ORIGIN OF THE FOUR SOCIAL CLASSES AND DHARMA
(Manusmrti Book One)
Manusmrti opens with an account of how, who first propounded it. The great sages, maharshis, approached the Manu who was seated with a collected mind and after worshipping him (1-1) requested the Bhagavan, the head of the academy to tell them precisely and in due order the rights and duties (dharmas) of all the social classes (varnas) and the intermediate ones. (1-2) Burnell translated the later verse as: Lord! Deign to tell us truly in order the rules of all the castes and of all the castes that arise between them.
These sages wanted to have an authentic picture of the social laws covering the four basic varnas and the numerous samkaravarnas, mixed classes, which were in between these classes. A samkaravarna had the traits of more than one basic varna. At the outset it may be stressed that it is not sound to translate the term, varna, as caste and the expression, samkaravarna, as mixed caste. Most of the population belonged to the samkaravarnas. [It is not apt to translate the term, Bhagavan as Divine One and imply that Manu was revered as a God or as sovereign ruler.]
Buhler translates the next verse (3) as:For thou, O Lord, alone knowest the purport (i.e.) the rites, and the knowledge of the soul (taught) in this whole ordinance of the Self-existent (Svayambhu), which is unknowable and unfathomable (achintya and aprameya). Burnell translates it as: For thou, alone knowest the true sense of the objects of this universal self-existent system, unattainable by (simple) reason, not to be reasoned about. Jha interprets this verse as Thou alone, O Lord, are conversant with what ought to be done, which forms the true import of this entire Veda, which is eternal, inconceivable and not directly cognizable.
The great sages, maharshis, were addressing the Prabhu, the head of the larger society even as they were first addressing the Bhagavan, the head of the academy. The Prabhu alone knew the rules that governed all and determined the purposes of their acts. Svayambhuva who had emerged by himself as a great thinker, Manu, had drafted these rules.It would appear that the Manu referred to in (1-1) was Manu Svayambhuva, the first of the Manus. Buhler notices that Medhatithi refers to a version where Manus account of the whole creation is explained purely on Samkhya principles. Jones translated this verse as: For thou, Lord, and thou only among mortals, knowest the true sense, the first principle, and the prescribed ceremonies, of this universal, supernatural Veda, unlimited in extent and unequalled in authority. [Neither the Veda nor the rites are referred to in this verse. Though not so described explicitly in the text the Prabhu was indeed a mortal like those who addressed him.]
Jones translates the next verse (4) as: He whose powers were measureless, being thus requested by the great sages whose thoughts were profound, saluted them all with reverence and gave them a comprehensive answer saying, Be it heard.Manu Svayambhuva with the implicit permission of the Prabhu told the sages, This (universe) existed in the shape of darkness (tamobhutam), destitute of distinctive marks (alakshanam), unattainable by reasoning, unknowable, wholly immersed as it were in deep sleep. (Buhler)
Burnell translates the verse (5) as: This (All) was darkness, imperceptible, without definite qualities, undiscoverable, unknowable, as if wholly in sleep. Burnell points out that this description of the creation is generally in accordance with the Samkhya system. Jones translates it as: This universe existed only in the first divine idea yet unexpanded, as if involved in darkness, imperceptible, undefinable, undiscoverable by reason, and undiscovered by revelation, as if it were wholly immersed in sleep.
Jones was interested in establishing that this version of Genesis was not valid, as it was not in accordance with principles of reason or with faith in what is revealed by God. The first Manu meant that the society that was to be classified was in the beginning an undistinguished mass of individuals who were inert and unaware of their potentialities (tamobhutam).
