Who were the shudras ?

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As to whether there was enough provocation, the matter is hardly open to question. Tempers must have risen high on both sides. There was enough combustible material on both sides for an explosion to take place.

On the side of the Brahmins, it is evident that their pretensions to social superiority and their claim .for special privileges had become outrageous in character and unbearable in extent.

The following is a catalogue[f62]of the pretensions put fourth by the Brahmins:

  1. (i)       The Brahmin must be acknowledged to be the guru to all Vamas by the mere fact of his birth;

  2. (ii)     The Brahmana has the sole right of deciding upon the duties of all other classes, what conduct was proper to them and what should be their means of livelihood; and the other classes were to abide by his directions and the king was to rule in accordance with such directions;

  3. (iii)   The Brahmana is not subject to the authority of the king. The king was the ruler of all except the Brahmana;

  4. (iv)   The Brahmana is exempt from (1) whipping; (2) fetters being put on him; (3) the imposition of fines; (4) exile; (5) censure and (6) abandonment.

  5. (v)     A Shrotriya (a Brahmana learned in Vedas) is free from taxes.

  6. (vi)   A Brahmana is entitled to claim the whole of the treasure trove if he found it If the king found it he must give half to the Brahmana.

  7. (vii)  The property of a Brahmana dying without an heir shall not go to the king, but shall be distributed among Shrotriyas or Brahmanas.

  8. (viii)       The king meeting a Shrotriya or a Brahmana on the road must give way to the Brahmana.

  9. (ix)   The Brahmana must be saluted first

  10. (x)     The person of a Brahmana is sacred. No death sentence could be passed against a Brahmana even if he is guilty of murder.

  11. (xi)   Threatening a Brahmana with assault, or striking him or drawing blood from his body is an offence.

  12. (xii) For certain offences the Brahmana must receive a lesser punishment than members of other classes.

  13. (xiii)       The king should not summon a Brahmana as a witness where the litigant is not a Brahmana.

  14. (xiv)  Even when a woman has had ten former husbands who are not Brahmanas, if a Brahmana marries such a woman, it is he alone who is her husband and not a Rajanya or a Vaishya[f63] to whom she may have been married.

After discussing these pretensions and privileges claimed by the Brahmanas, Mr. Kane says : [f64]

"Further privileges assigned to Brahmanas are : free access to the houses of other people for the purpose of begging alms; the right to collect fuel, flowers, water and the like without its being regarded as a theft, and to converse with other men's wives without being restrained (in such conversation) by others; and the right to cross rivers without paying any fare for the ferry-boat and to be conveyed (to the other bank) before other people. When engaged in trading and using a ferry boat, they shall have to pay no toll. A Brahmana who is engaged in travelling, who is tired and has nothing to eat, commits no wrong by taking two canes of sugar or two esculent roots."

These privileges have no doubt grown in course of time and it is difficult to say which of them had become vested rights when these conflicts were raging. But there is no doubt that some of the most annoying ones such as (i), (ii), (iii), (viii) and (xiv) had then come into existence. These were enough to infuriate any decent and self-respecting body of men.

On the side of the Kshatriya kings they could not be supposed to be willing to take things lying low. How could they? It must not be forgotten that most of the Kshatriya kings who came into conflict with the Brahmins, belonged to the solar line [f65]. They differed from the Kshatriyas of the lunar line in learning, in pride and in martial spirit The Kshatriyas who belonged to the solar line were a virile people, while those who belonged to the lunar line were an imbecile lot without any self-respect. The former challenged the Brahmins. The latter succumbed to them and became their slaves. This was as it should be. For while the Kshatriyas of the lunar line were devoid of any learning, those belonging to the solar line were not merely the equals of Brahmins in the matter of learning, they were their superiors. Several of them were the authors of the Vedic hymns and were known as Rajarishis. This was particularly true of those who came into conflict with the Brahmins.

According to the Anukramanika to the Rig Veda as well as according to tradition the following hymns are said to have been composed by the under mentioned kings : [f66]

"vi.l5: Vitahavya (or Bharadvaja); x.9: Sindhuvipa, son of Ambarisha (or Trisiras, son of Tvashtri); x.75: Sindhukshit, son of Priyamedha; x. 133, Sudas son of Pijavana; x. 134, Mandhatri, son of Yuvanasva; x. 179, Sibi, son of Usinara, Pratardana, son of Divodasa and king of Kasi, and Vasumanas, son of Rohidasva; and x. 148 is declared to have had Prithi Vainya."

The Matsya Purana also gives the lists[f67]of those who composed the hymns of the Rig Veda in a passage which says :

"Bhrigu, Kashya, Prachetas, Dadhicha, Atmavat, Aurva, Jamadagni, Kripa, Sharadvata, Arshtishena, Yudhajit, Vitahavya, Suvarchas, Vaina, Prithu, Divodasa, Brahmasva, Gritsa, Saunaka—these are the nineteen Bhrigus, composers of hymns. Angiras, Vedhasa, Bharadvaja, Bhalandana, Ritabadha, Garga, Siti, Sankriti, Gurudhira, Mandhatri, Ambarisha, Yuvanasva, Purukutsa, Pradyumna, Shravanasya, Ajamidha, Haryashva, Takshapa, Kavi, Prishadashva, Virupa, Kanva, Mudgala, Utathya, Sharadvat, Vajasravas, Apasya, Suvitta, Vamadeva, Ajita, Brihaduktha, Dirghatamas, Kakshivat, are recorded as thirty-three eminent Angirases. These were all composers of hymns. Now learn the Kasyapas... Vishvamitra, son of Gadhi, Devaraja, Bala the wise Madhuchhandas, Rishabha, Aghamarshana, Ashtaka, Lohita, Bhritakila, Vedasravas, Devarata, Puranashva, Dhananjaya, the glorious Mithila, Salankayana,—these are to be known as the thirteen devout and eminent Kusikas. Manu Vaivasvata, Ida, king Pururavas, these are to be known as the eminent utterers of hymns among the Kshatriyas. Bhalanda, Vandya, and Sanskirti these are always to be known as the three eminent persons among the Vaishyas who were composers of hymns. Thus ninety-one persons have been declared by whom hymns have been given birth to, Brahmanas, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas.

In the list of the authors of the Vedic hymns there are not only names of many Kshatriyas, there are names of many of the Kshatriyas who had come into conflict with the Brahmins. The Kshatriyas were the leaders among the Vedic hymn makers. The most famous Vedic hymn namely the Gayatri mantra is the production of Vishvamitra who was a Kshatriya. It was impossible for the Kshatriyas of this calibre not to take up this challenge of the Brahmins.

Their pride which was born out of their prowess and their learning must have been so greatly wounded by the pretensions of the Brahmins that when they did take up the challenge of the Brahmins they did it in a ruthless spirit. They hit the Brahmins hip and thigh. Vena forced them to worship him and no other god; Pururavas looted their wealth. Nahusha yoked them to his chariot and made them drag it through the city. Nimi flouted the exclusive and hereditary right of a family priest to perform all the ceremonies in the family and Sudas went to the length of burning alive the son of Vasishtha who was once his family priest. Surely, there cannot be greater cause to provoke the Brahmins to seek their vengeance upon the Shudras.


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