I am often asked the question whether a particular mantra can be chanted or recited by a particular person from a particular caste. I am also often asked if certain mantras can be chanted by women. The answer to all such questions was eloquently given by one of the greatest reformers of the 19th century and the founder of the Arya Samaj, Swami Dayanand Saraswati. A summary of his explanation (based on the Vedas), which recently appeared in print, is as
The Vedas are for Everyone!
The Vedas are the supreme authority in the ascertainment of true religion — the true conduct of life. Whatever is enjoined by the Vedas we hold to be right, whilst whatever is condemned by them is believed to be wrong. Therefore, we say that our religion is Vedic.
The true name for Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma or Vedic Dharma. Swamiji reinforces this unequivocally. The Vedas are the foundation – any and all concepts promoted as Hindu thought have to pass the Vedic test! Swami Vivekananda also stated this unequivocally – the Vedas are the bedrock of all Hindu faith.
Really? Are the Vedas for Shudras also?
All men and women have a right to study. The Yajur Veda authorizes all men to study the Vedas. So, shall not we believe the Gods? Certainly, we should. He who will still refuses to believe (that women and Shudras are entitled to Veda learning) shall be called a nastika (an infidel) because Manu has said, “He is an infidel who is a reviler and disbeliever of the Veda.” Does not God desire the welfare of the Shudras? Is God prejudiced that he should allow the study of the Veda to Dwijas and disallow it to Shudras?
Then why do the Vedas appear to prohibit the Shudras from learning? The reference to a person who is a Shudra refers to one who does not learn anything despite being taught – or one who does not put into practice what he has learnt. This is a brilliant interpretation because the exact same principle regarding the caste system is stated by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.
But surely the Vedas are not for women? Are they?
The Atharva Veda says: “Just as boys acquire sound knowledge and culture by the practice of brahmacharya and then marry girls of their own choice, girls, too, should practice brahmacharya, study the Veda and other sciences and thereby perfect her knowledge, refine her character, give her hand to a man of her own choice, who is young, learned and loving.” The Vedas, therefore, allow that girls to practise brahmacharya and receive education.
That should settle it. Once and for all. So, if you are wondering about your priests or relatives having enjoined you from chanting such and such mantra etc. – I do not ask you to disrespect them. All I can do is present to you what has been brought forth from the Vedas by Swami Dayanand Saraswati and Swami Vivekananda.
It is up to you what you do with the information. You can ignore it – or you can pass it on and educate others and remove superstition and ignorance.