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Table of contents

Introduction......................................................................................................................... 3
Origin and Development of the Caste system in India. ...................................................... 5
Varna-vyavastha, the origin of caste............................................................................... 5
Development of the caste system.................................................................................... 6
Untouchability................................................................................................................. 8
Pollution and food........................................................................................................... 9
Caste in contemporary India ......................................................................................... 10
The caste system on Bali................................................................................................... 12
The Indianization of Southeast Asia ............................................................................. 12
The Indianization of Bali .............................................................................................. 13
The castes on Bali ......................................................................................................... 14
Features of the Balinese caste system........................................................................... 16
Caste on Bali at the beginning of the twentieth century ............................................... 18
Conclusions....................................................................................................................... 19
Bibliography ..................................................................................................................... 20

On hearing the word ‘caste’, most people think immediately of India and the colourful
Hindu religion. However, there is also a caste system on Bali, a small island in the
Indonesian archipelago, 5000 kilometers south-eastwards of India. In Dumonts’ book
“Homo Hierarchicus” we find a definition of the word “caste”:

The caste system divides the whole society into a large number of hereditary groups, distinguished
from one another and connected together by three characteristics: separation in matters of
marriage and contact, whether direct or indirect (food); division of labor, each group having, in
theory or by tradition, a profession from which their members can depart only within certain
limits; and finally hierarchy, which ranks the groups as relatively superior or inferior to one
another (Dumont, 1980: 21).

This definition is adequate in the context of this document and needs no elucidation. The
word “caste” itself is of Portuguese and Spanish origin and has been used in relation to
human races. Theo Portuguese applied it to India in the middle of the fifteenth century
(Dumont: 21).
Interesting is to discover how and when the caste system developed in India. However,
even more fascinating would be to know how and when the caste system came to Bali.
Furthermore it would be appealing to investigate whether the caste system on Bali has the
same impact on society as it has in India.
India is the largest democracy in the world (at least it pretends to be). Bali on the other
hand is just a tiny island in a country that is still a long way from democracy. For this
reason I consider it not useful to compare the political and economic situation in these
countries in the context of caste. Nowadays caste is strongly associated with Hinduism, in
India as well as on Bali. Although this religion is interesting enough to write about, I will
refrain from it in this document. Here I would like to discuss the development and main
features of the caste systems and their influences on daily social intercourse.
In chapter 1 I will discuss origin and development of the caste system in India. Different
scholars, such as Basham, Dumont, Sagar and Smith agree on the advent of the Aryans as
the starting point of this development. While reading the first chapter one must keep in
mind that millennia ago India was an enormous area with many tribes living in remote
places like jungles, mountainous areas and deserts. The development of caste was not a
single event that occurred throughout India at the same time. The process must have
started in the North, where the Aryans invaded the Indus valley (now Pakistan) and must
have spread slowly to the southern and eastern parts. This spreading may have taken
centuries. In the first chapter some important features of the system are also described,
based on the work of Dumont, Kolenda and Sagar. The chapter ends with remarks on
caste in India at present.
Searching for literature about the caste system in India was not difficult. From the dozens
of titles that are available on this subject I chose those that were published most recently.
In searching for literature about the Balinese caste system the bibliography of Stuart Fox
was very helpful. However, there were not many titles and those that were relevant were
written during the first half of the twentieth century. Publications about the caste system
on Bali at present were not available, at least not in Dutch or English, the only two
languages that I master.
Lansing wrote an interesting article regarding how the caste system was introduced in
Indonesia and Bali. I will discuss this in chapter 2 of this document. Furthermore, the
characteristics of the Balinese caste division are described, based on the articles of
Friederich, Lekkerkerker and Swellengrebel. Chapter 2 concludes with observations on
Balinese caste at the beginning of this century.
Origin and Development of the Caste system in India.

Varna-vyavastha, the origin of caste

The ancient Indian society became divided into different classes with the advent of the
Aryans, as early as 5000 years ago. Before the Aryans invaded India, the sub-continent
had been entered many times by nomadic Dravidians. These Dravidian invaders mingled
completely with the Indian aboriginals (Sagar: 1-3). The natives as well as the Dravidians
had features commonly found in populations living in tropical regions all over the world:
dark skin, short structure, weighty lips, etc.
In contrast the Aryans used to be semi-nomadic inhabitants of cold regions in Middle-
Asia. These people had light colored skins, high noses and were tall in stature. Starting
from around 3000 BC, the Aryans were on the move. They migrated westward, eastward
and also southward into India, where they defeated the local populations (Basham, 1992:
30). In warfare the Aryans had a technological advantage in having tamed horses that
they used for drawing light chariots with spiked wheels. The Aryans differed from the
Dravidians not only physically but also in social and religious principles. These natives
were ‘enslaved’ in the Aryan social order. In the early Vedic age1 there were only two
main classes (Sagar: 5-10).
• The Aryans who were superior to
• The Anaryans: the defeated mixture of Dravidian and Indian aboriginals.
This class of Anaryans was given the name Sudra (black). Later on in Vedic society the
Aryan class became divided into three groups or Varnas, based on occupation. The first
Varna is the Brahmana Varna. People in this group were charged with religious, priestly
and educational tasks. The second Varna, the Kshatriyas, were responsible for defense
and political rule. The third class, the Vaishyas, were agriculturists and merchants. The

The vedic age is the period in which the Vedas are written and applied in religious life (1500-500 BC).
The Vedas are the oldest religious texts in the world, and are written in Sanskrit. They provide us with
knowledge of the religion of the early Aryans. They consist of hymns, verses, sacrificial formulas and
magic spells. The were used for sacrifices in the Aryan cult. There are four Vedas: the Rig Veda, the Sama
veda, the Yajur veda and the Atharva Veda (Basham, 1992: 234).
dark-skinned Sudras became the fourth Varna in this social order. They were charged
with servitude (Smith, 1994: 9). During the Vedic era there was some flexibility in this
Varna system or Varna-vyavastha. Any man could change Varna; its basis was
occupation, not birth. Occasionally even a Sudra could become Brahman. Inter-Varna
marriages also existed. After the Vedic era followed the age of Brahmanas, Upanishads
and Sutras2. The Varna-vyavastha became a permanent institution and grew somewhat
rigid. The Brahmana- and Kshatriya Varnas were regarded as superior and the conditions
of the Sudras became more and more miserable (Sagar: 6-10). The Varna-vyavastha
itself was regarded as a religious order. In the Rig Veda is said that the four Varnas were
born of four parts of Brahma3: the Brahmana from the mouth, the Kshatriyas from arms,
Vaishyas from thighs and the Sudras from the feet. The Brahmana Varna composed the
religious texts, which also included social rules. They were regarded as sacred people.
With the support of the Kshatriyas, who had numerous rights as well, they held the key to
all social rights. Anything said against Varna-vyavastha was regarded as being anti-
religious. The people who suffered most, the Sudras, had no rights to education, arms or
property (they were even forbidden to listen to the Vedas). They did not dare to revolt
against the system, so there was never any massive opposition against Varna-vyavastha
in ancient India (Sagar: 37).

Development of the caste system

In the course of time numerous subclasses or castes evolved out of the four Varnas. They
were based on occupation caused by labor division; people took up all kinds of
occupations out of economic interest. Another factor was the immigration of people of
other races, who were assimilated in Indian life and in the Vedic religion. When the
question of the social status arose they were given a caste name of their own. New castes

