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In Skanda Purana 5.3.200.6, there's a verse

वेदोच्चारणमात्रेण क्षत्रियैर्धर्मपालकैः । जिह्वाछेदोऽस्य कर्तव्यः शूद्रस्येति विनिश्चयः ॥ ६ ॥

vedoccāraṇamātreṇa kṣatriyairdharmapālakaiḥ | jihvāchedo'sya kartavyaḥ śūdrasyeti viniścayaḥ || 6 ||

It has been decided that for merely pronouncing the Veda [...] the tongue of that Śùdra should be cut off by Kṣatriyas who are the protectors of Dharma.

Why must this be done?

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  • I think it's figurative. As the verses in purans are poetic. Same with Mahabharata and ramayan too. Like in Mahabharata, multiple people are said to possess strength of 10,000 elephants, so it doesn't literally mean that even tho they were incredibly strong. The verse here basically restricts shudras of listening to Vedic mantras.
    – Rudra
    Sep 25, 2023 at 14:28
  • Puranas are puranas, they are read for entertainment and inculcating bhakti, they aren't meant for serious level of hinduism. The laws and ideas defined there are just poetic.
    – user29449
    Sep 30, 2023 at 4:46
  • This is my understanding of the scriptures, Sorry I cannot provide sources for how I have understood scriptures, just like like one cannot provide sources for their thoughts rockmine.blogspot.com/2023/10/… Oct 2, 2023 at 20:40

1 Answer 1

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One explanation offered by Medhatithi is that whoever studies the Vedas should study the whole thing, not just a few verses/passages from here and there. Therefore a shudra is to be punished for pronouncing a single sentence from the Veda.

https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/manusmriti-with-the-commentary-of-medhatithi/d/doc145579.html

We now proceed to explain the etymology of the word ‘Veda.’ The ‘Veda’ is that from which people derive their knowledge of Dharma, which cannot be known from any other source of knowledge—[ vidanti asmāṭ iti vedaḥ ]; and this knowledge of Dharma is derived from each individual sentence; hence the name is not restricted to the entire collection of Adhyāyas and Anuvākas that go under the name ‘Ṛgveda.’ It is on this understanding that the penalty of having the tongue cut off is inflicted (upon the Śūdra) when he pronounces a single sentence out of the Veda. On the same principle also is the epithet ‘whole’ found in the injunction that ‘the whole Veda should be studied,’ where it serves to indicate the necessity of studying all the sentences contained in the Veda; otherwise (if the epithet ‘whole’ were not there) the learner would be satisfied with the reading of only a few sentences, and would not read the whole Veda. All this we shall explain in detail in the present work.

But by this reasoning, even a brahmana or kshatriya should receive the same punishment for abandoning their Vedic studies but afaik no harsh punishment is prescribed for them.

Not sure if you're looking for a historical explanation. In case you are, here's one:

https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.24397/page/n212/mode/1up

The study of the Veda follows after Upanayana and the Veda speaks of the Upanayana of only three classes. One should perform upanayana for a brahmana in spring, for a rajanya in summer and in sarad ( autumn ) for a vaisya. Not only was the sudra not to study the Veda, but Veda study was not to be carried on in his presence. This attitude need not cause wonder. The sacred Vedic literature was largely created and preserved entirely by the brahmanas ( the kshatriyas contributing if at all a very small share in that task ). If the brahmanas desired to keep their sacred treasure for the twiceborn classes in these circumstances, it is understandable and for those ages even excusable.

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  • Another question. Why so harsh punishment just for this mistake? Sep 29, 2023 at 4:20
  • It's harsh to prevent Shudras from learning Vedas. I don't think the punishment is actually carried out. Oct 12, 2023 at 21:33

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