Were shudras not allowed to learn Sanskrit in the past times? If yes, then around when did this practice of not being allowed start?

  • What do you mean by 'past times'? 200 years ago or 2000 years ago? If the question is the former, then yes, many people of śūdra lineage had become scholars in Sanskrit and even taught other Brahmins as early as the 1600s. Jun 28 at 12:53
  • @AravindSuresh How long back do you think the practice of Shudras not being allowed to learn Sanskrit started? And what are the sources for saying that Shudras weren't allowed to learn Sanskrit?
    – Zaitor7
    Jun 28 at 13:11
  • Sounds like a loaded question to me. Why'd you assume Shudras don't learn Sanskrit and shastras ban it?
    – sbharti
    Aug 22 at 17:44

Various Śūdra and Dalit people have made contributions to Sanskrit literature, so they must have been able to learn Sanskrit to begin with, including the following -

King Śūdraka (apparently Śūdra caste) – composed Mṛcchakaṭika

Vidura (describes himself as Śūdra caste) – proclaimed the wisest person in Mahābhārata and taught Vidura-nīti

Vālmīki (supposedly Dalit/ Valmiki caste) – author of Ᾱdikāvya Rāmāyaṇa

Kālidāsa (Dalit according to folklore) – one the greatest Sanskrit language poets


It's not true, no one is barred from learning the Sanskrit language even by most orthodox standards. sanskrit was a language of common dialogue in past, so how were individuals supposed to use it without knowing it ?

The restrictions to be precise were on certain areas related to ritualistic practices like shruti scriptures in accordance with adhikara but that was for everyone to follow (not just one section). Other scriptures and literature was always available for everyone to study such as bhagwat gita, itihasas, smritis and other non religious literature.

Although, it's true that due to gradual decline in it's learning among commoners (which ever varna) newer dialects and then languages formed up like classical pali and prakrit etc. This process went further and created early Hindi dialects of middle age and then Hindustani of post independence era.

  • Are you sure there were no restrictions at all? I've seen some people saying online that there were. Some gautama dharmashastras something. btw what are the sources to conclude if there where restrictions or not?
    – Zaitor7
    Jun 28 at 15:09
  • 3
    It's not possible, how do you think the shudras in early times used to communicate without knowing the language ? There are many shudra characters in Mahabharata, ramayana and puranas too. How were they supposed to interact with other people ? Maybe you have misunderstood the Sanskrit language with ritualistic hymns like karma Kanda hymns.
    – user19357
    Jun 28 at 17:50

The *Brihaddharma Purana states

नचैवमाचरेत्धर्मं वैदिकं लौकिकं तथा। पुराणपठनं वेदपठनं नापि चाचरेत्॥ शास्त्रार्थकथनं चैव न शूद्रः क्वचिदाचरेत्। विप्रं क्षत्रं विशञ्चापि पाठयेन्न कदाचन॥ वर्णान् व्याकरणदीन् वा श्लोकं श्लोकार्थमेव वा। शूद्रो विद्यां ग्रहीतारं ब्राह्मणं पातयेदधः ब्राह्मणोऽपि पठन् शूद्रादात्मानमेव घातयेत्॥

Transliteration: (A Shûdra) shouldn't perform activities related to the Vaidika & folk practices. He should never read the Vedas & the Purânas. He should never discuss the meaning of the scriptures. A Shudra can't impart knowledge about alphabets, grammer, verses or their interpretations to Brâhmanas, Kshatriyas & Vaishyas. The Brâhmana who imparts knowledge to a Shûdra falls down (in hell) & the Brâhmana who gets knowledge from a Shûdra kill himself (i.e inflicted with the sin committing suicide).[Brihaddharma Purâna:Uttara Khanda:4:15-17]

Hence Shûdras are effectively barred from learning Sanskrit as

  1. They are prohibited to interpret & study scriptures written in Sanskrit.
  2. They are prohibited to impart knowledge (religious & secular) to people of other castes.
  3. Brâhmanas (de-facto custodians of education of that time) are prohibited to impart knowledge to Shûdras.

One can argue against these facts by pointing out to Shûdra characters conversing in Sanskrit in the epics & the Purânas but the evidence shows that these dictactes were the ones that were in practice. For example, Navadvîpa of my native state of Bengal was an important centre of Navya Nyâya. The identities of the various scholars of this school who studied in Navadvîpa has been compiled in the Samsad Bângalî Charitâbhidhâna. On going through the book, it was found that all of these scholars were Brâhmanas, not a single scholar was from non-Brâhmana background. Besides how can one explain the animal characters in these texts speaking in Sanskrit (for example conversation between a cat & a mouse with neither side having divine background, as stated by Bhishma as an example of forging alliance with enemies under mutually unfavourable conditions) ?

It was not before Ishvarachandra Vidyâsâgara opened the doors of the Sanskrit College of Calcutta to non-Brâhmanas in 1851 that Shûdras got the real oppurtunity to learn Sanskrit.

  • 3
    How old is Brihaddharma Purana? It is possible that the Purana is describing the situation around the time it was written. What was the situation before that? Jul 5 at 12:00
  • I don't think that religiously inclined persons should be concerned about the historicity of scriptures. The Brihaddharma Purana appeared in written form around the 13th century in Bengal. Before that, we find Shudras conversing in Magadhi Prakrit alongside Brahmanas speaking in Sanskrit in Kalidasa's dramas. Before that we see Dharmavyadha imparting Vyadha-Gita in Mahabharata & a Shudra conversing with a sage in Padma Purana. Jul 5 at 14:02
  • 3
    How can it even be considered legit when end of every parva in Mahabharata mentions a phal Shruti which mentions benefits of shudra reading the parva. Jul 5 at 16:26
  • The same text states that a Shûdra shouldn't read the scriptures by himself but should listen it from the mouth of a Brâhmana. The Kâlikâ Purâna also states that a Shûdra reading scriptures independently should be banished from the kingdom by the king. Besides the Brihaddharma Purâna appears in the list of Upapurânas provided in the Devî-Bhâgavata Purâna. It was this ban on Shûdras from understanding Sanskrit which necessitated translation of the epics into vernacular languages. Jul 6 at 3:17
  • Please explain how do you derive your statement that Shudras are barred from learning Sanskrit? All the text says is that a Shudra is unable to "impart" the knowledge of Varna, Vyakarana (dealing with grammar) and Shloka to the three other castes. Considering Vyakarana as one of the Vedic auxillary sciences, the purport of the text most likely intends to propose religious prohibitions. Nowhere does it say that a Shudra is forbidden to learn Sanskrit or read/compose texts in the same language. So how do you come to this conclusion? Jul 7 at 10:38

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