Monday, January 26, 2015

Shudra’s real identity!

Since the term has been too controversial, causing irreparable damage to the Indian society and outrage for its use in derogatory manner aimed for social suppression, indicating lowest status of the larger population of India since long time, we need to have a brief look at the reality.  

The most importantly word ‘Shudra’ appears in the only hymn, Purusha Sukta, which otherwise is completely absent from Rig Veda. Many attempts have been made by various scholars to find the real meaning of the Shudra and who were they. The people Dasa, Dasyus have been mentioned many a times in Rig Veda, though contemptuously for their different faith. But Purusha Sukta mentions, instead of Dasa-Dasyus, the Shudras, as name of a class of the people, that too in a hymn that has been proven to be a later composition.

Suprisingly in later Vedic texts the term Dasa and Dasyus (equivalent to Iranian Daha, Dahyu), used in Vedas for the people, goes on vanishing and remains just as a suffix of the personal names or denotes the servants. They, Dasa/Dasyus, no longer remains to be a set of the people, whether rival or not. Rather while speaking of fourth section of the society, the people other than Vedics, the term Shudras have been applied in the Purushasukta

The sudden shift in the terminology, assigned for the class of the people clearly means that the Vedic had come across the new set of the people and needed a new term to address them. It also is clear that the Dasa/Dasyu people were left far behind by the time of this hymn was composed. Rather appearance of the term Shudra for people is in itself a proof that the Vedic geography had changed from Afghanistan to India.
This also is evident because, we should note here that, the term “Shudra” or its equivalent is not present in Avesta at all. What we find is Daha – Dahyu, equivalent to Dasa and Dasyus, in Avesta applied to the people of the land or compatriots. To Rig Veda they are the people those adhere to the different faiths and thus were enemies. It would appear the term Shudra has been emerged from nowhere which have no meaning whatsoever! This sure creates a problem for the proponents of Indigenous Aryan Theory as well. 

Also, let us not forget here that the term Shudra have no etymology, neither in so-called IE languages or Dravidian languages. R. K. Pruthi suggests that perhaps Shudra was originally the name of non-Aryan tribe. (Indian Caste System, edited by R.K. Pruthi, Discovery Publishing House, 2004, page 72) It may surprise us why then this tribe never came across the Vedic people to make its slightest mention in whole bulk of Rig Veda except for Purushsukta where suddenly it forms a major part of the society? 

Rajwade suggests that the people those were taken in the personal service by the victorious Aryans were called as Shudras. According to him, the term was later applied to those all who were out of three Varnas. (Radhamadhav Vilas Champu, Preface, Edited by Vi. Ka. Rajwade, Sarita Prakashan, reprint2014, page 130-31)

Bhandarakar opines that the Shudras could be a tribe but afterwards came to signify anybody who was not a full-fledged Arya or a foreigner who has been partially assimilated by Arya culture. He further states that, from Sutras Shudra denotes a person other than the member of three Varnas, i.e. Brahmina, Kshatriya and Vaishya.  (Some Aspects of Ancient Indian Culture, By D. R. Bhandarkar, 1989, page 12) Interestingly the term “Varna” for class too is new Vedic innovation because it is absent from Avestan scripts! 

If removed Aryan and replaced with Vedic, it will be clear from above opinions of the scholars that those all who were not Dasas or Dasyus or Vedics, those all lived in the Indian subcontinent, practiced different religion, were Shudras for the Vedic people. The fact is, though in Purushasukta, Shudra seemingly is enumerated as fourth class of Vedic religion; it was never at all the case. 

If we carefully read the RV 10.90.12, it makes clear that, the head of Purusha became Brahmin, hands became Kshatriya, and thighs became Vaishya….but Shudras were born of his feet. Feets didn’t become Shudra but were produced from it. It clearly indicates the distinction between Vedic and non-Vedics. (The Brahman was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rājanya made.His thighs became the Vaiśya, from his feet the Śūdra was produced. (RV 10.90.12, Trans. Griffith))

The term only would apply to Indian people as Purushasukta is a very later composition that got inserted in Rig Veda that mentions Indian tropical seasons too for first times and also uses the term Shudra for people first time and in the only verse. 

It could have been essential for the Vedics to name the people other than them or it was a term already in use to address the people of India. Those who were originally Vedics and those were converted to Vedic religion and set in one of the three Varnas, authorized to Vedic recitals and ritualistic practices, were but naturally Vedics and part of three Varnas as Bhandarkar suggests. 

