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It is a common belief that sudras can"t learn vedas from Hindu scriptures but according to vedas itself a shudra can learn vedas-

Sukla Yajurveda (XXVI. 2). यथेमां वाचं कल्याणीमावदानि जनेभ्यःब्रह्मराजन्याभ्यां शूद्राय चार्याय च स्वाय चारणाय॥ Meaning-

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."

Here is how Ralph T Griffith translates this verse-

That I to all the people may address this salutary speech,To priest and nobleman, Sûdra and Arya, to one of our own kin and to the stranger Dear may I be to Gods and guerdon-giver. Fulfilled be this my hope: be that my portion!

Here is what swami vivekananda says about this verse:

Thus says the Shukla Yajur Veda (XXVI. 2). Can you show any authority from this Veda of ours that everyone has not the right to it? The Purânas, no doubt, say that a certain caste has the right to such and such a recension of the Vedas, or a certain caste has no right to study them, or that this portion of the Vedas is for the Satya Yuga and that portion is for the Kali Yuga. But, mark you, the Veda does not say so; it is only your Puranas that do so. But can the servant dictate to the master? The Smritis, Puranas, Tantras — all these are acceptable only so far as they agree with the Vedas; and wherever they are contradictory, they are to be rejected as unreliable. But nowadays we have put the Puranas on even a higher pedestal than the Vedas! The study of the Vedas has almost disappeared from Bengal. How I wish that day will soon come when in every home the Veda will be worshipped together with Shâlagrâma, the household Deity, when the young, the old, and the women will inaugurate the worship of the Veda!( Quoting from the complete works of swami vivekananda volume 3 http://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_3/lectures_from_colombo_to_almora/the_religion_we_are_born_in.htm)

So if according to Veda a shudra can learn vedas,then why do puranas say that sudras are not allowed to learn vedas?

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    Can you kindly add references, where "puranas" do not allow shudras to learn vedas? – zaxebo1 Apr 12 '18 at 6:33
  • @zaxebo1 there are many verses in Puranas and smriti s which say Shudras can't Read/Learn Vedas. – Karmanya Nanda Apr 21 '18 at 3:30
  • @KarmanyaNanda such as? – Aravind Suresh Jul 14 at 11:23
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I have used this YajurVeda mantra in more than one answers of mine till date. One such answer is this one.

The correct translation, word to word, is as follows:

YathA imAm vAcham kalyAnim AvadAni janebhyah (1)
BrahmarAjanyAbhyAm sudrAya cha AryAya cha (2)
SwAya cha aranAya cha (3)

Meaning

May i speak the sacred word to the masses of the people (janebhya) (1) to the brahmana, kshatriya, to the sudra and the Arya (2) and to our own men and the strangers (3).

Shukla Yajur Veda 26.2

So, what it says is that the sacred words (or the Veda mantras) can be spoken to everyone, irrespective of their castes, even if he is a stranger (probably a Mleccha or one who is alien to the Vedic culture is implied by this word).

So, everyone can hear Veda mantras. But it does not say anywhere that everyone can recite or learn them too.

What the Smritis and the Puranas say is that a Sudra by birth does not even have a right to Gayatri initiation (which is what that makes one competent for Veda study).

So, if the Vedas say that even Sudras can recite Vedas, they have right to Vedic initiation, only then contradiction between Sruti-Smriti will arise. But, as of now there are no such contradictions. Even the Agamas say that for Sudra , there is no Upanayana.

But, if we find verses from Smritis which say that Sudras should not hear the Vedas, then there is a clear contradiction between Sruti-Smriti and we might reject them.

Another thing to be taken into consideration is the fact that a huge amount of scriptures (including the Vedas) have been lost. And we can't be sure what's in those lost portions. So, we have to come to a conclusion after consulting all the scriptures that are available with us now.

And, not only for the Vedas, even for the Puranas, the rule is that the Sudras should not read them by themselves. The Brahmins must recite and they should only hear the recitation.

So for the satisfaction of one’s own S’akti, all can read this, without contradicting each other. Never any woman nor any S’ûdra, is to read this herself or himself, even out of ignorance; rather they should hear this from the mouth of a Brâhmana. This is the rule of the S’âstras.

From Devi Bhagavatam's last chapter.

Updating the answer:

Yet another relevant mantra from the Atharva Veda (AV) quite clearly mentions that the mantra (or the sacred word) can be spoken to the masses.

AsvinA sAradhana mA madhunAnka shubhaspati (1) YathA bhargasvatim vAcha AvadAni janAm anu (2)

............

Asvins, Lords of light, fill me with sweetness of the bee-honey (1), so may i speak the glorious Word to the masses of the people (2).

AV 6.69.2

  • I am using Kapaly shastry, Rishi Aurobindo, Parashara Bhatta translations. @Ajay – Rickross Oct 17 '17 at 6:21
  • @ajay I think it does means vedas beacause the sages are saying may I speak the sacred word to 4 catses and sages are referring to the words said in vedas. – Karmanya Nanda Oct 17 '17 at 16:12
  • @Karmanya Nanda so, you are saying a shukla yajur vedi is wrong. He only told me, Vedas are nothing to do in whether saying anyone can read Vedas, or else only Brahmans, Kshatriyas and vaishiyas. – user9554 Oct 17 '17 at 16:55
  • @ajay why I will go against vedas:p, i am a Hindu I consider them highest authority I just mean to say that this Veda verse says that all 4 casts can hear them and shudras can hear vedas by a brahmana but if smriti says that shudras can t even hear vedas so these smriti verses need to be rejected. – Karmanya Nanda Oct 17 '17 at 17:06
  • @KarmanyaNanda I mean, this verse has nothing to do with everybody can hear Vedas or not. – user9554 Oct 17 '17 at 17:33
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Let us see what the Yajueveda 26.2 mantra is actually saying.

यथेमां वाचं कल्याणी मावदानि जनेभ्य:।
ब्रह्मराजन्याभ्यांSS शुद्राय चार्याय च स्वाय चारणा य च ।
प्रियो देवानां दक्षिणायै दातुरिह भूयासमयं मे काम: समृध्य तामुप मादो नमतु ।।२।।

As we.(Mantra Drashta Rishis) have advised the meaning of the Ved-Vani (Meaning of Vedas) for the welfare of Brahmana ,Kshatritas Vaishyas ,shudras ,those who are not dear & for all the people. O Humans you also give good advice to others from the meaning of ved mantras to others for their welfare.

i.e. give good advice to others always. But that does not mean that here the Mantra Drasta Rishies are saying to teach vedas or ved mantras to everyone ,and allowing study of vedas to whom who are not eligible or for those who are not allowed.

Here the Mantra Drasta Rishis are saying that , just like us you also give good advice from the meaning of Vedas mantras to others for their welfare.

i.e.they are encouraging us humans to to give good suggestions /advice to others from the meaning of veda mantras just like they did. So that in this universe those who give Dakshina to gods for the Yajnas can also love us.

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Now coming to your main question why shudras are not allowed to learn vedas? and why do puranas say that sudras are not allowed to learn vedas?

The answer us given in Brahma Sutras by Badrayana Vyasa.

It's said that Purificatory ceremonies like Upanayana etc. are declared by the scriptures to be a necessary condition of the study of all kinds of knowledge or Vidyâ; but these are meant only for the higher castes. Their absence in the case of the Sudras. So they are not allowed to read vedas.

संस्कारपरामर्शात् तदभावाभिलापाच्च ॥ 1.3.36 ॥ 
 
saṃskāraparāmarśāt    tadabhāvābhilāpācca || 36|| 
 
36. Because purificatory ceremonies are mentioned (in the case of the twice-born) and their absence are declared (in the case of the Sudras).

Not only they are allowed to read vedas but it's even said that a shudra should not even listen to vedas while they being recited.

श्रवणाध्ययनार्थप्रतिषेधात् स्मृतेश्च ॥ 1.3.38 ॥ 
 

śravaṇādhyayanārthapratiṣedhāt smṛteśca || 38 || 
 

  1. And because of the prohibition in the Smriti of hearing and studying (the Vedas) and knowing their meaning and performing Vedic rites (to Sudras, they are not entitled to the knowledge of Brahman).

So it's because the Upanayana ceremony or the samskaras which is not performed in case of Shudra ,they are not allowed to read , listen or to study veda. And that's why it's not allowed in smiritis.

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    Yes they are saying to advice other people with meaning of mantras but the starting line says that the sages have advised the meaning of vedas for the welfare of all 4 castes so I think they mean they are allowing that a shudra can hear vedas but not learn as Rickross answer says,what do you think? – Karmanya Nanda Oct 17 '17 at 7:12
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    @KarmanyaNanda - I think here we have to give advice from essence or meaning of Ved-mantras , which the Rishi's told us but not the actual ved mantras. Still I will try to find any ref.for hearing of ved mantras by shudras and others. – SwiftPushkar Oct 17 '17 at 7:57
  • @KarmanyaNanda - Updated the answer from BS about hearing of vedas by shudras & answering your main Question. – SwiftPushkar Oct 17 '17 at 10:11
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    The main Q is not "Why Sudras can't read the Vedas?" but is "How other Shastras can prohibit when the Vedas allow it?" OP thinks the Yajurveda mantra is allowing Sudras to read Vedas. Anyways, if the meaning of the mantra is that everyone including the Sudras can hear the Vedas then that BS verse does not prove anything. Because Vedas have the highest authority. And moreover, such verses are found in galore in the Smritis too.. – Rickross Oct 17 '17 at 14:23
  • Devi bhagavatam says shudra can hear vedas and imho I think this shukla verse is saying that all 4 casts can hear vedas as it is said for the welfare of brahmana,kshatriya,vaishya,sudra – Karmanya Nanda Oct 17 '17 at 16:21
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No, the Vedas don't declare Shudras to be eligible to recite the Vedas. If they would be eligible for Vedic study, then the Taittirya Samhita of the Krishna Yajurveda wouldn't forbid Shudras to perform Yajnas:

