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Shudra is the fourth varna, whose mythological origins are described in the Purusha Sukta of the Rig veda, one of the sacred texts of Hinduism, and later explained in the Manusmṛti. This latter text defines society as comprising four groups, sometimes also called chaturvarna, of which the other three are Brahmins (priests), Kshatriya (those with governing functions) and Vaishya (agriculturalists, cattle rearers and traders). According to this ancient text, the Shudra perform functions of serving the other three varna.
The Rig veda was compiled over a considerable period and it is generally agreed that the Purusha Sukta, which is the only hymn in the Rig Veda which mentions the varnas, was added during the Mantra period, the period immediately preceding the Brahmana period, or the beginning of the post-vedic age. Since the varnas are first mentioned in the Purusha Sukta, it is evident that they did not exist before the Mantra period.
Ambedkar, a polymath and a Dalit (untouchable) activist, believed that there were initially only three varnas: the Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya, and that the Shudras were the Kshatriyas who were denied the Upanayana, an initiation ritual, by the Brahmins. He said that "Owing to the denial of the Upanayana, the Shudras who were Kshatriyas became socially degraded, fell below the rank of the Vaishyas and thus came to form the fourth varna."
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