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ARVIND SHARMA

OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS: WHY IS THE MAHĀBHĀRATA


PREEMINENTLY IN THE ANUS.T.UBH METRE?

ABSTRACT. One striking difference between Vedic and post-Vedic Hindu literature lies
in the fact that while the anus..tubh metre is sparsely represented in the Veda as a whole, it
is the standard metre of post-Vedic religious literature of Hinduism available in Sanskrit.
Thus the Mahābhārata, a major document of post-Vedic Hinduism, is preeminently in the
anus..tubh metre. How is this striking metrical fact to be explained? This paper discusses
the various explanations that may be offered to account for it. In part I it discusses the
explanations that could be offered on the basis of modern critical scholarship. In parts II–
IX it develops the suggestion that the answer may lie in the association of the Mahābhārata
with the śūdras and of the śūdras with the anus..tubh metre.

One may commence the paper with an examination of the title of the
paper itself, which raises two immediate questions: (1) why confine the
discussion to the Mahābhārata when the other work with which it is regu-
larly bracketed, namely, the Rāmāyan.a, is also in the same metre and (2)
why employ the word anus..tubh when the metre used in both the epics is
regularly referred to as śloka?
It is true that the two words, anus..tubh and śloka, are used virtually
synonymously in modern Sanskrit studies.1 It is also true, however, that
they are not exactly synonymous. In settled convention, anus..tubh came
to be “accepted as a general term for any type of octosyllabic quatrain,
irrespective of any particular sequence of longs and shorts in the lines”,2
while in the case of the śloka “a greater rigidity in respect to the quantities
of constituent syllables was insisted upon”.3 The śloka thus represents a
form of anus..tubh with a defined cadence. The relationship between the
two then is that of a generic class and a member with specific features.4
The śloka has become almost a lexical substitute for the anus..tubh, since
this is the form in which the anus..tubh is usually found. But though the
distinction between the two is thereby obscured, it is not erased, and in
fact, though it might appear negligible, is not insignificant. Indeed, the
śloka is often looked upon as evolving out of the anus..tubh.5
The śloka is the chief metre in popular and epic Sanskrit poetry and has
been so for centuries.6 However, the śloka, with its defined cadence,7 is a
hallmark of classical Sanskrit literature and to already refer to its use in the

Indo-Iranian Journal 43: 225–278, 2000.


© 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
226 ARVIND SHARMA

Mahābhārata as such is to beg the question this paper addresses; namely,


why is the Mahābhārata in that metre? It invites the circular response: the
Mahābhārata is in that metre because it is the prevailing metre of popular
Sanskrit poetry! The Mahābhārata, however, is not an ornate epic in the
same sense as the Rāmāyan.a,8 which self-consciously refers to the śloka
as its metre (rather than the anus..tubh).9 Part of the argument of this paper
is that the explanation of the preponderance of the anus..tubh/śloka metre
in the Mahābhārata is not literary but sociological, and the prospect of
this sociological association emerges through the anus..tubh in the context
of the Mahābhārata, just as the metrical and literary nature of the asso-
ciation emerges through the śloka in the case of the Rāmāyan.a. Thus one
reason for using the word anus..tubh is to signal the possibility that metres
with similar features may have dissimilar reasons underlying their adop-
tion. This is one reason for preferring the word anus..tubh. Two additional
considerations also seem to tilt the balance in its favour. The first is the
fact that the anus..tubh is more ancient than the śloka, which “developed
out of Vedic anus..tubh”.10 The use of the word anus..tubh then might fore-
shadow the fact that the Vedic connection of the Mahābhārata, such as
might be established, may play an important part in explaining its use
in the Mahābhārata. The second is that the Mahābhārata does not seem
to conform rigidly to the prescribed cadence of the śloka11 and therefore
its metrical reality is described more accurately by the more general term
anus..tubh, than by the more specific term śloka.
The critical edition of the Mahābhārata12 contains over 75,000
verses.13 Out of these, over 70,000 are in the anus..tubh metre.14 Thus well
over ninety percent of the Mahābhārata is in the anus..tubh metre.15 Why?
Why is the Mahābhārata preeminently in the anus..tubh metre?16
It is helpful to begin with two preliminary observations. The first is the
relative silence of the Hindu tradition on this point. It does not offer a direct
explanation of the use of the anus..tubh in the Mahābhārata, in contrast
to the Rāmāyan.a, the other national epic of India, in which, as is well
known, the śloka is represented as a spontaneous metrical composition on
the part of the poet-saint Vālmı̄ki, when, under the stress of emotion, he
pronounced a curse on a wicked fowler who had wounded a krauñca17
bird sporting with its mate. He is then urged by Brahmā, the creator,
“to compose the great story of Rāma in the same metrical form and thus
immortalize the subject, the poem and the composer.”18
In view of the absence of any such direct statement on how the
Mahābhārata came to be composed in the anus..tubh,19 an attempt may
be made to piece together some indirect explanations. At this point it
becomes necessary, as a second preliminary observation, to recognize that
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 227

the attempt to answer the question, albeit indirectly, can be made from two
somewhat different standpoints. As M. Winternitz has pointed out, “What
the Mahābhārata means to the Indians” is one thing and what it means
“to critical historians of literature”20 is another. It is, therefore, helpful to
clarify the level at which one is going to function – whether one is going to
be “intratraditional” or “extratraditional” – at the very outset. And if one
intends to employ both of these approaches, then the point of transition
from one to the other should be either obvious or clearly indicated.
In the course of this paper both of these approaches will be tried, with
the extratraditional approach being tried first.

The extratraditional approach is usually associated with Western


scholarship.21 In most of the studies on the Mahābhārata carried out by
Western scholars,22 although the fact of the predominance of the anus..tubh
in the Mahābhārata is fully recognised,23 and although often an extremely
detailed metrical analysis of the Mahābhārata is carried out,24 the question
as to why the Mahābhārata should so preeminently consist of that metre
seems to have been seldom raised.25 Rather the issues on which attention
has been focussed seem to be the following:
1. What are the historical and literary antecedents of the Mahābhārata?
2. In what literary form did the Mahābhārata originate: In prose? In
verse? In prose-cum-verse?
3. Among whom did the Mahābhārata originate?
4. How does its metrical form compare with that of other oral epics?
5. Was the Mahābhārata originally in the anus..tubh?
All these issues, even when they do not directly address the question of
anus..tubh in the Mahābhārata, are capable of shedding some light on that
issue.
It is generally believed that the Mahābhārata is one of “the last
remnants of a long past of epic poetry,”26 represented by such works as
27
the Suparn.ākhyāna and gāthās nārāśam. sı̄s. If the Mahābhārata derives
from these literary antecedents and the reigning metre of these forerun-
ners of the epic, so to say, was the anus..tubh, then it could be argued that
the Mahābhārata is in the anus..tubh because of its literary lineage; that
the explanation of its being in the anus..tubh derives from the fact that its
literary precursors were in that metre. It is, however, not easy to determine
28
the metre of the gāthās nārāśam
. sı̄s from the scattered references to them
with any degree of exactness. In the case of the Suparn.ākhyāna we are
228 ARVIND SHARMA

better placed, and scholarship leans towards regarding tris..tubh as the chief
metre of that narrative, although the śloka is also represented.29 Thus the
emergence of the anus..tubh to a dominant position in the Mahābhārata
remains to be explained.
An interesting clue, however, is forthcoming when the Mahābhārata
is contextualized with Gāthā literature. This has been attempted by Paul
Horsh, who emphasizes the close links between Hindu epic literature and
Gāthā literature on the one hand, and the links of Gāthā literature with the
non-hieratic circles in Vedic society, including the vrātyas,30 on the other.
The relevance of such a sociology of knowledge approach, as it were, will
become apparent in due course.
The controversy surrounding the literary form in which the
Mahābhārata originated is a complex one, and represents a wide spec-
trum of scholarly opinion,31 but is not without significance for the issue on
hand. Oldenberg thinks that the prose sections of the Mahābhārata were
rendered into the śloka form when the entire epic was versified, because
the movement of this metre is quieter than that of the tris..tubh.32 Here
we do have an explanation of why the Mahābhārata is preeminently in
the anus..tubh. But this implies that it was originally in prose-and-verse,
which is disputed.33 Moreover, it would also imply that the bulk of the
Mahābhārata was in prose, which is difficult to square with the idea of the
general neglect of prose in Sanskrit literature after the Brāhman.a period.34
Besides, Oldenberg regards anus..tubh as closer to prose35 than tris..tubh, to
account for the fact that the prose sections were rendered into anus..tubh and
not tris..tubh. But the issue really is not just why anus..tubh should have been
preferred over tris..tubh but rather why should it have been used at all, from
among the various available metres. In this respect one should also recall
a tradition of metrical preference for tris..tubh over anus..tubh, in relation
to which it seems to have had a rather low standing.36 Finally, one must
guard against confusing the historical with the logical. It so happens that
historically the anus..tubh came to prevail, to which Oldenberg somewhat
poetically attests by stating that in the śloka one breathes the Indian air as
it were.37 But this historical development does not make the śloka logically
closer to prose. The point needs to be established on its own merits.
Similar considerations are likely to arise as other individual theses on
the original literary form of the Mahābhārata are taken up, rendering it
very unlikely that any such theory will be able to explain by itself, with
any degree of cogency, why the Mahābhārata is so preeminently in the
anus..tubh metre.
The question of the class of people among whom the Mahābhārata
originated may be examined next. This class has been identified as that
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 229

of the sūtas, and these sūtas have been identified by Winternitz as those
“who lived in the courts of kings and recited or sang their songs at great
feasts in order to proclaim the glory of the princes. They also went forth
in battle, in order to be able to sing of the heroic deeds of the warriors
from their own observations.”38 These sūtas are described as forming a
“special caste,” and it is suggested that “epic poetry probably originated
in the circle of such bards, who certainly were very closely related to
the warrior class.”39 These sūtas are distinguished by Winternitz from the
kuśı̄lavas, to whom “the circulation of the heroic songs among the people
was due.”40 The argument then would run that the sūtas were associated
with the composition of oral poetry about their heroes whose charioteers
they were as well, and since the anus..tubh is a convenient metre for the
composition of oral poetry (on which more later), the Mahābhārata came
to be composed in the anus..tubh.
That epic poetry was cultivated among a class or closely allied classes
of people and that the sūtas were one of them is a widely accepted
position.41 This fact may indeed provide a clue to the use of the anus..tubh
metre in the Mahābhārata. At this point it needs to be noted, however, that
the sūtas are taken as closely related to the “warrior class”42 by Winternitz,
but this seems to be an error arising out of a conflation of the two senses
of the word sūta as (1) charioteer and (2) bard, for “nowhere do we find
that Sūtas . . . ever played the part of a bard reciting the glories of kings
or were in any sense the depository of heroic poetry”,43 when the word
is used in the sense of a charioteer.44 It seems, however, that because of
this conflation of sūta the bard with sūta the charioteer and of sūta the
charioteer with the warrior class, the low caste status of the people involved
with the epic compilation was obscured, preventing the appearance of the
approach developed later in this paper.45
On then to the next question: How does the anus..tubh as an epic metrical
form compare with that of other oral epics in other parts of the world
and what light can such a comparative study shed on the question of the
Mahābhārata being composed in the anus..tubh metre?
Comparative studies in oral epic poetry have been associated with N.K.
and H.M. Chadwicks, C.M. Bowra, Milman Parry, A.B. Lord and G.S.
Kirk, among others. Their conclusions have been applied to the Bālakān.d.a
of the Rāmāyan.a by Nabaneeta Sen,46 but efforts to apply these conclu-
sions to the Mahābhārata are in their infancy. However, on the basis
of Nabaneeta Sen’s application of the Parry-Lord-Kirk approach to the
Rāmāyan.a, some suggestions could be made. “Bards and singers of tales
do not repeat word by word a collection of verses, but tend to tell old and
well-known stories in new and rapidly composed verses. This makes the
230 ARVIND SHARMA

bard not only a reciter but also an oral poet.”47 An oral poet, it stands to
reason, would tend to work with a metre which facilitates oral composition,
at least with one in which oral composition is easy. The anus..tubh is one
such metre. “It is amazing to notice how simple it is to build up a line in
the śloka metre.”48 The suggestion, then, is that the Mahābhārata is in the
anus..tubh metre because it is an oral epic and because the anus..tubh metre
lends itself readily to oral verse construction.
This view, which seems to possess considerable force, raises some
problems as well. There is the view, to be discussed soon, that the original
Mahābhārata was in the tris..tubh metre.49 But this need not necessarily
nullify the present discussion, for the transition of the text of the epic
from the tris..tubh into an overwhelmingly anus..tubh text would still remain
to be explained. However, it should be borne in mind that most of the
metres in Sanskrit literature – Vedic and post-Vedic – are metres regulated
by syllables rather than morae. In general, it seems easier to compose in
the syllabic type of metre. A complication is introduced when the weights
of the syllables are specified. And it is noteworthy that, in the śloka, this
specification is laid down only for the last four syllables of the pāda, so that
the essentially syllabic nature of the metre is not much affected. However,
the anus..tubh is not the only syllabic metre in Sanskrit literature.50 All
the leading Vedic metres are largely syllabic, so the question arises: why
was the anus..tubh selected by the putative oral poets of the Mahābhārata?
One should also note that the techniques of oral composition cut across
specific metrical types, as has been demonstrated by the comparative study
of Homeric, Yugoslav and now Hindu material, so the technique could be
applied to not just one but a whole battery of metres. One could, of course,
debate that the metre and the technique go together better in the case of
metre A than metre B, but one then enters the grey zone of scholarly
speculation where definite conclusions can prove quite elusive. From this
point of view it is interesting to note that stylistic repetitions appear even
in the Vedas,51 though it represents a different genre of oral poetry – oral
both in composition and transmission – and though the dominant metre
therein is tris..tubh and not anus..tubh.
But what of the view that the Mahābhārata itself was originally in the
tris..tubh and not in the anus..tubh?52 The question persists, though now in a
slightly altered form: if the Mahābhārata started out in the tris..tubh, then
how did it end up by being so overwhelmingly in the anus..tubh? Thus even
if we assume that the original Mahābhārata was in the tris..tubh, the prepon-
derance of the anus..tubh in the Mahābhārata, as we know it, remains to be
explained.
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 231

II

We turn now to a more traditional approach: What various possible


explanations can be generated from within the Hindu tradition to explain
why the Mahābhārata is in the anus..tubh?
On the basis of the R.gVeda tradition, which assigns certain family
man.d.alas of the R.gVeda to certain r.s.is,53 it could be argued that perhaps
certain types of metres came to be associated with certain families. One
such family could have been associated with the anus..tubh metre and if
the same family could be shown to have been closely connected with the
Mahābhārata, a prima facie explanation of the Mahābhārata being in the
anus..tubh would be on hand. The r.s.i with whom the composition of the
Mahābhārata is most closely associated is Kr.s.n.a Dvaipāyana Vyāsa, who
was a descendant of sage Vasis.t.ha.54 But according to E. Vernon Arnold
“the Vasis.t.ha family has no hymns in anus.t.ubh metre in the R.gVeda.”55
Another possible explanation of the Mahābhārata being in the
anus..tubh metre could be sought on the analogy of the Rāmāyan.a, which
is in the śloka metre, a variety of the anus..tubh. This suggestion possesses
a certain plausibility within the traditional framework, as the Rāmāyan.a
is said to precede the Mahābhārata as a composition56 and thus could
have served as a model. Most historians, however, agree that the relative
chronology of the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyan.a is too complex57 to
support the simple suggestion that one was modelled on the other, although
neither epic may have “developed quite independently of the other.”58
Another possible way of explaining the preponderance of the anus..tubh
in the Mahābhārata would be to see that metre not so much as being drawn
from the Rāmāyan.a but as the natural extension of the gāyatrı̄ metre of
the Vedas. According to Yāska, it is so called because it “follows with
its praise, i.e. anus..tobhati, the gāyatrı̄, which has three Pādas.”59 For the
gāyatrı̄ is also octosyllabic – but with three pādas. Add a pāda and one
gets the anus..tubh, which also has the merit of balancing out the metrical
pattern by completing a second line.
On the face of it, this suggestion has a lot going for it. H. Oldenberg60
is aware of this possibility and A.A. Macdonell states it forcefully.61 The
suggestion therefore needs to be examined carefully.
The suggestion is attractive but presents some difficulties on closer
scrutiny. On the basis of A.A. Macdonell’s own comments on Vedic
metres, the following arguments against the position need to be met: (1)
one of the reasons why the anus..tubh appears as a logical metrical evolute
from the gāyatrı̄ seems to be that its fourth pāda complements the last
pāda of the gāyatrı̄ and turns it into a hemistich. But it has been pointed
out that “the first two Pādas of the Gāyatrı̄ are treated as a hemistich in the
232 ARVIND SHARMA

Sam . hitā text, probably in imitation of the hemistich of the Anus.t.ubh and
the Tris.t.ubh; but there is no reason to believe that in the original text the
second verse was more sharply divided from the third than from the first.”62
(2) As against the suggestion that the gāyatrı̄ led to the development of the
anus..tubh, A.A. Macdonell has also suggested that as “the Gāyatrı̄ verse
is never normally found in combination with the Tris.t.ubh, but often with
the Jagatı̄ verse, it seems likely that the iambic influence of the Gāyatrı̄
led to the creation of the Jagatı̄, with which it could form a homogeneous
combination”63 – rather than the anus..tubh. (3) The anus..tubh as a metre
seems to go quite far back in time. Just as the Avesta has a parallel stanza
of 3 × 8 syllables for the gāyatrı̄,64 it also has a parallel stanza of 4 × 8 to
the anus..tubh.65 Thus it might be more reasonable to see the epic anus..tubh
as growing out of the Vedic anus..tubh than out of the Vedic gāyatrı̄.
Thus, while one might, on the basis of Yāska, see the anus..tubh as
naturally following upon, almost flowing out of, the gāyatrı̄, on the other
hand it could as well be argued that although “nearly one-fourth of the
R.gVeda Sam . hitā is in the gāyatrı̄, yet it has entirely disappeared from
Classical Sanskrit”66 and has not reincarnated itself with an extra foot in
the anus..tubh.
These arguments, while they do indicate the limitations of the view that
the anus..tubh is an extended gāyatrı̄, do not nullify the point, and keep it
open as a distinct possibility. What we still need is an explanation of why
the anus..tubh should have outstripped the gāyatrı̄ in the post-Vedic period,
when in the Vedic, the two coexisted, with the balance resting heavily in
favour of gāyatrı̄, as the following table demonstrates:

Metre Lines [Syllables] in Total verses


each line

1. Gāyatrı̄ Three 8 8 8– 2447


2. Us.n.ih Three 8 8 12– 341
3. Anus.t.ubh Four 8 8 8 8– 855
4. Br.hatı̄ Four 8 8 12 8– 181
5. Paṅkti Five 88888 312
6. Tris.t.ubh Four 11 11 11 11– 4253
7. Jagatı̄ Four 12 12 12 12– 131867

