In the life of Adi Shankara, there is a famous incident involving a Chandala and his Four dogs:

When Sankara was going with his disciples to the Ganges for midday ablutions, he noticed an outcaste approaching them with a pack of four dogs. Shankara and his disciples asked him to keep out of their path...

and the rest is history.

Does this act of Sankara indicate that he practiced untouchability?

SOURCE: Madhavīya Shankaravijayam Part 2, can be checked at the Sringeri Mutt website

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    Did you read completely? Shankara also prays to feet of Chandala. That chandala is none other than Lord Shiva in disguise.
    – The Destroyer
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 9:16
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    @ The Destroyer That is true. But until the Chandala (i.e. Lord Shiva) could reveal his identity through his answer, Sankara didn't realized the Divinity. If the Chanadal would have remained silent and not revealed his identity, then how could the act of Adi Sankara could be justified.
    – Ganesh
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 9:28
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    If a Brahmin says "let the Chandala (who works probably in a burning ghat ) touch me(when he is on his way to worship) then he is either a Jivanmukta or he is not a follower of the Dharmic injunctions ..As simple as that..
    – Rickross
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 17:13
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    If i am on my way to my puja room at morning fresh and bathed and i happen to touch a woman on menses,a person who's sutak Asaucha is on or a person who works in burning ghats then i will be terribly upset thinking that my morning puja is all spoiled..This only means that i am concerned about fullfilling my Dharmic duties and does not mean that i am stone-hearted or i'm one who practices discrimination or something of that sort..Adi Shankara was simply following scriptures if he was trying to avoid an outcaste.
    – Rickross
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 17:13
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    @Ganesh See this mantra for ex..It talks about bahyAvantara Suchi.ie both external and internal purity which one obtains upon reciting it..So both are important..For internal purity we have many rituals like achamana,pranayama etc..for bahya suchi we similarly have bathing.marjana..
    – Rickross
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 6:07

2 Answers 2


If Adi Shankara was trying to avoid the Chandala then he was simply following the injunctions of Scriptures. So, if you want to blame someone (or something) here, then blame the Scriptures. Because Adi Shankara was simply adhering to them.

See the following verses from Manu Smriti:

3.239. A Chandala, a village pig, a cock, a dog, a menstruating woman, and a eunuch must not look at the Brahmanas while they eat.

5.85. When he[a brahmin] has touched a Chandala, a menstruating woman, an outcast, a woman in child bed, a corpse, or one who has touched a (corpse), he becomes pure by bathing.

10.51. But the dwellings of Chandalas and Svapakas shall be outside the village, they must be made Apapatras, and their wealth (shall be) dogs and donkeys.

10.53. A man who fulfils a religious duty, shall not seek intercourse with them; their transactions (shall be) among themselves, and their marriages with their equals.

11.175. A Brahmana who unintentionally approaches a woman of the Chandala or of (any other) very low caste, who eats (the food of such persons) and accepts (presents from them) becomes an outcast;

And from Parashara Smriti:

  1. For sleeping together with many of the Chandala caste, let a Brahman fast for full three nights. If he treads a path that a Chandala has trodden, his sin is removed by a remembrance of the Gayatri verse.

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  1. On seeing a Chandala, let him look at the sun without a moment's delay. For touching a Chandala, let him bathe with his clothing on.

So, Adi Shankara was simply following these instructions.

In any case, these verses should not taken as applicable only to a particular caste of people that is solely determined by birth. A Chandala is also the one who may not be that by birth but who is acting like one.

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He who sets his face against righteousness, is but a Chandala by his acts. He gains nothing by being a mendicant, or by worshiping the household fire.

(Parashara Smriti)

Also, what Lord Shiva said simply means "What is the difference between a Chandala and a Brahmin when Atma-Gyana (Brahma Gyana, Knowledge of the Self) is obtained?

When Atma Gayna is obtained then one is free from all vedhas( dualities, differences) but till that (state of avedha) is achieved the vedhas are very much there.

When one achieves Atma Gyana there is no karma for him (good or bad) and there are no rules for him. There is no need for him then to follow the Scriptural injunctions either.

But for all other persons those rules laid down in Shastras should always be followed.

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    Btw as a sidenote you may add that Vedas declare that one can touch, dwell or eat with Chandala also if he utters the Word 'Shiva'. hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/17299/…
    – Tezz
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 4:13
  • @Tezz..In that case the next question will be did Adi Shankara not know that?If yes why is he still trying to avoid the Chandala?
    – Rickross
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 5:35
  • I think Adi Shankara was avoiding because that Chandala (Shiva) wasn't pronouncing 'Shiva'...
    – Tezz
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 5:37
  • @Tezz..Ok but if someone chants "Shiva Shiva" then will he not get saved from getting impure even if he had touched something/someone impure?
    – Rickross
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 5:45
  • yes, I think .... maybe he became deluded by Shivas Maya at that time...
    – Tezz
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 5:48

Adi Shankara is no doubt the most important Acharya in medieval India. He, however, had a dark side. A perusal of his commentary on Pseudo-Sudra in Brahma Sutra lays bare his attitude on Sudras. I am posting an excerpt of his bhasya below. We do not know enough of his daily activity to know whether he personally practiced untouchability. However, his writings suggest that he may well have done so (at least till he wrote the Maneesa Panchakam). He supports every barabaric suggestion of Hindu scriptures without any pangs of conscience.

And because the Smriti prohibits for the Sudras the hearing, study, and acquisition of the meaning (of the Vedas).

This is another reason why the Sudra has no right: By the Smriti he is debarred from hearing, studying, and acquiring the meaning of the Vedas. The Smriti mentions that a Sudra has no right to hear the Vedas, no right to study the Vedas, and no right to acquire the meaning of the Vedas (and perform the rites). As for prohibition of hearing, we have the text, "Then should he happen to hear the Vedas, the expiation consists in his ears being filled with lead and lac", and "He who is a Sudra is a walking crematorium. Hence one should not read in the neighbourhood of a Sudra". From this follows the prohibition about study. How can one study the Vedas when they are not to be recited within his hearing? Then there is the chopping off his tongue if he should utter the Vedas and the cutting of his body to pieces if he should commit it to memory. From this it follows by implication that the acquisition of meaning and acting on it are also prohibited, as is stated in, "Vedic knowledge is not to be imparted to a Sudra", and "Study, sacrifice, and distribution of gifts are for the twice born". But from those to whom knowledge dawns as a result of (good) tendencies acquired in the past lives, as for instance to Vidura, Dharmavyadha, and others, the reaping of the result of knowledge cannot be withheld, for the result of knowledge is inevitable. This position is confirmed by the Smriti text, "One should read out to the four castes (keeping the Brahmana in front)", which declares the competence for all the four castes for the acquisition of the anecdotes and mythologies. But the conclusion stands that a Sudra has no right to knowledge through the Vedas.

Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Sri Sankaracharya I.iii.38

Swami Vivekananda also felt that Shankara's writing on Sudras is obnoxious.

Buddha and Shankara

What Buddha did was to break wide open the gates of that very religion which was confined in the Upanishads to a particular caste. . . His greatness lies in his unrivalled sympathy. The high orders of samadhi etc., that lent gravity to his religion, are almost all there in the Vedas; what are absent there are his intellect and heart, which have never since been paralleled throughout the history of the world. . . The religion of Buddha has reared itself on the Upanisads, and upon that also the philosophy of Shankara. Only Shankara had not the slightest bit of Buddha's wonderful heart, dry intellect merely! For fear of the Tantras, for fear of the mob, in his attempt to cure a boil, he amputated the very arm itself.

(The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, VI. 225-27)

Shankara's intellect was sharp like a razor. He was a good arguer and a scholar, no doubt of that, but he had no great liberality; his heart too seems to have been like that. Besides, he used to take great pride in his Brahmanism -- much like a southern Brahmin of the priest class, you may say. How he has defended in his commentary on the Vedanta Sutras that the non-Brahmin castes will not attain to a supreme knowledge of Brahman! . . . But look at Buddha's heart! -- Ever ready to give his own life to save the life of even a kid -- what to speak of bahujanahitayabahujanasukhaya -- For the welfare of the many, for the happiness of the many"! See what a large-heartedness – what a compassion.

(The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, VII. 117-18)

Can one possibly explain Sankara's writings on Sudras?

We must remember that tradition says that Shankara wrote his great commentary on Brahma Sutra when he was between 12 and 16 years. It is thus possible to believe that the pitiless writing is a reflection of immaturity. Another possibility is that the young Shankara did not muster enough courage to challenge the orthodoxy.

  • I don't think reason is immaturity. If he was immature, he couldn't even expound Advaita Siddhanta. I think he could mean Sudra as person with predominately Tamas. We can't read Veda and get its essence by sitting in Tamas neighbourhood, if we strictly follow Guna based Varnasrama Dharma.
    – The Destroyer
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 14:20
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    No, we can rule out the possibility that Shankara was talking about Guna based Varnashrama dharma. For example Sankaracharya writes in his commentary on Brahma Sutra I.iii.35, "For this further reason Janasruti is not a Sudra by birth ...'. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 14:37
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    @TheDestroyer Sankara is talking about Varna by birth and not gunas in his books. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 15:21
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    @Pradip Gangopadhyay also not only Shankara all the commentators in Brahma Sutras in that Sutra write the same...
    – Tezz
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 16:05
  • @Tezz then BS should be also questioned. It could be an interpolation if it does not hold views of geeta or vedas. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 20:46

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