Caste In The Island Of Ceylon -- By: Benjamin C. Meigs

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 011:43 (Jul 1854)
Article: Caste In The Island Of Ceylon
Author: Benjamin C. Meigs


Caste In The Island Of Ceylon

Rev. Benjamin C. Meigs

Rev. Daniel Poor, and Rev. William W. Holland

It is not difficult to define caste, as set forth in the Shastras of the Hindûs, or as it originally existed, and perhaps still exists, on the Continent of India. But caste, as it exists in this Province, has been greatly modified by many causes, which have been long in operation. For three centuries and a half, the people have been under the dominion of the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the English. All these governments did much, if not to exterminate, at least greatly to modify caste. Many of the people have, for a long period, been familiar with many of the truths and forms of Christianity. And, though caste still has an existence among us, it has been so modified, by these and other causes, that some of its original features are now scarcely visible.

In answering the question, What is Caste? (as it exists on the Continent of India), we cannot do better than to give the following extract from a document published by the Madras Missionary-Conference, in 1850. It is as follows :

“Caste, which is a distinction among the Hindus, founded upon supposed birth-purity and impurity, is in its nature essentially a religious institution, and not a mere civil distinction. The Institutes of Menu and other Shastras regard the division of the people into four castes, as of Divine appointment. We find, also, that stringent laws were enacted for upholding this important part of the Hindu religion. Future rewards are decreed to those who retain it, and future punishments to those who violate it. The Hindus of the present day believe, that the preservation or loss of caste deeply affects their future destiny. In the Madras Memorial to the Supreme Government, dated April 2, 1845, they declare that the loss of caste is connected with the vitality of the Hindu religion.

“On the scale of caste, wealth, talents, industry, and moral character, confer no elevation; and the absence of these imposes no degradation. It is ceremonial pollution alone, which destroys it. This may be conveyed to a person of high caste through the sight, the taste, or the touch of one of an inferior grade. Such an institution, therefore, can never be called a mere civil distinction; for, whatever it may have been in its origin, it is now adopted as an essential part of the Hindu religion.”

This is, undoubtedly, a correct definition of caste, where it exists in its purity. But a concise history of its developments, as it has come before us in this Province, will show how greatly it has been modified by the causes above mentioned, and in how few particulars caste, as it exists here, is...

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