Is the fact that the Vedas came to be restricted to the three higher varn.as,
whose initiatory formula itself consisted of the gāyatrı̄ with its three eight-
syllable lines, while the post-Vedic literature is accessible to all the four
varn.as (and specially to the fourth varn.a) and is mostly composed in the
anus..tubh with four eight syllable lines, when the fourth eight-syllable line
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 233

converts the gāyatrı̄ into an anus..tubh – is all this a mere coincidence – or


might there be more to it? The issue still remains to be faced, even if the
thesis which regards the anus..tubh as a mutation of gāyatrı̄ is accepted. It
is tackled subsequently in the paper.
At the moment another fact needs to be reckoned with. The
Mahābhārata is not the only epic in Hindu literature. Although sometimes
an attempt is made to distinguish it from the Rāmāyan.a, by treating the
former as an itihāsa (or epic proper) and the latter as a kāvya (or a work
of ornate poetry),68 the two epics – the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyan.a –
are regularly spoken of in the same breath. Therefore, given the fact that
the Rāmāyan.a is also regularly in the anus..tubh, the bearing of this metrical
fact on the question on hand must be examined further. From this point of
view two facts stand out: (1) that Vālmı̄ki, the putative author of the epic is
a brāhman.a69 and (2) that in the epic the śloka metre is itself described as
spontaneously coming into being, as the poetic outcome of an emotionally
moving moment experienced by Vālmı̄ki.
The first book of his Rāmāyan.a tells the story of the invention of poetry by Vālmı̄ki:
One day Vālmı̄ki saw a hunter kill the male of a pair of birds making love. Filled with
compassion for the birds, the sage spontaneously uttered a curse at the hunter for his
cruelty. Vālmı̄ki’s words came forth as well-formed, beautiful verse. The sage himself was
surprised by his utterance, which was immediately memorized and recited on the spot by
his disciple Bharadvāja, who had accompanied him. Later, after Vālmı̄ki returned home,
Brahmā, the creator, visited him and asked him to compose the story of the virtuous hero
Rāma as outlined by the r.s.i Nārada, using the new meter that Vālmı̄ki had created. Indian
literary tradition therefore considers Vālmı̄ki as the first poet (ādikavi) and his Rāmāyan.a
the first poem (ādikāvya).70

Both these facts, on the face of it, seem to militate against the sugges-
tion of any special association of the metre with the śūdra, as will be
proposed later. The śūdra is accorded his due place in the Rāmāyan.a71
and many of its characters would fall in that category,72 nevertheless these
facts by themselves are too tenuous for forging a link between the varn.a
and the metre, even if the fact of Vālmı̄ki being a brāhman.a is disregarded
on the ground that the putative author of the Mahābhārata, Vyāsa, may
also be considered one.
There is, however, another account of Vālmı̄ki’s origins which needs to
be taken into account:
A folk legend records that the sage was born out of an “anthill” (Sanskrit, valmı̄ka) and
therefore was called Vālmı̄ki. This legend also records that he was originally a bandit, but
some sages, pitying him, taught him the mantra “marā, marā, marā.” As he repeated the
syllables, they produced the name Rāma, and while he was deeply immersed in meditating
on the name of Rāma, ants built anthills around him. This story appears with minor vari-
ations in the Skandapurān. a and also in the Adhyātma Rāmāyan.a and Ānanda Rāmāyan.a.
234 ARVIND SHARMA

Many popular bhakti Rāmāyan.as, including the Krittivāsa Rāmāyan.a of Bengal, adopt this
story.73
There are thus “two kinds of biographies for Vālmı̄ki”,74 one in which
he is “a sage-poet born of a high-caste brahman family”75 and another,
according to which he is “a sinner transformed into a saint”.76 It is clear
that the “first kind of biography is in conformity with the status of the
Rāmāyan.a as a great epic that it is in the Brahmanic tradition”,77 and the
second kind “relates to the status of the Rāmāyan.a as a bhakti poem that
transforms its readers from sinners into devotees of God Rāma”.78
A third possibility has also been suggested: that “Vālmı̄ki was one of
the kuśı̄lavas (singers, bards) who sang the epic”.79 Treated on its own,
this remains an interesting suggestion but it acquires greater relevance
when considered alongside the fact that Lava and Kuśa or Kuśa and Lava
(Kuśı̄lava?),80 the two sons of Rāma, were born in his āśrama. This adds
intrigue to this suggestion but perhaps another fact is even more signifi-
cant: that the kuśı̄lava is assigned a low caste. “According to Baudhāyana
as quoted in the Kr.tyakalpataru he is the offspring of an ambas.t.ha from
a vaidehaka female”,81 while according to Kaut.ilya’s Arthaśāstra (III.7)
“he is the offspring of a vaidehaka male from an ambas.t.ha female”,82
or “exactly the reverse of Baudhāyana’s view”,83 as P.V. Kane notes.
Either way, however, he is a śūdra (see Manu X.41).84 This association of
Vālmı̄ki, both with the śūdras and the śloka, is most intriguing, given the
connections between the śūdras and the anus..tubh in the Hindu imagination
which is documented later in this paper. Many backward classes in India
call themselves Vālmı̄ki,85 and the former “untouchable” or Scheduled
Castes have also been known to do so. A relatively recent incident is
instructive in this respect. During the screening of the Rāmāyan.a story on
Indian T.V. the sweeper community of Delhi struck work when it learnt that
the series would conclude with the return and coronation of Rāma.86 They
complained of caste discrimination at the exclusion of the episode dealing
with Sı̄tā’s stay in the āśrama of Vālmı̄ki, who, they claimed, belonged to
their community! The series was subsequently extended to accommodate
their protest.87

III

The various extratraditional and intratraditional approaches adopted to


explain why the Mahābhārata is preeminently in the anus..tubh only go
so far – and not far enough. A new approach may now be proposed.
The starting point used to develop this approach is the presumption
that the reason why the Mahābhārata is mainly in the anus..tubh may have
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 235

something to do with the reason why the Mahābhārata was composed


in the first place. It is well known that the Indian tradition attributes the
composition of the Mahābhārata to Kr.s.n.a Dvaipāyana Vyāsa.88 So the
question naturally takes the following form: Why did Kr.s.n.a Dvaipāyana
Vyāsa compose the Mahābhārata?
The clearest statement on this point, which can be identified, is
contained in two verses in the fourth chapter of the first canto of the
Bhāgavata Purān.a. The first of these two verses is spoken by the son of
Lomahars.an.a and runs as follows:

strı̄śūdradvijabandhūnāṁ trayı̄ na śrutigocarā


karmaśreyasi mūd.hānāṁ śreya evaṁ bhavediha
iti bhāratamākhyānaṁ kr.payā muninā kr.tam89

Or briefly, that “as the three Vedas cannot be learnt by women, śūdras
and brāhman.as (who are so only by birth),90 the sage (Vyāsa) composed
the story of the Bhārata out of compassion for them.”91 Subsequently, the
following verse occurs as depicting a moment of self-reflection on the part
of sage Vyāsa:

bhāratavyapadeśena hyāmnāyārthaśca darśitah.


dr.śyate yatra dharmādi strı̄śūdrādibhirapyuta92
Through the device of the Bhārata the meaning of the Vedic text has been revealed. Therein
Dharma, etc., is seen even by women and śūdras, etc.

In a nutshell, then, the Mahābhārata was composed by Kr.s.n.a


Dvaipāyana Vyāsa to convey the message of the Vedas to those who were
formally debarred from studying it. According to the Bhāgavata Purān.a,
this intention of the author of the Mahābhārata was a key element in
the kr.tsnaṁ matam, “the thought entire,” of the sage Vyāsa, which the
Mahābhārata sets out to proclaim.93
These two verses mention three categories of people as debarred
from Vedic studies for whose sake the Mahābhārata was composed: (1)
śūdras, (2) women, and (3) dvijabandhus (pseudo-Brāhman. as). It can
now be argued that out of these three, the śūdras seem to constitute the
key category because women and dvijabandhus are debarred from Vedic
studies on the analogy of the śūdras. The debarring of women is clearly
stated in a certain Purān.ic text94 as based on śūdrasamānatā or the analogy
of the śūdras, and the dvijabandhus or pseudo-Brahmins forfeit their right
to the study of the Vedas because, as Manu puts it, “A twice-born man who,
not having studied the Veda, applies himself to other (and worldly) study,
soon falls, even while living, to the condition of a Śūdra and his descend-
ants (after him).”95 In a sentence then, the Mahābhārata was composed,
236 ARVIND SHARMA

according the the Bhāgavata Purān.a, for the sake of the śūdras, in order
to render the Vedic lore, as it were, an “open secret” for them.

IV

How is this relevant for the fact that the Mahābhārata is predominantly in
the anus..tubh metre? The rest of the paper constitutes in a sense an answer
to this question. It would be useful, however, to anticipate the answer here
in outline, to render the enterprise less opaque. The answer proposed is
that there is a systematic association of the śūdras with the anus..tubh metre
in Vedic lore. On the basis of this association it could be proposed that
if the Mahābhārata was meant to open up Vedic lore to the śūdras extra-
Vedically, it was composed in a metre associated with the śūdras in Vedic
literature, consistently with this impulse.
In order to render this thesis first attractive and subsequently perhaps
even cogent, however, the discussion at this point needs to be bifurcated.
First of all, the relationship of the śūdras to the Vedic lore in general needs
to be examined; then any particular association of the śūdras with any
particular vein of Vedic literature needs to be mined in detail for eviden-
tiary ore. The first assignment will be addressed in this section, to be
followed up by a discussion of the second issue in the next.
The relationship of the śūdras to Vedic lore needs to be addressed in
some detail and at some length, for it has ramifications for several segments
of this paper. This relationship, for our purposes, is best examined in terms
of a series of questions which may be set forth as follows: (1) Did the
śūdras have access to the Vedas, like the other varn.as, at any time? (2)
Did the śūdras lose this eligibility to perform the Vedic sacrifices in due
course? (3) If and when the transition from (1) to (2) did occur, then was it
rapid or gradual? (4) Were the śūdras denied access both to Vedic ritual and
Vedic knowledge or only to one and not the other? (5) On what grounds
was such access denied? (6) If Vedas were denied to the śūdras and women
in common, then does the bracketing of the two help shed any light on the
matter?

1.
There are passages in the Śatapatha Brāhman.a which can only be
adequately explained by assuming the participation of the śūdra in at least
some parts of Vedic ritual. Three such passages are cited below:
(1) I.1.4.11–12: He then calls the Havishkr.t (preparer of sacrificial food), ‘Havishkr.t, come
hither! Havishkr.t, come hither!’ Havishkr.t no doubt is speech, so that he thereby frees
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 237

speech from restraint. And speech, moreover, represents sacrifice, so that he thereby again
calls the sacrifice to him. Now there are four different forms of this call, viz, ‘come hither
(ehi)!’ in the case of a Brāhman; ‘approach (āgahi)!’ and ‘hasten hither (ādrava)!’ in the
case of a Vaiśya and a member of the military caste (rājanyabandhu); and ‘run hither
(ādhāva)!’ in that of a Śūdra. On this occasion he uses the call that belongs to a Brāhman,
because that one is best adapted for a sacrifice, and is besides the most gentle: let him
therefore say, ‘come hither (ehi)!’96 (2) V.5.4.9: For there are four castes, the Brāhman.a,
the Rājanya, the Vaiśya, and the Śūdra; but there is not one of them that vomits Soma; but
were there any one of them, then indeed there would be atonement.97 (3) XIII.8.3.11: Let
him not make it (the sepulchral mound) too large, lest he make the (deceased’s) sin large.
For a Ks.atriya he may make it as high as a man with upstretched arms, for a Brāhman.a
reaching up to the mouth, for a woman up to the hips, for a Vaiśya up to the thighs, for a
Śūdra up to the knee; for suchlike is their vigour.98

It is often stated in this context that the śūdra was excluded from
drinking milk as part of the ritual.99 It is often not pointed out that “in
Somayāga in place of payovrata (vow to drink milk only) mastu (whey)
is prescribed for śūdra (indicating thereby that the śūdra could perform
Somayāga) . . . ”100
There are also several other pieces of evidence to indicate that the
śūdras had access to the Vedas at some time or times. The evidence
is both textual and historical in nature. (1) According to Mı̄māṁsāsūtra
VI.1.27, it was the opinion of Bādari (contested by Jaimini) that the śūdras
could perform Vedic sacrifices.101 The issue is discussed in considerable
detail, from which it is clear that it was a contested point. In any case,
Bādari’s position is unequivocal. (2) According to the Bhāradvāja Śrauta
Sūtra (V.2.8) it is ‘the opinion of some that the śūdra [or a śūdra?] can
consecrate the three Vedic fires’. The text is explicit about the controversy:
vidyate caturthasya varn.asyāgnyādheyamityeke na vidyata ityaparam.102
(3) According to Vr.ddha Gautamasmr.ti (Ch. 16) śūdras of good conduct
are eligible for initiation: śūdro vā caritravratah. .103 (4) According to
the second chapter of a text referred to by K. Satchidananda Murty104
as Yogı̄ Yājñavalkya,105 it is the opinion of some sages that the śūdras
may enter the stage of life called brahmacarya: śūdrān.āṁ brahmacary-
atvaṁ munibhih. kaiścid is.yate.106 (5) Interesting evidence of the eligibility
for maintaining sacrificial fire by the śūdras is provided by Āpastamba
Dharmasūtra (V.14.1) which lays down that fire may be accepted from a
brāhman.a, ks.atriya, vaiśya or śūdra who is “well off” (bahupus..ta). J.C.
Heesterman points out how this four-fold varn.a scheme is imposed by
107
the sūtra on Kāt.haka Sam . hitā (8.12:96.7). What is intriguing is that
the missing varn.a is the ks.atriya and not śūdra. R.S. Sharma notes that
although the adjective bahupus..ta is applied, it is applied to all and “seems
to be of special significance in the case of the śūdra, who is [otherwise]
described as being removed from the fire.”108
238 ARVIND SHARMA

2.
That the śūdras lack the right to perform Vedic sacrifices is a fairly well
documented fact.109 The distinction between the dvijāti110 and ekajāti;
the twice-born111 and the one who is not, is a basic distinction in clas-
sical Hinduism. The intriguing fact, which our survey in the first section
has revealed, is that the denial of the right seems to have been always
accompanied by voices of dissent. The denial carried the day but not the
twilight.

3.
The nature of the transition, however, bears close examination. First of
all, there is the tradition that the varn.as did not appear simultaneously
but successively. It is not often realized that the second view is almost
as ancient as the first. The account of the simultaneous origin of the four
varn.as is usually traced to the Purus.a-sūkta, but this sūkta appears in the
tenth man.d.ala of the R.gVeda, which is widely regarded as later than the
family-books and is usually assigned to circa eighth century B.C.E. That
is also the date of the Brāhman.as, and the Śatapatha Brāhman.a (IV.2.23)
already contains the account of each varn.a arising after the earlier one. In
fact, they are said to be modelled after the prototypes in heaven; so that
here we have an archetypal doctrine of the varn.as challenging what was to
become the stereotypical one. The Br.hadāran.yaka Upanis.ad follows the
Śatapatha account. The significance of the fact that both may be connected
with the Vājasaneya tradition of the YajurVeda will unfold in due course.
There is a third version, contained in the Mahābhārata, according to which
not only do the varn.as appear successively, they all appear not only after
but also from an original one, the brāhman.a.112 Later literature retains a
clear recollection of this view, alongside the two more traditional views,
and according to all the etiological views, arguably, all the varn.as had the
right to Vedic ritual and study. If there was only one varn.a then this was
obviously so as it is identified as brāhman.a; but even when the doctrine of
the four distinct varn.as is accepted there are intimations that once all had
access to the Vedas. Apart from the fact that all the four varn.as are organ-
ically part of the purus.a in the famous hymn, later literature alludes to the
loss of access to Vedic rites on the part of the śūdras, e.g. Mahābhārata
(Śāntiparva 181.15; vulgate):
varn.āścatvāra ete hi yes.ām brāhmı̄ sarva.svatı̄
vihitā brahman.ā pūrvā lobhāttvajñānatāṁ gatāh.113

Contrary to popular opinion then, the debarment of the śūdras from Vedic
studies, though effective in the long run, was gradual and contested. There
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 239

is considerable evidence to demonstrate the fact that at some point in time


the śūdras were associated with Vedic ritual. For instance, the expression
pañcajanāh. occurs in the R.gVeda (I.53.4), which refers to the participation
of these five ‘peoples’ in the sacrifice. Who are these five people? Yāska,
in the Nirukta (III.8) takes them alternatively to mean the four varn.as, with
the nis.ādas constituting the fifth element. It is true that the Br.haddevatā
“informs us that it is possible to understand it in other ways also, e.g.: (1)
the five fires, (2) the four chief priests and the yajamāna (sacrificer), and
(3) the eye, ear, mind, speech and breath. It says the spiritualists accept
the third meaning.”114 The fact remains, however, that “Yāska’s interpre-
tation of the term pañcajanāh. would show that in his opinion the whole
śūdra varn.a enjoyed this right”115 to sacrifice. That this right was gradu-
ally circumvented can be demonstrated through a comparative study of the
texts. R.S. Sharma points out how according to the Taittirı̄ya Brāhman.a
(III.2.3.9–10) the śūdra is forbidden from milking a cow for the agnihotra
at the Soma sacrifice. However, “such a prohibition does not occur in the
Vājasaneyí and the Taittirı̄ya collections of the Yajus; it occurs only in the
supplementary portions of the Maitrāyan.ı̄ and Kapis..thala collections. The
corresponding passage in the Kāt.haka Sam . hitā is without accent, which
suggests its later insertion.116 Furthermore, the Āpastamba Śrautasūtra,
which is considered as the oldest of its kind, gives the alternative provision
that the śūdra can milk the cow. The commentator tries to circumvent this
meaning by pointing out that he can do it when allowed. All this would
show that the ban on the śūdra’s milking of the cow at the agnihotra may
not belong to the genuine portions of the Sam . hitās. It may be ascribed to
117
the time of the Taittirı̄ya Brāhman.a.”
It seems, therefore, that the erosion of the participation of the śūdra
in Vedic ritual was gradual but steady. One element which may account
for the persistence of their participation could well be the fact that during
the rituals of the Brāhman.a period “there is an interesting substratum
of popular religion, underlying this intricate and elaborate ritual of the
sacrifice. The Rājasūya or the ceremony of royal consecration must have
had once an appeal to the festive instincts of the people. The Vājapeya is
characterized by a chariot race which must have been originally the main
element and which must have always made a great hit with the people.
The ritual of the Mahāvrata, which is probably a reminiscence of a very
popular primitive celebration of the winter solstice, plays a notable part
in the Gavāmayana, the year-long Sattra.”118 The Mahāvrata is especially
interesting in this context since it involves the exchange of ritual insults,
somewhat in the manner of a Roman carnival, between a brāhman.a and a
śūdra.119 Another element, somewhat opposite in character but producing
240 ARVIND SHARMA

a similar result, would be the skill of the śūdra workmen, who had to
be respected because their work involved the equivalent of our modern
high technology in that society. The rathakāra or chariot-maker would
thus be allowed to participate despite disputed status.120 It also seems that
occasionally the śūdras would stake the right to be ks.atriyas, to assert
their eligibility. The political dimension of this point cannot be ignored.
It has been used to explain the positive sentiments associated with the
śūdra’s varn.a when they are expressed;121 to explain the positive roles
of the rathakāra and the nis.āda-sthapati in Vedic ritual;122 the inclusion of
the śūdras in the Mahābhārata as warriors,123 as present at the coronation
of Yudhis.t.hira,124 and the claim that a śūdra King, Paijavana, performed
numerous sacrifices.125
The situation is even more complicated. There were two classes of
śūdras, as suggested by a sūtra of Pān.ini (II.4.10).126 In this context
K. Satchidananda Murty has argued that while a Vedic basis may exist
for debarring the śūdra from Vedic ritual, there is no Vedic (as distin-
guished from post-Vedic) text as such barring a śūdra from Vedic study.
He writes: “While there is no Vedic text which prohibits śūdras from
studying the Veda, there is a Taittirı̄ya text which says they are not
eligible to perform sacrifices. ‘Tasmāt śūdro yajñe anavaklaptah. (sic).’
Commenting on Pān.ini’s sūtra [II.4.10] which mentions Anirvasita Śūdras,
Patañjali explains that not all Śūdras are prohibited from performing
sacrifices. Some are (Niravasita Śūdras) and some are not (Aniravasita).
Commenting on this, Kaiyat.a says that Śūdras are eligible to perform the
five Mahāyajñas (great sacrifices). These include the Brahmayajña, which
means Vedic study (Svādhyāya), Sandhyāvandana, Japa, etc. So, as Nāgeśa
clarified (Uddyota), this Taittirı̄ya text prohibits Śūdras from performing
only sacrifices like Agnihotra and not the five great sacrifices. This makes
them eligible for Vedic study.”127
A third issue pertains not to the ability to perform Vedic ritual; nor to
eligibility for Vedic study but the right to practice austerities. Significantly,
Rāma slays Śaṁbūka in the Rāmāyan.a for the last reason and not because,
as a śūdra, he was performing Vedic ritual or carrying on Vedic studies.128
More on this later.129

