Manusmriti or Laws of Manu is also known as Manava-Dharmshastra. Dharmshastra actually means science of morals, according to Indian culture it means science of religion. Manu talks about Sruti and Smriti- Sruti is knowledge which has been received by mankind through oral tradition, while Smriti is the aggregate of the tradition that keeps Hindu culture alive and united. Manusmriti is the most important and the earliest metrical work on Brahminical Dharma in Hinduism. Manusmriti comprises codes of Hindu life. They are based on the teachings of Vedas. Manusmriti is vast in its scope. It purports to explain the nature of human being and the path that men and women should follow.

The argument on Authorship

Indian tradition holds that Manu is the author of Manusmriti. In Hindu tradition, Manu is a title accorded to the progenitor of humanity. Manu called as Vaivsavata Manu was the son of Vivasvat and his wife Sanjana. Vivasvata Manu, whose original name was Satyavrata, is the 7th Manu and considered the first king to rule this earth, who saved humanity from the great flood. As per the Hindu mythology, his wife was Sarddha. According to Hindu mythology, Manusmriti is the word of Brahma, and it is classified as the most authoritative statement on Dharma. It is presumed that the actual author of this compilation used the eponym ‘Manu’, which has led the text to be associated by Hindus with the first human being and the first king in the Indian tradition. Although no details of this eponymous author’s life are known, it is likely that he belonged to a conservative Brahman class somewhere in Northern India.

According to Mahabharata, Manu was endowed with great wisdom and devoted to virtue. And he became the progenitor of life. And into Manu’s race have been born all human beings, who are therefore called as Manavas. And it is of Manu that all men including Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, and others have descended, and therefore are called as Manavas. The Manusmriti is written within the framework of a story, in which a dialogue takes place between Manu and his disciple. The story begins with Manu himself detailing the creation of the world and the society within it, structured around four social classes. It is said that Bhrigu made important contribution to Manusmriti. In view of cited references to various races in Manusmriti (10thchap), which appeared on the Indian scene much later than the supposed mythical origin of even the current Vaivasvata Manu- since we are in kaliyuga of the 28th chaturyuga, nearly 12 crore years must have elapsed in the current Manvantara- it is the opinion of the scholars that the Manusmriti, like the various other Smriti text, is the work of Brahmana interest. Only the name of Manu has been added in order to give an hoary authority to it. There is every reason to believe it is the handiwork of someone with hidden agenda. The said Smriti is sanctified in the name of Manu and indirectly discredits Manu by name association. Naradasmriti written about 4th century AD, attributes the ownership of the Manusmriti to one Sumati Bhargava. It goes on to say that the original Manusmriti of 1,00,000 shlokas was abridged by Narada, Markandeya and Sumati Bhargava(son of rishi Bhrigu) to 12000, 8000 and 4000 shlokas respectively, and what we now have is the result of the work of Sumati Bhargava, a Brahmin, of the Bhargava clan. It is believed that Manu, the ancient teacher of sacred rites and laws, is the author of Manava Dharma-Shastra i.e. Manusmriti.

Date of Manusmriti

In its present form, Manusmriti is commonly dated to 5th century BCE. Some scholars have estimated it to be anywhere between 200BCE and 200CE. Sir William Jones assigned the work to the period of 1200-500BC, but more recent development states that the work in its extent form dates back to the 1st and 2nd century AD or could be even older, scholars agree that the work is modern, versified in 500BC. Scholars speculate that this event must have taken place during the reign of Pushyamitra-Sunga, a Brahminical kingdom established following the regicide of the last mauryan king to establish Sunga Empire.

