Vedic Study is open for all

Vedic Study is open for all

Vedic Study is open for all

(An Analysis Based on Brahma Sutra by Muktipada Behera)


From my college days I am hearing Advaita philosophy which preaches ‘oneness’, is based on Prasthana Traya – Upanishads, Brahma Sutra, Gita. Of late I started reading Brahma Sutra Vasya by Shankaracharya. Interestingly that is a scholarly book and well appreciated by many. To my surprise I encountered a chapter Apasudradhikaranam in same book, which denies Vedic study to Sudra using harsh and cruel words. The author has also quoted various Veda Mantra and Smrti Slokas to justify his view.

This was a shocking revelation for me. The text which begins with – ‘let’s enquiry on Brahman’, starts discussing on – ‘enquiry on caste’. The text which is supposed to talk of ‘oneness’, started talking of human division. And this is coming from scholars like Vyasa and Shankara. What a pity! My head began rotating. It reduced the trust in tradition and got sleepless nights for months. Out of frustration, fear and depression, I was desperate to find a solution to this contradiction. I contacted scholars from many organizations like Ramakrishna Mission, Chinmaya Mission, Divine life Society, Arsha Vidya, SAKSHI etc. I also studied myself in more details. Finally I arrived at a conclusion; this inspires me to write this article. And it is worth to spread this to avoid any further conflicts among Advaita seekers.

1. Introduction

Hinduism consists of four castes – Brahmana, Ksatriya, Vaisya, Shudra. Out of these Shudra [by birth, not Guna-Karma] is not entitled to study Veda as concluded by South Indian great scholars Adi-Shankaracharya of 8th Century and Ramanujacharya of 10th Century. They analyzed the Shudra eligibility for Vedic study in their books Brahma-Sutra-Vasya in details by quoting Sruti[Veda] and Smrti to prove this point. Shankara opines Sudra caste seekers can only study mythologies like Mahabharat and Puranas etc and follow the path of Saguna Upasana. They are not eligible for Nirguna Brahma Vidya or attributeless Brahman mentioned in Upanishads’s Maha-vakyas. So Shudra caste people can get Krama-mukti after death, but they cannot get Jivan-mukti while alive.

And this depriving of Shudra from Vedic study and consequent Brahma-vidya is questioned by a realized saint and modern scholar Swami Vivekananda of 19th century. Shankaracharya was a caste maker, whereas Swami Vivekananda was a caste breaker. Shankaracharya has supported caste system based on birth, whereas Swami Vivekananda has refuted it because it is illogical. This article presents the view of Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya and Swami Vivekananda from various angles of Brahma-Sutra-Vasya.

It consists of five sutras from book Brahma-Sutra-Vasya. Each Sutra is followed by comments given by Shankaracharya and Swami Vivekananda.

Shankaracharya and Ramanujacharya have borrowed various quotations from Sruti and Smrti to prove – Shudra is not eligible for Vedic study. Some of these quotations are quite harsh 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 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 Dharma Vyadha 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.


2. Raikva uttered Janasruti as Shudra (Sutra 1.3.34)

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).

Story of Janasruti and Raikva

The story of Janasruti and Raikva is described in Chandogya Upanishad (Chapter-IV). King Janasruti was a highly charitable person. One evening he was resting on the roof of his palace and he noticed a couple of swans flying above him in the sky. These swans were actually sages in disguise. Just then the swan flying behind joked with the one ahead about the king, within the king’s hearing – “Hey, you short-sided one! Don’t you see that the brightness of Janasruti has spread all over the sky like daylight? Beware you don’t touch it. See that it doesn’t burn you.” The swan in the front replied: “Say, who is this person? From the way you are talking one would think he was Raikva with the cart.” Raikva was a realized person during that time.

Janasruti was disturbed by what the swans had said about him. He asked his attendants to search for Raikva. He wanted to somehow find out in what respect Raikva was superior to him. The attendants found Raikva sitting under a cart, scratching a rash on his body. Then Janasruti, thinking that Raikva might be poor, and in need of money, went with a gift of six hundred cows, a gold necklace, and a chariot drawn by mules. And he requested Raikva to instruct him about the deity he worshipped.

Raikva said to him, “You Shudra, the necklace and chariot along with the cows – let all these be yours”. Janasruti left and in next visit, he took with him gifts of one thousand cows, a gold necklace, a chariot drawn by mules and his own daughter.

Janasruti said to him, “O Raikva, these are one thousand cows, this gold necklace, this chariot drawn by mules, this daughter of mine to be your wife, and also this village in which you live. Now, revered sir, please teach me.”

Lifting the face of the princess, Raikva said, “O Shudra, you have brought all these! But it is the face of the princess that is making me speak.”

Raikva did not like Janasruti’s offering him wealth. This is why he called him a Shudra. But when Janasruti offered him his daughter in marriage, Raikva was impressed by his keenness. He then agreed to teach him.

Comments by Shankaracharya

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 a born 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.

Comments by Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda has raised the concern in a letter “BARANAGORE, CALCUTTA,
7th Aug., 1889 to Pramadadas Mitra of Varanasi, an orthodox Hindu, for whose profound erudition and piety Swami Vivekananda had the highest regard.”

  1. The doctrine of caste in thePurusha-Sukta of the Vedas does not make it hereditary — so what are those instances in the Vedas where caste has been made a matter of hereditary transmission?
  1. The Achârya could not adduce any proof from the Vedas to the effect that the Shudra should not study the Vedas. He only quotes “यज्ञेऽनवक्लृप्तः” (“The Shudra is not conceived of as a performer of Yajna or Vedic sacrifices.”) (Tai. Samhita, VII. i. 1. 6) to maintain that when he is not entitled to perform Yajnas, he has neither any right to study the Upanishads and the like. But the same Acharya contends with reference to “अथातो ब्रह्मजिज्ञासा”, (“Now then commences hence the inquiry about Brahman.”) (Vedânta-Sutras, I. i. 1) that the word अथ here does not mean “subsequent to the study of the Vedas”, because it is contrary to proof that the study of the Upanishad is not permissible without the previous study of the Vedic Mantras andBrâhmanas and because there is no intrinsic sequence between the Vedic Karma-kânda and Vedic Janâna-kânda. It is evident, therefore, that one may attain to the knowledge of Brahman without having studied the ceremonial parts of the Vedas. So if there is no sequence between the sacrificial practices and Jnana, why does the Acharya contradict his own statement when it is a case of the Shudras, by inserting the clause “by force of the same logic”? Why should the Shudra not study the Upanishad?