Then Manu Svayambhuva, the Bhagavan, the head of the academy who was not visible (avyakta)made (all) this (social universe) discernible. In other words he brought about or elucidated the distinction between the great individuals (mahabhuta) and others, and appeared as a personage with irresistible power, dispelling the darkness (tamas). (6)
Buhler has translated this verse as: Then the divine Self-existent (himself) undiscernible, (but) making this (universe) discernible, appeared, he whose (creative) power works in the great elements and the rest, and who dispels the darkness. Burnell translates it as: Then the Self-existent Lord became manifest, making this undiscrete (All) discernible with his power, unobstructed by the chief elements (mahabhuta) and the like, removing the darkness. Jones read it as: Then the sole self-existing power, himself undiscerned but making this world discernible, with five elements and other principles of nature, appeared with undiminished glory, expanding his idea or dispelling the gloom.
What the sages wanted to know was related to the bases on which social classes were assigned their rights and duties. The undistinguished mass society that was noted for ignorance and inertness had in its midst some great individuals and others who stood apart from others. According to the teacher, Manu Svayambhuva, who preferred to stay incognito (while speaking to them), these great men (mahabhutas) of the social periphery were responsible for creating an atmosphere in which the diversities in men came to the fore and had free play. [The bhutas are discrete individuals of the unorganized social periphery and are distinguished from the manushyas, the men of the organized core society whose identities are merged in their organizations. We depart from the conventional interpretation that the five elements, air, earth, fire, water and ether are meant by this term.]
Jones interpreted the next verse as: He whom the mind alone can perceive, whose essence eludes the external organs, who has no visible parts, who exists from eternity, even He, the soul of all beings, whom no being can comprehend, shone forth in person. (7) Obviously he was extolling God. Burnell read it as: He who can be apprehended by the suprasensual, (who is) subtle, undiscrete, who consists of all elements, incomprehensible, he verily became manifest of himself. Buhler read it as: He who can be perceived by the internal organ (alone) who is subtle, indiscernible, and eternal, who contains all created beings and is inconceivable, shone forth of his own (will).
The ancient (sanatana), unmanifest (avyakta), mass society of all individuals (sarvabhuta) whose innate or deep structure and function can be described in terms of only its organs (indriyas) appeared by itself. The ancient society too though it seemingly had no social and political divisions did in fact have organs performing diverse functions.When men began to physically interact and thereby constituted themselves into a society is not known. This verse is not a mere description of the greatness of God.
Jones interpreted the verse (8) as: He, having willed to produce various beings from his own divine substance, first with a thought created the waters and placed in them a productive seed. Buhler says: He, desiring to produce beings of many kinds from his own body, first with a thought created the waters and placed his seed in them. Burnell says: Wishing to produce different beings from his own body, he having desired, first created the water alone; in that he cast his seed. Jha says: Desiring to create the several kinds of created, He, in the beginning, by mere willing, produced out of his own body, water; and in that he cast his seed.
The expression, vividha prajas, different types of subjects, indicates that Manu Svayambhuva was interested in tracing the emergence of a pluralistic native society. He identified the women whose wombs would receive the productive semen that was capable of going through the process of mutation necessary to ensure this variety.This social diversity can be traced to the two relevant factors in sexual intercourse, the womb of the woman and the seed of the man. Not all born even to the same couple are alike. This alone may be read here. It is too inane to state that God or the divine male had intercourse with different women and that this led to the creation of different species.
Burnell read the verse (9) as: That became a golden egg, like in splendour to the thousand-rayed (sun); in that was born spontaneously Brahma, the grandparent (pitamaha) of all the worlds (sarvaloka). Buhler read it as: That (seed) became a golden egg, in brilliancy equal to the sun; in that (egg) he himself was born as Brahma, the progenitor of the whole world. The concept of Hiranyagarbha, the golden embryo, the fetus in the egg is a popular one. Myths have equated Viraj or Vishnu with Hiranyagarbha and presented Brahma as his evolute. All the social worlds (sarva loka) were identified as separate entities in the policy adopted by Manu Svayambhuva.
