Who were the shudras ?



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The second objection is quite untenable. To assume, as the objection does, that from the very beginning the Aryan Society treated its different classes differently in the matter of Upanayana is to my mind a very unnatural supposition. Primitive society does not begin with differentiation. It begins with uniformity and ends in diversity. The natural thing would be to suppose that in the matter of the Upanayana the ancient Aryan society treated all its classes on the same footing. It may however be argued, on the other side, that such an original tendency in favour of uniformity need not be accepted as being universal, that it may well be that in the ancient Aryan society the Shudras and the women were excluded from Upanayana. Fortunately for me, it is not necessary for me to rely on logic alone though I contend that logic is on my side. For there is ample evidence both circumstantial as well as direct to show that both Shudras as well as women had at one time the right to wear the sacred thread.

That the ancient Aryan society regarded Upanayana as essential for all will be evident if the following facts are borne in mind.



Upanayana was allowed for the deaf, the dumb, the idiot and even the impotent. A special procedure was prescribed for the Upanayana of the deaf and dumb and idiots. The principal points in which their Upanayana differs from that of others are that the offering of Samidh, treading on a stone, putting on a garment, the tying of mekhala, the giving of deer skin and staff are done silently, that the boy does not mention his name, it is the achary a himself who makes offering of cooked food or of clarified butter, all the mantras are muttered softly by the achary a himself. The same procedure is followed as to other persons who are impotent, blind, lunatic, suffering from such diseases as epilepsy, white leprosy or black leprosy, etc.

The six anuloma castes were also eligible for Upanayana; this is clear from the rules[f21]for the Upanayana of Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and of mixed castes like Rathakara, Ambashtha, etc,



Upanayana was permitted to Patitasavitrikas. The proper age for the Upanayana of a Brahman boy was 8th year from birth, of a Kshatriya 11th year and of a Vaishya 12th year. But a certain latitude was allowed so that the time for Upanayana was not deemed to have passed upon the 16th, the 22nd and the 24th year in the case of Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas respectively. After these years are passed without Upanayana taking place, a person was held to have become incompetent thereafter for learning the Savitri (the sacred Gayatri verse). Such persons were then called Patitasavitrika or savitripatita. According to the strict interpretation of rules, no Upanayana is to be thereafter performed for them, they are not to be taught the Veda, nor is anyone to officiate at their sacrifices and there is to be no social intercourse with them (i.e., no marriage takes place with them). But even in their case, there was readiness to relax the rules [f22]subject to certain penances.

Upanayana was permitted in the case of Brahmaghnas. A Brahmaghna is a person whose father or grandfather had failed to perform Upanayana. The original rule [f23]was that if a person's father and grandfather also had not the Upanayana performed for them then they (i.e., the three generations) are called slayers of brahma (holy prayers or lore); people should have no intercourse with them, should not take their food nor should enter into marriage alliance with them. But even in their case the rule was relaxed and they were allowed Upanayana if they desired, provided they performed the prescribed penance.

A further relaxation was made in the case of a person whose generation beginning with the great grandfather had not the Upanayana performed on them. [f24] Even they were allowed to have their Upanayana performed if they desired, provided they performed penance which included studenthood for twelve years and bath with the Pavamani, and other verses. On his Upanayana, instruction in the duties of the householder was imparted to him, and though he himself could not be taught the Veda, his son may have the samskara performed as in the case of one who is himself a patitasavitrika so that his son will be 'one like other Arya'.

