As I discuss in this question, by far the most popular school of Hindu philosophy is the Vedanta school, which bases its tenets on the doctrines laid out in the Brahma Sutras, a work by the sage Vyasa that summarizes and systematizes the philosophical teachings of the Upanishads. (You can read the Brahma Sutras here.) But the Vedanta school didn't always have the dominant position in Hindu philosophy; before the time of Adi Shankaracharya the dominant school of Hindu philosophy was the Purva Mimamsa school, which I discuss here. In contrast to the Vedanta school, which is devoted to analyzing the Jnana Kanda of the Vedas, i.e. the Upanishads, Purva Mimamsa focuses on analyzing the Karma Kanda of the Vedas, i.e. the Samhitas and Brahmanas.

Now Jaimini's Purva Mimamsa Sutras, the defining text of the Purva Mimamsa school, focuses on the proper performance of Yagnas. In this excerpt from the Purva Mimamsa Sutras, Jaimini discusses who is eligible to perform Yagnas. Specifically he says that only Dvijas, members of the first three castes, can perform them. As I discuss here, in the Brahma Sutras Vyasa similarly says that only Dvijas are eligible for Jnana:

  1. To him (ie., Janasruti) occurred grief on hearing his (ie., swan’s) disparaging utterance, as is evident from his (Janasruti’s) approaching him (Raikva), for this is hinted at (by Raikva by using the word Sudra).
  2. And because his Kshatriyahood is known later on from the indicatory mark of his mention along with a descendant of Citraratha
  3. Because purificatory rites are mentioned (for others) and absence of these is declared (for the Sudra).
  4. And because (Gautama’s) inclination arose (to initiate and instruct Satyakama) when the absence of the (Sudrahood) had been ascertained.
  5. And because the Smriti prohibits for the Sudra the hearing, study and acquisition of the meaning (of the Vedas).

All the commentators on the Brahma Sutras, including Adi Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, etc. are in agreement that low-caste people are ineligible for Jnana.

But my question is about another excerpt from the Mimamsa Sutras, which gives an exception to this general rule about only Dvijas being eligible for Yagnas. Jaimini says that two sets of low-caste people, the Nishadas or hunters and the Rathakaras or chariot-makers, are authorized by the Vedas to perform certain types of Yagnas. So my question is, what else can Nishadas and Rathakaras do that other low-caste people cannot?

One of the arguments Jaimini makes for why low-caste people in general are ineligible for Yagnas is that the instructions for performing Yagnas is given in the Vedas, and low-caste people are not allowed to study the Vedas. So since Nishadas and Rathakaras can perform certain Yagnas, does that mean they can also learn the Vedas in order to learn the requisite instructions?

Also, in the Brahma Sutras Vyasa's main argument for why low-caste people are ineligible for Jnana is that they're not allowed to learn the Vedas and thus that they can't read the Upanishads which are the means of acquiring Jnana. So assuming that Nishadas and Rathakaras are allowed to learn the Vedas, are they also eligible for Jnana?

Note that I'm not looking for answers about the nature of the caste system and the like, I'm looking for answers that take these statements in the Mimamsa Sutras and Brahma Sutras for granted.

  • I think it is a mistake to mix Vedantic teachings with Purva Mimamsa teachings given that Gita 2.42-44 demolishes Purva Mimamsa. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Mar 6 '16 at 15:31
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    @PradipGangopadhyay I agree that those Gita verses are criticizing Purva Mimamsa, but we have to distinguish two things. The Vedanta school disagrees with the goals of Purva Mimamsakas, but it does not dispute that the methods used by Purva Mimamsakas will achieve those goals. So for instance, if the Mimamsa Sutras say that such-and-such series of Yagnas will make you the next Indra, the Vedanta school does not dispute that those Yagnas will make you the next Indra, it just says that becoming the next Indra is not a worthwhile goal, since it's ultimately temporary, as opposed to Moksha. – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 6 '16 at 17:09
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    @PradipGangopadhyay In fact, Ramanujacharya says that Jaimini's Mimamsa Sutras and Vyasas's Brahma Sutras (along with the Devata Kanda that no one cares about) together form a single Mimamsa Shastra. – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 6 '16 at 17:11
  • @PradipGangopadhyay I discuss the relation of the Mimamsa Sutras, Devata Kanda, and Brahma Sutras in more detail in my question here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/14035/36 – Keshav Srinivasan Aug 10 '16 at 19:09
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    @PradipGangopadhyay, that's like saying BG demolishes high-school-biology because MBBS is a better course. all Krishna is saying is that it is one step in the ladder, not final destination.. it doesn't mean we can kick away the ladder. we have to climb each step, finally, we won't need the ladder after reaching the top. before reaching top, ladder is the only way up. also, we should not kick away ladder even after reaching top, because others need it. so we should not mislead others by saying 'LOOK I DON'T NEED LADDER, SO YOU ALSO DON'T NEED IT' – ram Oct 11 '18 at 5:27

In the apa-sudradhikaranam bhasya of Shankaracharya He says that persons who did not have upanayana samskara, are not eligible to study Vedas and hence Upanishads which are part of the vedas. However, this does not mean that they are not eligible to jnaan, they are eligible to jnana through puranas, smritis and itihasas on which no such restriction is there. They are not eligible to shrauta brahmavidya but eligible to smarta brahmavidya, so to say.

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    Yajur Veda clearly states that the Vedas is for everyone. – Viper91 Dec 13 '18 at 18:43

The Vedas is for all. Yajur Veda 26.2 states:

The way I gave this knowledge of Vedas for benefit of all humans, similarly you all also propagate the same for benefit of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Shudras, Vaishyas, Women and even most downtrodden. The scholars and the wealthy people should ensure that they not deviate from this message of mine.

Also, in the Mahabharata, Yudhishthira states:

Those characteristics that are present in a Sudra, do not exist in a Brahmana; nor do those that are in a Brahmana exist in a Sudra. And a Sudra is not a Sudra by birth alone--nor a Brahmana is Brahmana by birth alone.


  • This is a general answer. The question is looking for specific mention that the mentioned castes are either eligible or ineligible for studying Vedas. Because there are some statements that some are not eligible under some conditions. – Sarvabhouma Dec 11 '18 at 4:47

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