From his feet he meted out the Ekavinça Stoma. After it the Anustubh metre was created, the Vairaja Saman, of men the Çudra [Shudra], of cattle the horse. Therefore the two, the horse and the Çudra, are dependent on others. Therefore, the Çudra is not fit for the sacrifice, for he was not created after any gods. Therefore they depend on their feet, for they were created from the feet. (Taittirya Samhita 7.11)

So if we interpret Shukla Yajurveda 26.2 to be allowing anybody to study the Vedas, it is basically contradicting the above verse which is also from the Vedas.

Therefore, the more appropriate interpretation of Shukla Yajurveda 26.2 would be that Ishwara is asking people who are eligible to study the Vedas i.e. Brahmanas, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas, to spread the meaning of the Vedas to others. That doesn't necessarily mean Shudras, Mlecchas and Avarnas can hear or read the Vedas. It is basically promoting the study of Vedas to people (who are eligible) not only for their benefit but of mankind.

For example, if someone performs a Yajna for rain which comes as a success, it is not only that person who will benefit from the rain but all sections of the society.

It's like "if you water the roots, the leaves and branches grow automatically". So by teaching eligible people Vedas, the benefits can be reaped even by people who are not eligible.

Vedic mantras are supposed to be highly classified and secretive knowledge. So one must have the necessary qualifications to study them. It should not be revealed to all.

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    There is no contradiction. Karma Kanda isn't a prerequisite for Jnana Kanda. Sudras are fit for Jnana Kanda. – Chinmay Sarupria Jan 8 at 18:52
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    There are nothing called Karma/Gyana Kanda.. the Vedas themselves are full of esoteric knowledge... Upanishads are no match...@ChinmaySarupria – Rickross Jan 9 at 6:15
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    @Rickross Swami Vivekananda himself said about this division so certainly these 2 parts exist. He also said : "The Jnana Kanda, as embodying the spiritual teachings of the Vedas known as the Upanishads and the Vedanta, has always been cited as the highest authority by all our teachers, philosophers, and writers, whether dualist, or qualified monist, or monist" – Chinmay Sarupria Jan 19 at 10:30
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    @Rickross As far as I remember, Swami Vivekananda had given reference of Vedas when talking about life span in yugas. But how can Karma Kanda help one to get liberation? – Chinmay Sarupria Jan 19 at 13:56
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    Yes u can see my answer: hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/31624/4732 @KarmanyaNanda – Rickross Feb 9 at 17:19
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According to Swami Vivekananda, Sudras are eligible to read the Jnana Kanda of Vedas.

Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda / Volume 6 / Epistles - Second Series / VIII:

The Achârya(Adi Shankara) could not adduce any proof from the Vedas to the effect that the Shudra should not study the Vedas. He only quotes ("The Shudra is not conceived of as a performer of Yajna or Vedic sacrifices.") (Tai. Samhita, VII. i. 1)

To maintain that when he is not entitled to perform Yajnas, he has neither any right to study the Upanishads and the like. But the same Acharya contends with reference to , ("Now then commences hence the inquiry about Brahman.") (Vedânta-Sutras, I. i. 1) that the word (Ath) here does not mean "subsequent to the study of the Vedas", because it is contrary to proof that the study of the Upanishad is not permissible without the previous study of the Vedic Mantras and Brâhmanas and because there is no intrinsic sequence between the Vedic Karma-kânda and Vedic Janâna-kânda. It is evident, therefore, that one may attain to the knowledge of Brahman without having studied the ceremonial parts of the Vedas. So if there is no sequence between the sacrificial practices and Jnana, why does the Acharya contradict his own statement when it is a case of the Shudras,by inserting the clause "by force of the same logic"? Why should the Shudra not study the Upanishad?

Complete Works / Volume 4 / Writings: Prose / What we Believe in:

Who wrote the Upanishads? Who was Râma? Who was Krishna? Who was Buddha? Who were the Tirthankaras of the Jains? Whenever the Kshatriyas have preached religion, they have given it to everybody; and whenever the Brahmins wrote anything, they would deny all right to others. Read the Gitâ and the Sutras of Vyâsa, or get someone to read them to you. In the Gita the way is laid open to all men and women, to all caste and colour, but Vyasa tries to put meanings upon the Vedas to cheat the poor Shudras. Is God a nervous fool like you that the flow of His river of mercy would be dammed up by a piece of meat? If such be He, His value is not a pie!

As you can see, Vedas themselves don't put any restriction on Sudras.

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    Although I don't believe in the Gyana Kanda-Karma Kanda stuff but I agree that that KYV 7.1.1 Mantra is not saying that Sudra must not read the Vedas .. It simply says "tasmAt sudro yajnehanavaklapto na hi .." which means Sudras are never thought of as performer of Yajnas... but there is a context here... this Anuvaka is talking about Jytistoma, Agnistoma Yajnas and the Sudra must not perform these Yajnas.. In general Sudra can perform some Yajnas like Pancha Mahayajna, Paka Yajna .. So I am upvoting ... – Rickross Jan 9 at 8:52
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Literal reading of scriptures can force one to do gymnastics with the letter and spirit of the Vedas.

I do hereby address this salutary speech for the benefit of humanity, the Brahmanas, the Kstariyas, the Sudras, the Vaishyas, the kinfolk and the men of the lowest rung of society.

Yajur Veda 26.2 translated by Devi Chand

It is obvious from the text that the message of the Vedas are for entire humanity including Sudras. It is only gymnastics to claim that the message can be heard but not read for Sudras. What is the difference between the two?

It is better to see if the Smritis have talked about the nature of persons who should not be given the message of the scriptures. Smritis are not talking of Sudras in the context of caste. In fact Smritis have explained the meaning of the word Sudra in this context.

Teachings only to good persons

These teachings are not to be imparted to persons who are wicked, haughty, barbarous, foul in conduct, hypocritical, given to sensuous indulgences, interested exclusively in their worldly concerns, who are without devotion to Me or who persecute My devotees.

Srimad Bhagavata Purana III.32.39-40

I would like to say that the Vedas are not preaching hatred against the Sudras. In fact the truth is quite the opposite.

O God grant love to our holy priests, set love in our ruling chiefs. Grant love to the Vaishyas and Shudras; give out of Thy unbounded store of love, love unto me!

Yajur Veda 18.48 translated by Devi Chand

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    Yes , I also do agree with you that Vedic varna system was flexible ,this also is been said in Bhagvatam. Here shudras alson mean pure shudras like Yavanas etc. and even a Brahmana who is not following his duties of Dharma & Karma very well. So shudras do not necessarily or exclusively means people of fourth class. – SwiftPushkar Oct 17 '17 at 11:26
  • Translation of yajur Veda 26.2 is wrong. – user9554 Oct 17 '17 at 13:20
  • "What is the difference between the two?" The Devi Bhagvatam passage quoted in my answer shows that there is indeed difference between the two. @PradipGangopaddhyaya. – Rickross Oct 17 '17 at 14:25
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    @SwiftPushkar What this answer is saying is exactly the opposite of what your answer is saying. So how can you agree with this given that you already agree with ur own answer? :P Also, FYI, the Yavanas are not Sudras (pure or impure). They don't belong to the 4-caste system. They belong to the unknown or the 5th caste (according to Smriti terminology). They used to belong previously in the caste system but due to omissions of samskaras and rites they degraded themselves as Vratyas. – Rickross Oct 17 '17 at 14:29
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    Well I think smritis have talked about 4th caste s not the quality of person. shudras cannot read vedas through they can hear it as mentioned in rickross answer. – Karmanya Nanda Oct 17 '17 at 16:16
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The question originally was : Why can not sudras read the Vedas according to Smritis?

The answer is that--already provided--because sudras do not have the right to have upanayana.

The last answer is to show that sudras can read the vedas.

We had a gurukuka system, where trivarnas got initiation to gayatri and spent twelve years in gurukula with extreme austerity and studying six vedangas siksha kalpa nirukta jyotish chhanda and vyakaarana could be competent in Vedas learning the mantras from the gurus, and not all of them could attain Brahmajnana, which is the meaning ot the word Veda(Absolute Knowledge).

Now we have lost the entire system and all are able to read the Upanishads. But so what? How many of us are obtaining the Brahmajnana that was the objective?

In Kaliyuga, according to Tantra,the Vedamantras do not yield any fruit.This view was accepted by Sri Ramakrishna. So what the smrities are saying has become applicable to almost all of us.

Swami Vivekananda preached the message of the Upanishads to arouse fearlessness in the masses. So He did nothing wrong. Reading the Upanishads is not what was meant by studying the Vedas and was restricted to trivarnas.

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