Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Manusmriti : Not the Hindu law!

It is a general understanding that the "Manusmriti" controlled lives of the Hindus since ancient times. Caste-based social and economic inequality and injustice are said to be the result of the doctrine and commands that Manusmiriti dictates. It also is said that the Manusmriti is an ancient and revered code written for the Hindus. But the close examination of the Manusmriti reveals the following:

1. Manusmriti prohibits "Shudras" from most of the things those can offer a better life for any person. However, Manu commands, "A Brahmin should not reside in the kingdoms of the Shudras." This does mean that the kingdoms os the Shudras did exist when Manu was writing the code. How Shudras could become kings when Manu commands that the only duty of Shudra is to meekly serve the other upper Varnas! (Manu-1.91)

2. The geography of the Manusmriti is Kuru-Panchal. Manu does not know well the regions beyond that. Manu reveres Brahmavarta, the land situated between Sarasvati and Drishadvati, applauding it "The land created by the Gods". This land is situated in Afghanistan, the region the Vedics had left already far behind and had become a loving but distinct memory. The next lands Manu counts after Brahmavarta with pride are Kuru, Matsya, Panchal and Shaursen, where the Vedics had found the second refuge after their entry in India. This land is applauded by Manu as "the land of Brahmarshis"

Apart from these regions, Manu has very vague or no idea of eastern and southern India. He does not know at all the lands beyond Vindhya mountain!  It is clear that the code of Manu couldn't have been intended for the people he didn't know at all!  (Manu-2.17-24) 

3. Present Ghaggar river, that is being touted as Sarasvati, flows from the lands to which Manu calls as the land of Brahmarshis. It is Manu who tells us that the Sarasvati-Drishadvati flows from the Brahmavart land. These rivers cannot flow from the two different regions at the same time, i.e. The Brahmavart and Brahmarshi lands! It is proven that the Sarasvati flows from Afghanistan, and not India. Manu has preserved the memory of the distant land to which they originally belonged and out of immense affection called it 'the land created by the gods!' This also helps us to solve the issue of Sarasvati! 

4. Manu's commands naturally could be intended for the followers of his religion and not others those resided in the regions he knew. One-society-one-religion like situation did not prevail then too. Manu prohibits the temple priests along with others from attending the Shraddha rites. (Manu 3.152-166) This does mean that the temples and idols were in existence when Manu was writing his code. He naturally prohibited the entry of idol worshippers in the Vedic sacrifices since the practice belonged to the different religion. 

5.  Manu explicitly states that the most suitable place for fire sacrifices is where the Antelopes roam freely. The rest of the regions he says belongs to the Mlecchas. (Manu-2.23). Mleccha is Vedic corruption of the original word "Meluha", which was the name of the original inhabitants or their regions. Manu's commands could not be for the Mlecchas, to whom alternatively he calls 'Shudra'. Mleccha and Shudra denote one and the same thing, the foreigners or people of the different religion! 

6. Shudra was a tribe which was located in the north-western part of India. Historians of Alexander, Mahabharata and other Puranas too have mentioned this tribe independently along with other tribes. The region in which the Vedics sought refuge first was Shudra kingdom.  We all know that there were hundreds of the tribes those delved in the Indian subcontinent, but it seems that out of misunderstanding the Vedics thought those all were Shudras who resided in the country. This is why they designated all as Shudras. later on, to them, Shudra was anybody who did not belong to the Vedic religion. This is why Manu terms Scythians, Hun, Kushans, China too as Shudra. It is obvious that the code of Manu was not applicable at all to the Shudras who were not part of their society.

7. Still, Manu dictates many rules against the Shudras. They were denied of any Vedic religious rites. They were prohibited from accumulating any wealth. They are expected to serve upper Varnas without expecting any return or honor. 

And the contradiction is we find that the Shudras were Kings and many Shudras had gotten conducted fire sacrifices for their benefit! The Brahmins those would conduct sacrifices for Shudras were considered outcast and were prohibited from the entry in Shraddha rites. (Manu. 4.61 & 3.178) 

There couldn't be possibly any contradiction in Manu's commands. There were two types of the Shudras, to which Panini too supports. One Shudra class is to whom the code was applicable and other is the majority Shudra (non-Vedic) class that was entirely out of the scope of the code!  Else there wouldn't be contradictory commands in the Manusmriti! 