The Purva Paksha argument is a straightforward reading of the story from Ch. U. Shankara, on the other hand, twisted the meaning of Shudra as ‘sorrowful runner’. He denied taking Shudra in direct meaning as Shudra caste. So Shankara proved Janastruti was not from Shudra caste and Upanishad is not taught to a Shudra. Shankara also agreed, even if we consider Samvarga (merger of all things) is given to a Shudra, still it does not guarantee his competence to complete Veda. So he concludes, only this Samvarga Vidya can be taught to a Shudra, not all kinds of knowledge.

It is remarkable that Shankara could not find a single passage in the Vedas to deny Vedic study for Shudra. He quoted Taittiriya Samhita (Tai. S.) verse about a Shudra being unfit for performing a sacrifice. Tai. Saṁhitā, which says “tasmātcchūdro yajñe’navakkṛptaḥ’ – śūdra has no adhikāra in yajña. This section(Tai Sam 7.1.1) starts with Prajapati’s sacrifice with his own body. He formed Horse and Shudra. Shudra need not do any the Yajna(sacrifice), for he was not created after any Gods. Shankaracharya has mentioned this as ‘Shudra is unfit for sacrifice’. – But this mantra does not mention the ineligibility of study or teach by Shudra. Here Shudra is not by birth. Rather based on ‘Guna-Karma’ in Prajapati’s mind.

According to Shankara, since Shudra is not eligible to perform Vedic Karma-Kanda, so he is also not eligible to study the Upanishads. This is quite illogical and inconsistent.

Vivekananda pointed out this inconsistency by mentioning the first Sutra of Shankara Vasya “Athatho Brahmajijnasa (Hence is to be undertaken thereafter a deliberation on Brahman)” (BSB 1.1.1). Shankara concluded – Karma Kanda(Samhita+Brahmana) study is not required for Vedanta study because there is no intrinsic sequence between the Vedic Karma-Kanda and Vedic Jnana-Kanda. Upanishads study has absolutely nothing to do with Vedic religious rites. So even if Shudra is not eligible for sacrifice, He can study Upanishads. Shankara is now contradicting his own commentary on BSB 1.1.1 and saying that a Shudra cannot study the Upanishads since he is not eligible to carry out the rites of the Vedic Karma-Kanda.

3. Veda Pramana for Sudra Adhikaratva

Now we will quote various Sruti [Veda] Mantras as evidence [Pramana] to show, Veda is open for all castes including Shudra. This proves, Shudra has scriptural rights to Vedic study.

 Rigveda Purusha sukta also mentions division based on Karma.

brahmanosya mukhamasit bahu rajanyah kritaha

uru tadasya yadvaishyaha padhyagam shudro ajayata

From His face (or the mouth) came the brahmanas. From His two arms came the rajanya (the kshatriyas). From His two thighs came the vaishyas. From His two feet came the shudras.

Swami Vivekananda has quoted a mantra from “Shukla Yajurveda 26.2” in which he urges that every Hindu of all castes including Shudra have rights on the Veda. [CW-3, Lectures from Colombo to Almora, THE RELIGION WE ARE BORN IN, Dacca, 31st March, 1901]. Swami Vivekananda challenged – “Can you show any authority from this Veda of ours that everyone has not the right to it?”

यथेमां वाचं कल्याणीमावदानि जनेभ्यः।

ब्रह्मराजन्याभ्यां शूद्राय चार्याय च स्वाय चारणाय॥

yathomam vacham kalyanimavadani janebhyaha,

brahmarajanyabhyam shudrayacharyaya cha swaya charyaya cha”

“Just as I am speaking these blessed words to people (without distinction), in the same way you also spread these words among all men and women – the Brahmanas, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas, Shudras and all others, whether they be our own people or aliens(foreigners).”

Another mantra from Shukla Yajurveda 18.48:

Ruchannu dhehi brahmanesu ruchaha rajasu naskrudhi |

Ruchanwisyeshu Sudreshu mayi dheyi rucha rucham ||

O Lord! Provide enlightenment to our Brahmanas, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras. Provide me also with the same enlightenment so that I can see the truth.

Similar Mantra is given in Atharvaveda 19.32.8, Atharvaveda 19.62.1 for Shudra eligibility for Vedic study. Here Vedic Rishis are saying, their teachings should be appreciated by all Castes – Brahmanas, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad [1.4.11-15] also mentions castes are manifested based on requirements, both among Gods and Humans.

Brahma ba idamagra asidekameba; …..

[1.4.11]In the beginning this [the Ksatriya and others] was indeed Brahmana [Fire], one only. Being one, he did not flourish. He specially projected an excellent form, the Ksatriya [Indra, Varuna etc]. [1.4.12]Yet he did not flourish. He projected the Vaisya [Vasus, Rudras etc]. [1.4.13]He did not still flourish. He projected the Shudra caste [earth]. For it nourishes all this that exists. [1.4.14]Yet he did not flourish. He specially projected that excellent form, righteousness (Dharma). [1.4.15]So these four castes were projected – Brahmana, Ksatriya, Vaisya, Shudra, both among Gods and humans.

Since Veda reveals which are beyond sense organs [Alaukika pramana], these castes – Brahmana, Ksatriya, Vaisya, Shudra must be referring to manifested qualities [Guna] of Supreme-Self. And castes among deities are referring to various natures [Guna] manifested from Supreme-Self. These cannot be hereditary castes of Human as referred by Shankara. It is a wonder why Shankara ignored all these supportive Vedic mantras for Shudra eligibility for Vedic study. So it is clear all humans including Shudra have eligibility for Vedic study.

