Who are Vratyas (outlaws)?


Written by London swaminathan

Research Article No. 1794; 11th  April 2015

Uploaded from London at   21-37

“Persons whom the twice born (Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas) beget on women of their own classes, but who omit the prescribed rites and have abandoned the Gayatri, are to be designed as Vratyas” – Manu 10-20.

In the days of Manu, people belonging to three castes Brahmins (Priests), Kshatriyas (Rulers) and Vaisyas (Business community) were reciting the most powerful and most respected Vedic mantra Gayatri (Rig Veda 3-62-10). Today not even all the Brahmins recite it three times a day. They have to do it before the sun rise, before the sunset and at noon.

In an earlier chapter Manu says the three castes must be initiated into the recitation of Gayatri before the age of 16 for Brahmins, 22 for Kshatriyas and 24 for Vaisyas. If they don’t do it then they are called Outlaws/Vratyas (Manu 2—38 and 39). In fact they were initiated well before this age. This was the maximum limit.

In another chapter he gives a long list of tribes who became Vratyas in course of time by dropping their prescribed rites.

Sangam Tamil literature also gives some details about Vratya Brahmins who were involved in conch and bangle making industries. Famous Brahmin poet Nakkirar belonged to this sect.


Vratyas in the Vedas

Atharva Veda, the Panchavimsa Brahmana and the Sutras describe certain rites intended for the Vratyas. They are used for the purification of Vratyas.

Panchavimsa Brahmana (17-1-4) says that there are four types of Vratyas:

1.The ‘hina’ who are described as depressed

2.Those who have become outcasts for some sin (nindita)

3.Those who have become outcasts at an early age, apparently by lving among outcasts or foregoing the prescribed rites

4.Those oldmen who, being impotent (sama-niicamedhra) have gone to live with the outcasts.

For all these four categories some “scholars” have given interpretations according to their whims and fancies without any rhyme or reason. They have no proof for their statements from any other sources. Foreigners have included Aryan and Non Aryan wherever they wanted, once again without any proof!!! They are notorious for their Divide and Rule Policy.

Manu is very clear and say that they all belong to three castes. In the Yajur Veda, Vratya is one of the victims in Purushameda Yajna (VS 30-8, TB3-4-5-1), where nobody knew what the term meant. What we gather from the descriptions of Vratyas in Tamil and Sanskrit sources is that they did not follow the scriptures and lead nomadic life. Vedas are very clear that they can become twice born again by performance of the ritual prescribed (Vratystoma like todays Ghar Vapasi rituals). This provision and Manu’s description clearly show that they are all children of the same family and not foreigners or outsiders.

When their group became big, they themselves elected a leader who wore a turban, carried a whip and a kind of bow. It looks like they had black uniform and owned a rough wagon. They wore silver jewellery. All these were handed over to the priests once they were taken back into the mainstream religion. This shows that the Vedic society was very democratic and had flexi rules for their children; they were not rigid even when their children went astray. They can be compared to Tamil Siddhas who were iconoclastic in their approach. But they had very high philosophy. They worshiped Shiva but did not follow the Agamic rituals. Orthodox Tamil Saivites treated them like outcasts.

The Atharva Veda (15-1-1) description of Vratyas is different. Fifteenth book of Atharva Veda deals with the Vratya, which is of mystical character, exalts the converted Vratya as a type of the perfect Brahmacharin and, in so far, of the divinity.


Brahmanas associate Vratyas with Rudra. They are described as wandering ascetics, but who don’t follow the scriptures.

Now we see Brahmin wrestlers in Gujarat, Brahmin actors in Kerala and Brahmins practising different professions in different parts of India. They were supposed to do only six things in the olden days 1.Performing fire sacrifices for others 2.for themselves 3.Accepting religious Dhana (donations, gifts) and 4.giving donations 5. Learning Vedas and  6.Teaching Vedas. Throughout 2000 year old Sangam Tamil literature, they are called performers of six tasks/jobs (Aru Thozilor).

A Kalyanraman, a scholar who have written two volumes of Aryatarangini with new interpretations on many subjects says, ”There was, in the region now known as North Punjab, Kashmir and Afghanistan, a powerful and enterprising community, ethnically and by broad religious heritage Aryan, but afflicted with impious practices, devious commercial methods and excessive materialistic outlook on life. The Panis were, what were technically known to Rishis as Vratyas, i.e. fallen Aryas. They could be reclaimed by a process of purification and conformist oath taking, known as Vratyastoma, whose details are elaborated in the sastras (scriptures).

Brahmin families, who for three generations, had failed to recite the Gayatri mantra became Vratyas – The Athrva Veda (XV-1) gives some lovely pictures of vagabond Vratyas “travelling in a bullock cart with concubines and musicians, messengers and footmen and professing Saivaite magic with fluency” (Page 99, Aryatarangini)


Source books

Vedic Index of Names and Subjects (Vol.II), Keith and Macdonell

Manu Smrti

Aryatarangini (Vol.I) by A Kalyanaraman

Cultural Index to Vedic Literature by N N Bhattacharya


Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: