Thursday, November 17, 2016

The riddle of the Shudra, the Rajanya and the Kshatriya!

The scholars have miserably been misled or it has been a deliberate act on their part that they have tried to portray ancient India through the Vedic glasses, without paying any heed at the stark open facts those are present, known and yet neglected. Even the inferences they have tried to derive from the Vedic texts are only to prove their age-old notions, no matter how they are wrong. This is why the picture of the ancient Indian society and Vedic society is distorted for they did not consider them separate, independent entities. It is clear from the available evidence that Shudra was a tribe, located in North-West India and other tribes or people too were present across the country, known by their various tribal or regional names, still, they surprisingly did mix all while explaining  the origin of the Shudras.

It also is agreed fact that the term Shudra nowhere appears in the Rig Veda except Purusha Sukta (RV 10.90) and that this hymn is a late interpolation in the Rig Veda. It never occurred to the scholars that why only Shudra tribe became part of a Vedic verse when there were many other tribes, too, those inhabited the vast regions of the country. They didn't bother to analyse the significance of the term Rajanya that is mentioned in the said Sukta in place of the Kshatriya and overlooked a fact that the Kshatriyas and Rajanyas are not the same but distinct entities.

When exactly did this interpolation took place is open to the speculations, but the fact is the hymn in question too went through many modifications/additions in course of the time. It is believed that the hymn gave divine sanction to the permanent four-fold social order to seed the inequality and injustice amongst Hindu society. 

The Sukta has two verses those describe how the four Varna were originated. It is as under-

ब्राह्मणोऽस्य मुखमासीद् बाहू राजन्यः कृतः 
ऊरू तदस्य यद्वैश्यः पद्भ्यां शूद्रो अजायत ॥१२

Here, we will just focus on the second highest class or rank that is named as “Rajanya”. This would mean that the Rajanya stood second in rank to the Brahmina. In the later Vedic literature the term Rajanya goes on gradually vanishing and being replaced with Kshatriya. It is assumed by all the scholars and tradition that the Rajanya and Kshatriya are interchangeable or that Rajanya and Kshatriya are the equivalent terms.

What are the facts?  Are really Rajanya and Kshatriya are the equivalent or the truth is otherwise?

Rajanya word has been used in the Rig Veda and Atharvaveda as a generic class of the warriors. The Aitareya Brahmana it is said that the Rajanya requests Kshatriya for a place at Devayajna (sacrifice for gods). There are rituals mentioned in the Brahmana literature where appears conflict between Rajanya’s and Kshatriya’s. Kaushitaki Upanishad differentiates the Kshatriyas and Rajanyas. Rig Veda mentions several times of Rajanyas and Kshatras and the terms are not interchangeable. Rajanya term is used for the kins of the kings, nobles and scions. Shatapath Brahmana too mentions Rajputra, Rajanya and Kshatraputra separately. From these instances, it would be clear that the Rajanya and Kshatriyas were different entities. In Avesta too, a contemporary book to Rig Veda, the word Kshatriya and Kshatra appears as  xšāyaθiya ("emperor") and xšaθra ("realm") The word Rajan too appears in the old Persian literature. (See Zamyad Yast 88-90) 

This would mean that the term Kshatra and Rajanya existed simultaneously in those contemporary (Vedic and Zoroastrian) societies. The word Rajan would mean the King (elected or otherwise) and Rajanya meant, accordingly different scholars, either kinsmen of the Rajan (King) or the ruling (even former ruling) families from whom Rajan would be appointed or chosen. In short, Rajanya is ruling power and Rajan is chosen from them to rule. In a tribal society, though social classification was loose, the class of the Rajanya was held equally important with priestly families or just lower to them. The mention of this term as a class in the Purushasukta would mean that the Rajanyas had emerged as a distinct social class by the time of its composition.

The term Kshatra appears in the Rig Veda about 9 times. The meaning of Kshatra means power. The power was based on the greater control over the Jana and its territory. It can be seen the relationship between Vish and Kshatriyas was not always cordial as Kshatriyas controlled the Vish (Vaishya). In short, the Kshatra were either feudal class or warrior class in general. 

It will appear from the Vedic literature that the Kshatriyas (or Kshatras) and Rajanyas were contemporaneous and formed two distinct classes in the Vedic society. There were rivalries too between these two classes. Rajanya would mean the kins of the ex or present kings those only could claim the thrown. Kshatriya was a class that would control the territories and would act as a middleman between Vish and the King for collecting the tributes. Rajanyas too possibly sometimes acted as Kshatriyas, but their status was higher as evidenced by Purushsukta itself. What most importantly we have to note here that the Rajanya and the Kshatriya were not one and the same. 

However, the main question remains and that is, why Purush Sukta does not mention at all the Kshatriya class? Instead, it mentions Rajanya. It would mean that the Rajanya was a larger and important society than of the Kshatriyas and being insignificant in number or  position, did not form a social class in the early Vedic society where Rig Veda was composed. 

However, we must note here that the Kshatriya varna has no divine sanction as it is not mentioned in the Purushsukta and equivalent literature. Considering Kshatriya second in the Vedic social order has been a gross mistake of the scholars. There is no explanation in the Vedic literature why Rajanyas were dropped and Kshatriyas were replaced in the so-called divine social order. 

Though, in later course usage of the Rajanya term seems gradually vanishing, still Aitareya Brahmin frequently uses it. (e.g. AB 1.5.2) This would mean that till the time of compositions of the early parts of the Brahmana literature the Rajanya class was well in existence and enjoying the social status that was granted them by the Rig Veda.
Now, the question arises that why Rajanya class disappeared from the Vedic society and for all ritualistic purpose and authority Kshatriyas were replaced when they did not have any divine sanction?

To understand this, we need to analyse the geographical shift of the Vedic people and the new societies they came across and their endeavour to adjust in the new social environmental circumstances while readjusting their religious rules without neglecting the local populace on whose mercy and cooperation their survival depended.

It is now well-established fact that the geography of the Rig Veda and the Avesta were in the close vicinity. This does prove that the Vedic society was originally established in the Afghanistan (most probably southern part). The memory that Shatapath Brahmana preserves goes like this :


“Videgh Mathava, residing on the banks of the Saraswati river, accompanied by his family priest Goutama Rahugana and Agni, symbol of Vedic culture, marched onwards. Through crossing the northern mountains (Uttaragiri), drying the rivers and burning the forests, he reached the Sadanira river. The legend tells that when Videgh Mathava asked Agni, where he should make his abode, the Agni told him to reside to the east of the river.” (SB 1.4.1, 14-17)


The myth, preserved by Brahmana, clearly indicates that from the banks of Saraswati, a group of the Vedic people had marched towards a river to find refuge. The group marched through the northern mountains, those could only be Hindukush and rivers flowing through that region, to reach the uninhabited place to settle.


Modern scholars normally try to equate this river with Gandaki that flows from Nepal through India, finally feeding Ganga. However, from the Mahabharata’s accounts on this river, it could not be Gandaki but some other river flowing through Gandaki and Sarayu. Amarasinha of Amara Kosha asserts Sadanira to be a synonym of Karatoya River, flowing through the north of Bengal. Anyway, Sadanira means ‘abounding in water’, which can be applied to any river that is full of abundant water. The myth also indicates that the area across the river was swampy and inhabitable.


Thus, the theory of the invasionist scholars of those times from this myth had considered Aryan expansion from west to the east, occupying the lands and regions towards Gandaki River of Bihar (or Bengal), is not tenable. The river Sarasvati mentioned here should not be confused with a mythical Sarasvati river, but it was the river of the same name still flowing in southern Afghanistan. Had it been a victorious march, as some scholars suggest, towards Sadanira that located in Gangetic region, they needed not to reside in the inhabitable area because those regions were already populated as it is evidenced by the Archaeological findings. 

Videgh Mathava and his companions might have deserted their original homeland to find new habitat because of the constant struggles with Zoroastrian religion or there might be the political reasons. We get many instances of such struggles in the Vedic literature, recorded in the form of the myths, where Vedics were defeated many a times. Videgh Mathava and his companions abandoned their original habitat and crossing Hindukush entered north-eastern parts of the India to find a place to seek the refuge. They found such place near a river to which they named Sadanira and on its banks, in marshy and swampy region, they made their first settlement. This must have been the north-west part, Sindh, of India as is evidenced by supportive proofs.

