Who were the shudras ?

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To proceed to the Brahmanas. The Satapatha Brahmana contains six explanations. There are two which concern themselves with the creation of the Varnas. Of the two, the one which speaks of the origin of the Shudras is given below :

S.B[f39] xiv.4.2.23.—"Brahma (here, according to the commentator, existing in the form of Agni and representing the Brahmana caste) was formerly this (universe), one only. Being one, it did not develop. It energetically created an excellent form, the Kshattra, viz., those among the gods who are powers (Kshattrani), Indra, Varuna, Soma, Rudra, Parjanya, Yama, Mrityu, Isana, Hence nothing is superior to the Kshatra. Therefore, the Brahmana sits below the Kshatriya at the Rajasuya sacrifice; he confers that glory on the Kshattra (the royal power). This, the Brahma, is the source of the Kshattra. Hence although the king attains supremacy, he at the end resorts to the Brahman as his source. Whoever destroys him (the Brahman) destroys his own source. He becomes most miserable, as one who has injured a superior. He did not develop. He created the Vis, viz., those classes of gods who are designated by troops, Vasus, Rudras, Adityas, Visvedevas, Maruts. He did not develop. He created the Shudra class Pushan. This earth is Pushan ; for she nourishes all that exists. He did not develope. He energetically created an excellent form. Justice (Dharma). This is the ruler (Kshattra) of, the ruler (Kshattra), namely. Justice. Hence nothing is superior to Justice. Therefore the weaker seeks (to overcome) the stronger by Justice, as by a king. This justice is truth. In consequence they say of a man who speaks truth, 'he speaks justice.' For this is both of these. This is the Brahma, Kshattra, Vis and Shudra. Through Agni it became Brahma among the gods, the Brahmana among men, through the (divine) Kshatriya a (human) Kshatriya, through the (divine) Vaishya a (human) Vaishya, through the (divine) Shudra a (human) Shudra. Wherefore it is in Agni among the gods and in a Brahman among men that they seek after an abode.

The Taittriya Brahman is responsible for the following explanation:

T.B. [f40] i.2.6.7.—"The Brahmana caste is sprung from the gods; the Shudras from the Asuras."

  1. (1)  T.B., [f41]iii. 2.3.9.—"This Shudra has sprung from non-existence."




Here is a complete collection of all the Brahmanic speculations on the origin of the four classes and of the Shudras. The ancient Brahmins were evidently conscious of the fact that the origin of the four classes was an unusual and uncommon social phenomenon and that the place of the Shudra in it was very unnatural and that this called for some explanation. Otherwise, it would be impossible to account for these innumerable attempts to explain the origin of the Chaturvarnya and of the Shudra.

But what is one to say of these explanations? The variety of them is simply bewildering. Some allege that Purusha was the origin of the four Varnas, and some attribute their origin to Brahma, some to Prajapati and some to Vratya. The same source gives differing explanations. The White Yajur Veda has two explanations, one in terms of Purusha, the other in terms of Prajapati. The Black Yajur Veda has three explanations to offer. Two are in terms of Prajapati, the third in terms of Brahman. The Atharva Veda has four explanations, one in terms of Purusha, second in terms of Brahman, third in terms of Vratya and fourth quite different from the first three. Even when the theory is the same, the details are not the same. Some explanations such as those in terms of Prajapti, or Brahma are theological. Others in terms of Manu or Kasyapa are in humanistic terms. It is imagination running riot. There is in them neither history nor sense. Prof. Max Muller commenting on the Brahmanas has said:

"The Brahmanas represent no doubt a most interesting phase in the history of the Indian mind, but judged by themselves, as literary productions, they are most disappointing. No one would have supposed that at so early a period, and in so primitive a state of society, there could have risen up a literature which for pedantry and downright absurdity can hardly be matched anywhere. There is no lack of striking thoughts, of bold expressions, of sound reasoning, and curious traditions in these collections. But these are only like the fragments of a torso, like precious gems set in brass and lead. The general character of these works is marked by shallow and insipid grandiloquence, by priestly conceit, and antiquarian pedantry. It is most important to the historian that he should know how soon the fresh and healthy growth of a nation can be blighted by priestcraft and superstition. It is most important that we should know that nations are liable to these epidemics in their youth as well as in their dotage. These works deserve to be studied as the physician studies the twaddle of idiots, and the raving of madmen." [f42]

On reading these Brahmanic speculations on the origin of the four Varnas and particularly of the Shudras one is very much reminded of these words of Prof. Max Muller. All these speculations are really the twaddles of idiots and ravings of madmen and as such they are of no use to the student of history who is in search of a natural explanation of a human problem.





So much for the Brahmanic view of the origin of the Shudra. Turning to the Brahmanic view of the civil status of the Shudra, what strikes one is the long list of (disabilities, accompanied by a most dire system of pains and-penalties to which. the Shudra is subjected by the Brahmaiac law-givers.

The disabitities and penalties of the Shudra found in the Samhitas and the Brahmanas were few, as may be seen from the following extracts:

  1. I.          According to the Kathaka Samhita (xxxi.2) and the Maitrayani Samhita(iv.1.3;i.8.3)

"A shudra should not be allowed to milk the cow whose milk is used for Agnihotra."

  1. II.        The Satapatha Brahmana (iii.1.1.10), the Maitrayani Samita (vii.l.l.6) and also the Panchavirnsa Brahmana (vi.l.ll) say:

"The Shudra must not be spoken to when performing a sacrifice and a Shudra must not be present when a sacrifice is being performed."

  1. III.      The Satapatha Brahmana (xiv.l.31) and the Kathaka Samhita (xi.lO) further provide that :

"The Shudra must not be admitted to Soma drink."

The Aitareya Brahmana (vii.29.4) and the Panchavirnsa Brahmana (vi.l.ll) reached the culminating point when they say:

"Shudra is a servant of another (and cannot be anything else)."

But what in the beginning was a cloud no bigger than a man's hand, seems to have developed into a storm, which has literally overwhelmed the Shudras. For, as will be seen from the extracts given from later penal legislation by the Sutrakaras like Apastamba, Baudhayana, etc. and the Smritikaras like Manu and others, the growth of the disabilities of the Shudras has been at a maddening speed and to an extent which is quite unthinkable.

The disabilities are so deadening that it would be impossible to believe them unless one sees them in cold print. They are, however, so numerous that it is impossible to present them in their fullness. To enable those, who do not know them, to have some idea of these disabilities, I have assembled below in one place illustrative statements by the different Sutrakaras and Smritikaras relating to the disabilities of the Shudras scattered in their Law Books.


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