C/o Sharada Nagarajan
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THANE 400610 NAGPUR 440022
(Maharashtra, India) (Maharashtra, India)
An Introductory Note
1.Origin of the Four Basic Social Classes and Dharma (Bk.1-1 to 119)
2.The Four Authoritative Bases
(Bk.2-1 to 16)
3. Regulation of Social Classes
(Bk.10-1 to 39)
4. Occupations of the Basic Varnas
(Bk.10-40 to 131)
5. Rights and Duties of the King ---Rajadharma
(Bk.7-1 to 29)
6. Just Administration
(Bk.7-30 to 98)
7. The Administrative Machinery
(Bk. 7- 99 to 153)
8. Peace and War and Leadership
(Bk.7- 154 to 226)
9. The State and Social Laws (Bk. 9-220 to 250)
10. Law and Order and the Security of the State
(Bk.9-251 to 293)
11. Structure of the State
(Bk.9- 294 to 312)
12. Social Reorganization and the Four Classes
(Bk.12-1 to 23)
13. Social Reorganization and the Three Natural Traits (Bk.12-24 to 82)
14. Karmayoga and Vipras: Training of the Judiciary (Bk.12- 83 to 125)
AN INTRODUCTORY NOTE
Manusmrti was not the work of an individual. It is academically unsound to describe it as the laws laid down by Manu. Manu was the designation of a post of social authority. A Board of Ten Chiefs of the People, Prajapatis, selected the incumbent to this post. They represented diverse sections of the larger society of the later Vedic times.
Manava Dharmasastra, known as Manusmrti, was a comprehensive social code drafted by these chiefs who were also great scholars and thinkers. It incorporates the recommendations arrived at by them as a consensus and reflects a catholicity of outlook along with a pragmatism born of wide experience.
Most of the complaints voiced against it by modern demagogues and ideologues of different hues are the result of inadequate appreciation of the social system and dynamics of the times when this code was first drafted. Most of the arguments advanced by the orthodox sections defending it against these charges fail to convince and convert its opponents because these defenders too have not arrived at a correct appraisal of its contents and purposes.
Manusmrti is not a religious work. It is also not a treatise on philosophy. It is a social code dealing with the economic structure and system of the later Vedic and early post-Vedic times and its polity including the administration of justice. It does not attempt to position the Brahmans, the class of priests at the helm of the social order as pointed out in my earlier work, Origins of Hindu Social System.
Manusmrti is a secular work. It does not insist on the worship of any deity nor does it advocate anthropomorphizing the Ultimate. It of course is critical of atheists who are found to equivocate on issues pertaining to morality. It is non-sectarian in approach. Of course there are a few verses that smack of intolerance and lack of rationalism. These are later interpolations and are seen to be not in tune with the main theme of this work. It is improper to pass adverse comments on this work assuming that the stands later interpolated were what the original authors and editors of Manava Dharmasastra had recommended as the desirable conduct.
The present work deals with the duties recommended for different social cadres and ranks and the social, economic and political systems that were introduced during the final century of the long Vedic era. It however does not dwell on the duties prescribed for the individuals at different stages of life, asramas. The present thesis does not dwell on the rites that the individuals were required to perform for different purposes. It is essentially one dealing with political sociology or social polity. To what extent Manusmrti was objective and rational while dealing with themes connected with social polity has been examined at length in this work.
The facile assumption that the four-fold social order granted divine sanction for the hierarchical arrangement, Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras has led to a sustained campaign against Manusmrti. The western Indologists of the 18th and 19th centuries described them as the sacerdotal class, the military class, the class of traders and the servile class. This was not a mere simplistic description. It needs to be realized that it was a wanton and mischievous misinterpretation intended to further the objectives of the British colonial rulers and Christian proselytizers.
The four classes were in fact, intelligentsia, administrators, bourgeoisie and proletariat respectively. This classification is found in all societies. The relations among these classes and the composition and emergence of these classes are examined again in this work, keeping out the postulates advanced by the western Indologists and which their Indian followers have accepted uncritically.
The course and features of the social dynamics of the period of transition from and transformation of the pre-varna Vedic social order to the post-Vedic social system of four classes or varnas, have been examined by me in depth and at length in my earlier works, Evolution of Social Polity, Origins of Hindu Social System, Foundations of Hindu Economic State and Hindu Social Dynamics. I have called for refraining from using the terms, race, caste and tribe and for scrupulous adherence to the use of the terms, kula, jati and varna, to indicate clan, community and class. When did the Vedic era come to an end? Which literary works are to be included under the head, Vedas?
A careful examination of the contents of the Rgvedic hymns indicates that they dealt with the events of the century marked by the rule of Chakravarti Bharata and Mamdhata. They did not deal with the remote past. The early Upanishads including the Bhagavad-Gita and Manava Dharmasastra pertained to the decades immediately following the above.
The present thesis does not attempt to interpret or comment on those verses of Manusmrti that deal with the four stages of life of the individual and the rites he has to perform. It deals with the relations between individuals and those between social groups and points out that the issues pertaining to social classification and stratification have to be examined in a rational manner keeping out value judgments and biases and prejudices. Social relations cannot be described in simplistic terms.
Not all sections of the larger society have been brought under the scheme of the four classes nor has there been a move at any stage in that direction. Most members of the larger society have been subordinate to their respective clans and native communities, kulas and jatis, and they did not all become members of social classes, varnas. Even these organized clans and well-knit socio-economic communities could not prevent some of their members from walking out of them and charting their own course of life. Some of these members agreed to abide by the codes of the socioeconomic class that they fitted in.
Those members who stayed back in their clans and communities were known as manushyas. Of course entire clans and communities could consent to become units of a class, varna. Those members who walked out were referred to as naras and those naras who became members of a class were referred to as manavas. Those among these three sections who exhibited leadership traits were referred to as purushas.
The western Indologists and their Indian followers failed to notice these distinctions and referred to all of them as men. This has led to wrong translations and misinterpretation of many verses of ancient Indian works like Manusmrti and Bhagavad-Gita. The specific rights and duties, functions and statuses of these different grades of men have been brought out for the first time in this treatise and also in my thesis on the Bhagavad-Gita as Rajavidya, an essay in Hindu Political Sociology.
Manusmrti has been claimed by many to be the law-book binding all the Hindus and Bhagavad-Gita as their holy book. It has to be pointed out that it is academically unsound to treat Hinduism as a religion. All the residents of this sub-continent are Hindus or Indians though the term, Hindu was used when the British set foot on this soil, to refer to those sections of the population which did not follow Islam, the religion of the then rulers and overlords.
In those areas where the rulers were not Muslims, the British administrators did not use the term, Hindu, to refer to any section of the local populations. It is not academically sound either to use the expression, Hindu Dharma. There has been only Dharma. It is also not sound to use the expressions, Vedic Dharma, Buddha Dharma and Jaina Dharma. Of course, the followers of the Buddha and Mahavira did not visualize the Ultimate in the same manner as the followers of Vishnu or Siva did.
Manusmrti was a secular work. Most of its recommendations could be applied to all whether they were deists or atheists or agnostics. Of course it has to be pruned to weed out the later interpolations, many of which were the handiwork of the western Indologists and their pliable Brahman pundits.
Those modern scholars who have concerned themselves with Hindu Law pertaining to marriage and property are found to have failed to note or appreciate correctly the distinguishing features and implications of each of the eight types of marriages that were in vogue during the Vedic and early post-Vedic times. They have similarly not grasped properly the special rights and specific duties of each of the twelve types of sons identified by Manusmrti and other social codes.
These have to be re- examined keeping out dependence on modern Christian values (that are covertly and surreptitiously, and sometimes overtly, passed on as human values) as the touchstone for assessing their merits. The rights and duties of the women of different social ranks have to be outlined, avoiding the irrational prejudices and impractical idealism that characterize most of the sociological treatises dealing with Hindu family and Hindu Law.
Of course, reference to other authors and their writings has not been made in the text of this treatise, as I do not desire to seem to indulge in wanton running down of their contributions to Hindu social thought. These contributions, valuable as they are and have been, have however not taken into account the significance of the issues that the authors of Manusmrti had to handle as they dealt with a changing society.
The first authors of Manava Dharmasastra represented diverse sections of the larger society and had to arrive at a consensus through judicious compromises in order to carry through their mission of arriving at a credible, lasting and just social integration, I have pointed out. They were not for and did not impose on others what has been treated as the superiority of the Brahmans and the supremacy of the ecclesiastical order over the temporal. We have to cease to look at ancient India from the 19th century European perspective.