Here we get many historical as well as mythological proofs that the tribe Shudra was also located at north-western part of India. Alexanders historian Diodoros, who accompanied Alexander in his expedition to India,  notes of a tribe named “Sodrai” (Greek corrupt form of the Shudra) which resided in Sindh region. Alexander seems to have built a city naming after himself, Alexandria, on the banks of a river. (The Invasion of India by Alexander the Great-As described by Arrian, Q Curtis, Diodoros, Plutarch and Justin, edited by J. W. Mcrindle, page 354) Ram Saran Sharma confirms that “There is no doubt that Sudra existed as a tribe in the fourth century BC.” (Sudras in Ancient India: A Social History of the Lower Order Down to Circa A.D. 600 by RS Sharma).

Mahabharata records that a Shudra tribe along with Abhira tribe from north-west participated the great war. (Mahabharata 6-10.65) Also, the same Shudra tribe finds independent mention in a list of peoples conquered by Nakula during his victorious march before the coronation of Yudhisthira. Gian Chand Chauhan states, “The plethora of references to the term Sudras along with the Abhiras show that the Sudras was an old tribe flourishing at the time of the Great War in the Sapta-Sindhava region.” (Some Aspects of Early Indian Society, by Gian Chand Chauhan, page 54) 

Now it should be clear that the Shudra was a tribe. It was located in the north-west regions of the country and their immediate neighbours and alleys were Abhiras. Also, it should make clear that the Shudra was never a class but a tribe that dwelt in India along with several tribes like Surasenas, Sibis, Nishads, Panchals, Kurus and so on. 

The Shudra tribe, being inhabited in north-west part of India,  in Sindh region, in all probabilities, these were the people Vedics came across first on friendly terms and decided to live within their territory. 

We know from the Rig Veda that the Vedic people’s known geography was limited. Earlier they were aware of the major river Indus and few western tributaries, but their knowledge of the vast regions and the people beyond Indus was limited and was of the hearsay sort. It seems that, when they entered Indus region, they came across the region they decided to settle was within the territory occupied by the Shudras, completely unknown to them before, hence, the term Shudra appears nowhere in rest of the Rig Veda. 

How Shudras accommodated the Vedics in their territory is a matter of speculation. However, the refugees could not have afforded to be hostile with the hosting countrymen. The number of the Vedics those found refuge here could not be much in number. Had they waged war and acquired their territory they needed not to reside in the marshy and swampy land. There is no mention of any war between Shudras and Vedics in any of the Vedic literature, so, the Shudras might have accommodated them without any hassle. 

Here, let us conclude that the handful of the Vedics came to India and found refuge in the territories of the Shudra tribe. Looking at their limited knowledge of the geography, in sheer ignorance, they addressed all those beyond the region of Shudras with the same term though later they later came to know of many tribes or jana those were located elsewhere as well with independent identities. (Hindustan name too emerged from the River name Sindhu, as foreigners initially didn’t know the lands beyond that river. The name given to the limited geographical area became name of the entire subcontinent.) 

Here, we come to the solution of our main issue as to why the term Rajanya instead of Kshatriya and why Shudra came to be an important part of the society. The process can be shown as follows. 

1.     Being small in number, residing in a separate village or two, a settlement, where they lived on the mercy or friendship of the Shudras those resided around in their independent settlements.

2.     Whatever portions of the Rig Veda and other literature they had brought with them were rearranged, classified and then the later additions started in the same land. 

3.     Purushasukta clearly indicates, from its language and mention of the seasons, that this composition was made when they had set foot in India, as Max Muller suggests, it is entirely modern in its character and diction. (‘A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature’, by F. Max Muller, Pub.: Williams and Norgate, , 1859, p. 557)

4.     In the Purushsukta, Rajanya appears in the second rank because in all probabilities, besides priests, Rajanyas were larger in the number those had joined this expedition. The Kshatras were completely absent or very meagre in number, hence there was no need to assign them any position in the social order.

5.     Vedics gave Shudras the fourth place, not to demean them, but to make a cosmic social order without whose mention it would be incomplete, though they knew very well that these people are different, racially as well as by religious faith. Also, they didn;t know other people (tribes) for lack of their limited contact and were completely at mercy of the Shudra tribal people. 

