Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
South Asia Regional Studies
From the fourteenth to the seventeenth century C.E., a śāstra of a new type on the topic of Śūdras was composed and circulated among Dharmaśāstrins. These śūdradharma texts were primarily concerned with the ritual life of Śūdras—the rites, sacraments, and forms of religious knowledge to which they were entitled in śruti and smrti. But they also included expositions on the generation of Śūdra jātis according to the theory of varnasankara and descriptions of the ways of life and occupations of Śūdras. This is a study and translation of one of these texts, the Śūdrācāraśiromani of Krsna Śesa, among the most brilliant and eminent pandits of late medieval Sanskrit, celebrated as both grammarian and poet. In the series of essays that accompany the translation, I analyze the text and piece together the fragmentary evidence for its date and authorship. Śūdradharma texts were one response of the Brahmin intellectual elite to the challenges to traditional dharma and dominance arising from the changing socio-economic conditions of Sultanate and Mughal India. They represent a shift in Dharmashastric discourse from the ritual exclusion of Śūdras as the sign of their social subjection to fuller integration into the Brahmanical fold. As an effort to deepen the ritual regulation of low castes in a time of and caste instability and anxiety (the improved but precarious class position of many Śūdras) and social ferment (the Bhakti movements) they were adjunct to a more general reassessment of varna and the identity and place of Brahmins and Ksatriyas. Śūdradharma texts like the Śūdrācāraśiromani preserve the Vedic privilege and ritual primacy of Brahmins while adjusting to the new realities of caste by the qualified inclusion of sat, i.e., “good” Śūdras as a new client base for ritual services. The Śūdrācāraśiromani was composed in typical nibandha style, but in the form of a concise and comprehensive handbook for Brahmins to instruct and guide Śūdras in their daily ritual life.
Benke, Theodore, "The Śūdrācāraśiromani of Krsna Śesa: A 16Th Century Manual of Dharma for Śūdras" (2010). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 159.