Brahmanas, Upanishads and Sutras are, like the Vedas, religious writings, composed at about 800-600
BC. The religion of the people who composed them was not (yet) Hinduism as we know it today. Many
scholars refer to it as Brahmanism or Vedism (Basham, 1992: 235). Most of the Brahmanas and
Upanishads are written as a result of class struggle between Brahmins and Kshatriyas.
In Rig Veda Brahma is a mysterious entity. In many contexts Brahma is the magical power in the sacred
utterance or mantra (Basham, 1992: 241). In contemporary Hinduism Brahma is a god (or an aspect of God
if one considers Hinduism as a monotheistic religion) that personifies creation.
and sub-castes were also formed by inter-caste marriages. The possibility of changing
one’s Varna came slowly but surely to an end: the Varna or caste became based on birth.
In the Ramayana and Mahabharata era4 the Varnas had completely acquired the form of
the caste system (Sagar: 14-17). Together with the formation of castes people developed
different feelings regarding food and conduct towards other castes. There were notions of
higher and lower people and it was assumed that touching lower people could cause
pollution. Although in earlier times exogamy was quite common and led to new castes,
this kind of marriages disappeared completely. People tended towards polytheism and
worshipped gods on the basis of their social group. Hinduism began to take shape. The
main differences between Varna-vyavastha and the caste system are:

1. Varna-vyavastha came first and is in fact ‘mother of all castes’.

2. The basis of Varna is Karma5 (achievement); anyone could change his Varna.
When Varna began to assume the form of castes the basis became birth
3. There are only four Varnas but the number of castes and sub-castes is unlimited.
The Brahmana Varna for example consists of two thousand castes (Sagar: 39).
4. The Varna-vyavastha was common all over the sub-continent, whereas the
composition of the actual caste system varies from one district to another
(Dumont: 33).

Until recent times the caste system completely divided Indian societies. There was never
massive opposition against invaders because there was never unity. The Muslims, in
particular, were very successful in ruling northern parts of India. They openly supported
the feelings of high and low amongst the defeated people to consolidate their own power.

This is the era in which the famous epics Mahabharata (literally: Great India) and Ramayana were
composed (400BC- 500AD). These epics had a secular character and were based on martial legends. When
the ballads came into the hands of the priesthood many passages on theology and morals were added
(Basham, 1992: 409).
Karma is the effect of former deeds, performed either in this life or in a previous one, on one’s present
and future conditions (Basham, 1992: 557).

In ancient times there were no distinctions in food habits between the different Varnas.
Under the influence of Buddhist criticism (500-300 BC) however, Brahmins became
afraid to lose their prestige. They started to reshape the social rules in order to strengthen
the caste system. They ordered restrictions on food habits of the Brahmana Varna. Meat
eaters were regarded as sinners. Sudras were allowed to take flesh from dead animals, but
any man who actually did eat this meat was excommunicated from the entire society.
These people were called ‘Untouchables’ (Sagar: 49-50). Some people refer to
Untouchables as ‘the fifth Varna’ (Kolenda: 32). Even today untouchability is primarily
associated with the handling of the flesh of dead animals. Social rules concerning the
untouchables are:

1. They are not allowed to provide food and water to, or to receive services from
people of higher Varna.
2. They are prohibited from entering religious places, wells, tanks, hotels and roads.
3. They have to perform hated occupational activities like leatherwork, preparing the
dead for cremation, and so forth.

In some districts in India the situation for Untouchables is substantially worse. They are
not even allowed to cast a shadow over a Varna Hindu. Sometimes they have to wear
brooms on their backs to remove their polluting footprints. They have no right to talk,
walk and sit with men of higher Varna. They are unable to wear golden ornaments or
turbans and to hire conveyance (Sagar: 47).
The situation improved somewhat during the Gandhian reform. Gandhi used to call the
Untouchables ‘Haryans’, which means creatures of God. With the independence of India
in august 1947 untouchability was declared illegal. However, it has proven almost
impossible to transform a tradition more than two millennia old (Dumont: 47).
Pollution and food

