Friday, February 5, 2016

View of Ramanujacharya on Lower Caste

View of Ramanujacharya on Lower Caste

(By Muktipada Behera)


Ramanujacharya of 10th century has a conflicting views on caste system. 

Ramanujacharya did fight against caste system. He has accepted many disciples from lower castes. He is quite liberal than Adi-Shankaracharya of 8th century who never accepted any non-Brahmin disciples. But I am seeing a contrary view in Ramanuja's writing - Brahma-Sutra-Vasya known as ‘Sri-Bhasyam’. It seems he tried to reform by accepting disciples from lower caste but could not do much against current social protocols. So he allowed the study of Puranas to his lower caste disciples, but he could not allow them to study Veda.


Ramanuja in his Sri-Bhasyam (Sutra 1.3.33- 1.3.39) discusses Adhikari [eligibility] for scriptural study and knowledge [Brahma Vidya]. He concluded, Shudra is not eligible to study Veda, so not eligible for Brahmavidya. In this book he denied Brahma-Vidya to lower caste by birth. So I am stunned to read this. 

Here we will summarize all seven sutras as commented by Ramanujacharya in Sri-Bhashyam.

1.     Sutra 1.3.33 – Refutes and denies to Shudra by caste, the right to Brahmavidya. Itihasas and Puranas only reiterate the knowledge derived from the Vedic studies and so, there is no chance of the Shudra getting this knowledge from them, without the necessary background from the study of the Vedas. Vidura and others had this knowledge on account of samskaras of a previous life.

2.     Sutra 1.3.34 – Janasruti gave many villages to the sage Raikva. This shows he was a man of position, a Ksatriya, and not a low-born Shudra.

3.     Sutra 1.3.35 – Janasturi is mentioned with Caitraratha Abhipratarin who was a Ksatriya. So the inference is that Janasruti is also a Ksatriya, as equals alone are mentioned together.

4.     Sutra 1.3.36 – Purification ceremonies like Upanayana etc. are for the three higher castes and not for the Shudra. “Shudra do not incur sin, nor have they any purificatory rites’ [Manu XIII.126]

5.     Sutra 1.3.37 – Gautama was convinced that Satyakama, though the son of a prostitute, yet was not a Shudra but a Brahmana.

6.     Sutra 1.3.38 – Shudras are debarred from hearing and studying the Vedas. ‘Therefore the Vedas must not be studied in the presence of Shudras’.

7.     Sutra 1.3.39 – Smrti also prohibits imparting Vedic knowledge to Shudras. ‘He is not to teach him (a Shudra) sacred duties or vows’ [Manu IV.80]

Adi Shankaracharya View

In this Vedic eligibility of Shudra context both Shankaracharya and Ramanujacharya are aligned. Shankaracharya and Ramanujacharya have borrowed various quotations from Sruti and Smrti to prove – Shudra is not eligible for Vedic study.

To know the view of Shankaracharya on Shudra please refer to -

Swami Vivekananda View

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

यथेमां वाचं कल्याणीमावदानि जनेभ्यः। 
ब्रह्मराजन्याभ्यां शूद्राय चार्याय च स्वाय चारणाय॥
yathomam vacham kalyanimavadani janebhyaha,
brahmarajanyabhyam shudrayacharyaya cha swaya charyaya cha”
“Just as I am speaking these blessed words to people (without distinction), in the same way you also spread these words among all men and women – the Brahmanas, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas, Shudras and all others, whether they be our own people or aliens(foreigners).”
In a ALMORA, 30th May, 1897, Swami Vivekananda wrote – “The Smrti and the Puranas are productions of men of limited intelligence and are full of fallacies, errors, the feelings of class and malice. Only parts of them breathing broadness of spirit and love are acceptable, the rest are to be rejected. The Upanishads and the Gita are the true scriptures; Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Chaitanya, Nanak, Kabir, and so on are the true Avatâras, for they had their hearts broad as the sky – and above all, Ramakrishna. Ramanuja, Shankara etc., seem to have been mere Pundits with much narrowness of heart” [CW-6]
A scholarly analysis on eligibility of Shudra on Vedic study is done here -


Brahma Sutras - According To Sri Ramanuja by Swami Vireswarnanda & Swami Adidevananda (Author), Ramakrishna Mission.