This latter perspective has been responsible for distorting the features of the Ancient Indian or Hindu Polity. Many political grammarians, both Indian and Western, have written on these but very few of them have provided a systematic outline of the different stages of the evolution of that polity. They have not been able to decipher the features of the Vedic polity and the socio-political constitutions prescribed by the AtharvaVeda. They have of course since the first decades of the 20th century tried to compare the political system suggested by Manusmrti with that outlined by the Kautilyan Arthasastra.
But they failed to notice that there were two distinct approaches incorporated in both of these works and that neither work is to be treated as belonging to times as late as the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. Both belonged to the decades around 3100BC and they came close on the heels of the Atharvan constitutions. This historical context is not to be ignored or doubted if we are to bring out the features of the polity dealt with by Manusmrti on the basis of the Prthu constitution, a modified version of the constitution recommended by Manu Vaivasvata.
Not only the features of the economic system of those times but also those of the judiciary and principles of jurisprudence as enshrined in this social code have to be traced correctly before comparing them with the Kautilyan system or with the modern western systems.
My earlier work, Foundations of Hindu Economic State and my later thesis, Rajavidya and Gita, deal with several crucial issues having a bearing on the political culture and heritage of this country. The two parts of the present work, Manusmrti and Social Polity and Manusmrti and the Institution of Justice, cover almost all the verses other than those connected with the four stages of life and the rituals to be performed by individuals. The present work may require the reader to refer to certain aspects of the social polity of the Vedic and early post-Vedic times brought out in my earlier works.
It may be noted that no reference has been made to modern political constitutions and systems in my earlier works either. Nor have any comparisons been made. We have to first know how we governed ourselves in the past before deciding on how we can govern ourselves effectively by drawing from our past experiences. This work does not seek to preach or put forth any lessons that may and should be learnt. It only suggests that valuable lessons can be learnt and that they should be learnt in our own interest and that we should cease to draw sustenance only from the classical or medieval or modern west. We must first try to arrive at a correct picture of our past gains.
During the early portion of the 20th century, jurists all over India were engaged in searching for evidences in the Dharmasastras that would subordinate the executive wing of the state to the judiciary and place restrictions on the powers of the elected legislatures so that the traditional practices of the different social groups and religious communities were not trampled on or even trod on under the pretext that the secular state should be guarded against interference by ecclesiastical authorities.
These jurists were not in favour of the Arthasastra either, as it supported the emergence of the state as a leviathan suppressing the rights of the individual. They were not then presented with a balanced and objective interpretation of the provisions of the Arthasastra that were not all opposed to those of the Dharmasastra. These jurists were eager to ensure that the British Crown that did not then seem to be in danger of falling to the earth on the Indian soil remained but a symbol of a powerless imperial grandeur and a court of final appeal for mercy.
They dreamt of democracy and home rule and spoke well of the concept of equality of all before the eyes of all, especially of the eyes of the judges. But they did not dare to introduce social reforms that would ensure justice for all and would protect the downtrodden and the deprived sections of the society. The reforms that they were enamoured of were such as the liberal Christian democrats of the west were then introducing in their own countries. These reforms tended to free the individuals from social bonds and place them under legal obligations to the elected governments directly, bypassing local communities and clan organizations.
Even in the colonies all over the world where Europeans had secured imperial powers and founded their own settlements, the state dealt with the individuals directly, rendering family, clan, community and society superfluous, if not inconvenient hurdles.
The Indian jurists were more eager to meet the demands of the imperialists than to ensure that the people of India governed themselves with the same freedom as they had been doing for millenniums. Modern Hindu Jurisprudence betrayed the trust that the commoners had vested in it. Of course, this is a harsh remark but it is not a rash one.
Social Polity visualizes the State as an organized institution that takes over the control of social regulatory mechanisms at the stage where the other agencies, domestic, communal, social, cultural and economic, find that they have reached a blind spot.
There may be a society without a state but this presumes that the local communities are able to keep their respective members satisfied and under check and do not have conflicting interests and outlooks. Jurists and political grammarians have however not been able to concede the validity of the concept of the withering away of the state. They assert that there has to be an individual or a group that wields the ultimate coercive power over all individuals and groups under the jurisdiction of the state.
