Historically productive mass community relationship with the king was quite consciously cut off by the Brahmin priest and the Prime Minister during the monarchical phase. The Shudra kings could not do anything to weaken the power of the Brahmin.
by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd
But for the accidental reading of Shahu Maharaj’s letter to the retired Governor of Bombay presidency, Lord Sydenham, written in 1918, I would not have thought of writing this essay. In my life time experience of writing about the Brahmin-Bania power in contemporary times at the expense of life threats and cases in various levels of courts the Dwija pundits tried to dismiss my arguments about the Brahmin-Bania power over the society and state in post-independence times and in the past–medieval and ancient– times. Many Brahmin-Bania liberal intellectuals keep arguing that when so many Shudra kings ruled the Indian states in ancient, medieval times how could Brahmin-Banias control the system. For a long time, they also dismissed Babasaheb Ambedkar and Mahatma Jyotirao Phule’s arguments about the control of Brahmins on the state and society on the same ground. But Shahu’s lengthy letter in his own words, reproduced in this essay, as a king of a very important Princely State that existed till 1947, as a descendant state of great king Chatrapati Shivaji provides an indisputable testimony, how the Shudra kings suffered under the spiritual and intellectual yoke of Brahmins. This control of Brahmin priestly forces who turned, apart from being head priests in every kingdom, the Prime Ministers of all Shudra monarchical states and other bureaucratic networks from the days of Kautilya, the author of Arthashastra –a book of dangerous statecraft shows the real mirror image of Indian history.
This essay looks at the history of Shudra kings and their fear of Brahmins from the days of Chandragupta Maurya’s kingdom, in the light of Shahu Maharaj’s letter.
Kautilya’s Arthashastra stipulates that the state has to maintain the caste system in the following order:
“As the triple Vedas definitely determine the respective duties of the four castes and of the four orders of religious life, they are the most useful.
The duty of the Brahman is study, teaching, performance of sacrifice, officiating in others’ sacrificial performance and the giving and receiving of gifts.
That of a Kshatriya is study, performance of sacrifice, giving gifts, military occupation, and protection of life.
That of a Vaisya is study, performance of sacrifice, giving gifts, agriculture, cattle breeding, and trade.
That of a Sudra is the serving of twice-born (dwijati), agriculture, cattle-breeding, and trade (varta), the profession of artisans and court-bards (karukusilavakarma)”
“This people (loka) consisting of four castes and four orders of religious life, when governed by the king with his sceptre, will keep to their respective paths, ever devotedly adhering to their respective duties and occupations.”
He further says “the observance of one’s own duty leads one to Svarga and infinite bliss (Anantya). When it is violated, the world will come to an end owing to confusion of castes and duties. Hence the king shall never allow people to swerve from their duties; for whoever upholds his own duty, ever adhering to the customs of the Aryas, and following the rules of caste and divisions of religious life, will surely be happy both here and hereafter. For the world, when maintained in accordance with injunctions of the triple Vedas, will surely progress, but never perish.”
Having stipulated strict caste duties and condemning the Shudras to serve Brahmin, Ksatriya and Vaisyas by investing their labour power forever Kautilya makes a false spiritual promise of granting moksha/heaven to the Shudras. This kind of false written word was also believed by the Shudra masses that if they do not practice caste order they would also be punished by Brahmin Gods both in this life and hereafter. Nowhere in the world religious book writers played such a satanic mischief on the life of innocent productive masses, who were illiterate and ignorant. By using Vedas as divine books both Kautilya and Manu created a barbaric civil society and State. The subsequent Brahmins practiced the spiritual and political ideology formulated in those books. No book of divine source would divide people into such inhuman categories and create fear generated by the combined institution of religion and State and also promise heaven if they remain slaves. No slave in the world other than in India would believe this kind of barbaric book knowledge as God-given. The Shudras and Dalits of India followed this so-called divine sanction for millennia.
Shudra Kings under spell
The Shudra kings of India from ancient days, particularly from the times of Chandragupta Maurya to the present came under the mystic spiritual spell of Brahmin writers. Though they knew that the war strategies and the abilities to fight nature and produce food were with Shudra masses they surrendered the written word to the Brahmin and internalized a psychology of enormous fear and slavishness. The fear of God was attached to a human person, a Brahmin, and the food producers believed that he has all the powers that God is said to have. While the idea of God evolved in the process of human transformation from one state of life to the other, hunter-fisher to animal domesticater to agrarian producer, the Brahmin superimposed himself as Bhoodeva with an uncommon mystic wisdom on them. This distorted the very nature of religion in India. Kautilya projected this Brahmin divine power onto the state as far back as the 3rd century BCE.
Kautilya forecloses any transcendentality of castes into one another in administering the state institutions. Even the occupational change was also arrested. To maintain caste hierarchy, the state was made to be violent and ruthless. He established a complete control over the state resources in the interest of the Brahmin, Kshatriya and Bania forces by totally disarming the Shudra/Dalits who were the main productive force all through the Indian history after this book was written. By various estimations by scholars we now come to know that Manu’s Dharmashastra belongs to much later periodicity than that of Arthashastra from Mauryan dynasty of the 3rd century BCE. The Brahmin power on the state structure got tightened from then on. The animal economists and agriculturalists broadly known as Shudras from the days of building of Harappan civilization were pushed to the status of slaves once the Vedic civilization was established as Aryan divinely ordained and the Arthashastra pushed that system into the state structure with a full force of fear of God and also violence of the state.
Even in the case of Shudra kings, they were forced to suppress their own brothers and sisters, who were toiling in the productive fields. Kautilya gave full freedom and leisure time to Brahmins by living a good life while constantly receiving gifts from the state and Shudras at will. The duties that he assigned to the Shudras, Vaisyas and Ksatriyas that they have to give gifts of wealth to the Brahmin as a duty shows the Brahmins were completely made free from labour and production process.
The so-called mental labour they were assigned was very negative. If the Shudras did not give wealth in the form of a gift he said the state has to punish them. The Shudras had to pay taxes to the state for its maintenance and also provide for the labour free good life of the entire population of Brahmins. The Brahmin is only receiver but never a giver at any time in Indian history. This idea Bhoodeva is opposite of the universal God who gives the humans life, wealth and the knowledge to produce food from the earth and a human family life. Both the Brahmin God and also the Brahmin himself are opposite of this universal spiritual ethics and morals. Once the Shudra kings were made to accept it they lived against themselves, framed laws against their own people.
Constitution vs Manudharma
In this background of Brahmin written word and its mystic power in the past it is important to understand the present ruling Hindutva forces projecting only Vedic and Post Vedic books written by Brahmins like Arthashastra and Manu Dharma Shastra and also Vastyanana’s Kamasutra as the source of Indian civilization. They are trying to re-establish the Arthasatric state and Manu Dharmic civil society even in the 21 century. Not many Shudras understand this historical process that they are part of. As we have shown in The Shudras–Vision for New Path, Hedgewar the founder of Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) praises Manu’s laws as greater laws than the laws written by Lycurgus and Solon and says “To constitutional pundits that (Manu’s laws) means nothing” (Introduction XXV) He had no respect for the constitution that Ambedkar has instituted which made an Other Backward Class (OBC) Narendra Modi ( a man of their own party) the Prime Minister of the nation in 2014. As he was still the Prime Minister Ram Madhav an RSS young leader in his book Because India Comes First–Reflections on Nationalism, Identity and Culture (2020) in the very introduction says “Through its living history of over five millennia, India has offered invaluable gems of wisdom enriching all of mankind…This widom proclaimed in Manusmriti, one of the oldest constitutions of India”. He further quotes a Sanskrit sloka from the Manusmriti to say “ Men all over the world would come to beseech lessons in character through the lives of the great men born in this country”. According to him Manu was the greatest wise man of India from whom great men of the world should learn how to institutionalize, perhaps, caste and untouchability. He knows pretty well that Ambedkar burnt this ‘great constitution’, treating it as the most barbaric book that does not deserve to be positively talked about. This middle aged RSS Brahmin leader from Andhra Pradesh, knows that the Shudras and Dalits all over the country treat Manuwadis as anti-national as this book made them perpetually slaves. The BJP’s own Prime Minister Modi never takes the name of Manu, rather he takes the name of Gautham Buddha on international platforms, but Ram Madhav tells the Shudras/Dalits/Adivasis working in both RSS/BJP, leave alone outside their fold, that they should follow only the Manusmriti that Ambedkar burnt but not the Ambedkar’s constitution which gives them equal rights with Brahmins, at least in the state institutions. In the Hindu spiritual system still Brahmins control everything. Even the RSS Shudras/Dalits/Adivasis cannot become priests in the Hindu temples even now. This is where the Shudras/Dalits and Adivasis working in the Sangh Parivar must realize even in the 21 century the Brahmin leaders of RSS from Hedgewar to Ram Madhav worship only Kautilya and Manu, certainly not Ambedkar who wrote a constituted that liberated them in the political and legal domain.
Orthodox versus secular Brahmins
The Hindutva Brahmins quite openly own Kautilya and Manu but the secular, liberal and left Brahmins by and large remain silent about them. They pretend as if the ancient thought of Brahmins does not matter. In the literary sources there is no left-liberal and secular critique of these authors written in a manner that we could use to counter the Hindutva Brahmins. The silence of left-liberal Brahmins must be treated, for all practical purposes, as agreement with the Hindu Brahmins and hence the Shudra/Dalit/Adivasis must suspect their liberalism, secularism and socialism. There is however, a fundamental problem with the Shudraness and Brahminness which I will examine at the end of this essay.
In the latter half of the last century, many leaders from Shudra castes have become the Chief Ministers in different states and also ministers of different State as well as Central Governments. For them a question lies unanswered: for how long in Indian history the Shudra kings were made the slaves of the mystical powers of the Brahmin books? By their calculated silences, RSS wants that mystic power of the Brahmin should remain unchecked. The RSS Brahmin leaders know enough now to let go of the Manu and Kautilya who gave them enormous power in the political domain.
The Tyranny in Arthashastra
The Arthashastra does not talk of Chandal and Adivasi as separate categories. As per the Kautilyan classification, the Dalits and Adivasis are part of the Shudra category. In his socio-legal formulation all agrarian and artisanal masses are Shudras. But at the same time they all are fragmented based on their occupations and Kautilya asks the state not to allow them to move out of each one’s occupation and caste boundaries. This kind of long enforcement of caste-occupational rules by the Brahminic state power by all the rulers the Shudra masses who constitute about more than 52 per cent population of modern India believe that they must surrender to Brahmin authority, spiritually and socially, even now. It does not matter what their economic and political status in modern India is. They treat Brahmin as Bhoodevata. Such a mental surrender does not allow their intellectual, philosophical and spiritual energies to evolve even now. The Shudra and Namasudra submission to Bengal Brahmins and Kayasthas, whatever their ideology, left or liberal or Hindutva is a strong case in point.
Though there has been a lot of discussion about Manu’s role, through his socio-legal text– Dharmashastra or Manusmriti– in controlling the productive Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi masses with an iron grip of brahminism there is not much discussion around Kautilya’s Arthashatra in terms of its role in controlling the state institutions by the brahminic ideological apparatus in terms of human management by the hierarchical Varna system. In his very serious critique of the Hindu Social Order, B.R.Ambedkar, examined numerous key texts of Brahmanism except that of Arthashastra. But this is the text that strategized their perennial control over the state structure of India. They got far higher control on the state institutions even in our times because of the Kautilyan varna classification acted as the normative principle that guided the state. The so called secular and liberal Dwija scholars tried to hide this aspect of the Indian state as this was providing them enormous scope to control in the post-Independent state institutions and also the civil society.
Many get misled with the title of the book Arthashasatra thinking that it is about science of economics. It actually is a book that gives hegemonic control to brahminism in every field of the state activity. Thus, it weakened the potential of the productive forces–the Shudra and Dalits in a long history of India. It was also meant to suppress all tribal transformation processes into normal civil society with an iron hand.
The mischief in Kamasutra
The third book that another ancient Brahmin author Vastayana wrote – Kamasutra – was meant to control the Shudra/Dalit masses–particularly women. He has converted Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi women into sexual objects without giving them motherhood agency too.
On the contrary Wendy Doniger, a well-known American Sanskrit scholar writes “The Kamasutra is almost unique in classical Sanskrit literature in its near total disregard of class (varna) and caste (jati). Of course, power relations of many kinds – gender, wealth, political position, as well as caste – are implicit throughout the text. But wealth is what counts most.” But that is not true if we look at that social distinctions mentioned while discussing sexuality. It is primarily a book for anti-production leisure Brahmin Kshatriya ruling class and Bania business men
Kamasutra stipulates that the Brahmin women should be wives of only Brahmin men but the Shudra/Dalit women should work as Granikas (sex workers) for nagarikas (the urbanite Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya leisure-centered male citizens)
No Shudra king in such a long history could dare to oppose the Brahminical hegemony. Neither he was ingenious enough to record or authorize the history of the spiritual system of the productive masses that existed outside the brahmanical fold. Nor did they establish schools for the Shudra children and commissioned writers to write books of their own, history, culture and civilization. The Shudras and Dwijas were not living like one national people but of two different cultural and civilizational entities. Even the kings were made to obey the Brahmins unquestioningly as they themselves treated the Brahmin as god — Bhoodeva. Even the kings were living like socio-spiritual slaves without any rights to read and write books. After getting the Kshatriya status some could learn reading and writing but they too were forced to isolate themselves from the productive masses by injecting fear of the Brahmin controlled Gods. The Shudra kings never realized that their own ancestors had their gods/goddesses different from the god images that the brahmins constructed in their books. The gods in their books were mainly their own war heroes. The Shudra gods/goddesses were evolved mostly from the Shudra production and science and development (See Why I am Not a Hindu, Our Gods and Goddesses and their Gods and Goddesses) processes. But the Shudra kings and rulers even of our times are forced to believe only the Brahmin Gods. Brahmins went on telling the kings that they themselves would curse the king if he does not obey them or their god will punish him if they do not obey the Brahmin. This whole spiritual ideology was a myth constructed to acquire wealth and power without getting involved in agrarian or artisanal production.
Shudras as human beings like any other human beings on the earth should have doubted this spiritual theory though it was being propagated both in oral and book form. The Shudra kings were also made to fear books that the Brahmins wrote as if they were god’s words and truth. When Brahmins told them they should not even touch their spiritual books the Shudras remained away from those books. Such a dictum is patently a historical fraud committed in the name of spiritual theory. Once the right to read was forbidden for the Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi masses, their fears of Brahmins and their Gods increased many fold.
Fortunately for us, Chatrapati Shahu Maharaj, the grandson of Chatrapati Shivaji, left evidence of the Brahmin grip in his state even though he was a revolutionary ruler with a vision of his own to change the caste hierarchy. He told the story of his own kingdom and the Brahmin hegemony and control in all spheres of the state. His full letter to the former Governor of the Bombay Province is given below to understand the role of Brahmins in that state. This is the only document available written by a king from the Shudra community with a commitment to their development.
Perhaps from the third century BCE onwards, ever since Kautilya became the Prime Minister of Chnandragupta Maurya the kings who came from the Shudra varna were virtually under the control of Brahmin PM and also the head priest. The situation did not change much both even after the Muslim rule and also that of the British. It is a known historical fact that the Shudra agrarian and artisanal communities never rebelled against the varna dharma order that Vedas, Arthashastra and Manudharma Shastra ordained through written codes. Until the British came and opened school education for the Shudras they had no right to educate themselves and write what their point of view was. The Shudra masses could never organize themselves cutting across the internal caste-occupation divisions. The growth and transformation of the food producers who were the main source of the national wealth production was stalled by the written knowledge of Brahmins rather than help them advance.
Even the stone pillars or epigraphic evidence that come from the Shudra kingdoms also were written by Brahmins. Except Ashoka, no other king could reject the Brahmin authority. King Ashoka did that only after he became Buddhist. Quite ironically after Ashoka’s ancient Buddhist revolution and his pursuit of a welfare administration again the Brahmin counter revolution took place with Pushyamitra Shunga capturing power. Since then Kautilya’s Arthashastra and Manu’s Dharmashastra were systematically used to suppress Shudras in all fields of life. From that period to Muslim rulers all the kings ran the state apparatus with Brahmins as the real drivers of administration.
I have examined in detail the fundamental difference between the Buddhist political and social thought and the Brahmin thought in my book God As Political Philosopher–Buddha’s Challenge to Brahminism (2000). After Buddhism became a major religion it influenced the kings who ruled India till Kautilya wrote Arthashastra. In its core, Arthashastra changed the State structure in favour of the Brahmin ministers and priests whoever was the king. From Magadha rule to Nanda rule i.e. till the 3rd century the Brahmin authority was not allowed to direct the state structure. Kautilya systematically planned to overthrow the Nanda dynasty and established the Mauryan Chandragupta rule, which was Shudra, under his control. Thereafter the Brahmin authority was established over the kings, as himself became the Prime Minister and head priest. That authority and power continued into the post-colonial period as well.
It was a surprise to those of us who were born and brought up in Hyderabad in Nizam’s state, how the Brahmin authority over the civil society continued to play a critical controlling role, in such a Muslim state. Though more than 300 years Muslim rule existed here once the Nizam rule ended in Hyderabad state in 1948, a Brahmin, Burgula Ramakrishna Rao, became the first Chief Minister and the Brahmin control over the Telangana state and also united Andhra Pradesh existed with iron grip for several years later. The reason was very clear during the Satavahana (the Kummaris–pot makers even today claim that Satavahanas belong to their community, which is of lower Shudra order) rule and later Kakatiya (from 13th Century AD onwards), rule the Brahmin bureaucratic and priestly power continued unabated. Kakatiyas were Shudras, with several Shudra castes claiming their community heritage.
The Kakatiya stone edicts were written by Brahmins by making fourfold varna order a strict rule. ( There is a strong claim that Kakatiyas were Kammas and also Mudirajas in their organizational writings).
Even the kings who were ruling small princely states during the British colonial rule could not reject the Brahmin authority over what is now known as the Hindu system. The Shudra kings who fought brave battles with enemies were also dead scared of the Brahmin spiritual power. All the Shudra warriors who won wars and became the kings were forced to take the Kshatriya status without which they said gods would punish them. Once they were declared Kshatriya they were told to remain away from the Shudra masses and follow only what the Brahmin priest tells and run the state according to the Brahmin Prime Minister’s directions.
In the religious domain the Brahmin head priest was guiding the king. The priests were regularly taking gifts from the king. In many cases they got a huge amount of cultivable land as the temple Agrahara land. This land over a period of time was made the private property of the priest family. Again this land was also cultivated with the free labour of Shudra masses. The priests and the ministers made the kings to build massive temples for the Brahmin gods with the state money in accordance with Agamashastras and the priesthood rights were taken in the name of families around that area.
In West Bengal the famous Shudra woman queen Rani Rashmoni built a Dakshineshwar Kali temple on the riverbed of Ganga at Hooghly in the 19th century. She bought 33 acres of land around the temple. But the Bengal Brahmins did not allow the queen to inaugurate the temple from her position as queen. They forced her to write off the whole land and the temple to a Brahmin to make it functional. She wrote off that land and the temple to Ramakrishana Paramhamsa’s elder father Ramkumar Chattopadhyay and Paramhamsa inherited that land and the temple and his spiritual image was built from that temple and its property. Gradually they displaced the queen’s history itself. Amitanghush Acharya in his article in The Hindu says “As upper caste (Brahmin and Kayastha) Rajaram Mohan Roy, Easwar Chandra Vidhyasagar, Ramakrishna Paramhamsa and Vivekananda gained prominence Rani Rashmoni was one of the most influential icons of the 19th century was relegated to the margins of history”
Thus Kautilya’s book gave, in addition to such power to Brahmins, free lands, free labour and exclusive rights for education which continue being the most important property of that caste and it was given both by state and the civil society. Their power was acquired from books–Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Arthashastra and Manusrimiti. They would not have retained such vast powers with physical strength or through any other method, except for the mystic power of written word. With all that power and property the Brahmins entered the free India after 1947 with a clever shift from Sanskrit to English as their private educational language. Under the leadership of Pandit (a Brahmin with Kashmiri roots) Jawaharlal Nehru the Brahmins mostly educated in England captured the state and civil societal institutions and the Brahmins who could not go to England for English education remained here either studied in locally available English medium schools or in Sanskrit Gurukulas and became officers and priests in the temples. They defined all Shudra/Dalit/Adivasis as Hindu for keeping their political hegemony in a democratic polity without giving them the basic spiritual rights. The entire Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi forces were forced to remain either illiterate or regional language literates.
Historically productive mass community relationship with the king was quite consciously cut off by the Brahmin priest and the Prime Minister during the monarchical phase. The Shudra kings could not do anything to weaken the power of the Brahmin. The issue of graded inequality and caste based human untouchability could have been gradually abolished if only the Shudra kings were to rebel against the Brahmin spiritual, social and political power. But that power was so deeply entrenched even the kings were terribly scared to oppose the Brahmin because of the spiritual hold over the idea of God. The Shudras–both rulers and masses–did not realize that they had a spiritual tradition of their own, independent of the Brahmin tradition but that had no recorded book version and with a systematically trained priesthood with a written book to read. But that was so because the Brahmins refused to educate them in their gurukulas and did not allow the Shudra kings to open parallel schools. The Shudra kings also naively believed that if they open parallel schools the Brahmins and their gods would curse them. There are many examples where great warrior Shudra kings surrendered to the Brahmin power of spiritual letter and mantra.
Famous Chatrapati Shivaji of the present Maharashtra region was made to surrender to the Brahmin power and was made to take Kshatriyahood under the leadership of Brahmin priests. When the local Brahmins refused to coronate him as he came from an ordinary Maratha family he was desperate to get coronated by the Brahmins. He imported a group of Brahmin priests from Kashi and got himself crowned and surrendered to their spiritual authority. Even such a brave man could not think of training Shudra priests and keeping the religion under the Shudra control. A man who fought Mughal rulers could not oppose the Brahmins who controlled the domain of mystic power. In fact, such a mystic power which was not open for all human beings could not be defined as religion. But the same Brahmin and Bania intellectuals defined Hinduism as a inclusive religion like other religions in the world where caste kind of system was not accepted. The Shudra kings treated a Brahmin as god and whatever he asked was gifted as the Kautilya stipulated in Arthashastra.
Take for example the Baroda king, Sayajirao Gaekwad, who sent Ambedkar to America for higher education. He was a Shudra king. He was a visionary enough to send a brilliant Dalit student for his higher education to America. In fact, the scholarship given to Ambedkar came with the obligation of working for the State of Baroda after he finished his education abroad. Despite this, the Brahmin intervention came at a stage when Ambedkar was to work in Baroda’s administration. Brahmins, even as late as the twentieth century, could not come to terms with the fact that a Dalit man has become a superior/colleague of them. The fact that Ambedkar studied in Columbia and London School of Economics mattered little for them. So the priestly caste forced the king to send him away, as it was not agreeable for them to provide him a house for Ambedkar within the city. Within four days, in 1917, Ambedkar had to leave the job and go away to Bombay. That was the power of Brahmins in the kingdom of a Shudra king who was sympathetic to the education of the exploited castes–including Dalits.
However, for the first time as I said earlier Shivaji’s grandson tells the story of their control in a letter that he wrote to a top British official. Once such a gimmick was done by injecting enormous fear into their kingdom itself, then Brahmins were able to control every other aspect of the civil society and state life in his kingdom also. After the king becomes a Kshatriya a Brahmin becomes the PM of the state and another Brahmin becomes the head priest and spiritually controls the day to day belief systems of the king and his family.
Even when the Muslim empires controlled the whole nation there were Shudra local rulers and they depended on the same from Brahmin, Kayastha or Khatri knowledge of Persian language. The Muslim rulers were also dependent on the Brahmin forces for the simple reason that if they were not happy they would instigate the Shudra masses against the state. Hardly any Shudras learnt Persian during the Muslim period of Indian history. Maybe because of the fear of learning letters that the brahminism injected into their psyche, they remained away from Persian education also. There is no historical evidence that the Muslim rulers started Persian schools to teach the Shudras in the villages who were main tillers of the land, builders of artisanal and animal economy.
But for the accidental reading of Shahu Maharaj’s letter to the retired Governor of Bombay presidency written in 1918, I would not have thought of writing this essay. In my life time experience of writing about the Brahmin-Bania power in contemporary times at the expense of life threats and cases in various levels of courts–from a Sessions court at Korutla, Hyderabad, and the High Court of Telangana and the Supreme Court of India–the Dwija pundits tried to dismiss my arguments about the Brahmin-Bania power over the society and state in post-independence times and in the past–medieval and ancient times. Many Brahmin liberal intellectuals keep arguing that when so many Shudra kings ruled the Indian states in ancient, medieval and contemporary times how could Brahmin-Banias control the system. For a long time, they also dismissed Babasaheb Ambedkar and Mahatma Phule’s arguments about the control of Brahmins on the state and society on the same ground. But Shahu’s lengthy letter in his own words as a king of a very important Princely State that existed till 1947 as descendant state of great king Chatrapati Shivaji provides an indisputable testimony of how the Shudra kings suffered under the spiritual and intellectual yoke of Brahmins.
It is true that from Chandragupta Maurya to the princely states during the colonial times and also the present Chief Ministers of many states were Shudras. Yet, they could never control the spiritual power in India. Not only that, their political power was heavily circumscribed by Brahmin bureaucrats and priests. The kings and the Chief Ministers were virtual slaves of the varna spiritual control that the Brahmins imposed and that grip remains very strong as the Hindu spiritual system is not democratized.
Why were they so afraid of the Brahmin population which was so small without directly controlling the armed strength? Very rarely they were in the army. They had no role in food production and improvement of its technology from time to time. They in fact hated productive work in the fields as work of pollution. Yet their control on the Shudra masses and rulers was unbridled. As I said earlier their spiritual power came from their written word. They spread all over India with the common Brahmin language–Sanskrit–and the Shudra masses were forced to live in disconnected regions without a common language. Not that they did not learn the local languages. They learnt and also gradually Sanskritized them. Today all the regional languages which were developed by the productive masses over a period of centuries got Sanskritized by varying degrees . Because these languages were brought into written text the Brahmin writers jumped into the task to inject Sanskrit vocabulary into all regional languages. At the same time, they saw to it that the Shudra/Dalit masses do not learn Sanskrit or Persian during the Muslim rule and English during the British rule. Mahatma Phule and Ambedkar’s lives show how difficult it is for them to learn Sanskrit or English. Ambedkar had to learn Sanskrit in Germany.
Even the children of Shudra kings did not become well educated in Sanskrit, Persian or in English by the time India achieved freedom. Only the Dwijas whom Brahmins–particularly Kautilya and Manu– historically given the status of three upper varnas which need not do the agrarian production or practice animal husbandry became most educated by 1947. Mahatma Gandhi, a Bania from Gujarat who was a son of the Prime Minister of a small princely state and Nehru a Brahmin a Brahmin with Kashmiri roots became the main pillars of independent India. No Shudra king could get English education like these two leaders. Sardar Vallabai Patel a peasant Shudra and Ambedkar a Dalit competed with them with foreign degrees but they were not allowed to run the real system. Ambedkar became a Buddhist and died and Patel died as an equal Shudra.
However, to understand the role of Brahmins in the states where Shudra kings were ruling during the British colonialism it is important to carefully read the full text of the memorandum that king Shahu Maharaj (1874–1922) wrote to Sydenham the former Governor of Bombay province. what follows is the only written record that a Shudra king left for understanding the cunning role of Brahmin intellectuals in the whole of Indian history and it speaks volumes:
“SHAHU Maharaj TO SYDENHAM FORMER GOVERNOR OF BOMBAY ABOUT BRAHMIN CONTROL OF THE SATE AND SOCIETY
My Dear Lord Sydenham,
I have to thank Your Lordship for championing the cause of the dumb millions of India. Your close acquaintance with India and especially with Bombay, which is the political storm-centre of the country, has enabled Your Lordship to gauge the situation correctly and to see the fallacy of applying the Western principles of equality to the priest-ridden and caste-divided illiterate millions of India. The Deccan has been for centuries groaning under the tyranny of the Brahmin priest, who has seized supremacy in every way in religious as well as secular matters, politics, commerce, education, banking, etc and so on. The masses of the country are not, therefore, free agents and unless special precautions are taken to safeguard their interests they are sure to fall an easy prey to the tyranny of their Brahmin masters. Communal representation is the only way for safeguarding their interest in the Provincial and Imperial Councils. I may state some of the reasons why the Marathas (a caste to which king Shahu himself belonged to. This community is now demanding for reservation in education and employment both at Delhi and in their own state Maharashtra–italics and emphasis are mine) are greatly in need of it:
FIRSTLY. Although the British are the rulers of the country, the real power rests with the Brahmin officers who pervade every rank of the service from the meanest clerk and the village accountant, the Kulkarni, to the highest offices and predominate even in the Councils. The other communities have to submit to this Brahmin bureaucracy and their tyranny is beyond description. The grievances of the non-Brahmin communities do not reach the British Officers and even when they go to them the Brahmin subordinate is a past master in the art of prejudicing his head against the complainant. Under such a bureaucratic rule of the Brahmins, the Marathas and other backward communities have no chance to send their representatives to the enlarged Councils. The non-Brahmins will have to vote in favour of Brahmin candidates whose caste-men know all the tricks of threatening, cajoling or inducing them. There is no remedy except communal representation, for a limited number of years at least. The elections for the Councils, Municipal and Local Boards are instances in which a Maratha very rarely succeeds.
