Can a Shudra read Vedas?

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Smritis like Manu Smriti deny Shudra to read Veda. The commandment is like –

  1. He who is a Shudra by birth is like a walking crematorium. He is not fit for any ceremony.
  2. For a Shudra is like a cemetery. Therefore the Veda is not to be read in the vicinity of a Shudra. “Put molten lead in his ears if he hears, his tongue is to be slit if he pronounces it; his body is to be cut through if he preserves it.” Shudras like Vidura and the religious hunter Dharma Vyadha acquired knowledge owing to the after effects of virtues in past births.
  3. Upanayana ceremony is meant for the higher castes. With reference to the Shudras on the other hand, the absence of ceremonies is frequently mentioned in the scriptures. “In the Shudra there is not any sin by eating prohibited food, and he is not fit for any ceremony”. A Shudra by birth cannot have Upanayana and other Samskaras without which the Vedas cannot be studied. Hence the Shudras are not entitled to the study of the Vedas.

However Veda does not mention anything like this. Rather Veda approves reading by all types of people –

Swami Vivekananda has quoted a mantra from “Shukla Yajurveda 26.2

यथेमां वाचं कल्याणीमावदानि जनेभ्यः।

ब्रह्मराजन्याभ्यां शूद्राय चार्याय च स्वाय चारणाय॥

yathomam vacham kalyanimavadani janebhyaha,

brahmarajanyabhyam shudrayacharyaya cha swaya charyaya cha”

“Just as I am speaking these blessed words to people (without distinction), in the same way you also spread these words among all men and women – the Brahmanas, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas, Shudras and all others, whether they be our own people or aliens(foreigners).”

More detail analysis you can get from – Vedic Study is open for all

EDIT1:

Dr. Ambedkar has also mentioned this in his book – ‘philosophy of Hinduism’

“The Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya can study the Vedas. Of these the Brahmins alone have the right to teach the Vedas. But in the case of the Shudra he has not only not to study the Vedas but he should not be allowed to hear it read.

The successors of Manu made the disability of the Shudra in the matter of the study of the Veda into an offence involving dire penalties. For instance Gautama Smrit says:

XII. 4. If the Shudra intentionally listens for committing to memory the Veda, then his ears should be filled with (molten) lead and lac ; if he utters the Veda, then his tongue should be cut off; if he has mastered the Veda his body should be cut to pieces.

The ancient world may be said to have been guilty for failing to take the responsibility for the education of the masses. But never has any society been guilty of closing to the generality of its people the study of the books of its religion. Never has society been guilty of prohibiting the mass of its people from acquiring knowledge. Never has society made any attempt to declare that any attempt made by the common man to acquire knowledge shall be punishable as a crime. Manu is the only divine law giver who has denied the common man the right to knowledge.”

Author:Muktipada Behera, Studied Vedanta

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