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From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Usage of Word Slave[edit]

The Ṛgveda uses the words dāsa and dāsī several times, in several senses such as an enemy of demoniac character, a paid servant or a slave. The last sense is evident in Ṛgveda.[1] Though Megasthanes[2] denies that slavery of the Grecian type existed in India, there is every reason to believe that it did, as in other ancient civilizations. It is interesting to note that the Arthaśāstra[3] of Kauṭilya[4] prescribes severe punishment for those who try to force others into slavery.

Classification of Slaves[edit]

Slaves are classified as follows:

  • Dhvajāhṛta - one captured in a battle
  • Ātmavikrayin - one who sells himself
  • Udaradāsa or garbhadāsa - one who is born to a slave woman from a slave man
  • Āhitika - one who is made a slave to repay a debt
  • Daṇḍapraṇīta - made a slave by a decree of the court

Freedom From Slavery[edit]

All these slaves can regain their freedom by the prescribed methods such as repaying the debt, working for wages to be set off against the debt and be in bondage for a specified period of time, all the while working. A master who is pleased of the services of the slave can always set him free. The dharmaśāstras ordain that the slave should be treated in a humane manner. Any abuse will result in the master undergoing punishment.


  1. Ṛgveda means 7.86.7 and 8.56.3
  2. Megasthanes lived in 4th century B. C.
  3. Arthaśāstra 3.13
  4. He lived in 321 B. C.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore