An Ancient Śūdra Account of the Origin of Castes Author(s): Hyla S.

Converse and Arvind Sharma Reviewed work(s): Source: Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 114, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1994), pp. 642644 Published by: American Oriental Society Stable URL: . Accessed: 28/03/2012 20:55
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Then the second son went off. II. Sections I and II were prepared by Hyla S. And they The editors realize that many of the statements in this account. 1. was unable to read or write and did not understand Sanskrit as a language. Oklahoma State University. when he heard of my interest in early Hinduism. He feared that when he died. The recitation was heard and partially noted down by Dr. and he knew the general meaning of what he had memorized. Stuntz who was working in the area. for it finds the source of sudra servitude not in a primeval mythic ritual of creation. Converse. which can no longer be verified. Section III. but in mythic history and an act of original injustice and betrayal. when Dr. as well as other stories and genealogies of his sudra group. Stuntz returned to the village. Converse. but. A year or so later. before she passed away in October 1990. He sadly complained that the younger people were no longer willing to undertake the arduous discipline of learning and transmitting their own oral tradition. as detailed by the authors. too. with other warriors. 642 . we have decided nevertheless to publish it. which others may perhaps be able to corroborate (ed. all of whom were intelligent and gifted. is a follow-up of their discussion of the implications of the account. The area later became part of Pakistan. promising to re-assume these burdens when he returned. Emeritus Professor. THE SOURCE OF THE STORY The account of the origin of castes that I am reporting was part of the traditional lore recited in the early 1920s in classical Sanskrit poetry by a sudra bhat belonging to a sudra enclave of a Hindu village near Khanewal and Mian Chanu in the Multan District of the Punjab. indicating that this oral tradition was of ancient origin. will be regarded by interested scholars as quite improbable. The old bhat who recited the story of how castes began. Dr. each successful in his own endeavors. note). So the youngest brotherrendered service to the older three for some years. He had four sons. THE STORY The story itself was simple and straightforward: There was once a great and powerful man who ruled over all the land. He. hoping to spend more time with the old bhat and take down his recitation more fully. He asked his youngest brother to take care of his share of responsibilities for the property while he was gone and to see to whatever his family needed done. all of his lore would be lost. Clyde B. both as a tribute to Prof. Thus. But he had carefully and accurately memorized his precious accounts of the past. degree in Indo-Iranian Languages and Literature from Columbia University. all that remains of this ancient body of genealogies and stories of the mythic past is this one account which I am reporting. He easily understood the bhat's Sanskrit and was able to identify it as early classical in form. a faithful member of the Society for many years. to seek adventure and further riches. Stuntz in 1963. When the man died he left his undivided property to all four sons. sharing the work and the wealth. The third brotherwas very clever in business and became so pre-occupied in trading ventures that he also left to his younger brother the everyday burdens of property and family. This sudra account of the origin of castes differs entirely from brahmanical ones. Stuntz had received a M. I came to know of the account through a personal communication from Dr. given the unusual chain of circumstances separating us from the events themselves. At last the older three brothersreturned.A. After a time the oldest brotherdecided to go to a hermitage and seek spiritual fulfillment. by Arvind Sharma. the old man had died. and no one in the village had learned his lore.An Ancient Sudra Account of the Origin of Castes This brief communication deals with an ancient s'udraaccount of the origin of castes. and as a record of the events therein postulated. The youngest brother generously agreed. and there are no Hindus there now. asked his youngest brother to take over his chores and family cares. For a time they lived contentedly together.

