not only born into this caste, but they can also be “demoted” to this title if they violate the laws of their own caste (D'Souza, 2011). Because of their social status, the Sudras were some of the first people to convert from the Hindu faith to religions where members were seen to all be equal such as Buddhism and Islam.
Below the caste system exists one more group of people called the Untouchables. The Untouchables are often considered to not even be a caste, but they are the lowest members of the Hindu culture. They are treated as if they have a disease and are unable to touch or interact with other members of society, even their own family. They are not allowed to share food or drink with members of other castes. (Hampton, 1997). They were looked upon so poorly that even their shadow was not allowed to touch a member of the Brahmin. They are required to lay on the ground if a Brahmin approaches (Szczepanski, 2012). This group of people was often discriminated by the members of the different castes. Violence against them was a frequent occurance as they were seen to be less than human. To try to battle these crimes, making someone an untouchable was officially banned in 1950, however the problems still remains (Mayell, 2003). The Indian government has made different laws in an effort to stop the mistreatment of the untouchables. Unfortunately these efforts are still being made and the issue is persistent, even after the abolishment of the official caste system.
The woman’s role in Hinduism has tradtionally been one of submission and service. The woman is the responsibility of the man she is associated with, be it her father or her husband. She was responsible for caring for the children as well as all the cooking and cleaning that needed to be done, much like the life of an early American housewife. She held a responsibility to bare children for her husband and if she was unable to, many castes would allow a husband to take a second wife in order to reproduce. The link between husband and wife is even more solid within the Hindu culture than in the United States. In Hinduism, if a man committed a crime, his wife was often punished along side of him even if she had no knowledge of the crime in the first place.
The woman’s existence in Hinduism seems to be soley linked to her husband. Her life was completely connected to his and because of this many widows would commit suicide in ancient India. As a modern woman in the United States, this connection seems to be very intense. I am a single woman that is responsible for my own home and well-being. I am not expected to answer to any man and am free to make my own decisions. It’s difficult for me to understand why someone would choose to live such a subserviant life with no control over your own fate. However, I also understand that most Hindu women believe that by maintaining their position and living a virtuous life they will be rewarded through reincarnation. On one hand I can see how these types of decisions being made for you would resolve a lot of pressure at a young age. You suddenly don’t have to wonder what you’re going to do with your life or who you’re going to be. On the other hand though, it’s quite unsettling for someone who grew up the way that I did. I can’t imagine being told who I had to marry or forced into a lifestyle that I wasn’t happy with. I like my independence and my ability to make decisions on what is right for me. As a woman, I wouldn’t want to be uneducated, and I definitely would not want my status to be defined only by the man in my life. It’s a very demure and passive existence that I don’t think would work for me.
Today many Hindus do not follow the caste system. This cultural shift, combined with changes being made in modern day Indian at a government level has drastically affected the the Hindu caste system. Today, approximately 70 percent of the government positions and college availabilities are designated to the lower castes (Bellman, 2007). In the past both education and positions of leadership were left exclusively for the top tiers of the caste system. Women are now allowed to have careers and are sometimes the primary breadwinner in their home. However, in many of those homes they are still responsible for all of the household chores and providing food and childcare for the family. These changes are more apparent in cities than they are in rural areas but the changes are being made nonetheless (Daniel, 2005).
Many people look negatively at the Hindu caste system, but by taking a step back and looking at what the castes are, the United states also has separate social divisions that are similar to castes. We have the upper, middle, and lower class members of society, which in most areas will rarely interact with each other (Rajan, 2012). The biggest difference between the United States social divisions and those of Hinduism is the ability to move within the groups. In the US, if you are willing to put in th effort, you have the ability to move into any social division that you choose to be a part of. In the caste system you do not have that option.
Overall, I find it quite facinating to look at a culture that seems so incredibly different from my own upon first glance, but to then begin to see some of the correlations between the two. We do not have any sort of “official” caste system in the US, but there is a political battle right now happening in our country focused on the “99%” where people believe that 1% of the people control the power and money and are trying to get this to change. It’s almost as if the richest members of the country have all the power and control, similar to the top tier of a caste system perhaps. We also have an unspoken culture within our society of homeless people, whom many people look at as lower than human and will refuse to acknowledge their existence. They wouldn’t want to share food with them or even touch them. In fact, some people will cross the street if they see them. So in reality, are we any different than a caste system? Now, I realize that not everyone will fall into the examples I’ve given, but the parallels once I started to see them were very thought provoking. We’re still fighting for true equality, where race, religion, age, gender, sexual preference, etc. do not affect how we are treated. For me though, exploring another culture and realizing that something I fear within it is similar to something I see in my own culture is a huge step towards keeping an open mind and heart to accept people no matter where they are from or what they choose to believe. Growing up in Nebraska as a non-Christian makes this issue one that is very close to my heart. I personally know what it is like to be judged based on your faith and refuse to participate in something that may make someone else feel that same way. I just hope that someday we can all move that direction together.
