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Saturday, September 12, 2020

Manava Dharma Shastra and Manu Smriti


I am reading Manu Smriti now. As is my habit, I start with an authentic sutra by sutra translation in English or Tamizh and then go to the original in Sanskrit for significant passages. In Manu Smriti, there are so many significant passages.  

First, I find that Manu Smriti is probably one of many Dharma Smritis and probably is derived from an extinct Manava Dharma Shastra. I understand that the suggestions from the Shastras are condensed into sutras. Sutras get modified by metric and versification into Smriti. And, then a follower writes an explanation with elaboration and that is called Nibhandana.

Manu Smriti 2:10 says that shruti is Veda and smriti is shastra and these two should not be questioned on matters relating to dharma. (shrutis tu vedo vigneyo; shastram tu vai smrithih)

Next, I learn that  an injunction as sutra is followed by stanza in metric or chandas (such as anushtup) and then a supporting Vedic statement. Elaborative texts then explain the actual performance of the ritual and include mantras, which come from the Vedas (for example, the mantras for weddings).

The main injunction (dharma) for the wedding says: “ let mutual fidelity continue until death, this may be considered the highest law for husband and wife”. (Manu 9:101). The actual mantra for the wedding comes from Rg Veda 10:85; 36-47.

Topics included in Manu Smriti are: sacraments, householder’s duties, marriage, daily rites, laws regarding acceptable and forbidden food, impurities and purification, duties of hermits and ascetics, judicial procedures, recovery of debts, sales and ownership, sale and purchase, disputes regarding boundaries, theft, violence, adultery, gambling and betting. It is interesting that there is a section on other Doubtful Points of Law!

As a comparison, Talmud of the Jewish tradition is like the Dharma shastras in the subjects covered.

The final chapter (12) of Manu ends with some general comments. Sloka 12:119 is practically the same as many of the Upanishads. “The Self alone is the multitude of the gods, the universe rests on the Self” . Manu asks us to meditate on space as identical with the cavitation of the body, on the wind as identical with the organs of movements and touch, on light as the same as digestive organs, on water as the body fluids and on the earth as solid parts of the body etc.

Manu refers to the Supreme Purusha as male and says: “some call him Agni, others Manu, Prajapati, others as Indra, Prana and also as Brahman”. He concludes with “he who recognizes the Self through the Self in all created beings becomes equal-minded towards all and enters the highest state, Brahman”.  This is the same as sloka 6 of Isa Upanishad.

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