Nationalism calls it as a nation-state headed by an individual or a group. It in fact is either autocracy irrespective of whether that individual is elected by his subjects or has forced himself on them or oligarchy, whether it is a party that has come to power through ballot or a military junta that governs through terror. But it is not correct to assume that all the rulers were despots or that all oligarchies were in fact democratic though they were not elected by the masses. Historiography during the major portion of the 20th century has neglected the concept of a society guided by a saintly king, a Rajarshi and seems to have treated it as an ideal rarely in force.
Most of the scholars of the 20th century who dealt with Evolution of the Social Polity of Ancient India were enthused by the references in the Vedas to the two organizations, sabha and samiti. But they could not trace how these bodies functioned and what their compositions were. I put these on a definite footing in my thesis on this subject. The editors of Manusmrti or Manava Dharmasastra, a sociocultural code meant for the entire humanity were not Brahmarshis, sages engaged in meditation over the Ultimate and seeking liberation from worldly bonds. They were social activists and legislators, Brahmavadis, and were pragmatic but did not compromise on their commitment to truth and ethics.
Manusmrti, that is, Manava Dharmasastra was a consensus arrived at during the last decades of the long Vedic era by a select group of experienced sages who did not all think alike and who represented different sections of the larger society. They were not promoting the interests of the Brahmans only. The intelligentsia (Brahmans) was then drawn from different ranks and sectors of the larger society and its members were not confined to a few families.
The present study attempts to bring out the structure, composition and demography of the state as the legislators-cum-scholars were dealing with when they drafted this code. An in-depth scrutiny of every one of the verses (other than those dealing with rites and stages of life, samskaras and asramas) devoid of prejudice and malice against Brahmans and other higher classes is necessary to arrive at a correct appreciation of that social polity. Crucial is the recognition of the roles of the local judiciary and the local administration, which were independent and substantially free from coercion by the state which itself was neither a leviathan nor an inhuman political machine.
We have to refrain from treating that state contemptuously as feudal or being disappointed with it for not having a democratic constitution. It had a democratic structure though not of the type that the modern world is or even the Greeks of the 4th century BC were acquainted with. This democracy was able to ensure that justice was rendered to all.
It may be noted here that it is inadvisable to proceed under the assumption that the ancient state was a hereditary monarchy and that the subjects, prajas, had no voice in the administration and that the rulers were required to honour and be guided by the Brahman priests and teachers. Of course, not all the residents of the territory had a voice in selecting the king, raja. Most of the commoners, manushyas, who were organized as clans and communities, plied their traditional vocations and were governed by the codes of the clans, communities and corporations, kulas, jatis and srenis of which they were members.
These were honoured by the kings and administrators and were rarely interfered with. But some members of the families opted to move out and resort to other vocations. These free men and women, naras and naris, had to abide by the economic and political codes that the region, desa, where they lived and its state recognized. The task of ensuring that they did so was entrusted by the constitution itself to the nrpati, the chief of the free men, naras.
The chief of the agro-pastoral plains, prthvi, who was obeyed by the commoners, manushyas, was known as prthvipati. He ensured that these commoners adhered to the traditional social, economic and political codes, to sanatana dharma. There was also a chief known as parthiva who regulated the activities of those men and women who did not belong to this commonalty but were free to reside in that territory for specified duration or for specific purposes. Modern scholars have failed to notice these subtle distinctions and translated all the terms, rajan, prthvipati, mahipati, nrpati, parthiva, bhupati and narendra as ruler. The present study brings out these distinctions succinctly.
It also presents the picture of the self-governing autonomous rural areas, janapadas, functioning under the benign patronage of respected elders and chiefs. These janapadas had their own independent judiciary, a four-member bench headed by an expert in the sociopolitical constitution (Atharvaveda, Brahma). He was designated as Brahma or Brahmanaspati. The other three members were Vipras, scholars who were teachers and priests also. They were teachers of the masses and they visited and guided all including the social outcasts in an attempt to bring them back to the fold of the pious and gentle. They were masters in the other three Vedas, Rg, Yajur and Sama, which were anthologies of the chronicles pertaining to the Vedic times and were to be referred to for precedents.