This Manu had earlier received training from the chief of the people of Brahmavarta, who had the designation, Brahma. Manu Svayambhuva later became Brahma or Prajapati of Brahmavarta (Sarasvati basin) before he became the first Manu. His guide, the aged Brahma guided all the social worlds (lokas) while the new dispensation required separate chiefs for the different social sectors. [In common parlance, sons are referred to as prajas and their father as prajapati and the grandfather as pitamaha.] Manusmrti dwells on the social change that had taken place during the career of the first Manu. The integrated society had tended to exhibit intense cleavages and divisive factors.It is irrational to present this verse as describing the Birth of Brahma and give the impious impression that Brahma, the God of Creation was himself born even as men are born.
Jones translates the next verse (10) as: The waters are called nara because they were the production of Nara or the spirit of God; and since they were the first ayana or place of motion, he thence is named Narayana or moving on the waters. Buhler reads it as: The waters are called Narah (for) the waters are, indeed, the offspring of Nara; as they were his first residence (ayana), he thence is named Narayana. We have to reject his view that Nara is another name of the supreme soul.Burnell also reads it so and comments that this verse betraysVaishnava influence and that the appellation is foreign to the Samkhya system (on which this Smrti is based). Jha notes that waters (apas) are called naras and that apas are born to Nara. This is a reference to the Vedic cadre of Apsarases who lived in islands and who belonged to the cadres of free women and men who were not bound by the institution of marriage. Incidentally, Nara and Narayana were two great sages of the Vedic times. The authorship of the famous Vedic hymn, Purushasukta is attributed to the sage, Narayana. Manusmrti is a secular work and does not promote any religious creed.
Buhler translates the next verse (11) as: From that (first) cause, which is indiscernible, eternal, and both real and unreal, was produced that male (purusha), who is famed in this world (under the appellation of) Brahman. He points out that the supreme soul is generally said to be the first cause. Burnell says: That which is the undiscrete Cause, eternal, which Is and Is not, from It issued that male who is called in the world Brahma. Jones translated this verse as: From That which is the first cause, not the object of sense, existing everywhere in substance, not existing to our perception, without beginning or end, was produced the divine male, famed in all worlds under the appellation of Brahma.
There was no need to translate the term, Purusha, as divine male and introduce the concept of sex differentiation that is necessary for reproduction of the species. In the social world (loka) of the academicians, the social leader, Purusha, who was the cause (karana) of this permanent social system, was known as Brahma.
What the editors of Manusmrti meant was that the concept of Purusha used by the sage Narayana following the Apsara school of thought was identical with the concept of Brahma developed by the Brahma school of thought whether in Brahmavarta, the Sarasvati basin, or outside it. Brahmavarta was also known as Brahmaloka, the home of the intellectuals.
According to the Brahma school of thought as presented by Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, all were individuals in the beginning and none knew the presence of other human beings in his neighbourhood. Every one was afraid of the unknown until sex differentiation in the species brought man and woman together. The individual who became aware of his separate identity introduced himself as Aham Brahma asmi, I am Brahma.
It was a stage when all were individuals in the society and there were no clans or communities or classes. The emergence of the cadre of Kshatras with the assignment of the task of protection to the Adityas, a cadre of nobles, created social differentiation. The commoners, Vis, were led by the different cadres, Vasus, Maruts, Rudras, Adityas, Visvedevas, etc. who belonged to the nobility. The Shudras were the first class to emerge. Manusmrti fused the picture of evolution of social classes as presented by Rshi Narayana in the Vedic hymn, Purushasukta and the evolution of social classification as attempted by the Brahma school of thought.
It is imperative that the sociological concepts behind the terms used in ancient Indian sociological works are brought out correctly. Nara denoted free man who was not bound by the codes of clans (kulas) or communities (jatis). Purusha referred to the selfless and talented social leader. Brahma denoted the intellectual who was aware of and asserted his identity. The western Indologists of the 19th century and the Indian social thinkers guided by them have failed to recognize these distinctions.