पौण्ड्र्काश्र्चौड्. द्रविडा: काम्बौजा य़वना: शका:

पारदा पाह्र्वाश्र्चीना: किरता दरदा: खशा:   AA 10&44

The Paundrakas, The Chodras, The Dravidas, The Kambojas, The Yavanas, The Sakas, The Paradas, The Pahlavas, The Chinas, The Kiratas and The Daradas. It is also said that Manu belonged to the times of Bhrigu (Manas putra of Lord Brahma). After the great flood in his area, nearly 10,000 years ago. as per the Skanda Purana, Bhrigu migrated to Bhrugukucch near Gujrat on the banks of Narmada River. The later date archaeological findings at Bhrigu Kutch are dated 8500years old. Although Olivelle argues that the complex and consistent structure of the text suggests a single author or redactor, who would have lived during the time of the formation of classical Hinduism in reaction to the decline of Buddhism in Northern India (in 12thcentury after the fall of Pala dynasty) and during the time of later Kushan Empire (which ultimately wiped out in 5th century by the invasion of the Gupta dynasty.

Structure of Manusmriti 

Manusmriti is one of the standard books in the Hindu canon and a basic text for all Gurus to base their teachings on. This reveled scripture comprises of 2684 verses divided into 12 chapters presenting the norms of domestic, social and religious life in India under the Brahmin influence and is fundamental to the understanding of ancient Indian society. It goes from the beginning of creation to its end. It proclaims the law on behavior, the process of creation. It is a series of discourses where he gave detailed commentaries on human behavior, social guidelines, law, politics etc.

Brief Introduction of the Chapters

In Manusmriti,

The first chapter deals with the creation of world by the deities, the divine origin of the book itself, and the objective of studying it. The 1st chapter narrates how ten great sages appealed to Manu to pronounce the sacred law to them and how Manu fulfilled their wishes by asking the learned sage Bhrigu, who had been carefully taught the metrical tenets of the sacred law, to deliver his teachings. There were ten great sages namely, Mariki, Atri, Angiras, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Praketas, Vasishta, Bhrigu, Narada. Manu explained the duties of all Varnas. To Brahmins he assigned teachings, studying the Veda. The Kshatriya, he commanded to protect people, to offer sacrifices and to abstain from attaching himself to sensual pleasure. The Vaisyas, to tend cattle, to bestow gifts, to trade and to lend money and to Shudra, one occupation any prescribed by lord, to serve meekly the other castes. Manu also said that, a Brahmin who departs from the rule of conduct does not reap the fruit of Vedas, but who duly follows it, will obtain the full reward. And then all sages agreed that the sacred laws were the ground for the rule of conduct and have taken good conduct to be the most excellent root of all austerity.

The second chapter deals with the proper conduct of the members of the upper castes, their initiation into Brahmin religion by the sacred thread or sin removing ceremony, and also the period of disciplined studentship devoted to the study of the Vedas under a Brahmin teacher. Here, Manu clearly mentioned the sacrificial string for Brahmin shall be of cotton, for Kashtriya shall be made of hempen thread and for Vaisyas shall be made of woolen thread. Manu also taught the manner in which a student should behave while learning the Veda. He should start by clasping both the feet of his teacher and by joining his hands, that’s called Brahmangali and he should always pronounce the syllable “OM” at the beginning and at the end of the Veda. Manu defined Shudra as; those who would not follow the conduct rule would be considered as Shudras. And at the end of this chapter Manu said that, a Brahmin who thus passes his life as a student without breaking his vows, reaches (after death) the highest abode and will not be born again in this World.

The third chapter deals with the choice of a wife and about rules of marriages for all castes. One should not marry a woman who has thick hair on her body and who has no hair either. One should not marry a woman who doesn’t have brother and father. A Brahmin, who takes a shudra wife to his bed, will (after death) sink into hell. It is declared that a Shudra woman alone can be the wife of a Shudra. He mentioned eight types of marriages which were to be followed

