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Who Are Mlecchas?

The term "Mlecchas" historically referred to groups of people who were perceived as speaking in an uncultured or incorrect manner, often associated with tribes or communities considered foreign or outside the established social order. In ancient texts like the Shatapatha Brahmana and the Mahabharata, they were often portrayed as outsiders or adversaries to the Vedic culture.

According to various accounts, Mlecchas were believed to have originated from various mythological sources. For instance, the Mahabharata mentions that they were produced from the tail of the celestial cow Nandini, associated with the sage Vasistha, and were involved in conflicts with figures like Vishwamitra. They were depicted as residing in coastal regions, with Anga being mentioned as one of their kings.

Throughout ancient Indian literature, there are instances where Mlecchas are depicted as adversaries or troublemakers, such as their alleged plundering of wealth from Yudhisthira's sacrificial arena after the Ashvamedha sacrifice in the Mahabharata. Additionally, there are prophecies, like in the Bhavishya Purana, suggesting the eventual destruction of Mlecchas by Kalki, a future incarnation of Vishnu.

Over time, the perception and treatment of Mlecchas evolved. By the time of the Bhavishya Purana (circa 900 CE), they appear to have been absorbed into the social hierarchy as a caste positioned at the lowest rung. They were often marginalized and subjected to derogatory stereotypes, such as being labeled as consumers of cow flesh and engaging in practices like selling their children for financial gain. Despite this marginalization, they were sometimes allowed to participate in certain religious practices, such as worshiping clay images of deities like Devi and other gods.

In summary, Mlecchas represent a complex and multifaceted concept in ancient Indian society, embodying notions of cultural otherness, social hierarchy, and religious conflict. Their portrayal in texts reflects broader themes of identity, power dynamics, and the evolving nature of social structures in ancient India.