- 1. Meaning of Brahman
- 2. Prescribed duties, attitudes or rights of the Brahman class
- 3. Other duties
- 4. Responsibility
- 5. Types
- 6. Earning a livelihood
- 7. Code of Righteousness in times of adversity (apaddharma)
- 8. The Brahman and other classes
The word Brahman means a mantra or a verse (stotra). The one composing a mantra or a verse is a Brahman.
Brahmans are privileged to perform the following six acts (shatakarma) – 1. Study of Spirituality (adhyayan), 2. Teaching Spirituality (adhyapan), 3. Performing sacrificial fires (yajan), 4. Guiding at a sacrificial fire (yajan), 5. Offering (dan) and 6. Accepting offerings (pratigraha).
This includes study of the Vedas along with other scriptures.
The importance of study in this context is expressed in the 18th chapter of the Shrimadbhagvadgita in the form of the verse (shloka),
अधेष्यते च य इमं धर्म्यं संवादमावयो: ।
ज्ञानयज्ञेन तेनाहमिष्ट: स्यामिति मे मति: ।। ७० ।।
Meaning: I will consider that the one who studies this conversation regarding Righteousness (Dharma) from the Gita has offered oblations unto Me through the sacrificial fire of spiritual knowledge. – 70
श्रद्धावाननसूयश्च श्रुणुयादपि यो नर: ।
सोऽपि मुक्त: शुभाँल्लोकान्प्राप्नुयात्पुण्यकर्मणाम् ।। ७१ ।।
Meaning: Even the one who listens to it with faith and without envy, will be liberated (from all his sins) and will attain the sacred regions (lok) attained by the ones performing meritorious actions. – 71
A Brahman should possess the qualities of an evolved seeker or a disciple which are curiosity about the Absolute Truth, desire for Liberation, humility, the attitude of service, surrender unto the Guru, obedience towards the Guru, etc. to be able to undertake this study.
B. Commencing study (upakarma/upakaran) and stopping study (utsarjan/utsarg):
‘Upakaran means “to open, to start” that is to commence the study of the Vedas and utsarjan means “to stop the study of the Vedas for a specific period of time”. People following various Sutras perform this ritual on different days in accordance with the respective Veda to which the Sutra belongs.’ (1)
C. Limitations of study:
Intellect is ignorance, the causal body, so how will one realise God with such intelligence? That is why despite being convinced of the importance of Spirituality after learning it from an authority, reading holy texts repeatedly is also a way of nurturing ignorance. Sacrifice of intellect itself means devotion. What is the use of the intellect then? It is meant for converting itself to pure (sattvik) intellect by listening to a few discourses of an authority in Spirituality (shravan), contemplation (manan) and intense yearning (nijadhyas). This intellect does not prove to be of any use in achieving Self-realisation unless one surrenders oneself to the Sadguru. To comprehend even this, one requires intellect. This is perhaps its only use!
With regard to this in the 18th chapter of the Shrimadbhagvadgita Lord Krushna says,
य इदं परमं गुह्यं मद्भक्तेष्वभिधास्यति ।
भक्तिं मयि परां कृत्वा मामैवैष्यत्यसंशय: ।। ६८ ।।
Meaning: The one who imparts this ultimate secret (knowledge) to My devotees with intense love for Me, will undoubtedly come to Me. – 68
न च तस्मात् मनुष्येषु कश्चिन् मे प्रियकृत्तम: ।
भविता न च मे तस्मादन्य: प्रियतरो भुवि ।। ६९ ।।
Meaning: And no man in the world is or will ever be dearer to Me than him. – 69
Importance of imparting spiritual knowledge (dnyandan) in comparison to other types of offering is given in the table below.
|Type of offering
|For how long is it
useful to the recipient?
|2. Blankets, clothes
|A few months
|3. A caravanserai
|A few years
Other classes undertake spiritual progress only for self-evolvement; however the Brahman class guides others along with its own progress. Since the Brahman (priest) desires to bring about spiritual upliftment of the society his ‘I’ ness acquires an expansive form. That amounts to spiritual practice for the sake of society.
Information on this is provided in ‘Science of Spirituality : Vol. 5 – Path of Devotion (Bhaktiyoga)’.
स्वस्वत्वनिवृत्ति: परस्वत्वापादनं च दानम् ।
Meaning: ‘Offering is the process of surrendering ownership of an object (without accepting payment) and handing it over to another.
The act of accepting a gift is known as pratigraha. When someone accepts an object offered by another the former becomes its owner. According to the scriptures simply acquiring someone else’s possessions does not amount to acceptance of the offering (pratigraha). It refers to the acceptance done in a particular manner. The term pratigraha is used for the acceptance of an offering made by one amidst chanting of Vedic mantras with the aim of acquiring some invisible benefit or merit (punya). Acceptance of an object is expressed according to the nature of the object by holding the object offered in one’s hand or simply touching it or enjoying a part of its benefits. (Mitakshara commentary on the Yadnyavalkyasmruti 2.27).’(2)
A. Instructions regarding duties of Brahmans have been given in the Rugveda (8.35.16) as follows –
ब्रह्म जिन्वतमुत जिन्वन्तं धियोहतं रक्षांसि सेधतममीवा: ।
Meaning: Acquire knowledge, protect the pure intellect and destroy the demoniacal attitudes in society.
B. ब्राह्मणस्य तु देहोऽयं न कामार्थाय जायते ।
इह क्लेशाय तपसे प्रेत्य त्वनुपमं सुखम् ।। – महाभारत १२.३२१.२३
Meaning: The gross body of the Brahman is not meant for enjoying happiness. The Brahman is born to undertake austerities facing difficulties on the earth. Only if this is undertaken will he acquire unparalleled happiness in the other regions (lok). – Mahabharat 12.321.23
C. देवाधीनं जगत्सर्वं मंत्राधीनं च दैवतं ।
ते मंत्रा ब्राह्मणाधीना ब्राह्मणो मम दैवतम् ।। – श्री गुरुचरित्र २६.२३०
Meaning: The entire world is under the control of deities. The deities are in the control of mantras which in turn are controlled by Brahmans (priests); hence the Brahman is my deity. – Shri Gurucharitra 26.230
Just as a king has to face the consequences of the wrongdoings of his subjects, so also a Brahman has to bear the consequences of the sins committed by everyone in the society. Since a Brahman is an embodiment of fire he can tolerate the consequences with ease.
A. जननात् जायते शूद्र: ।
Meaning: Every man is born a Shudra due to the process (karma) of birth.
B. उपनयनात् व्दिज उच्यते ।
Meaning: He is called twice born (dvij) after the thread ceremony (upanayan).
According to Spirituality the thread ceremony accords him a second birth (dvi means two and j means birth); hence he is called dvij.
तप: श्रुतं च योनिश्चाप्येतद्ब्राह्मण्यकारणम् ।
त्रिभिर्गुणै: समुदितस्ततो भवति वै व्दिज: ।। – महाभारत १३.१२१.७
Meaning: One becomes a Brahman after performing austerities, studying the Vedas and taking birth in a Brahman family. One deserves to be called dvij only if he fulfills these three qualities. [So in other words simply the rite of Upanayan does not entitle one to be called a twice born (dvij).] – Mahabharat 13.121.7
C. वेदाध्ययनात् विप्र: ।
Meaning: It is said that study of the Vedas makes one a Brahman (vipra).
After living with the Guru for twelve years and pleasing Him through service the one who becomes righteous and is bestowed with wisdom is labelled as a Brahman.
D. ब्रह्म जानाति इति ब्राह्मण: ।
Meaning: It is said that the one who has realised Brahman (God) is a Brahman (priest).
Later by observing Righteousness as one gradually acquires the sattvik (sattva predominant) attitude one is able to perform devotion even after Self-realisation (dnyanottar bhakti) and thus attains Absoluteness. It is only then that one is truly worthy of being referred to as a Brahman.
A. The Dev Brahman: The one who performs the rituals of bathing, sandhya, fire sacrifices (hom) and chanting (japa) everyday (Atrismruti 373, 383).
B. The Chandal Brahman: He is foolish, devoid of good values, unrighteous and cruel.
C. The Shudra Brahman: The one who neither studies the Vedas nor chants the Gayatri mantra (Baudhayan Dharmasutra 2.4.20, Vasishtha Dharmasutra 3.1.2, Manusmruti 2.168).
D. Inferior to a Shudra (labourer)
चतुर्वेदोऽपि दुर्वृत्त: स शूद्रादतिरिच्यते ।। – महाभारत ३.३१३.१११
Meaning: If a Brahman (priest) is ill-behaved despite being well versed in the four Vedas then he is inferior even to a Shudra. – Mahabharat 3.313.111
‘Initially Brahmans studying and teaching the Vedas and performing fire sacrifices (yadnyas) all belonged to one class. After Sage Vyas divided the Vedas into four parts the Brahmans studying them separately were named as Rugvedi, Yajurvedi, Samavedi and Atharvavedi. Further the Vedas were divided into different branches and accordingly Brahmans too were subdivided. Based on the Sutra of these subdivisions further many smaller groups came into existence.
Though until the 10th century A.D. several subdivisions were formed among the Brahmans there were no sub-castes. From the 11th century onwards the Brahmans were divided into two factions – the Panchagaud and the Panchadravid. Those residing to the north of the Vindhya mountain ranges were the Panchagauds and the ones living to its south were the Panchadravids. The Panchagauds were mostly non-vegetarians while the Panchadravids did not eat meat till about the second world war.’ (3)
A. Simple living: The motive of both the Vedic path and that of the Path of Devotion was to lead a life of self restraint. However it was far more difficult to follow the Vedic path in comparison to the Path of Devotion. Yet despite thousands of years since its inception the Brahmans (priests) did not abandon that path. They continued their worship of spiritual knowledge unabated and did not bother to accumulate wealth. It is extremely difficult to sustain oneself in poverty. Moreover they did not even consume non-vegetarian food. The Brahmans have been and still continue to uphold this extremely difficult task of preserving the Vedic religion since thousands of years. Not a single tale from the Purans depicts a Brahman as wealthy. He is poverty-stricken in all of them. (Thus poverty for a Brahman in all the eighteen universes signifies that he has not realised the implied meaning of the 18 Purans.) ‘Ideals like poverty, plain living and high thinking, no specific efforts for acquisition of wealth, protecting the culture and aiming at improving it were placed before Brahmans. Though they were accorded a high position yet instead of aspiring for worldly power they were expected to lead an impoverished life in comparison to the other classes. They had to impart their spiritual knowledge to the other classes and subsist on the meagre and uncertain rewards which they would get. The Kshatriyas (warriors) too were made to realise that they were not all powerful and that there was a class superior to them whose support they required.’ (4)
The motive of this system was to prevent the development of ego in both the Brahmans as well as the Kshatriyas.
B. How should wealth be earned?: ‘Wealth should be earned in a manner such that the other is aggrieved minimally and not much hardships are undertaken by oneself. Manu (4.5) has referred to the process of gathering cobs of food grain or food grains which have fallen in the field after the farmer has harvested the crop and subsisting on it for a living as rut (ऋत).
अव्रता ह्यनधीयाना यत्र भैक्षचरा व्दिजा: ।
तं ग्रामं दण्डयेद्राजा चोरभक्तप्रदो हि स: ।। – वसिष्ठ ३.४ आणि पराशर १.६०
Meaning: The village which is inhabited by illiterate Brahmans (priests) who instead of undertaking vowed observances (vrat) survive only on alms, should be punished by the king like thieves. – Vasishthasmruti 3.4 and Parasharsmruti 1.60
प्रतिग्रहाध्यापनयाजनानां प्रतिग्रहं श्रेष्ठतमं वदन्ति ।
प्रतिग्रहाच्छुध्यति जप्यहोमैर्याज्यं तु पापैर्न पुनन्ति वेदा: ।।
– यम (स्मृतिचंद्रिका १ पाद १७९)
Meaning: Out of pratigraha (which in this context refers to conduct), imparting knowledge and ritualistic worship [puja (spiritual practice)] conduct is said to be superior. The Vedas get purified (spiritual knowledge gains effulgence) with conduct and not by undertaking chanting and performing fire sacrifices. – Yama (Smrutichandrika 1 pad 179)
C. Other professions are prohibited: Brahmans were prohibited from taking up other professions by all scriptural authors under normal circumstances because they felt that consequently there was a possibility that study and teaching of the Vedas and performing fire sacrifices would be neglected. Authors of the Sutras and Smrutis have stated that if Brahmans take up other professions forsaking the study of the Vedas and the observances related to the Vedas (shrautkarma) and amass wealth then their spiritual downfall is assured.
