We have seen that the later interpolation, Purushsukta in Rig Veda provides sanctity to the Varna system by providing it the divine origin. Some scholars tend to consider that Varnas were later divided in sub-castes (jati) but they do not explain how this process could have taken place and what were the basis for it. Brahmin Varna indeed is divided into various castes, but the divine authority of Brahmin remains intact in the Vedic social hierarchy. It is not the case with all other castes unrelated to Vedic structure. There is closed social stratification of every caste, higher to some and lower to other.
However, unlike Varna system, there is no divine declaration about the origin of the caste system. This is why Vasistha SaMhita (3.1) states that, “The regulations those govern Castes, tribes and local social systems have no Vedic sanction.”
Though Purushasukta mentions four Varnas, the fact is rest of the Rig Veda nowhere mentions the fourth Varna, i.e,. Shudra anywhere, rather the term is completely absent. It is not even the part of Vedic vocabulary. There is no etymology whatsoever of this terminology. Unless we understand why all of sudden, and that too in a later interpolated hymn, this strange terminology could have appeared we cannot solve the problem of caste system. This is because barring few, a large part of the Indian castes belong to the so-called Shudra and ati-Shudra class.
Since the term has been too controversial, causing irreparable damage to the Indian society and outrage for its use in a derogatory manner aimed for social suppression, indicating the lowest status of the larger population of India since long time, we need to have a brief look at the reality.
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 the 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 too, 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)
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, reprint 2014, page 130-31)
Bhandarakar too 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) Bhandarkar makes sense because in a Maharashtri Prakrit treaty, “Angavijja”, (2nd to 3rd century AD) includes all the indigenous and foreigners like Shaka, Hun, Kushanas, Mlecchas in Shudra category excepting three Vedic Varnas. This would indicate that Shudras were the people who did not belong to Vedic religion.
If removed Aryan and replaced with Vedic, it will be clear from the above opinions of the scholars that all those who were not Dasas or Dasyus or Vedics, those all lived in the Indian subcontinent, practiced different religions, 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. Rather, in Purushsukta too, term Varna does not appear.
Rather, historically we find a tribe from north-west frequently referred by Greeks as “Sudroi” and in Mahabharata also while enumerating kings participating Great War. It is possible that the Vedics came across this tribe first and in sheer ignorance of rest of the geography, mentioned this tribal name as a class of a divine society as they had come to their domain as refugee and as they spread their religion they named the people in their service as “Anirvasit Shudras” (Shudras in Vedic domain) and “Nirvasit Shudras” (Those did not live in their domain.) (See Panini)
Manusmriti is very explicit about this as well. It commands that the Brahmin should not delve or eat in the regions where Shudras rule. It does mean that the Shudra kingdoms were extant and they were not governed by the laws of Manusmriti. It also differentiates the professional castes from Shudras (even kings and idolatrous priests), those are prohibited from attending the Vedic rituals. Hence Shudra was a term that was always used by the Vedic people to the different set of the people in early times, which later came to be used to address all non-Vedic people. Manysmriti’s commands were applicable to only those Shudras who were in their service. Otherwise in Manusmriti’s time how could there be Shudra kings?
However, it seems that the term came to be used for all Shudras which did enormous harm to the Indian conscious in general and also created a religious confusion in all, including Vedic people.
As I have stated earlier, the caste system has nothing to do with any divine declaration. It was a need of human society to have different professions, expanding with new inventions and innovations. There was sufficient mobility and professional respect depending on its economic status and social viewpoints.
It never was a fourth class, the lowest or menial part of the society as it is largely assumed. Purity of blood or racial egotism too was not a reason behind formation any caste. Though suerficially similarities can be shown between tribal and caste structure, castes have not emerged from independent tribes. For example we find people from Ahir tribe divided in pastoral, shepherd, salt-maker, fisher, Maratha, Tailor, Goldsmith etc. The tribe seems to have fragmented in many caste and though they belong to same tribal origin, their caste-rituals and social status are separate. So tribes have not converted to caste.
However, confusion between Vedic system and Hindu traditional occupation based society to some point created a chaotic social condition.
I must reiterate that there never was any Aryan invasion and the victorious Vedic Aryans did not create this caste system, as most of the communist thinkers claim supported by the aboriginalists. The data they provide in their support is outdated and is marred by European supremacist views.
Here we need to focus on the doctrines of the two entirely different systems and its later impact on the overall Indian social system and the reasons that cast an evil shadow over it. This is apparent that Brahmins weren’t inventors and enforcers of this system. We also have seen that the caste meant professions and the system was flexible. We have to find why the system gradually became inflexible, rigid and unjust. We have also seen that there is no divine declaration or religious sanction for the creation of the castes as they were merely a practical need of the society.
Scholars have made blatant confusion between Varna system and the castes (Jati) without properly understanding the difference between both the terms. It also is widely assumed that Vedic Brahmins are the priests of the Hindu religion. This is not the fact. From ancient times Shudras (Asura) had their own priests. Almost every caste has its own priest. 80% of the temples (except Vaishnavait) have no Brahmin priest. The Brahmin holiness as a priest has been for their Vedic sanctity and their over glorification. How Brahmins came to worship Hindu deities when none of the Hindu God finds mention in the Vedas or when Idol worship is banned in Vedic religion? The answer lies in the deliberate religious confusion created in the medieval era.
To sum up, Shudra was never a part of Vedic society, but had indeed been 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, 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!
If one wants to eradicate the caste based discrimination from the society one has to first understand how the caste system came into the existence and how it became birth based and rigid in the later era.