In this beautiful vachana, the Kannada mystic Basavanna says we are all equal, none intrinsically better than another. It is our work that elevates us, not birth he asserts. Basavanna cites the examples of a kammara (one who works with iron or blacksmiths), and a madivala (one who washes clothes) to make his point, that our professions may determine what we are called [caste] but no one is born into a caste and neither is any line of work, high or low.
Basavanna’s declaration that only a person who understands God can be deemed to be of high caste reminds me of a verse by Tamil poet Avvaiyar, two millennia ago. She speaks of how well we behave or live is what determines if we are of an “upper class”.
வெண்பா : 2
சாதி இரண்டொழிய வேறில்லை சாற்றுங்கால்
நீதி வழுவா நெறிமுறையின் – மேதினியில்
இட்டார் பெரியார் இடாதார் இழிகுலத்தார்
பட்டாங்கில் உள்ள படி
saadhi irandozhiya verillai saarrungaal
neethi vazhuvaa nerimuraiyin methiniyil
ittaar periyaar idaathaar izhikulaththaar
pattaangil ulla padi
There are only two classes of people on this earth
based on the principle of natural justice
Those who give belong to the upper class
and those who do not belong to the lower. (Source:http://www.edubilla.com/tamil/nalvazhi/)