4.
Just as the Mı̄māṁsāsūtra denied access to Vedic ritual to the śūdras, the
Vedāntasūtra denied access to the śūdras to Vedic knowledge. Just as the
śūdras could not directly avail of Vedic ritual practices, they could not
directly access Vedantic knowledge. However, just as they could perform
rituals without the use of Vedic mantras, they could also acquire saving
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 241

knowledge from the smr.ti, though not from the śruti. It must be emphati-
cally stated that the fact they were denied access to Vedānta does not mean
that they were denied access to liberation. Śaṅkara’s gloss on Brahmasūtra
I.3.38 is particularly instructive in this respect.130
It is intriguing that the same pattern holds for both Vedic and Vedantic
knowledge. It is also intriguing that tradition identifies the author of the
Vedāntasūtra as Bādarāyan.a, “whom tradition identifies with Vyāsa,”131
the author of the Mahābhārata, of which the Bhagavadgı̄tā is a part. The
Bhagavadgı̄tā, although a smr.ti text, contains some virtual (but signifi-
cantly not actual) quotes from the Upanis.ads!132 If tradition is to be
believed then, just as Vyāsa was kicking one door shut with one leg
for the śūdras through the Brahmasūtras, via the Apaśūdrādhikaran. a
section therein, he was kicking open another door by composing the
Bhagavadgı̄tā!
A distinction was made earlier between three debarments so far as
the śūdras are concerned: (1)debarment from Vedic ritual; (2) debarment
from Vedantic knowledge and (3) debarment from tapas.133 Only the first
two concern us here, but the third must not be overlooked. It provides
another interesting instance of how the śūdra was deprived even of this
in due course, as illustrated by the example of Śaṁbūka in the Rāmāyan.a
(VII.67.2–4), who is decapitated by Rāma for practising tapas, when the
śūdra is explicitly associated with tapas in the Śatapatha Brāhman.a.
For the brahman, he seizes a Brahmin, for the Brahmin is the brahman: he thus makes
the brahman flourish with the brahman. For the ks.atra, he seizes a Kshatriya (rājanya),
for the Kshatriya is the ks.atra; he thus makes the ks.atra flourish with the ks.atra. For the
Maruts [a group of deities, he seizes] a Vaishya, for the Maruts are the power of the viś. He
thus makes the viś flourish with the viś. For austerity (tapas), a Shūdra, for the Shūdra is
austerity. He thus makes austerity flourish with austerity. According to their particular form
he thus makes these divinities flourish with sacrificial victims. Thus supplied, they make
him [the sacrificer] flourish with all his objects of desire (ŚB 13.6.2.10; cf. TB 3.4.1).134

The point was made that while there may be Vedic bases for denying
access to Vedic ritual to the śūdras, the denial in terms of Vedic study has
no Vedic basis. Some support for this position also comes from the Maitrı̄
Upanis.ad (7.8) which speaks of śūdras learned in scriptures, though in
uncomplimentary terms. It is clear, however, that a parallel exclusion in
this respect was also instituted in the matter of study, which was connected
with the ritual act of initiation into Vedic studies. Although this does smack
of the chicken-egg problem the point apparently has some force in relation
to later Hinduism.135
242 ARVIND SHARMA

5.

Vedic material provides three bases for the exclusion of the śūdras from
Vedic ritual. One of these is based on the claim that the śūdras were
created without a deity. This connection is emphasized by G.S. Ghurye.
After citing the Taittirı̄ya Sam . hitā (VII.1.1.6) account of creation, Ghurye
concludes: “We are told that no deities were created with the śūdras and
hence he is disqualified for sacrifice.”136
A second basis for denial is provided by the claim that the śūdra was
created without a metre, and this point is taken up by P.V. Kane. He writes:
“A śruti text reads ‘(the Creator) created the Brāhman.a with the Gāyatrı̄
(metre), the Rājanya with Tris.t.ubh, the Vaiśya with Jagatı̄, but he did not
create the śūdra with any metre; therefore the śūdra is known to be unfit
for the Saṁskāra (of Upanayana).’ ”137
A third basis is provided by the absence of a corresponding season. The
argument runs as follows: “The study of the Veda follows from Upanayana
and the Veda speak of the Upanayana of only three classes ‘one should
perform upanayana for a brāhman.a in spring, for a rājanya in summer and
in śarad (autumn) for a vaiśya.’ ”138
This point is emphasized by the orthodox tradition, which regards the
exclusion of the śūdra from the upanayana as a defining feature of his
status. The upanayana represents the second birth and according to Manu
(X.4) the śūdra has only one birth.
The fact of the exclusion of the śūdra from upanayana occupies
such a central place in the self-perception and self-representation of later
Hinduism that it deserves to be treated as a point in its own right. It soon
becomes apparent that a significant metrical element is involved in the
situation: the mantra through which initiation takes place is the famous
gāyatrı̄ mantra, which is in the gāyatrı̄ metre. Thus a metrical element is
also involved in the situation, which excludes the association of gāyatrı̄
with the śūdra.
If one examines several cosmogonic myths contained in the Vedic
literature139 collectively, each of the three factors which are said to render
the śūdra unfit for sacrifice can be called into question explicitly or impli-
citly. Thus in some myths a metre is assigned to him (Jaiminı̄ya Brāhman.a
I.68–69); in others he can be brought in relation with a season, notably
autumn, through the system of correspondences or bandhutā (Śatapatha
Brāhman.a 5.4.1.3–7; etc.) and in some a god is assigned to him directly,
such as Pūs.an in the Śatapatha Brāhman.a (XIV.4.2.25). As for upanayana
proper, its first explicit mention is found only in the AtharvaVeda (XI.5.3).
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 243

It nevertheless remains true that the point most frequently used to


justify the exclusion of the śūdra is the statement that he was created
without a deity; as for instance, in the Pañcaviṁśa Brāhman.a (6.1.6–
11).140 However, in the Jaiminı̄ya Brāhman.a (I.68–69) one encounters a
more curious and ambiguous statement which runs as follows:
He desired, “May I propagate myself further.” He emitted from his feet, from his firm
foundation, the twenty-one-versed hymn of praise, the anus..tubh meter, the yajñāyajñı̄ya
chant, not a single one among the gods, the Shūdra among men, the sheep among animals.
Therefore the Shūdra meter is the anus..tubh and the divinity is related to the Lord of the
House (veśmapati). Therefore he [the Shūdra] seeks to make a living washing feet, for
from the feet, from the firm foundation, he [Prajāpati] emitted him. With these emitted
ones Prajāpati emitted the creatures.141

First it is said that no god was created with the śūdra but then it is added:
“Therefore the Shūdra meter is the anus..tubh and the divinity is related to
the Lord of the House (veśmapati).”
The picture which seems to emerge is one of gradual contraction of
the rights of participation of the śūdras in ritual from the solemn rites to
the non-solemn rites, from the śrauta to the gr.hya, from the public to the
domestic sphere.

6.
This enables us to connect the previous points not merely numerically but
also logically with the one about to be discussed. When the question is
asked: why are women declared unfit for Vedic study and ritual, one of
the reasons given is śūdra-samānatā or the fact that they are bracketed
with the śūdras. It is well-known that at one time they participated both in
Vedic ritual and study.142 What seems to have happened is that gradually
their dharma became “male-oriented. ‘For women the marriage injunction
is reckoned (equal to) a Vedic rite, as is service of the husband to living
with the guru (which follows the initiation into Vedic study for boys), and
housework to tending the sacred fire’ [Manu. (2.67)]. Marriage (vivāha),
service of the husband (patisevā) and housework (gr.hārtha) made up the
broad parameters of strı̄-dharma, woman’s ethical path. These were her
surrogates for involvement with the Veda which was the traditional means
to ultimate fulfilment and immortality and now the domain of men. Manu
does not stand alone. Manu summed up a longstanding tradition which it
then reinforced and helped to perpetuate. It was not long before women
and śūdras were normatively lumped together as subject to a host of social
and religious disabilities. This association continued down the centuries
and persists in many conservative minds, not excluding those of women,
to the present day.”143
244 ARVIND SHARMA

Just as the women are said to receive the merit of the ritual performed
by their husbands (masters), the śūdras similarly receive the merit from
their masters. The point may be made with the help of an anecdote. Once
Vyāsa was bathing in the Ganges and scandalized the assembled sages
by making thrice, in between his baptismal immersions in the river, the
following oracular utterances: “Kali Yuga is blessed; women are blessed
and śūdras are blessed.” When called upon to account for these paradox-
ical utterances he explained: (1) in Kali Yuga even a little tapas goes a
long way, compared to the other yugas; (2) the śūdra secures his worlds
vicariously by merely serving the three varn.as, without having to undergo
the effort they undertake and (3) similarly, merely by serving her husband
the wife gains the merit earned by him. Briefly then, the śūdras attain by
dvijaśuśrūs. ā and the women by patiśuśrūs. ā, whatever has been attained
by the objects of their devoted service!144
There are many lines of convergence between śūdras and women: both
do not participate in Vedic studies and ritual, both are meant to serve
their masters, etc. The theological shift underlying this whole move is the
reorientation of the ‘deity’ – for the women it is the husband (now substi-
tuted for Vedic gods in effect) and for the śūdra, the dvija. The apotheosis
of the pati and the brāhman.as, which sounds so baffling if not megaloma-
niacal to the modern mind, seems to possess this underlying logic of its
own.
But not everyone was satisfied with such domestication of the divine,
among them Vyāsa, who wanted all to share the Vedic insights. It is worth
145
noting that this sentiment should be expressed in the Sūta Sam . hitā,
given what is going to be said about the sūta in the paper. This is the
same Sūta Sam . hitā which debars women on the ground of their similitude
to śūdras. This fact is in itself once again significant as occurring in this
text,146 for it is this text also which “states: ‘effort for acquiring true knowl-
edge (of the self) is meant for all (for persons even lower than śūdras), that
effort made by explaining in a different language (than [Vedic?] Sanskrit)
and by the lapse of enough time will lead to the good (of the lowest).’ ”147
Moreover, one of the arguments used to deny eligibility to the
śūdra rests on the claim that he was created without a deity. Apart
from the fact that this is not entirely true even for Vedic Hinduism
as demonstrated earlier, the evidence from classical Hinduism not only
serves to contradict this but indirectly serves to advance our thesis.
According to a text called Śaṅkaravijaya (fourteenth century):148 viprān.āṁ
daivataṁ śaṁbhuh. ks.atriyān.āṁ tu mādhavah.: vaiśyānāṁ tu bhaved
brahmā śūdrān.āṁ gan.anāyakah. .149 If Gan.eśa is the deity of the śūdras,
then the traditional story about Gan.eśa writing down the Mahābhārata, as
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 245

the amanuensis of Vyāsa, takes on special significance150 in the light of


the general thesis of this paper. This account, however, is not included in
the critical edition of the Mahābhārata.
The question arises at this point: is there any evidence which connects
women with the anus..tubh metre the way it may be connected with the
śūdras? How far, in other words, can the parallelism between śūdras and
women be stretched. There is little evidence connecting women with the
anus..tubh metre, for the statement in the Śāṅkhāyana Brāhman.a (XXVII.1)
which compares the anus..tubh metre “to a śūdra harlot fit for being
approached”151 is suggestive but can hardly be considered conclusive. This
point therefore represents a weak link in the argument. There are, however,
a few other considerations pertaining to the Purān.as which might support
the orientation. A.S. Altekar observes: “We have seen above that women
were declared to be of the same status as that of the śūdras, and so came
to be gradually excluded from the study of and acquaintance with higher
theology and philosophy. Women, however, are by nature more religious
than men, and so a new type of religious literature was evolved to meet
their needs and aspirations. This was the remodelled Pauranic literature.
It enunciated the principles of Hinduism in a homely, easy and attractive
manner, illustrating them with a number of edifying stories. Pious people
made provision all over the country for the exposition of Purān.as to public
audiences. Women became very well grounded in the culture of the race by
habitually listening to this literature. Faith, almost blind faith, was however
held up for high admiration in Purān.as. It was therefore well developed in
women, to the detriment however of rationalism. It must be however noted
that reason was at a discount at this period among males also both in India
and Europe.”152
In view of the role assigned to the Purān.as in the above passage it
is worth noting that, according to tradition, Vyāsa is not only the editor
(“arranger”)153 of the Vedas and author of the Mahābhārata but the author
of the Purān.as154 as well. Moreover, stories expressing his simultaneous
concern for the spiritual well-being of śūdras and women are clearly
attested to in Brahmapurān.a (226.62–80) and Vis.n.upurān.a (VI.2.15–30;
34–36).155

In the course of examining the answers to the six questions framed to probe
the relationship of the śūdras to the Vedic lore in general it became obvious
that, despite the popular image that a sharp rupture characterises the rela-
tionship of the śūdras to the Vedas, the picture of a general recession or
246 ARVIND SHARMA

dissolution of the relationship is more faithful to the facts available to us. In


view of this serrated rather than a clean-cut separation, one which occurred
gradually over time, given the overlapping nature of the relationship as
suggested by the six questions, one is led to wonder whether the śūdras
enjoyed any kind of a special relationship with any body of Vedic literature
as well. For if they did, and it can be identified, then it might lead to a
more nuanced understanding of the issue on hand. Once again it might
be helpful to anticipate the finding before presenting it: namely, that the
śūdras seem to have a special connection with the YajurVeda and the body
of Vedic literature attached to it, such as the Taittirı̄ya and the Vājasaneyı̄
Sam . hitās, the Taittirı̄ya and Śatapatha Brāhman.as and the Br.hadāran.yaka
Upanis.ad. Some of these connections became apparent in the previous
section, and may now be investigated further.
The śūdras seem to possess a generous affiliation with the
ŚuklaYajurVeda. The following pieces of evidence point in that direc-
tion. (1) The ŚuklaYajurVeda contains a verse (26.2) which has been
interpreted as throwing open Vedic knowledge to all varn.as, including
the śūdras.156 The exact significance of the verse is unclear157 but its
inclusiveness has not been questioned.158 (2) The Pāraskara Gr.hyasūtra
is attached to the ŚuklaYajurVeda and contains an explicit provision (2.6)
for the initiation into Vedic studies of śūdras of good character. This
qualification is not unusual as Āpastamba forbids initiation of brāhman.as
of bad character.159 (3) In some smr.ti texts the following statement is
found: śūdrāh. vājasaneyinah. .160 “This is explained as meaning that the
śūdra should follow the procedure prescribed in the gr.hyasūtra of the
Vājasaneya Śākhā and a brāhman.a should repeat the mantra for him.”161
In the light of the evidence adduced above it seems as if the śūdra’s
right has been exegeted away, for the Saṁskāra Mayūkha162 seems to
establish their eligibility on the basis of that very statement: atra ca
śūdrāh. vājasaneyinah. iti vasis..thavākyāt. The mention of Vasis.t.ha is also
significant because he is connected with the śūdras even by Manu (III.197–
198). (4) P.V. Kane points out that in the Harivaṁśa (Bhavis.yat-Parva,
Chap. III, 13) we find verses he translates as follows: “All will expound
brahma; all will be Vājasaneyins; when the yuga comes to a close śūdras
will make use of the word ‘bhoh.’ in address’ (sarve brahma vadis.yanti
sarve vājasaneyinah. ).”163 (5) This finds indirect support from a verse
found in some texts of Manusmr.ti part of which states: śūdrah. kaliyugah.
smr.tah..164 It can be interpreted variously but also as: the Kaliyuga belongs
to the śūdra!165
An enigmatic etiological account of the śūdras may be relevant here.
According to this account the śūdras were created along with the day.
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 247

The statement is puzzling because the śūdras are usually associated with
darkness or the dark colour166 rather than light. However, according to the
mythical account of the origin of the Vājasaneyi Sam . hitā, it was revealed to
Yājñavalkya by the sun. Is it possible that this fact, coupled with its very
description as ŚuklaYajurVeda and the association of this Veda with the
śūdras might account for their surprising chromatic association with light,
especially as the association itself is found both in the Black YajurVeda
as well as the White.167 Another passage found in all the recensions of
the YajurVeda168 has attracted interest because it seeks radiance for all
the four varn.as, including the śūdra: rucam . viśves.u śūdres.u mayi dhehi
rucā rucam (Taittirı̄ya Sam . hitā [V.7.6.3–4]), P.V. Kane seems to give it a
minimalist interpretation with the following comment: “In Tai.S.V.7.6.3–4
we have ‘put light (glory) in our brāhman.as, put it in our chiefs (or kings)
(put) light in vaiśyas and śūdras, put light in me by your light.’ This is a
sure indication that the śūdra who took the place of the dāsa is here placed
on the same level with the other three classes in the matter of the receipt of
light from God and that for [sic] from being looked upon as an enemy, he
had come to be looked upon as a member of the society (though the lowest
in the scale).”169
Vājasaneyi Sam . hitā also contains the same verse (XVIII.48) which asks
Agni to confer brilliance on all the four varn.as, including the śūdras.
Ram Sharan Sharma provides, by contrast with Kane, a maximalist inter-
pretation: “A remarkable passage occurring in all the collections of the
Yajus contains a prayer to Agni to confer brilliance on ‘our’ priests,
warriors, vaiśyas and śūdras. The context, in which this passage occurs
in the Vājasaneyi Sam . hitā, deals with formulas for the performance of the
vasordhārā, a sort of consecration service of Agni as king. On this occa-
sion the officiating priest (adhvaryu) recites formulas meant to bestow all
temporal and spiritual blessings on the sacrificer. It is not clear, but may not
be improbable, that the ritual is prescribed for the king, who prays to Agni
to place lustre in all the varn.as of his subjects including the śūdras.”170
These verses imply a ritual connection on the part of the śūdra, howso-
ever limited or marginal, which may have also gone hand in hand with a
metrical connection, howsoever tenuous, for the argument which questions
the eligibility of the śūdra re the Vedas is, in part at least, based on the argu-
ment that the śūdra lacks a corresponding metre. That which exists only
empirically (=ritually) exists vulnerably, it has been said, unless grounded
in ideology (=metrically). It is therefore significant that by contrast the
Kr.s.n.aYajurVeda does supply a metrical connection. The Taittirı̄ya Sam . hitā
(VII.1.1.4–5) ascribes the anus..tubh to the śūdra, just as it ascribes the
gāyatrı̄ to the brāhman.a.171
248 ARVIND SHARMA

