It is unfortunate that in this country of ours, where Vedas were the foundation of our culture, we forgot these original lessons of Vedas and got trapped in a variety of misconceptions regarding birth-based caste system and discrimination of people born in certain castes collectively known as Shudra.
The misleading theories of communists and biased indologists have already caused a great damage to our society and have sown seeds of differences. It is unfortunate that so-called Dalits consider themselves outcaste and hence we fail to unite together for prosperity and security. The only solution is to go back to the roots – the Vedas – and rebuild our understanding of our relationships with each other.
Now, we shall evaluate the reality of caste system in Vedas and actual meaning of Shudra.
1. “Vedas and Shudra”, there is absolutely no element of hatred or discrimination in Vedas regarding any person – be he or she a Brahmin, Vaishya, Kshatriya or Shudra.
2.The concept of caste is relatively new. Vedas contain no word that can be considered a synonym for ‘caste’. The two words commonly considered to mean ‘caste’ are Jaati and Varna. However the truth is that, all the three mean completely different things.
Caste is a European innovation having no semblance in Vedic culture.
Jaati means a classification based on source of origin. Nyaya Sutra states “Samaanaprasavaatmika Jaatih” or those having similar birth source form a Jaati.
An initial broad classification made by Rishis is 4-fold: Udbhija (coming out of ground like plants), Andaja (coming out of eggs like birds and reptiles), Pindaja (mammals) and Ushmaj (reproducing due to temperature and ambient conditions like virus, bacteria etc).
Similarly, various animals like elephant, lion, rabbits etc form different ‘Jaati’. In same manner, entire humanity forms one ‘Jaati’. A particular Jaati will have similar physical characteristics, cannot change from one Jaati to another and cannot cross-breed. Thus Jaati is creation of Ishwar or God.
Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra are no way different Jaati because there is no difference in source of birth or even physical characteristics to differentiate between them.
Later, word ‘Jaati’ started being used to imply any kind of classification. Thus in common usage, we call even different communities as different ‘Jaati’. However that is merely convenience of usage. In reality, all humans form one single Jaati.
The actual word used for Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra is ‘Varna’ and not Jaati.
The word ‘Varna’ is used not only for these four, but also for Dasyu and Arya.
‘Varna’ means one that is adopted by choice. Thus, while Jaati is provided by God, ‘Varna’ is our own choice.
Those who choose to be Arya are called ‘Arya Varna’. Those who choose to be Dasyu become ‘Dasyu Varna’. Same for Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra.
That is why Vedic Dharma is called ‘Varnashram Dharma’. The word Varna itself implies that this is based on complete freedom of choice and meritocracy.
3.Those involved in intellectual activities have chosen ‘Brahmin Varna’. Those into defense and warfare are ‘Kshatriya Varna’. Those in economics and animal rearing are ‘Vaishya Varna’ and those involved in other support functions are “Shudra Varna”. They refer merely to various choices of professions and have nothing to do with any Jaati or birth.
4.Often mantras of Purush Sukta are cited to prove that Brahmins originated from Mouth, Kshatriya from hands, Vaishya from thighs and Shudras from legs of God. Thus these varnas are birth-based. However nothing could be more deceptive. Let us see why:
a. Vedas describe God to be shapeless and unchangeable. How can such a God take shape of a gigantic person if He is shapeless. Refer Yajurved 40.8.
b. If indeed this were true, this would defy the theory of Karma of Vedas. Because as per Theory of Karma, one’s family of birth can change as per his or her deeds. So one born in Shudra family can take birth as king’s son in next birth. But if Shudras are born from feet of God, how can same Shudra again take birth from hands of God?
c. Soul is timeless and never born. So soul can have no Varna. It is only when it takes birth as human that it has a chance to opt a Varna. Then what is meant by a Varna coming from one part of God’s body? If Soul did not take birth from God’s body, then does it mean body of soul is prepared from God’s body parts? But as per Vedas, even nature is eternal. And same atoms recycle among various humans. So it is technically impossible for any one taking birth from God’s body, even if we assume God to be having a body.
d. The said Purush Sukta is in 31st Chapter of Yajurved, apart from Rigved and Atharvaved with some variations. In Yajurved it is 31.11. To see what it actually means, let us look at the previous mantra 31.10.
It asks a question – Who is mouth? Who is hand? Who is thigh and who is leg?
The next mantra gives the answer – Brahmin is mouth. Kshatriya is hand. Vaishya is thigh and Shudra becomes the legs.
Note that the mantra does not say that Brahmin “takes birth” from mouth…It says Brahmin “is” mouth. Because if the mantra would mean “takes birth” it would not answer the question in previous mantra “Who is mouth?”
For example, if I ask “Who is Dashrath?”, an answer like “Rama is born from Dashrath” would be meaningless!
The actual meaning is:
In society, Brahmins or intellectuals form the brain or head or mouth that think and speak. Kshatriya or defense personnel form the hands that protect. Vaishya or producers and businessmen form the thigh that support and nurture (note that thigh bone or femur produces blood and is strongest bone). In Atharvaveda, instead of Uru or Thigh, the word “Madhya” is used meaning that it denotes also the stomach and central part of body.
Shudra or Labor force form the legs that lay the foundation and make the body run.
The next mantras talk of other parts of this body like mind, eyes etc. The Purush Sukta describes the origin and continuation of creation including human society and states ingredients of a meaningful society.