4. Janasruti is inferred as Ksatriya from related context (Sutra 1.3.35)

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.

Vedic References

Here Shankaracharya is proving in a very roundabout way that Janasruti is a Ksatriya. He has taken below two statements from Veda to prove this.

  1. There was a Ksatriya king by the name Citrarathi. The Brahmins belongs to Kapi gotra [Kapeya Brahmanas], were the priests for the kings belonging to Citraratha Ksatriya family – (Tandya Brahmana, XX. xii. 5).
  2. Once Saunaka, the son of Kapi, and Abhipratarin, the son of Kaksasena, were being served their meals when a brahmacarin appeared and begged for some food. – (Ch. U. iii. 5)

First Vedic reference (Tandya Brahmana, XX. xii. 5) says – All the descendants of king Citrarathi are called Citraratha. And Kapeyas, descendants of Kapi, were the priests of Citraratha for generations. Next Vedic reference (Ch. U.  IV. iii. 5) says – Abhipratarin and Kapeya were eating food together. So Abhipratarin must be the descendant of king Citrarathi, a Ksatriya, due to common Gotra. This reference of Ksatriya-Brahmana pair occurs in Chandogya Upanishad Sarmvarga-Vidya Upasana. Raikva told this example to Janasruti to glorify the Sarmvarga-vidya Upasana. Hence Shankaracharya tried to imply a similar Ksatriya-Brahmana pair among Raikva and Janastruti because they happened to be in same Vedic context – Sarmvarga-Vidya Upasana. Since Raikva is mentioned as a Brahmana in the text, so it can be inferred, Janasruti must be a Ksatriya.

Comments by Shankaracharya

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.

Comments by Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda asked this question in a letter “BARANAGORE, CALCUTTA,
7th Aug., 1889 to Pramadadas Mitra of Varanasi, an orthodox Hindu, for whose profound erudition and piety Swami Vivekananda had the highest regard.” – Does any narrative occur about Satyakâma, son of Jabâlâ, and about Jânashruti, anywhere else in the Vedas excepting the Upanishads?

Shankarâchârya in his commentary on the Vedanta-Sutras, 1. iii. 34-37, interprets the aphorisms to prove that Upanishadic wisdom was imparted to Janashruti and Satyakama, only because they were not Shudras, as borne out by actual texts. But as these texts are doubtful even after Shankaracharya’s explanation, Swami Vivekananda wants to be referred to other similar Vedic texts.


Here Shankaracharya proved Janastruti as Ksatriya by birth through inference [Anumana Pramana]. There is no direct Vedic statement as Sabda-pramana. So his caste is not conclusive in this context of eligibility to study Veda. Though there is no reference of Janastruti as a Shudra by birth, but his sorrowful mental state and influencing Raikva through riches for knowledge, pointing to his Shudra nature or caste. It remained as a puzzle why Shankaracharya put this much effort through inference to deny Shudra-hood to Janastruti. So we conclude Upanishads are taught to Shudra, so they have eligibility to study Veda.

5. Absence of Upanayana for Shudra (Sutra 1.3.36)


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

Comments by Shankaracharya

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).

Comments by Swami Vivekananda

Interestingly Shankaracharya quote on ‘Shudra has no sin, etc’ is referred by Swami Vivekananda in his writings. Swami Vivekananda defended his liberal behavior and religious reformation in a letter “ALMORA, 30th May, 1897, to Pramadadas Mitra of Varanasi, an orthodox Hindu, for whose profound erudition and piety Swami Vivekananda had the highest regard.” – I come to see from my studies that the disciplines of religion are not for the Shudra; if he exercises any discrimination about food or about going out to foreign lands, it is all useless in his case, only so much labour lost. I am a Shudra, a Mlechchha, so I have nothing to do with all that botheration. To me what would Mlechchha’s food matter or Pariah’s?” [CW-6]

In same letter ALMORA, 30th May, 1897, Swami Vivekananda also wrote – “The Smrti and the Puranas are productions of men of limited intelligence and are full of fallacies, errors, the feelings of class and malice. Only parts of them breathing broadness of spirit and love are acceptable, the rest are to be rejected. The Upanishads and the Gita are the true scriptures; Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Chaitanya, Nanak, Kabir, and so on are the true Avatâras, for they had their hearts broad as the sky – and above all, Ramakrishna. Ramanuja, Shankara etc., seem to have been mere Pundits with much narrowness of heart” [CW-6]

Swami Vivekananda mentioned in a lecture, THE RELIGION WE ARE BORN IN, Lectures from Colombo to Almora, Dacca, on the 31st March, 1901 – “The Purânas, no doubt, say that a certain caste has the right to such and such a recension of the Vedas, or a certain caste has no right to study them, or that this portion of the Vedas is for the Satya Yuga and that portion is for the Kali Yuga. But, mark you, the Veda does not say so; it is only your Puranas that do so. But can the servant dictate to the master? The Smrti, Puranas, Tantras — all these are acceptable only so far as they agree with the Vedas; and wherever they are contradictory, they are to be rejected as unreliable. But nowadays we have put the Puranas on even a higher pedestal than the Vedas!” [CW-3]


In all Vedic contexts, teachers have ensured proper initiation of disciples before teaching. And wherever initiation is exempted in Upanishads that have to be inferred as, initiation is already done previously.  Here Shankaracharya took Smriti like Manu Smriti as authority; to justify Shudra is not eligible for Vedic knowledge, because there is absence of Vedic initiation [Upanayana] for Shudra.

śrutismṛtyoḥ param bādhe śrutir-eva garīyasi |

śrutyoḥ parasparam bādhe nyāyopetā garīyasi ||

If there is a contradiction between sruti and smrti, the sruti alone must be taken. When there are two sruti statements which are contradictory, that scriptural statement which has logical support (whose purport is established by śaḍliṅgas) is more valid than the scriptural statement which does not have a logical support. The scriptural statement which is reinforced by logic is more valid than the other one.

While Shankaracharya is unable to justify Shudra ineligibility through Vedic [Sruti] pramana, he depends on Smrti to justify it. And human made Smrtis are of lower order compared to Sruti. Hereditary Jati based division, is NON-VEDIC because Veda does not say so. So it is clear that Shudra has eligibility to study Veda.

6. Prostitute son studying Upanishad (Sutra 1.3.37)

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.

Story of Satyakama Jabala

The story of Satyakama Jabala is described in Chandogya Upanishad (IV. iv). Satyakama Jabala went to study Upanishad from teacher Gautama, the son of Haridrumata. Teacher Gautama asked Sayakama about his lineage before admitting him as student.

Satyakama returned home and asked his mother Jabala – “Revered mother, I would like to live with a teacher as a celibate student. What is my lineage?”

Mother Jabala said to him – “My son, I don’t know what your lineage is. I was very busy serving many people when I was young, and I had you. As this was the situation, I know nothing about your lineage. My name is Jabala, and your name is Satyakama. When asked about your lineage, say, ‘I am Satyakama Jabala’.”

On hearing this Satyakama went back to teacher Gautama and said – “Sir, I do not know what my lineage is… I am Satyakama Jabala.” Then he informed the teacher about his mother’s prostitution service and his birth without bothering of the consequence. He never tried to hide the truth.

On hearing this, Gautama said to him – “No non-Brahmin could speak like this. Therefore you must be a Brahmin. O Somya, go and get me some fuel for the sacrificial fire. I will initiate you, as you have not deviated from truth.

In this way a prostitute son is considered as eligible for Vedic study by a Rishi.

Comments by Shankaracharya

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).


Satyakama Jabala, a son of Prostitute accepted by Rishi Gautama because of his Guna or virtues. And Rishi Goutama sets an example for current orthodox people.

Satyakama was not from Brahmin caste by birth. Which caste a prostitute and her son should belong to? The child of a woman who has not been married is considered an outcast; he is not recognized by society and is not entitled to study the Vedas. We cannot find his caste because his father is unknown, unless we are assuming a Brahmin youth went for prostitute Jabala and then Satyakama was born from them.

The fact is, a prostitute son, an outcaste got initiated into Veda, is enough evidence that Veda is open to all irrespective of caste. Here the caste of a person is ascertained by considering his qualities, not by his birth. So everybody has eligibility (Adhikara) to access the Veda including Shudra by birth.

7. Smrti prohibits Shudra (Sutra 1.3.38)


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

Comments by Shankaracharya

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.

Comments by Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda asked this question in a letter “BARANAGORE, CALCUTTA, 7th Aug., 1889 to Pramadadas Mitra of Varanasi, an orthodox Hindu, for whose profound erudition and piety Swami Vivekananda had the highest regard.”- In most cases where Shankaracharya quotes Smriti in his commentary on the Vedânta-Sutras, he cites the authority of the Mahâbhârata. But seeing that we find clear proofs about caste being based on qualification both in the Bhishmaparva of the Mahabharata and in the stories there of the Ajagara and of Umâ and Maheshvara, has he made any mention in his writings of this fact?[CW-6]

Notes:- Swami Vivekananda asked this question in a letter “BARANAGORE, CALCUTTA, 17th Aug., 1889 to Pramadadas Mitra of Varanasi –“Whether Acharya Shankara gives any conclusion regarding caste based on Gunas as mentioned in Puranâs like the Mahabharata. If he does, where is it to be found? I have no doubt that according to the ancient view in this country, caste was hereditary, and it cannot also be doubted that sometimes the Shudras used to be oppressed more than the helots among the Spartans and the negroes among the Americans! As for myself, I have no partiality for any party in this caste question, because I know it is a social law and is based on diversity of Guna and Karma. It also means grave harm if one bent on going beyond Guna and Karma cherishes in mind any caste distinctions.” [CW-6]

Swami Vivekananda wrote in a letter to Swami Akhandananda, GHAZIPUR, February, 1890 – “Only, Shankara had not the slightest bit of Buddha’s wonderful heart, dry intellect merely! For fear of the Tantras, for fear of the mob, in his attempt to cure a boil, he amputated the very arm itself! One has to write a big volume if one has to write about them at all — but I have neither the learning nor the leisure for it.” [CW-6]. In his anxiety to defend the purity of the Vedic religion against the excesses of Tantrikism, which as capturing the rank and file of his countrymen, Shankara neglected the problem of the latter, stigmatized as Shudras by the Vedicists. This is perhaps the meaning of Swami Vivekananda. It seems he could never forgive Shankara for applying in his commentary on the Brahma-Sutras the old logic of forbidding Vedic rituals to the Shudras to the more modern question of their right to higher modes of worship (Upâsanâ) and knowledge (Jnâna) of the Jnâna-kânda. [CW-6]

Swami Vivekananda wrote in HISTORICAL EVOLUTION OF INDIA – “The movement of Shankara forced its way through its high intellectuality; but it could be of little service to the masses, because of its adherence to strict caste-laws….” [CW-6]

Swami Vivekananda mentioned while discussion with his disciple Shri Sharat Chandra Chakravarty, who was a great adherent of Shankara, almost to the point of fanaticism – “Shankara’s intellect was sharp like the razor. He was a good arguer and a scholar, no doubt of that, but he had no great liberality; his heart too seems to have been like that. Besides, he used to take great pride in his Brahmanism — much like a southern Brahmin of the priest class, you may say. How he has defended in his commentary on the Vedanta-Sutras that the non-Brahmin castes will not attain to a supreme knowledge of Brahman! And what specious arguments! Referring to Vidura he has said that he became a knower of Brahman by reason of his Brahmin body in the previous incarnation. Well, if nowadays any Shudra attains to knowledge of Brahman, shall we have to side with your Shankara and maintain that because he had been a Brahmin in his previous birth, therefore he has attained to this knowledge? Goodness! What is the use of dragging in Brahminism with so much ado? [CW-7]

Swami Vivekananda has mentioned about cutting-killing issue in his writing, MODERN INDIA, Udbodhana, March 1899 – “What is their history, who, being the real body of society, are designated at all times in all countries as “baseborn”? — for whom kind India prescribed the mild punishments, “Cut out his tongue, chop off his flesh”, and others of like nature, for such a grave offence as any attempt on their part to gain a share of the knowledge and wisdom monopolised by her higher classes — those “moving corpses” of India and the “beasts of burden” of other countries — the Shudras, what is their lot in life? [CW-4]”

Bhishmaparva of the Mahabharata

Swami Vivekananda has mentioned this section in his letter. Bhagavat Gita occurs in this Bhishma Parva, Bhagavat-Gita Upa Parva. Here Krishna says –

cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśaḥ [Gita 4.13]

I have created four human castes based on the activities [professions] done due to their aptitudes or qualities, Guna-Karma or Svabhavaja-Karma.