Further support for the idea comes from the association of the śūdras
with particular gods. Ram Sharan Sharma notes: “Of the gods associ-
ated with the śūdras, Pūs.an seems to have been a shepherd god and, as
such, probably represents the cattle-rearing and nourishing activities of the
Āryan viś. The Aśvins, who are described in the later portion of the R . gVeda
as sowing the grain with the plough and milking food for man, may be
associated with the agricultural activities of the viś. The Viśvedevas are
assinged to the viś because of their being great in number. The fact that
precisely the same three gods who are associated with the Āryan viś later
came to be directly or indirectly ascribed to the śūdra would suggest that
even when sections of the viś were reduced to the position of śūdras, they
continued to retain their old Vedic gods.”172
It is possible, in principle, to bring all the three gods mentioned here
into relationship with the śūdras and the anus..tubh metre. To begin with
Pūs.an. We read in the Śatapatha Brāhman.a (4.2.25): “He created the śūdra
class, Pūs.an. This earth is Pūs.an: for she nourishes all that exists.”173 In
the R.gVeda (X.90.12.14) both the śūdra and the earth are stated to have
emerged from the feet of the purus.a. The Nirukta assigns the anus..tubh
metre to the sphere of the earth. It is clear, therefore, that the three can
be connected. Similarly, the Aśvins are associated with the śūdras in the
Mahābhārata. They are a dual divinity and as such, may be paired with
another dual divinity – Mitra and Varun.a – who are associated with the
anus..tubh (Taittirı̄ya Sam . hitā 7.5.14). Similarly, the Viśvedevas can be
associated with the śūdras through the anus..tubh metre, through references
in the Jaiminı̄ya Brāhman.a (II.101;III.101) on the basis of which R.S.
Sharma concludes that according to these passages “Prajāpati and Indra
were honoured among the Viśvedevas, and the Pañcāla Prince Darbha
Śātānı̄ki among the śūdras,” through the same metre, the anus..tubh, which
goes to show that “the Viśvedevas of divine society correspond to the
śūdras of human society.”174 In fact, Śāṅkhāyana Āran.yaka (I.7) connects
the Viśvedevas with the anus..tubh even more directly. Another connection
among the three is possible through the divinity Day, which is associated
with the śūdras (Vājasaneyi Sam . hitā XIV.28) as well as the anus..tubh
metre.
The reader must be wondering by now where the argument is headed,
with all these correspondences reminiscent of Brāhman.a passages.
The key point to note is that the denial of the śūdras to Vedic ritual and
study was sought to be based on a theological argument that the śūdra is
disqualified from access to Vedic ritual and study because he was created
without a god.175 (Sometimes the fact of being created without a metre or
season is also added). Thus if the śūdras are to be disenfranchised (or to
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 249

be kept disenfranchised) in matters sacrificial, their relationship with any


deity must not be entertained, although their relationship with the anus..tubh
could be retained.
It is here that the further investigation of the Taittirı̄ya Sam
. hitā proves
176
particularly helpful. It contains, for instance, the following incantation
(V.5.8):
With the eastern quarter I place thee, with the Gāyatrı̄ metre, with Agni as the deity; with
the head of Agni I put down the head of Agni.
With the southern quarter I place thee, with the Tris.t.ubh metre, with Indra as the deity;
with the wing of Agni I put down the wing of Agni.
With the western quarter I place thee, with the Jagatı̄ metre, with Savitr. as the deity; with
the tail of Agni I put down the tail of Agni.
With the northern quarter I place thee, with the Anus.t.ubh metre, with Mitra and Varun.a as
the deity; with the wing of Agni I put down the wing of Agni.177

The association of the dual deities Mitra and Varun.a is significant,


as it is in keeping with the association of the Aśvins with the śūdras as
well as the anus..tubh with them. The two gods are associated elsewhere
(VIII.5.14) with anus..tubh as well.178 The association of śūdras with cattle
is brought to mind when two-footed cattle are associated with anus..tubh
(VI.6.11.5), and it is noteworthy that even when the gods are not associated
with anus..tubh, it is associated with the śūdras. Thus it is said (VII.1.1.4–
5): “from his feet . . . After it the Anus.t.ubh metre was created . . . of men the
Śūdra, of cattle the horse. Therefore the two, the horse and the Śūdra, are
dependent on others. Therefore the Śūdra is not fit for sacrifice, for he was
not created after any gods.” The Taittirı̄ya Sam . hitā contains the following
eulogy of Prajāpati, who is connected with the anus..tubh metre (VII.4.4):
Prajāpati went to the world of heaven. But with whatever metre the gods yoked him they
achieved not him. They saw (the rite of) these thirty-two nights. The Anus.t.ubh has thirty-
two syllables, Prajāpati is connected with the Anus.t.ubh; verily having gained Prajāpati by
his own metre they mounted on him and went to the world of heaven. Those who knowing
thus perform (the rite of) these thirty-two (nights) – the Anus.t.ubh thirty-two syllables,
Prajāpati is connected with the Anus.t.ubh – gaining Prajāpati by his own metre, go to
prosperity, for the world of heaven for man is prosperity. These (nights) are thirty-two,
Anus.t.ubh has thirty-two syllables, the Anus.t.ubh is speech; verily they gain all speech; all
become speakers of speech, for all attain prosperity.179

Normally, of course, Prajāpati means lord of creatures but it is signifi-


cant that he is connected with sacrificial animals (see Bhagavadgı̄tā III.10);
the śūdra is described as bahupaśu (Pañcaviṁśa Brāhman.a VI.1.II) while
accoding to a passage of the Vājasaneyi Sam . hitā (XXX.22) neither a
brāhman.a nor a śūdra can be offered as sacrifice to Prajāpati, which “prob-
ably indicates that, while the brāhman.a was too high for the purpose, the
śūdra was too low.”180
250 ARVIND SHARMA

The association of the anus..tubh with the horse (elsewhere associated


with the śūdra and with Prajāpati [Taittirı̄ya Sam
. hitā III.4.9.6]) is also
found in the following passage (V.4.12).
‘Be pure for the winning of strength’, this is the Anus.t.ubh strophe; three Anus.t.ubhs, make
four Gāyatrı̄s; in that there are three Anus.t.ubhs, therefore the horse when standing stands
on three feet; in that there are four Gāyatrı̄s therefore he goes putting down all four feet.
The Anus.t.ubh is the highest of metres, the fourfold Stoma is the highest of Stomas, the
three-night sacrifice the highest of sacrifices, the horse the highest of animals; verily by the
highest he makes him go to the highest state.181

Part of the evidence also comes from divine power-politics. According


to the Taittirı̄ya Sam. hitā (VI.2.2): “The gods and the Asuras were in
conflict. The gods fell out among themselves. Being unwilling to accept
one another’s pre-eminence, they separated in five bodies, Agni with the
Vasus, Soma with the Rudras, Indra with the Maruts, Varun.a with the
Ādityas, Br.haspati with the All-gods.”182 This leads to the following equa-
tion: Br.haspati = Viśvedevāh. = Śūdras. A similar equation is suggested
by (VII.1.18): “With the All-gods as deity, with the Anus.t.ubh metre, I
yoke thee; with the autumn season as oblation I consecrate thee.”183 The
association of Br.haspati with the All-gods is noteworthy for two reasons.
The All-gods are associated with the anus..tubh. The All-gods are associated
with the śūdras. This is the first reason. The second is that Br.haspati is
also associated with the anus..tubh (III.1.7). The association of the anus..tubh
with the ‘fourth’ is also apparent in the following invocation (IV.2.1):
Thou art the step of Vis.n.u, overcoming hostility, mount the Gāyatrı̄ metre, step along the
earth, excluded is he whom we hate. Thou art the step of Vis.n.u, overcoming imprecations,
mount the Tris.t.ubh metre, step along the atmosphere, excluded is he whom we hate. Thou
art the step of Vis.n.u, overcomer of the enemy, mount the Jagatı̄ metre, step along the sky,
excluded is he whom we hate. Thou art the step of Vis.n.u, overcomer of the foe, mount of
the Anus.t.ubh metre, step along the quarters, excluded is he whom we hate.184

Similarly, the quarters, being four, are also connected with the anus..tubh
(V.2.1.1).
The crucial point here is how the fourth element in a series is to be
treated, for this is what is at stake in the case of the śūdra, the anus..tubh, the
horse, the gods (and subsequently) the AtharvaVeda. There are basically
two modes in which the relationship could operate and it is well-illustrated
with the help of the analogy of a quarter and a dollar. A quarter by itself is
only a part of a dollar, a mere fraction of it, and the last is the least. Yet the
last can also be the most if it completes the whole. Thus three quarters can
never aspire to be a dollar, but the fourth quarter, much less in itself than
three quarters, makes all of them worth a dollar.
This is how the role reversals we have just encountered may be under-
stood, depending on the view one takes. From one point of view: “The
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 251

anus..tubh meter in the texts cited above thus completes the structure by
adding a fourth to the previous three – in these cases, at the bottom. And
other texts confirm the identification, for example, of the anus..tubh and
the ‘lowest’: it is connected to the ‘foundation’ (JB 1.229; or the ‘feet’
[S.ad.B 2.3] or ‘this earth’ [PB 8.7.2; ŚB 1.3.2.16], or, again as previously in
Cosmologies VI and VII, to the Shūdras or servant class [JB 1.263, 1.265–
66]).”185 Yet from another point of view: “ŚB 13.3.3.1; cf. PB 21.4.6: ‘The
horse is the last [i.e., the culmination, the highest, most perfect] of the
animals. The anus..tubh [is the last] of the meters, Vis.n.u of the gods, the
four-versed of the hymns of praise, the three-day rite of the sacrifices.’ ”186
The point to keep in mind then is that structurally both the śūdra and the
anus..tubh represent the addition of a fourth element to a triadic structure.187
This is generally recognised in the case of the śūdra.188 If that realiza-
tion is supplemented with the following observation about the anus..tubh,
the point this section has endeavoured to make is thrown in clear relief.
Brian K. Smith observes: “We witness here, once again, the ambiguity
the authors of Vedic texts displayed when it comes to the fourth element
added to a triadic structure. Rather than the lowest meter, the anus..tubh is
sometimes extolled as the highest, the ‘transcendent fourth’ of the meters.
One manifestation of this is the connection of the meter and deities that
emblemize totality – the Viśva Devas (“All the Gods,” e.g., JB 1.239) or
Prajāpati – or the claim that the anus..tubh ‘is all meters’ (e.g., JB 1.285).
Another way in which the superiority of the meter is expressed is with
the connections to royal signifiers. In texts dealing with the Aśvamedha
or horse sacrifice, we read that ‘the anus.t.ubh is the highest meter, and the
horse is the highest of animals.’ ‘Highest’ here and elsewhere seems to
mean ‘kingly’ or ‘royal’; the horse is both the ks.atra and ‘belongs to the
anus..tubh.’ With the anus..tubh meter, it is said, one attains ‘preeminence’
(AitB 3.13).”189

VI

There is thus substantial evidence that the anus..tubh metre is systematically


associated with the śūdras. The Vedas associated the various varn.as with
the various metres on the following pattern: the gāyatrı̄ metre with the
brāhman.a, tris..tubh with the ks.atriya, jagatı̄ with the vaiśya, and anus..tubh
with the śūdra. For instance, the Jaiminı̄ya Brāhman.a informs us that “the
Pāñcāla prince Darbha Śātānı̄ki was honoured among the brāhman.as, the
ks.atriya, the vaiśya, and the śūdras successively through the use of the
gāyatrı̄, the tris.t.ubh, the jagatı̄ and the anus.t.ubh metres.”190 Similarly, in
the Śāṅkhāyana Brāhman.a “the anus.t.ubh metre is compared to a śūdra
252 ARVIND SHARMA

harlot fit for being approached”.191 The Śāṅkhāyana Śrauta Sūtra mentions
the same association of the gāyatrı̄ with the brāhman.a, the tris..tubh with
the ks.atriya, the jagatı̄ with the vaiśya, and anus..tubh with the śūdra.192
Ram Sharan Sharma finds this association of the śūdras with the anus..tubh
sufficiently strong to suggest that because that metre is also associated with
the viśvedevas, “the Viśvedevas of divine society correspond to the śūdras
of human society,”193 as indicated earlier.
It is not only in the Brāhman.a and Sūtra literature that this associ-
ation of the anus..tubh with the śūdras is met with. It can also be traced
in the YajurVeda. The Taittirı̄ya Sam . hitā ascribes the anus..tubh metre to
the śūdra,194 just as it ascribes the gāyatrı̄ to the brāhman.a and so on.195

VII

It therefore seems possible to suggest that at least according to one segment


of the Hindu tradition it is quite likely that the Mahābhārata was composed
in the anus..tubh metre because it was composed for the sake of the śūdras.
At this point, however, several questions arise, especially if we change
our perspective from the traditional to one which is critical-historical.
(1) It was assumed above, in line with tradition, that the Mahābhārata is
the work of a single author.196 Is it so?
(2) The Mahābhārata is generally believed to have grown over a period
extending from the 4th century B.C. to the 4th century A.D.197 But the
Bhāgavata Purān.a, in the light of which the motive for its composition
was uncovered, is believed to have been composed around 859 A.D. in
South India.198 How justified are we in accepting its statements about
the Mahābhārata?
These questions must be answered satisfactorily before the position
being developed here can achieve any measure of cogency.
First, the question of the authorship of the Mahābhārata. Even if it
be accepted that the Mahābhārata is not the work of a single author,199
the issues raised by the examination of the traditional material remain to
be addressed. For although the Mahābhārata may not be the work of a
single author, it is recognised to be a conscious composition. Professor
van Buitenen has remarked: “that the main story of the Mahābhārata was a
conscious composition is, to me, undeniable and one poet or small group of
them must have been responsible for it.”200 So the basic question persists
– why this “one poet or a small group of them” chose to use the anus..tubh?
And if the Mahābhārata was composed sometime between 400 B.C. and
400 A.D., then the question can be more sharply formulated: why did a
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 253

poet or small group of poets, sometime between 400 B.C. and 400 A.D.,
choose to compose the Mahābhārata in the anus..tubh? Now if it be further
maintained that the Mahābhārata, as we have it, is the work not only of a
poet or group of poets but generations of poets, as the work passed through
several recensions, then the question can be made even more pointed: why
between 400 B.C. and 400 A.D., as the Mahābhārata went through several
redactions, did it emerge as preeminently in the anus..tubh?201 And finally,
if the traditional material is further filtered through the historical sieve then
the shape the question now seems to assume is: Why did the anonymous
composers of the Bhāgavata Purān.a, in the middle of the ninth century
A.D., identify the intention of the anonymous author or authors of the
Mahābhārata either individually or collectively or generationally as it took
shape between the 4th century B.C. and the 4th century A.D., as being
that of making it a device for presenting the essence of the Vedas to the
śūdras, thereby circumventing the smr.ti debarment of the śūdras from
Vedic knowledge? And were they correct to a certain degree in making
this assumption?
The first question is answered more easily than the second. That the
Bhāgavata Purān.a takes an extremely positive view of the śūdras under
the influence of the Bhakti movement, of which it seems to have been a
product, has already been documented by Thomas J. Hopkins.202 So the
fact that the author or authors of the Bhāgavata Purān.a should see in the
composition of the Mahābhārata the same concern for the śūdra which
characterized their own composition need not come as a surprise to us. Nor
would it probably have come as a surprise to the author or authors of the
Bhāgavata Purān.a that the author or authors of the Mahābhārata should
have used the anus..tubh metre if they wanted to cater to the śūdras.203
But it is the second question, however, which constitutes the crux
of the matter. What evidence do we have to support the view that the
Mahābhārata is to be closely associated with the śūdras?
Before we face these questions the situation may be summarized briefly.
We know now that the Vedic tradition associates the śūdras with the
anus..tubh. We also know now that the Purān.ic tradition associates the
composition of the Mahābhārata with the śūdras. We also know that the
Mahābhārata is predominantly in the anus..tubh. These are the tantalizing
pieces of the puzzle. Do they fit?
At this point it is a recognition of considerable integrative value – that
the Mahābhārata is associated both by tradition and modern scholarship
with the sūtas. According to tradition, although the Mahābhārata was
composed be sage Vyāsa, it was transmitted through the sūta Lomahars.an.a
and in its final recension is narrated by his son, Sauti.204 According
254 ARVIND SHARMA

to modern scholarship, Hindu epic poetry emerged among the sūtas.205


Thus modern scholarship associates the sūtas with the composition of the
Mahābhārata and traditional lore associates them with its transmission –
but close association is accepted by both.206
Who then were these sūtas who seem to hold the key to the answer?
(1) One may begin by noting that these sūtas belonged to a group
of “epic professionals” who included “nat.as, pān.isvanikas, māgadhas,
nāndı̄vādyas, bandins, gāyanas, saukhyaśāyikas, vāitalikas, kathakas,
granthikas, gāthins, kuśı̄lavas and paurān.ikas (Sūtas).”207 Though there
are differences in the roles they play,208 which are closely associated and
which may have overlapped,209 from our point of view it is important to
note that they are all said to be of “low caste” or “mixed castes,” close to
being or actually being śūdras.210
(2) Among these, the sūtas stand out as “re-writers and re-citers of the
epic.”211 It was pointed out earlier that they may have to be distinguished
from the sūtas who were charioteers. But even assuming for the moment
that they are the same – that the word sūta stands for both charioteers and
bards, the sūtas even as charioteers are a “low caste,” a “mixed caste,”212
or close to being śūdras.213
(3) If it be maintained that the sūtas as bards are a class apart,214 they
fall even lower as a mixed class and come closer to being śūdras.
(4) Since we are dealing with a situation in which bards are involved,
the Hindu political tradition also seems worth looking into. In this respect
it is remarkable that one of the duties of a śūdra which does not seem to
have been taken note of in the smr.tis, but is mentioned in the Arthaśāstra,
is that of kārukuśı̄lavakarma,215 which is rendered by Shamasastry as “the
profession of artisans and court-bards.”216 The Kāmandakı̄yanı̄tisāra also
describes kārucāran.akarma as the duty of a śūdra.217 The Manusmr.ti
(X.99) permits the śūdra artisanship (kārukakarma) alone in extremis.
(5) Next, the Mahābhārata itself. The evidence from the Mahābhārata
itself, however, has to be analyzed very carefully because if its purpose is to
overcome the bias against the śūdras in a certain sense, then its evidence
will tend to reflect both the fact it is trying to overcome and its effort to
do so. It is therefore interesting that while in some cases the use of the
word sūta is merely descriptive, in other cases it is definitely pejorative.
A remarkable instance of this is the fact that when Draupadı̄ denounces
Kı̄caka for trying to seduce her, she addresses him as a sūtaputra, and upon
being kicked by him, does so in four verses successively.218 It is clear, then,
that the Mahābhārata retains the connotation of an inferior caste for the
word sūta.219 On the other hand, the general tenor of the Mahābhārata is
favourable to the śūdra,220 especially in the Śāntiparva wherein it is even
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 255

asserted that “brāhman.as learned in the Vedas regard a virtuous śūdra as


the effulgent Vis.n.u of the universe, the foremost one in all the worlds.”221
(6) The low status of the sūta is attested to within the Bhāgavata Purān.a
itself. “Sūta, the narrator of the Bhāgavata, is himself born of a lowly mixed
class.”222 It is also worth noting that even when he is being complimented
for his profound erudition by the sages, it is clearly mentioned that his
sphere of learning excludes the Veda (anyatra chāndasāt),223 an exclusion
characteristic of a śūdra in orthodox Hinduism.
That these social facts have a metrical implication becomes clear from
certain considerations. It is stated in the Taittirı̄ya Brāhman.a224 that the
“vaiśya was born of the Rg. Veda, the ks.atriya of the Yajur Veda, and
the brāhman.a of the Sāma Veda. This obviously implies that the Atharva
Veda was meant for the śūdra – a provision which is later on vaguely
repeated in the Āpastamba Dharmasūtra.”225 We know in any case that the
AtharvaVeda is more closely connected with the śūdra element of Vedic
society than any of the other Vedas.226 And “the two striking features of
the Atharva Veda as regards its metrical form are the extreme irregularity
and predominance of anus..tubh stanzas. The stanzas in gāyatrı̄ and tris..tubh
are correspondingly rare, the AV in this point presenting a sharp contrast
to the Rig Veda.”227 It is also therefore of interest that the Mahābhārata,
which is predominantly in the anus..tubh metre, “puts Atharva Veda first in
the list of Vedas”228 and “places the Atharvan priest before the others.”229
That said, one must recognize the strong potential inherent in the
tradition for associating the śūdras with the AtharvaVeda.230 J. Muir had
already noted in the last century, that given the derivation of the first three
varn.as from the three vyāhr.tis (Śatapatha Brāhman.a II.1.4.11) or from the
various Vedas (Taittirı̄ya Brāhman.a III.12.9.3), “to complete his account of
the derivation of the castes from the Vedas, the author had only to add that
the śūdras had sprung from the Atharvāṅgirases (the Atharva-veda); but he
perhaps considered that to assign such an origin to the servile order would
have been to do it too great an honour.”231 According to the Śatapatha
Brāhman.a (XIII.4.3.7–13), although the word is not used, people who are
normally classed as śūdras are considered fit to be taught subjects which
fall in the domain of the AtharvaVeda.
Significantly, it seems to us, the Śrauta Sūtras tend to substitute
secular significances for the sacred; reading bhes.ajam, for instance, for
‘atharvan. ām ekaṁ parva’,232 a substitution which becomes all the more
significant in the light of the statement in the Suśruta that, according to
some, medical knowledge may be imparted even to a well-bred śūdra, who
has not been invested with the sacred thread, so long as it does not involve
Vedic texts.233
256 ARVIND SHARMA

