Color of Skin

D.H. Killingley D.H.Killingley at
Thu May 15 11:21:08 UTC 1997

There is a text which _denies_ the correlation between varna and skin 
colour: the _VajrasUcI Upanishad_. This text has been printed many times; 
the most accessible is in Radhakrishnan's _Principal Upanishads_. There 
is a substantially different recension published by A. Weber in 
Abhandlungen der Ko"niglichen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin 
(1859), pp. 205-6. Rammohun Roy published a version which shows some 
similarities to Weber's as against the usual recension (reprinted 
in _rAmamohana granthAbalI, part 4, pp. 45-8). 

The text, composed from an Advaita Vedant viewpoint, denies the reality of 
the notion of brAhmAna in any sense other than 'knower of Brahman'. It 
does so by asking whether one is a brahmin by birth, action, knowledge, 
etc., reducing each hypothesis in turn to absurdity.

It includes this passage (using Rammohun's version):

If one is a brahmin by varna, then a brahmin would be white because of 
his sattva guna, a kshatriya red because of his sattva and rajas nature, 
a vaishya yellow because of his rajas and tamas nature, and a shudra 
black because a shudra is made of tamas. Because, now and in former 
times, these colours are found in random distribution, varna does not 
make a brahmin.

Dr Dermot Killingley
Dept of Religious Studies
University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU
Phone 0191 222 6730    Fax 0191 222 5185

On Wed, 14 May 1997, Peter J. Claus wrote:

> Ganesan.  Hello!
> I'm sure you're familiar with the many texts that utilize this varna
> scheme.  But I do not know whether they use it in relation to skin color.
> That is an extrapolation, albeit I think a fairly common one. I suspect it
> occurs primarily in conversational tradition, rather than textual
> tradition. 
> However, I, too, would be interested in any textual references
> to this abstract color correspondance schem and skin color of individuals
> or groups.  Help, please.
> On Tue, 13 May 1997 GANESANS at wrote:
> > Date: Tue, 13 May 1997 22:18:46 BST
> > From: GANESANS at
> > Reply-To: indology at
> > To: Members of the list <indology at>
> > Subject: RE: Color of Skin
> > 
> > 
> >                 COLOR OF SKIN
> >                **************
> > 
> > Prof. P. Claus wrote:
> > +varna is related to an abstract color scheme, with white
> > +associated with Brahman, red with Ksatriya, or yellow with
> > +Vaishya, black with Sudra; and various steriotypical behaviours
> > +correlated with this.
> > 
> > Can anybody please give some references? I want to know how black color
> > of skin is associated with things mean from Indian writings.
> > 
> > Interestingly, I heard from a student at Columbia university that
> > why Blacks detested the word, "Nigger"? Nigger, it seems in Latin
> >  not only means black, but "evil". He informed me: the humanistic philosopher
> > Nietzsche discusses this in his famous book, "Beyond Good
> > and Evil". Any relevent passage from Nietzsche's writings will be appreciated.
> > 
> > Any parallel thoughts from Sanskrit works? Manu? smricandrika?
> > chaturvargachintAmaNi? Any subaltern research papers on how Shudras 
> > were denigrated in Indian elite writings?
> > 
> > Thanks,
> > N. Ganesan
> > 
> > 
> > 

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