Beliefs about ritual purity and ritual impurity form some of the most all-pervasive themes in Hindu culture. They are the basis of “orthoprax” Brahmanism in that only a ritually pure individual may approach the higher gods. Brahmanic concepts concerning pollution relate the Indian system of social stratification to the Hindu religious system. These concepts are applied to matters of personal conduct, health, and justice, and are fundamental to such well-known aspects of Indian culture as untouchability, limited access to wells, and the setting apart of a priestly caste. One of the important rationales for caste separatism (their refusal to intermarry, eat with one another, or touch one another) is that some castes are more ritually pure than others, and that impurity may be transmitted from one caste to another through these acts. But on the other hand, castes are also brought together and integrated into a system of ritual interdependence by the belief that they differ in the degree to which they are ritually pure or impure. Some actions are thought to be ritually too defiling for certain castes to perform, and some castes are thought to be too impure to perform certain other activities. These beliefs are basic to the concept of a division of labor by castes and to the ideal that each caste plays a part in a larger mutually interdependent system.

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