The Indian class system predates the Vedas, from which the term Vedic age has been derived. It can be considered an ancient system of division of labour that was established many thousands of years back. About 2500 years back, at the time of Lord Buddha, this system had already degenerated in to a rigid caste system based on ancestry, which was opposed by Lord Buddha.
As per this systenm the whole society was divided in four types of professions as follows.
- Brahmin: Responsible for generation, preservation, transfer and use of knowledge. In those early days, when written books were non-existent or very few, people had to rely on memory to preserve knowledge, and to pass it on to others as required. The brahmins were entrusted with this task. Perhaps people of those civilization depended heavily on knowledge thus preserved and passed on, the brahmins were the most respected people.
- Kshatriya: People following this profession were responsible for administration, justice and protection of people from enemies and other dangers.
- Vaishya: This profession included all people engaging in trade, or other independent activities such as farming and cattle breeding.
- Shudras: People who are engaged in work involving primarily manual labour. People in this class frequently worked as paid servants to people in other classes.
As the system was designed, the division was based on profession and a person could take up any profession according to his or her capabilities. But over a time the division became based on birth. Also the role of Brahmins got narrowed to to primarily religious knowledge. In this way the brahmins came to be identified as priest class rather than as people who preserve and disseminate knowledge of all types.