From text it is understood, during Mahabharat time hereditary caste-system was prevalent. Also caste discrimination was present as known from plight of Karna and Vidura etc. In Gita also, Arjuna was in fear of Varna-Shankara due to mixture among various castes. Krishna is trying to correct this social corruption by mentioning the caste division is really based on Guna-Karma, not based on birth.

Yudhishthira discussion with Ajagara(King Nahusha)

This is described in the Mahabharata, Vana Parva, Tirtha-yatra Upa-Parva, Chapter CLXXIX, which Swami Vivekananda referred in his letter. Nahusha was a very popular king, who through his good merits had acquired the position of Indra in heaven.  And slowly he became arrogant, intoxicated by supremacy, insulted seven Rishis. Due to this insult, Rishis Agastya cursed him to be born as a snake [ajagara] on earth.

During the exile of Pandavas, Bhima was attacked by this very ajagara and was held. Yudhisthira, in search of Bhima, reached that place. Seeing the snake holding Bhima and learning the entire story, Yudhisthira agreed to answer the ajagara’s question to free his brother.

The serpent said, “O Yudhishthira, say–Who is a Brahmana and what should be known? By thy speech I infer thee to be highly intelligent.”

Yudhishthira said, “O foremost of serpents, he, it is asserted by the wise, in whom are seen truth, charity, forgiveness, good conduct, benevolence, observance of the rites of his order and mercy is a Brahmana. And, O serpent, that which should be known is even the supreme Brahma, in which is neither happiness nor misery–and attaining which beings are not affected with misery; what is thy opinion?’

“The serpent said, “O Yudhishthira, truth, charity, forgiveness, benevolence, benignity, kindness and the Veda which worketh the benefit of the four orders, which is the authority in matters of religion and which is true, are seen even in the Shudra. As regards the object to be known and which thou allegest is without both happiness and misery, I do not see any such that is devoid of these.’

“Yudhishthira said, “Those characteristics that are present in a Shudra, do not exist in a Brahmana; nor do those that are in a Brahmana exist in a Shudra. And a Shudra is not a Shudra by birth alone -nor a Brahmana is Brahmana by birth alone. He, it is said by the wise, in whom are seen those virtues is a Brahmana. And people term him a Shudra in whom those qualities do not exist, even though he be a Brahmana by birth. …

“The serpent said, “O king, if thou recognize him as a Brahmana by characteristics, then, O long-lived one, the distinction of caste becometh futile as long as conduct doth not come into play.”

Yudhishthira said, ‘In human society, O mighty and highly intelligent serpent, it is difficult to ascertain one’s caste, because of promiscuous intercourse among the four orders. This is my opinion. Men belonging to all orders (promiscuously) beget offspring upon women of all the orders. And of men, speech, sexual intercourse, birth and death are common. And to this the Rishis have borne testimony by using as the beginning of a sacrifice such expressions as–of what caste so ever we may be, we celebrate the sacrifice. Therefore, those that are wise have asserted that character is the chief essential requisite. …O excellent snake! Whosoever now conforms to the rules of pure and virtuous conduct, him have I, ere now, designated as a Brahmana.

The serpent replied, ‘O Yudhishthira, thou art acquainted with all that is fit to be known and having listened to thy words, how can I (now) eat up thy brother Vrikodara!”

Uma and Maheswara story

Uma and Maheswara dialogue occurs in The Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva, Chapter CXLIII. This is mentioned by Swami Vivekananda in his letter. Through the question-answer, Maheswara confirms, Caste is established by character, not by birth.

For example in one of many questions, Uma said, “O holy one, How can the three other orders naturally succeed in attaining to the status of Brahmanhood?”

Maheswara said, “He, however, that is born a Brahmana falls away from his status through his own evil acts. It is with the aid of good acts, O goddess, that a person who has sprung from a degraded order, viz., a Shudra, may become a Brahmana refined of all stains and possessed of Vedic lore, One that is a Brahmana, when he becomes wicked in conduct and observes no distinction in respect of food, falls away from the status of Brahmanahood and becomes a Shudra. Even a Shudra, O goddess, that has purified his soul by pure deeds and that has subjugated all his senses, deserves to be waited upon and served with reverence as a Brahmana. When a pious nature and pious deeds are noticeable in even a Shudra, he should, according to my opinion, be held superior to a person of the three regenerate classes. Neither birth, nor the purificatory rites, nor learning, nor offspring, can be regarded as grounds for conferring upon one the regenerate status. Verily, conduct is the only ground. All Brahmanas in this world are Brahmanas in consequence of conduct. A Shudra, if he is established on good conduct, is regarded as possessed of the status of a Brahmana…. I have thus told thee a mystery, viz., the manner in which a Shudra may become a Brahmana, or that by which a Brahmana falls away from his own pure status and becomes a Shudra.”

8.     Jivan-mukti vs Krama-mukti

As per Shankara Advaita philosophy, there are two types of liberation – Jivan mukti+Videha mukti  and  Krama  mukti. One is related to Nirguna [attributeless] Jnanam and other is related to Saguna [qualified] Upasana. One is path of Jnanam or knowledge and other is path of Upasana or devotion.