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Rockabilly: A Lifestyle
In the middle of the 1950s life in the United States was quickly becoming something that would have been unrecognizable a decade before. During this intense time of cultural change, deep in the heart of the Southwest, a new type of music was born. Music has always played a prominent role in humanity, changing through the ages to fit the culture and styles, while often being the cause of those developments. This time, the music seemed to twang and thump in a way that was so far unknown to rock music. Even its name seemed to paint a visual picture of something completely different, yet somehow familiar. It was simply called Rockabilly. This genre of music is one that I find difficult to define. It is said to be “a style of popular music combining the features of rock-‘n’-roll and hillbilly music” (Dictionary.com, 2013), however that doesn’t seem to define the heart of their sound. Once you hear it, you begin to understand just how intensely charged this style of music was. Trying to picture what it would be like to hear it for the first time in the 1950s where life was so incredibly different from what it is now helped me to understand just how important this style of music truly was. It has been described as a “thunderous mixture of white mountain music and African American country blues” (McNamee, 2006).
However, even an accurate definition of the musical style itself would not be enough to explain rockabilly to its fullest. Rockabilly music is more than just a sound; it’s a lifestyle. There is a certain type of dress and appearance that immediately comes to mind when you discuss this genre. It was a time where James Dean and Marilyn Monroe were idolized. Through the movies and photos we can see a definite change in style to a time where men wore leather jackets and denim jeans while women wore pencil skirts and cardigans. Even today, people who listen to modern rockabilly music try to copy this 60-year-old style.
The US was in a very interesting, volatile, changing place in the 1950s, and music was tightly connected to that. The country was still trying to recover from the chaos of World War II and the dynamic depression caused by it. I think that you can sense some of that tension in much of the music of that time period. However, rockabilly music began to once again celebrate life, sometimes even the more rebellious nature of it. It frequently promoted a lifestyle that was fast and furious with speedy cars, fun parties, and lots of freedom of self from societal morals and norms. It was incredibly different than the prudent, rigid ethics of this time period, but I believe it was what many people needed to lift their spirits in such a dark time.
As if World War II was not enough to cause angst and tension, in many parts of the country segregation was still prevalent. Because of this, social integration was not allowed in most cases. This fact alone is part of what made rockabilly so risqué. A musical style that combined both white and black sounds was almost a taboo idea and lead to much disfavor in some areas. Of course, the fact that the lyrics often celebrated a more rebellion also contributed to the many issues that some people had with this type of music. Fortunately, there were many different changes during the 1950s that changed the country and definitely had an impact on the popularity of rockabilly music and allowed it to gain much popularity. Modern developments as simple as “the introduction of the single-play 45 rpm record, the early phases of the civil rights movement, and the increasing mobility and the purchasing power of teenagers” (Schwartz, 2013) changed the way our country was able to interact with music. The purchasing power of teens became very obvious during the 1950s and was an incredible change in society since it was the first time that children had freedom from their parents to choose what type of music they purchased or listened to. The increased frequency of radios in cars also helped to encourage more radio play of songs by popular musicians, especially those that were favored by a younger population. The average teenager in the U.S. during this time period purchased “from two to twelve records” (Snyder, 2001) each month.
Rockabilly music was performed almost exclusively by white musicians in Southern bars and dance halls. Rockabilly combined many different styles of music in a way that made people want to dance and sing like no previous styles of rock music had. Previously people would sit at tables and quietly tap their feet or nod to the music, but with the advent of rockabilly the actions of the listeners also seemed to change. It combined styles from both Country and Rock to form a new kind of sound with a rhythm and blues style base and an amplified rock sound with country blues type lyrics. The music was unique because it seemed to evolve from “parent styles that were themselves hybrids: country blues mixes gospel, folk, and blues, a month other idioms, while Appalachian country music combines its Celtic forebears with African hymns and work songs” (McNamee, 2006). Occasionally you can see this music called “hillbilly bop.” This seems to show that this type of music has “its origins in country music and western swing, with additional traces of bluegrass and honky-tonk” (Schwartz, 2013).
