Manusmṛti

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Sometimes transliterated as: Manusmrti, ManusmRti, Manusmrriti


Manusmṛti literally means ‘the smṛti of Manu’.

The Manusmṛti, among the religious works, has the unique distinction of being thoroughly misunderstood and even reviled, in the modern days, especially in post-independence India. However, it goes to the credit of Manu himself[1] that rules which cause widespread resentment among the people, even if they are dharma by earlier standards, should be given up. This is akin to changing the constitution if the people of a country so desire. The extant Manusmṛti which comprises 12 adhyāyas or chapters has 2694 ślokas or verses in the anuṣṭubh metre.

Present outlook of Manusmṛti

Scholars have battled for years to establish the identity and the time of Manu, the author of this treatise. He is certainly not one of the 14 Manus[2] mentioned in the epics and the purāṇas. He must have been a great sage and an erudite law-giver since he has been widely quoted by many a writer of dharmaśāstras. The present work probably took the final shape during the period 200 B. C. A. D. 200. Though it contains earlier and later strata as seen from quite a few conflicting or contradictory statements on the same point, the number of recasts do not seem to be many.

Sometimes, a theory is hazarded that the extant Manusmṛti is a work based on an earlier one called Mānavadharmasutra. This, however, has been rejected by well- known scholars in this field.[3] A brief account of the contents of the extant work may now be given:

Content of Manusmṛti

Chapter 1

It has 119 verses. It includes the following topics:

  • Creation of the world and various creatures
  • Divisions of time
  • Varṇadharmas or duties of the four castes
  • Greatness of the brāhmaṇa

Chapter 2

It has 249 verses. It includes the following topics:

Chapter 3

It has 286 verses. It includes the following topics:

Chapter 4

It has 260 verses. It includes the following topics:

  • Means of livelihood
  • Rules of conduct
  • Condemnation of immoral enjoyments
  • Efficacy of ācāra or good conduct

Chapter 5

It has 169 verses. It includes the following topics:

  • Causes of death
  • On food and drink
  • Aśauca or ceremonial impurity
  • Duties of women

Chapter 6

It has 97 verses. It includes the following topics:

  • Exhaustive treatment of the Vānaprasthāśrama


References

  1. Manusmṛti 4.176
  2. Manus means the progenitors of mankind and rulers over the manvantaras.
  3. Dr. P. V. Kane, History of Dharmaśāstra, volume 1, part 1, p. 149, Poona, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1968
  4. It is obsequal rites.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore