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Shudra

[shoo-druh]
Shudra (IAST: ) is the fourth Varna in the traditional four-section division in historic Hindu society. Their assigned and expected role in post-Vedic India was that of labourers. The four Varnas are Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra.

Origins

Whilst the origins of the other varnas can be traced to Indo-Aryan or even Proto-Indo-European words, the root of the word is not clear at all. A threefold division of societies can be found in ancient Iran that matches the Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaisya varnas. However, the linguistically related Nuristani people in neighboring Afghanistan have a class equivalent to the Shudras amongst them.

From Dasas and Dahyus

But the latter groups are also encountered in the Avestan texts and no subjugation is mentioned, though enmity is. This is because the Dasa, Dasyus or Pani as they are sometimes referred to were Iranic. The Iranians call themselves "Dahyu"(which means tribe, province, and district.). Panini was a Pashtun Brahmin scholar of Sanskrit grammar. So then this suggests that the Dasa were merely a tribe. The ancient texts of India portray no such subjugation by conquest resulting in servile group of people, but merely assume that the Shudras are part of society, even if not the most exalted.

Etymology

The etymology of the word can be traced back to the vedic age. Shudra comes from the word "shuchAt dravanam" a person who is in suffering/mourning/pain, who needs mental or physical cleansing. Shudra was a common Sanskrit word, any person regardless of his/her varna to could be addressed as shudra. An implied version of this common form has become traditionally associated with the varna system. It is also mentioned in the purusha-sukta of Rig veda where shudras are said to have emanated from the feet of the lord (padbhyAm shUdrO ajaayata). A very symbolic statement indeed. It denotes that the three other varnas which made up the parts of purusha (the lord) were supported by the shUdras as the feet form the supporting system of the entire body. This can be understood clearly from the fact that the shudras were basically farmers, potters, cobblers etc (anything the other three varnas would not do viz, teaching, fighting and trade) and hence they formed a support system for the entire society. Unfortunately, direct misinterpretations of these vedic hymns have caused a lot of unrest and confusion in the modern Hindu society. Vedas do not establish supremacy of any varna over the other nor do they say head of the Lord is superior to his feet. Sri Krishna in Bhagavad Gita clarrifies(Chapter 4 verse 12 states "Chaaturvarnyam mayaa srishtam gunakarma vibhaagashah" meaning that the fours varna were established based ones karma/duties.

Jāti

The theoretical and the original varnas carried to its extreme in the ages following the 'Vedic' period. Every Jāti claimed to belong to some Varna.

Local variations of Jāti sub-castes exist wit the Shudra caste. A sub-caste is a local endogenous group practising a lower end Shudras will be untouchable Dalits.

Saints in Hinduism

  • Sant Bogar, goldsmith, a South Indian Siddhar who became a Siddhar under the guidance of Kalanginaathar. It is said that he proceeded to China to teach the ways of the Siddhars. There is even a myth that Lao Tze is none other than Bhogar. Bhogar’s Samadhi is to be found in the South West corridor at the Palani Muruga shrine.
  • Sant Dadu, cotton carder, founded Dadu Panth, tried to bridge gap between Hindus and Muslims
  • Sant Enadinatha, Shanar (Toddy tapper) devotee of Shiva
  • Sant Goroba, Kumbhar (potter)
  • Sant Ilakkulaccanrar, Shanar devotee of Shiva
  • Sant Janabai, Dasi, domestic servant in Sant Namdev's home, performed Vatsalya Bhakti on Lord Vitthala
  • Sant Kabir, member of the weaver caste and Vaishnava devotee of Lord Rama. He tried to bring peace between Hindus and Muslims. He is said to have been found in a lotus flower according to a legend.
  • Sant Kanakadas, Kuruba, a devotee of Krishna
  • Sant Kahar, a weaver, devotee of Vishnu (Ranchi University P. 58 Journal of Social Research)
  • Sant Kwaja Lassa Sahib
  • Sant Kanchipurna , Vaishnava devotee of Lord Vishnu
  • Sant Matsyendranath, said to be born out of a fish and then adopted by a fisherwoman, worshiped by Shaiva, Vaishnavas, tantric and Buddhists (Bista, P. 34 Fatalism and Development: Nepal's Struggle for Modernization).
  • Sant Namdev, Vaishnava devotee of Lord Vithoba. It is said that he is a part (Amsa) of Lord Krishna, wrote Abhangs devoted to Krishna
  • Sant Nammalvar
  • Sant Nandanar
  • Sant Raka Kumbhar, potter, devotee of Vitthal
  • Revana Siddeshwara, Kuruba, devotee of Lord Shiva
  • Sant Sajan Kasai, butcher
  • Sant Savata Mali, Mali (gardener) from Aran, Maharashtra, devotee of Vithal, wrote Abhangs devoted to Krishna
  • Sant Sena, Nai (barber), wrote Abhangs devoted to Krishna
  • Sant Sachidanand, Nai, devotee of Dattatreya
  • Siddharameswar Maharaj, a devotee of Lord Shiva
  • Sant Tirukkacchi Nambi
  • Sant Tiruneelakanda Nayanar, potter, devotee of Shiva, one of 63 Shaivite saints
  • Tiruppana Azhvar, Azhvar (or Ezhava), devotee of Vishnu
  • Sant Visoba Khechar, grocer, devotee of Lord Shiva and the disciple of the saint Shri Gnaneshwar Maharaj of Aalandi.

Maharishis

  • Maharishi Ramananda Raya, a very important devotee of Krishna
  • Maharshi Aitreya Mahidasa, composed the Aitreya Brahmana and sections 1-3 of the Aitreya Aranyaka (the latter contains the Aitreya Upanishad - one of the 10 canonical Upanishads for Hindus) belonging to the Rigveda.
  • Maharishi Karve

Maharishi Angira considered as creator of Rig Ved belonged to Jangid Brhamin Community and his successors known as khati

Other Sages

  • Bhagat Amir Shankar, butcher, devotee of Shirdi Sai Baba
  • Bhagat Avvaiyyar, Ezhava
  • Bhagat Bala Ganpat Shimpi, tailor, friend of Shirdi Sai Baba
  • Bhakta Jaidev, made poetry of the Gita-Govinda
  • Bhakta Kakshivat, a Brahmavadin, was the son of Dirghatamas by a Shudra maid servant (Brihaddevata 4.24-25). His descendants are also referred to as "Kakshivat".
  • Sree Narayana Gurudevan, a spiritual and social revolutionary
  • Guru Nitya Chaythaniya Yethi
  • Bhagat Mhalsapati Sonar, goldsmith, the supreme devotee of the saint Shri Sai Baba of Shirdi
  • Manikyavachakar, Ezhava
  • Mudisoodum Perumal, Nadar, a religious Ayyavazhi reformer
  • Karta Ram Maharaj, Rajasthani, meghawals (leather-weavers) the guru of members of his caste
  • Kashiram Shimpi, tailor
  • Nataraja Guru, disciple of Narayana
  • Gabaji Sutar, carpenter, devotee of Sai Baba in Sai's time
  • Guru Muni Narayana Prasad, disciple of Sree Narayana Guru
  • Swami Bodhananda
  • Bhakta Narayan Baba, the youngest son of Tukaram, began Pandharpur Festival in 1685
  • Rajak Var-Pradanam, Chanda (washerman), first disciple of Shripad Shri Vallabha avatar
  • Vagbhatananda Gurudevar, Thiyya, disciple of Sree Narayana Guru
  • Bhikshu Dharmaskandha, disciple of Sree Narayana Guru
  • Brahmashri Swami Sashwathikananda, disciple of Sree Narayana Guru
  • Brahmashri Swami Sookshmananda, disciple of Sree Narayana Guru
  • Bhakta Rani Rasmoni, Bengali, founded the Dakshineswar Kali Temple
  • Bhakta Madanapala was the son of a boatwoman
  • Bhakta M.S. Subbulakshmi, devotee of Vishnu, musician and was taught Bhajagovindam and Vishnu Sahasranamam from her guru Chandrashekarendra Saraswati
  • Bhakta Vatsa, according to the Rig Veda, a descendant of Kanva RV 6.1; 8.8 etc; was called a Shudra-putra (Panchavimsha Brahman 14.66).
  • Bhakta Sarala Dasa, wrote the Mahabharata in Oriya. He was renamed Sarala from Siddheswar Parida (after the boon Goddess Sarala.)

Avatars

  • Shri Ayya Vaikundar, considered incarnation of Vishnu in the Ayyavazhi Smarta sect
  • Maharshi Veda Vyas, fisherman, composed the Mahabharata, considered an avatara of Vishnu. Maharishi Ved Vyas, who is credited to have compiled/edited all the four Vedas in present format and who is believed to be author of Mahabharata, Shrimad Bhagwat Gita and all the Purans has himself laid down (Mahabharata: 1-V-4): that `whenever there is conflict between what is declared in the Vedas and provisions in any of the Smritis, Puranas, etc., what is declared in the Vedas shall prevail.` Furthermore, Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (10.37) says, "Of the descendants of Vrishni I am Vasudeva, and of the Pandavas I am Arjuna. Of the sages I am Vyasa, and among great thinkers I am Usana."
  • Narad Muni, was son of maidservant who became a Brahmana and was taught by Vaishnava gurus, wrote the Narad Bhakti Sutra. He is mentioned as one of the 25 avatars of Lord Vishnu. Krishna also says in the Bhagavad Gita (10.26) , "Of all trees I am the banyan tree, and of the sages among the demigods I am Narada. Of the Gandharvas I am Citraratha, and among perfected beings I am the sage Kapila."
  • Sukhdevji, the son of the great guru and avatar of Sri Vishnu, Veda Vyasa. He stayed inside mother's womb for sixteen years. He was the first one to say Bhagavata Purana to the great Raja Parikshita in last seven remaining days of king's life. Thus the king attained self-realization.

