THE PERFECT LAW BOOK OF HINDUISM
In various Hindu traditions, Manu is a title accorded to the progenitor of mankind. He is also considered the first king to rule this earth, who saved mankind from the great flood — after being warned of it by the Matsya avatar of Vishnu, who had also advised him to build a giant boat.
The story is mentioned in early Hindu scriptures such as the Satapatha Brahmana, and it has often been compared with the popular traditions of a Great Deluge from other cultures around the world, particularly that of Noah’s Ark. Because Manu was believed to be absolutely honest, he was initially known as Satyavrata (“One with the oath of truth”). His wife was Satarupa (Shatrupa).
Matsya pulls a boat carrying Manu and Saptrishi during floods or Pralaya
The Mahabharata says: “And Manu was imbued with great wisdom and devoted to virtue. And he became the progenitor of a line. And in Manu’s race have been born all human beings, who have, therefore, been called Manavas. And it is of Manu that all men including Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, and others have been descended, and are, therefore, all called Manavas. Subsequently, O monarch, the Brahmanas became united with the Kshatriyas. And those sons of Manu that were Brahmanas devoted themselves to the study of the Vedas.”
The ten sons of Manu are known as:-
Vena, Dhrishnu, Narishyan, Nabhaga, Ikshvaku, Karusha, Saryati, the eighth, a daughter named Ila, Prishadhru the ninth, and Nabhagarishta, the tenth. They all betook themselves to the practices of Kshatriyas. Besides these, Manu had fifty other sons on Earth. But, they all perished, quarreling with one another.
According to the Puranas, the genealogy of the 7th Manu, Vaivasvata is as follows:
Marichi, one of the 10 Prajapatis created by Brahma.
Kashyapa, son of Marichi and Kala. Kashyapa is regarded as the father of humanity.
Vivasvan or Surya, son of Kashyapa and Aditi.
Vaivasvata Manu, originally Satyavrata, son of Vivasvan and Saṃjñā.
Ikshvaku, Nabhaga, Narishyanta, Karusha, Prishadhra, Dhrishta, Sharyati, Pramshu and Nabhanedishta were the nine sons and Ila was the only daughter of Vaivasvata Manu.
The Great Deluge
According to the Matsya Purana, The Matsya Avatar of Vishnu is believed to have appeared initially as a Shaphari (a small carp), to King Manu (whose original name was Satyavrata, the then King of Kumari Kandam, while he washed his hands in a river. This river was supposed to have been flowing down the Malaya Mountains in his land of Dravida. The little Fish asked the king to save Him, and out of compassion, he put it in a water jar. It kept growing bigger and bigger, until King Manu first put Him in a bigger pitcher, and then deposited Him in a well. When the well also proved insufficient for the ever-growing Fish, the King placed Him in a tank (reservoir), that was two yojanas (16 miles) in height, as much in length, and a yojana (8 miles) in breadth. As it grew further King Manu had to put the fish in a river, and when even the river proved insufficient he placed it in the ocean, after which it nearly filled the vast expanse of the great ocean.
It was then that He (Lord Matsya), revealing Himself, informed the King of a all-destructive deluge which would be coming very soon. The King built a huge boat which housed his family, 9 types of seeds, and animals to repopulate the earth, after the deluge would end and the oceans and seas would recede. At the time of deluge, Vishnu appeared as a horned fish and Shesha appeared as a rope, with which Vaivasvata Manu fastened the boat to horn of the fish.
According to the Matsya Purana, his boat was perched after the deluge on the top of the Malaya Mountains This narrative is to an extent similar to other deluge stories, like those of Utnapishtim from ancient Sumerian Mythology, and the story of Noah’s ark from theBible and the Qur’an.
“The lifespan of one Manu, is 71 Mahayugas (306,720,000 years), and each Mahayuga is 4,320,000 years.” (Bhagavad Gita 8.17).
“The duration of one manvantara, the lifespan of one Manu, is seventy-one Mahayugas, and each Mahayuga is 4,320,000 years”.
The present Manu has already lived for 4,320,000 years multiplied by 28.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 4.30.49).
Works ascribed to Manu
According to tradition, Manava Grihyasutra, Manava Sulbasutra and Manava Dharmashastra (Manusmriti or rules of Manu) texts are ascribed to Sayambhuva Manu. Manusmriti is the law laid down for Hindus and is seen as the most important and earliest metrical work of the Dharmaśāstra textual tradition of Hinduism. At the same time it is a Smriti, so whenever there is a conflict between what is mentioned in it and that mentioned in sruti (Vedas and Upanishads) the latter is considered to be correct as it holds higher spiritual authority.
