ETHNONYMS: Shoodra, Shudra, Ṣūdra
The Sudras are the lowest-ranking of the four varnas into which Indian society was traditionally divided; but they are definitely higher in rank than the Untouchables or Panchamas, a category so demeaned in status that it is not even referred to in the classical varna model. Sudras are essentially rural laborers: the classical lawgiver Manu (c. 2nd century A . D .) defined their role as essentially to serve the three higher-ranking varnas. A racial justification for this state of affairs is implied in the earliest Sanskrit writings, which suggested that whereas the three higher varnas were originally the Indo-Aryan invaders, the Sudras were Dāsas, darker-skinned Aborigines (who probably spoke Dravidian languages). If there is any historic truth to this idea, then the Sudras may be viewed as the modern descendants of those who created the Indus (or Harappan) civilization.
Sudras are not entitled to wear a sacred thread, but they have normally been allowed to enter all Hindu temples (something that was not true for Untouchables). Today Sudras commonly are self-employed farmers, but they may also be found in all walks of modern life. They number several hundred million, and they include hundreds of castes in every part of the country.
Hutton, John H. (1963). Caste in India. 4th ed. London: Oxford University Press.