The next few verses are an obvious interpolation effected by one of the schools owning allegiance to the samkhya system. Burnell translates them as: That Lord (Bhagavan) having dwelt in that egg (anda) for a year, spontaneously (svayam), by his own (atmana) meditation (dhyana), split that egg in two (12). And with these two shares he formed the heaven (divam) and the earth (bhumi), in the middle the sky (vyoma) and the eight regions (disa) and the perpetual (sasvata) place (sthana) of waters (apa) (13). From himself (atmakam), he created mind (manas), which is (sat) and is not (asat); and from mind egoism (ahamkara), the ruler, the lord (isvara) (14). And likewise the great (mahan) self (atma), and all (things) with the three qualities (gunas), and, severally, the five organs of senses, the apprehenders of sensible objects (15). The interpretation (cited by Jha) that it was a chance coincidence that the egg burst just at the tine Brahma was thinking of coming out is irrational and needs to be rejected.
Bhagavan, the head of the academy, after prolonged meditation on the theory of social evolution (commencing with the fertilization of the egg) propounded the concept of the dichotomy between the two social worlds, nobility (divam) and commonalty (prthvi). The science of dialectics that tried to synthesize the two contradictory positions, thesis and anti-thesis, however, conceded that it was possible to envisage third and fourth alternatives too. Vyoma or antariksham (wrongly understood as intermediate sky) and the eight directions represented the sections of the population not covered by the above two strata of the core society. Besides these there have always been some on the social periphery represented by the concept, apa or water and the people of its island.
Bhagavan, the head of the Samkhya academy then dwells on the evolution of the concept, Isvara. It is of paramount importance for socio-political thought that this outline of the evolution of human abilities is appreciated without importing religious mysticism. Jones lost the thread when he translated these verses as: In that egg the great power sat inactive a whole year of the Creator, at the close of which, by his thought alone, he caused the egg to divide itself.
And from the two divisions he framed the heaven above and the earth beneath; in the midst he placed the subtle ether, the eight regions and the permanent receptacle of waters. From the supreme soul he drew forth Mind, existing substantially though unperceived by sense, immaterial; and before mind or the reasoning power, he produced consciousness, the internal monitor, the ruler. And before them both he produced the great principle of the soul or first expansion of the divine idea; and all vital forms endued with the three qualities of goodness, passion and darkness; and the five perceptions of sense and the five organs of sensation. (12 to 15)
What preceded what in this scheme of creation? Western Indologists tried to arrive at a parallelism between European thought and the Samkhya system and fumbled. Jha translated the verse (14) as: From out of himself he brought forth the mind (manas), which partakes of the nature of the existent (sat) and the non-existent (asat); and before the mind, he brought up the all-powerful (isvara) principle of egoism (ahamkara), whose function consists in self-consciousness. The expression, abhimantara, would mean thought that rises above that of meeting ones personal identity and needs. The Isvara School identified that all individuals become aware and proud of their identities because of the divergence in the composition of their (three) innate traits (gunas). It was only a great soul (maha atma) endowed with a catholicity of outlook who could recognize that all beings are activated by the (same) three innate traits.This recognition is crucial for arriving at a correct outline of the contents of Manusmrti and other works.
Jones translated the ensuing verses as: Thus, having at once pervaded, with emanations from the Supreme Spirit, the minutest portions of six principles immensely operative, consciousness and the five perceptions, He framed all creatures. And since the minutest particles of visible nature have a dependence on those six emanations from God, the wise have accordingly given the name of sarira or depending on six, that is the ten organs on consciousness and the five elements on as many perceptions, to His image or appearance in visible nature. Thence proceed the great elements, endued with peculiar powers, and Mind with operations infinitely subtle, the imperishable cause of all apparent forms.
Buhler translated these verses (16,17,18) as: But, joining minute particles even of those six, which possess measureless power with particles of himself, he created all beings (sarvabhuta). Because those six (kinds of) minute particles, which form the (creators) frame (murti), enter (asri) these creatures therefore the wise (manishina) call his frame, sarira (the body). That the great (mahan) elements (bhutas) enter, together with their functions (karma) and the mind through its minute parts the frames of all beings (sarvabhuta) the imperishable (avyaya) one.