Untouchability has a strong connection with the Hindu concept of pollution and with the
notion of purity versus impurity. This is a thoroughly religious notion and it is universal
all over Hindu India. Not only people, but animals, objects and food as well may be
ranked in degrees from impure to pure. There are many agents that cause impurity
besides contact with lower-caste people. Contact with death and birth, sexual intercourse,
defecation, urination, bodily secretions and even eating are polluting. For lower-caste
people the impurity is permanent and inherited. In their jobs (e.g. barber, sweeper or
launderer) these people deal with the bodily waste of others (Kolenda: 64-65).
A central act in Hindu ritual involves offering to Deities. Of course a Brahman priest has
to be pure when communicating with God. However, even a Brahmin has to eat and to
defecate, but impurity can be remedied by a bath, preferably in running water, and with
clothes on. Sacred water like the Ganges, in particular, are purifying. Shaving often
completes a purifying bath. Other methods of purification are ascetic performances,
bleeding a little finger, chewing a chili, touching iron, and consuming products from the
cow (Dumont: 51).
Not only people but also objects are ranked by the greater or lesser ease of purification.
For example silk is purer than cotton, and gold is purer than silver. Objects are not
polluted by contact but by the use to which they are put. It is said that for any person his
own bed, his clothes and his wife are pure, but for others these are impure. This means
that a brand-new garment or vessel can be received by anybody (Dumont: 49).
The purity-impurity notion is also expressed in rules concerning food and water. A
Brahmin is not supposed to take boiled food from lower-caste people. He may only
accept food coated by purifying ghee6 or milk. Since fire purifies, he may take any raw
ingredient as long as it is meant for cooking in his own house. Under the influence of the
Buddhist and Jainist belief in non-violence Brahmanas gave up eating meat. As a
consequence, vegetarism became a hallmark of purer castes. Nowadays there are degrees

Ghee is clarified butter. It is used in Indian cookery where we would use vegetable oil or margarine.
of non-vegetarianism. It is absolutely prohibited to eat meat of the sacred cow. The most
impure is eating pork, then mutton, then chicken, and at the end of the list are fish and
eggs. Consistent with this Brahmanas are usually vegetarians. Members of the middle
castes eat chicken and mutton and Untouchables eat any meat they can afford (Kolenda:

Caste in contemporary India

Although India has been a free, democratic country since becoming independent in 1947,
the caste system still exists in all its ‘pomp and glory’. People still live side by side,
agreeing on a code which ranks and separates them. Considering the untouchability and
pollution concepts, it is easy to imagine that millions of people must live in great misery.
Actually, the system operates only within a limited locality; for example, a few linked
villages. Each caste in that locality has its own task. The exchange of food, goods and
services is a ritual as well as an economic system. The higher castes remain pure in such
communities while lower castes absorb pollution for them. Most of the time a few
dominant castes have political and economic power in a certain locality, based on control
over arable land. Each caste tends to live in its own quarter. Untouchables live in
isolation on the outskirts of a village or in separate hamlets (Kolenda: 40-41). As a result
of improved transportation and communication, some castes have begun to organize
themselves into regional larger scale associations.
Relatively few Indians live in cities. In 1971 only 10 percent of the population lived in
cities having more than 100.000 inhabitants. The caste systems in cities have a slightly
different composition than those in rural areas. There are more artisan, banking and
trading castes. The castes in cities often live in separated quarters, comparable to the
traditional village caste enclaves. Multicaste neighbourhoods, of people with white-collar
professions, have recently evolved in large cities. These castes are of comparable ranks.
Nowadays notions of pollution are beginning to weaken in the cities. Freedom of the new
professions in modern industry means that caste no longer prescribes occupation. Most
jobs are so entirely new that they are regarded as ‘ritually neutral’. Persons of any caste,
including Untouchables, may perform them. Consistent with this, many Hindu man are
no longer anxious about pollution, either at work or in the streets, shops or trains. Other
Hindus have tended to develop an ambivalent attitude. At home they follow the
traditional rules about purity and pollution, whereas at work they eat next to anybody in
the canteen, irrespective of caste (Kolenda: 141-46). Although the rules about pollution
are less strict nowadays, endogamy continues to exist with undiminished force (Dumont:
The caste system on Bali

