Brahma Sutra Talks Caste by Birth

Brahma Sutra Talks Caste by Birth


It consists of five Sutras from book Brahma-Sutra-Vasya. Each Sutra is followed by comments given by Shankaracharya. We are following book Brahmasutra Shankara Vasya of Shankaracharya, translated by Swami Gambhirananda, Ramakrishna Mission without modification. Original Sanskrit writings from Shankara is mentioned at the end of this article.  

Shankaracharya has borrowed various quotations from Sruti and Smrti to prove – Born Shudra is not eligible for Vedic study. Some of these quotations are quite harsh, cruel, inhuman and degrading toward Shudra, like –

  1. He who is a Shudra by birth is like a walking crematorium. He is not fit for any ceremony.
  1. For a Shudra is like a cemetery. Therefore the Veda is not to be read in the vicinity of a Shudra. “Put the molten lead in his ears if he hears; his tongue is to be slit if he pronounces it; his body is to be cut through if he preserves it.” Shudras like Vidura and the religious hunter Dharmavyadha acquired knowledge owing to the after effects of virtues in past births.
  1. Upanayana ceremony is meant for the higher castes. With reference to the Shudras on the other hand, the absence of ceremonies is frequently mentioned in the scriptures. “In the Shudra there is not any sin by eating prohibited food, and he is not fit for any ceremony”. A Shudra by birth cannot have Upanayana and other Samskaras without which the Vedas cannot be studied. Hence the Shudras are not entitled to the study of the Vedas.

Sutras are as follows –

1. शुगस्य  तदनादरश्रवणात्तदाद्रवणात्सूच्यते  हि।।1.3.34।।

To  him (i.e. Janasruti) , occurred grief on hearing his (i.e. swan’s)  disparaging  utterance, as  is  evident  from his (Janasruti’s)  approaching him (Raikva), for this is  hinted at (by Raikva by using the word Shudra).

It may be argued that, even as any hard and fast rule about the competence of men alone is denied and the competence of the gods as well for different kinds of knowledge is upheld, similarly by denying any monopoly of qualification by the three classes of the twice-born alone, the Shudras also may be accepted as qualified. In order to remove such an assumption is begun the present topic.

Opponent:  Now then,  the apparent  conclusion  is  that  a Shudra also is qualified, for he can have the aspiration and ability. And unlike the prohibition, “Therefore the Shudra is unfit for performing sacrifices” (Tai. S. VII.  i. 1.6), no prohibition against his acquisition of illumination  is  met with. Even the disqualification for sacrifices that arises for the Shudra from the fact of his not being qualified for lighting a sacrificial fire, is no sign of his being debarred from knowledge. For it is not a fact that a man who has no fire – Ahavaniya and the rest – cannot acquire knowledge. Moreover, there is an indicatory sign confirming the Shudra’s competence. In the section dealing with the knowledge of Samvarga (merger of all things), Janasruti, grandson of Putra and an aspirant of knowledge, is referred to by the word Shudra:  “Fie, O Shudra, keep to yourself the chariot and the necklace, together with the cows” (Ch. IV. ii. 3). And in the Smrtis are mentioned Vidura and others as born in the Shudra caste but endowed with special knowledge. Hence Shudras have competence for different kinds of knowledge.

Vedantin:  Faced with this, we say: The Shudra has no competence, since he cannot study the Vedas; for one becomes competent for things spoken of in the Vedas, after one has studied the Vedas and known these things from them. But there can be no reading of the Vedas by a Shudra, for Vedic study presupposes the investiture with the sacred thread, which ceremony is confined to the three castes. As for aspiration, it cannot qualify anyone unless one has the ability. Mere ability in the ordinary sense also cannot qualify anyone; for scriptural ability is needed in a scriptural matter. But this scriptural ability is denied by the prohibition of the right to study. As for the text, “The Shudra is unfit for performing a sacrifice” (Tai. S. VII. i. 1.6), since it is based on a logic having common application, it suggests that the Shudra has no right to knowledge as well, for the logic applies both ways. And what you take for an indicatory mark occurring in the section dealing with the knowledge about merger, that is no mark at all, for there is no logic behind it. An indicatory mark becomes suggestive when stated logically; but that logic is lacking here. Granted even that this mark qualifies the Shudra for the Samvarga-vidya (meditation on merger) alone, because it occurs there, still it cannot qualify him for all kinds of knowledge. The fact, however, is that this word Shudra cannot guarantee his competence anywhere, because it occurs in a corroborative statement (Artha-vada). On the contrary, this word Shudra can be construed with someone already having the competence.


The answer is: On hearing this utterance of the swan, “Hullo, who is this one, insignificant as he is, of whom you speak as though he were like Raikva of the chariot?” (Ch. IV. i. 3), which was a personal disparagement for him, Janasruti, grandson of Putra, was struck with grief (suk).  Raikva hinted at this grief by using the word Shudra, thereby revealing his own power of television. This is what we can understand. For aborn Shudra has no right to knowledge.

How, again, is it suggested by the word Shudra that he was struck with grief?

The answer is:  “Tat-adravanat”.  Because  the word  Shudra can  be split up thus to  mean  that  he (Raikva)  approached towards (abhidudrava)  that (tat)  grief (sucam);  or he was approached (abhidudruve) by that   (tat) sorrow (suca); or he rushed (abhidudrava) to that (tat) Raikva, because of sorrow (suca). And this derivative meaning has to be accepted because the conventional meaning is inadmissible. Moreover, this meaning is obvious from the story itself.

  1. क्षत्रियत्वगतेश्चोत्तरत्र चैत्ररथेन लिङ्गात्।।1.3.35।।

And because his Ksatriyahood is known later on from the indicatory mark of his mention along with a descendant of Citraratha.

For this further reason Janasruti is not a Shudra by birth, for from  a  consideration of the topic it transpires that he is a Ksatriya,  which  fact  becomes  obvious  from  his  suggestive mention later on along with the Ksatriya Abhipratarin of the line of Citraratha. Later on in the complementary portion of the section on the knowledge about the merger (Sarmvarga-vidya) Abhipratarin of the line of Citraratha is mentioned as a Ksatriya in, “Now then, a Brahmacarin begged of Saunaka of the line of Kapi, and Abhipratarin,  son of Kaksasena, when they were being served by the cook” (Ch.  IV. iii. 5). That Abhipratarin belonged to the line of Citraratha is to be understood from his association with  a  descendant of the line of Kapi; for the association of the descendant of Citraratha with that of Kapi  is known from the text,  “The Kapeyas made Citraratha perform this (Dviratra sacrifice)” (Tandya Brahmana, XX. xii. 5). For the people of the same lineage generally have the priests of a common descent. Besides, it is known that he was a Ksatriya from the text, “From him issued one named Citrarathi who was a Ksatriya king”, where we find him to be a Ksatriya king. Accordingly, the mention of Janasruti along with the Ksatriya Abhipratarin, in the context of the same kind of knowledge, suggests that the former is a Ksatriya; for equals are generally found to be mentioned together. Moreover, Janasruti is known to be a Ksatriya from the fact of his despatching a Ksatta and his possession of riches. Hence a born Shudra has no right to knowledge.

Ksatta – ‘One born of a mixed parentage – from a Shudra father and Ksatriya mother or of a slave woman – whose duty was to drive chariots, wait on princes, and so on.

  1. संस्कारपरामर्शात्तदभावाभिलापाच्च।।1.3.36।।

Because purificatory rites are mentioned (for others) and absence of these is declared (for the Shudra).

For the additional reason that, in the contexts where knowledge  is  spoken  of,  such  actions  for  acquiring the  right  to knowledge are declared as investiture with the sacred thread, study, service of the teacher, and so on, for instance, “Him he vested with  the  sacred  thread” (S. B. XI. v. 3.13), “Uttering the sacred formula, ‘Teach me venerable sir’,  he  approached” (Ch.  VII. i. 1),  “They,  who were adepts in the Vedas, adhered to the qualified Brahman, but  were intent on an inquiry about  the supreme  Brahman, went to the venerable Pippalada with sacrificial faggot in hand, under the belief,  ‘This one  will certainly tell us about it’ ” (Pr. I.1). And the text, “Even without initiating them” (Ch.V. xi.7), only shows that those (who were exempted from initiation) had it already. The absence of purificatory rites for the Shudra is mentioned in the Smirti thus: “The Shudra belongs to the fourth caste and has but a single birth” (Manu, X. 4), as also in such texts as, “The Shudra has no sins, nor is he fit for any purificatory rite”(Manu, X. 126).

  1. तदभावनिर्धारणे प्रवृत्तेः।।1.3.37।।

And because (Gautama’s) inclination arose (to initiate and instruct Satyakama) when the absence of that (Shudrahood) had been ascertained.

Here is an additional reason why a Shudra has no right. When owing to the utterance of truth (by Satyakama Jabala), the absence  of  Shudrahood  had  been  established,  then  Gautama proceeded to initiate  and instruct (Satyakama) Jabala,  which fact is gathered from an indicatory sign in the Upanishad: “No non-Brahmana  can  dare  utter  such  a  truth. O amiable one, bring sacrificial faggot, I shall initiate you because you did not depart from truth” (Ch. IV. iv. 5).

  1. श्रवणाध्ययनार्थप्रतिषेधात्स्मृतेश्च।।1.3.38।।

And because the Smirti prohibits for the Shudra the hearing, study, and acquisition of the meaning (of the Vedas).

This is another reason why the Shudra has no right: By the Smrti he is debarred from hearing, studying, and acquiring the meaning of the Vedas. The Smrti mentions that a Shudra has no right to hear the Vedas, no right to study the Vedas, and no right to acquire the meaning of the Vedas (and perform the rites). As for prohibition of hearing, we have the text, “Then should he happen to hear the Vedas, the expiation consists in his ears being filled with lead and lac”[Gau. Dh. Su, XII.4], and ‘He who is a Shudra is a walking crematorium. Hence one should not read in the neighborhood of a Shudra”[Vasistha. 18]. From this follows the prohibition about study. How can one study the Vedas when they are not to be recited within his hearing? Then there is the chopping off of his tongue if he should utter the Vedas, and the cutting of the body to pieces if he should commit it to memory [Gau. Dh. Su, XII. 4]. From this it follows by implication that the acquisition of meaning and  acting on it are also prohibited, as is stated in,  “Vedic knowledge is not to be imparted to a Shudra”[ Manu, IV. 80], and “Study, sacrifice, and distribution of gifts are for the twice-born”[ Gau. Dh. Su, IX.1]. But from those to whom knowledge dawns as a result of (good) tendencies acquired in the past lives, as for instance to Vidura, Dharmavyadha, and others, the reaping of the result of knowledge  cannot  be  withheld,  for  the  result  of knowledge  is inevitable. This position is confirmed by the Smrti text, “One should read out to the four castes (keeping the Brahmana in front)” [Mbh. Sa. 327. 49], which declares the competence for all the four castes for the acquisition of the anecdotes and mythologies. But the conclusion stands that a Shudra has no right to knowledge through the Vedas.

Original Sanskrit from Shankara Sutra Vasya

Original Sanskrit texts are taken from Reference-3 prepared by IITK.

शुगस्य तदनादरश्रवणात्तदाद्रवणात्सूच्यते हि।।1.3.34।।


यथा मनुष्याधिकारनियममपोद्य देवादीनामपि विद्यास्वधिकार उक्तः तथैव द्विजात्यधिकारनियमापवादेन शूद्रस्याप्यधिकारः स्यादित्येतामाशङ्कां निवर्तयितुमिदमधिकरणमारभ्यते। तत्र शूद्रस्याप्यधिकारः स्यादिति तावत्प्राप्तम् अर्थित्वसामर्थ्ययोः संभवात् तस्माच्छूद्रो यज्ञेऽनवक्लृप्तः इतिवत् शूद्रो विद्यायामनवक्लृप्त इति निषेधाश्रवणात्। यच्च कर्मस्वनधिकारकारणं शूद्रस्यानग्नित्वम् न तद्विद्यास्वधिकारस्यापवादकम् न
ह्याहवनीयादिरहितेन विद्या वेदितुं न शक्यते। भवति च श्रौतं लिङ्गं शूद्राधिकारस्योपोद्बलकम् संवर्गविद्यायां हि जानश्रुतिं पौत्रायणं शुश्रूषुं शूद्रशब्देन परामृशति अह हारे त्वा शूद्र तवैव सह गोभिरस्तु इति। विदुरप्रभृतयश्च शूद्रयोनिप्रभवा अपि विशिष्टविज्ञानसंपन्नाः स्मर्यन्ते। तस्मादधिक्रियते शूद्रो विद्यास्वित्येवं प्राप्ते