The example of the father with four sons is also significant in that this example is used in some Sanskrit texts to establish the point that caste-distinctions per se are invalid. 4. In this story there is no clear ranking of the three older brothers. 2. COMMENTS 1. Converse:"Thismaterial . or even brahmans(see Devapi. dharmasastra. Vis- vamitra. III.41. For the later period see J. refersto the Accordingto Hyla S.also his sons5).53." 5 RgVeda X. however. 600 (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. Thus the Bhavisyapurana (1.In a battle with Indra they were defeated. In this story it was not inevitable that the s'udras should become the servants of the upper three castes. n.requiring all the descendants of the youngestbrother werenamed Sudrasandwere required to be the servants of the descendants of the threeolderbrothers.45) states that if one father has four sons. hadcarried youngestbrother to continue to pursue theirown interests Theypreferred Andso.98. and all creatures. 3. No sins of the people had been mentioned until this point in the story). There is no suggestion of four ranked varnas1 whose differences were established as part of an original creation. 1980). p. that even in this account the oldest brother basically adopts an ascetic lifestyle.89. the sequence is not ordinal-the second brothertakes off first. is thus not unprecedented. The major difference in status is between the older three as a group and the youngest. who is made subservient to them. In this story there are no ontological. Original Sanskrit Texts on the Origin and History of the People of India (Delhi: Oriental Publishers. Origine et histoire de la caste vaisya Agrawals (Paris: Adrien-Maisonneuve.6 While barred from hearing the Veda. All four sons were of the same father.and itihasa materials.Sudras in Ancient India: A Social History of the Lower Order down to Circa A. It does pique one's curiosity.98. Nor are there any hints that s'udras are born to servitude because of varna-relatedguna traits that form an inherent limitation. porated into Indra'scommunity but only at the rank of vaisyas (not ksatriyas). 2 See J.or vaigyas (see the history of the gsudras Vaisya Agrawals4). Dr. then the jati of all of them must be held to be the same. 173. The property and responsibilities were left to all four without distinction. as such. There is no reference to karma. But there is no other account of a mythic historical event that explains the formation of the ranked varna order itself. etc. insteadof showingtheiryoungest unhampered. s'dras were permitted to hear itihasa and purana recitations if these were recited by a brahman. esp. 125. 6 Ram SharanSharma.or their descendants. vol. the dharmasastras. The example itself. does not go on to explain how. Muir. them. I am indebted to Madhav M. despite their common sonship. however. brothergratitudeand honor for all he had done for andburdened him them. Also there is no difference of race (arya or non-arya) or color (light or dark varna) between the older three and the youngest brother. i RgVedaX. 3 Manusmrti X. IV. 1972). Derrett. along with sun. and that the rest of their people would be sidras ('because of their sins'. moon. especially X. Fromthenon. 2. Thus there is a functional correspondence to the varnas. The mainly brahmanicalmaterials which have survived lead one to believe that s'udraswere neither eligible nor capable of an oral tradition in literary Sanskrit.CONVERSE AND SHARMA: An Ancient Sudra Account of the Origin of Castes 643 no longerwishedto re-assume the burdens whichtheir for themin theirabsence. 1938). There is even evidence to fact that the Agrawals were originally (according to the an- cient material of theirbhats)in enmitywith Indraand worshippeda mothergoddess with greatbloody sacrifices. and the agreement reached was that their religion would henceforth be controlled anddirected theirkinglyfamilywouldbe incorby brahmins. But it should be recalled that in classical times the position of the gudras was not as depressed as it became later. There are many mythic events recounted in the brahmanas. inherent differences between the four brothers. 293-94. the second one that of a warrior and the one junior to him that of a trader.7 with Sayana's commentary.theolderthreebanded together withall thosetasksthatweredistasteful to permanently him to be theirservant. Duncan M. however. 1968). Law and the State in India (New York: The Free Press. as in the Purusasikta.43-45. followed by the eldest. sky and earth. 4 See Satyaketu Vidyalafikara.the epics and puranas2which explain how one particular person or group came to be gudras (see the lists of "lapsed" ksatriyas who became in Manusmrti3). Stuntz was astonished to find a gsdra bhat reciting the lore of his people in classical Sanskrit poetry.90 mentionsthe four varnasbut not the word varna. 171-74. Deshpande for this reference. Religion. etc. Significantly. It.D. functional differentiationamong brothersresulted in the emergence of the four varnas. Also see the Mahabhdrata 1. Hence the use of this example to explain the ranked varna order appears to be unprecedented. The author of the study had gathered his material from recitations of vaigya Agrawal bhats. This is the only story of which we are aware in which the origin of castes is traced to a historical event.

Brahmanical accounts of the origin of caste provide powerful religious sanction for the varna system. the Mrcchakatika of Sudraka.I. OKLAHOMASTATE UNIVERSITY ARVIND SHARMA. a verse in the most realistic of Sanskrit plays. However. Here is a scrap of a suidra oral traditionthat.4 (1994) servitude in the varna system trary. with a few outstanding exceptions.contains the hint that the classical prohibition may not always have been in effect (IX.25-27).as based on a mythic historical act of injustice and betrayal. gives a small hint of the limitations of the brahmanical tradition as a resource for the reconstructionof the Hindu religious traditionas a whole.644 Journal of the American Oriental Society 114.21). there is very little in the brahmanicallytransmittedmaterialsthat suggests that gudras had a literary tradition of merit of their own. This ancient sudra story in classical Sanskrit. MCGILL UNIVERSITY suggest that not only in Vedic times may they have had access to Vedic learning (Mimdrhsd-sutraVI. HYLA S. on the con- .representsthe guidra as only known from a summaryreportsecond hand. CONVERSEt.

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