Sudras in Ancient India - A Social History of the Lower Order

Sudras in Ancient India - A Social History of the Lower Order

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Author: Ram Sharan Sharma
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass
Year: 2002
Language: English
Pages: 384
ISBN/UPC (if available): 8120807065


This volume tries to show how the labouring class in ancient times came to be known as sudras. It explores their social and economic relations with the members of the higher varnas. It also tries to tackle several other problems: Was ancient Indian society a slave society? How far did the ritual status of the sudras correspond to their economic status?

How did the vaisyas come o be reduced to the level of the sudras and the sudras placed on a par with the vaisyas? What accounts for the proliferation of the servile orders in Gupta and post-Gupta times? Why were social revolts comparatively absent in ancient India?

Although the study hinges on the history of the sudras, it also works out a framework for the history of social differentiation and marks the main stages in the evolution of ancient Indian society. Since social history cannot be studied without appreciating material life, at various stages the impact of settled agricultural life, thriving trade, and land grants on the social formation has been examined and its implications for occupational and territorial mobility discussed. Comparisons have also been made with developments in other ancient societies and also with tribal practices and institutions known to anthropology.


This is an outstanding piece of research and an authentic history of Sudras in ancient India. Professor Sharma has made use of all published sources, literary as well as archaeological, bearing on the social and economic position of Sudras. It gives a lucid and comprehensive account of all aspects of the anguished career of Sudra community.

The facility and confidence with which Sharma makes his arguments and conclusion comforting, it weaves together scattered references into the first connected account of the Sudra varna and places this within a broader historical framework.

Sharma co-relates the phases of economic development with social organization and social change. He rightly calls the Rigvedic society as ‘basically tribal’ pastoral and egalitarian’ and ‘a pre-class society’ and contends that ‘the defeated and dispossessed sections of Aryans and Non-aryan tribes were reduced to the position of Sudras’. The later-Vedic society was food producing and agricultural, but their agricultural technology was primitive; consequently differentiation between haves and have-nots could not be intensified….The Surdas continued to from the labour force of a labour-intensive economy; they also supplied surplus produce as peasants. There were no violent social unheavals…because their minds were enchained by the Karma theory.

In ancient India, the cultural apparatus of the Surdas, more so of the untouchables or the ‘asat’ Sudras, was very primitive; consequently their response was usually of abject submission.


Preface to the Second Edition
Preface to the First Edition
Roman Equivalents of Nagari letters

I. Historiography and Approach
II. Origin
III. Tribe versus Varna (c. 1000 – 500 B.C)
IV. Servility and Disabilities (c.600-300 B.C)
V. State Control and the Servile Order (c.300-c.200 B.C)
VI. Crisis in the Old Order (c.200 B.C – c. A.D. 300)
VII. Peasanthood and Religious Rights (c. A.D 300-600)
VIII. Change and Continuity

Appendix I
Appendix II

Index (Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit Words)
General Index