The distinction between these activist-scholars, which the Vipras were and the jurists that the Brahmans were has been brought out while tracing the functioning of the rural bureaucracy and judiciary. It was a social state and not an inhuman political machine.
Scholars who dealt with Hindu jurisprudence have often overlooked the essential feature of the state as a structure intended to protect the residents of the plains from attack by other states and raiders hiding in the forests. It was Manu Vaivasvata who gave a new direction to this role of the state when he insisted that it should protect all the taxpayers whether they were residents of the plains or were residents of the forests and irrespective of the quantum of tax paid and that it should not charge special tax for such protection. He also insisted that the state and judiciary should protect the weak against the mighty within the state and not be a silent spectator of social oppression and economic exploitation of the weak.
Manusmrti accepted this new direction and its provisions are, it is seen, tuned to the task of identifying the weak and the pious and protecting them. It is jurisprudence with commitment to social welfare and social security. It is not jurisprudence at the beck and call of the rich who contributed substantially to the exchequer by way of taxes.
Earlier the Atharvan State was a handmaid of the rich aristocrats, devas, and the commoners, manushyas, were voiceless beasts of burden. The Atharvan ideologues, Brahmavadis who introduced the concept of an autonomous civil polity headed by Brhaspati, guided this transition, I have pointed out.
Manusmrti was drafted first when the Prthu constitution was in force. Prthu was a protg of Manu Vaivasvata and the chief of his council of seven sages, Kashyapa. Prthu was kshiti-isvara, a charismatic agrarian chieftain. He had taken over after the crooked autocrat, Vena, had been burnt to death by his irate subjects. Vena had distorted the Rajarshi constitution proposed by the great political thinker, Samkara, who belonged to the Rudra school of thought. Venas father was a Rajarshi, a soft scholarly ruler of Anga, a province to the southwest of modern Agra. He was eliminated by Vena who proclaimed himself a Rajarshi. Both Kautilya and Krshna felt that it was necessary to amend the Rajarshi constitution and strengthen the hands of the Rajarshi.
The Prthu constitution did not require that the king should belong to the royal cadre of dynamic Rajanyas or to the military class of Kshatriyas. The Prthvipati and his associate, Parthiva, were essentially commoners and agriculturists though they found it advantageous to learn martial arts. They were guided by jurists in dispensing justice. They presided over and operated a self-sufficient economic state that was not authorized to arm itself for political expansion.
Scholars of the 20th century failed to take into account the distinguishing features of the Atharvan polity, the Mahadeva constitution, the Rajarshi constitution of Samkara, the Vaivasvata constitution, the Prthu constitution and the revised Rajarshi constitution of Krshna while examining the features of the polity presented by Manusmrti. The present work scrutinizes every verse of Manusmrti other than those dealing with rites and the stages of life and attempts to present a comprehensive and objective picture of the social polity and system of judiciary and the role of the state vis--vis implementation of social laws.
Manusmrti continued the mission undertaken by Krshna, namely, establishment of svadharma, the rights and duties of the self-governing individual. It dealt with a society most of whose members followed the codes of their respective clans and communities scrupulously. They were known as manushyas. A few free men and women, naras and naris, were directly under the state that honoured the codes of the new classes, varnas, and enforced the codes of the regions, desas, and supported the codes of the economic corporations, srenis. Those who abided by only the codes of their classes, varnas, were referred to as manavas. They were citizens of the world, as it were. The discrete members of the social periphery were known as bhutas.
These bhutas were called upon to join the mainstream and follow the new scheme of svadharma, svabhava and svakarma that was instituted as counselled by Krshna and his school of Karmayoga. They were warned against following a vocation reserved for others or exercise rights and duties assigned to others. They were asked not to give up svadharma and not to follow paradharma.
Since the four new classes each provided for a wide spectrum of acceptable vocations, the manavas had become members of these classes directly bypassing the codes of clans, communities, corporations and regions, and states had little control over them. The rulers and administrators and judges had to be aware of these limitations on their powers and obligations.
It is not enough or even sound to contrast the two states, the one advocated by Manava Dharmasastra and the one outlined by the Kautilyan Arthasastra on the basis of the interpretations advanced by western Indologists and their admirers of the early 20th century. They were guided by the view that parliamentary democracy and independent judiciary as present then in Western Europe were the ideal forms of governance. They postulated that Dharmasastra subordinated the state to the ecclesiastical order while Arthasastra was for realpolitik that was devoid of morality.