D. How much wealth should be acquired?: Wealth sufficient only to sustain oneself and one’s family and to perform religious rites should be acquired.
E. How much wealth should be accumulated?: The less the accumulation of food grain the better it is. In the Manusmruti (4.2-3, 4.7-8, 10.112, 4.12, etc.) Manu has stated that the Brahman who has food grain sufficient for only that day and does not worry about the next day is the best Brahman. Accumulation of wealth spells doom for a Brahman states the Mahabharat (13.47.22).
Importance of accepting offerings: Lord Yama has stated that it is better for a Brahman (priest) to accept an offering than to earn money by teaching the Vedas or officiating as a priest.
When should an offering be accepted?: When a Brahman has sufficient wealth earned by other means he should neither earn money nor accept offerings. A Brahman can accept offerings from anyone (including a Shudra or a sinner) in dire circumstances when he has to feed his hungry parents, wife, etc. (Manusmruti 4.251), but should not utilise that wealth to satisfy his own hunger.’ (5)
From whom should the offering be accepted?: Brahmans should accept offerings from a king, a disciple and a host performing a religious rite provided they are pious. They should not accept offerings from unrighteous individuals. A Brahman has to undertake penitence if he accepts an offering from an unworthy donor.
Who should accept which offering?: Only the learned could accept big offerings.
Benefits acquired by the donor: Acceptance of an offering by a learned, righteous Brahman is appropriate and it gains merits for the donor.
Losses arising from accepting unwarranted offerings: The authors of the scriptures had also said that if a Brahman accepts offerings repeatedly without need or reason then his spiritual prowess declines (Manusmruti 4.186, Vasishtha Dharmasutra 14.13, Vishnu Dharmasutra 57.13).
‘Studying and imparting spiritual knowledge; performing or guiding at sacrificial fires; giving and accepting offerings (pratigraha) are the prescribed duties of Brahmans. Though imparting knowledge, guiding at sacrificial fires and acceptance of an offering were decided as their means of livelihood since they could not earn much through that, the authors of scriptures have opined that the king should look after the needs of Brahmans. A Brahman offers one sixth of his penance to the king. In his Abhidnyan Shakuntal (2.13) Kalidas says that, that offering itself should be considered as the payment of tax by the Brahman. Scriptures state that it is the duty of a king to look after the needs of a Vedic Brahman (shrotriya) and to protect a Brahman who is incapable of earning a livelihood (Gautamsmruti 10.9,10; Yadnyavalkyasmruti 3.44).
During the Vedic period Brahmans (priests) would sustain themselves on the earnings from teaching Spirituality, guiding at sacrificial fires and accepting offerings. With the passage of time the Brahman class was decided based on birth in a Brahman family and some people from that class had to resort to other professions for their livelihood. Occupations like agriculture and cattle rearing were relatively easy for them. The authors of scriptures granted Brahmans the liberty to undertake agriculture, trade, etc. as vocations during adverse times. The Brahmans were then categorised into two subcategories namely the householder (gruhastha) and the one subsisting on alms (bhikshuk). Priests and astrologers were included in the bhikshuk Brahman category.
Very often the royal priest and ministers were Brahmans. The royal astrologer and mantrik (one practising mantras) were Brahmans as well. Medicine too was the Brahman’s profession. Brahmans would also undertake tasks like study of the Ayurveda, preparation of medicines for the ailing and would impart that knowledge to their disciples.’ (6)
A. For the sake of the three classes: ‘Out of the three classes should it become difficult for one to earn a livelihood by following the prescribed tasks for his class then he should resort to a profession of the class one grade below his (Vasishtha Dharmasutra 2.22). However one belonging to a lower class should not adopt the means of livelihood of a class above his (Vasishtha Dharmasutra 2.23).
