On ‘Mleccha’ – A Reply To A Query

Every so often, somebody writes in via our website’s contact function with a question. Often, these are theological. Sometimes, they are personal. This one, I suppose, was both. 

As the concept in question is likely to be of some interest to a fair few of our readers, I present both question and answer (slightly edited for clarity as applies the latter, and privacy of inquirer viz. the former) below. 

Here’s the original message:

Namaskaram, Curwen!

Asking this out of genuine curiosity and not to belittle your faith in Sanatana Dharma.

I was wondering why you have decided to be a Hindu when the scriptures call you a mleccha?



Reply commences:

Thank you for getting in touch. And I do apologize profusely for the length of time it’s taken in getting back to you. One hopes the response shall prove worth the drastically enlengthened wait.

It’s an interesting question – although its essence is perhaps rather orthogonal to .. well .. how everything happened, inter alia, for a start.

I didn’t really ‘decide’ upon all of this. How I ‘got here’ is a long and complicated story that I’ll spare you many of the intricacies of. Suffice to say, it involved a rather ruinous set of personal circumstances inducing me to take up my [adoptive, Indo-Nepali] older sister’s offer to, as she put it … “We’re taking you to Temple to sort your life out”. [I can elaborate on all of that if it’s of interest / necessary, but in some ways it’s not hugely relevant. I was in a bad way, the universe – so to speak – seemed to have aligned to make the trajectory toward the religious engagement in question something of a … hm, perhaps we might suggest an ‘inevitability’, and then a suite of rather miraculous occurrences kept ensuing that would most certainly convince one that we were ‘on the right path’, so to speak. ]

Now, the situation viz. “scriptures call you a Mleccha” … which scriptures would those be. And, at least as importantly – what are they actually calling whom and why.

I shall demonstrate why these are important questions via considering an example.

Many are (at least vaguely) aware of the conceptry contained within Manusmriti X III 10 43-44 wherein a number of races are set out as … well … probably what you have in mind viz. your question to me, I’ll put it that way.

These include the Yavanas (whether one wishes to take this as ‘Ionians’, as in [Indo-]Greeks , or as ‘Europeans’ all up), the Sakas (i.e. Scythians), and various other groups – including the ‘Dravidas’. Now, I do not think that (for various reasons) one would be seeking to suggest that that last group would be axiomatically (today) of ‘Mleccha’ status … but that is not the point which I seek to make here via raising these passages.

Rather, it is something quite different.

And, perhaps, rather remarkable.

If we take a look at the first of those two verses – we discover that the listing of races/ethnoi in question are supposed to be ‘fallen’ Kshatriyas; that is to say, their forebears were Kshatriyas (which, as applies the mythical genesis of the Yavanas in iirc the Mahabharata .. kinda makes sense), but due to their not keeping up the proper traditions , not having/maintaining their Brahmins, they have wound up losing their Kshatriya status and becoming vrsalas .

And what this means, of course, is that should these groups / persons from them start behaving themselves properly … there is no reason – in this view – why they cannot then regain their lost status. After all, on a somewhat related inferential note – we do have the Vratyastoma rites for precisely the (re-)admission of people into the Vedic fold.

Now this matters, because it’s actually Manusmriti X III 10 45 where the ‘Mleccha’ bit is. And it’s defined therein as pertaining to peoples that are not born of the Purusha (well, the specific four sectors thereof, you know the ones) – and whether they are speaking Mleccha language or, for that matter, Arya language. And it is those groupings who are to be termed the Dasyu.

[Interestingly, there is a slightly differing view on the verse – which would emphasize the ‘Loke’ therein and thus have the application for terminology for being those persons falling outside the ‘World’ of the … well, those four groupings born of Purusha : which can be read a number of ways. One of which being a narrow ‘geographical’ reading correlating said Loka to x preferred definition of Aryavarta’s geographical extent [and therefore having ‘Arya-‘ language speakers – i.e. Sanskrit – also extant outside of Aryavarta / India at the time of the verse’s composition]. I do not hold to such a view – and would note a slightly different cosmological position that can quite feasibly be taken upon the matter in light of how this applies to “Dasyu” … but more upon that some other time if it is of interest to you, as i’m not sure how familiar you are (or would seek to become) with the notion of the ‘enclosure’, etc. ]

So, what am I according to this rubric, then.

If we accept the logic of ‘Yavana’ as ‘European’ rather than merely ‘Ionian’ – then you have your answer. I would not be outside that sphere in terms of my situation of origin. Quite directly stated.

Albeit with a situation of the ‘fallen’ status of the population (and its constituents) aforementioned being something that should, surely, be overcomeable via ‘reversion’ (in the conceptual framework of that Manusmriti expression) to ‘proper’ conduct and religiosity.

Maybe this helps to explicate the famed situation of Heliodorus [a Yavana in the sense of a Greek] – who, over two thousand years ago, appears to have become a Vaishnava Hindu, and whose eponymous contribution of a pillar still stands today. Even in those more archaic and perhaps ‘conservative’ times, I do not know that he was barred from this by some sort of trenchant, inveterate ‘stained’ status?

