A female member of this caste is known as a Caṇḍālī.
Varṇa was a hierarchical social order in ancient India, based on the Vedas. Since the Vedic corpus constitute the earliest literary source, it came to be seen as the origin of caste society. In this view of caste, varṇas were created on a particular occasion and have remained virtually unchanged. In this ordering of society, notions of purity and pollution were central, and activities were delineated in this context. Varṇa divides the society into four groups ordered in a hierarchy; beyond these, outside the system, lies a fifth group known as the untouchables, of which the Chandala became a constituent part.
The first mention of the fourfold varṇa division is found in the later Rigveda. Vedic literature also mentions some groups, such as Ayogava, Chandala, Nishada and Paulkasa, which were outside the four-varṇa classification. They were referred to as belonging to the "panchama varṇa" or panchamas, meaning fifth. The Yajur-veda mentions their degradation from the varṇa classes, mentioning the Chandala group in particular, who were said to be the untouchable class of people born of the union between a Shudra male and a Brahmin female.
There are frequent references to the forest-dwellers in the post-Rigvedic literature; the Chandalas were one of these primitive people, who belonged to the fringes of the society.
- Viswanath, Rupa (2014). The Pariah Problem: Caste, Religion, and the Social in Modern India. Columbia University Press. p. 268. ISBN 978-0-23116-306-4.
- Chandrashekhar Bhat (1984). Ethnicity and Mobility. Concept publishing. pp. 2–3.
- S. M. Michael (1999). Untouchable: Dalits in Modern India. Lynne Rienner Publishers. pp. 3–4. ISBN 9781555876975.
- Thapar, Romila (2004). Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300. University of California Press. pp. 63, 511. ISBN 978-0-52024-225-8.
- Biswas, A. K. (2000). The Namasudras of Bengal: profile of a persecuted people. Blumoon Books. p. viii. ISBN 9788187190431.
Though he is physically almost practically unknown, save and except in Bengal, calling someone a Chandal is the ultimate insult and humiliation of a Hindu anywhere under the sun.