Who were the shudras ?

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Were the Shudras non-Aryans? Mr. Kane says[f49]

"A clear line of demarcation was kept between the Arya and the Shudra in the times of the Brahmana works and even in the Dharmasutras. The Tandya Brahmana speaks of a mock fight : 'the Shudra and Arya fight on a hide; out of the two they so arrange that the Arya colour becomes the victor.' The Ap. Dh. S. (I, i.3.40-41) says that a brahmachari if he cannot himself eat all the food he has brought by begging, may keep it near an Arya (for his use) or he may give it to a Shudra who is a Dasa (of his teacher). Similarly, Gautama x.69 used the word 'anarya' for Shudra."

On the question of the line of demarcation; between the Shudras and Aryans, the matter needs to be carefully examined.

The strength of the argument that the Shudras were non-Aryans is to be found in the following statements :

A.V., iv.20.4. — "The thousand-eyed god shall put this plant into my right hand; with that do I see everyone, the Shudra as well as the Arya."

Kathaka Samhita, xxxiv.5— "The Shudra and the Arya quarrel about the skin. The gods and the demons quarrelled about the sun; the gods won it (the sun). (By this act of quarrelling with Shudras) the Arya makes the Arya Varna win, makes himself successful. The Arya shall be inside the .altar, the Shudra outside the altar. The skin shall be white, circular- the form of the sun."

Vajasaneyi Samhita, xxiii.30 -31— "When a deer eats the barley in the field, the (owner of the field) is not pleased with the nourished animal; when a Shudra woman has an Arya as a lover, (the husband) does not long for (the consequent) prosperity."

When a deer eats barley, the (owner of the field) does not approve of the nourished animal. When a Shudra is the lover of an Arya woman, the (husband) does not consent to the prosperity.

These stanzas, which speak of the Shudra and the Arya as separate and opposed form the foundation of the theory that the Shudras are non-Aryans. To say the least, such a conclusion would be a very hasty one. Two considerations must be borne in mind before any conclusion is drawn from the aforementioned statements. In the first place, it must be borne in mind that according to what has been said before and according to the evidence of the Rig Veda, there are two categories of Aryans, the Vedic and the non-Vedic. Given this fact, it would be quite easy for an Arya of one class to speak of an Arya of another class, as though the two were separate and opposed. Interpreted in this way, the above statements, in which Shudras are set against the Aryans, do not mean that they were not Aryas. They were Aryas of a different sect or class.

That this is possible can be seen from the following statements in the sacred literature of the Hindus:

  1. (1)  A.V., xix.32.8.— "Make me. Oh, Darbha (grass), dear to the Brahmin, and the Rajanya (i.e., Kshalriya), to the Shudra and to the Arya and to him whom we love and to everyone who is able to see."

  2. (2)  A.V., xix.62.1.— "Make me beloved among the gods, make me beloved among the princes; make me dear to everyone who sees, to the Shudra and to the Arya."

  3. (3)  Vajasaneyi Samhita, xviii.48.— "(Oh, Agni), give to us lustre among Brahmins, give us lustre among kings; lustre among Vaishyas and among Shudras; give to me lustre added to lustre." ,

  4. (4)  Vajasaneyi Samhita, xx.l7.— "Whatever sin we have committed in the village, in the forest, in the assembly, with our senses, against the Shudra or against the Arya, whatever sin one of us (two, the sacrificer and his wife) has committed in the matter of his duty (towards the other),— of that sin, you are the destroyer."

  5. (5)  Vajasaneyi Samhita, xviii.48.— "As I speak these auspicious words to the people, to the Brahmin and the Rajanya, to the Shudra and to the Arya and to my own enemy, may I be dear to the gods and to the giver of dakshinas here in this world. May this desire of mine be granted. May that (enemy of mine) be subjected to me."

What do these statements show? The first one makes a distinction between the Brahmins and the Aryas. Can it be said that the Brahmins were non-Aryans? The other statements pray for the love and goodwill of the Shudras. If the Shudra was a primitive aboriginal non-Aryan, is such a prayer conceivable? The statements on which reliance is placed do not prove that the Shudras were non-Aryans.

That the Dharma Sutras call the Shudra Anarya and the statements in the Vajasaneyi Samhita pouring scorn on the Shudra woman, do not mean anything. There are two arguments against accepting the testimony of the Dharma Sutra. In the first place, as will be shown later, the Dharma Sutras and other treatises are books written by the enemies of the Shudra. As such, they have no evidentiary value. It is also doubtful whether such anti-Shudra statements are mere imprecations or statements of facts as they existed. They seem to contradict facts reported in other works.

The Dharma Sutras say that a Shudra is not entitled to the Upanayana ceremony and the wearing of the sacred thread. But in Samskara Ganapati there is an express provision declaring the Shudra to be eligible for Upanayana. [f50]

The Dharma Sutras say that a Shudra has no right to study the Vedas. But the Chhandogya Upanishad (iv:l-2) relates the story of one Janasruti to whom Veda Vidya was taught by the preceptor Raikva. This Janasruti was a Shudra. What is more is that Kavasha Ailusha, [f51] was a Shudra. He was a Rishi and the author of several hymns of the Tenth Book of the Rig Veda.

The Dharma Sutras say that a Shudra has no right to perform Vedic ceremonies and sacrifices. But Jaimini, the author of the Purva Mimarnsa[f52] mentions an ancient teacher by name Badari— whose work is lost— as an exponent of the contrary view that even Shudras could perform Vedic sacrifices. The Bharadvaja Srauta Sutra (v.28) admits that there exists another school of thought which holds that a Shudra can consecrate the three sacred fires necessary for the performance of a Vedic sacrifice. Similarly, the commentator of the Katyayana Srauta Sutra (1.4.16) admits that there are certain Vedic texts which lead to the inference that the Shudra was eligible to perform Vedic rites.

The Dharma Sutras say that a Shudra is not entitled to the sacred drink of Soma. But in the story of the Ashvins, there is definite evidence that the Shudra had a right to the divine drink of Soma. The Ashvins, as the story goes, once happened to behold Sukanya when she had just bathed and when her person was bare. She was a young girl married to a Rishi by name Chyavana who at the time of marriage was so old as to be dying almost any day. The Ashvins were captivated by the beauty of Sukanya and said "Accept one of us for your husband. It behoveth thee not to spend thy youth fruitlessly." She refused, saying "I am devoted to my husband." They again spoke to her and this time proposed a bargain: "We two are the celestial physicians of note. We will make thy husband young and graceful. Do thou then select one of us as thy husband." She went to her husband and communicated to him the terms of the bargain. Chyavana said to Sukanya "Do thou so"; and the bargain was carried out and Chyavana was made a young man by the Ashvins. Subsequently, a question arose whether the Ashvins were entitled to Soma, which was the drink of the Gods. Indra objected saying that the Ashvins were Shudras and therefore not entitled to Soma. Chyavana, who had received perpetual youth from the Ashvins, set aside the contention and compelled Indra to give them Soma. [f53]

There is another reason why the evidence of the Dharma Sutras that the Shudras are non-Aryans should not be accepted. In the first place, it is contrary to the view taken by Manu. In the decision of the issue whether the Shudra was an Aryan or a non-Aryan, the following verses from Manu require to be carefully considered :

"If a female of the caste sprung from a Brahmana and a Shudra female, bear (children) to one of the highest castes, the inferior (tribe) attains the highest caste within the seventh generation."

"(Thus) a Shudra attains the rank of a Brahmana and (in a similar manner) a Brahmana sinks to the level of a Shudra; but know that it is the same with the offspring of a Kshatriya or of a Vaishya."

"If (a doubt) should arise, with whom the pre-eminence (is, whether) with him whom an Aryan by chance begot on a non-Aryan female, or (with the son) of a Brahmana woman by a non-Aryan;"

The decision is as follows : 'He who was begotten by an Aryan on a non-Aryan female, may become (like to) an Aryan by his virtues; he whom an Aryan (mother) bore to a non Aryan father (is and remains) unlike to an Aryan.' " [f54]

Verse 64 from Manu is also to be found in Gautama Dharma Sutra (uv.22). There seems to be some controversy as to the correct interpretation of this verse. In summing up the different interpretations, Buhler says:

"According to Medh., Gov., Kull., and Ragh., the meaning is that, if the daughter of a Brahmana and of a Shudra female and her descendants all marry Brahmanas, the offspring of the sixth female descendant of the original couple will be a Brahmana. While this explanation agrees with Haradatta's comment on the parallel passage of Gautama, Nar. and Nan. take the verse very differently. They say that if a Parasava, the son of a Brahmana and of a Shudra female, marries a most excellent Parasava female, who possesses a good moral character and other virtues, and if his descendants do the same, the child born in the sixth generation will be a Brahmana. Nandana quotes in support of his view, Baudhayana i. 16.13-14 (left out in my translation of the Sacred Books of the East, ii, p. 197)... '(offspring) begotten by a Nishada on a Nishadi, removes within five generations the Shudrahood; one may initiate him (the fifth descendant); one may sacrifice for the sixth.' This passage of Baudhayana the reading of which is supported by a new MS from Madras clearly shows that Baudhayana allowed the male offspring of Brahmanas and Shudra females to be raised to the level of Aryans. It is also not impossible that the meaning of Manu's verse may be the same, and that the translation should be, 'if the offspring of a Brahmana and of a Shudra female begets children with a most excellent (male of the Brahmana caste or female of the Parasava tribe), the inferior (tribe) attains the highest caste in the seventh generation."

Whatever be the interpretation, the fact remains that in the seventh generation[f55]a Shudra under certain circumstances could become a Brahmin. Such a conception would have been impossible if the Shudra was not an Aryan.

That the Shudra is a non-Aryan is contrary to the view taken by the school of Arthashastra. As a representative of that school, the opinion of Kautilya on that question is of great value. In laying down the law of slavery, Kautilya says: [f56]

The selling or mortgaging by kinsmen of the life of a Shudra who is not a born slave, and has not attained majority, but is Arya in birth shall be punished with a fine of 12 panas.

Deceiving a slave of his money or depriving him of the privileges he can exercise as an Arya (Aryabhava) shall be punished with half the fine (levied for enslaving the life of an Arya).

Failure to set a slave at liberty on the receipt of a required amount of ransom shall be punished with a fine of 12 panas; putting a slave under confinement for no reason (samrodhaschakaranat ) shall likewise be punished.

The offspring of a man who has sold himself off as a slave shall be an Arya. A slave shall be entitled not only to what he has earned himself without prejudice to his masters work but also to the inheritance he has received from his father.

Here is Kautilya, who calls the Shudra an Aryan in the most emphatic and express terms possible.

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