Sun Records played an incredibly important role in the start of rockabilly music. This company opened the doors to their recording studio and allowed artists to rent a space to record their songs. In 1954, Elvis Presley found his way to their studio and there he “recorded two songs that would lay the foundation for rockabilly: ‘That’s All Right,’ written by Mississippi bluesman Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup, and a hopped-up version of ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’ (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2013). To say that Elvis played an important role in rockabilly does not even begin to explain just how important he was to early rock music. Despite the fact that he passed away 35 years ago, he still manages to be a household name. He managed to combine his personal influences to push the boundaries of his time. Because of this “he ushered in a whole new era of American music and popular culture” (Biography, 2013). His style of performance was a lot more intense and aggressive than any other artist has been up until this point. He danced and jumped around in a very sexual manner that made many people uncomfortable. Some television programs even filmed him only from the waist up at the beginning of his career to avoid this issue. However, his musical style quickly won over and he became one of the most well known names in rock music.
Another artist that was prominent in the rockabilly scene was Johnny Cash. Cash also joined Sun Records in the 1950s and although he originally wanted to sing Gospel music, his styling was changed by the company to include a more rockabilly style music. One of the earliest songs he recorded was “Cry, Cry, Cry” which eventually peaked at number 14 on the Billboard charts (Johnny Cash, 2013). He did several rockabilly songs but eventually returned to his roots as a country artist. However, in 1980 he released another album called “Rockabilly Blues” which returned him to rockabilly music for a short time.
Rockabilly music’s popularity seemed to die out in the end of the 1950s but has had a few short revivals since then. The death of rockabilly had several different causes. One of the key factors would be that Elvis was drafted into the Army on March 24, 1958 (Biography, 2013). This fact combined with Johnny Cash returning to country music and the death of the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly made it so that rockabilly music began to fade off the radio. However, it has never been gone completely. In both the 1980s and 1990s there were many different movies made that showed rockabilly as a lifestyle as well emphasizing the music. One of these movies was the satire “Cry Baby” which was released in 1990. This movie had a lot of rockabilly music throughout it and mocked the angst between the fans of rockabilly music and their lifestyle and those conservatives that disapproved of this musical genre. Rockabilly music still has a presence, both directly and as an obvious influence on modern music. It also appears to be quite popular still in many foreign countries. The availability of music online has definitely made it much easier to access outside of the United States than it would have been in the 1950s.
While rockabilly music is not as prominent now as it was in the 1950s, it still plays a critical role in modern music. You can hear the influence of rockabilly in several modern bands, including Mumford and Sons which relies on the traditional slap bass and country musical styles with a more upbeat style and lyrics which is typical of rockabilly music. Volbeat is a Danish rock band that specifically claims rockabilly as one of their influences. They actually even cover some older country artists, including Johnny Cash himself. They can be heard on the radio on rock stations all across the United States. The band themselves say that they try to combine “the sound from a metal guitar but the melodies from the 50s” (McLaughlin & Poulsen, 2008) to create their unique sound.
The appearance that is tied to this type of music is still frequently emulated, many people wishing to recreate the dress and makeup styles of the 1950s in modern day. To me it’s very interesting to see just how intensely rockabilly has influenced music and style, even 60 years later. Very few styles of music manage to continue to be prominent through time like rockabilly has. Perhaps it is the performers that gave it life, or maybe it’s the feeling that it presented. I think overall it’s the fact that rockabilly is more than a style of music; it’s a lifestyle that really makes it prevalent.
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“Johnny Cash.” 2013. The Biography Channel. 2013 йил February < http://www.biography.com/people/johnny-cash-9240610>.
McLaughlin, Liam and Michael Poulsen. “Volbeat Interview.” 2008 йил 21-March. Soundshock. 2013 йил February <http://www.soundshock.com/index.php/feature-band-interviews/121-volbeat-interview>.
McNamee, Gregory. “Rockabilly.” 2006 йил 26-December. Encyclopedia Britannica Blog. 2013 йил 5-February <http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2006/12/rockabilly>.
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Schwartz, Marvin. “Rockabilly.” 2013 йил 4-February. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. 2013 йил 7-February <http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=4499>.
Snyder, Randall. Outline History of Rock & Roll, 3rd Edition. Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 2001.