By Swami Harshananda
Sometimes transliterated as: Candala, CAndAla, Caandaala
Cāndāla literally means ‘one who wears terrible ornaments’.
Certain groups of people have always been considered to be outside the pale of civilized society. ‘Aspṛśyas’ was the general name given to most of them since any kind of contact or proximity with them was considered polluting--mostly due to their horrendous ways of living and vocations fraught with potential dangers to the general health of the society.
The cāṇḍālas also spelt as ‘caṇḍālas’ are an important group of aspṛśyas. Manu defines the cāṇḍāla as one born from a brāhmaṇa woman by a śūdra father. Other smṛtis define the word differently.
The characteristics of a cāṇḍāla include:
- The cāṇḍālas were expected to live in their own colonies outside the village or town. But they were allowed to roam.
- Their wealth was dogs and donkeys.
- They lived by cleaning the dirt of the village or town.
- They ate the carcasses of dead animals.
- They carried the corpses of persons who had no relatives.
- They looked after the cremation or burial grounds.
- They acted as executioners of people sentenced to death by the king.
- They wore ornaments of lead, iron or leather.
- Manusmṛti 10.12
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore