Doesn't barring Sudras(who form feet of Purusha) from studying Vedas and making them non-Vedic handicap the Purusha?
As per the purusha suktam the shudras emerged from the feet of virAta purusha. This has created a confusion that since they are related to feet, they are inferior. However, it is not the case, the lord's feet is the holiest of all. Most of the poojas and prayers are related to lord's feet. Many stotras and mantras have phrases like "i worship your feet", "I take refuge in your feet" and so on.
Secondly the varNa classification is not related to inferiority or superiority of any particular varna, because they are not limited to humans alone.
The entire creation is in the form of three energies namely “brahma” (ब्रह्म) , “kShatra” (क्षत्र) & “visha” (विश). For transactional purposes i.e. lokanirvAha in connection with religious rites pertaining to both daiva (दैव) & mAnuSha (मानुष) the created beings became four fold, into the four varNa-s.
It must be understood that the varNa-s are not unique to human creation alone but obtains even in the created divine beings. It is therefore amply clear that the classification into the four varNa-s of the created beings does not actually make a particular varNa superior or inferior to the other varNa-s. Otherwise it would tantamount to attributing superiority or inferiority to the divine beings too.
In all the sacrificial rites of the veda-s, the first offering is given to prajApati, indra, agni & soma. the first ablutions are प्रजापतये स्वाहा | इन्द्राय स्वाहा | अग्नये स्वाहा | सोमाय स्वाहा | offered to prajApati, indra, agni & soma and only thereafter the other devata-s are offered havirbhAga.
Here prajApati is defined as brAhman, indra as kShatriya, agni as brAhmana and soma as the king of the brAhmaNa-s here. So Obviously, all are treated with due respects without any deva being treated as superior or inferior. “सोमोस्माकं ब्राह्मणानां राजेत्याह |” “ब्रह्म ह्यग्निः |” “क्षत्रमिन्द्रः|” are but a few of the countless reference to the varNa classification of the divinities in the veda-s.
Further, a prayer to agni in the beginning of yAga goes thus :
“रुचं नो धेहि ब्राह्मणेषु रुचं राजसु नस्कृधि | रुचं विश्येषु शूद्रेषु मयि धेहि रुचा रुचं |”
“rucaM no dhehi brAhmaNeShu rucaM rAjasu naskRdhi | rucaM vishyeShu shUdreShu mayi dhehi rucA rucaM |”
(YV. Mula samhita K.5. P.7 A.6. - 3 and 4)
which is a prayer to the agni to “bestow upon us the radiance of the brAhmaNa-s, kShatriya-s, vaishya-s & shUdra-s”. Had the kShatriya or vaishya or shUdra been inferior to the brAhmaNa-s, would anyone pray for the energies of these varNa-s?
It must be understood that the varNa classification exists among the devas, the gems, the nine planets, in the animals and even in the letters of sanskrit. “vaiDUrya” (cat’s eye) a particular gem is classified as brAhmaNa, kshatriya, vaishya & shUdra based on its variation in color. Among the nine planets, the sun is kShatriya, but shani, the son of sun is a shUdra. Similarly, budha is classified as a vaishya. But budha is stated to be the son born to chandra & tArA. guru & shukra are stated to be brAhmaNa-s. Now which of the nine planets is superior or inferior ? The soil of the earth is also subject to these varNa classification. By mixing different varNa-s of soil, fertility that is lost can be restored. The soil that has lost its fertility, though called by its original name, can never have the original characteristics unless mixed with fresh fertile soil. In the creation of humans also, the varnas are subject to changes arising out of various reasons.
The veda-s are replete with statements which emphasise that the power or energy called “brahma’ & kShatra constitue the entire creation. Further, these two energies are stated to be co-existing in all created beings. They are inter-dependant and one cannot exist in the absence of the other.
“ब्रह्म वा अग्निः | क्षत्रमिन्द्रः | यदैन्द्राग्नो भवति | ब्रह्मक्षत्रे एवावरुन्धे |”
“ब्रह्मक्षत्रं हि सर्वस्य कारणं जगतः परम्।“
“नाब्रह्म क्षत्रमृध्नोति नाक्षत्रं ब्रह्म वर्धते। ब्रह्म क्षत्रं च संपृक्तमिह चामुत्र वर्धते॥“
A slightly depleted form of energies of the brahma-kShatra is the “viT” shakti.
