Amarakoshodghatana of Kshirasvamin (study)

by A. Yamuna Devi | 2012 | 77,297 words | ISBN-13: 9788193658048

This page relates ‘Caturvarnya System’ of the study on the Amarakoshodghatana of Kshirasvamin (in English) which represents a commentary on the Amarakosha of Amarasimha. These ancient texts belong the Kosha or “lexicography” category of Sanskrit literature which deals with the analysis and meaning of technical words from a variety of subjects, such as cosmology, anatomy, medicine, hygiene. The Amarakosa itself is one of the earliest of such text, dating from the 6th century A.D., while the Amarakoshodghatana is the earliest known commentary on that work.

Cāturvarṇya System

The study of the commmentary of Kṣīrasvāmin on Amarakośa unfolds interesting details about the social life, as for example, the castes and professions, family, position of women, daily life, economic status and so on that prevailed during the 10th C. A.D. This study also helps in recording the changes undergone in the social conditions as also the development in the language between the period of Amarakośa and Kṣīrasvāmin i.e. from 6th to the 10th C. A.D. III.

A survey of the Dharmaśāstra or the Smṛti texts reveals that the varṇa system basically served the purposes of marraige and profession. Particular avocations were ordained for the four varṇas.

For example the Vasiṣṭha Dharma Sūtra (II. 22-3) mentions that in times of adversities each varṇa was allowed to follow an occupation prescribed to the varṇa immediately below it, but could not follow the avocation of the varṇa above it–

ājīvantaḥ svadharmeṇānantarāṃ yavīyasīṃ vṛttimātiṣṭheran | na tu kadācijjyāyasīm |

Similarly Yājñavalkya (I. 96) speaks of jātyutkarṣa and jātyapakarṣa by marraige in the 5th and 7th generation and profession followed–

jātyutkarṣo yuge jñeyaḥ saptame pañcame'pi vā |
vyatyaye karmaṇāṃ
sāmyaṃ pūrvavaccādharottaram ||

The varṇa and the varṇadharma or avocations as dealt with in Amarakośa and the commentary of Kṣīrasvāmin are presented here.

As was the practice in ancient and medieval India, the cāturvarṇya system was followed in classifying the citizens of the country.

The Bhagavad Gita (4.13) declares that the classification of the varṇas is based on differences in aptitudes and actions of human beings–

cāturvarṇyaṃ mayā sṛṣṭaṃ guṇa karmavibhāgaśaḥ |

The four-fold division of the society into: brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya and śūdra seem to have been in vogue even during the time of Kṣīrasvāmin also. Amarakośa names the four varṇas as agrajanma (born of higher limb), bāhuja (born of arm), ūravya/ūruja (of the thighs), and jaghanyaja (of the feet).

Kṣīrasvāmin in his commentary explains these terms and draws support for his derivations by citing the Puruṣasūkta (ṚV. X. 90. 12):

brāhmaṇo'sya mukhamāsīt | bāhū rājanya kṛtaḥ | ūrū tadasya yadvaiśyaḥ | padbhyām śūdro'jāyata ||

(a) Brāhmaṇa (II. 7. 4; p.163):

Amarakośa mentions that a brāhmaṇa was denoted by terms dvijāti, agrajanmā, bhūdeva and vāḍava. Following Amarakośa, Kṣīrasvāmin derives the synonyms of a brāhmaṇa and records their varied types specialising in teaching, officiating as priests, those who learn and recite the Vedic mantras etc[1].

Duties of a Brāhmaṇa–(II. 7. 4; p. 163):

Amarakośa mentions that a Brāhmaṇa was to practise the six duties–

āsau ṣaṭkarmā yāgā'dibhirvṛtaḥ |

Kṣīrasvāmin gives the six duties[2] of b rāhmaṇas namely–learning, teaching, performing the religious sacrifices, officiating as priests at sacrifices initiated by others, giving gifts and accepting gifts:

ṣaṭkarmāṇi brāhmaṇasya -ādhyayanamadhyāpanaṃ yajanaṃ yājanaṃ dānaṃ pratigrahaśceti ||

Brāhmaṇabruvaḥ or Brahmabandhuḥ (II. 7. 4; p. 163), (III. 3. 104; p. 295):

Amarakośa mentions the term brahmabandhuḥ in the Nānārthavarga signifying a reproachful appellation, commenting on which Kṣīrasvāmin remarks–

brahmaṇo brāhmaṇasya bandhuḥ paramānuṣṭhānābhāvājjātibrāhmaṇaḥ |

Kṣīrasvāmin (p. 163) adds in the same sense that one who is a brāhmaṇa by birth alone, but does not perform the duties ordained to him is also termed brāhmaṇabruvaḥ

jātimātropajīvī syādviprastu brāhmaṇabruvaḥ |

(b) Kṣatriya (II. 8. 1; p. 175):

While Amarakośa only enlists the synonyms of the term kṣatriya as mūrdhābhiṣikta, rājanya, bhāhuja, virāṭ, rājā, rāṭ, pārthiva, kṣmābhṛt nṛpa, bhūpa and mahīkṣit.

Kṣīrasvāmin derives the term kṣatriya as–kṣatraṃ ca kṣatatrāṇāt–one who protects, denoting his duty[3]. It is to be noted here that a kṣatriya who does not follow his dharma also remains so only by name and is called kṣatriyabandhuḥ (III. 3. 104; p. 295).

(c) Vaiśya (II. 9. 3; p. 200)

The vaiśyas were termed ūravya ūruja aryā vaiśyā bhūmispṛśaḥ viśaḥ in Amarakośa.

They engaged in professions[4] like agriculture, animal husbandry and trade and commerce says Amarakośa

kṛṣiḥ pāśupālyaṃ vāṇijyaṃ ceti vṛttayaḥ |[5]

Amarakośa defines vaṇigbhāva as that which is true and false–

satyanṛtaṃ vaṇigbhāvaḥ |

Kṣīrasvāmin explains the same as that which has both elements of truth and falsehood in it–

kiñcitsatyaṃ kiñciccāsatyam ||

(d) Śūdra (II.10.1; p.225)

Śūdras were called avaraṇa, vṛṣala, and jaghanyaja and the mixed castes (saṅkīrṇajāti) also constitute the fourth class.

These varṇas are enumerated as per their heirarchy wherein the brāhmaṇa is the first of its order.

(e) Saṅkīrṇajātis (II. 10. 1-4; pp. 225-26)–Mixed castes:

The saṅkīrṇajāti results from the marraige of anuloma–a male of higher varṇa marrying a woman of lower varṇa; and pratiloma–a male of lower varṇa marrying a woman of higher varṇa

saṅkīrṇāḥ pratilomānulomajatvānmiśrāḥ |

These are mentioned in the Śūdra varga in a particular hierarchy. Kṣīrasvāmin while explaining this portion about miśra jātis cites Yājñavalkya smṛti[6] (I. 91-5) in support of his explanations of all the terms.

According to Amarakośa, Kṣīrasvāmin and Yājñavalkya smṛti the miśra jātis are as given in the table below:

Offspring Father Mother
Mūrdhāvasikta[7] Brāhmaṇa Kṣatriya
Ambaṣṭha Brāhmaṇa Vaiśya
Niṣāda or Pāraśava Brāhmaṇa Śūdra
Mahiṣya Kṣatriya Vaiśya
Ugra Kṣatriya Śūdra
Karaṇa Vaiśya Śūdra
Sūta Kṣatriya Brāhmaṇa
Vaidehaka Vaiśya Brāhmaṇa
Caṇḍāla[8] Śūdra Brāhmaṇa
Māgadha Vaiśya Kṣatriya
Kṣattā[9] Śūdra Kṣatriya
Ayogava Śūdra Vaiśya
Rathakāra Mahiṣya Karaṇa

They took to varied professions like the skilled labour and others[10].

Footnotes and references:


Such ideas are discussed under the section “Professions”, in the same chapter.


Cf. Manu I. 88–ādhyāpanamadhyayanaṃ yajanaṃ yājanaṃ tathā | dānaṃ pratigrahaścaiva brāhmaṇānāmakalpayat ||


The different types of kings are documented later under the section on “Politics and Administration”, in the same chapter.


The different professions of the vaiśyas are discussed under their respective sections.


Cf. Bhagavad Gītā.18. 44 ab: kṛṣirgaurakṣyavānijyaṃ vaiśyakarma svabhāvajam |


viprānmūrdhāvasiktāstu kṣatriyāyāṃ viśaḥ striyām |
śūdrāyāṃ niṣādaḥ pārśavo'pi vā ||
mahiṣyograu prajāyete viṭśūdrāṅganayornṛpāt |
karaṇo vaiśyādvinnāsveṣa vidhiḥ
smṛtaḥ ||
brāhmaṇyāṃ kṣatriyātsūto vaiśyādvaidehikaḥ smṛtaḥ |
śūdrājjātastu cāṇḍālaḥ
sarvadharmabahiṣkṛtaḥ ||
kṣatriyā māgadhavaiśyācchūdrākṣattārameva ca |
śūdrādāyogavaṃ vaiśyā janayāmāsa vai sutam ||
māhiṣyeṇa karaṇyāṃ tu rathakāraḥ prajāyate |
āsatsantastu vijñeyāḥ pratilomānulomajāḥ ||


The mūrdhāvasikta, niṣāda and ayogava are not listed by Amarakośa


He was not included in any religious rites.


kṣattā'ryā-śūdrayoḥ sutaḥ | Amarakośa gives Kṣattā as offspring of vaiśya woman and śūdra man.


This is ennumerated under the section on “Professions”.

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