SECONDLY. The Congress agitation forced the Government to enlarge the Councils under Morley-Minto-Scheme. The Congress has up to this time devoted its energies to further the cause of the Brahmin bureaucracy and the British Government has also unwittingly played into their hands. The Congress has closed its eyes to the needs of, and done nothing for, the submerged classes, and the aims of their leaders are to strive to keep down the masses to perpetuate the bureaucratic rule of their community. Tilak’s organ, Kesari, is condemning free and compulsory primary education and the Maharaja of Darbhanga is opposing tooth and nail in the Council of Behar any scheme of popular education. This is one done with no other object but the preservation of the despotism of their community. And if, Government persists in refusing communal representation the result will be to flood the Councils with the Brahmins, whose ideal leaders are the two worthies who barefaced oppose the interests of communities other than their own. This is sure to degrade the position of the non-Brahmins more and more. Communal representation is, therefore, necessary to counteract all such tendencies.
THIRDLY. It might be urged that the Government will nominate members from the Maratha and other backward communities if they do not succeed in the general election. But I think that this expedient will not be very useful. Such a nominated member generally lacks the confidence which a successful fight at the poll gives. He is, moreover, most likely to play into the hands of those the poll gives. He is, moreover, most likely to play into the hands of the powerful priestly bureaucracy. He may not care for the interests of a community which does not elect him. Moreover, the very fact that he is a Government nominee takes away from him the value of advocacy, however disinterested it may be. The Brahmin bureaucrats are in the habit of accusing nominated members of being partisans and slaves of Government and thus try to lower such members in the popular esteem. An election through a limited communal electorate will create confidence in the Councillors who will be more and more self-reliant. And this the Brahmins do not want and hence their opposition to communal representation is due to this fear.
FOURTHLY. I may quote an instance to show how the Brahmin bureaucracy kills self-respect. One Mr Bagal, a Maratha LLB, was a Mamlatdar here and that time he was very enthusiastic in the cause of the masses and was against the Brahmin supremacy. But when he left service and commenced to practice at the courts, he found it expedient to change his angle of vision in order to curry favour with the Brahmin Judges and Magistrates and now he is noted Brahmanophil in public. He dares not give expression to his real feelings. Mr Latthe too, after commencing practice at the bar, has become altogether moderate in his attacks against the Brahmins. He was a zealous advocate of non-Brahmins.
Many a time I have found to my mortification and chagrin that orders against the interests of the Brahmin bureaucracy are intercepted or were so watered in the passage that they became useless. The reason was that the Brahmins were in possession of the records and they can quote precedents to support Brahmin claims and can suppress the precedents that will go against them.
Even high British officers and non-Brahmin States are powerless against the Brahmin bureaucracy. They dare not make any move lest the Brahmin press will raise a howl against them and they are afraid of the higher officers whose Brahmin assistants take precious care to have them prejudiced against innovation. This has come to such a pass that the British officer or State who dares to go against the Brahmins is looked upon as foolish or imprudent; for he forgets that he is standing on a very slippery ground. His Brahmin subordinates are to join with his enemies and bring him into trouble.
FIFTHLY. The principle that majorities have no need of separate representation does not hold good in a province where a selfish minority is likely to get the power, which is sure to be used to hold the majority in perpetual vassalage. The Maratha community is numerically very strong in the Central Division. But it is weak as the number of men of independent views is very small. It can of course boast of a very small number of legal practitioners. The few that now practise, realise that the whole weight of the Brahmin bureaucracy will be thrown against them if they resist and therefore young men are unwilling to begin practice at the bar. There is not, nor will there be, in my lifetime at least, a single Maratha leader in the whole of the Bombay Presidency. This shows the necessity of some special provision for the numerically strong Maratha community to secure an adequate representation of their grievances.
It is difficult to realise the tyranny to which the millions of Marathas are subjected. In the villages, as Your Lordship knows, the Kulkarni or the village accountant reigns supreme and none dare raise his voice against him. The village priest and the astrologer and their caste men are looked upon as Gods and the villagers have to feed them and pay them fees equally on joyful and sorrowful occasions. The secular and religious bondage is so very complete that the Maratha can hardly think for himself much less act for himself. But for the inborn loyalty of the Maratha, the wily Brahmin would have made a tool of him in his reasonable acts. It must be said to his credit that although the Maratha was never the recipient of any special favours at the hands of Government, he has ever remained loyal. To refuse communal representation to such a community who have been profusely shedding their blood on the fields of battle in the three continents in the cause of the empire is tantamount to consigning these faithful people to the tender mercies of their hitherto oppressors. The Councils will be flooded with Brahmins who will have a dominating voice in the affairs of the departments handed over to them. All these departments will be exploited to the advantage of the favoured community and to the prejudice of the real supporters of Government. The non-Brahmins will ultimately have to submit to Brahmin influences and sacrifice their loyalty.