आपत्सु विहितं स्तैन्यं विशिष्टं च महीयस: ।
विप्रेण प्राणरक्षार्थं कर्तव्यमिति निश्चय: ।। – महाभारत १२.१४१.३९
Meaning: In adverse times theft of food grain sufficient for one meal a day is in accordance with the scriptures. A doctrine says that the Brahmans specially the elderly ones who rigidly follow the scriptures could lose their lives; hence even Brahmans could steal for survival. – Mahabharat 12.141.39
B. For the sake of the Brahmans: Sage Gautam has said that generally a Brahman should not undertake a profession prescribed for a Shudra (labourer). However if his life is at stake then he can adopt it provided he does not sit on the same seat as a Shudra, does not consume food items like onion and garlic prohibited for Brahmans and does not indulge in housework alone (Gautam Dharmasutra 7.22/24).
Though in adverse times a Brahman (priest) was permitted to undertake the profession of a Vaishya (businessman) yet with respect to moneylending, agriculture and cattle rearing several restrictions were imposed upon him. He was allowed to do agriculture and cattle rearing by proxy but moneylending was not permissible even in adverse times.
Even when resorting to agriculture Brahmans had to observe some restrictions. Agriculture was considered inferior so it was to be taken up only to tide over the crisis. It is mentioned that 1/6th of the produce was to be offered to the king, 1/21st to the deities and 1/30th to Brahmans.
Though a Brahman was allowed to trade in times of adversity, there were several restrictions on the items he could sell or trade in which were included fragrant substances like sandalwood, liquids like oil and clarified butter (ghee), cooked food, milk, curd, sesame seeds, rice, fruit, flowers, grass, water, young cows, honey, meat, slaves, etc. These restrictions were not applicable to Kshatriyas (warriors) who adopted the same profession. Brahmans had to sell an item for a fixed price without bargaining (Gautam Dharmasutra 7.6,7,15; Vasishtha Dharmasutra 2.22).’ (7) Authors of the aphorisms (sutras) such as Apastamba, Gautam, Vasishtha, etc. have specified which items a Brahman should not sell, for instance the Vasishtha Dharmasutra says that if a Brahman sells milk then he becomes a Shudra within three days.
If a king does not help a noble, learned Brahman of good character in adverse times then he acquires sin (Manusmruti).
Apaddharma (आपद्धर्म) means ‘आपदि कर्तव्यो धर्म: ।’ the code of Righteousness to be adopted during a calamity. In the system of the four classes the religious duties of each of the classes are prescribed. ‘Often due to divine or earthly (spiritual or physical) calamities, a revolution in a kingdom, a drought, forcible resettlement, etc. suddenly there is a collapse in the system of classes. It then becomes difficult for people to perform prescribed actions according to the class. Consequently their means of earning a livelihood is affected. In such circumstances as an exception an individual belonging to one class is allowed to accept the code of Righteousness of the other classes. This arrangement which has been created by the scriptures is called the code of Righteousness in times of adversity. However the scriptures also preach that once the crisis is over or the system of classes is restored, one should undertake penance and start practising his own code of Righteousness (Dharma) once again.’ (8) If one is compelled to perform an inappropriate task in accordance with the code of Righteousness during adverse times then one should do so amidst chanting of The Lord’s Name.
The Gautam Dharmasutra states that in adverse times a Brahman (priest) may use weapons. Manu too reiterates that a Brahman may wield a weapon to protect the system of classes and stages of life and his wife, other Brahmans and himself.
An illustration to show that effulgence of a Brahman and a Kshatriya (warrior) coexist is Shri Parshuram.
अग्रत: चतुरो वेदा: पृष्ठत: सशरं धनु: ।
इदं ब्राह्मं इदं क्षात्रं शापादपि शरादपि ।।
Meaning: Shri Parshuram who is well versed in the four Vedas and sports a bow and arrow upon His back (that is the one who has the effulgence of both the Brahman and the Kshatriya) will destroy evildoers either with a curse or with an arrow.
Implied meaning: Being well versed in the Vedas implies being knowledgeable. Hence He will first impart spiritual knowledge and try to teach the people. Even then if they pay no heed then He will destroy the evildoers either with a curse or an arrow.
A. बलं तु वाचि व्दिजसत्तमानां । क्षात्रं बुधा बाहुबलं वदन्ति ।। – महाभारत ८.७०.१२
Meaning: The wise say that the strength of the best Brahmans lies in their speech and that of the Kshatriyas in their arms. – Mahabharat 8.70.12
B. क्षत्रियाणां बलं तेजो ब्राह्मणानां क्षमा बलम् ।। – महाभारत १.१७५.२९
Meaning: The strength of Kshatriyas lies in their valour and that of Brahmans in their mercifulness. – Mahabharat 1.175.29
C. नवनीतं हृदयं ब्राह्मणस्य वाचि क्षुरो निशितस्तीक्ष्णधार: ।
तदुभयमेतव्दिपरीतं क्षत्रियस्य वाङ्नवनीतं हृदयं तीक्ष्णधारमिति ।।
– महाभारत १.३.१२३
Meaning: A Brahman’s (priest’s) heart is soft like butter but his speech is harsh like a sharp razor. A Kshatriya (warrior) is exactly the opposite. He is soft-spoken and hard-hearted. – Mahabharat 1.3.123
D. ब्रह्म वर्धयति क्षत्र्त्रं क्षत्र्त्रतो ब्रह्म वर्धते ।। – महाभारत १२.७३.३२
Meaning: A Brahman augments a Kshatriya’s prowess and himself prospers due to a Kshatriya. – Mahabharat 12.73.32
E. तपो मन्त्रबलं नित्यं ब्राह्मणेषु प्रतिष्ठितम् ।
अस्त्रबाहुबलं नित्यं क्षत्रियेषु प्रतिष्ठितम् ।।
ना ब्रह्म क्षत्रमृध्नोति ना शस्त्रं ब्रह्म वर्धते ।
ब्रह्म क्षत्रं च संयुक्तंमिह चामुत्र वर्धते ।। – महाभारत
Meaning: The prowess of penance and mantras always exists in Brahmans (those who are so by virtue of their qualities and actions). In the same way the knowledge of weapons and physical strength lie with Kshatriyas. Kshatriyas cannot be glorified without assistance by the Brahman prowess and the prowess of the latter cannot prosper without protection by the former. If Brahmans and Kshatriyas are united then together they can progress not only on the earth but even in other regions like heaven and beyond. – Mahabharat
F. ब्रह्म क्षत्र्त्रेण सहितं क्षत्र्त्रं च ब्रह्मणा सह ।
संयुक्तौ दहत: शत्रून्वनानीवाग्निमारुतौ ।। – महाभारत ३.१८५.२५
Meaning: If Brahmans and Kshatriyas fight an enemy as allies they will devastate the enemy just like fire and wind together burn down forests. – Mahabharat 3.185.25
G. एकं हन्यान्न वा हन्यादिषुर्मुक्तो धनुष्मता ।
बुद्धिर्बुद्धिमतोत्सृष्टा हन्याद्राष्ट्रं सराजकम् ।। – महाभारत ५.३३.४३
Meaning: An arrow released by an archer to strike a target may or may not kill a living being but a master plan chalked out by an intelligent man can destroy an entire kingdom along with its ruler. – Mahabharat 5.33.43
H. एक: क्रुद्धो ब्राह्मणो हन्ति राष्ट्रम् ।। – महाभारत ५.४०.८
Meaning: A Brahman can destroy an entire state with his rage. – Mahabharat 5.40.8
I. क्षत्रियस्यातिवृत्तस्य ब्राह्मणेषु विशेषत: ।
ब्रह्मैव संनियन्तृ स्यात्क्षत्रं हि ब्रह्मसंभवम् ।। – महाभारत १२.७८.२१
Meaning: If Kshatriyas (warriors) abandon their Righteousness (Dharma) and outrage especially the Brahmans (priests) then the Brahmans themselves will subdue them as eventually the Kshatriya originates from the Brahman. – Mahabharat 12.78.21
J. Annihilation of a Brahman and his curse
स्त्रिय: कामेन नश्यंति । ब्रह्मणो हीन सेवया ।
राजानो ब्रह्मदंडेन । यतयो भोगसंग्रहात् ।
Meaning: A woman is destroyed by desire, a Brahman by adopting inferior service, a king by the curse of a Brahman and an ascetic (yati) by accumulating objects.