And whilst not Yavanas – my mind does also conjure the situation of the Balinese Hindus. I do not know that there is any specific archaic textual coverage for them ring-fencing and boiler-plate-ing that they are, in fact, ‘allowed in’ and aren’t Mlecchas, Dasyus, etc. – yet I would be quite surprised if somebody really wished to go out there and tell them that they were textually barred from their own ancient iteration of our faith (which appears to have been in situ there for many, many centuries – near two thousand years, if I recall, perhaps more?)

Perhaps we ought also make mention for the Maga / Sakaldwipi  [etc.] Brahmins … who did, after all, come in from somewhere to Aryavarta’s northwest […] [we would presume fleeing … certain politico-religious developments out thataway … ]. Not Yavanas, of course – but neverthele-ss not exactly what would fit in to the ‘inside’ status per a most strict reading of things. And yet now, a millennium and more on, they are ‘part of the fabric’ to the point of being, well, Brahmins. How about that.

We are also aware of that situation of a certain Nath lineage Shaivite community centered upon Hawaii that do appear to be pretty orthodox and conventional … but for the fact that they’re European/American. It’s not an illegitimate lineage – so somebody has evidently taken such an ‘expansive’ view as applies the decision to allow the initiation of their founders etc. But I digress somewhat (occupational hazard for me).

If we want to insist upon a more narrow sense for ‘Yavana’ – and that it is not all Europe that can be comfortably incorporated into such a labelling … then that is OK, too. [And I am not sure if there is, for example, a prohibition on the application of Vratyastoma to such persons of broader origination … but I have not gone off and checked the texts as yet, so it has been some time since i looked thereupon].

A fundamental distinction in Vedic usage for ‘Dasyu’ … is that the beings in question are referred to as ‘Amanusah’ [c.f. RV X 22 8] – which means, as you may have noted, on one level ‘Non-Human’ … however, it is perhaps better understood if we remember that Manusa itself is more the ‘Kindred of Manu’, so to speak. Or, to rephrase that in modern English – Mankind. And these two phrasings, whilst in various dimensions closely coterminous, have come to mean rather different things. Mankind is a synonym for ‘humanity’; ‘Kindred of Manu’ … or, in the Germanic sphere, of Mannus [per Tacitus’ reporting upon the figure, hence the Latinization], is a rather more tightly defined rubric. And yet, it speaks to something fundamental – something foundational, something Indo-European.

We can, after all, trace that same shared foundational myth of the Progenitor Twins (in various expressions) , in most Indo-European mytho-religious spheres. Romulus and Remus (Iemus in the older spelling / pronunciation) are cognate to Manu & Yama (Iemus quite directly for Yama, as it happens). There is a rather intriguing suite of conceptry viz. Phoroneus in relation to same for the Hellenic sphere (inter various alia – the Hellenic sphere is a densely interwoven patchwork of localized myth re-expanding itself), and I would personally suppose the Minyae to be likewise pertinent … but more upon that some other time.

It should seem to me that one pertinent rubric in the Vedic lense for those ‘inside the fold’ is this notion of the ‘Kindred of Manu’, ‘Descendants of Manu’. Those who aren’t, due to having some differing origination, we find spoken of potentially as being demonic [not that demons are necessarily precluded from piety … ] ; and so what we have just done is made a case for the inclusion of anybody of Indo-European origination in a ‘broader’ sphere of those ‘Descendants of Manu’ in a local-mythic sense.

And what one might quite feasibly seek to object to upon this basis – is the rather strong likelihood that in that archaic Vedic suite of perspective, various other IE groups (even other specifically Indo-Aryan groups) were encountered , and were not (necessarily) automatically incorporated into the ‘Arya’ fold.

Indeed, some have sought to suggest that the most archaic mention for ‘Mleccha’ which we have – in the SBr [Shatapatha Brahmana] – is of exactly this essence.

I would disagree. Because the ritual combat context which it occurs within … does not require humans, rival groups of humans. But does rather require a rival group to the Gods – those being the Demons [hence the Priest of Demons sent forth to do battle within this context against Agni / a Divine Priest].

And hence, their slightly-accented (or perhaps, potentially, rather more so … ) speech , designated there to be ‘Mleccha’, even though in theory it may very well be pretty close to Vedic Sanskrit (so as to be able to conduct the rites in question) .

Why is it ‘Mleccha’ speech? Why, SBr III 2 1 24 tells us with reasonable directness – it is the Speech of the Demons. We are back at the metaphysical conception of mlecchahood as .. well .. a non-human and mythic species. Is that me?

Now, it is evident, of course, that all of these terms have grown and shifted over the millennia.

Hence – were we to take an insistently restrictive ‘Vedic’ lense … there would be any number of persons in modern India today who would probably not pass muster for ‘Arya’ rather than ‘Outsider’ status. This does not stop them from having been quite enduringly (and often quite integrally) accepted as part of the Hindu fold – consider the attestation for the ‘Dravidas’ in the Manusmriti verse I had referenced some distance above. Evidently, the concepts can expand as necessary.

So that causes us to go back to the ‘drawing board’ …

Now, at this point we shall indulge in some etymology. Mleccha, we take to be of the same general root as Sanskrit ‘Mala’ ( मल – unsure if Devanagari is a familiar script for you, but it’ll do for now) – and therefore, with various other terms of other IE languages in mind, we would suggest that the appropriate sense of meaning to it is something along the lines of ‘dirty’, ‘polluted’ …

… in which case, I suppose I would ask in which sense that is held to apply to me. I do not eat beef etc. – and have not done so for some years (coming up toward eight, in fact). I do not eat meat or eggs at all, as it happens – in late 2021, I removed these from the diet so as to enable continuous ritual / observance operations on a daily basis [previously I’d only abstained from these on Temple days or major observances I was marking … which was still rather rough, the European body is not so well adapted for the lack of such things]. I undertake daily rites – and would also hazard that there is quite the ‘purifying’ effect to the proper enunciation of various of these things (the actual literal purification operations notwithstanding, of course).

So, bringing things back around again to the more conventional view of the situation and that aforementioned Manusmriti conceptry … the question before us is quite a simple one:

If one proffers that I was of ‘Mleccha’ status … is it a truly indelible stain upon my soul – or is it , as we see with this notion of ‘Vratya-Kshatriyas’ (and here I am referencing both that Yavana situation as well as the more general conceptry of the Vratyastoma) , something that can, indeed, be transcended.

Arya, I have always believed, to be an ethonym rather than an ethnonym.

It connotes belonging to, adherence to, upholding of, an ethos rather than an ethnos – a way of doing things, the community, the proper conduct, and active participation in all of the above. This is why ‘Mleccha’, with its connotations of ‘jabbering’ or otherwise incomprehensible speech , is its antonym. Because to speak … well, you may know the Frantz Fanon quote : but here, it is the sine qua non requirement for engagement with that Arya communo-religious sphere. Even if, as the texts we have referenced, later make a point of noting – it is apparently possible to speak an ‘Arya’ language yet still be of outsider status anyway. We would presume, upon a functional basis, because one is not doing what one is supposed to be … more than speaking, actually doing. At least, in part, anyway.

So, as applies myself … I am fully aware that I am  coming into the sphere (or, rather, have some time ago done so), from an outlander’s origination. It is something a bit hard to miss when one is, say, the only European in amidst a hundred, two hundred Indians (and Nepalis, etc.) at Mandir on MahaShivRatri etc. And I also do fully get that there are some pretty justifiable reasons for … a bit of ‘suspicion’ shall we say, of somebody of such background – I, myself, have a perhaps bad habit of being rather ‘overly cautious’ with the Gora-folk that may so happen to turn up and make vocal noises about “being Hindu” or being keen on the religion. Just in case they’re ‘tourists’, Hare Krishnas, or out to appropriate whatever isn’t nailed down in various fashions. Even if the British Empire isn’t still (much of) a thing, the feeling of disquiet can easily remain. And yes, it was not all that long ago – still within living memory – when people who look and perhaps sound like me were, indeed, quite the potential threat in that latter capacity.

But contingent upon which scriptures you might so happen to have in mind … I would suggest that it is possible that some ‘flexibility’ of ambit has already been in evidence within the system. Hence why various of those groups aforementioned – the ‘Dravidas’, for instance – do not get insistently termed ‘Mlecchas’ today [except by some internet annoyances, but let’s just disregard them, shall we?]. And this is before we get into those aforementioned rites and other such pathways via which … well … since the Vedic Era there have been established mechanisms for quite the direct ‘assimilation’.

It is possible that I have not answered your question – and if that is the case, then I am sorry to have disappointed. Please feel free to write back and request clarification in that matter (or any other) as a result.

But rather than sit and ruminate upon what else i might seek to add to this , I shall content myself with sending it off to you forthwith this morning.

Look forward to hearing from you;

Yours &c.

Curwen Ares Rolinson
Arya Akasha. 

4 thoughts on “On ‘Mleccha’ – A Reply To A Query

  1. Great examples of ethnically non-Aryan and non-Indic Hindus in Heliodorus and the Balinese. Others of course include the Tengerese and Osing Hindus in Indonesia, Balamon Chams in Vietnam, and Ghanaian Hindus. Another likely ancient group were converts to Vedic Hinduism among the Mitanni of northern Syria and southern Anatolia. While some argue that the linguistic evidence for their worship of Hindu gods suggest that the Mitanni were ruled by Indo-Aryans, there is no DNA evidence for this. Personally I feel that it is more likely that the Mitanni rulers were ethnically Hurrian (like their subjects) but converted to Hinduism, in much the same way as the rulers of various Southeast Asian peoples.


    • viz. the archaeogenetics – not my area of expertise but I did recall this in passing –

      also, somebody had said this to me awhle back –

      I would not dispute that it’s quite viable for the Mitanni’s ruling elite to have become significantly Hurrian-ized (or simply have rbeen Hurrian and having sided with incomers); however I would also not rule out the prospect of there being a direct Indo-Aryan saliency therein on the genetic / population level rather than ‘just’ the linguistic and religious .

      Will comment on other elements in due course.


  2. Pingback: On ‘Mleccha’ – A Reply To A Query – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s