ब्रूमः न शूद्रस्याधिकारः वेदाध्ययनाभावात्। अधीतवेदो हि विदितवेदार्थो वेदार्थेष्वधिक्रियते। न च शूद्रस्य वेदाध्ययनमस्ति उपनयनपूर्वकत्वाद्वेदाध्ययनस्य उपनयनस्य च वर्णत्रयविषयत्वात्। यत्तु अर्थित्वम् न तदसति सामर्थ्येऽधिकारकारणं भवति। सामर्थ्यमपि न लौकिकं केवलमधिकारकारणं भवति शास्त्रीयेऽर्थे शास्त्रीयस्य सामर्थ्यस्यापेक्षितत्वात् शास्त्रीयस्य च सामर्थ्यस्याध्ययननिराकरणेन निराकृतत्वात्। यच्चेदम् शूद्रो यज्ञेऽनवक्लृप्तः इति तत् न्यायपूर्वकत्वाद्विद्यायामप्यनवक्लृप्तत्वं द्योतयति न्यायस्य साधारणत्वात्। यत्पुनः संवर्गविद्यायां शूद्रशब्दश्रवणं लिङ्गं मन्यसे न तल्लिङ्गम् न्यायाभावात्। न्यायोक्ते हि लिङ्गदर्शनं द्योतकं भवति। न चात्र न्यायोऽस्ति। कामं चायं शूद्रशब्दः संवर्गविद्यायामेवैकस्यां शूद्रमधिकुर्यात् तद्विषयत्वात् न सर्वासु विद्यासु। अर्थवादस्थत्वात्तु न क्वचिदप्ययं शूद्रमधिकर्तुमुत्सहते। शक्यते चायं शूद्रशब्दोऽधिकृतविषये योजयितुम् कथमित्युच्यते कम्वर एनमेतत्सन्तं सयुग्वानमिव रैक्वमात्थ इत्यस्माद्धंसवाक्यादात्मनोऽनादरं श्रुतवतो जानश्रुतेः पौत्रायणस्य शुक् उत्पेदे तामृषी रैक्वः शूद्रशब्देनानेन सूचयांबभूव आत्मनः परोक्षज्ञताख्यापनायेति गम्यते जातिशूद्रस्यानधिकारात्। कथं पुनः शूद्रशब्देन शुगुत्पन्ना सूच्यत इति उच्यते तदाद्रवणात् शुचमभिदुद्राव शुचा वा अभिदुद्रुवे शुचा वा रैक्वमभिदुद्राव इति शूद्रः अवयवार्थसंभवात् रूढ्यर्थस्य चासंभवात्। दृश्यते चायमर्थोऽस्यामाख्यायिकायाम्।।

क्षत्रियत्वगतेश्चोत्तरत्र चैत्ररथेन लिङ्गात्।।1.3.35।।


इतश्च न जातिशूद्रो जानश्रुतिः यत्कारणं प्रकरणनिरूपणेन क्षत्रियत्वमस्योत्तरत्र चैत्ररथेनाभिप्रतारिणा क्षत्रियेण समभिव्याहाराल्लिङ्गाद्गम्यते। उत्तरत्र हि संवर्गविद्यावाक्यशेषे चैत्ररथिरभिप्रतारी क्षत्रियः संकीर्त्यते अथ ह शौनकं च कापेयमभिप्रतारिणं च काक्षसेनिं सूदेन परिविष्यमाणौ ब्रह्मचारी बिभिक्षे इति। चैत्ररथित्वं चाभिप्रतारिणः कापेययोगादवगन्तव्यम्। कापेययोगो हि चित्ररथस्यावगतः एतेन वै चित्ररथं कापेया अयाजयन् इति। समानान्वयानां च प्रायेण समानान्वया याजका भवन्ति। तस्माच्चैत्ररथिर्नामैकः क्षत्रपतिरजायत इति च क्षत्रपतित्वावगमात्क्षत्रियत्वमस्यावगन्तव्यम्। तेन क्षत्रियेणाभिप्रतारिणा सह समानायां संवर्गविद्यायां संकीर्तनं जानश्रुतेरपि क्षत्रियत्वं सूचयति। समानानामेव हि प्रायेण समभिव्याहारा भवन्ति। क्षत्तृप्रेषणाद्यैश्वर्ययोगाच्च जानश्रुतेः क्षत्रियत्वावगतिः। अतो न शूद्रस्याधिकारः।।