In the present context some statements of the AtharvaVeda acquire


special semantic depth, in light of the widely held view that the dāsas of
the R.gVeda were transformed into the śūdra varn.a.234 Some of the verses
of the AtharvaVeda, though not all, refer to the dāsa in a positive light.
AtharvaVeda 5.11.3 declares that ‘I cannot be partial to either Dāsa or Ārya
(na me dāso nāryo . . . )’.235 R.S. Sharma provides a fuller statement: ‘In
a dialogue between the primeval priest Atharvan and Varun.a, the priest
boasts: “No dāsa by his greatness, nor an Āryan, may violate the law that
I will establish.” ’236
The association of the śūdras with the Vedic corpus, therefore, either
became or remained liminal, although the potential resonates even in clas-
sical Hinduism in such verses as the following in Kālidāsa’s Raghuvaṁśa
(X.22):

caturvargaphalaṁ jñānaṁ kālāvasthā caturyugā


caturvarn.amayo lokas tvattah. sarvaṁ caturmukhāt237

– when read alongside the view that the four Vedas were also revealed
through the four faces of Brahmā.
In fact the association of the AtharvaVeda with the śūdras is so signifi-
cant that it virtually reverses one particular doctrine of the origin of varn.as.
The idea that all the varn.as evolved successively out of the brāhman.a238
(identified earlier as a variant account of the genesis of varn.as) appears in
reverse in the AtharvaVeda, although the word used there is not śūdra but
vrātya. To parenthesize the two is not entirely free of problems239 but the
two categories are close enough for us to consider the fact that an account
traces the emergence of at least two varn.as from them, reversing the usual
order. ‘In the following text of the Atharva-veda, xv.8.1, a new account is
given of the origin of the Rājanyas: So ’rajyata tato rājanyo ’jāyata.
“He (the Vrātya) became filled with passion: thence sprang the
Rājanya.”
And in the following paragraph (A.V.xv.9,1ff) we have the same origin
ascribed to the Brāhman also:
Tad yasya evaṁ vidvān vrātyo rājno ’tithir gr.ihān āgachhet śreyāṁsam
enam ātmano mānayet | tathā kshattrāya nāvr.iśchate tathā rāsht.rāya
nāvr.iśchate | ato vai brahma cha kshattraṁ cha udatisht.hatām | te abrūtām
“kam praviśāva” iti | (Muir)
“Let the king to whose house the Vrātya who knows this, comes as a
guest, cause him to be respected as superior to himself. So doing he does
no injury to his royal rank, or to his realm. From him arose the Brahman
(Brāhman) and the Kshattra (Kshattriya). They said, ‘Into whom shall we
enter’, etc.”240
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 257

The original meaning of the word vrātya is difficult to determine. That


origin “is lost in the mists of antiquity”.241 It is “possible to derive the
word from vrata”242 but it is more probably “derived from vrāta (group)
and means ‘he who belongs to or moves in a group’ ”.243 Thus P.V. Kane
concludes that “originally vrātyas appear to have been groups of people
who spoke the same language as the orthodox āryas,244 but did not follow
their discipline or habits”.245
The impression that the vrātyas were a people on the margins of ortho-
doxy, supported by W.B. Bollée,246 comes through very strongly in their
description and is used by Sāyan.a to meet the difficulty caused by their
glorification in AtharvaVeda 15.1.1, “since he says that description does
not apply to all vrātyas, but only to some very powerful, universally
respected and holy vrātya who was, however, not in the good books of the
brāhman.as that were solely devoted to their own rites and sacrifices.”247
Such glorification may have led Bloomfield into thinking, as another way
of overcoming cognitive dissonance, that “the converted vrātyas” were
“exalted as a type of a perfect Brahmacārin”.248
The exact meaning of the word vrātya thus remains difficult to
determine, in the light of different interpretations it has been subject to
in both ancient and modern literature. According to some Sūtra works –
such as the Āpastamba Dharma Sūtra (I.I.I.22–I.I.2.10) and the Pāraskara
Gr.hya Sūtra (II.5) “a vrātya is one on whom and on whose ancestors the
saṁskāra of upanayana has not been performed”,249 whereas according to
other Sūtra works such as Baudhāyana Dharma Sūtra (I.9.16) the “word
vrātya is applied to all those who are born of the mixture of varn.as”.250
The common factor underlying the two explanations is the absence of the
sacred thread either through neglect (as in the first case) or ineligibility (as
in the second case) hence the significance of the expression patitasāvitrı̄ka
in this context. P.V. Kane explains:
Patitasāvitrı̄ka (those for whom there has been no upanayana and therefore no instruction
in Gāyatrı̄ and who are therefore sinful and outside the pale of Aryan society). The gr.hya
and dharma sūtras are agreed that the time for upanayana has not passed till the 16th, 22nd
and 24th year in the case of brāhman.as, ks.atriyas and vaiśyas respectively, but that after
these years are past without upanayana taking place they become incompetent thereafter for
learning the Sāvitrı̄ (the sacred gāyatrı̄ verse). Vide Āśv. Gr. I.19.5–7, Baud. Gr, III.13.5–6,
Āp. Dh. S. I.1.1.22, Vas. XI. 71–75, Manu II.38–39, Yāj. I. 37–38. Such persons are then
called patitasāvitrı̄ka or sāvitrı̄patita and also vrātya (Manu II.39 and Yāj. I. 38 call them
so). These works also declare that the consequences of this are that no upanayana is to be
thereafter performed for them, they are not to be taught the Veda, nor is any one to officiate
at their sacrifices and there is to be no social intercourse with them (i.e. no marriage takes
place with them).251
258 ARVIND SHARMA

Modern scholars, who have tried to tie together the various loose
threads, have pointed out that, despite divergent views, no one any longer
identifies vrātyas with the aboriginal population.252 They were, however,
given to roaming the countryside and difficult to keep under a tight
leash.253 In this sense their rowdy behaviour would, on the one hand,
connect them with the śūdras254 on account of it being contrary to norms,
yet on the other could also connect them, as through rajas, with rājanya.255
Thus many explanations, not necessarily mutually exclusive, are possible
on the basis of ancient Indian and comparative materials.256
From the point of view of this paper this discussion of the vrātyas is
helpful in both a general and a very specific way. The “glorification of the
vrātya” confirms the impression that those on the margins of orthodoxy
were not always despised, and in fact even considered praiseworthy at
times. This strengthens the possibility that a similar attitude might have
prevailed towards the śūdras. It is worth noting that the vrātya appears
in Praśna Upanis.ad (II.10)257 as “a kind of cosmic being but Śaṅkara
interprets the name as ‘uninitiated’, i.e., the first-born, and hence without
anyone to initiate him”.258 Thus in a curious meeting of opposites both
God and vrātyas/śūdras share the common status of being uninitiated! In
any case the positive resonance of vrātya is also echoed in the Upanis.ads
besides the Brāhman.as.259
The specific significance of the vrātyas in our context arises from the
fact that they are connected with the anus..tubh!
Tān.d.ya 17.1.1 begins with the story that when the gods went to the heavenly world
some dependents of theirs who lived the vrātya life were left behind on the earth. Then
through the favour of the gods the dependents got at the hands of Maruts the S.od.aśastoma
(containing 16 stotras) and the metre (viz. anus..tubh) and then the dependents secured
heaven. The S.od.aśastoma is employed in each of the four vrātyastomas, the first of which
(17.1) is meant for all vrātyas, the second is meant for those who are abhiśasta (who are
wicked or guilty of heavy sins and so censured) and lead a vrātya life, the third for those
who are youngest and lead a vrātya life, and the fourth who are very old and yet lead a
vrātya life.260

VIII

At this point on needs to revert to the person of Vyāsa again. According to


the unanimous Hindu tradition he classified the Vedas into the fourfold
division with which we are now familiar. The accounts which credit
him with that editorial feat also assign to him the authorship of the
Mahābhārata. This seems to suggest to us that by his time the progress
of the debarment of the śūdras had become a fait accompli, so that simul-
taneously with the arranging of the text of the Veda he also decided to
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 259

cater to those to whom they had now become inaccessible. We turn to the
account in Vis.n.u Purān.a (III.4.1ff):

The original Veda, consisting of four quarters, contained a hundred thousand verses. From
it arose the entire system of sacrifice, tenfold (compared with the present) and yielding all
the objects of desire. Subsequently, in the twenty-eighth manvantara my son, [Parāśara is
the speaker] the mighty Vyāsa, divided into four parts the Veda which was one, with four
quarters. In the same way as the Vedas were divided by the wise Vyāsa, so had they been
divided by all the [preceding] Vyāsas, including myself. And know that the śākhā divisions
[formed] by him [were the same as those] formed in all the periods of four yugas. Learn,
too, the Krishna Dvaipāyana Vyāsa was the lord Nārāyan.a; for who else on earth could
have composed the Mahābhārata? Hear now correctly how the Vedas were divided by him,
my great son, in this Dvāpara age. When, commanded by Brahmā Vyāsa undertook to
divide the Vedas, he took four disciples who had read through those books. The great muni
took Paila as teacher of the Rich, Vaiśampāyana of the Yajush, and Jaimini of the Sāman,
while Sumantu, skilled in the Atharva-veda, was also his disciple. He too, took, as his pupil
for the Itihāsas and Purān.as the great and intelligent muni, Sūta, called Romaharshan.a.261

This passage offers a comprehensive statement of the traditional


perspective of Vyāsa’s activities in general. It suggests a religious
community consisting of two components: one with direct access to the
Vedas and another to which such access is denied. Vyāsa’s benevolent
intentionality assumes different forms in relation to each. Vyāsa serves
the best interests of the first by reorganizing and systematizing the Vedic
corpus and those of the second by disseminating the Vedic insights among
them through the Mahābhārata and the Purān.as, while also trying to raise
their status at the same time. There are some aspects of the Mahābhārata
which lend plausibility to the view that it was meant for those who had
been denied access to the Vedas and also meant to elevate their status. It
contains a verse, in the vulgate, which betrays a consciousness of the fact
that the śūdras lost the right to the Vedas (Śānti Parva [vulgate] 181.15)262
which was cited earlier, as also the verse glorifying the śūdra even above
brāhman.as,263 also in the same parva (297.98), and identifying him with
Vis.n.u. One wonders, apart from the Vedic precedent,264 whether this iden-
tification is connected with Vis.n.u’s feat as a dwarf in Hindu mythology,265
who in three footsteps traversed the whole universe, given the traditional
association of the feet with the śūdra.
This rehabilitation of the śūdra is also detectable elsewhere in the
Mahābhārata wherein the fact of the śūdra’s birth from the feet – a put-
down in Vedic literature, is alluded to in a manner reminiscent of the strides
of Vis.n.u (III.12.962). Vis.n.u declares:

The Brāhman is my mouth; the Kshattra is my arms; the Viśas are my thighs; these Śūdras
with their vigor and rapidity are my feet.266
260 ARVIND SHARMA

The process of rehabilitation is carried further in the Bhāgavata


Purān.a. In the account of the emergence of the four varn.as from the
distinct body-parts of the purus.a, the śūdra is described as emerging from
the feet (III.6.33) but unlike the deductions made from this fact in the
Brāhman.as, the resonances have a definitely positive ring. In describing
his emergence from the feet, the being is not called purus.a as in the case of
brāhman.a and ks.atriya (and by implication that of vaiśya) but bhagavān.
So he is described as emerging from the feet of God; service or śuśrūs.ā is
mentioned but is described as “for the sake of dharma” (dharma-siddhaye).
Finally, it is stated that by this vocation Hari is pleased (yadvr. ttyā tus.yate
harih.). Thomas J. Hopkins places this statement in the broader context
of bhakti as follows: “Among the characteristics of a Śūdra are said to
be humility, purity, truth, and service to his master without guile, all of
which make him ideally suited for devotion, as well as for his traditional
servile role. The Bhāgavata says, in fact, that when the four classes were
created there was brought forth from the feet of Bhagavān ‘service for the
fulfillment of dharma, for which in former times was born the Śūdra by
whose conduct Hari is pleased.’ Śūdras and other lowly person, by virtue of
their servile status, are thus closer to meeting the standards of bhakti than
are many of the more fortunate members of society.”267 As if to highlight
this, Nārada “although in his previous life he was a Gandharva (a class of
demi-gods), in the Bhāgavata he appears as a Śūdra, the son of a servant
girl.”268

IX

As a result of the foregoing analysis, then, it does not seem unreasonable


to suggest that:
(1) the Vedic tradition associates the anus..tubh with the śūdras, when a
metrical association is not denied;269
(2) the Purān.ic tradition associates the composition of the Mahābhārata
with the śūdras;
(3) the modern critical historical tradition associates the composition of
the Mahābhārata with the sūtas or bards;
(4) the Indian political tradition associates this bardic role with the śūdras;
(5) with whom the anus..tubh metre is associated.
It is then not unlikely that the Mahābhārata is preeminently in the
anus..tubh metre because either by intention (according to the Hindu tradi-
tion) or by actual composition (according to Western tradition) it is closely
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 261

associated with the śūdras, who are closely associated with the anus..tubh
metre.270
The Mahābhārata represents a complex phenomenon and complex
phenomena may require plural explanations. The fact that the
Mahābhārata is preeminently in the anus..tubh may ultimately be account-
able only in terms of more than one explanation. Nevertheless, it is clear
that the conception of the Mahābhārata as a text for the śūdras will have to
form part of that overall explanation if the general argument of this paper
is valid. That is the reason given for its composition and could well have
been an or the original reason.271

NOTES
1 Margaret and James Stutley, A Dictionary of Hinduism (London and Henley: Routledge
& Kegan Paul, 1977), p. 282; Julius Lipner, Hindus: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices
(London and New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 126.
2 Amulyadhan Mukherji, Sanskrit Prosody: Its Evolution (Calcutta: Saraswat Library,
1976), p. 88.
3 Ibid.
4 Also see ibid., p. 40.
5 Ibid., p. 22.
6 A.L. Basham, The Wonder That Was India (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1967; third
revised edition) p. 509.
7 Amulyadhan Mukherji, op. cit., pp. 88–92.
8 M.A. Mehendale, “Language and Literature”, in R.C. Majumdar, ed., The Age of
Imperial Unity (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1951) p. 252.
9 Robert P. Goldman, tr., The Rāmāyana of Vālmı̄ki (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton
.
University Press, 1984) Vol. I, p. 128.
10 Margaret and James Stutley, op. cit., p. 82.
11 See Daniel H.H. Ingalls and Daniel H.H. Ingalls, Jr., “The Mahābhārata: Stylistic
Study, Computer Analysis and Concordance”, in Arvind Sharma, ed., Essays on the
Mahābhārata (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1991), pp. 18–56.
12 Vishnu Sitaram Sukthankar, ed., The Mahābhārata (Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental
Research Institute, 1970); also see J.A.B. van Buitenen, The Mahābhārata I, The Book
of the Beginning (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1973), pp. xxx–
xxxi.
13 Mary Carroll Smith, “The Mahābhārata’s Core,” Journal of the American Oriental
Society, Vol. 95, No. 3 (July–Sept., 1975) p. 480.
14 Ibid.
15 The high proportion of the anustubh metres in the Mahābhārata vis-à-vis the rest had
..
been noticed by scholars prior to the publication of the Poona text. For Winternitz, “The
Śloka which originated in the old Anus.t.ubh is certainly the metre par excellence” (of the
Mahābhārata) whose “earlier and later forms . . . are all represented” (M. Winternitz, A
History of Indian Literature [University of Calcutta, 1927], Vol. I, pp. 461–462). He also
notes that “the Tris.t.ubh metre . . . is often used in the Mahābhārata, though the Śloka is
about twenty times as frequent as the Tris.t.ubh” (ibid., p. 462). E. Washburn Hopkins noted
262 ARVIND SHARMA

