death are elaborately prescribed and the ceremonies for each occasion are
clearly laid down.
     The concept of varna assumes the following characteristic features—
status by birth, a hierarchical ordering of social units and rules of endogamy
and ritual purity. Theoretically nobody can change his varna status in his
lifetime. All the four varnas and numerous castes which come under one or
the other vama are arranged in some order of ritual ranking. Members of a
varna can neither marry outside their varna nor accept food from somebody
who is of a lower varna. This notion of high and low is obviously linked up
with birth and heredity.
     Theoretically there were only two obvious means of improving status.
The first was by opting out of society and becoming an ascetic. The second
was by ensuring rebirth in a higher social status in one’s next life. However,
mobility was not totally excluded from the scheme of the varna. Downward
mobility was quite easy. Upward mobility was far more difficult and not open
to the individual. It could be rendered possible nevertheless via the group,
through a period of time and was further facilitated by a change in habitation
or geographical location.
     It was the concern with ritual status which led to the theory of
varnasamkara (mixed castes) which are looked down upon as ritually
impure. In a standard Dharmasastra such as that of Manu the mixed castes
were occasionally occupational groups but generally those tribes which
obviously were not easily assimilated into the Aryan society. Interestingly
these tribal names continue to occur with separate identities right up to the
early medieval period, as evident from a comparison of the lists in Manu
Smriti with those of the ethnic groups mentioned in the later Puranas. Thus,
we are informed that a Brahmin marrying a Vaishya woman produces
children who are categorised as the Ambastha; the later Puranas refer to the
Ambastha tribe as deriving its origin from the Anava Kshatriyas, the tribal
identity remaining intact. Similarly a Brahmin marrying a Sudra woman
resulted in a Nisada, which in fact appears to have been an aboriginal tribe.
Evidently the tribes which were not assimilated had to be given a ritual status
in the system and thus the theory of mixed castes was worked out.
Origin—Different Theories