antyāvasāyin

(‘decided as the last’)

Apart from the four varṇas or groups of people in the society, a very large number of jātis or castes which have come into being as a result of mixing up of these varṇas, have been mentioned in the Hindu religious works. The names of most of these castes actually indicate their vocations and often, the status of the caste group depended upon the type of profession followed by it.

The groups considered almost as outside the pale of the caste system were called ‘antyajas’ (‘the least-born) and those considered as the last even among them were named ‘antyāvasāyins,’ for instance, caṇḍālas and śvapacas (eaters of dog’s flesh). They were considered as untouchables even among the untouchables and used to live in cemeteries. They were disqualified from appearing as witnesses in legal disputes.