Context: Krishna's elder brother BalarAma was visiting pilgrimage spots. At one point, he reached a place, where the Goddess of Learning (Sarasvati) was said to have become extinct, as she had contempt for persons of servant caste (SUdras) and AbhirAs.
Abhiras = a tribe of lower caste. This tribe defeated Arjuna after Krishna died and took away Yadava women. We have a reference to Abhiras even in vAlmiki rAmAyana. You can see my ramayanayb.blogspot.com blog to know more about the Abhiras of Ramayana. In Ramayana, Rama's advisers and the God of Ocean asked him to redirect his Creator-weapon (Brahmastram) on the Abhiras.
I quote the relevant verses of the Vyasa Mahabharata:
Volume 9 Salya Parvam.
Verse No. 1.
tato vinaSanam rAjann AjagAma halAyudhah-
SUdrAbhIrAn prati dveshAd yatra nashTA sarasvatI
|| yasmAt sA bharataSreshTha dveshAn nashTA sarasvatI-
tasmAt tad rishayo nityam prAhur vinaSaneti ha
|| tac cApy upaspriSya balah sarasvatyAm mahAbalah-
subhUmikam tato agacchat sarasvatyAs taTe vare
GANGULI'S ENGLISH TRANSLATION:
Vaishampayana said, "Then Valadeva, O king, proceeded to Vinasana where the Sarasvati hath become invisible in consequence of her contempt for Sudras and Abhiras. And since the Sarasvati, in consequence of such contempt, is lost at that spot, the Rishis, for that reason, O chief of the Bharatas, always name the place as Vinasana.
vinASana = disaster. The disaster here was the loss of the River Saraswati. In Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh we have the pilgrimage place 'trivENi sangamam', confluence of the three rivers. We can see only two rivers i.e. Ganga and Yamuna. Where was the Saraswati gone? Some say that she flows below the ground. Some say that it disappeared.
Some historians and mythologists opined that River Saraswati was an extinct river in Rajasthan or Hariyana.
It may be anything. Let us not worry. The key question here is why should Saraswati hate Abhiras and Sudras? OK, Saraswati hated Abhiras because they were savageous tribes robbing wayfarers and invading cities. But why should she hate Sudras? Were sUdras not entitled to the grace of the Goddess Learning?
Obviously, the kings of those days and their advising/assisting priests wanted to deny the opportunity of education to the sUdras. This was very unkind on their part.
Why does not the Saraswati hate sUdras of today? She makes them doctors, engineers, lawyers, Chief Ministers and what not. This is because Gods and Goddesses cannot have hate in any religion. They are supposed to be kind. Today's Gods and Goddesses probably refuse to listen to the dictates of rulers and preachers.
YBREM: Further analyses: We need not place on par, the Sudras of the Mahabharata period with the SUdra caste persons of today. The sudras of those days suffered endlessly. There are sufferings for Sudras and Dalits even today, but they are on a lower scale. Some emancipation has taken place, by the grace of Gandhi, Ambedkar, Phule and many other great men.
Subsequently, between Mahabharata period and the 10th Century A.D. some sudras conquered kingdoms and became emperors and landlords. Some of them, in connivance with the priests, have declared themselves as new kshatriyas (according to some: agni kula kshatriyas) etc.
Even during Muslim and British rule, some sub-castes of Sudras have become new landlords. They have become village officers assisting all the three rulers: Hindu, Muslim and British rulers.
Today some sudra sub-caste persons are big landlords, businessmen, and industrialists, controlling the whole states of India.
The sudras who suffered during Ramayana and Mahabharata times did not hesitate to suppress the dalits, after becoming landlords and kings. The sudra kings and landlords , with the help of Priest class, went on ill-treating the dalits. The sudra class which suffered in the past, ought to have become more compassionate and kind to the dalits. But this did not happen. One reason for conversion of dalits into Christianity is the oppression which took place in our villages under the supervision of landlords even as late as the 19th Century.
The chief tool of oppression, therefore, is the land. Those who have land are the masters and those who do not have lands are the servants. Power of a person in an Indian village stems from the extent of land he owns and the number of agricultural laborers he has at his control. Even in Cities, this has become the new norm. For example, many ministers, M.L.A.s and M.P.s in Andhra Pradesh, whatever be their caste, own large tracts of rural, semi-urban, urban and Metropolitan Land. The present Telangana Movement in A.P. revolves around the greed for land in and around Hyderabad City.
YBREM: Gist: Oppression of those days was different from the oppression of today. It was a sad thing that the Kings and priests of those days transferred their love and hate (rAgam and dvEsham) to their Gods and Goddesses.