Manusmṛti (written also as Manusmriti or Manusmruti) (Sanskrit: मनुस्मृति), also known as Mānava-Dharmaśāstra (Sanskrit:मानवधर्मशास्त्र), is one metrical work of the Dharmaśāstra textual tradition of ancient Vedic Sanatana Dharma, presently calledHinduism.
Generally known in English as the Laws of Manu, or Dharmic discourse to vedic Rishis, on ‘how to lead the life’ or ‘way of living’ by various classes of society. The text presents itself as a discourse given by the sage Manu, to a congregation of seers, orrishis, who beseeched him, after the great floods, in the vedic state of ‘Brahmavarta’, in India, some 10,000 years ago, to tell them on, how to face such calamities in future by organising themselves and lead an organized life with the “guidelines for all the social classes”. Veteran sages Manu and Bhrigu gave them a discourse in some 2685 shlokas, compilation of which is called ‘Manusmriti’.
Manu became the standard point of reference for all future Dharmaśāstras that followed it. Manusmriti was first translated into English in 1794 by Sir William Jones, a Philology and judge of the British Supreme Court of Judicature in Calcutta who had great respect for the book
Date and place
Different scholars have given a range of timings for creation of this text, from 1500 BCE to 500 AD. However, the basic fact of the time period of existence of flood-figure Manu and Bhrigu, compatriot and contemporary of Manu, who had his Ashram on the bank of ‘Vadhusar River’ in the Vedic state of ‘Brahmavarta’, who were the authors of Manusmriti, is ignored all together, which happens to be the period of great floods, 10,000 years ago, after last ice age having mentions in Persianbook Avesta, Indian Sanskrit text Shatapatha Brahmana and now scientific evidence is available on various websites. Floods had ravaged
the vedic state of ‘Brahmavarta’, located on the confluence of two huge Vedic rivers Saraswati and Drishadwati, where the Ashrams of Devas were located.
The state ‘Brahmavarta’ is now identified on the borders of NorthRajasthan and South Haryana, mainly in and around Shekhawati and Jhunjhunu region of Rajasthan and parts of Haryana in the districts of Mahendragarh and Rewari on the basis of images of paleochannals of these rivers from satellites, geo-morphological studies of the soils, which confirm presence of soil particles of Himalayan rocks in the areas represented by Saraswati river, and mentions of the area in Mahabharat, Rigved, Shatapatha Brahmana, Manusmriti and variousPuranas. As per epic ‘Mahabharat’ Bhrigu Rishi had his Ashram at ‘Deepotsak’ on ‘Vadhusar’ river, and his sonChyavana, on Dhosi Hill a tributary of Drishadwati river, in the
Vedic state of ‘Brahmavarta’.
As per Skanda Purana, Bhrigu Rishi had migrated to ‘Bharuch’, located on Narmada river later on. Even Archeological findings near Narmada river are dated more than 8500 years old and said to be belonging to post Bhrigu era, confirming that Bhrigu and Manu had existed some 10,000 years ago, and their creation ‘Manusmriti’ is that old.
The identity of place ‘Brahmavarta’, the Vedic state where, sages Manu and Bhrigu had given the discourse, and Manusmriti was compiled is also confirmed by the fact that the nomenclature used to describe, animals, birds, crops, trees, plants, house utilities, activities of people, geographical conditions etc. in ‘Manusmriti’ is still in use in the area, and these things exist physically also. Khetri Copper Mines and Dhosi Hill are important landmarks in ‘Brahmavarta’.
The Saraswati river, which had flown at the time of floods, made the western border of Brahmavarta state, while northern border was formed by Drishadwati
river which had flown in along the inner side of Aravali hill from the pot of ‘Brahma’ calledPushkar lake near Ajmer in Rajasthan. Because of seismic activities in Aravali ranges 7–8000 years ago, Monsoon water from Ajmer district stopped flowing in to Drishadwati and migrated to Chambal RiverChambal river, however water from part of Jaipur, Sikar and Alwar districts in Rajasthan, still flows in the old Drishadwati river, presently known as ‘Sahbi river’ and finally goes in to Yamuna river near Delhi.
Great floods which occurred after rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers at the end of last ice age, and higher rainfalls in Aravalli ranges,were devastating for habitants of Vedicstate of ‘Brahmavarta’ and surrounding areas. Senior Rishis of the area gathered and decided to approach the oldest Saint or Rishi Manu, who had escaped the floods and is said to be 400 years old at that time, to advise the conference, from his memory (in Sanskrit and Hindi Smriti) and experiences, on ‘how to face such calamities in future and lead a peaceful and organised life’.Thus, the 2685 shaloks discoursed by Manu and Bhrigu to the conference on various aspects came to be known as ‘Manusmriti’, which some call ‘Laws of Manu’, while others consider it to be an ‘advisory’ only. This conference/congregation was also the beginning of organised living by Vedic people or formal launching of Vedic Sanatana Dharma.
Though most scholars had previously considered the text a composite put together over a long period of time, Olivelle has recently argued that the complex and consistent structure of the text suggests a single author and that he belonged to a Brahmin family somewhere in Northern India.
An earlier opinion generally dated composition of the text any time between 200 BCE and 200 CE. After the breakdown of the Maurya and Shunga empires, there was a period of uncertainty that led to renewed interest in traditional social norms.In Thapar’s view, “The severity of the Dharma-shastras was doubtless a commentary arising from the insecurity of the orthodox in an age of flux.”
The dharma class of texts were noteworthy also because they did not depend on the authority of particular Vedic schools, becoming the starting point of an independent tradition that emphasised dharma itself.
The original narrative was subdivided into twelve chapters. There is debate over the effects of this division on the underlying, holistic manner in which the original treatise was written. The book is written in simple verse as opposed to the metrical verse of the preceding dharmasutras.Manu also introduced a unique “transitional verse” which segued the end of one subject and the beginning of the next.
The treatise is written with a frame story, in which a dialogue takes place between Manu’s adopted son, Bhrigu, and an audience of the Rishis who had assembled. The story begins with Manu himself detailing the creation of the world and the society within it, structured around four social classes. Bhrigu takes over for the remainder of the work, teaching the details of the rest of Manu’s teachings. The audience reappears twice more, asking first about how the Brahmins could be subjected to death, and second to ask the effects of action.
Salient features of Manusmriti
Is verna of a person hereditary or acquired?
This is the topic that appears controversial in the society for those who do not know what the real varna system is, however, it is mentioned crystal clear in Manusmriti. There are several shlokas which explain the fluid nature of verna classification and how verna could be changed with acquiring knowledge.
For example, every person is a Shudra by birth and by acquiring knowledge, the Shudra can become a Brahmin or a Kshatriya or a Vaishya, depending on the class of knowledge he has acquired from his guru as per his liking and merits.
The Brahmins are considered the highest varna or caste, and are supposed to be engaged in learning, teaching and religious sacrifices. The Kshatriyas are the ‘guardians’ — the kings, the soldiers etc., the “Vaishyas” are the traders and farmers and the “Shudras” are the serving class. The first three classes are called “twice born” or Dvija. The first three wear the sacred thread on their body, while the Shudras do not.
The Shudra is not called as ‘Dvija’ because he is Shudra by birth, whereas the other 3 varnas are called Dvijas (Twice born) because they are shudras by birth but become – Brahmin or Kshtriya or Vaishya later depending upon the class of knowledge acquired by the individual, hence this is their second birth.
Knowledge is important than birth in a clan
Manusmriti assigns various roles for the four Varnas of the community on the basis of their knowledge of Vedic texts
Manu, the senior most saint at that time, did not issue an ‘ordinance’ on classification of community by birth, as Britishers made it out to be. Their wrong consideration of Manusmriti as an ordinance, compartmentalised the Varna system in to four rigid caste system and harmed the Indian community. Manu’s sermon to the congregation of Rishis was only an ‘advisory’. The concept of dwija and shudra, at birth of a human is not rigid or compartmentalized. It is fluid and flexible and can change with the type of work one adopts.
Yajurveda says that at birth, all humans are born shudras, but the true birth or the second birth or true verna has to be achieved through education and profession. An important message is that a Shudra could qualify to a higher class by remaining clean, showing polite behaviour and in the company of other three higher Varnas. Manusmriti also says that a Brahmin would be degraded and classified as a Shudra, even if he consumes liquer once. Also, if a Brahmin remains uneducated he’ll be equated to Shudra.
Knowers of Vedic texts, the ‘Brahmins’ are given the most important status for their enormous contributions to Dharm, Earth and Environment. Dharmic duties of Brahmins are defined as reading and gaining knowledge, teaching to others, performing Yajnas and rituals, give and accept donations.
Kshatriyas are told to provide security to people, give donations, hold yajnas, study and not to involve in discussions.