  1. Brahma Vivaha – wedding rites followed by Lord Brahma and by Brahmins, in this way of conducting weddings, the father of the bride gives her away with jewelry and fine clothes to a knower of the Vedas by invitation.
  2. Daiva Vivah – (rites followed by the gods). In this type of weddings the father of the bride gives her away to the officiating priest at a Yagya (sacrifice), while the Yagya is in progress.
  3. Arsha Vivah– (the rite of the rishis) – In this type of Hindu wedding, the father of the bride gives her away to a groom who gifts to the father one cow and one bull or two cows and two bulls.
  4. Pragapatya Vivah- ( wedding Prajapatis)- In this type of Hindu wedding, the father of the bride gives her away to any groom after blessing the couple and honoring the groom.
  5. Asura Vivah- (The system of asuras) – In this type of Hindu wedding, the groom voluntarily gives as much money and gifts as he can afford to the bride and to her family in order to get her consent  for marriage.
  6. Gandharva Vivah- (Wedding in the way followed by Gaandharvas) – In this type of wedding a man, seduces a woman and takes her as his wife by virtue of the seduction, without any rites whatsoever.
  7. Rakshasa Vivah- (the system of the Rakshasa) – In this type of wedding, the killer or assaulter of a woman’s family member or father takes her as his wife by kidnapping and raping her. This may have added a reason for breaking into woman’s houses.
  8. Paisaka Vivah- (wedding in the manner of Pishaachas or lost souls) – In this type of wedding, a man rapes a sleeping or intoxicated woman. This is the basest of all methods and is forbidden on pain of incurring grave demerit.

Manu also mentions the merit or demerit earned by entering into marriage through each of these types of methods. He details out the number of generations of ancestors and descendants whose souls, the sons born out of such marriages can save by acting virtuously. He adumbrates the various ways and times in which a man may approach his wife sexually.  He talks extensively about the castes of children born from inter-caste women, from his own caste, or an equal caste- virginity being as important as caste. Manu goes on to mention several categories of women who cannot be married. Manu permits second marriage. He is in fact much more liberal in terms of caste requirements in the case of second marriage than in first marriage. He says that any man can marry any woman of his own caste or a lower caste should he decide to take a second wife. This in part shows the concept of Anuloma and Pratiloma; the first being a marriage between a man of higher caste and a woman of a lower caste. Such a marriage is permitted. The other kind of – Pratiloms-is not. However, this comes with the proviso that any Brahman who takes a Shudra wife as his second wife will go to hell after death if he sleeps with her and he will lose his caste.

The fourth chapter deals with the manner of living befitting the Brahmins. Manu talks about the duties of the householder. A Brahmin shall always offer the Agnihotra at the beginning and at the end, because Agni is regarded as the medium of communication between man and gods. If one offers ‘havya’ in the Agni, it reaches Lord Indra and satisfies the Lord. A Brahmin should not accept present from Shudra king, oil manufactures and from those who subsist by the wealth of prostitutes. And a Brahmin should always practice, according to his ability, with a cheerful heart, the duty of liberality, both by sacrifices and by charitable works, if he finds worthy receipt. At the end of this chapter Manu said, let Brahmin alone constantly meditate in solitude on that which is salutary for his soul; for he who meditates in solitude attains supreme bliss. Thus, Manu has declared the means by which a Brahmin householder must always subsist.

The fifth chapter deals with the hospitality, about food habits, feasts to his departed relatives, along with numerous restrictions. Here, Manu delineates  why  a Brahmin must never eat the flesh of animals because, meat can never be obtained without injuring living creatures, and injury to sentient beings is detrimental to (the attainment of) heavenly bliss, let him therefore shun the use of meat. After explaining the various food habits he explains the purification for the dead and the purification of things as they were prescribed for the four castes.

The sixth chapter deals with the duties of old age, .i.e. (vanaprasathashram). When a householder sees his skin wrinkled and his hair white, and the son of his sons, then he resorts to the forest. Who had come to forest, let him meditate to recognize the subtle nature of the supreme soul, and its presence in all organisms, both the highest and the lowest. Manu explains the virtues of contentment, forgiveness, self-control, abstention from unrighteously appropriating anything, purification, wisdom, knowledge (of the supreme soul), abstention from anger. The Brahmin, who studies this law and after that obeys it, enters the highest state.