Jivan  mukti: This is a path of Nirguna Jnanam. Here the seeker gets liberation while alive. The seeker contemplates through methods of ‘Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana’ on Maha-Vakyas like “Aham Brahmasmi, Tattvamasi etc”. So Jiva gets Jivan-mukti or Sadyomukti. Each Jiva is by nature Brahman – Sat-Chit-Ananda. But Jiva forgot it due to Avidya. When a person realizes its own infinite nature even while alive – known as Jivan-mukta. Knowledge of Nirguna Brahman removes the veil of Maya. Jiva realizes its identity with brahman – a Advaita state.

After Jivan-mukti the Sanchita karma gets destroyed. They don’t accumulate any further Agami karma. But Prarabdha karma continues until their death. When Prarabdha karma exhausts the body falls and the Jivan-mukta get final liberation known as Videha  mukti.  So Videha mukti is getting of liberation only after fall of this body. There is no travel to devayana, pitriyana or brahmaloka for them.

Krama mukti:

This is a path of Saguna Upasana. The seeker practices Upasanas on Saguna or qualified Brahman during his lifetime. But seeker does not get liberation directly or immediately because the dualities continue for it. After death, it reaches the Brahma loka or Hiranyagarbha [Brahmaji’s state], the highest heaven. They get Nirguna knowledge there and never again return back to mundane world. When Hiranyagarbha life span completes, all these seekers get liberation there with Brahmaji. So this is called gradual mukti or mukti in stages.

Shankaracharya opines that, Sudra caste seekers can only get Krama-mukti through the path of devotion. They are not eligible for path of knowledge and consequent Jivan-mukti.


Mahabharat 327.49 says – śrāvayeccaturo varṇān kṛtvā brāhmaṇamagrataḥ – a Shudra is ordained to listen to Veda. Few translate ‘Veda’ here as Pancama Veda – Mahabharat and Purana like secondary texts, not Mukhya four Vedas. However if we analyze the context of sloka 327.49 in Mahabharat chapter, it can be easily concluded that here ‘Veda’ refers to Mukhya four Veda, not Mahabharat and Purana like Gaunya Veda. It is unknown why Shankara took the ‘Veda’ as secondary texts like Mahabharat and Purana etc.

Here Shankaracharya opines, Shudra caste seekers can study the anecdotes and mythologies texts like Mahabharat, Purana etc. Let them follow the path of devotion; practice Saguna Brahman Upasana while alive. After death they will get Krama-mukti in Brahma-loka. They cannot get Jivan-mukti here and now while alive because it requires knowledge of Nirguna-Brahman. Since a born Shudra is not eligible to study Veda, so is not eligible for Brahma-vidya or knowledge – ‘Aham Brahmasmi”.

Another funny part is, Shankara considers Vidura as a born Shudra because he was born from a maid servant. His father was Vyasa. And Vyasa is born from a fisher-woman, so a born Shudra. But Shankara ignored this fact. And Shankara is writing commentary on text Brahma-sutra written by Vyasa, but denying Vedic study to his son Vidura. It is shortsightedness. So a born Shudra like Vyasa has studied and preached Veda.

It is great wonder, Shankaracharya in his Gita-Vasya clearly mentions, Caste is decided by “Svabhavaja Karma” or ‘Guna-Karma”. But in Brahma-Sutra-Vasya he made it quite contradictory marking it birth-based.

It is clear Shankara ignored the Mahabharata definition of caste based on Guna-Karma in Brahma-Sutra-Vasya and taken caste by birth. Gita is the Smriti Prashtana taken by Shankaracharya himself. So our conclusion should be aligned to caste definition from Gita.

Shankara in Brahma-sutra vasya [1.1.1 अथातो ब्रह्मजिज्ञासा] mentions – qualification for Jnanam is Sadhana-Chatustaya-Sampanna. So a born Shudra with these qualities should be eligible to know Vedic knowledge. Then this chapter Apashudradhikarnam is redundant and out of context. Vedic knowledge works in a refined person [Samskrita Manusya]. This knowledge is secret [Guyam] to unrefined persons [Asamskrita Manusya] even if Veda is imparted to them. [Gita-18.67]. So the goal should be to become refined humans so that our mind will be pure, desire for worldly life will vanish and Knowledge will be evident in us.

9. Shankara accepted outcaste Guru

As described in text Manisha Panchakam, this is an incident from the life of Shankaracharya during his visit to Kashi. Once, Shankara, desirous of doing his midday rites, walked with his disciples to the Ganga. On the way he met a Candala, an untouchable, on the roadside. This untouchability has gone so deep into the bones of the people of India that even a man of wisdom – of Advaitic realization – became subject to it. On seeing untouchable, Shankara said – ‘Get away, get away – Gaccha, gaccha’.  Then the Candala told Shankaracharya his own Vedanta. All over India you can see that ordinary low caste people can speak Vedanta, for they hear various expositions by speakers, through songs etc.

The untouchable said, “O worthy Brahamana, please let me know what exactly you wish to keep away. Is it the physical body from another body, or consciousness from another consciousness?”

Candala continued, “Is there any difference between the reflection of the sun in the waters of the Ganga and that in the water flowing by the Candala’s hut; or between the space within a golden jar and that within a clay pot? Wherefrom has arisen this great delusion, which sees one as a Brahmana and another as a Candala, in this inner Self – this one waveless ocean of self-existing bliss and consciousness?”

Shankara never expected a Candala could challenge him. So he thought for a moment and in his heart of hearts he said, ‘This man has taught me Vedanta correctly.’ Shankara put his reaction through five verses of text Manisha Panchakam. He saluted that untouchable and accepted him as his Guru.

Shankara said, “That Consciousness which shines forth most distinctly in waking, dream, and deep sleep; that which is the one Witness of the Universe that threads all bodies ranging from Brahma’s down to the ant’s; that I am, and not anything phenomenal – whoever possesses this firm wisdom is my Guru, be he a Candala or a person twice-born. This is my conviction.”

This shows, how ignorant and lazy we are in applying Vedantic concept in our daily life, as Practical Vedanta. Shankara taught this to us through this episode. However his followers forgot it at later point of time. They explain this practical Vedanta in a twisted way through different protocols for Vyavaharika and Paramarthika realities.

This is a remarkable verse since here Adi Shankaracharya admits the possibility of an outcaste being illumined through Vedic study, directly contradicting his own commentary on Brahma-Sutra-Vasya 1.3.38 [Sudra like Vidura, Dharmavyadha etc got knowledge from past births]. It is unfortunate that, Shankara’s position on Apasudradhikaranam is widely known while his later change of heart is subsided.

From Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

Sri Ramakrishna has also told this event as recorded in Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.

On Friday, June 15, 1883, Sri Ramakrishna, “Shankaracharya was a Brahmajnani, to be sure. But at the beginning he too had the feeling of differentiation. He didn’t have absolute faith that everything in the world is Brahman. One day as he was coming out of the Ganges after his bath, he saw an untouchable, a butcher, carrying a load of meat. Inadvertently the butcher touched his body. Shankara shouted angrily, ‘Hey there! How dare you touch me?’ ‘Revered sir,’ said the butcher, ‘I have not touched you, nor have you touched me. The Pure Self cannot be the body nor the five elements nor the twenty-four cosmic principles.’ Then Shankara came to his senses.”

On Monday, March 15, 1886, Sri Ramakrishna told to Swami Vivekananda, “An outcaste was carrying a load of meat. Shankaracharya, after bathing in the Ganges, was passing by. Suddenly the outcaste touched him. Shankara said sharply: ‘What! You touched me!’ ‘Revered sir, ‘he replied, ‘I have not touched you nor have you touched me. Reason with me: Are you the body, the mind, or the buddhi? Analyze what you are. You are the Pure Ātman, unattached and free, unaffected by the three Gunās-sattva, rajas, and tamas.”

10. Ramanujacharya Sri Bhasya

Ramanuja in his Brahma-Sutra-Vasya known as ‘Sri-Bhasyam’, (Sutra 1.3.33- 1.3.39) discusses Adhikari [eligibility] for scriptural study and knowledge [Brahma Vidya]. He concluded, Shudra is not eligible to study Veda, so not eligible for Brahmavidya.

Here we will summarize all seven sutras as commented by Ramanujacharya.

  1. Sutra 1.3.33 – Refutes and denies to Shudra by caste, the right to Brahmavidya. Itihasas and Puranas only reiterate the knowledge derived from the Vedic studies and so, there is no chance of the Shudra getting this knowledge from them, without the necessary background from the study of the Vedas. Vidura and others had this knowledge on account of samskaras of a previous life.
  1. Sutra 1.3.34 – Janasruti gave many villages to the sage Raikva. This shows he was a man of position, a Ksatriya, and not a low-born Shudra.
  1. Sutra 1.3.35 – Janasturi is mentioned with Caitraratha Abhipratarin who was a Ksatriya. So the inference is that Janasruti is also a Ksatriya, as equals alone are mentioned together.
  1. Sutra 1.3.36 – Purification ceremonies like Upanayana etc. are for the three higher castes and not for the Shudra. “Shudra do not incur sin, nor have they any purificatory rites’ [Manu XIII.126]
  1. Sutra 1.3.37 – Gautama was convinced that Satyakama, though the son of a prostitute, yet was not a Shudra but a Brahmana.
  1. Sutra 1.3.38 – Shudras are debarred from hearing and studying the Vedas. ‘Therefore the Vedas must not be studied in the presence of Shudras’.
  1. Sutra 1.3.39 – Smrti also prohibits imparting Vedic knowledge to Shudras. ‘He is not to teach him (a Shudra) sacred duties or vows’ [Manu IV.80]

In this Vedic eligibility of Shudra context both Shankaracharya and Ramanujacharya are aligned.

11. Conclusion

If we analyze carefully, Shankaracharya is born in an orthodox priest family, is not introduced to social sigma and caste anomalies.  Later point of time he has travelled throughout India, has changed his view on caste – proves he has gone through systematic social learning phase. Even Shankara was not aware of women behavior, learnt that by entering into a dead king. So any inconsistency is attributed to the increasing maturity of a person in due course of time. Hopefully Brahma-Sutra-Vasya was written before this social training. And later he changed his view on caste system, migration from birth based division to Guna-karma based division. Even he accepted a Candala as his Guru during his Kashi visit as described in Manisha Panchakam.

Many believe in, this chapter Apaśūdrādhikaraṇam and previous Devatādhikaraṇam are of later addition. Not commented by Shankaracharya himself. Some feel Shankaracharya was a person of head (intellect), but no heart (compassion like Buddha, who opened the door of Nirvana to all without any Adhikari-veda). Some opine that Shankaracharya to get rid of Buddhist tantra, categorized them as Shudra. Now all Acharyas keep safe distance from this chapter.

With due respect to this great Acharya, we need NOT agree to Sudra ineligibility mentioned through birth-based division in his Brahma-Sutra-Vasya.

Since Apaśūdrādhikaraṇam is a redundant and out of context chapter in Brahma-Sutra itself, Swami Vivekananda is of opinion that – Vyasa’s narrow heart could not encompass Shudra, so he added this restriction on Shudra in his proposed Vedanta Darshana. Swami Vivekananda has criticized the original author Vyasa for creating this confusion in Brahma sutra, a text meant only for Vedanta study. Swami Vivekananda wrote in a prose ‘WHAT WE BELIEVE IN, Written to “Kidi” on March 3, 1894, from Chicago’ – “Whenever the Kshatriyas have preached religion, they have given it to everybody; and whenever the Brahmins wrote anything, they would deny all right to others. Read the Gitâ and the Sutras of Vyâsa, or get someone to read them to you. In the Gita the way is laid open to all men and women, to all caste and colour, but Vyasa tries to put meanings upon the Vedas to cheat the poor Shudras.” [CW-4]

People study Vedanta for Jnanam. There is no gender, no caste for Atma. However they do mistakes in adding Varna-Asrama dharma (caste systems and stage of life) to Jnana Kanda. Varna-Asrama dharma is related to material or worldly life. Jnana Kanda or Vedanta is related to liberation. One is Pravriti Marga and another in Nivriti Marga. Both should not be mixed. The scholars should focus only on pure Vedanta, not to be mixed with Varna-Asrama. We expect from the Vedantins a certain level of maturity to see beyond Vyavahara. It is clear, a person who has realized the oneness [Advaita], cannot accept human division [Dualism]. On the other way, a person accepting human division [Dualism], cannot be established in oneness [Advaita].

