What is a Shudra?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Under the Hindu caste system, the shudras are the lowest and largest caste. Traditionally, shudras have worked in service, as slaves or practitioners of unskilled trades. While members of this caste are not as maligned as Dalits or untouchables, they still face a great deal of discrimination from members of higher castes. In the 20th century, numerous organizations have worked for equality in India, abolishing the caste system and aiming to create a more egalitarian society. Many social reforms have been instituted since the independence movement in India, making life very different for the Shudra, among many others.

Shudras make up the largest and lowest caste in Indian society.
Shudras make up the largest and lowest caste in Indian society.

The roots of the caste system can be found in the vedas, religious texts which are crucial to the practice of Hindusim. According to the vedas, there are four varna, or castes. The highest caste, the Brahmins, are scholars and priests. The Kshatriya are warriors and rulers, while the Vaishya are merchants and skilled artisans. Under this system, the Shudra is the largest caste, and a substantial part of Hindu society. People without caste are known by a variety of terms.

In the twentieth century, Indian society underwent numerous reforms, including a formal rejection of the caste system.
In the twentieth century, Indian society underwent numerous reforms, including a formal rejection of the caste system.

The Shudra have classically lived lives of service. Slaves were often classified as Shudra, as were cobblers, blacksmiths, maids, cooks, and so forth. They have typically not been accorded the same rights as higher castes, forced to use different temples and public facilities. Over the centuries of the caste system, this led to a great deal of resentment among the Shudra.

Since the rigid caste system did not historically allow for upward mobility, members of this caste were stuck in positions of servility. As the caste system evolved to become hereditary, this meant that multiple generations were stuck in service. As more egalitarian religions became widespread in Asia, many Shudras converted to them, seeking a belief system which supported equal rights and opportunity for all. The Shudra caste was also a strong supporter of reform movements such as that which ultimately lead to the abolishment of the caste system through the Indian Constitution.

Under the Constitution, the caste system is not supposed to determine one's place in society. In practice, however, this is not always the case, especially in rural parts of India. While Shudras are certainly in theory welcome to marry into other castes or become merchants, warriors, priests, and rulers, many find this difficult. Numerous organizations in India work towards greater equality among the castes, and for more rights among the lower castes and Dalits.

While Shudras are not as maligned as Dalits or untouchables, they still face a great deal of discrimination from members of higher castes.
While Shudras are not as maligned as Dalits or untouchables, they still face a great deal of discrimination from members of higher castes.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Should the shudra change their Hindu religion?


A group of people came to Swami Vivekananda and challenged him: " How dare you, a shudra, learn our holy language forbidden to shudras by Manusmriti? As if that were not enough, a more heinous crime you are guilty of: you are spreading it to all and sundry."

This was a true incident and this happened during one of Swamiji's many Madras visits!

The most ironic and amusing fact is that while the Kashmiri pandits retain 100 percent of the blood of the white hordes that sought refuge in the subcontinent (Monier Williams saw no difference between the pandits and the whites in regard to the complexion), those who threw the poser to the Swamiji could not boast even 1 percent of the blood of the white hordes! This amount or even more is present in the blood of the whole of the population of India!


In the southern states of India (A.P, Karnataka, Kerala, and T. Nadu), the 'Brahmins' stubbornly assert that in Kaliyuga, there are only two castes namely Brahmins and Shudras. They have also highlight this idea in their commentaries on the verse, (Chaathurvarnyam mayaa srushtam...'. This they have been doing for many centuries.

No wonder that the Justice Party was started in S. India by a Nayar (Namakkal Ramalingam Pillai's physician practicing in Tiruchirapalli, T. Nadu); the atrocities of the Nambudhiris were beyond imagination.

The abominable discrimination against non-Brahmins, in particular against the so-called 'Shudras', in Manusmriti is an incomparable obscene blot on the history of mankind.


The moral of the story is no caste is upper or lower. In fact, the shudra word does not exist for any caste. One can say Bhikshuki is a shudra profession, which is like begging. It would be better if everybody maintained dignity to show their upbringing is not cheap and mean.


But remember, this is written by brahmins on favor of them. They themselves only say brahmins are scholars and upper caste (very funny and very small thinking). If you see gods in a temple, many of them will be worried.

If you see history, originally brahmins used to do Bhikshuki. Sudama -Krishna's friend, Batu in purana were bhikshuk only but with time they forgot and themselves started writing things in favor of them. Initially they use to do clerical work and writing for kings.


I can't find anywhere what shudras eat. Any help?


Thank you so much. I have a presentation tomorrow on the different castes and this really helped me.


What did they eat?


It would be wrong to blame Hinduism, or to compare it negatively with other so-called 'religions,' because of its mistreatment of so-called Shudras. Doing so would negate its immense positive elements (being the only surviving Pagan religion, at least, surviving in a powerful way), that are almost extinct today in the deluge of orthodox, organized, militant and autocratic religions.

For one thing, Hinduism is not a religion, in the sense of Christianity or Islam (or even Buddhism), since there is no organized and controlling body like in these 'religions.' What has been labeled as 'Hinduism' by the Christians/Muslims, is actually a varied mixture of lifestyles and faiths, that are rooted in spiritual and social traditions as were originally practiced by humans (referred to as Paganism by the autocratic religions). These traditions keep evolving over time and have a way of correcting themselves, if they go in the wrong direction.

Being fluid and unorganized in nature, sometimes evil practices like the 'caste system' crop up, especially in turbulent times when positive spirituality does not get a chance to develop because of a hostile environment. Continuous invasion and persecution of people and customs known as 'Hinduism' by Islam kept the positive evolution of the fluid spiritual and other social practices of so-called 'Hindus' at bay, leading to a stagnation, that gave the so-called 'Brahmins' an opportunity to concretize the powers invested in them by manipulating the course of the religion, especially through manipulating the caste system (which was originally devised as a fluid (and not fixed) system of arrangement of professions), which then resulted in the long standing oppression of those who were trapped in the lower professions, and couldn't get out because those at the top had concretized the originally fluid system.

However, unlike fixed, autocratic religions like Islam, where there is no room for changing provisions that become redundant or harmful, the beauty of Hinduism is its fluidity and it not being controlled by any organized authority. This gives the people a power to change for the better, and today we are free to introduce new spiritual and social systems by changing the nature of how Hinduism is practiced -- and things are moving fast.

The caste system is quickly getting redundant, especially in the metropolitan cities.

Hopefully, new spiritual practices that will ultimately liberate those who were trapped in the lower castes would emerge and be embraced by people on a mass basis. Hopefully, all of this would be done without having to leave the original fluid system by joining a hardline autocratic system of religion.

It's the fluidity of Hinduism, owing to its natural, Pagan background, which ought to be preserved by all means, because in this fluidity lies the hope for humankind, to free it from the clutches of the autocratic systems that call themselves 'religion,' and propagate and perpetuate themselves through violence and bloodshed, thereby oppressing people, all in the name of god, and violently refusing to change or evolve.


This good info helped me for school.


Where does it talk about Harijans?


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