India has had a complicated and hierarchical social structure known as the caste system for many years. It has since classified individuals into four major groups: Brahmins (priests and academics), Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers), Vaishyas (merchants and farmers) and Shudras (workers and craftsmen). The Dalits, a fifth category, are regarded as “untouchable” and frequently denied fundamental rights and opportunities just because of their social status. 

The discriminatory practices, such as untouchability, have not only affected social interactions but have also left a lasting impact on the built environment. Dalits, considered “untouchable,” have been forced to construct their own facilities in less favorable locations, reflecting the deeply ingrained discrimination in the architectural landscape. The persistence of such practices in rural areas, such as the stratification of using river areas, further exemplifies the endurance of social divisions in physical spaces.

The Caste System's Architectural Legacy in India-Sheet1

From designing individual dwellings to planning cities and villages, the caste system has significantly influenced the Indian architectural society. People from higher castes have typically resided in larger, more luxurious dwellings, while those from lower castes have been consigned to smaller, cramped spaces. The physical form of villages and towns frequently reflects this division, with higher-caste districts being situated in more affluent areas.

The laws of untouchability have significantly impacted Indian architects. Dalits were prohibited from visiting wells, temples, or using the same water in the river and other public places for centuries. As a result, they frequently had to construct their own unique facilities, many of which were situated in less favourable places. Many Dalits still experience discrimination in housing and access to public areas today. The social stratification of using the river in villages for bathing, washing clothes, etc, still exists in rural Indian villages, where people from higher classes use the topmost areas, while as the social status of the people decreases, the people line up, leaving the lowest class ending up at the end of the river, where the already used water is flowing in. 

While the river practice continues, people being a regular part of it say,’ yeh toh humare purvajo ne kiya tha, toh hum bhi kar rahe hai. Abhi hum bas mann lete hai woh choti jaati ke hai, and hum uuchi jaati ke hai’. (This practice has been going on since our ancestors’ time, and now we are used to it as they belong to a smaller caste, and we are the higher caste). 

The caste system’s influence on Indian architecture also extends to the taboo surrounding menstruation. In many regions of India, menstruating women are stigmatised as unclean and kept apart from the rest of the house members. As a result, they might have to live separately or perhaps be compelled to sleep outside the house. Menstruating women may occasionally be prohibited from handling or cooking with specific materials. While in Himachal Pradesh, menstruating women used to sleep in the cow shed areas of the traditional Kathkuni houses in spite of the weather conditions. Though today, this practice has reduced but still persists in some areas. 

The caste system, which is intricate and firmly established, has had a significant impact on Indian society. The narrative of the caste system influencing architecture in India goes beyond the physical aspects and extends to professional barriers. The deeply ingrained social hierarchy has created obstacles for marginalized communities, hindering their access to opportunities and contributing to the persistence of discriminatory practices in various spheres, including the field of architecture.

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While efforts have been made to address the harmful effects of the caste system and promote social justice, the deeply entrenched nature of these practices poses significant challenges. The legacy of the caste system continues to shape how people live, work, and interact with one another, emphasizing the need for continued efforts towards reform and building a more just and equal society. The references provided offer additional insights into the historical and contemporary aspects of the caste system in India.

The harmful effects of the caste system have come to the fore in recent years, and awareness of them has grown. Reforming the system and building a more just and equal society have both been attempted. However, the caste system still exerts considerable authority in India, and eradicating its lingering effects will take time and effort. The system continues to provide a significant obstacle to social justice in India and has significantly impacted how people live and work. Therefore, architecture in India has left not only a ‘negative’ legacy that still persists in some areas but also has created professional barriers that stop rural India from changing their mindsets. 


Caste, Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age. (n.d.). Google Books.

Deshpande, A. (2006). Review of “Caste in Question: Identity or Hierarchy? by Dipankar Gupta.” Pacific Affairs, 79, 345-346. doi:10.2307/40022724.- 

Caste Matters in Public Policy. (n.d.). Google Books. 



Samanata Kumar, is a young interior designer, driven by keen interest for Architectural heritage and culture. Her curiosity includes parameters of architecture and design, photography, travelling, writing, roller skating and air rifle shooting for leisure. Her latest focus includes gaining knowledge in development of housing typologies around the world, space psychology and conspiracies in architecture.