Organism to Organization

Business, Myth Theory 20 Comments

Published in Corporate Dossier ET, March 18, 2011

In the Rig Veda is a hymn that describes society as Purusha, a living breathing organism, whose head is made of knowledge-driven Brahmins, hands are made of power-driven Kshatriyas, trunk is made of economics-driven Vaniks and feet are made of laboring Shudras. The word used in the Rig Veda for the parts of the Purusha is ‘varna’, which literally translated means color. This led 18th century European Orientalists to conclude that color-conscious racists, very much like them, chanted the hymns and that this was the root of the caste system. But the word used for caste by the natives was jati. It was assumed by the Orientalists that varna and jati were synonyms. Modern historians, however, now realize that the two words mean very different things.

Varna had a symbolic meaning; it meant ‘disposition’. Jati meant profession. Both were determined by birth but varna was natural, while jati was cultural. So it was possible for a child born in the family of priests or weavers,to have the disposition of an intellectual or a politician or an economist or a follower. While jati was meant to create social stability (every child was apprenticed in his father’s domain), varna indicated that not all members of a particular jati had the same motivations. There were temple priests with intellectual, political and economic disposition, and temple priests who just went with the flow. Likewise, there were weavers with intellectual, political and economic disposition, and many who just went with the flow.

But to identify varna, one had to pay a lot of attention to people. It was not as easy to identify as jati. Over time, as society expanded, people stopped paying attention to people. Varna was abandoned and jati reigned supreme. Varna and jati became synonyms. While once, the intellectual temple priest and intellectual weaver could have had a conversation, now the temple priest with a follower’s disposition dominated all weavers, disregarding their dispositions. It was only a question of time before a rigid hierarchy emerged, which led to denial of resources to some groups and acquisition of resources by other groups.  This is what happens say the scriptures in Kali Yuga. Varnas get ignored and confused. Society loses its ethical and moral fabric, and eventually collapses.

Jagdish insists on hiring managers from B-schools only. He assumes that because they come from a B-school they are all good managers. He does not believe that his factory workers can be good managers. “They are mere matriculates!” he exclaims.

In the business world, educational institutes are the new ‘jatis’. One assumes because the ‘father’ (the institute) is container of all knowledge, it is passed on to the ‘sons’ (the alumni). Attention is not paid to the ‘varna’ or disposition of people in an institute. Every batch has its share of intellectuals, politicians, economists and those who go with the flow.

Jagdish who dismisses his worker staff as ‘mere matriculates’ believes in ‘jati’. He does not see the varna of the workers. He does not realize that not all workers are followers; amongst them are intellectuals who come with new ideas, politicians who can get people to follow them and economists who can identify business opportunities.

Because Jagdish focuses on jati, not varna, his organization is full of resentment. Many of his managers are terrible at managing and this amuses and annoys the workers, especially those who are better suited to manage and lead. There is conflict between management and workers. Jagdish, like those who support the caste system, feels people should simply do their jobs and not challenge the system and not ask for rights. Only then, he says, will there be order. Unions have been formed in his factory. There is going to be a strike! But Jagdish refuses to see himself as the source of the problem. Like the European Orientalists, he focuses on the visible (birth and color, or institutes) and not the invisible (disposition) to his own detriment.

Jagdish’s company is an organization – rigid and full of jatis. He is unable to create what the Rig Veda called Purusha, an organism, that evolves over time, and responds to the market organically and innovatively, thanks to the disposition of its constituent members.

  • rohan kubasad

    b schools teach analysis…..but analysis hardly matters in life unless there is an urge, strive, drive desire and ability to achieve the analysed substance which no b school can teach which is attitude…..which cums from within…………………….

  • Superb Devdutt. so brilliantly expressed.

  • rajesh gawade

    Very very very Good Article sir.
    Very true in real life.

  • Pradeep Mathur

    It leaves us pondering on natural & acquired talent & skill sets.
    Best fit would be a perfect match of natural talent & job description.
    The question is how & when this assessment should be done?
    Is it prime responsibility of the individual & organisation should be adaptive for it or vise a versa?

    I guess there could be no perfect solution . ..it depends on the context & situation

  • Anjan

    As a “non-jati” I like it.

  • Giriraj Bhatia

    Great article sir!!

    • Prabal

      Awesome actually..

  • Rahul

    Very true…Its probably a problem of managers and HR not able to make a skill assessment of new hires easily without a big banner in the CV…some suggestions on how to improve this aspect might be helpful…..


    sir great article…sir which books in the vedas the very source of knowledge should one read….plz advice or make avaiable on ur store…

  • Rohit Patil

    sir is an very awesome & true idea about the organisation behaviour.
    but its very unfortunate, that managers selected only on objective scale not on both objective & subjective scale.
    Thank you

  • Very Enlightening. Very good article.

  • optyagi

    when you are dealing with human beings, you just cannot apply the knowledge acquired in the business schools. An indepth analysis of the organisation and the workers is a must. We must study the acceptability of any new idea before implementation. It is a human nature to resist any change.


    the difference between varna and jati are excellently explained.every individual manager needs to remember this fact while dealing with his workforce for attaining harmonious functioning of the organization.

  • Good Article Devduttji. There are two important aspects involved in considering the human resources. Firstly,there exist natural intelligence (varna) and polished intelligence (jati). DIAMONDS may exist anywhere. We can’t ignore. It is the Organization to identify and polish.

    Secondly, one should not support caste system whether such caste BELONGS TO HIM OR NOT. Also not to object the persons who express their views/ask for rights !!!

    Great article.

  • S V Ramanan

    As usual Devdutt has very aptly captured the crux !!
    If organizations focus on “Varna” and get away from “Jati” fixation they will address the talent problem which is limiting growth of many medium sized “unfancied” organizations.

  • Gajanan Bochare

    Wonderful article, keep up the good work sir!

  • Alok Mohapatra

    Great article, I have one query Devdutt, is that where the concept of swadharma comes from?

  • Garvi patel

    Lord Krishna beautifully explained nature of all varnas in Chapter 18 of Bhagavadgita 41-45

    shoodraanam cha Parantap.

    karmaani praviibhaktaani
    svabhaavprabhavairgunaih (41)

    and then describes the thinking and life style and duty of each varna in shloka 42-44 and in # 45 suggest us as
    Sve sve karmanyabhratah
    sansiddhin labhate narah
    svakramaniratah siddhin
    yathaa vindati tatchhrunu
    in short he is asking us to work with our natural efficiency.

  • Raghav

    Varna could be disposition whereas Jati relates to birth.
    Similarly, in an organisation, if an employee joined as a fresher and has the disposition to become a manager, is that enough to provide him with that opportunity?

    In purusha sukta, in addition to description of the varnas, there is a mention about the Moon, Sun and Heaven. What is the meaning of this? – “Moon was born from his mind, the Sun from his eyes, the Heavens from his skull”

  • Vamshi

    Could you write on “Satisaha gamanam”. I couldn’t convince my self Madri entered fire for Husband Pandu.