that “the mass of the great epic (about ninety-five percent) is written in one of the two forms
of the free syllabic rhythm,” these two being the śloka and the tris..tubh (E.W. Hopkins, The
Great Epic of India [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1901], p. 92).
16 The terms anus tubh and śloka are often used synonymously (see Monier Monier-
..
Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964], p. 1104; Vaman
Shivram Apte, The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary [Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass,
1965], p. 1036). The anus..tubh is sometimes regarded as “a whole class of metres consisting
of four times eight syllables” (Monier Monier-Williams, op. cit., p. 40) of which the śloka
is a particular example, distinguished by the terminal regulation of the pādas (see ibid.,
p. 1104; also see Vaman Shivram Apte, op. cit., p. 77). The distinction is not merely tech-
nical but also partly historical, the śloka being “a development of the Vedic anus.t.ubh stanza
of four octosyllabic lines, but while all four lines ended iambically in the prototype, the first
and the third lines have in the Śloka acquired a trochaic rhythm” (Arthur A. Macdonell, A
History of Sanskrit Literature [New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1968], pp. 234–235.)
17 See Peter Peterson, ed., The First Book of Ramayana (Bombay: Government Central
Book Depot, 1883), pp. 10–13; so much so that Rāmāyan.a I.2.33 “gives a fanciful deriva-
tion from śoka ‘sorrow’, of the first śloka having been composed by Vālmı̄ki grieved at
seeing a bird killed” (see Monier Monier-Williams, op. cit., p. 1104). T. Burrow suggests
the historical derivation of śloka from the root śru, as representing a case when “some
derivates which have become isolated from their roots preserve IE 1” (The Sanskrit
Language [London: Faber and Faber, 1955], pp. 84, 197).
18 Shantikumar Nanooram Vyas, India in the Rāmāyana Age (Delhi: Atma Ram and Sons,
.
1967), p. 13. Also see Eric A. Huberman, “Who is Vālmı̄ki? The Ādikavi and the Origins
of Lyric Poetry,” Journal of Vais.n.ava Studies 2:4 (Fall 1994), pp. 17–30; and Robert P.
Goldman, tr., op. cit., Vol. I, p. 128.
19 This question should be distinguished from an allied but distinct question: why was
the Mahābhārata composed at all? “The Mahābhārata, as the poem itself tells us, arises
out of the following question of Janamejaya addressed to the great R.s.i Kr.s.n.a Dvaipāyana
Vyāsa on the occasion of the snake sacrifice (I.54.19): katham samabhavad bhedas tes.ām
aklis..takārin.ām // tac ca yuddham katham vr.ttam bhūtāntakaran. am mahat // How arose
the quarrel among those men of unblemished deeds? How occurred that great war which
was the cause of the destruction of so many beings?” (V.S. Sukthankar, On the Meaning of
the Mahābhārata [Bombay: The Asiatic Society of Bombay, 1957], p. 33). “Having heard
his question, Kr.s.n.a Dvaipāyana turned to his student Vaiśampāyana sitting at his side and
instructed him: ‘Tell him in full, as you have heard it from me, how of old the Breach
occurred between the Kurus and the Pān.d.avas’. Thereupon that bull among Brahmins
acknowledged the guru’s command and narrated the entire epic to the king, the sadasyas,
and all the barons around, the Breach of the Kurus and the Pan.d.avas, which spelled the
destruction of the kingdom” (J.A.B. van Buitenen, op. cit., pp. 126–127).
20 M. Winternitz, op. cit., pp. 325, 326.
21 See J.A.B. van Buitenen, op. cit., pp. xxxi–xxxv.
22 Ibid.; also see Arthur A. Macdonell, op. cit., p. 445, etc.
23 Hermann Oldenberg, Das Mahābhārata (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1922),
pp. 137–145, passim; etc.
24 E.W. Hopkins, op. cit., pp. 191–356, etc.
25 See Alf Hiltebeitel, “Religious Studies and Indian Epic Texts”, Religious Studies
Review 21:1 (Jan. 1995), pp. 26–32; etc.
26 M. Winternitz, op. cit., p. 314; etc.
27 Ibid., pp. 310–314; E.W. Hopkins, op. cit., p. 365, etc.
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 263
28 See V.N. Apte, ed., Āśvalāyanagr hyasūtra (Poona: Ānandāśrama Series 105, 1937),
.
p. 86.
29 Jarl Charpentier, Die Suparnasage (Uppsala: Akademiska Bokhandeln, 1920), p. 396.
.
30 See Paul Horsch, Die vedische Gāthā- und Śloka-Literatur (Bern: Francke Verlag,
1966); Harry Falk, Bruderschaft und Würfelspiel (Freiburg: Hedwig Falk, 1986).
31 For a tabular summary of the various positions see Gisela Kraatz, Vers und Prosa,
Entstehungstheorien zum deutschen und indischen Heldenepos (München: Steinbauer u.
Rau, 1961), p. 148.
32 Hermann Oldenberg, op. cit., p. 143.
33 Gisela Kraatz, op. cit., passim.
34 Arthur A. Macdonell, op. cit., p. 279.
35 Hermann Oldenberg, op. cit., p. 143.
36 See Jaiminı̄yopanis ad 3.4.4.
.
37 Hermann Oldenberg, op. cit., p. 144.
38 M. Winternitz, op. cit., p. 315.
39 Ibid.
40 Ibid.
41 See E.W. Hopkins, op. cit., Chapter Five, etc.
42 Thus “Winternitz in Vol. II of his History of Indian Literature, German edition, speaks
of ‘the Sūtas as the representatives of the old heroic poetry who lived in the court of the
princes and sang to extol them. They also went forth to battle so as to be able to sing of
the heroic deeds of the warriors from their own observation. These court bards stood closer
to the warriors than the learned Brahmins. They also acted as charioteers to the warriors
in their campaigns and took part in their martial life’ ” (quoted by S.N. Dasgupta, ed., A
History of Sanskrit Literature [University of Calcutta, 1974], Vol. I, p. xiii).
43 Ibid., p. xiv. The general impression of the sūta as a charioteer-bard is so widespread
that the refutation of Winternitz by S.N. Dasgupta deserves a fuller statement. After citing
Winternitz he says: “But Winternitz does not give any reference from which he draws his
views about the Sūta as the traditional keeper of heroic poetry. The Sūta occurs along
with the rathakāra and karmāra in the Atharva Veda III, 5,6,7. We find references to
this Sūta in Gautama (IV.15), Baudhāyana (10.I.9.9), Vasis..tha (XVIII.6), Manu (X.11),
Vis.n.u Dh. S. (XVI.6), Yāj (I.3), and the Sūta-sam . hitā, where he appears as a pratiloma
caste born of a Ks.attriya male and a brahmin female. Kaut.ilya says in his Arthaśāstra
(III.7) that Romahars.an.a, also called Sūta in the Purān.as, was not born out of a pratiloma
marriage. The Sūta has been referred to as sacred in the Vis.n.upurān.a and the Agnipurān.a.
The duty of the Sūta according to Manu (X.47) was to drive chariots and according to the
Vaikhānasa-smārta-sūtra (X.13) it was a part of his livelihood to remind the king of his
duties and cook food for him. According to Karn.aparva (XXXII.46.47), Sūtas were the
servants (paricārakas) of the Ks.attriyas. According to Vāyupurān.a (Ch. 3), the Sūtas used
to preserve the pedigrees of kings and great men and also the traditions of learning and
books. But nowhere do we find that Sūtas had any other work than those said above or
that they ever played the part of bard reciting the glories of kings or were in any sense the
depository of heroic poetry” (S.N. Dasgupta, ed., op. cit., pp. xiii–xiv).
44 This seems to be the only sense recognised in John Dowson, A Classical Dictionary of
Hindu Mythology and Religion (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972), p. 312.
45 The point is important. To see this clearly it is important to demonstrate the pervasive
nature of the identification of the two senses and to examine its significance. Winternitz
regarded the sūtas as closely allied to the warrior class (op. cit., p. 315). Monier Monier-
Williams makes no distinction between charioteer and bard (op. cit., p. 1241), while A.L.
264 ARVIND SHARMA

Basham declares that the sūta “combined the functions of royal charioteer, herald and
bard” (The Wonder That Was India [New York: Taplinger Publishing Co., 1967. third
revised edition], p. 91). More recently, J.A.B. van Buitenen remarks: ‘The Mahābhārata
as a whole is recited by “the Son of the Bard,” Ugraśravas, son of Lomahars.an.a, both
satisfyingly baronial names, “he of the awesome voice” and “he of the hair-raising tales” ’
(op. cit., p. xxi, emphasis added). The identification thus is pervasive. How did it arise?
The homonymous nature of the words surely contributed to it, but there seems to be more
to it. It was noticed above how the sūta Ugraśravas recited the Mahābhārata. Winternitz
goes on to point out how within the epic too “in the Mahābhārata itself, it is the Sūta
Sañjaya who describes to king Dhr.tarās.t.ra the events of the battlefield” (op. cit., p. 315).
As Sañjaya is also the king’s charioteer, the two senses blend in this case, perhaps adding
to the confusion. But then whose charioteer is Ugraśravas? To clear up the picture one
must look at the pattern of narration in the Mahābhārata. There are three narrators in the
epic: Sauti, who relates to the sages in the forest “legends contained in chapters 1–58. In
chapters 59 and 60 he is requested to tell the story of the Mahābhārata; . . . from this point
on (I.61) Vaiśampāyana becomes the narrator . . . But when it comes to the description of
the great battle, Vaiśampāyana in his turn gives place to Sañjaya, charioteer to the blind
King Dhr.itarāsht.ra . . . Thus we have Sauti addressing King Śaunaka in Upa-parvas 1–
6. Vaiśampāyana addressing King Janamejaya, 7–66, 84–100. Sañjaya addressing King
Dhr.itarāsht.ra, 67–83” (Edward Rice, The Mahābhārata [Oxford University Press, 1934],
p. 5). However, the fact that Sañjaya, with the clairvoyant vision conferred on him by
Vyāsa, narrates the battle to the blind King does not make him a bard. It seems Winternitz
has confused the description of Sauti as sūta (bard) with the description of Sañjaya as sūta
(charioteer) who happens to play the role of a bard on that occasion. This is confirmed by
the use of the word sūta in the epic. It is the “epithet of Sañjaya, Ugraśravas, Lomahars.an.a
and Karn.a” (ibid., p. 104); with Ugraśravas and Lomahars.an.a it means a bard; with Karn.a
a charioteer and with Sañjaya a charioteer (confusion arising from his playing a bardic role
at a point).
46 Nabaneeta Sen, “Comparative Studies in Oral Epic Poetry and the Vālmı̄ki Rāmāyana:
.
A Report on the Bālakān.d.a,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 86, No. 4
(Oct.–Dec., 1966), pp. 397–409.
47 Ibid., p. 398.
48 Ibid., p. 403.
49 Mary Carroll Smith, The Warrior Code of India’s Sacred Song (New York and London:
Garland Publishing, 1992).
50 Even here some caution is required. Inasmuch as any quantitative regulation of a
syllabic metre renders the task of ready composition somewhat more difficult, to that
extent, why the anus..tubh (in the more general sense) gave way to the śloka, which is
more sharply defined is also a question worth investigating. Is it that partial quantitative
regulation of metre is more helpful for oral composition than no regulation at all?
51 Maurice Bloomfield, Rig-Veda Repetitions (Harvard University Press, 1916), passim.
For the most recent work on these lines on the Mahābhārata see Daniel H.H. Ingalls and
Daniel H.H. Ingalls Jr., op. cit., pp. 19–56.
52 See Mary Carroll Smith, “The Mahābhārata’s Core”, pp. 478–482; J.A.B. van
Buitenen, op. cit., p. xxxix, fn. 44.
53 R.C. Majumdar, ed., The Vedic Age (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1965) pp. 232–
233; etc.
54 See J.A.B. van Buitenen, op. cit., folio between pp. 12 and 13. In several stutis he is
referred to as Vāsis.t.ha; see Purān.am, Vol. IX, No. 2 (July 1967), p. 217, etc.
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 265
55 E. Vernon Arnold, Vedic Metre (Cambridge University Press, 1905), p. 169.
56 “To the strictly orthodox Indian mind, the Rāmāyana appears to have been composed
.
earlier than the Mahābhārata. Indians believe that of the two incarnations of the Lord,
Rāma and Kr.s.n.a, the former was born earlier” (Gaurinath Sastri, A Concise History of
Classical Sanskrit Literature [Oxford University Press, 1960], p. 37). It may be pointed out
that if Rāma preceded Kr.s.n.a, it does not necessarily follow that the Rāmāyan.a preceded
the Mahābhārata. It is rather because according to tradition Vālmı̄ki preceded Vyāsa that,
strictly speaking, such a statement can be made form within the tradition.
57 See R.C. Majumdar, ed., The Age of Imperial Unity (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan,
1968), p. 254.
58 See E.W. Hopkins, op. cit., pp. 59ff.
59 Vaman Shivram Apte, op. cit., p. 77. “According to the Daivata Brāhmana, as quoted
.
in the Nirukta (vii, 12), an anus..tubh is so called because it is anus.ht.obhati, i.e., follows
with its praise the Gāyatrı̄, which consists of three Pādas” (Monier Monier-Williams, op.
cit., p. 40). A.L. Basham also seems to echo the suggestion when he says: “In later hymns
of the Rg.Veda a stanza of four eight-syllable quarters, called Anus..tubh, became popular.
This was much the same as Gāyatrı̄, with a fourth line added,” though he adds that “there
was considerable variation in the final cadence” (op. cit., p. 511). Also see R.gVeda, V.82.1
for a case of an “only anus..tup verse in an otherwise gāyatrı̄ sūkta” (see V.P. Limaye and
R.D. Vadekar, eds., Eighteen Principal Upanishads [Vol. 1, Poona: Vaidika Saṁśodhana
Man.d.ala, 1958], p. 264).
60 H. Oldenberg, Kleine Schriften (Wiesbaden: F. Steiner, 1967).
61 Arthur A. Macdonell, op. cit., pp. 45–47: “It is to be noted that the Vedic metres have
a certain elasticity to which we are unaccustomed in Greek prosody, and which recalls the
irregularities of the Latin Saturnian verse. Only the rhythm of the last four or five syllables
is determined, the first part of the line not being subject to rule. Regarded in their historical
connetion, the Vedic metres, which are the foundation of the entire prosody of the later
literature, occupy a position midway between the system of the Indo-Iranian period and
that of classical Sanskrit. For the evidence of the Avesta, with its eight and eleven syllable
lines, which ignore quantity, but are combined into stanzas otherwise the same as those of
the R . g-veda, indicates that the metrical practice of the period when Persians and Indians
were still one people, depended on no other principle than the counting of syllables. In the
Sanskrit period, on the other hand, the quantity of every syllable in the line was determined
in all metres, with the sole exception of the loose measure (called śloka) employed in epic
poetry. The metrical regulation of the line, starting from its end, thus finally extended to the
whole. The fixed rhythm at the end of the Vedic line is called vr.tta, literally ‘turn’ (from
vr.t; Lat. vert-ere), which corresponds etymologically to the Latin versus.
The eight-syllable line usually ends in two iambics, the first four syllables, though not
exactly determined, having a tendency to be iambic also. This verse is therefore the almost
exact equivalent of the Greek iambic dimeter.
Three of these lines combine to form the gāyatrı̄ metre, in which nearly one-fourth
(2450) of the total number of stanzas in the R . g-veda is composed. An example of it is the
first stanza of the R. g-veda, which runs as follows:

Agnim ı̄l.e purohitam


Yajñasya devam r.tvijam
Hotāram ratnadhātamam.
It may be closely rendered thus in lines imitating the rhythm of the original:
266 ARVIND SHARMA

I praise Agni, domestic priest,


God, minister of sacrifice,
Herald, most prodigal of wealth.
Four of these eight-syllable lines combine to form the anus..tubh stanza, in which the
first two and the last two are more closely connected. In the R.g-veda the number of stanzas
in this measure amounts to only about one-third of those in the gāyatrı̄. This relation
is gradually reversed, till we reach the post-Vedic period, when the gāyatrı̄ is found to
have disappeared, and the anus..tubh (now generally called śloka) to have become the
predominant measure of Sanskrit poetry. A development in the character of this metre
may be observed within the R.g-veda itself. All its verses in the oldest hymns are the same,
being iambic in rhythm. In later hymns, however, a tendency to differentiate the first and
third from the second and fourth lines, by making the former non-iambic, begins to show
itself. Finally, in the latest hymns of the tenth book the prevalence of the iambic rhythm
disappears in the odd lines. Here every possible combination of quantity in the last four
syllables is found, but the commonest variation, nearly equalling the iambic in frequency,
is v–v. The latter is the regular ending of the first and third lines in the post-Vedic śloka.”
62 Arthur A. Macdonell, A Vedic Grammar for Students (Oxford University Press, 1971),
p. 438, fn. 2.
63 Ibid., p. 442, fn. 2.
64 Ibid., p. 438, fn. 1.
65 Ibid., p. 439, fn. 3.
66 Ibid., p. 438, fn. 1.
67 S.D. Kulkarni, ed., Study of Indian History and Culture (Bombay: Bhisma, 1988) Vol.
I, p. 493.
68 Gary A. Tubb, “Śāntarasa in the Mahābhārata”, in Arvind Sharma, ed., op. cit.,
pp. 174–175.
69 Robert P. Goldman, tr., op. cit., Vol. I, p. 29. “Vālmı̄ki describes himself as son of
Pracetas, which makes him a member of the family of the Bhr.gus, an influential lineage of
Brahmans in ancient India” (Velcheru Narayana Rao, “Vālmı̄ki”, in Mircea Eliade, editor
in chief, The Encyclopedia of Religion [New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987]
Vol. 15, p. 184).
70 Ibid. Also see Robert P. Goldman, tr., op. cit., p. 128.
71 Ibid., pp. 126, 137. However, also see the account of Śaṁbūka.
72 Julius Lipner, op. cit., p. 130.
73 Velcheru Narayana Rao, op. cit., Vol. 15, p. 184.
74 Ibid.
75 Ibid.
76 Ibid.
77 Ibid.
78 Ibid.
79 Ibid.
80 They are referred to as kuśı̄lavau (P.K. Gode and C.G. Karve, editors-in-chief, V.S.
Apte’s The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary [Poona: Prasad Prakashan, 1957] Vol. I,
p. 590). The word kuśı̄lava by itself is an epithet of Vālmı̄ki (ibid). E. Washurn Hopkins
notes: “The Sūtas or bards were also charioteers. They made a special sub-caste and lived at
court, while the Kuçı̄lavas learned the songs of the bards and wandered among the people
at large singing them. This name was resolved into Kuça and Lava who are represented
as two singers, sons of Rāma. They learned the poem of Vālmı̄ki and recited it among
the people, as the later story goes (Rāmāyan.a, I, 4)” (“The Princes and Peoples of the
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 267

Epic Poems”, in E.J. Rapson, ed., Ancient India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1922] p. 17 note 1).
81 P.V. Kane, History of Dharmaśāstra (Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute,
1974) Vol. II, part I, p. 78.
82 Ibid.
83 Ibid.
84 Ibid., p. 168.
85 See Mandal Commission Report of the Backward Classes Commission, 1980 (Delhi:
Akalank Publications, n.d.) pp. 304, 319, 337, 354; O.P. Sharma, Scheduled Castes: Popu-
lation and Literates (New Delhi: Boowell Publications, 1990) p. 410; etc.
86 For more on the link of sweepers with Vālmı̄ki see Pauline Kolenda, Caste in Contem-
porary India: Beyond Organic Solidarity (Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc.,
1978) p. 95.
87 Personal Communication, Dr. S. Bhargava, Ottawa, Canada.
88 J.A.B. van Buitenen, op. cit., p. xxiii; etc. Also see M. Bruce Sullivan, Krsna
.. .
Dvaipāyana Vyāsa and the Mahābhārata: A New Interpretation (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1990).
89 Bhāgavata Purāna I.4.25. Note the irregular nature of the śloka here as consisting of
.
three hemistiches. It is cited as a regular śloka (without the middle hemistich) by P.V. Kane,
op. cit., Vol. II, Part I, p. 155, fn. 363. Thomas J. Hopkins takes note of this verse too, but
quotes it to demonstrate that “the bhakti religion itself is an act of compassion on the part of
the Lord by which women, śūdras, and those who have fallen from their twice-born status
might be brought to a better condition” (Thomas J. Hopkins, “The Social Teaching of the
Bhāgavata Purān.a,” in Milton Singer, ed., Krishna: Myths, Rites and Attitudes [Honolulu:
East-West Center Press, 1966] p. 19). In paraphrasing the verse thus, however, he seems to
overlook the pivotal role of Kr.s.n.a Dvaipāyana in the composition of the Mahābhārata.
90 The expression dvijabandhu calls for some remarks. It is rendered by A.C. Bhakti-
vedanta Swami literally as “friends of the twice-born” (Śrı̄mad Bhāgavatam, First Canto,
Part One [New York: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1972], p. 214). But it seems to, more
accurately, stand for “a mere twice-born,” “a Brahman only by name” (see Monier Monier-
Williams, op. cit., p. 506), and may be compared with the expression brahmabandhu, “(1)
a contemptuous term for a Brāhman.a, an unworthy Brāhman.a (cf. Marāt.hı̄ bhat.urgā); (2)
one who is a Brāhman.a only by caste, a nominal Brāhman.a” (Vaman Shivram Apte, The
Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary [Poona: Shiralkar & Co., 1890], p. 802).
91 P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vol. II, Part I, p. 155.
92 Bhāgavata Purāna I.4.29. R.S. Sharma takes note of both these verses (I.4.29 and
.
29) and says: “The Bhāgavata Purān.a states that instead of the Veda the Mahābhārata is
provided for women and śūdras” (Ram Sharan Sharma, Śūdras in Ancient India [Delhi:
Motilal Banarsidass, 1958], p. 265). He, however, also omits to mention, like Thomas J.
Hopkins, the role of Kr.s.n.a Dvaipāyana Vyāsa.
93 Mahābhārata, 1.55.2 (critical edition). This point, to the best of our knowledge, has
nowhere been contested within the tradition and, if anything, endorsed, although after the
lapse of some centuries. The Vedārtha Prakāśa of Mādhavācārya (fourteenth century) on
the Taittirı̄ya YajurVeda cites the verses of the Bhāgavata Purān.a verbatim by way of
answering the question he himself poses: “The scripture (śāstra) which declares that those
persons only who have been invested with the sacrificial cord are competent to read the
Veda, intimates thereby that the same study would be a cause of unhappiness to women
and śūdras [who are not invested]. How, then, are these two classes of persons to discover
the means of future happiness? We answer, from the Purān.as and other such works. Hence
it has been said . . . ” (J. Muir, Original Sanskrit Texts [New Delhi: Oriental Publishers and
268 ARVIND SHARMA