The Indianization of Southeast Asia

On the Indonesian island Bali we find, together with Hindu religion, a caste system that
resembles the Indian model. These Indian customs came to Bali in a process that is called
‘Indianization’ or ‘Hinduization7’. By Indianization is meant the Indian influence on the
development of societies in Southeast Asia, in particular in Burma, Cambodia, Borneo
and Central Java. Evidence of this influence is found in art and architecture that express a
Hindu/Buddhist worldview. Indian words in Sanskrit and Pali8 were incorporated as well
in the other Asian languages. Between the third and the thirteenth century hundreds of
‘Indic’9 kingdoms or Negara’s appeared all over Southeast Asia. Negara means kingship
and social order according to the Indian model.
There are various theories about the spread of the Indian influence. One hypothesis is that
Southeast Asian rulers summoned Brahman priests to their courts. Others postulated the
influence of Kshatriya adventurers and Vaishya traders. Traces of evidence for the
presence of all these people were found along the Southeast Asian trade routes.
On the other hand there were great Buddhist travelers, such as the Chinese Hsuan Tsang
and I Tsing who came to visit India. They stayed at the famous university of Nalanda,
one of the centers of Buddhist thought. From the sixth to the tenth century mathematics
and astronomy flourished in India. This led to another feature of indianization: the use of
the Indian system of time reckoning.
In the theories mentioned above, at least one of considerable importance has been
neglected. Indianization is not a migration of people but of ideas. There was never any

The term ‘Hinduization’ is not restricted to Hinduism as a religion. The Buddhist temple Barabudur is
also considered as one of the ‘Hindu’ monuments (Swellengrebel, 1984: 18).
Pali, like Sanskrit, is an ancient Indian language which became the main language of Buddhists in India.
Although Buddhism declined severely in India in the first millennium AD, Pali is still the religious
language of Buddhists in Sri Lanka, Burma and other Southeast Asian countries (Basham, 1992:393).
Lansing uses the adjective ‘Indic’ when he refers to societies or kingdoms that adopted Indian customs
and ideas.
colonization, conquest or political rule by Indian people. The Indianization was
performed by the people themselves on a voluntary basis (Lansing: 409-14).

The Indianization of Bali

The ancestors of the Indonesians must have lived in the south-western part of China.
Around 2000 BC they migrated southwards from the mountains to the coasts of eastern
India. Roughly five hundred years later they crossed over to Sumatra, Java, Borneo,
Celebes, Bali and other islands (Swellengrebel: 8). In the first millennium AD (before
Indianization) Bali already had social stratification. The society was organized in
villages, ruled by chiefs. The major occupation was wet rice agriculture. Besides that
there were craft specialization and ceremonial centers of animistic religion, and long
distance trade was developing (Lansing: 416).
The first indication of Indianization on Bali dates from the ninth century AD and consists
of stone sculptures, clay seals, ritual objects and series of stone and copperplate
inscriptions (in old Balinese interspersed with Sanskrit words). The question regarding
how Indianization started on Bali has never been answered satisfactorily. One possiblility
is the conversion of a Balinese ruler, who promoted the new Hindu/Buddhist ideas among
his subordinated. In the course of time other ways might have been realized; monks,
traders and adventurers might have visited Bali bringing news about the emerging Indic
kingdoms (Lansing: 415). Another possibility is indirect influence via the neighbouring
island of Java, because the Javanese have ruled over Bali for a long time. Indications of
caste and the Vedas found in Java are older than those found on Bali (Friederich: 146,
Swellengrebel: 19).
As in other parts of Southeast Asia the Indianization on Bali happened on a voluntary
basis. The Balinese people accepted the Indian ideas without any coercion by Indian
colonizers or conquerors. The most important aspects that they incorporated in their
society were the worshipping of Hindu and Buddhist deities, celebrating myths, and last
but not least classifying people according to an idealized version of the Indian Varna-
vyavastha. The Indianization on Bali has been fostered more by religion and art than by
politics. The caste division is more a religious matter than an economic one. This
classical Indic civilization survives on Bali up to the present, centuries after the decline of
other Indic societies in Southeast Asia (Lansing: 414).

The castes on Bali

The four castes or Varnas that were formed in ancient India are distinguishable on Bali as
well. A relatively small portion of the Balinese population belongs to the three superior
castes. They trace their descent from gods, demigods or other mythical ancestors. Upper-
caste people have honorary titles that are used in addressing and referring each other.
These titles are Ida for a Brahman, Deva for a Kshatriya and Gusti for a Wesya.10 The
fourth caste of the Sudras is formed by the masses of ordinary people, who are the born
Mixed castes or subcastes do not exist on Bali. Children remain in the caste of their
father, although the mother might be of lower origin. The Balinese marriage is exogamic,
except for higher caste women. They are not allowed to marry a man of lower birth or
they will by punished by death (Friederich: 99-101).
The Brahmana on Bali are subdivided in five groups that are not subcastes in the Indian
sense. According to Brahman priests these groups descended from a holy Brahman priest
and his five wives. Although there are numerous Brahmana on Bali, only a few are
learned priests or Padanda. The other Brahmana are ordinary citizens. A considerable
number of them even live in poverty and have to earn a living by doing manual labor.
Padandas have received a complete education in religion and literature from their Guru,
and elder Padanda. When their education is finished, they receive a staff as mark of
dignity form their Guru. This mark gives them the power to guide and punish men in
religious matters. A wife of an educated Brahmin, who is of high birth herself, may share
the privileges of her husband. She is also educated in the Vedas (Friederich: 103;
Lekkerkerker: 323-24).
According to the ancient Indian law, the Kshatriyas alone had the right to wear arms, to
rule and to defend the country. At present however, on Bali as well as in India, the

The Sanskrit word ‘Vaishya’ cannot be translated properly into Balinese letters. It became Wesya
(Friedrich, 1959: 99).
professions involving arms and political rule have come into the hands of a broad range
of people. There are not many Kshatriyas on Bali; most of the ruling families are Wesyas
nowadays. Maybe only few Kshatriyas ever came to Java and Bali, but it is also possible
that many were killed in the numerous Javanese wars (Friederich: 108-09).
From a political point of view the Wesya caste is now the most important. They are more
numerous than the Kshatriyas and their caste esteem is much higher. It seems that about
300 years ago, Kshatriyas were degraded to Wesyas because they wore their hair in the
Wesya style. The true reason for this degradation could also be a political one.
Originally the Wesyas occupied professions in trade, agriculture and handicraft. Principal
Gustis despise these occupations, however. They only trade to earn money required for
opium smoking and cockfights, and trade is now in hands of all other castes (Friederich:
The members of the Sudra caste have many duties and hardly any rights. Their
subjugation to higher castes can be far reaching, strengthened by the belief that it is their
destiny. Although there are different classes of Sudras, they all belong to the same caste
(Friederich: 141).
On Bali there are no outcasts or Untouchables; however, there is a group of Chandalas.
People do not acquire the status of Chandala by birth, but they might be afflicted with
contagious diseases, such as leprosy. These people are not allowed to live in villages or
kampongs, and social intercourse with other people is prohibited (Friederich: 102).
Features of the Balinese caste system

The main characteristics of the Balinese caste system are, like in India, occupation based
on birth and, to a lesser extent, isolation from other castes. On Bali, only high-caste
women are constrained to endogamy. There is a trend towards hypergamy, which means
that parents try to marry their daughter of to a boy of higher caste. Brahman girls are
victimized by this custom and many of them remain unmarried and become old spinsters.
Although the Kshatriyas are theoretically higher ranking, the Wesyas are more proud of
their caste. Many Wesya parents will refuse to give their daughter in marriage to a
On Bali the pollution concept is also known and is mainly applied to food. Only the
Brahmana applies the rules about the purity of food strictly. Every man who wants to
earn prestige, however, will also abstain from beef. Balinese people are great meat eaters,
and pork and duck in particular are well liked. The meat of turtles is considered pure,
even for Brahmana.
Although there is a tradition of impure occupations, people don’t worry much about it.
Professions like indigo dying and pottery are considered unclean on Bali. The term for
ritual impurity, for instance caused by death or childbirth, is shorter for higher-caste
people (Lekkerkerker: 304-09).
A striking feature in Balinese social intercourse is the use of ‘vocabularies of courtesy’.
The language is divided into high and low Balinese. The higher language resembles
Javanese and is spoken by lower to higher ranking men. The lower tongue has more in
common with Malayan and Sundanese; it is the language of the original inhabitants of
Bali. One employs this lower language to equals and inferiors. If one addresses a higher-
caste member in the lower tongue, one is guilty of rudeness. Such impoliteness can even
lead to an indictment in court. Using the higher language when addressing lower ranking
people is regarded as ridiculous (Friedrich: 2; Swellengrebel: 8-9).
Another typical Balinese habit is the urge of lower-caste men to be physically lower than
higher-ranking people. The urge can be so strong that people scramble down on their own
veranda steps every time a higher-caste person passes their house. Brahman priests will
always place themselves higher when they are visited by people for services or advice.
Even in public gatherings higher-caste men will seek an elevated position.
Except for Brahman priests, there are no differences in clothing among the castes.
Variation is observed in wearing ornaments and decoration of houses, however. At
marketplaces and in cemeteries higher-caste people seem to have special places, and
castes often have their own temples in a village. Furthermore there are caste-based
restrictions regarding the giving of names to new-born children (Lekkerkerker: 322-27).
Caste on Bali at the beginning of the twentieth century

Early in the twentieth century Hinduism was still growing on Bali, and more people
conformed to the rules regarding purity. The services of priests were requested more
often. Cremation of the dead replaced burials, although the bodies were often buried
temporarily until the day of cremation. The caste system was never the basis of Balinese
social life, and the people tend to cooperate in a lot of internal affairs. They form
cooperations or sekahas for irrigation projects, orchestras, preparing festivals and
building houses. Some sekahas exist only for a few days, for instance those which were
set up to build a house. Sekahas formed by a group of age-mates can exist for dozens of
years. Many sekahas have their own temples and ceremonies (Lekkerkerker: 309).
In the village community higher-caste members don’t have privileges, except in religious
matters. They don’t have to share in heavy duties, like carrying ceremonial piles, but they
share this exemption with other men of high esteem. As a result of that, higher-ranking
people depend on the services of their village neighbours in instances such as the
cremation of their dead.
Although in earlier times there were differences in justice and punishment, later caste
became only a religious order. The behavior towards higher castes, like using the high
language or seeking a lower position, became more or less a form of etiquette. Many
Sudras never respected higher-caste people. The even scoffed at their higher ranking
fellowmen in daily life, as well as in newspapers and folkliterature (Lekkerkerker: 321-

On the Indonesian island of Bali there exists a kind of caste system that is an ‘echo’ of
the original caste division in India. The system was introduced on Bali, together with the
Hindu/Buddhist religion, during the Indianization process. This process of the adoption
of Indian ideas and customs took place in large parts of southeast Asia between the third
and thirteenth century AD. It is not exactly known whether the Indian influence entered
Bali directly, by Indian traders and adventurers, or indirectly via the neighbouring island
Although the Indian characteristics vanished in the other southeast Asian societies, Bali
held on to the caste system until the twentieth century. Caste and the Hindu religion as
well acquired a typical Balinese touch.
The impact of the caste system on daily social life in India is tremendous; it directs many
aspects of life. When born into a lower caste or as an outcast, a person has little reason to
smile. On Bali the situation is more relaxed, and caste doesn’t have much influence of
peoples lives.
Actually the question is whether we can still speak of a caste system here, considering
Dumonts’ definition. In the introduction of this document three main features are
1. Occupation based on caste
2. Endogamy and commensality
3. Hierarchy
The Balinese system is not in agreement with the first two conditions. Labour division is
no longer based on caste. Many Brahmans are poor and have to do physically demanding
work to earn a living. People of all castes are engaged in politics and weaponry, as well
as trade. Furthermore exogamy is quite common on Bali, and ruling concerning
commensality are not strict. There is still a hierarchy, but this is only expressed in the
politeness of lower-caste members towards higher-ranking people.
We can conclude that no real caste system exists on Bali. There is a religious division of
people according to the ancient Indian model, but this imitation caste system mainly only
dictates etiquette.

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