In this verse (shloka) the implied meaning of the line that ‘a king is destroyed by the curse of a Brahman’ is as follows: Since a Brahman is the Guru of the universe (Jagadguru) the responsibility of protecting him lies with the king. Under the king’s protection he can carry out his study smoothly and acquire knowledge. It is on the pure intellect of a Brahman that the health rather the prosperity of a king and his state and the happiness of all the subjects depends. That is why if such a Brahman is insulted by the king then due to destruction of knowledge itself, the state too is destroyed. The above discussion will illustrate how a Brahman is capable of destroying an evil king and his state with a curse. It also implies that only a Brahman can create an ideal king and an ideal state. Illustrations of several such pairs of a Brahman and a king like Arya Chanakya and King Chandragupta; Samarth Ramdas and King Shivaji can be cited. Chanakya destroyed Nanda, a cruel king and instated Chandragupta a righteous king on the throne. Samarth undertook a similar mission.
The Brahman is said to have been created from The Lord’s mouth. The main cavity out of all the cavities [called kha (ख) in Sanskrut] in the body is the mouth (mukha) [मुख]. ‘मुख्यं ख इति मुखम् ।’ means the main cavity is the mouth because one can chant The Lord’s Name with it. Since the mouth is considered important a Brahman well versed in the Vedas is accorded a superior status. Even so from the spiritual viewpoint he became inferior and his importance declined. Presently the Brahman is considered superior only from the worldly point of view. The Brahman’s duty is to impart knowledge to the society, however since this knowledge is a part of nescience, it too is ignorance. Even then as the Brahman became vain he became inferior from the spiritual viewpoint. So eventually spiritually the Shudra (labourer) class is the greatest. The Shrimadbhagvat proclaims the Shudra class as the supreme one because it is allotted the task of serving all the other classes. Service cannot be done without humility and total surrender. No matter how great a Brahman is if mentally he does not become humble like a Shudra then he cannot attain the universality of a Sadguru. That is why it is said that ‘knowledge without modesty is futile (विद्या विनयेन शोभते)’. So being knowledgeable is not a good quality rather humility is and humility, the service attitude and politeness are all the qualities of a Shudra.
The reason for the superiority of the Shudra class from the spiritual point of view is its origin from the feet (pad) of The Lord, the Sadguru. That is why the Sadguru (Shiva) is all pervading (padrup) while the disciple is attached to his body (pindarup). Deliverance from human life occurs at ‘the very feet of the Sadguru’. No matter how learned a man may be he can never become omniscient like God. He will acquire godliness only if he reduces this deficiency with humility. Thus the equation that human intellect + humility = God can be deduced.
The Shudra is superior to the Brahman because of the qualities of humility, the service attitude, etc. Despite this only the effulgence of a Brahman and that of a Kshatriya are spoken of while that of a Vaishya and a Shudra are unheard of. This is because spiritual practices of a Brahman and a Kshatriya are principally for the sake of society while those of a Vaishya and a Shudra are mainly for the individual. The effulgence is in the context of others benefitting from it.
‘Varnashramvyavastha (System of classes and stages of life)’, published by Sanatan Sanstha.
Dharmashastracha Itihas (first and second halves). Second edition: 1980, Publisher: Secretary, Maharashtra State Literary and Cultural Society, Secretariat, Mumbai 400 0034.
1. Pg. 292 2. Pg. 300, 301
4. Pg. 124,130 5. Pg. 124-125
7. Pg. 126-128
Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh. Publisher: Pandit Mahadevshastri Joshi, Secretary, Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal, 410, Shanivar Peth, Pune 411 030.
First edition : Vol. 3 to 10, Second edition : Vol. 1 and 2
3. Vol. 6, Pg. 325-326 6. Vol. 6, Pg. 325-330
8. Vol. 4, Pg. 571-572