The seventh chapter deals with the duties of a king, and shows how a king should conduct himself. A kshatriya, who rules as prescribed by the Veda, must duly protect this whole world. Manu also advises a king about six measure royal policies, war march, halting, dividing the army, seeking protection. Manu explains the six types of arranging troops on road like a Staff (i.e. in an oblong), like a wagon (i.e. in wedge), like a Boar (i.e. in a rhombus), like a Makara (i.e. in two triangles with the apexes joined), like a Pin (i.e. in a long line), like a Garuda (i.e. in a rhomboid with far-extended wings).

The eighth chapter deals with the civil and criminal proceedings and of the proper punishments to be meted out to different castes. Manu says, a king while engaged in judicial proceedings must pay attention to the truth, to the object. A king cannot be made a witness, or mechanics and actors or a student of the Veda, nor an ascetic who has given up all connection with the world. A king should punish those who deserve it and he stresses that unjust punishments destroy the reputation of men. Manu also discusses the laws for wages, the law concerning men who break an agreement, the law concerning the disputes arising from the owners of cattle, manner of deciding a case of defamation, the rules for decision in case of theft. In the end Manu says that, a king who brings to a conclusion, all the legal business enumerated, washes off his sin and reaches the highest state of bliss.

The ninth chapter deals with the eternal laws of a husband and his wife, customs and laws for those who keep to the path of duty, whether they are united or separated. This chapter talks about the customs and laws regarding inheritance and property and divorce, the laws concerning children who are the cause of happiness in the world and after death. Laws applicable to women in times of misfortune, laws concerning the division of inheritance, laws about those begotten by one man with many wives of different castes and laws concerning gambling.

The tenth chapter deals with the lawful occupations for each castes and also rules of action in times of adversity. A Kashtriya (king) is one who in time of distress protects his subject to the best of his ability. A king should protect Vaishyas and Brahmins with his weapons. If a Shudra, unable to subsist by serving Brahmins, seeks a livelihood, he may serve Kshatriya, or he may also seek to maintain himself by working for a wealthy Vaishya. The service for Brahmins alone is declared (to be) an excellent occupation for a Shudra.

The eleventh chapter deals with the various kinds of penance for the misdeeds. A king shall bestow proper jewels and presents during sacrifices on Brahmins learned in Veda. A Brahmin shall never beg from the shudra’s property for sacrifices; having begged any property for sacrifice, does not use the whole for that purpose, becomes for a hundred years a vulture. Manu explained the atonement for stealing the gold of Brahmin, laws concerning partaking of forbidden food, the penance which removes the guilt of theft, penance for those who had intercourse with other castes, also the means adopted by gods, sages and men, through which a man can remove all his sins and perform penance for secret sins.

The twelfth chapter deals with the doctrine of Karma, rebirth and salvation and also rules of action for supreme God. Action which springs from the mind, from the speech, and from the body produces either good and evil results, action causes various conditions of men, the highest, the middling and the lowest. Manu also describes the results which arise from these three qualities; the excellent one, the middling ones and the lowest one. Manu also explains the threefold course of transmigration i.e. those endowed with goodness reach the state of god, those endowed with activity the state of man, and those endowed with darkness sink to the condition of the beast. And in the end Manusmriti states, a twice born man who is always virtuous in conduct, will reach whatever condition he desires.

Significance of Manusmriti

Manusmriti is significant in many ways; though it has brought injustice to many people till date, still Manusmriti contains a system that helped in managing society. Manusmriti was even given a new name by British colonial rulers of India as “The Law Book” of the Hindus. As it not only contains civil and criminal laws but also the rules of inheritance, rules regarding families and marriages. It actually gives every detail of the daily life of an individual. Dharma is a scheme of right living related to day to day living rather than to a mere doctrine or moral teaching alone. Manusmriti is based on Dharma i.e. it represent moral principles that makes human life worthy and provides meaning to the system that has been evolved to support human life. And 2ndly based on Karma i.e. act or deed or work. Dharma is related to Karma. Karma is considered to be the law which pervades the whole world, which all god and men must obey. Hindu ethics emphasize on Karma and reincarnation. It focuses on one’s deeds that determine the future state of the person. In Manusmriti, it is said, “Good actions produce good fruits, evil action provides evil fruit”.