The editors of Manusmrti drew on the school of metaphysics of the manishinas to explain how the diversities in (creatures and) human beings took place. For, these diversities developed though they were all composed of the same minute particles and had both mind and body besides senses of perception and action and ego that gave them each his identity. According to this school of social psychology, the mahabhutas, the chiefs, make all individuals (sarvabhuta) think and act as required by the society whose sovereign authority never becomes exhausted.
Burnell translates the ensuing verses as: This non-eternal (universe) arises then from the eternal, by means of the subtle elements of forms of those seven very glorious principles. Of these, then, that which succeeds partakes of the quality of that which goes before; such as each one is in order, so, and with such qualities, it is traditionally held to be (endowed). He, in the beginning, from the words of the Vedas, appointed the names and functions of all beings severally, and their several conditions.
Jones translated (19 to21) as: This universe, therefore, is compacted from the minute portions of those seven divine and active principles, the great soul or first emanation, consciousness, and five perceptions; a mutable universe from immutable ideas. Among them each succeeding element acquires the quality of the preceding; and in as many degrees as each of them is advanced, with so many properties it is said to be endued. He too first assigned to all creatures distinct names, distinct acts, and distinct occupations; as they had been revealed in the pre-existing Veda.
Bhrgu, the chief editor of Manusmrti was outlining the evolution of the social polity as the head of the academy described to the ten sages who had been entrusted with the task of reorganizing the larger society. He distinguished between the great individuals and the ordinary ones whom they influenced and motivated. Now he draws attention to the roles of the seven personages, purushas,who wielded considerable influence(maha ojas)in the polity. They operated through the subtle elements who formed the membership of the socio-political unit concerned and which had a definite format (murti). The seven units were king (raja), bureaucracy (amatyam), fortified capital (durga or pura), rural hinterland (janapada or rashtra), treasury (kosa), army(danda) and external ally (mitra). The heads of these seven organs of the state are the seven purushas referred to here.
The structure of these seven units and the designations of their heads may vary from time to time and from place to place but they have emerged from a common tradition. [It is unconvincing to interpret that the seven purushas refer to the great soul (mahatma), ego (ahamkara) and the five senses (indriyas) of vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch.] Each of these units acquires the traits of the preceding one and builds further on them.In other words the importance of the army depends on what it has received from the treasury whose wealth is dependent on the economic activities of the janapada.
The last depends on the fortified city for its security and the city is important, as it is the headquarters of the bureaucracy comprising eighteen bureaus. The success of the bureaucracy depends on the calibre of the king and his counsellors. The ally himself is able to defend the sovereignty of this state when its units are strong. This is the stand of the Smrti (Manusmrti). While there have been considerable variations in the designations and roles of these seven important personages, the editors of Manusmrti would opt for those designations mentioned by the Vedas and the institutions created during the Vedic times. We would not treat these seven as a reference to the seven members of the council of sages as they were all equal in status though they represented different social sectors and different schools of thought.
Buhler translates the ensuing verses as: He, the Lord (prabhu), also created the class of the gods (devas), who are endowed with life (pranina), and whose nature is action (karmatma); and the subtle class (gana) of the Sadhyas and the eternal (sanatana) sacrifice (yajna). But from fire (agni), wind (vayu) and the sun (ravi) he drew forth the threefold eternal (sanatana) Veda (Brahma), called Rik, Yajus and Saman, for the due performance of the sacrifice. Time (kala) and the divisions of time, the lunar mansions (nakshatras) and the planets (grahas), the rivers, the oceans, the mountains, plains and uneven grounds, austerity (tapa), speech, pleasure (rati), desire (kama), and anger (krodha), this whole creation (srshti) he likewise produced, as he desired to call these beings (prajas) into existence. (22 to 25)
Jones translated these verses as: He, the supreme ruler, created an assemblage of inferior Deities, with divine attributes and pure souls; and a number of Genii exquisitely delicate; and he prescribed the sacrifice ordained from the very beginning. From fire, from air and from the sun he milked out, as it were, the three primordial Vedas named Rik, Yajus and Sama, for the due performance of the sacrifice. He gave being to time and the divisions of time, to the stars also, and to the planets, to rivers, oceans and mountains, to level plains and uneven valleys, to devotion, speech, complacency, desire and wrath, and to the creation, which shall presently be mentioned; for He willed the existence of all those created beings.