Distributors, 1976. Indian reprint; first published 1873] Vol. III, p. 68). This statement also
sheds light on a point tenaciously maintained within the tradition: that Vyāsa is also the
composer of the Purān.as in addition to the Mahābhārata, despite the prodigious prodigy
that makes him. The authorial attribution is apparently based more on motivational identity
than Herculean prolificity. The tradition, recorded earlier in the Vis.n.u Purān.a, is also
significant. Klaus K. Klostermaier summarizes the existing consensus regarding Purān.ic
chronology as follows: “In a general way, one can state that the texts of the Mahāpurān. as,
as they have been printed, have been fixed between the time of 400 C.E. and 1000 C.E.,
the Vis.n.u Purān.a being closest to the earlier date and the Bhāgavata Purān.a nearest to
the latter.” (A Survey of Hinduism [second edition]; Albany, N.Y.: State University of
New York Press, 1994], pp. 96–97). It is significant chronologically because the Vis.n.u
Purān.a is earlier than the Bhāgavata Purān.a. The evidence from the latter has already
been cited. The Vis.n.u Purān.a (III.4.1–10) also associates Vyāsa with the (division of the)
Vedas, the (authorship of the) Mahābhārata and (the dissemination of) the Purān.as, so
also the relatively early Vāyu Purān.a (60.16–25), but no distinct motive is assigned for the
composition of the Mahābhārata. However, Vyāsa’s positive attitude towards both śūdras
and women is apparent in Vis.n.u Purān.a VI.2.
94 See P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vol. II, Part I, 1992. Also see A.S. Altekar, The Position of
Women in Hindu Civilization From Prehistoric Times to the Present Day (Delhi: Motilal
Banarsidass, 1973), p. 204 for another source. Also see pp. 205, 327, 354.
95 Manusmr ti, II.168; see G. Bühler, tr., The Laws of Manu (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass,
.
1967), p. 61; Wendy Doniger (with Brian K. Smith), The Laws of Manu (New York:
Penguin Books, 1991), p. 34.
96 Julius Eggeling, tr., The Śatapatha-Brāhman a According to the Text of the
.
Mādhyandina School (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1882), Part I, pp. 27–28.
97 Ibid., Part III, p. 131.
98 Ibid., Part V, p. 435, with diacritics adjusted.
99 Jogiraj Basu, India of the Age of the Brāhmanas (Calcutta: Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar,
.
1969), pp. 12–13; Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., p. 77.
100 P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vol. II, Part I, p. 157.
101 See B.D. Basu, ed., The Mı̄māṁsā Sūtras of Jaimini (New York: AMS Press, 1974;
first published 1923–1925, Allahabad), p. 306. R.S. Sharma cites the set of sūtras involved
above (op. cit., p. 121) but the relevant sūtra is cited as I.3.27 by P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vol.
II, Part I, pp. 156–157. Also see K. Satchidananda Murty (Vedic Hermeneutics [Delhi:
Motilal Banarsidass, 1993], p. 13): “even the medieval commentators admit that Bādari, a
great sage, who is cited by Jaimini, maintained that all, including śūdras, were eligible to
perform Vedic sacrifices.” The text runs: nimittārthena bādaristasmāt sarvādhikāraṁ syāt.
102 P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vo. II, Part I, p. 157. This is not included in the prooftexts in
favour of the right of the śūdras cited by K. Satchidananda Murty, op. cit., pp. 19–20. It is,
however, recognized by Ram Gopal, India of Vedic Kalpasūtras (Delhi: Motilal Banarsi-
dass, 1983: second edition), pp. 119, 129.
103 Cited by K. Satchidananda Murty, op. cit., p. 19, note 30. As for its date, all that P.V.
Kane says it that it is later than Gautama Smr.ti (op. cit., Vol. I, Part I, p. 305).
104 K. Satchidananda Murty, op. cit., p. 19.
105 P.V. Kane does not identify any such text. According to him “besides the
Yājñavalkyasmr.ti we have to reckon with three other works connected with the name of
Yājñavalkya, viz. Vr.ddha Yāj., Yoga-Yāj, and Br.had-Yāj,” (op. cit., Vol. I, Part I, p. 448).
He also remarks: “All these three works are comparatively ancient” (ibid.) It is not clear to
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 269

this writer whether Murty is referring to an independent work or referring to Yoga-Yāj as


Yogi-Yāj.
106 K. Satchidananda Murty, op. cit., p. 19.
107 J.C. Heesterman, The Broken World of Sacrifice: An Essay in Ancient Indian Ritual
(Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1993), pp. 136–137 and notes 117
and 118.
108 Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., p. 80, note 2.
109 B.R. Ambedkar, Who Were the Shudras? (Bombay: Thackers, 1946), pp. 29–48;
etc.
110 See Patrick Olivelle, The Āśrama System: The History and Hermeneutics of a Reli-
gious Institution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 193; “Hindu Rites” in
Mircea Eliade, editor in chief, The Encyclopedia of Religion (New York: The Macmillan
Publishing Co., 1987) Vol. 12, p. 391; etc.
111 See Rita M. Gross, “Birth,” in Mircea Eliade, editor in chief, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 227.
112 The text without specific reference is cited by S. Radhakrishnan in P.V. Kane, op. cit.,
Vol. V, Part II, p. v and another text is cited without specifics but from Śānti Parva in The
Hindu View of Life (New Delhi: Indus, 1993), p. 85. Also see P.H. Prabhu, Hindu Social
Organization (Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1963), pp. 292–295.
113 Cited in Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., p. 25. Also see Louis Renou, ed., Hinduism
(New York: George Braziller, 1962), p. 142.
114 K. Satchidananda Murty, op. cit., p. 13. Also see Muneo Tokunaga, The Brhaddevatā
.
(Kyoto: Rinsen Book Co., 1997) p. 126.
115 R.S. Sharma, op. cit., p. 73. Yāska offers this as an optional interpretation, a point
overlooked by both Sharma and Murty. Moreover, “Some modern linguists have suggested
that pañca originally may also have had the sense of ‘all’ ” (G.C. Pande, Dimensions of
Ancient Indian Social History [New Delhi: Books & Books, 1984], p. 264, note 1).
116 The point must be understood with caution. The Kāthaka Samhitā is unaccented
. .
because it lost its accent in the Middle Ages, and those which have, have been taken from
medieval ritual handbooks. Personal communication, Professor Michael Witzel.
117 R.S. Sharma, op. cit., pp. 77–78. It should be noted, however, that while according
to R.S. Sharma the Āpastamba Śrautasūtra “is considered the oldest of its kind,” recent
scholarly opinion considers it a ‘middle level’ text (see C.G. Kashikar, A Survey of the
Śrauta Śūtras [Bombay: University of Bombay, 1968] p. 161; also see C.G. Kashikar, ed.,
The Śrauta, Paitr.medhika and Pariśes.a Sūtras of Bharadvāja [Poona: Vaidika Saṁśodhana
Man.d.ala, 1964] p. xcii).
118 V.M. Apte, “Religion and Philosophy”, in R.C. Majumdar, ed., The Vedic Age
(London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1953) pp. 442–443.
119 Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., p. 73. For more evidence on this point see Michael
Witzel, “Saramā and the Pan.is: Origins of Prosimetric Exchange in Archaic India”, in
Joseph Harris and Karl Reichl, eds., Prosimetrum: Crosscultural Perspectives on Narrative
in Prose and Verse (Cambridge, U.K.: D.S. Brewer, 1997) pp. 387–409, especially 403–
404.
120 Christopher Minkowski, “The Rathakāra’s Eligibility to Sacrifice”, Indo-Iranian
Journal, Vol. 32 (1989), pp. 177–194.
121 Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., p. 56.
122 Ibid., p. 70ff.
123 Ibid., p. 54. Also see Arthaśāstra (IX.2). The Anuśāsana Parva, by contrast with Śānti
Parva occasionally seems to be more orthodox, see 59.33; 165.10 (vulgate), but also see
143.48.
270 ARVIND SHARMA

124 Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., p. 53.


125 Ibid., p. 37. From a historical point of view this conclusion is overdrawn and perhaps
based on a conflation of Sudās with Sudāsa. What is of interest is that such a move should
have surfaced at all within the tradition; and perhaps of even greater interest that it would
find expression in the Mahābhārata. From a historical point of view, however, “it is difficult
to vouch for the authenticity of the tradition in the Śānti Parvan that Paijavana was a śūdra.
He has been identified with Sūdās, the head of the Bhārata tribe, and it is argued that this
famous hero of the Battle of Ten Kings was a śūdra. There is nothing in the Vedic literature
to support this view, and the Śānti Parvan tradition is not corroborated by any other source,
epic or Purānic. The tradition says that Śūdra Paijavana performed sacrifices, and occurs in
a context where it is stated that the śūdras can perform five great sacrifices and make gifts.
It is difficult to judge whether the tradition was true or false, but clearly it was meant to
serve as a precedent for śūdras making gifts and sacrifices, which, as will be shown later,
was in keeping with the liberal attitude of the Śānti Parvan.” (ibid.).
126 V.S. Agrawala, India as Known to Pānini (Varanasi: Prithvi Prakashan, 1963), p. 80.
.
127 K. Satchidananda Murty, op. cit., p. 16.
128 Rāmāyana, VII.67.1–3; also see VII.65.8–24.
.
129 It is admitted on all hands that the śūdra was entitled to pākayajñas and that svāhā, etc.
were to be replaced by namah.. The śūdra “was allowed to perform the five daily sacrifices
called Mahāyajñas, in the ordinary fire, he could perform śrāddha, he was to think of the
devatās and utter loudly the word ‘namah.’ which was to be the only mantra in his case
(i.e. he was not to say ‘Agnaye svāhā’ but to think of Agni and say ‘namah.’). Manu X.127
prescribes that all religious rites for the śūdra are without (Vedic) mantras. According to
some the śūdra could also have what is called Vaivāhika fire (i.e. fire kindled at the time of
marriage) in Manu III.67 and Yāj. I.97, but Medhātithi (on the same verse), the Mit. (on
Yāj. I.121), the Madanapārijāta (p. 231) and other works say that he should offer oblations
in the ordinary fire and that there is no Vaivāhika fire for the śūdra. All persons including
the śūdras and even cān.d.ālas were authorized to repeat the Rāmamantra of 13 letters (Śrı̄
Rāma jaya Rāma jaya jaya Rāma), and the Śiva mantra of five letters (namah. Śivāya),
while dvijātis could repeat the Śiva mantra of six letters (Om namah. Śivāya). Vide Śūdra-
kamalākara, pp. 30–31, where passages of Varāha, Vāmana and Bhavis.ya Purān.as are cited
to show that śūdras are entitled to learn and repeat mantras of Vis.n.u from the Pāñcarātra
texts and of Śiva, the Sun, Śakti and Vināyaka. The Varāhapurān.a, 12.22–31, describes
the initiation (dı̄ks.ā) of a śūdra as a devotee of Vis.n.u (as a bhāgavata).” So P.V. Kane, op.
cit., Vol.II, Part I, pp. 157–158. The situation regarding the saṁskāras was similar (ibid.,
p. 159): “Laghuvis.n.u (I.15) contains the dictum that the śūdra is devoid of any saṁskāra.
The Mit. on Yāj. III.262 explains the words of Manu IV.80 about vratas in the case of
śūdras as applicable only to those śūdras who are not in attendance upon members of
the three higher castes and establishes that śūdras can perform vratas (but without homa
and muttering of mantras). Aparārka on the same verse (Manu IV.80) explains that the
śūdra cannot perform vratas in person but only through the medium of a brāhman.a. The
Śūdrakamalākara (p. 38) holds that śūdras are entitled to perform vratas, fasts, mahādānas
and prāyaścittas, but without homa and japa. Manu X.127 allows religious śūdras to
perform all religious acts which dvijātis perform, provided they do not use Vedic mantras.
On the other hand Śaṅkha (as quoted by Viśvarūpa on Yāj. I.13) opines that saṁskāras may
be performed for śūdras but without Vedic mantras. Yama quoted in Sm. C. (I., p. 14) says
the same. Veda-Vyāsa (I.17) prescribes that the saṁskāras (viz. garbhādhāna, puṁsavana,
sı̄mantonnayana, jātakarma, nāmakaran.a, nis.kraman.a, annaprāśana, caula, karn.avedha and
vivāha) can be performed in the case of śūdras, but without Vedic mantras. Haradatta (on
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 271

Gautama X.51) quotes a gr.hyakāra to the effect that even in the case of the śūdra the rites
of nis.eka, puṁsavana, sı̄mantonnayana, jātakarma, nāmakaran.a, annaprāśana and caula are
allowed but without Vedic mantras. When Manu prescribes (II.32) that the śūdra should
be given a name connected with service, he indicates that the śūdra could perform the
ceremony of nāmakaran.a. So when Manu (IV.80) states that he deserves no saṁskāra,
what he means is that no saṁskāra with Vedic mantras was to be performed in his case.
Medhātithi on Manu IV.80 says that the prohibition to give advice and impart instruction
in dharma applies only when these are done for making one’s livelihood, but if a śūdra
is a friend of the family of a brāhman.a friendly advice or instruction can be given. Vide
Śūdrakamalākara, p. 47, for several views about the saṁskāras allowed to śūdras.”
130 See Review of Anantanand Rambachan, Accomplishing the Accomplished: The Vedas
as a Source of Valid Knowledge in Śaṅkara (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press,
1991) by Arvind Sharma in Philosophy East and West, 43:4:737–747 and “A Reply to
Anatananand Rambachan,” Philosophy East and West, 45:1:105–113.
131 T.M.P. Mahadevan, Outlines of Hinduism (Bombay: Chetana, 1971), p. 140.
132 Cf. Bhagavadgı̄tā, II.19–20; 29 with Katha Upanisad, II:18–19; 7, etc.
. .
133 The Śaṁbūka episode is often misrepresented. For a recent example see Vijay Prasad,
“May Days of Mayavati,” Economic and Political Weekly, June 10, 1995, p. 1357. For
a useful discussion see Rosalind Lefeber, tr., The Rāmāyan.a of Vālmı̄ki (Princeton, New
Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994), Vol. IV, p. 244, note 31.
134 Brian K. Smith, Classifying the Universe: The Ancient Indian Varna System and the
.
Origins of Caste (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 30, emphasis added.
135 Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., p. 37.
136 G.S. Ghurye, Caste, Class and Occupation (Bombay: Popular Book Depot, 1961),
p. 44.
137 P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vol. II, Part I, p. 154. Kane provides the citation from Vasistha
..
(IV.3) in note 356 and adds: “. . . quoted by Aparārka . . . who quotes Yama . . . ”
138 P.V.Kane (ibid.) adds in note 357 that “This is the basis of Jaimini, VI.1.33 and is
relied on by Śabara.”
139 For a synoptic presentation of thirteen such myths see Brian K. Smith, op. cit.,
pp. 329–348; for others as well see J. Muir, op. cit., Vol. I, Chapter I.
140 See Brian K. Smith, op. cit., p. 335; Christopher Minkowski, op. cit., passim.
141 Ibid., p. 337.
142 A.S. Altekar, op. cit., p. 10ff. Also see Jaiminı̄ya Brāhmana II.219: śtriyo mantrakrta
. .
āsuh., in relation to Ātreya women.
143 Julius Lipner, op. cit., p. 100. In modern Hindu writings the rehabilitation of śūdras
and women was similarly also attempted simultaneously. As K. Satchidananda Murty notes
(op. cit., p. 17): “The Mı̄māṁsā Sūtras, VI.1.24 to 38, have been interpreted by their
medieval commentators as prohibiting śūdras from Vedic study and sacrifices. The Ārya
Samājists, however, do not accept such an interpretation and maintain that according to
Jaimini, all are eligible to study the Veda and perform Vedic rituals, because their reward
is desired by all and whoever has the capacity to undertake and complete them can do so.
Even the medieval commentators admit that Bādari, a great sage, who is cited by Jaimini,
maintained that all, including Śūdras, are eligible to perform Vedic sacrifices. Similarly,
sages like Aitiśāyana denied the eligibility of women to Vedic study and perform sacrifices,
while Bādarāyan.a and Jaimini asserted to the contrary. Some smr.tis make scriptural study
mandatory to women.” The practice of women eating after men is of ancient vintage and
may go as far back as 1000 B.C., see Maitrāyan.ı̄ Sam . hitā I.6.12; Kat.ha Sam
. hitā 11.6;
Taittirı̄ya Sam . hitā VI.5.6 and Śatapatha Brāhman.a III.1.3, 3.4.
272 ARVIND SHARMA

144 See P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vol. V, Part II, pp. 928–929.
145 Ibid., Vol. II, Part I, p. 594, note 1392.
146 Ibid., Vol. V, Part II, p. 930.
147 Ibid.
148 For the date of Śaṅkaravijaya see Paul Hacker, Kleine Schriften (Wiesbaden: Steiner,
1978) p. 206, on the assumption that it is identical with Śaṅkaradigvijaya.
149 J.L. Shastri, ed., Manusmr tih (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1983), p. 17.
. .
150 Mahābhārata (Citraśālā edition), Ādiparva, Chapter I.
151 Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., p. 64.
152 A.S. Altekar, op. cit., pp. 357–358.
153 J. Muir, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 38, note 41.
154 According to Matsya Purāna (53:70) Vyāsa first composed the Purānas and then
. .
the Mahābhārata but according to the Bhāgavata (Ch. 2) this eighteenth Purān.a was
composed after the Mahābhārata.
155 See P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vol. V, Part II, p. 929.
156 K. Satchindananda Murty, op. cit., p. 19.
157 Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., pp. 65–66.
158 K. Satchidananda Murty, op. cit., p. 14, note 30.
159 Ibid., p. 19, note 30.
160 P.V. Kane cites the following prooftexts: Śūdrakrtyatattva, Varsakriyākaumudı̄ (which
. .
cites it as from Kūrmapurān.a) and Śūdrakamalākara (see P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vol. II, Part
I, op. cit., p. 156 note 365).
161 Ibid., p. 156.
162 This text probably belongs to the seventeenth century (see P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vol. I,
Part II, pp. 938, 940–941).
163 Ibid., p. 156.
164 J.L. Shastri, ed., op. cit., p. 24.
165 This could be understood figuratively (see S. Radhakrishnan, The Hindu View of Life,
p. 87) or literally (Patrick Olivelle, op. cit., p. 236, note 53).
166 As in Āpastamba Dharma Sūtra, I.9.29.11 etc. cited by P. V. Kane, op. cit., Vol. II,
Part I, pp. 33–34; but also see K.M. Sen, Hinduism (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971),
p. 28; Klaus K. Klostermaier op. cit., p. 334.
167 J. Muir, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 18.
168 Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., p. 56.
169 P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vol. II, Part I, p. 34.
170 Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., p. 56.
171 See Hari Narayana Apte, ed., Krsnayajurvedı̄yataittirı̄ya Samhitā (Poona:
.. . .
Ānandāśrama Press, 1905), p. 4236.
172 Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., p. 75.
173 J. Muir, op. cit., Part I, p. 20.
174 Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., p. 74.
175 G.S. Ghurye, op. cit., p. 44. He is relying on Taittirı̄ya Samhitā: vii.1.1.4–5.
.
176 All English translations are from Arthur Berriedale Keith, The Vedas of the Black
Yajus School Entitled Taittiriya Sanhita (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1967. Indian reprint.
First published 1914), unless indicated otherwise.
177 Ibid, pp. 447–448.
178 Do the dual divinities indicate the tendency towards the equation of the vaiśyas and
the śūdras, the two varn.as, in the social sphere? See Brian K. Smith, op. cit., p. 27; Ram
Sharan Sharma, op. cit., pp. 58, 140–141; etc.
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 273
179 A.B. Keith, op. cit., pp. 603–604.
180 Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., p. 73.
181 A.B. Keith, op. cit., p. 439.
182 Ibid., p. 502.
183 Ibid., p. 569.
184 Ibid., p. 307.
185 Brian K. Smith, op. cit., p. 301.
186 Ibid., p. 312, note 64.
187 For the interpretation of more than three functions also see Nicholas J. Allen,
“Hinduism as Indo-European: Cultural Comparativism and Political Sensitivities”, in
Johannes Bronkhorst and Madhav M. Deshpande, eds., Aryan and Non-Aryan in South
Asia: Evidence, Interpretation, Ideology, Volume III of Opera Minora, Harvard Oriental
Series, Cambridge 1999, pp. 19–33.
188 Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., pp. 29–35; Brian K. Smith, op. cit., pp. 15, 27, etc.
189 Ibid., p. 302. The following comment based on an analysis of thirteen cosmogonic
myths in Vedic lore is also helpful (ibid., p. 76): “The texts here, it should be readily
admitted, are not always absolutely consistent in their categorizations. Nevertheless, it can
be said that the first three categories are here, no less than in tripartite and quadripartite
structures, clearly identified with the three highest varn.as. And, generally speaking, the
fourth chain must also be read, as in the case of the quadripartite schemes examined in
Cosmogonies VIII–XI, as generally ‘Shūdra’ in orientation. Some of the taxons listed in
the fourth category – the anus..tubh meter, the vairāja chant, and the twenty-one-versed
hymn of praise – are the same in the pentadic structures as they are in quadripartite ones
in which the Shūdra social class is also listed. Elemental qualities such as ‘prosperity’ and
‘fruit’ for the fourth chain, complementing those of brahman, ks.atra, and viś for the first
three, can be understood in terms of the displacement of previously Vaishya qualities onto
the Shūdras as they are added to the system. This could also be offered as the explanation
for some of the interchangeability of the deities of the third and fourth chains in these
structures: Varun.a and the Maruts, for example, can function as either Vaishya or Shūdra
gods.”
190 Jaiminı̄ya Brāhmana II.102. Also see Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., p. 55.
.
191 Śāṅkhāyana Brāhmana XXVII.1. Also see Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., p. 64.
.
192 Śāṅkhāyana Srauta Sūtra XIV.33.18–19. Also see Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., p. 55,
fn. 6, and p. 74, fn. 10.
193 Ibid., p. 74.
194 Taittirı̄ya Samhitā VII.1.1.4–5. Also see Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., p. 74.
.
195 See Hari Narayana Apte, ed., op. cit., p. 4236.
196 M. Winternitz, op. cit., p. 323.
197 Ibid., p. 465; R.C. Majumdar, ed., The Age of Imperial Unity, p. 25; J.A.B. van
Buitenen, op. cit., p. xxv.
198 See Thomas J. Hopkins, op. cit., pp. 3–6.
199 M. Winternitz, op. cit., p. 326.
200 J.A.B. van Buitenen, op. cit., p. xxiv.
201 One may note that even if it has happened unconsciously it calls for a conscious
explanation.
202 Thomas J. Hopkins, op. cit., passim, but especially see pp. 17, 19, 20. The most
dramatic about-face in the treatment of the śūdra is represented by the way the fact of
the śūdra being formed from the feet of the purus.a in R.gVeda X.90.12 is treated in the
Bhāgavata Purān.a. In the Taittirı̄ya Sam
. hitā it has the effect of lowering his status (vii, 1,
274 ARVIND SHARMA