Purushasukta indicates that though the Shudras are mentioned as a part of the cosmic society, they were not at all the part of the Vedic society. This is evident from the verse 

ब्राह्मणोऽस्य मुखमासीद् बाहू राजन्यः कृतः
ऊरू तदस्य यद्वैश्यः पद्भ्यां शूद्रो अजायत 

 where it has made very clear that “The Brahmana was his [God’s] mouth, of both his arms was the Rajanya made. His thighs became the Vaishya, from his feet the Shudra was produced.” The feet didn’t become the Shudra, because the composer of the hymn knew very well that the Shudras were not part of the Vedic community, though an important society. The distinction was very clear to them and skillfully composed the verse.  

6.     The Yajurveda declares that “शूद्रार्यावसृज्येताम”  (Shudra and Arya were created.) [Yajurveda 14/30] Here also there is clear distinction between Arya (Vedic) and Shudra. Here we do not find any contemptuous view about the Shudras. The only probable reason is at the time of composing these hymns too, Vedics were on good terms with the entire Shudra tribe.

7.     In fact, it does not appear that the purpose of the Purushasukta was to make permanent stratification of the social order. Even the term “varna” does not appear in this hymn. The hymn just meant to show how a society came to an existence without assigning a rank to any. It is a fact that the same verse was used to stratify the Vedic social order in later times but originally it was not intended. Had it been the case the Vedics wouldn't have mentioned Shudras at all because they were not part of the Vedic society. In fact, they were foreigners to them. 

8.     The Vedics, for they were few in number, must have in need of the servants and maids to assist them in farming, cattle tending and household work. They naturally had to hire such people in need from the surrounding Shudra community. From Vedic literature, it appears, the Vedics in India too preferred to delve in the villages. They avoided cities. The menial force they hired too must have been living in the separate settlements, besides the Vedic Villages, as was the old practice in India. 

9.     Manusmruti, as mentioned in the last chapters, mentions of the Shudra kings and their domains. Aitareya Brahmana mentions of the Shudra kings those ruled beyond Vindhya mountain. (AB 7.13-18) They termed other people also Shudra for their lack of knowledge of the lands and people of the country in the early times. However, Mahabharata mentions of the Shudra tribe together with Abhiras and also the numerous tribes those dwelt in the country. This would mean that by the time of early Manusmriti, the Vedics considered all other tribes as Shudras. By the time of Mahabharata, Vedics could make a distinction between other tribal or jana names and Shudra tribe.

10.                         During this vast span of the time, the term Rajanya was gradually dropped because the original Rajanyas those had walked with the entrants lost their entity and purpose in the course of the time. The Kshatriya emerged as the second ranking class, though it had no Vedic sanction. The Kshatriyas, it clearly seems, were converts to the Vedic faith or it became an epithet to address warriors of the local populace in later times. To them, Vedics did not assign the Rajanya rank. They kept it deliberately vacant as the ruling class here belonged to the different faiths and customs. It is quite possible that some Kings of those times could have converted to the Vedic faith and were happy with the assigned title.

11.                        From Shudra’s tribal kingdom, Vedic spread to promote their religion, gained royal patronage of the Kurus and Panchals to begin with and converted some to their fold. (See “The Rigveda, trans. By Griffith, preface.) The first recension of the Manusmriti seems to have been composed in Kuru-Panchal region to which they named “Aryavarta”.  By this time, rajanya had lost all the significance and Kshatriya became a synonym of valour and the authority.

12.                        The Vedics, till Brahmana era, and new recruits to the Brahmin fold, continued with the same lifestyle, they preferred villages and took services from the poor folks of the surrounding regions. They, it clearly seems, habitually continued the practice of calling them Shudra. 

13.                         By this time, with the addition of the new recruits, the number of the Vedics and their needs had grown. To meet them they naturally required more serving staff, which was met with the gifts of the slaves or hired workmen. They resided in the Vedic villages, though in independent colonies.    

14.                        As Vi. Ka. Rajvade (Preface, Radhamadhavavilasachampu) states, because of the close contacts with the menial class, the cross illicit relations too started creating social problems in the Vedic order. In the beginning, they accommodated the offsprings in their fold, assigned them some castes, but later on, it was prohibited for it created the chaotic condition in Vedic society. They started enforcing many restrictions on them in an order to maintain the purity of their religion and social order. However, they failed in such attempts. 

15.                        Smritis are evident of this fact that all the restrictions, those sound humiliating and cruel sometimes, were meant for the class that was employed (or the people gifted by the patrons) in their service. Except in Sindh region, there never was any other Shudra tribe. Though Vedic habitually addressed their servants as Shudras, it wasn’t and couldn’t be the case. People from other tribes too must have joined their services or people from any tribe could have been gifted to them by the patrons, to all for sake of the convenience, collectively, they called Shudras. The fact was always otherwise and is evident from the Vedic scriptures too! 

16.                        The Vedics assigned Kshatriya and the Vaishya status to those who were indigenous warriors or trading/farming people, who had officially entered in their fold. Those all, who had not embraced Vedic faith, were Shudras in their eyes. By this time it seems Shudra had become a derogatory term to them to use against those all who despised or avoided their religion. We can understand how this could have happened. The Shudras (their working class that included people from many tribes) daily association had caused tremendous harm to their social structure and hence had became despicable and yet unavoidable!

17.                          It seems from the Manusmriti, some Vedics conducted sacrifices for the Shudras (non-vedic tribes/janas) and received the fees. Such Vedics were too were avoided by the Vedics who thought they were loyal to the tradition. Calling such host who performed sacrifice for his benefit too, was despised with addressing him with the term Shudra. 

18.                        The so-called Shudras, though not belonging to the Shudra tribe at all, enjoyed their titles and traditional ways of the life with the faiths they had nourished from ages. It were Vedics who termed all those who were non-Vedics, hostile to the Vedic religion as Shudras. They offered their respects to only those who were sympathetic towards their religion but had not embraced their faith. Stories enumerated by Mahabharata of Vena, Nahusha etc. tells us the fact that they were not ready to accept Vedic faith and hence were killed by the Vedic Brahmins. These may be fabricated stories, created in an order to establish their superiority, but they suggest their hostilities towards the kings too, who did not accept or patronised their religion. To even Gautam Buddha, Vedic tradition calls “Vratya Kshatriya”, a kshatriya who has not undergone any Vedic ritualistic custom. 

19.                        The term Kshatriya was offered to only those, who either had become Vedic or patronised their religion. This way, we can find neither Solar nor Lunar race was Kshatriya in origin. Either the title Kshatriya was used for them suo- motto, to please them or to those who had converted to their religion. Whatsoever the case may be, we find several stories of Kshatriya-Brahmina rivalries because, the new recruits to that fold, especially kings, desired upper hand in the socio-religious order. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishada goes to the extent by declaring the Kshatriya born first and hence superior over Brahmin. It declares that the Brahmina should take lower seat in the Rajasuya sacrifice. (BU 1.4) 

From above, it will be clear that how Rajanya finds place in the Purushsukta because then there didn’t exist any Kshatriya in early Vedic community which travelled to India. They had rajanyas and a Rajan (in form of the Videgh Mathav), hence rajanya became a part of the divine body. They made the Shudras a part of the social order but not considered them as the part of the Vedic order, because they were not Vedics, but the Vedics depended on their mercy and assistance they tendered for their survival. It is very much possible that the Vedics lived in the Shudra kingdom for 4-5 generations to reorganize themselves before they marched out in the eastern regions to spread their faith. 

They applied the term Kshatriya, a rare term used in Rig Veda, to the new converts (or patrons) hailing from the royal families and warriors  and glorified the term so much so that even today Indian populace is crazy about it, though the term was unimportant to the early Vedics for the term had no place in the divine order that was proclaimed by much-hyped Rig Veda. 


As we have seen, it should not be forgotten that the term Kshatriya is not equivalent to Rajanya at all. Both were distinct classes in the original Vedic society when located at their original homeland. The Shudra were never meant as varna in the Purusha Sukta because it was mere a tribe among which the Vedics had to live. Hence, the term Shudra should be dropped while writing social history of India. Mixing the term with other tribal or jana identities will not yield any satisfactory analysis. The journey of the Vedic religion to India has to be closely analysed to know the facts, which was avoided or neglected by the earlier scholars. Unless the entry of the Vedicism in India and its methodological spread is understood, the riddles of our present social structure, which is largely based on the self-nourished myths and sheer misunderstandings, cannot be solved. We shall discuss in the next chapter why the Kshatriya (and Vaishya) class came to be eliminated in the later course of the time.   

1 comment:

  1. N there are few castes eg CKPs of Maharashtra that claim Rajanya kshatriya status..Sir Can you through some light on that ?

    ReplyDelete