Social Stigma

A scholar like Shankaracharya quoting these kinds of harsh, cruel, inhuman and degrading feelings toward Shudra, proves during 8th century the caste system and caste discrimination was at highest peak in India. Smrtis like Manu smrti were quite popular and were the constitution of social order. It is a wonder of wonder what forces Shankaracharya to accept this caste prejudice and write these into his Brahma-Sutra-Vasya. Later foreign invaders used these Hindu social stigma and untouchability as our weakness to enslave India for thousand years.

12. References

  1. Brahmasutra Shankara Vasya of Shankaracharya, by Swami Gambhirananda, Ramakrishna Mission.
  2. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, published by Ramakrishna mission.
  3. Chandogya Upanishad, by Swami Lokeswarananda, Ramakrishna mission.
  4. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, by Swami Madhavananda, Ramakrishna mission.
  5. Shankaracharya and an Untouchable, An exposition of Manisha Panchakam of Sri Shankaracharya, by Swami Ranganathananda, Ramakrishna mission.
  6. Brahma Sutras Sri Bhasya according to Sri Ramanuja, by Swami Vireswarananda and Swami Adidevananda, Ramakrishna mission.
  7. Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Ramakrishna Mission.
  8. The Mahabharata, Translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli.

8 thoughts on “Vedic Study is open for all

  1. Hari Om- Behera Ji,

    Thank you for such hard work. I am also student of vedanta. At present posted in Bank in Bhubaneswar. I also was amazed to see this section of Brahmsutra just two days back. I have not gone through Brahmsutra. I happen to confront this section of Brahmsutra while searching for something else on internet After reading your research and also hearing commentary on this section of Brahmsutra by Poojya Swami Paramarthananda (link - , i concluded something different which does crticises vedas , shankara, vyasa neither deny right of study of upanishad to sudras.



  2. Hari Om- Behera Ji,

    Thank you for such hard work. I am also student of vedanta. At present posted in Bank in Bhubaneswar. I also was amazed to see this section of Brahmsutra just two days back. I have not gone through whole of Brahmsutra. I happen to confront this section of Brahmsutra while searching for something else on internet After reading your research and also hearing commentary on this section of Brahmsutra by Poojya Swami Paramarthananda (link - , i concluded something different which does not crticises vedas , shankara, vyasa neither deny right of study of upanishad to sudras. You justify what shankara and vedas says and also does not deny right of study of upanishad to sudras by birth.



  3. Was interested in knowing how the author has so illogically misinterpreted everything. They were talking about the eligibility criteria. Today colleges, schools etc. have that too. In those days Vedic was their main and only education so they had their own dharmic practices and criteria. Please do not get cart before horse. The ideas was not to discriminate against kshudras. But those who did not meet certain eligibility criteria and so could not pursue higher education were called kshudras. They too played an important role and did important tasks. Like many of us today are receptionist, junior staff etc. Sometimes even though we are well educated we have to do such roles. Its not always about discrimination. One has to live with one’s prarabdha. Please do not tar all with same brush.


    1. Depending on Prarabdha Karma is known as fatalism and Hinduism is not a religion of fatalism. It is a religion of Purusakara – Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha. These four Human goals must be open for all.

      Dr. Ambedkar gave a nice conclusion on this matter –
      “The ancient world may be said to have been guilty for failing to take the responsibility for the education of the masses. But never has any society been guilty of closing to the generality of its people the study of the books of its religion. Never has society been guilty of prohibiting the mass of its people from acquiring knowledge. Never has society made any attempt to declare that any attempt made by the common man to acquire knowledge shall be punishable as a crime. Manu is the only divine law giver who has denied the common man the right to knowledge.

      I am more immediately concerned in showing how the prohibition against the study of the Vedas to the mass of the people came to give rise to illiteracy and ignorance in secular life. The answer is easy. It must be realized that reading and writing have an integral connection with the teaching and study of the Vedas. Reading and writing were arts necessary for those who were free and privileged to study the Vedas. They were not necessary to those who were not free to do so. In this way reading and writing became incidental to the study of the Vedas. The result was that the theory of Manu regarding the rights and prohibitions in the matter of the teaching and the study of Vedas came to be extended to the arts of reading and writing. Those who had the right to study the Vedas were accorded the right to read and write. Those who had no right to study the Vedas were deprived of the right to read and write. So that it can be rightly said according to the law of Manu reading and writing has become the right of the high class few and illiteracy has become the destiny of the low class many.” — Source book – philosophy-of-Hinduism by Dr Ambedkar.


  4. Vedic knowledge in those days was about more than just theory. They also practiced. If you read books like Mantra Vigyan and AUMkar Upasana etc. you will understand better. Just the way one would not give all passwords to a junior staff or share all secret formulae with laboratory juniors or surgeons would not allow nurses to do operations. Otherwise they would endanger self and others. People were advised to follow certain sadhna practices properly first otherwise they could combust internally. You can read this also in yogasutras of patanjali.


    1. On this Swami Vivekananda has already given his opinion – “Some are afraid that if the full truth is given to all, it will hurt them. They should not be given the unqualified truth-so they say. But the world is not better of by compromising truth. What worse can it be than it is already? Bring truth out! If it is real, it will do good.”…“Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divinity by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy – by one, or more, or all of these – and be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.”..”In India they tell me I ought not to teach Advaita Vedanta to the people at large; but I say, I can make even a child understand it.”…“If the Student thinks he is the Spirit, he will be a better Student. If the Lawyer thinks he is the Spirit, he will be a better Lawyer, and so on.”


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