While that of Vaishyas are, animal husbandry, giving donations, hold yajnas, to study, do business, charge interest and do agriculture.
Shudras, who are not educated at all, are given the task to serve the other three vernas.
This division of community is strictly on ‘knowledge’ basis. Even among Brahmins, those who have higher and deeper knowledge of Vedas are considered superiors.
Lower classes can upgrade
There are several examples from history, that prominent Saints were born in lower varnas but qualified to higher vernas and were duly respected by all. Rishi Valmiki who was born in lower verna got education and qualified to become a religious writer and wrote, Valmiki Ramayana which is a revered document even today. Similarly, Aitareya saint or Rishi was son of a Daasa or criminal, but became a Brahmin of highest order and wrote one of classics Aitareya Brahmana and Aitareyopanishad. Aitareya Brahman is considered critical to understand Rigveda.
There are historical migrations of verna, in ancient history. Satyakaam Jaabal was son of a prostitute but qualified later on, to become a Brahmin. Allush Rishi was son of a ‘Daasi’, gambler and of low character but he did research on Rigveda and made several discoveries. Not only was he invited by Rishis but also made an Acharya.
Prishad who was son of king Daksha, became a Shudra because of his activities, had to do tapasya and achieve salvation after repenting. Vidur, who was son of a servant became a Brahmin and a prominent minister in Hastinapur empire. Similarly, Vatsa became a Rishi though born to a Shudra. Vishnu Puran says that Guru of Pandavas, Shaunak, was born in a Kshatriya family but bacame a Brahmin. Raavana who was born a Brahmin to Pulatsaya Rishi, is considered a ‘Raakshasha’.
During medieval period, in the 16th century, the Hindu king Hem Chandra Vikramaditya born in to a family of Purohits (Brahmins) got involved in business (Vaishya) and changed his profile again and became a warrior (Kshatriya) to win 22 battles continuously against Afghan rebels and Mughal forces throughout north India.
Comments on Location of Brahmavarta
The new findings on the state of ‘Brahmavarta’ at the junction of Saraswati and Drishadwati rivers, as described in Manusmriti itself, and abode of Vedic Rishis like Bhrigu and Manu are giving credence to the timing of its writing, during flood time 10,000 years ago.
The Manu Smriti was one of the first Sanskrit texts studied by the British. It was first translated into English by the founder of indology, Sir William Jones, who had great respect for the book. His version was published in 1794. British administrative requirements encouraged their interest in the Dharmashastras, which they believed to be legal codes. In fact, these were not codes of law but norms related to social obligations and ritual requirements. For British were interested in Dharmashastras due to administrative needs, and their misinterpretation of them as legal codes rather than as social and ritual texts created many confusions and encouraged caste system in India.
According to Avari:
The text was not followed or acclaimed by the vast majority of Indians in their history; it came to the world’s attention through a late eighteenth-century translation by Sir William Jones, who mistakenly exaggerated both its antiquity and its importance. Today many of its ideas are popularised as the golden norm of classical Hindu law by Hindu universalists. They are, however, anathema to some modern thinkers.
The stance of the Manu Smriti about women has also been widely discussed. Verses such as (III – 55, 56, 57, 59, 62) glorify the position of women in the Hindu Society. The education of women is also discussed in the text. Verse (II – 240) allows women to read Vedic scriptures.
Woman is to make her body beautiful by adorning it with clothes and ornaments; that the man may be attracted by her. Manu has given women the equal share in the parental property.
The laws of Manusmrithi consider woman to be an individual, bound by the family relationships and duties,the one who holds and binds the family together.
Woman is entitled to share in the wealth of the family.
Prominent Hindu figures, such as Swami Dayananda Saraswati and A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, hold the text to be authentic and authoritative. Other admirers of the text have included Annie Besant, P.D. Ouspensky, Pandurang Shastri Athavale and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. Friedrich Nietzsche is noted to have said “Close the Bible and open the Manu Smriti. “It has an affirmation of life, a triumphing agreeable sensation in life and that to draw up a lawbook such as Manu means to permit oneself to get the upper hand, to become perfection, to be ambitious of the highest art of living”.
Contra Nietzsche, Nipissing University philosophy professor W.A. Borody has coined the phrase “sublimation-transmogrification logic” to describe the underlying ‘state of mind’ lying behind the ethical teaching of the Manu Smrti—a ‘state of mind’ that would have found Nietzsche’s concept of the Dionysian Übermensch abhorrent, and a ‘state of mind’ or ‘voice’ that has always been radically contested within India’s various philosophical and religious traditions.