The great political counsellor, Bhishma, impressed some of these scholars. Beyond these, they were interested only in laws pertaining to marriage and succession to property. By the end of the 20th century, these issues receded with social problems veering round inequality, social distance, segregation and discrimination calling for greater attention and early solution. It may be seen that Manusmrti was not guilty of the wild charges levelled against it on these issues by some social reformers. It was not unjust. It was for removal of injustice, it may be noticed.
The present essays in Hindu Political Sociology draw their data from the translations of Manusmrti provided by William Jones (c1794), Buhler (1886), Burnell (1884) and Ganganath Jha (1920-38). Of course many eminent scholars like P.V.Kane and Winternitz have written elaborately on the issues that Manusmrti has dealt with. The contributions of these scholars and their stands have been kept in mind while drafting the current outline of the Manava Social Polity though not referred to either in approval or in disapproval. This work like my earlier ones does not countenance unnecessary sparring on issues that are essentially academic.
Many scholars have stressed that Dharmasastra is not a treatise on religion. Religion calls for faith in and obedience to the wishes of ones personal God. A discussion on the relations between the human soul, jivatma, and the great impersonal soul, paramatma is not one on religion, according to this interpretation. Manusmrti does not indulge in this discussion either. In other words, it stands aloof from the path of knowledge, jnanamarga, and also from the path of devotion, bhaktiyoga. It restricts itself to outlining the steps that pertain to performance of duties by the individuals at different levels and positions in the society. It is affiliated to the school of karmayoga, even as Bhagavad-Gita is. Neither work can be described as a religious text.
Those who believe in the existence of God are often described as astikas. A Brahman is expected to be a believer, astika. This term needs to be interpreted correctly. An examination of the role played by the elusive astika who entered the court of Janamejaya indicates that the astika was affiliated to a cadre of intellectuals who were technocrats rather than theologians. Janamejaya kept out all jurists, Brahmans, while he performed the infamous sacrifice of serpents, sarpayajna, to avenge the murder of his predecessor, Parikshit.
Parikshit, the lone survivor of the Kuru oligarchy, ascended the throne of Hastinapura soon after the Battle of Kurukshetra. The challenger made Janamejaya and his counsellors who included Maharshi Vyasa realize that it was in fact a slaughter of the innocents, a brutal suppression of the entire industrial proletariat of the forests. The technocrats, nagas, and the proletariat, sarpas, of the forests and mountains who belonged to the other industrial society, itara-jana, had consented to be subjects (prajas) of Parikshit on the understanding that they would be treated on par with the commoners, manushyas, of the core agrarian society and were local-born citizens, jana.
This contract between the king, raja, and the subjects, prajas, was breached and Parikshit fell at the hands of Takshaka, the leader of the wood-choppers and carpenters, who had earlier assisted Janamejaya, Bharatas viceroy at Takshasila. The astika who was well acquainted with the constitution of the new expanded and integrated state called upon Indra, the chief of the house of nobles, devas, to grant Takshaka the status, devata, which was next only to that of the nobles, devas. This ensured that Takshaka had immunity against death sentence. All citizens, prajas, including the suspected rebels of the proletariat were eligible for this immunity. None was to be slain by the state and all were eligible for protection by the nobility (devas) against the excesses committed by the state and its head.
The astika was a positivist ideologue-cum-activist. He did not underestimate the importance of the customary rites nor did he grant them more attention than what they merited. The ideal intelligentsia was expected to share this positivism and adhere to rational existentialism. It was more than liberal humanitarianism. The astika asserted that none had the right to deprive another of his right to life and to a livelihood. The state was brought to the knees by the dialectician-cum-jurist who had no personal axe to grind.
He had found that his kinsmen, Vasuki and others, were in danger of being exterminated as suspected rebels though they had made great sacrifices for the welfare of others. A bold and rational interpretation of this and other episodes (vide Hindu Social Dynamics) is needed to appreciate the social polity of ancient India and the roles of the different cadres of intellectuals in it correctly. This calls for shaking off the shackles the myths and stereotypes have put on our thinking.
Manusmrti is considered to be the most authoritative of the sociocultural codes, Dharmasastras, which have prescribed the normative pattern of the Hindu society. During the 19th century many Indian social thinkers and jurists accepted this position and status that was recommended by the western Indologists. But during the 20th century, Indian academia became sharply divided in its approach towards this code. By the end of the 20th century, Hindu rationalists began to develop a third approach to this and other social codes. Many of the postulates on which outlines of Hindu historiography were based have come to be challenged.
The postulate that the Vedic civilization was built up by the white Aryan race, which invaded this subcontinent and chased its dark natives to the forests of the southern peninsula, is no longer accepted as a valid one. The Aryans were not a race and were certainly not invaders. They constituted the middle class agriculturists and traders of the Vedic period and were later identified as Vaisyas. Still later, the rights and privileges that they enjoyed were extended to all the residents of North India, which was hence known as Aryavarta and soon to the rest of the Indian subcontinent. Aryans were the free citizens of this subcontinent. The new state took pains to ensure that no one was in the status of a Dasa serving others. Manusmrti was the constitution of this free society.
Manava Dharmasastra was drafted by the end of the Vedic era. It outlined a social structure based on four socio-economic classes, varnas. Varna has nothing to do with racial colour. The pre-varna Vedic society was dichotomous, the agro-pastoral core society of the plains being surrounded by a technologically advanced frontier society of the forests and mountains. The core society itself had two major social strata, nobles and commoners, devas and manushyas. The society was visualized as composed of three social worlds (lokas), divam, prthvi and antariksham which were presented by the western Indologists as heaven, earth and intermediate space inhabited by gods, men and preternatural beings. This conception is no longer accepted as valid.
All the three social worlds were composed of human beings only. The three social worlds had distinct orientations. It is not sound to presume that they all thought and functioned alike. Attempts to present the Vedic society as an ideal society with all its members thinking alike and enjoying equal social status and privileges and economic equality are not rational. There were many individuals and groups who were outside these three social worlds that were organized and had settled down as clans and communities each with specific sociocultural orientations.
I have pointed out in my earlier thesis on the Evolution of Social Polity of Ancient India that by the end of the Vedic era, the larger society was classified as having eight large social sectors. These were (a) devas, aristocrats, (b) their rivals, asuras, feudal warlords, (c) yakshas, plutocrats of the frontier society, (d) sages, rshis, who stayed mostly in the forests, (e) elders, pitaras, most of whom were retired senior citizens residing in their forest abodes, (f) commoners, manushyas, of the plains, (g) the mobile population of talented persons, gandharvas, apsarases,kimpurushas, kinnaras, tapasas, charanas, vidyadharas, chakshus, siddhas etc. and (h) nagas and sarpas, the technocrats and proletariat of the frontier industrial society. These were not groups of different races nor were any of them supernatural or celestial or preternatural beings. They were all human beings. It is ignorance to describe the devas as gods, the devatas as demigods, the asuras as demons, gandharvas and apsarases as celestial musicians and danseuses, nagas and sarpas as serpents.
Several myths and stereotypes have to be discarded while attempting to arrive at a rational description of the Vedic society. The aristocrats, devas, were residents of towns and were assisted by their loyal serfs, dasas. These nobles were liberal and had their personal troops and personal lands. They were engaged in a prolonged conflict with the cruel feudal lords, asuras, who were based in garrisons and employed mercenaries, dasyus, to harass the commoners of the rural hinterland. The plutocrats, yakshas, controlled the frontier economy. They were later given the status of devatas and treated as almost equal to the aristocrats, devas. But they were not as liberal as the nobles were. The aristocrats and the plutocrats (devas and devatas) came together to fight against feudalism. The agro-pastoral commonalty, prthvi, and the proletariat, sarpas, of the frontier industrial society, joined them. But the technocrats were not prepared to sever their relations with the feudal lords.
The new integrated state that came into existence by the end of the Vedic era had three sections of people (a) jana, commoners of the rural areas, who were loyal either to the nobles or to the feudal lords, (b) itarajana, the other people of the frontier society who were dependent on the plutocrats and worked under the technocrats and (c) punyajana, gandharvas etc. who were not dependent on any of the three ruling classes, aristocrats, plutocrats and feudal lords. This pre-varna Vedic society was classified into four varnas by the end of the long Vedic era. Hindu tradition holds that the Vedic era ended with the beginning of the Kali Yuga in 3102 BC. There are no valid grounds to refute this stand.
It is absurd to only gloat over the statement that the Vedas are five thousand years old and it is mean to deny them such a long history. Manu Vaivasvata, the seventh of the Manus was yet alive when the Battle of Kurukshetra was slated and he had retired in favour of Manu Surya Savarni when Parikshit, the most senior of the surviving Kurus took over as ruler of Hastinapura at the end of that decisive battle. Parikshit retracted on the agreement with the proletariat of the forest society on the citizenship rights granted to them when they consented to join the new enlarged and integrated state. Takshaka, a leader of this proletariat, killed him. Janamejaya who succeeded Parikshit embarked on a vicious campaign to wipe out this estranged proletariat but was restrained by a Astika, a believer and ideologue of the new intelligentsia.
I have pointed out in my earlier works that the tenure of a Manu was about twelve years and that the epoch of the seven Manus could not have covered more than eight decades and that it was coeval with the final century of the Vedic era. The first of these Manus was the chief of the people of Brahmavarta, the Sarasvati basin in northwest Rajasthan, and was elected by his peers to the newly created post of Manu, the thinker. Earlier he was designated as Dharma, the sage who was entitled to define what was morally and ethically correct.
The Manus were retired Kshatriya rulers and were elected to their post by a Board of Ten Prajapatis who belonged to diverse sectors of the large society and most of them were not Brahmans. These great sages were legislators and functioned as the first Manu, Svayambhuva, directed them. These sages drafted the socio-cultural constitution, Manava Dharmasastra, and applied its provisions first to the commonalty of the agro-pastoral plains, prthvi, and then to the other sectors of the larger society. As Prajapatis, chiefs of the people, they were asked to reorganize the society and were each assigned a particular sector.
The medieval commentators and the modern scholars who have depended on them heavily have overlooked these aspects. The extant Manusmrti is a considerably later and partially doctored version of the ManavaDharmasastra. This code, Dharmasastra, reflected the consensus that the great sages who were appointed by the first Manu, Svayambhuva arrived at. The council of seven sages nominated by the seventh Manu, Vaivasvata approved that edition of Dharmasastra. Every Manu appointed a new assembly of thirty-three nobles and a council of seven eminent sages when he took over. He did not function in an authoritarian manner.
It needs to be stated emphatically that the original version of Manava Dharmasastra was not the handiwork of Brahman priests though such Brahmans of the later times are found to have introduced clauses that were partial to Brahmans and promoted their interests. It is irrational to hold and unwise to concede that the Brahmans have been oppressing the Shudra workers and other lower classes for the last five millennia. A critical scrutiny indicates that despite the advice given by Bhrgu and other editors of the first version of Dharmasastra, it has suffered unauthorized additions, deletions and amendments from time to time. Many of these unauthorized provisions were introduced during the British rule of India.
The first Manu had recommended that only the commonalty of the agro-pastoral plains, prthvi, should be first brought under the four-fold classification, Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras. The others could be brought under it in due course. Social integration was not easy. The first generation varna assignment had to take into account various factors. Among these the natural traits (gunas) and aptitudes (svabhava) of the individuals were the most important. The vocations that the individuals and their families (svakarma) followed should be in tune with these. The rights and duties of the individuals (svadharma) were defined taking these factors into account.
The commonalty of the pre-varna Vedic society had developed three classes, intellectuals known as Brahmans, the administrators and soldiers known as Kshatriyas and the other commoners, Vis. The last split into owners of property, and employees who had no property, Vaisyas and Shudras. It is wrong to hold that this classification was recommended by God or by any prophet or angel. The four-fold classification was man-made and not ordained by God. It may be stated here that the title, The Creation, given by Buhler to the first chapter of Manusmrti is unacceptable and is an unwarranted attempt to draw a parallel between ancient Hindu social thought and the Bible which has a chapter on Genesis.
In the present analysis, interpretations and translations of Manusmrti given by William Jones, Buhler and Burnell, three of the 19th century European Indologists and by G.N.Jha during the early 20th century are cited and examined in detail. Some of them have followed the views of Medhatithi and others have preferred to go along with the later medieval commentator, Kulluka. Several pertinent sociological concepts that eluded the modern sociologists and jurists and the medieval commentators have been highlighted in this work.