“यथा सामर्चा ब्रह्मणे समनमत् क्षत्राय समनमत् यथा ब्रह्मक्षत्रेण राज्ञे समनमत् विशे समनमत् यथा राजा विशा रथाय समनमत् अश्वेभ्यः समनमत्....”
are some of the shrutivAkya-s that indicate this. The vedas also prescribe some vedic rituals and karma-s for the human beings of these types. At some places in the veda-s, the “brahma” energy is stated to be the divine “tejas”, the kShatra is stated to be “ojas” or vitality, “viT” shakti is stated to “balam” or strength and “shUdra” shakti is identified as “pratiShThA” or power of stability or “puShTa” i.e. nourishing power.
यथेमां वाचं कल्याणीमावदानि जनेयः। ब्रह्म राजन्यायां शूद्राय, चार्याय च स्वाय चारणायच।। – यजुः अ. 26-2
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).
Shukla Yajurveda 18.48:
Ruchannu dhehi brahmanesu ruchaha rajasu naskrudhi | Ruchanwisyeshu Sudreshu mayi dheyi rucha rucham ||
O Lord! Provide enlightenment to our Brahmanas, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras. Provide me also with the same enlightenment so that I can see the truth.
Above verses also hint that vedic knowledge is for all.
Now coming to manu smriti, as per many scholars, the text is considered to be having many interpolations and contradictions.
As per the hindu belief which is upheld by all the acharyas and schools, if a scripture contradicts something from the shruti then the shruti vakya has to be only accepted in such cases where there is a contradiction.
So a person desirous of learning vedas can be properly initiated into gayatri and thus he can study vedas after getting the yajnopavita samskara.
No, prohibiting Shudras from studying the Vedas does not go against the Vedas. In fact, encouraging them to study the Vedas is going against the Vedas. This is because you can only study the Vedas if you have done Upanayanam, and the scriptures prescribe Upanayanam for Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas only. Shudras do not undergo Upanayanam, and hence, do not have the prerequisite to study the Vedas.
The Brahma Sutras are a commentary on the Upanishads, and were written by Badarayana (aka Vedavyasa).
The Brahma Sutras in Chapter 1, part 3, verses 32 to 39 explain that Shudras are not fit to study the Vedas.
This is what Ramanujacharya says in his Brahma Sutras commentary:
The Sûtras now enter on a discussion of the question whether the Sûdras also are qualified for the knowledge of Brahman.
In sections the purport of which is to give instruction about Brahman the ceremony of initiation is referred to, 'I will initiate you; he initiated him' (Kh. Up. IV, 4). And at the same time the absence of such ceremonies in the case of Sûdras is stated: 'In the Sûdra there is not any sin, and he is not fit for any ceremony' (Manu X, 126); and 'The fourth caste is once born, and not fit for any ceremony' (Manu X, 4).
That a Sûdra is not qualified for knowledge of Brahman appears from that fact also that as soon as Gautama has convinced himself that Gâbâla, who wishes to become his pupil, is not a Sûdra, he proceeds to teach him the knowledge of Brahman.
The Sûdra is specially forbidden to hear and study the Veda and to perform the things enjoined in it. 'For a Sûdra is like a cemetery, therefore the Veda must not be read in the vicinity of a Sûdra;' 'Therefore the Sûdra is like a beast, unfit for sacrifices.' And he who does not hear the Veda recited cannot learn it so as to understand and perform what the Veda enjoins. The prohibition of hearing thus implies the prohibition of understanding and whatever depends on it.
Smriti also declares this prohibition of hearing, and so on. 'The ears of him who hears the Veda are to be filled with molten lead and lac; if he pronounces it his tongue is to be slit; if he preserves it his body is to be cut through.' And 'He is not to teach him sacred duties or vows.'--It is thus a settled matter that the Sûdras are not qualified for meditations on Brahman.
So, the scriptures prohibit Shudras from hearing the Vedas. If one sees the punishment for a Shudra who hears the Vedas, one can understand that it is in fact a huge sin for a Shudra to listen to the Vedas.
However, Shudras are allowed to, and encouraged to, hear the Smriti:
And that Sûdras are allowed to hear Itihâsas and Purânas is meant only for the end of destroying their sins, not to prepare them for meditation on Brahman.