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DharmaShastras Index Page

Manusmriti, The Laws of Manu

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The Manusmriti, translated "Laws of Manu" or "Institutions of Manu", is regarded as a foundational work of Hindu law and ancient Indian society, compiled and written quite late, c.200 CE in India. It is one of the eighteen Smritis of the Dharma Sastra (or "laws of righteous conduct"); Smriti means "what is remembered" and is applied in general to a Hindu text other than the Vedas, including traditional Indian epics, the Puranas, and science and grammar treatises. Unlike the Vedas which are considered to be eternal or of divine origin, the Smritis are considered to be of human origin and therefore susceptible to the flaws of humans. They contain laws, rules and codes of conduct to be applied by individuals, communities and nations. Some of these laws codify the Hindu caste system and discuss the "stages of life for a twice-born man". The book is ascribed to Manu, said to be the forefather of all human race. Manu's writings prescribe a particular ideal of Indian society, conforming to detailed social and religious rules which are expressed as being in line with the universal ethical principle of 'dharma'. For many scholars, it is merely one (particularly influential) set of laws to which many Hindus have appealled - others guides to social practice exist, and have complemented or contradicted Manu throughout India's history and across its communities.

Manusmriti was quoted, especially by the British Colonial rulers of India as "the law-book" of the Hindus. Some Hindus allege that the colonial rulers, like Robert Clive and Lord Macaulay, would have found it a useful tool. They have argued that the caste system as prescribed by the Manusmriti developed a society that was very easy to subjugate and rule[citation needed]. Some people over the ages have quoted or interpreted the Manusmriti to justify Brahmin supremacy, the sanctity of the caste system and the lower status given to the so-called Dalits (i.e. slaves).

Manusmriti is a key text in justifying and prescribing the detailed precepts of the caste system. In it, society consists of four (later hereditary) classes - Brahmanas (teachers and priests), Kshatriyas (administrators and armymen), Vaishyas, also called as Aryas (traders, farmers and herdsmen) and Shudras (unholy slaves). It clearly defined the relative position and the duties of the several castes, and determined the penalties to be indicted on any transgressions of the limits assigned to each of them. (Source: Wikipedia)

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Source: George Bühler, translator [1886] (Sacred Books of the East, vol. 25). While we have made every effort  to reproduce the text correctly, we do not guarantee or accept any responsibility for any errors or omissions or inaccuracies in the reproduction of this text. While we have made every effort to reproduce the text correctly, we do not guarantee or accept any responsibility for any errors or omissions or inaccuracies in the reproduction of this text.


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