यत्र नार्यस् पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवताः


यत्र एतास् तु न पूज्यन्ते सर्वास् तत्रअफलाः त्रियाः


Where women are honored there gods are pleased, but where they are not honored, no sacred rites yield rewards.

And there is another meaningful verse from Manusmriti;

Satyam Bruyat priyam Bruyat, Ma Bruyat Satyam Apriyam

        Priyam Ca Nanrutam, Bruyat Esha Dharmah Sanatanah;”

Speak truth in such a way that it should be pleasing to others. Never speak truth which is unpleasant to others. Never speak truth which might be pleasant. This is a path of eternal morality, Santana Dharma.

Which actual means, the main point is speaking truth which is one’s Dharma. Speaking such truth benefits others and is pleasant to listen.

We can draw some laws from Manusmriti to regulate the media in a systematic manner. The content of media must be true, right, and accurate and shouldn’t harm others rather respect humanity. Morality, fair play and justice as enunciated in Manusmriti is equally important in the case of journalism.

Comparison with Mimamsa Philosophy

It is clear that Manusmriti has its root in Dharma and so does Mimamsa philosophy. Mimansa Philosophy too considers the primacy of Dharma in human life. Veda is supreme authority for both Mimamsa and Manusmriti. As in Mimamsa, Manu too associates Dharma with Karma i.e. emphasize on good act or work and believe that the law of Karma is inevitable. Karma Yoga is the essence of Manusmriti which seeks morality, fair play and justice in every human activity. For Manu Dharma is the touchstone of ethics and morality. He has provided a tenfold principle which are as follows

  • Dhairya or Dhriti– contentment
  • Kshama– forgiveness
  • Dama– self-control
  • Astey– refraining from unrighteous appropriating anything
  • Sauch– cleanliness
  • Indriya nigraha– control on immoral desires
  • Dhi– wisdom
  • Vidya– knowledge
  • Satya– truthfulness
  • Akrodh– refraining from anger

These ten principles can further be summarized into four categories

  • Ahinsa
  • Dana
  • Satya
  • Niskam Karma

Common moral principles are equally applicable for all but there are some exceptions concerning Varna and Asrama. Varna- Manusmriti has developed Hindu society by dividing it into caste i.e. Varna

  • Brahmins (teacher/ priest)
  • Kshatriyas (administrators / army men)
  • Vaishyas/ Aryans (traders/ farmers/ herdsmen)
  • Shudras (unholy slaves)

This division has set some position and duties as well as has justified Brahmin supremacy.

Asrama: It is a stage of life that was divided into four periods.

  • Brahmacharya / studentship
  • Grahsta / householder
  • Vanaprastha /hermitage
  • Sanyasa / renunciation

The entire moral system of Dharma in Manusmriti is framed within a triangle of

  • Karma
  • Varna
  • Asrama

Commentaries on Manusmriti

Bharuci – Bharuci is the oldest commentator on Manusmriti. Kane places him in the late 10th or early 11th century. Olivelle places him in the 8th century and Derrett places him between 600-650 CE. From these three opinions we can place Bhāruci anywhere from the early 7th century CE to the early 11th century CE. The surviving portion of Bhāruci’s commentary that we have today deals mostly with the duties of the king and whether or not the king can be a source of dharma.

Medhatithi – Medhatithi is one of the most famous commentators on the Manu Smti, and there is some debate regarding the location in which he was writing, but scholars such as Buhler, Kane, and Lingat tend to believe he was from Kashmir or the area around Kashmir. The exact date that Medhātithi was writing is also unclear, and he has been placed anywhere between about 820 and 1050.

Sarvadnya Narayana, Kullukbhatt, Raghavanandsarswati, Nandan, ramchandra, Govindraj, Shrimadhavacharya, Dharbidhar, Shridharswami, Ruchidatt, Vishwarup, Bhojdev also commented on Manusmriti.

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