Upanayana was permitted to the Vratyas. It is difficult to state exactly who the Vratyas were, whether they were Aryans who had for more than three generations failed to perform the Upanayana or whether they were non-Aryans who were never within the Aryan fold and whom the Brahmins wanted to convert to the Aryan faith. It is possible that it included both. Be that as it may, there is no doubt that Upanayana was open to the Vratyas provided they performed Vratyastomas. Vratyas were those who lead the Vratya life, were base and were reduced to a baser state since they did not observe studenthood (brahmacharya) nor did they till the soil nor engage in trade. There were four Vratyastomas, the first of which is meant for all Vratyas, the second is meant for those who are Abhishasta who are wicked or guilty of heavy sins and are censured and lead a Vratya life, the third for those who are the youngest and lead a Vratya life and the fourth for those who are very old and yet lead a Vratya life. In each of the four Vratyastomas, Sodasastoma[f25] is always performed. It is by the Sodasastoma that they can attain this (superior status). The Sodasastoma was supposed to have the power to remove the guilt of these. By performing the Vratyastoma sacrifice, they should cease to be Vratyas and become eligible for social intercourse with the Orthodox Aryas, to have the sacrament (samskara of Upanayana) performed of them and then be eligible to study the Veda.

In the Vratyata-shuddisamgraha[f26] provision is made for the purification of Vratyas even after twelve generations subject to appropriate penances.

Upanayana was so highly thought of that Baudhayana (ii.10) allowed Upanayana for the Asvattha tree.

Given these facts, it is difficult to believe that the women and Shudras were excluded from the Upanayana by the Aryan society from the very beginning. In this connection, attendon may be drawn to custom prevalent among the Indo-lranians who were very closely related to the Indo-Aryans in their culture and religion. Among the Indo-lranians, not only both men and women but men and women of all classes are invested with the sacred thread. It is for the opponents to prove why the system was different among the Indo-Aryans.

It is, however, not quite necessary to depend upon circumstantial evidence. There is enough direct evidence to show that there was a time when both women and Shudras had the right to Upanayana and did have it performed.

As to the Upanayana of women the statements[f27] contained in the Hindu religious books are quite explicit. Anyone who examines them will find that Upanayana was open to women. Women not only learned the Vedas but they used to run schools for teaching the Vedas, are even known to have written commentaries on the Women Purva Mimamsa.

As to the Shudras, the evidence is equally positive. If Sudas was a king, if Sudas was a Shudra, if his coronation ceremony was performed by Vasishtha and he performed the Rajasuya Yaga, then there can be no doubt that the Shudras did at one time wear the sacred thread. In addition to circumstantial evidence and the evidence of the authors mentioned before, the Sanskara Ganapati cited by Max Muller[f28] contains an express provision declaring the Shudra to be eligible for Upanayana.

The only difference between the women and the Shudras is that in the case of women there is some plausible explanation given as to why the Upanayana of women was stopped, while there is no such explanation for stopping the Upanayana of the Shudras. It is argued that the Upanayana of women continued as long as the age of Upanayana and the age of marriage continued to be different. It is said that in ancient times the age of Upanayana was 8 and the age for marriage was considerably later. But at a later stage, the age of marriage was brought down to 8, with the result that the Upanayana as an independent ceremony ceased to exist and became merged in marriage. Whether this explanation is right or wrong is another matter. The point is that in the case of the Shudra, the Upanayana was at one time open to him, that it was closed to him at a later stage and that there is no explanation for this change.

Those who, in spite of the evidence to which I have referred, think that they must insist upon their objection should remember the weakness of their side. Assuming that the Shudras had never had the benefit of Upanayana, the question they have to face is why were the Shudras not allowed the benefit of the Upanayana. The orthodox theory merely states the fact that there is no Upanayana for a Shudra. But it does not say why the Shudra is not to have his Upanayana performed. The explananation that there was no Upanayaa of the Shudra because he was a non-Aryan is a modern invention which has been shown to be completely baseless. Either there was once an Upanayana and it was stopped or the Upanayana was from the very beginning withheld. Either may be true. But before one or the other is accepted to be true, it must be accompanied by reasons. There being no reason why the benefit of the Upanayana was withheld from the Shudra, the presumption must be in favour of my thesis which states that they had the right to Upanayana, that they were deprived of it and gives reasons why they were deprived of its validity.

 

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