The Shudras to whom the code was applicable were the people taken into the personal services for menial work like plowing, tending animal or household work. Since this was a service class belonging to the different religion, there was no question of offering them any Vedic right. 

8. Vedics could not, in any case, bring all the Shudras under the purview of their code because:

   a. First of all they did not know the subcontinent and various tribes delved in it.

   b. They were not the political rulers to apply force to change the previous social system, There is no evidence, even in Manusmriti, to support the claim that Vedics ruled Indian society.

   c. Shudras, even today, enjoy their religious faith which traces no origin in Vedas. The roots of Shudra religion are traced back to the Indus times. Neither Vedic religion was existent at that time nor Vedics had stepped in India to command socio-religious life of the indigenous people. 

   d.  As described above, Shudra was an independent tribe. There were hundreds of other tribes in India those had different names and independent totems. It was impossible that they would accept title of the far-away unknown tribe. It did not happen because we find the preservation of the tribal identities even in modern times. We find many tribes got distributed in different professions (castes) and yet the tribal names are preserved. Ahira (Abhira) tribe is an example which is mentioned in Mahabharata too, along with Shudra tribe most frequently. People of Ahira tribe can be found in Aagri, Koli, Dhangar, Maratha, Sonar and other castes bearing their original tribal title. Other tribal identities also are distributed in many castes, but yet they have preserved their tribal origin. They have formed sub-castes within the castes. In donation epigraphs, caste identities are abundantly revealed by the donors, but none mentions themselves as Shudras.

9. Manu nowhere mentions any Hindu gods like Shiva, Shakti, Ganesha and others. However, he knew the temples. From excavated evidence, we know that idol worship was as ancient as Indus civilization. On numismatics, we find the abundant imagery and symbolic presence of the Hindu deities like Shiva, Shakti and Kartikeya. However, Manu mentions only Vedic rites like sacrifice, Upanayana, and Shraddha. This clearly indicates at the fact that Manu was writing his code for the Vedic people and not others. 

Let us not forget here that the time of Manusmriti is estimated from second century BC till second century AD. The time where on virtually most of the coins we find the abundant presence of the Hindu deities and names in the epigraphs. Miraculously, we find no Vedic symbolism on any coin or the Vedic deity names inscribed excepting a couple of epigraphs belonging to the Shunga and Satvahana era. This does also mean that the Vedic religion had very limited spread till then. Then how could their code be accepted by others to whom they had designated as Shudras?  

So it is clear that the code of Manu was intended for only those people who were in their personal service. Vedics needed servants and as Vi. Ka. Rajvade suggests there was explosion of the illicit relations between the servants and Vedic employers. The threat of interbreeding resulted in imposing strict code, but it eventually failed. (Preface, Radhamadhavvilaschampu

Rest of the people, who were designated as Shudras by the Vedics were all those people who belonged to the separate tribes. They followed different political structures like republics and monarchists. From Mahabharata, we find the different social structures those do not reflect anywhere in Vedic literature. Whatever Vedic elements we find in Mahabharata are interpolations of later times those can be easily detected. 

In brief, the Manusmriti is nowhere related to the Hindu people as generally is thought. We find in known history that there hardly were Vedic kings. From Nanda to Yadav we find almost all the rulers belonguing to the non-Vedic dynasties and this is made very clear in Puranas. Had the code of Manu been applicable to them, it was impossible for them to become kings and nobles. 

The code of Manu, in fact, became the code of the Hindus in 1772 when Warren Hastings got Hindu laws written by the hired Brahmin scholars. Britishers did not consider at all that there exist different codes in the Hindu society controlling their social lives. This is the time to abandon the idea that the Manusmriti was intended for the Hindus and applicable to them anytime in the past. It was the code intended for the Vedic religion only controlling their socio-religious life. 

-Sanjay Sonawani

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