Sudra Varna

Definition - What does Sudra Varna mean?

Sudra varna is a Sanskrit term that refers to the fourth and lowest of the four social groups in the Indian caste, or varna, system. The origins of the word are unclear, but sudra appears to derive from such, meaning “vexation,” and dru, meaning “to run.” Traditionally, the Sudra varna was composed of people who worked in menial jobs and in service, including slaves.

The varna system divides people into hereditary groups with specific limitations and privileges, depending on where the person is on the social strata. Although it is illegal in India today to discriminate based on varna, the system historically prevented those in the lower varnas from improving their economic and social status. Yoga developed outside the restrictions of society and, therefore, provided a means of salvation regardless of varna.

The Dalit – once known as the untouchables – are so low on the social hierarchy that traditionally, they have been excluded from the caste system. Some sociologists, however, now classify the Dalit with the Sudra as the Sudra/Dalit caste.

Yogapedia explains Sudra Varna

The Sudra varna is known as the “not knowledgeable” varna because – 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 varna, therefore, is a class of people who lack this religious education.

The Sudra comprise the largest varna, which has evolved to include everyone from small landowners on one end of the spectrum to scavengers on the lower end. Sudra varna includes those working in such jobs as maids, street sweepers, janitors, unskilled laborers, barbers and waiters. The traditional varnas include:

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

Hinduism offers a path to moving up the varna 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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