Privileges and Disabilities of shUdra-s according to dharmashAstra-s

Privileges of shUdra-s

  • Fewer ritual demands
  • Almost no food or drink restrictions.
  • No gotra/ pravara based marriage restrictions.
  • Pursuit of nearly any occupation (theoretically barring those of brAhmaNa and kShatriya).
  • Little or no penance for deviating from the shAstra.

Disabilities of shUdra-s

  • Summary by P V kANe: FB15.
  • Ritual and spiritual restrictions
    • There were various spiritual restrictions on the shUdra, owing to his culturally unrefined state.
      • Attenuation:
        • shankarAchArya famously gives the examples of vidura and dharmavyAdha and says that the shUdra can attain brahmavidyA nevertheless.
    • Studying the veda was barred. Gautama (an early author) even barred them from hearing it.
      • Attenuation:
        • devala disagreed.
        • They were explicitly authorized to repeat various popular non-vedic mantra-s and other poetry.
    • shUdra-s could not consecrate vaidika fires and major perform vaidika sacrifices.
      • There are indications within the veda-s themselves that in early times, even shUdra-s could perform vaidika sacrifices.
      • Attenuation:
        • badarI and the bhAradvAja shrauta sUtra disagreed. But they might have referred to an ancient class of shUdra-s.
        • Though they could not do iShTi-s (sacrifices), they could do pUrta-dharma (building of wells, temples, etc.., distributing food).
        • They could do the daily 5 mahA-yaJNa-s using a non-vedic fire.
    • A shUdra could hear the smRti-s, itihAsa-s and the purANa-s through a brAhmaNa reader. Some dharmashAstra-s (eg. shUdrakamalAkara) prohibit from reading it himself.
    • Permitted saMskAra-s were fewer, and non-vedic.
      • As a consequence of not studying the veda-s, there were shUdra-s acquired only one formal Ashrama – gRhastha. So, no upanayana.
      • No saMskAra-s could be performed with vaidika mantra-s. One had to use mantra-s from the purANa-s or tantra-s. This was observed in practice (eg. in rites of shivAji’s later successors).
    • A greater period of ritual impurity.
  • Legal disabilities
    • Higher punishment for certain offences.
      • Adultry with a dvija woman.
      • Slander against a dvija.
    • A shUdra could not be a judge (if he was not a king to be sure).
    • Lower punishments were prescribed for killing a shUdra.
  • Limitations on social intercourse with dvija-s.
    • brAhmaNa-s could not accept alms from them or eat their cooked food in common circumstances, or even be touched by him.
      • All this was earlier allowed in some cases, but was later barred as kali-varjya.
  • Occupation
    • He was encouraged to serve a dvija for livelihood; but there was always the Apad-dharma loophole (formalized further in later dharmashAstra-s) that enabled him to escape this.
    • Though he could accumulate wealth, the smRti-s dissuaded this, on account of pride of wealth and presumed ignorance of the class. This was by no means a compulsion.
    • brAhmaNa and kShatriya occupations were barred to him (though in practice, shUdra-s came to found many a dynasty).


3 thoughts on “Privileges and Disabilities of shUdra-s according to dharmashAstra-s

  1. Some quick notes – please read sanderson’s note on caste for info about the kashmir situation and possible contraventions in tantra.

    secondly, all this is meaningless until we understand how jatis(even this is an abstraction from the various groups seen on the ground) relate to the varna. We have too much reading of old texts without connecting them to anthropology & history of the various groups. B in fact uses this to say that there is no caste system.

  2. Brahmins tend to be blind to this as they are the most involved with the texts. And the various humanities/lefties reproduce some combination of the brahmin/british story. Ground level descriptions will differ greatly from this picture.

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