Definition - What does Sudra mean?

Sudra is the name traditionally given to the class of people in Indian society who work in service and menial jobs. The Sudra comprise the fourth of the four social groups in the Indian caste system, which divides people into hereditary groups with specific limitations and privileges, depending on where the person is on the social strata. The Sudra's role is to serve the other three castes, or varna.

Only the Dalit – once known as the untouchables – are lower on the social hierarchy, so much so that they have been excluded from the caste system. Some sociologists, however, now classify the Dalit with the Sudra as the Sudra/Dalit caste. Today, it is illegal in India to discriminate based on caste, but the system traditionally prevented those in the lower castes from improving their status. Yoga, which developed outside the restrictions of society, provided a means of salvation regardless of caste.

Yogapedia explains Sudra

Sudra is a Sanskrit word that is associated with meaning “not knowledgeable.” Unlike the members of the three higher varnas, the Sudra are prevented from performing upanayana, a rite that begins the study of the sacred Vedas. The Sudra, therefore, lack this religious education.

The Sudra comprise the largest caste, which has evolved to include everyone from small landowners on one end of the scale to scavengers on the lower end. Sudra jobs include maids, street sweepers, janitors, unskilled laborers, barbers and waiters. The traditional castes include:

  • Brahmin – the priestly and teacher caste.
  • Kshatriya – the ruler and public service caste.
  • Vaishya – the business and merchant caste.
  • Sudra/Dalit – the semi-skilled and unskilled workers.

Hinduism offers a path to moving up the caste system via reincarnation. Someone who fulfills his/her duty (dharma) in one life may improve his/her social position in the next.

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