Every Indian knows of the Varna Vyavastha. Today the educated Indians speak of it in terms of Caste.After reading about the Varna Vyavasta in a diagram of Purusha where Shudra are shown in the feet, I like most Indian's was confused why it was so. It is mostly interpreted to mean that some how the Shudra were considered lower. Indeed this is how most contemporary social scientist describe it and that is common perception. I first came to question it after reading the book "Ashwamedha" by Subhash Kak who gives an explanation that Man is created in the image of the Purusha so each person has all 4 aspects in him.I also could not help but notice that mother earth and Shudra who work in production on earth(in an agricultural society or even otherwise) both are shown as coming from the feet of Purusha. Arthashastra also mentions that when any new area was to be settled, say a cleared forest then Shudra were the first to go and settle. So all this should change the way we look at Varna Vyavastha. But an interesting and perhaps quite complete explanation is found in Dharampal's "Bhartiya Chitta Manas Aur Kaal"
"The Purusha Sukta indeed states that the Sudras appeared from the feet of Brahman, the Vaisyas from the thighs, the Kshatriyas from the arms and the Brahmanas from the head. But this does not necessarily define a hierarchy between the Varnas. The Sukta is a statement of the identity of the microcosm and the macrocosm. It presents the world as an extension of the body of Brahman. In its cryptic Vedic style the Sukta informs us that the creation is a manifestation of Brahman, it is His extension, His play. The Sukta also probably recounts the variety of tasks that have to be performed in the world that Brahman creates. But nowhere in the Purusha Sukta is it said that some of these tasks, and consequently the performers of those tasks, are better than others. That the functions of the head are higher than those of the feet could only be a matter of a somewhat literal interpretation that came later. At another time such interpretations can even get reversed. After all it is only on his feet that a man stands securely on earth. It is only when the feet are stable that the head and hands play their parts. When the feet are not securely placed on the earth, nothing else remains secure either.
Incidentally, the Purusha Sukta does not even imply that all four Varnas came into existence simultaneously at the beginning of creation. The Sukta does not give the story of creation and its unfolding; it only explains, through the analogy of the body of Brahman, an already manifest and differentiated Universe. In fact, as we have seen earlier, the Pauranic texts seem to suggest that at the beginning there was only one Varna, and it is only later as the need for newer and newer human capacities started arising that the Varnas divided, first into two and then into three and four."