1, 4), but the Bhāgavata Purān.a (III.6.33) “says, in fact, that when the four classes were
created there was brought forth from the feet of Bhagavān ‘service for the fulfillment of
dharma, for which in former times was born the Śūdra by whose conduct Hari is pleased’ ”
(Thomas J. Hopkins, op. cit., p. 17).
203 Were the authors (or author) of the Bhāgavata Purāna familiar with the traditional
.
association of the śūdra with the anus..tubh, we might even ask, tongue in cheek, or did the
preponderance of the anus..tubh in the Mahābhārata father this thought!
204 “The introduction of the great epic informs us that Vyāsa imparted his poem first to
his pupil Vaiśampāyana, who in his turn recited the whole of it at the time of the great
snake-sacrifice of king Janamejaya. It was then heard by the Sūta Ugraśravas who, being
entreated by the Rishis assembled at the sacrifice of Śaunaka in the Nimisha forest, narrated
to them the whole poem as he learnt it on that occasion” (R.C. Majumdar, ed., The Age of
Imperial Unity, p. 246). Thus “throughout the epic the narrator is supposed to be Sauti the
paurān.ika, or reciter of ancient legends – the same person as the reputed speaker in all the
eighteen Purān.as” (Edward P. Rice, op. cit., p. 5.). Somewhat surprisingly this basic fact of
the entire narration being by Sauti is overlooked by A.L. Basham: “Traditionally the author
of the poem was the sage Vyāsa, who is said to have taught it to his pupil Vaiśampāyana.
The latter, according to tradition, recited it in public for the first time at a great sacrifice
held by King Janamejaya, the great grandson of Arjuna, one of the heroes of the story”
(op. cit., pp. 409–412).
205 M. Winternitz, op. cit., pp. 315; etc.
206 For a discussion of the Rsi vis-à-vis Sūta tradition see T.G. Mainkar, The Upabrṁhana
.. . .
and the R.gVeda Tradition (Ahmedabad: L.D. Institute of Indology, 1975), passim.
207 E.W. Hopkins, op. cit., p. 366, fn. 2.
208 Ibid., Chapter Five, passim.
209 Ibid., p. 369, also fn. 1.
210 See P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vol. II, Part I, pp. 84, 78, 90–91, 94, etc.
211 E.W. Hopkins, op. cit., p. 369.
212 See Manusmr ti X.17. They, being of mixed caste, are certainly not members of the
.
dvijāti or the upper three varn.as. But whether they were śūdras is not entirely clear. Some-
times a distinction between a sūta and a śūdra is retained (see Ram Sharan Sharma, op.
cit., p. 242), and sometimes not (ibid., p. 49, etc.). In the Amarakośa the mixed castes
and thereby the sūta is clearly placed in the śūdra varga (ibid., p. 263). By the test of
accessibility or otherwise to Vedic learning, the sūtas would be śūdras, as access to it was
denied to them (see P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vol. II, Part I, p. 99).
213 The tradition of the sūta goes back to Vedic times (vide Arthur Anthony Macdonnell
and Arthur Berriedale Keith [Vedic Index of Names and Subjects, London: John Murray,
1912] p. 462). Even then the sūta has a śūdra-like status (vide Ram Sharan Sharma, op.
cit., Chapter III, passim).
214 That the sūtas were in any capacity a low caste is clear. But were there sūtas
and sūtas? Two pieces of evidence are very significant in this connection and need to
be closely examined; a passage from the Arthaśāstra and a few references from the
Manusmr.ti. The Arthaśāstra, after describing the various mixed castes on the pattern of the
smr.tis, however, adds, after mentioning the sūta – paurān.ikastvanyah. sūto māgadhaśca
brahmaks.atrādviśes.ah. (Arthaśāstra III.7.29; as per R.P. Kangle, ed., The Kaut.ilı̄ya
Arthaśāstra (University of Bombay, 1963), Part I, p. 107; P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vol. I, Part
1, p. 246, note 221, reads viśes.atah. for viśes.ah.). It is clear, therefore, that Kaut.ilya is
distinguishing between two kinds of sūtas. Unfortunately the nature of the distinction is
not clear: (a) T. Gan.apati Śāstrı̄ takes it to mean that the paurān.ika sūta is superior (viśes.a)
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 275

to the Brāhman.a and the Ks.atriya, perhaps on the basis of the story of the divine birth of
Lomahars.an.a (vide R.P. Kangle, op. cit., Part II, p. 248). But as is well known, divine birth
is often used as a literary device to conceal low birth, so the real picture is not at all clear;
(b) it could be taken to mean that the paurān.ika sūta is in general a class apart from all these
mixed castes. This needs more evidence to support it; (c) it could mean that the sūta of the
purānas is different (viśes.ah.) from the other sūta because although he himself is a mixed
caste like them he comes from a different mix than the sūta, who is born from a ks.atriya
male and a brāhman.a female. The other sūta is born of a ks.atriya female and a vaiśya
male. As we shall see later, this sense could be reconciled in a certain manner with the
evidence from the Manusmr.ti. Before that is done, however, it may be noted (1) that S.N.
Dasgupta (op. cit., p. xiii) refers to this Arthaśāstra passage in the light of T.N. Gan.apati
Śāstrı̄’s comment without distinguishing it from the text; (2) that the passage is obviously
regarded as significant by P.V. Kane, who refers to it twice (op. cit., Vol. 1, Part 1, p. 246,
note 221, Vol. 2, Part 1, p. 98; (3) R.P. Kangle (op. cit., Part II, p. 248, fn. 26) is inclined
to look upon the whole passage with suspicion; to him the sūtra “appears to be a late
marginal comment that has got into the text.” Could it be that, with the rise in the status of
the sūta in the paurān.ika Age of Hinduism, which superseded that of the smr.tis, it became
hard to reconcile the text with the contemporary context? (4) It is capable of yet another
interpretation, as one commentary takes it to mean that a sūta springs from a brāhman.a
and a māgadha from a ks.atriya (vide R.P. Kangle, ibid.). Now the Manusmr.ti. Manu refers
to two kinds of sūtas, both pratiloma, one born through a ks.atriya male and a brāhman.a
female (X.11), the other through a vaiśya male and a ks.atriya female (X.17). The problem
is that when it comes to defining the occupation of a sūta he has a single entry (X.47).
Thus Manu mentions only one occupation for a sūta at a professional level – namely,
that of rathakāra, though he distinguishes between two types. If it now be kept in mind
that the smr.ti works do not seem to mention the śūdra as engaged in kārukuśı̄lavakarma
(work as artisan and bard) as Arthaśāstra texts seem to, and tend to mention only kāru (cf.
rathakāra in the present case), then it may be argued that the role of the sūta in the second
sense has been omitted on that pattern. This would justify the following entry by Vaman
Shivram Apte under sūta: “(1) the son of a Kshatriya by a woman of the Brāhman.a caste
(his business being that of a charioteer); (2) the son of a Vaiśya by a Kshatriya wife (his
business being that of a bard)” (op. cit., p. 995). Thus if this distinction be accepted, then it
turns out that sūta, the bard belongs to an even lower cast than sūta the charioteer, because
he is the product of the intermixture of two lower castes!
215 Arthaśāstra, I.3.8.
216 R. Shamasastry, Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra (Mysore: Mysore Printing and Publishing
.
House, 1961), p. 7, emphasis added.
217 The tradition seems to reach back as far as the Śatapatha Brāhmana (XIII.4.3.7–13),
.
which seems to imply that a priest could instruct members of the śūdra varn.a and that the
subjects included itihāsa and AtharvaVeda.
218 See P.P.S. Sastri, ed., The Mahābhārata (Southern Recension) (Madras: V.
Ramaswamy Sastrulu and Sons, 1932) Vol. IV, pp. 107, 108, 117, 121–122, 129–130.
219 Kı̄caka is called sūta by Vaiśampāyana three times (IV.14.4:21; IV.16.1) and sūtapūtra
once (IV.15.6). Draupadı̄ calls him only sūtapūtra obviously in contempt and does so eight
times (IV.13.13:17; IV.15.15–19:21). All these parenthetical references are from the critical
edition.
220 See Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., pp. 25, 32–33, 36–37, 38, 54, 63–64, 71, 74, 79,
265, 268, 274–275; but also see A.A. Macdonell and A.B. Keith, op. cit., p. 389.
221 Śāntiparva 296.28 (Calcutta edition). For a more complete translation see P.H.
276 ARVIND SHARMA

Prabhu, op. cit., p. 311: “Brāhman.as learned in the Vedas regard a virtuous Śūdra as a
model of Brāhman.a itself. I, however, regard such a Śūdra as the effulgent Vishn.u of the
universe, the foremost in all the worlds.” The Sanskrit text: vaidehikaṁ śūdramudāharanti
dvijā maharāja śrutopapannāh. ahaṁ hi paśyāmi narendra devaṁ viśvasya vis.n.uṁ jagatah.
pradhānam.
222 E.W. Hopkins, op. cit., p. 20.
223 Bhāgavata Purāna I.4.13.
.
224 Taittirı̄ya Brāhmana III.12.9.2.
.
225 Ram Sharan Sharma op. cit., p. 68. Also see p. 120. Sharma does not provide the
reference. He perhaps had II.2.29.11–12 in mind, in which the vidyā of women and śūdras
is said to reside in the AtharvaVeda.
226 Sukumari Bhattacharji, Literature in the Vedic Age (Calcutta: K.P. Bagchi Co., 1984),
Vol. I, pp. 264, 271, 179, 307, etc.
227 William Dwight Whitney, Atharva-Veda Samhitā, First Half (Harvard University
.
Press, 1905).
228 E.W. Hopkins, op. cit., p. 380.
229 Ibid. It is also of some interest that “In the early works the Ācārya, who taught gratis
all the Vedas, is declared to be worth ten Upādhyāyas, Vas. xiii.48; iii.21–22; Manu ii.140–
145. This Upādhyāya is the direct etymological ancestor of the modern Ojha, wizard.
In ancient times he was a sub-teacher, who taught for a livelihood one part of the Veda
and Vedāṅga, and he is identified in the epic with the Purohita, who, as Professor Weber
has shown, is essentially an AtharvaVeda priest, or magic-monger, whom seers regard as
contemptible. The pseudo-epic inverts the ancient relation and makes the Upādhyāya worth
ten Ācāryas, xii.105.14–15” (ibid.).
230 Brian K. Smith (op. cit., p. 307, note 6) notices the quaternary coincidence but seems
to miss its significance.
231 J. Muir, op. cit., Part I, pp. 17–18.
232 Julius Eggling, tr., op. cit., Part V, p. 365, note 3.
233 K. Satchidananda Murty, op. cit., p. 20, note 31.
234 Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., pp. 32, 35; P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vol. II, Part I, pp. 33–34;
etc.
235 K. Satchidananda Murty, op. cit., p. 14. Also see p. 19, note 28.
236 Also see Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., p. 16.
237 Gopal Raghunath Nandargikar, ed., The Raghuvaṁśa of Kālidāsa (Delhi: Motilal
Banarsidass, 1971), p. 303: “From thee, having four mouths, have sprung the knowledge
resulting in the group of four ends (purposes) of life, the arrangement (division) of time
into the four cycles, and the people consisting of the four castes.” I am indebted to Dr.
Paliath Narendran for this reference.
238 For other and later versions of this account see J. Muir, op. cit., Part I, p. 19.
239 See Margaret and James Stutley, op. cit., p. 339.
240 J. Muir, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 22.
241 P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vol. II, Part I, p. 386. Also see Harry Falk, op. cit., pp. 17–
18.
242 Ibid.
243 Ibid. See Willem B. Bollée, “The Indo-European Sodalities in Ancient India”, Zeit-
schrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 131(1) (1981) pp. 172–191. Falk
portrays them as students on home leave (‘out of vrata’), ganging together to gather cattle,
in the early chapters of his book (op. cit.).
244 This on account of a passage (Tāndya Brāhmana 17.1.9), which describes vrātyas
.. .
OF ŚŪDRAS, SŪTAS, AND ŚLOKAS 277

as those who “swallow poison and who eat food of the common people as food fit for
brāhman.as, who call good words bad, who strike with a stick him who does not deserve to
be beaten (or punished), who, though not initiated, speak the speech of the initiated. The
S.od.aśastoma has the power to remove the guilt of these. That (in this rite) there are four
S.od.aśastomas, thereby they are freed from guilt”. See P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vol. II, Part I,
p. 386.
245 Ibid.
246 Willem B. Bollée, op. cit., p. 191.
247 P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vol. II, Part I, p. 386.
248 R.S. Sharma, op. cit., p. 67, note 3.
249 P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vol. II, Part I, p. 96.
250 Ibid. Also see pp. 59–60.
251 Ibid, pp. 376–377.
252 R.S. Sharma, op. cit., p. 76, who cites Weber as distinguishing aboriginals from
vrātyas, who are described as “underhumanized Aryans”; see Willem B. Bollée, op. cit.,
p. 174, who points out that Winternitz held a similar view; also see Harry Falk, op. cit., for
another view.
253 Ibid., passim.
254 See P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vol. II, Part I, pp. 385–386: “Some of the passages convey a
tolerably clear idea of what the vrātyas were like. Those who lead the vrātya life are base
and are reduced to a baser state, since they do not observe student-hood (brahmacarya) nor
do they till the soil nor engage in trade. It is by the S.od.aśastoma that they can attain this
(superior status). This shows that the vrātyas did not perform upanayana and did not study
the Veda, nor did they do even what vaiśyas do”. In later literature, however, the notional
equation of vrātya and śūdra does not always hold good. Nārada (I.332) brackets vrātyas
with atheists and slaves and according to the Anuśāsana Parva of the Mahābhārata the
“vrātya is defined not as one who has fallen from the duties of a twice-born, but as one
who is begotten upon a ks.atriya woman by a śūdra, and is placed in the category of a
can.d.āla” (R.S. Sharma, op. cit., pp. 261, 267).
255 Willem B. Bollée, op. cit., pp. 183–184.
256 Ibid.
257 See S. Radhakrishnan, ed. The Principal Upanisads (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Human-
.
ities Press, 1996: first published 1953) p. 657.
258 Margaret and James Stutley, op. cit., p. 339.
259 Another general way in which the discussion may be helpful is by implying “that some
form of initiation into the life of the community was a universal practice among the Vedic
Indians or their ancestors – a fact which is supported by the prevalence of similar practices
among primitive peoples. This practice of initiation was also extended to the Vrātyas, who
were admitted into Āryan society through the acquisition of brahmacarya.” (R.S. Sharma,
op. cit., p. 67).
260 P.V. Kane, op. cit., Vol. II, Part I, p. 385.
261 Ibid., Vol. III, pp. 38–39.
262 Ram Sharan Sharma, op. cit., p. 25. The tradition similarly preserves memory of
the initiation of women to Vedic study (purākalpe kumārı̄n.āṁ mauñjı̄bandhanamis. yate,
adhyāpanaṁ ca vedānāṁ sāvitrı̄vacanaṁ tathā, verses even ascribed to Manu; see P.V.
Kane, op. cit., Vol. II, Part I, p. 295). These are positive śūdra-women associations; one is
generally more familiar with the negative affiliation, one of the earliest examples of which
is found in the Śatapatha Brāhman.a (XIV.1.1.31); but also see Ram Sharan Sharma, op.
cit., p. 78.
278 ARVIND SHARMA

263 Ibid., p. 214.


264 Through the correlation of the fourth elements as found in Śatapatha Brāhmana
.
XIII.3.3.1 and Taittirı̄ya Sam. hitā (VII.1.1.6) (as cited by Brian K. Smith, op. cit., p. 312,
note 64 and p. 339).
265 See Deborah A. Soifer, The Myths of Narasiṁha and Vāmana: Two Avatars in Cosmo-
logical Perspective (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), pp. 128–129, etc.
266 J. Muir, op. cit., Part I, p. 10, note 23. The last line runs: pādau śūdrāh bhavantı̄me
.
vikramen.a kramen.a ca.
267 Thomas J. Hopkins, op. cit., p. 17. Also see p. 19: “It is said that by studying the
Bhāgavata and reciting its stories the twice-born may obtain the goal of their respective
classes, but a Śūdra ‘may be purified from that which causes him to fall [i.e., the impurities
of his caste]’ or ‘may obtain the highest status.’ The emphasis on the gains to be made by
Śūdras is hardly accidental.”
268 Ibid., p. 20.
269 Avyaktopanisad 5.
.
270 Brian K. Smith has drawn pointed attention to the fact of how homological and
analogical structuring permeates the Vedas, the foundational scriptures of Hinduism (“The
Veda and the Authority of Class: Reduplicating Structures of Veda and Varn.a in Ancient
Indian Texts” in Laurie L. Patton, ed., Authority, Anxiety, and Canon: Essays in Vedic
Interpretation [Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994] pp. 67–93, espe-
cially see pp. 82–83.) From this perspective the linking of the anus..tubh metre with the
śūdra varn.a would constitute a natural extension of this scheme. It is worth noting that
“direct equations between the Vedas and the varn.as are usually not drawn” (ibid., p. 69,
emphasis added) which may account for the fact that, once the claim of the Mahābhārata
to the status of the Veda was entertained, the association mentioned under item (1) the
Vedas, would be more explicit within the tradition than the one mentioned in item (2), the
varn.as.
271 I would like to thank Professor Michael Witzel for his critical comments on this paper.
I am responsible for any remaining errors.

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