इतश्च न शूद्रस्याधिकारः यद्विद्याप्रदेशेषूपनयनादयः संस्काराः परामृश्यन्ते तं होपनिन्ये अधीहि भगव इति होपससाद ब्रह्मपरा ब्रह्मनिष्ठाः परं ब्रह्मान्वेषमाणा एष ह वै तत्सर्वं वक्ष्यतीति ते ह समित्पाणयो भगवन्तं पिप्पलादमुपसन्नाः इति च। तान्हानुपनीयैव इत्यपि प्रदर्शितैवोपनयनप्राप्तिर्भवति। शूद्रस्य च संस्काराभावोऽभिलप्यते शूद्रश्चतुर्थो वर्ण एकजातिः इत्येकजातित्वस्मरणात्। न शूद्रे पातकं किंचिन्न च संस्कारमर्हति इत्यादिभिश्च।।

तदभावनिर्धारणे च प्रवृत्तेः।।1.3.37।।


इतश्च न शूद्रस्याधिकारः यत्सत्यवचनेन शूद्रत्वाभावे निर्धारिते जाबालं गौतम उपनेतुमनुशासितुं च प्रववृते नैतदब्राह्मणो विवक्तुमर्हति समिधं सोम्याहरोप त्वा नेष्ये न सत्यादगाः इति श्रुतिलिङ्गात्।।



इतश्च न शूद्रस्याधिकारः यदस्य स्मृतेः श्रवणाध्ययनार्थप्रतिषेधो भवति। वेदश्रवणप्रतिषेधः वेदाध्ययनप्रतिषेधः तदर्थज्ञानानुष्ठानयोश्च प्रतिषेधः शूद्रस्य स्मर्यते। श्रवणप्रतिषेधस्तावत् अथ हास्य वेदमुपश्रृण्वतस्त्रपुजतुभ्यां श्रोत्रप्रतिपूरणम् इति पद्यु ह वा एतच्छमशानं यच्छूद्रस्तस्माच्छूद्रसमीपे नाध्येतव्यम् इति च। अत एवाध्ययनप्रतिषेधः यस्य हि समीपेऽपि नाध्येतव्यं भवति स कथमश्रुतमधीयीत। भवति च वेदोच्चारणे जिह्वाच्छेदः धारणे शरीरभेद इति। अत एव चार्थादर्थज्ञानानुष्ठानयोः प्रतिषेधो भवति न शूद्राय मतिं दद्यात् इति द्विजातीनामध्ययनमिज्या दानम् इति च। येषां पुनः पूर्वकृतसंस्कारवशाद्विदुरधर्मव्याधप्रभृतीनां ज्ञानोत्पत्तिः तेषां न शक्यते फलप्राप्तिः प्रतिषेद्धुम् ज्ञानस्यैकान्तिकफलत्वात्। श्रावयेच्चतुरोवर्णान् इति चेतिहासपुराणाधिगमे चातुर्वर्ण्यस्याधिकारस्मरणात्। वेदपूर्वकस्तु नास्त्यधिकारः शूद्राणामिति स्थितम्।।


  1. Brahmasutra Shankara Vasya of Shankaracharya, by Swami Gambhirananda, Ramakrishna Mission.

One thought on “Brahma Sutra Talks Caste by Birth

  1. The sentence:
    तदभावनिर्धारणे च प्रवृत्तेः


    “When owing to the utterance of truth (by Satyakama Jabala), the absence of Shudrahood had been established, then Gautama proceeded to initiate and instruct (Satyakama) Jabala”

    Tells that shudra is not by birth because Jabala was the prostitute and hence a shudra. Still her son Satyakam was initiated by Gautam Rishi.


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