20 May Was Shabri a Dalit? Was there Caste System in Hinduism During Ramayana?
Out of the many manufactured myths floating around the caste system in Hinduism, the incident of Shabri meeting Sri Ram is one. Many “intellectuals” and educated people claim that Shabri, a Dalit, was blessed by Sri Ram. But it is important to see what is actually mentioned in the scripture vis-a-vis what people say for self-serving purposes.
Why Is It Important to Know What is in the Original Ramayana?
If all sacred texts of Hinduism were translated & represented perfectly everywhere, there would be no problem of understanding or wrong interpretation of our texts.
But this is not so.
Most of the Sanskrit literature has been distorted beyond recognition, and misrepresented by scholars, journalists, film-makers, political figures, artists, and all other communication professionals for vested interests.
Caste system in Hinduism is one such topic – a myth, spun into a lie which looks similar to the truth. There was no “caste system” in Hinduism; there were varna and jaatis, wherein “varna” signified what the purpose of life was for an individual and “jaati” signified their lineage – tracking back their gotra and ancestors. The two were not related.
Due to several political tactics, Varna and Jaati were intermixed by the people talking about these, and Hindus of today have no idea of which is what. “Caste system,” which is an English word, originated in Portuguese casta, meaning “race, lineage, breed.” Even the word “caste system” is not of Indian origin – how can it have existence thousands of years ago when our ancestors lived? Poorly translating Sanskrit, and saying that Varna is synonymous with Caste system, is one intellectual crime of our modern age which Hindus face the consequences of on a daily basis.
Hindus are the mute spectators of this intellectual crime, which feeds them wrong information every day.
This is why it is important for Hindus to know and understand what was originally mentioned in our sacred texts, which are wrongly cited left, right and center (pun intended).
Timeline of Ramayana and Its Significance
Ramayana penned by Sage Valmiki was the original, first hand account of the story of Bhagwan Sri Ram and his journey, and eventual victory over Ravan. All other variations were accounts by other poets and writers, spread over different time periods. Bhagwan Sri Ram took birth in approximately 7000 BC, and the Ramayana was penned in that same time period. Later texts were second hand accounts of the story. Sage Valmiki was a contemporary of Sri Ram. The text was composed by Sage Valmiki on the instruction of Brahma dev himself, and was blessed to have Devi Saraswati reveal the story to him.
न ते वागनृता काव्ये काचिदत्र भविष्यति ।
कुरु रामकथां पुण्यां श्लोकबद्धां मनोरमाम् ।।1.2.35।।
“Not a single word of yours in this kaavya, will be untruthful
Write the sacred story of Ram in the form of beautiful Shlokas”
Brahma dev in Valmiki Ramayana, Baala Kaanda, Sarga 1, Shloka 35
The popular text Ramcharitmanas, penned by Goswami Tulsidas in Varanasi & Chitrakoot, was written in apprx 15th century AD in Awadhi, which was already a dialect of Hindi diluted by Islamic rulers. There was a gap of 8500 years between the happening of Sri Ram and the Ramcharitmanas. Hence, it cannot be taken as an exact account of the historical events. It is colored with the poet’s imagination, as it was revealed to him in his “manas,” or mind.
Chastity and purity of text is of supreme importance when we try to investigate history and establish hard facts. Any texts which have been diluted or are not first hand accounts, can be misleading.
Was Shabri a Dalit?
The modern day representations of Ramayana are completely off the mark on several points. The entire incident of Sri Ram meeting Shabri has been distorted beyond recognition.
The factual errors vis-a-vis what is written in Valmiki Ramayana is as summarised below:
- In the Valmiki
#Ramayana – Aranya Kaanda, Sarga 73-74, there is no mention of Shabri feeding tasted fruits to Sri Ram
- There is NO mention of Shabri as a Dalit or of lower caste/ birth or as a tribal
- There is no mention of her not getting darshan of Sri Ram due to her birth
- She is mentioned as an ascetic, as the disciple of Rishi Matang, as one established in knowledge, as one of great power – which Sri Ram asks to see. She then shows him the divine Matang garden.
- After showing the garden she wishes to leave the body & go to svarga loka
- Sri Ram says she can go to any loka she wants.
- She appears in her true form as a blinding light & vanishes. This itself shows she had enough spiritual power.
The verses describing Shabri, from the Ramayana are below:
एवमुक्तस्स धर्मात्मा शबर्या शबरीमिदम्।
राघवः प्राह विज्ञाने तां नित्यमबहिष्कृताम्।।3.74.18।।
दनोस्सकाशात्तत्त्वेन प्रभावं ते महात्मनः।
श्रुतं प्रत्यक्षमिच्छामि सन्द्रष्टुं यदि मन्यसे।।3.74.19।।
On being addressed by Shabri thus, the great Ram spoke to Shabri – you are always established in knowledge, and never away from it.
I have heard of your power from the great Danu. I desire to see this power in person if you so agree.
Aaaranya Kaanda, Sarga 74, Verses 18-19
Sri Ram blessed Shabri because she says that on seeing him all her penance was fulfilled & she wishes to get svarga loka. He could do that because he was an incarnation and no one other than an incarnation can bless anyone with that. That is why Rishi Matang asked her to wait for years to meet him; not because she was “Dalit.” She was blessed with a higher loka. Not emancipation from some caste.
This is the most cited and referred to incident when it comes to castes.
But it is worth noting that at the time of Ramayana, there were not only multiple jaatis amongst humans, but also asuras, ape like monkeys and many other yonis which did not even belong to the human race. Vibhishan was from the asura yoni. Bhagwan Hanuman, King Sugreev and his ministers were apes. Jatayu was a demi god vulture. And Bhagwan Sri Ram makes friends with and fights the war against adharmic Ravan with all their help and support. His entire army was of apes. There was no question or eligibility criterion of who was a “Brahmana” and who was a “Kshatriya” or who was a “Shudra,” to be a part of the army, as these were roles and purpose of life for an individual being, not dependent on their birth or jaati. Sri Ram was an embodiment of dharma itself. If there was any eligibility criterion for being a part of some “varna,” he would have followed it.
How Did Ramayana Get So Distorted?
The answer is simple. People were able to distort the Ramayana and masses believed it because Sanskrit was not taught to Hindus for a very long period and Hindus were disconnected from their own roots and their sacred texts. They relied on others to teach them their sacred texts, and this misplaced trust was exploited by anyone who cared to do so.
If Hindus had taken interest in their own language and scriptures, there would not be any possibility of foreigners and vested interest groups misusing the texts to make deliberate attacks on Hinduism.
Not only does this academic Hinduphobia need to be stopped, there is an urgent need for Hindus to take ownership of their own inheritance and culture, by learning it, teaching it, sharing it, promoting it so more people can learn the true words as encapsulated by rishis, and creating more voices who speak up anytime a malcontent mouthpiece abuses Hindu literature.
The reason why “Caste system” exists is because no one learnt the meaning or origin of caste system. It exists in today’s modern society and is a gift of modernization, a gift of the west. It was never a part of Hinduism, and the day Hindus wake up to this fact hitherto unknown to them, the same day Hindus can be emancipated from the evil of caste system and follow the blessing of varna, which lead human beings towards moksha.