I, for myself, have done my best to completely free my subjects from the tender mercies of the village Kulkarni, Bhat (ritual priest) and Joshi (hereditary village astrologer). The services of the first are commuted and are replaced by paid agencies mainly recruited from non-Brahmin ranks who were specially trained for the work in anticipation of the change. By a proclamation the rayats (farmers) are informed that they need not employ the village priest or the astrologer who will have no claims against them if they do not employ him. Thus liberty of conscience is given them. In the same way liberty of action is also given to them by abolishing the hereditary rights of the village artisans whose inefficient work was very dearly paid for, by a portion of the produce.
I have also cancelled the rules that pressed very heavily against the Mahars and Mangs and Ramoshis who were described as the criminal tribes. The restriction upon their movements resulted in preventing them from taking to trade and forced some of their members to take to dishonesty and violence. By the way I may mention that the Boarding Institute for the untouchable classes named after your beloved lamented daughter is quite flourishing. I am sending a photo of the building from which Your Lordship will see that its inmates do not despise manual labour as they were apt to do when they took to books.
Very few can realise the influence of the Brahmin bureaucracy as your Lordship does. Being very strong in every branch of the service, high or low, it has its way and means to keep other communities down, who have to submit to their ex-actions and dare not raise a protest even when flagrant injustice is done to them. A merchant of Kolhapur was cheated by a Brahmin leader. When asked to prosecute the latter, the former said that he had no chance of success as the judges were Brahmins, the Police were Brahmins, the clerks were Brahmins and that instead of getting any redress of injustice he would make himself a marked man and that he would have to bear the consequences of Brahmin revenge. Even when I asked him to prosecute the pleader he begged to be excused and refused to move in the matter. Similarly, one Mr Gandale, a Brahmin, preached in public that it was good for the untouchable classes to remain so, because a new mixed caste is seen springing up as a result of illegitimate connections between the two castes of Brahmins and Marathas, as the two castes are touchables. I tried to bring Mr Gandale to court for making such defamatory statements but no one dared take up the prosecution. This fear of the Brahmin bureaucracy is not entertained by the merchants or such other people alone but it haunts even Princes. I crave your Lordship’s indulgence for a little piece of personal boasting. I am the only Prince who is openly fighting against the Brahmin bureaucracy although I do realise their power. They do not come forward themselves but they instigate the subjects against their Prince whose black side only the Brahmin bureaucracy exposes.
The best way to break down this citadel of Brahmin power is to grant communal representation, not only in the Councils but also in all branches of the service, high or low. Whenever a chance occurs, preference should be given to qualified non-Brahmins. It will not appoint a few non-Brahmins in important places. This remedy is worse than the disease. Such an office is between the anvil of his Brahmin staff and the hammer of the similar staff of the higher office. His staff forces him to take measures even against the interests of the masses and the poor fellow has to bear the responsibility. The remedy lies in granting proportionate communal representation in the subordinate and clerical staff also. Recruitment for the posts of the lowest clerks should be made from non-Brahmins and for this purpose a list of eligible candidates from those communities should be maintained, and appointments made from among them until the non-Brahmins get a percentage of posts in proportion to their numerical strength.
In the educational department also the Brahmin bureaucracy comes in. All the school-masters are Brahmins. The Brahmin bureaucracy here is not like the priestly bureaucracy. In priestly bureaucracy not only caste but learning is also necessary. A learned Brahmin becomes a priest. In the Brahmin bureaucracy it is the caste alone that is required. However low, wicked, unhealthy, immoral a man he may be, being a Brahmin, he is supposed to be higher than a Prince or a General or an Admiral or any learned man of another caste. The Brahmin bureaucracy for ages past had ordered that no non-Brahmin should be taught anything, even the three ‘R’s’ [reading, writing, arithmetic]. The consequence is almost all the colleges and high schools are for Brahmins though they are cosmopolitan. There are all Brahmins in them. Untouchables are not allowed to come in their precincts. Some other castes are allowed but their percentage is 1 to 100. Again I say there should be communal representation in service as there must be in councils at least for another 20 years. If no step is taken in that direction it will not be correct to say that the Princes ruled India or I may even say that the British ruled India but on the contrary it will be right to say that Brahmins rule India. Communal representation is the only remedy.
If communal representation is not granted to the non-Brahmin communities in Maharashtra, all this trouble of Political Reform will end in strengthening the Brahmin bureaucracy at the expense of the really loyal and faithful subjects of the Government
The Shankaracharya of Kolhapur (Dr Kurtkoti) is a learned man, but I must say that at heart he is a Brahmin of Brahmins. The other day he presided at a meeting held to support the Durbar in their action of doing away with Kulkarni and the president refused to communicate to me the resolution passed at the meeting to request the Durbar to investigate the conduct of the Kulkarnis and to give relief to a certain extent to the people who had to suffer at their hands. He has now openly joined the extremist Congress. As a religious head he ought not to dabble in politics; but a Brahmin is very rapacious and wants to be supreme everywhere.
Even such an educated person like Mr Rajwade, who poses to be a great historian, is partial to his own caste and so envious towards other castes, that he has published some false and defamatory matter about the Chandrasenia Kayastha Prabhu caste and the Mohamedans. Of course they are going to take steps against Mr Rajwade but I only refer to the incident in order to show you the Brahmin character.
I should have very much liked to speak and discuss these matters personally with Your Lordship, but my only chance to do so seems to be if I am sent up by Government like the Maharaja of Patiala.
This letter has become very lengthy and I must now close, not, however, without making apologies to Your Lordship for its unusual length, for which my only excuse is the gravity and urgency of the situation and the momentous issue involved.
May I request Your Lordship kindly to convey my respectful remembrances to Lady Sydenham, and with warm regards.
PS: I hear that Sir John Hewett is coming over here in India. May I request Your Lordship kindly to send to me a note of introduction to him?
I herewith enclose a few copies of my letter so that you may please give one to Sir John Hewett and Sir Valentine Chirol and, if you think it unobjectionable, to Mr Montagu, with a request to all in my behalf to treat this as confidential as I do not want my name to come forward.”
Shahu Maharaj realized that the priesthood was critical in controlling civil societal life. He says “they control the religious and even the secular life of the people”. According to him a Brahmin is only for Brahmins. He describes the Indian society as “priest-ridden and caste divided”. He calls the Deccan as a society that was groaning under the tyranny of the (Brahmin) priests” They help each other at every place, in the darbar and in the court. They were the village land revenue officers called Kulkarnis. They exploit the tillers all along. A similar system was also there all over India including Telangana where a Muslim ruler was ruling. The revenue system was under the control of Brahmins by my childhood in Telangana state. He thus came to a conclusion that unless a proportionate reservation system is placed in his state he cannot do justice to the non-brahmin productive population. But that day to present, the whole issue is revolving around jobs in the Government sector whether it is small or big. But there is no demand from Shudras at the base structural level—the priesthood and handling the spiritual philosophy–for a share in every aspect of Hindu life.
Brahmins established their hegemony through the spiritual system and that system got institutionalized through philosophical written text. But philosophy and understanding the role of each symbol in a religion requires very critical reading of the religious texts. The Shudras, whether they were rulers or tillers or artisanal operators, have not focused around that fundamental issue of equality in religious life. For example Ambedkar in his seminal work, Who Were The Shudras: How They Came to Be the Forth Varna in the Indo-Aryan Society says:
“1) The Shudras were one of the Aryan communities of the Solar race. (2) There was a time when the Aryan society recognized only three Varnas, namely, Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas. (3) The Shudras did not form a separate Varna. They ranked as part of the Kshatriya Varna in the Indo-Aryan society. (4) There was a continuous feud between the Shudra kings and the Brahmins in which the Brahmins were subjected to many tyrannies and indignities. (5) As a result of the hatred towards the Shudras generated by their tyrannies and oppressions, the Brahmins refused to perform the Upanayana of the Shudras. (6) Owing to the denial of Upanayana, the Shudras who were Kshatriyas became socially degraded, fell below the rank of the Vaishyas and thus came to form the fourth Varna”
In this sum up Ambedkar puts the Shudras as part of Aryan society. That may be because by the time he was writing this book the race question was not well studied with advanced methodological tools–archeology and DNA studies. Now that question is settled that Shudras are Indo-Dravidians with Indo-African roots. The significant question, however, in his thesis is his importance to the spiritual symbol, Upanayana (so called sacred thread). The Brahmin priesthood is still linked to this issue. Even now when the RSS is defining all Shudras as Hindu whether it wants all of them to get this right to Upanayana is not allowed to come up for debate. The Shudra kings who were given the Kshatriya status got the Upanayana right yet they did not have the right to priesthood, why? This fundamental control over the religious power is exclusively kept in the hands of Brahmins. The Kshatriyas and Vaisyas in modern times, while claiming to be Hindu, rather militantly, also do not ask for the priesthood right. But they ask for reservation in the state and in fact several Bania castes got the right to reservation as they defined themselves as the OBC.
The long history of political systems, monarchical and post monarchical, the role of the spiritual system and its exclusive control in the hands of Brahmins made India a very stagnant nation. Even the priestly class could not face competition and never improved the systems in any meaningful direction. The Shudras and Dwijas, particularly Brahmins, remained frozen. The Shudras and Dalits got stuck not only in social fragmentation but illiteracy, spiritual backwardness and lack of national and international exposure. Both the masses and rulers remained helpless in their unorganized way of life. Both the Brahminness and Shudraness became shackles and kept the productive forces, market relations primitive even in modern times. No revolutionary movements sprang up from the Shudra forces and the Brahminness did not allow the priestly forces to self-reform with an understanding of universal changes. Even with their violent colonialism, if not for the British and their globalized knowledge system, Brahmins would have been even more regressive social forces in the subcontinent without any outside exposure. The Sanskrit language would not have given them any additional advantage than the spiritual control over the Shudra masses. All Indians lived a very fate bound life.
Dynamic spiritual discourse involving all masses would have changed every other sphere from time to time. But Brahmanism was uncannily successful in assimilating and swallowing up all the revolt against its oppressive spiritual conspiracy. The only major shakeup that the Shudra and Dwija masses encountered collectively in their living history was the freedom struggle. Even the arrival of Islamic rule and its existence in India did not bring any significant revolutionary change in Indian life. The Muslim rulers and the Muslim ruling class remained more aligned with the Brahmins and other Dwijas than the Shudras all through the Indian history, ever since they established their administrative authority either in the whole of India or in different regions like Telangana, Mysore, Junagadh and so on. This question needs a study of its own.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is the author of Why I am Not a Hindu, Post-Hindu India and The Shudras–Vision for a New Path, co-edited with Karthik Raja Karuppusamy. I thank Karthik Raja Karuppusamy for his editorial assistance.
Kautilya, Arthashastra, Shamahastri’s translation, p 10
https://ia802703.us.archive.org/13/items/Arthasastra_English_Translation/Arthashastra_of_Chanakya_-_English.pdf Page 10
Ibid, p 10-11
 Ram Madhav, Because India Comes First: Reflections on Nationalism, Identity and Culture, (Chennai, Westland, 2020)
https://www.amazon.in/Because-India-Comes-First-Reflections-ebook/dp/B08LDMMV2X?asin=B08LDMMV2X&revisionId=5e8f7294&format=1&depth=1 kindle version
 Wendy Doniger, What is the Kamasutra really about? Wendy Doniger reads the classic text, Scroll, Aug 06, 2015
 This letter has been excerpted from ‘Chhatrapati Shahu: The Pillar of Social Democracy’, edited by P.B Salunkhe and published by the Education Department, Government of Maharashtra
 Ambedkar BR, Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Volume 7, (Bombay: Government of Maharastra, 1990), 11-12