Thus, its a pity that such a beautiful allegorical description of society and creation is distorted to mean something that is completely contrary to Vedic ethos.
Even the Brahman texts, Manusmriti, Mahabharat, Ramayan and Bhagvat do not state anything even close to crazy hypothesis of God creating Brahmins by tearing of flesh from his mouth, Kshatriya from flesh of hands and so on.
5.It is thus obvious why Brahmins are accorded high respect in Vedas. This is same as what happens even in modern society. Scholars and experts get our respect because they form the direction-providers for entire humanity. However, as we have discussed in previous articles, dignity of labor is equally emphasized in Vedas and hence there is no element of discrimination.
6.In Vedic culture, everyone is considered to be born as Shudra. Then based on his or her education, one becomes a Brahmin, Kshatriya or Vaishya. This completion of education is considered to be a second birth. Hence these three Varnas are called “Dwija” or twice-born. But those who remain uneducated for whatever reasons are not discarded from society. They continue as Shudra and perform support-activities for the society.
7.A son of Brahmin, if he fails to complete his education, becomes a Shudra. Similarly, son of a Shudra or even a Dasyu, if he completes his education can become a Brahmin, Kshatriya or Vaishya. This is pure meritocracy. The way degrees are accorded today, Yajnopaveet was provided in Vedic system. Further, non-compliance with the code of conduct for each Varna could result in taking away of the Yajnopaveet.
8.Many examples exist of change of Varnas in Vedic history.
a. Aitareya Rishi was son of a Daasa or criminal but became a Brahmin of highest order and wrote Aitareya Brahman and Aitareyopanishad. Aitareya Brahman is considered critical to understand Rigveda.
b. Ailush Rishi was son of a Daasi, gambler and of low character. However he researched on Rigveda and made several discoveries. Not only was he invited by Rishis but also made an Acharya. (Aitareya Brahman 2.19)
c. Satyakaam Jaabaal was son of a prostitute but became a Brahmin.
d. Prishadh was son of King Daksha but became a Shudra. Further he did Tapasya to achieve salvation after repenting.
(Vishnu Puran 4.1.14)
Had Tapasya been banned for Shudra as per the fake story from Uttar Ramayan, how could Prishadh do so?
e. Nabhag, soon of King Nedishtha became Vaishya. Many of his sons again became Kshatriya. (Vishnu Puran 4.1.13)
f. Dhrist was son of Nabhag (Vaishya) but became Brahmin and his son became Kshatriya (VP 4.2.2)
g. Further in his generation, some became Brahmin again (VP 9.2.23)
h. As per Bhagvat, Agniveshya became Brahmin though born to a king.
i. Rathotar born in Kshatriya family became a Brahmin as per Vishnu Puran and Bhagvat.
j. Haarit became Brahmin though born to Kshatriya (VP 4.3.5)
k. Shaunak became Brahmin though born in Kshatriya family. (VP 4.8.1). In fact, as per Vayu Puran, Vishnu Puran and Harivansh Puran, sons of Shaunak Rishi belonged to all four Varnas.
Similar examples exist of Gritsamad, Veethavya and Vritsamati.
l. Matanga was son of Chandal but became a Brahmin.
m. Raavan was born from Pulatsya Rishi but became a Rakshas.
n. Pravriddha was son of Raghu King but became a Rakshas.
o. Trishanku was a king but became a Chandal
p. Sons of Vishwamitra became Shudra. Vishwamitra himself was
a Kshatriya who later became a Brahmin.
q. Vidur was son of a servant but became a Brahmin and minister of Hastinapur empire.
9.The word “Shudra” has come in Vedas around 20 times. Nowhere has it been used in a derogatory manner. Nowhere it mentions that Shudras are untouchable, birth-based, disallowed from study of Vedas, lesser in status than other Varnas, disallowed in Yajnas.
10.In Vedas, Shudra means a hard-working person. (Tapase Shudram – Yajurved 30.5). And that is why Purush Sukta calls them as foundation of entire human society.
11.Since the four Varnas refer to 4 kinds of activities by choice, as per Vedas, the same person exhibits characteristics of the 4 varnas in different situations. Thus everyone belongs to all the 4 varnas. However, for simplicity sake, we refer to the predominant profession to be the representative Varna.
And hence, all humans should strive to be all the 4 Varnas to best of their capabilities, as per Vedic wisdom. This is the essence of Purush Sukta.
The Rishis like Vasisth, Vishwamitra, Angira, Gautam, Vaamdeva and Kanva exhibited traits of all the four Varnas. They discovered meanings of Vedic mantras, destroyed Dasyus, did manual labor and indulged in wealth management for social welfare.
We should also emulate the same.
In summary, we see that the Vedic society considers all humans to be one single Jaati or race, upholds the dignity of labor and provides equal opportunity for all humans to adopt the Varna of their choice.
There is no element of birth-based discrimination of any manner in the Vedas.
May we all unite together as one integrated family, reject the last element of birth-based discrimination of any manner and embrace each other as brothers and sisters.
May we also thwart the designs of those who want to mislead us by making baseless claims of casteism in Vedas and destroy the criminals aka Dasyu/Daas/Rakshas.
May we all come under the shelter of Vedas and work together to strengthen the humanity as one single family.
There is no caste-system in Vedas.