Shudras and North Indian society

It is commonly believed that the caste division is somewhat uniform in North Indian society compared to South Indian society. However some prominent rulers of North India were believed to have originated from the Shudra caste. Ex: The Nandas and the Mauryas.

Even today, the ruling coalitions of the Nardaz in most of the North Indian provinces like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh are dominated by political parties that either overtly or covertly represent the interests and identities of the Shudra sections (called the 'other backward castes' or OBCs by the politically correct.) Examples include the Samajwadi Party, at the head of the ruling coalition in India's biggest state UP and deriving most of its support from the Yadav (Ahir) tribe/caste and the Samata Party, at the head of Bihar's ruling coalition, which gets most of its support from the Kurmi OBC.

OBC does not means Sudra status. OBC is very flexible group and changes state to state. One community/caste is OBC in one state but not in other state. Here are some examples, Banias are OBCs in Bihar but not in other states, Rajputs are OBC in Karnataka and Gujarat but not in other state. Kurmis are OBC in UP,MP,Bihar but not in Gujarat. Dr Ambedkar investigated thoroughly the vast Hindu literature and wrote the book "who were Shudras". He proposed that shudras varna was developed by brahmins to punish tyrannical kshatriyas.

Shudras and South Indian society

South Indian society makes more sense from feudal angle than caste angle. Here, both the dominant castes and weaker castes are classified under Shudras. This caste model is also true for Bengal, Orissa, and Assam. Hence the mapping of four varnas over these areas is incomplete.

In Tamil Nadu, they rank next to the Brahmin.

The caste system that made feudal families in all over South India an endogenous unit was readily accepted even though Brahmins didn't exactly give Kshatriya and Vaishya status to all the warrior and merchant communities. Mostly the Brahmins acquired land and until land reforms in twentieth century, were feudal lords.

It could be debated if the people of South India really realized (when it comes to weaker castes) or cared (when it comes to dominant castes), their position in caste hierarchy. Also, most importantly whether many communities even think they were part of the caste system, since if one removes the Vedic part of Brahmanical Hinduism, there isn't much difference between Brahmin worship and native Dravidian worship.

Many South Indian communities had their own temples and priests. However, the universal education during British period and the Western concepts of community identity caused the development of caste consciousness in South Indian society (the clan identities were present and those could be within the caste too). In Tamil Nadu it resulted in the dominant castes asserting themselves through the Dravidian movement against the caste system in general and Brahmins in particular. In Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh it resulted in dominant castes claiming higher caste positions.

Medieval royal dynasties

Inscriptions of Shudra dynasties declare that belonging to the fourth varna was a matter of pride. An inscription of Singaya-Nayaka (1368 CE) says:
The three castes, viz. Brahmanas and the next [Kshatriyas and Vaishyas], were produced from the face, the arms and the thighs of the Lord; and for their support was born the fourth caste from His feet. That this caste is purer than the former [three] is self-evident; for this caste was born along with the river Ganges [which also springs from his feet], the purifier of the three worlds. The members of this caste are eagerly attentive to their duties, not wicked, pure-minded, and are devoid of passion and other such blemishes; they ably bear all the burdens of the earth by helping those born in the kingly caste.
Another inscription relates how his relative Kapaya-Nayaka "rescued the Andhra country from the ravages of the Mohammedans".

Shudras outside of India

Shudra as a Varna is seen amongst the Hindus of Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bali in Indonesia. In Bali, Indonesia they form 97% of the practicing Hindu population (See Balinese caste system). During the historic period many people in Java, Cambodia and Champa (a region in Vietnam) were considered to be Shudras prior to their conversion to Islam and Buddhism.

Notes

  • Who were the Shudras By B. R. Ambedkar
  • Shudras in Ancient India/R. Chandra and K.L. Chanchreek. New Delhi, Shree Pub., 2004, xiii, 253 p., ISBN 81-88658-65-0.
  • Early Evidence for Caste in South India

See also

External links

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