Rest of the masses, following their traditional pre-Vedic religion seems to have been named as Shudras. Or alternatively it could have been a term used by Indians to address themselves from ancient times, but then the original term must have been phonetically quite different and Shudra could be the corrupt Vedic form, thus making us impossible to find its origin or any etymology. 

Vedic corruptions of other loanwords are not new. It can be proved from one instance that Vedics in India pronounced corrupt form of the country name ‘Meluha’ (Melukkha) as ‘Mlechchha’, which, later on lost its original meaning and became synonym of the people who spoke strange or foreign languages. (The Indus Civilization, by A. H. Dani and B. K. Thapar, page 274,)

Same could have happened with “Shudra” which in later course of the time became a derogatory term; originally, it couldn’t have been the case. The fact is, we forget, Shudras were non-Vedic class, practicing idolatry from ancient times which was banned in the Vedic religion. Shudras were not authorized for Vedic rites or recitals because simply they didn’t need it for the sake of their own distinct religion they had preserved and still is practiced by the majority. 

Another fact which we should not forget here is the Vedic class had not vanquished the local populations to enforce their languages and culture upon them, as many social activists like to believe. Rather we see uninterrupted Indian tradition of the culture since minimum of 7000 BC. R. N. Dandekar has explicitely stated that there is no significant iinfluence on the Indians those are practicing their religion since pre-Vedic times. The present Vedics cannot be blood-linked with the original preachers those had come to India; those too must have lost their ethnicity after inter-mingling in Indian populace. We find there have been the Vedics in India of different ethnicity and language groups because they are one whose ancestors had embraced to the Vedic faith in remote past. There is no foreign blood or so-called Aryan element in them to boast of. The Vedic religion became dominant after medieval period has socio-economic-political reasons. 

The fact remains that the two religions, Vedic and pre-Vedic, coined together under common umbrella name ‘Hindu” were always and are distinct in practice, rituals and philosophy. The fact is that, although Vedics accepted idolatry gradually, they maintained their independent identity of religion with retaining all rights over Vedas, related literature and Vedic rites.

This cannot be called as assimilation of equal footings. The evil spell of many socio-psychological conditions, especially birth-based inequality, are direct or indirect products of it. 

To sum up, Shudra was never a part of Vedic society, but indeed was an independent religion they are following from ancient times. To Vedics, like Dasa, Dasyus of Iran those followed different religions and hence looked upon contemptuously, similarly Shudras too became a derogatory term in Vedic literature to the adherents of different religion. The over-glorification of the Vedas and their divine origin, as we have seen in this chapter, has been a carefully nourished myth and deserves the rejection in totality.  

The harm it has done, in the form of seeding inferiority complex and sense of the inequality in the minds of non-Vedic masses, needs to be removed in the light of the bare facts!


  1. Questions are raised : (1) Who were the Shudras? and (2) How they came to be the fourth Varna of the Indo-Aryan society? My answers to them are summarised below :
    (1) The Shudras were one of the Aryan communities of the Solar race.
    (2) There was a time when the Aryan society recognised only three Varnas, namely. Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas.
    (3) The Shudras did not form a separate Varna. They ranked as part of the Kshatriya Varna in the Indo-Aryan society.
    (4) There was a continuous feud between the Shudra kings and the Brahmins in which the Brahmins were subjected to many tyrannies and indignities.
    (5) As a result of the hatred towards the Shudras generated by their tyrannies and oppressions, the Brahmins refused to perform the Upanayana of the Shudras.
    (6) Owing to the denial of Upanayana, the Shudras who were Kshatriyas became socially degraded, fell below the rank of the Vaishyas and thus came to form the fourth Varna.
    I must of course await the verdict of scholars on these conclusions. That these conclusions are not merely original but they are violently opposed to those that are current is of course evident. Whether these conclusions will be accepted or not will depend upon the mentality of a person claiming to have a right to sit in judgement over the issue. Of course, if he is attached to a particular thesis he will reject mine. I would not however bother about his judgement for he would be an adversary from whom nothing can be expected except opposition. But if a person is an honest critic, howsoever cautious, however conservative he may be, provided that he has an open mind and a readiness to accept facts, I do not despair of converting him to my view. This expectation may fail to materialize, but about one thing I am quite certain. My critics will have to admit that the book is rich in fresh insights and new visions.
    Apart from scholars, how the Hindu public will react may be an interesting speculation. The Hindus of to-day fall into five definite classes. There is a class of Hindus, who are known as orthodox and who will not admit that there is anything wrong with the Hindu social system. To talk of reforming it is to them rank blasphemy. There is a class of Hindus who are known as Arya Samajists. They believe in the Vedas and only in the Vedas. They differ from the orthodox inasmuch as they discard everything which is not in the Vedas. Their gospel is that of return to the Vedas. There is a class of Hindus who will admit that the Hindu social system is all wrong, but who hold that there is no necessity to attack it. Their argument is that since law does not recognize it, it is a dying, if not a dead system. There is a class of Hindus, who are politically minded. They are indifferent to such questions. To them Swaraj is more important than social reform. The fifth class of Hindus are those who are rationalists and who regard social reforms as of primary importance, even more important than Swaraj.

  2. With the Hindus, who fall into the second category, those who are likely to regard the book as unnecessary, I cannot agree. In a way, they are right when they say that the existing laws in British India does not recognize the caste system prevalent in the Hindu society. It is true that, having regard to section II of the Civil Procedure Code, it would not be possible for a Hindu to obtain a declaration from a civil court that he belongs to a particular Varna. If courts in British India have to consider the question whether a person belongs to a particular Varna, it is only in cases of marriage, inheritance and adoption, the rules of which vary according to the Varna to which the party belongs. While it is true that the Law in British India does not recognize the four Varnas of the Hindus, one must be careful not to misunderstand what this means. To put it precisely: (1) it does not mean that the observance of the Varna system is a crime; (2) it does not mean that the Varna system has disappeared; (3) it does not mean that the Varna system is not given effect to in cases where the observance of its rules are necessary to acquiring civil rights; (4) it only means that the general legal sanction behind the Varna system has been withdrawn New, law is not the only sanction which goes to sustain social institutions. Institutions are sustained byother sanctions also. Of these, religious sanction and social sanction are the most important. The Varna system has a religious sanction. Because it has a religious sanction, the Varna system has the fullest social sanction from the Hindu society. With no legal prohibition, this religious sanction has been more than enough to keep the Varna system in full bloom. The best evidence to show that the Varna system is alive notwithstanding there is no law to enforce it, is to be found in the fact that the status of the Shudras and the Untouchables in the Hindu society has remained just what it has been. It cannot therefore be said that a study such as this is unnecessary.

  3. As to the politically-minded Hindu, he need not be taken seriously. His line of approach is generally governed by a short-term view more than by long-range considerations. He is willing to follow the line of least resistance and postpone a matter, however urgent, if it is likely to make him unpopular. It is therefore quite natural if the politically-minded Hindu regards as a nuisance.
    The thoughts treads heavily on the toes of the Arya Samajists. My conclusions have come in sharp conflict with their ideology at two most important points. The Arya Samajists believe that the four Varnas of the Indo-Aryan society have been in existence from the very beginning. It shows that there was a time when there were only three Varnas in the Indo-Aryan society. The Arya Samajists believe that the Vedas are eternal and sacrosanct. It shows that portions of the Vedas at any rate, particularly the Pursha Sukta, which is the mainstay of the Arya Samajists, are fabrications by Brahmins intended to serve their own purposes. Both these conclusions are bound to act like atomic bombs on the dogmas of the Arya Samajists.

  4. संजयजी जर शूद्र हे इकडले आधीच असलेले लोक असतील वा त्यांचा मूर्तीपूजक असा धर्म असेल तर त्यांचा उल्लेख पाली व तमीळ या प्राचीन भाषांमध्ये तरी हवा होता. तो कसा नाही? शूद्र हा उल्लेख सापडत नाही ना?

    1. गौतम बुद्धांनी मुर्ती व मुर्तीपुजेचा निषेध केला आहे. त्यांनी कोणाच्या मुर्ती अस उल्लेख मात्र सापडत नाही. संगम साहित्यात शिवाचे बरेच उल्लेख आहेत. शूद्र शब्द ऋग्वेदात पुरुषसुक्ताच्या आधी येत नाही. यजुर्वेदात व अथर्ववेदात शूद्र शब्द अनेकदा येतो पण तो सन्मानाने येतो. त्यामुळे मी या लेखात म्हटल्याप्रमाणे शूद्र (किंवा तत्सम मुळचा अन्य शब्द) हा अवैदिक समाजांसाठी वापरला गेलेला दिसतो.