The Prabhu who organized the society during the Vedic times was its head. He institutionalized the traditional sacrifices and the three Vedas as Brahma,the social constitution. He brought into existence the cadre of nobles (devas) who were an active elite and placed the perfect (Saddhyas)in charge of the institution of sacrifices. It was the desire of this Prabhu that counted while bringing into existence the pre-varna Vedic society. Scholars who owed allegiance to the Vedic officials designated as Agni, Vayu and Ravi compiled the three Vedas, Rg, Yajur and Sama. These officials were in charge of the commonalty of the plains, the people of the uneven moors and the Kshatriyas respectively. It is unsound to interpret that God created the diverse beings and things found in the universe.
Buhler adds: Moreover, in order to distinguish (viveka) actions (karma), he separated merit (dharma) from demerit (adharma), and he caused the creatures (prajas) to be affected by the pairs (of opposites), such as pain and pleasure. But with the minute perishable particles of the five (elements) which have been mentioned (in Smrti), this whole (sarvam idam) (world) is framed in due order.
But to whatsoever course of action (karma) the Lord (Prabhu) at first appointed each (kind of beings), that alone it has spontaneously (svayam) adopted in each succeeding creation (srjya). Whatever he assigned to each at the (first) creation, noxiousness or harmlessness, gentleness or ferocity, virtue (dharma) or sin (adharma), truth (rta) or falsehood (anrta), that clung (afterwards) spontaneously to it. As at the change of the seasons each season of its own accord assumes its distinctive marks, even so corporeal beings (dehina) (resume in new births) their (appointed) course of action (karma). (26 to 30) Jha translates the verse (29) as: Each being, when created again and again, naturally conformed to that same act to which the Lord had, at first directed him.
Some of these verses might have been interpolated later to emphasize that individuals have several rebirths but cannot utilize them to attain higher social levels, as one cannot change his nature. The Prabhu had assigned each his work in accordance with his nature and this was in tune with the laws of nature (rta) that regulated the conduct of men during the early Vedic times and the social laws (dharma) that came into force by the end of the Vedic era. As a result one was bound to be associated with the same occupation in every one of his births, it was inferred. The first Manu, Svayambhuva did not claim that he had effected this social classification on his own. He was only continuing the classification based on natural traits as effected by the Prabhu,the head of the society and it was not possible for him to set aside that classification and assignment of distinct occupations as natural traits of an individual cannot be annulled. The four-varna system adopted by Manu Svayambhuva recognized this law of nature.
Jones translates the verse (31) as: That the human race might be multiplied, He caused the Brahman, the Kshatriya, the Vaisya and the Shudra (so named from the scripture, protection, wealth and labour) to proceed from his mouth, his arm, his thigh and his foot. He was following the annotations given by Medhatithi, Govindaraja and Kulluka. Buhler following Naradasmrti translates it as: But for the sake of the prosperity of the worlds (lokavivriddhyartham), he caused the Brahmana, the Kshatriya, the Vaisya and the Shudra to proceed from his mouth, his arms, his thighs and his feet. Burnell translates it as: Now for the prosperity of the worlds, he from his mouth, arms, thighs and feet created the Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Shudra, The text does not indicate that the pronoun, he, indicated God.
The four classes that had already taken shape and gained distinct functions within the social world (loka)of undifferentiated commonalty were brought into the open (niravartayat) and the purpose was the progress of this social world. This social world was visualized as man and the four classes were its offshoots. This imagery drew on the Vedic hymn, Purushasukta. In other words the presumption that Manu Svayambhuva introduced or created a system of classification that was not in existence earlier is unwarranted.
It has been used down the centuries to assert the superiority of the class of Brahmans and their right to teach the Vedas and the exclusive right of the Kshatriyas to bear arms. The main body of this social world, the Vis, flourishes through reproduction of the species as indicated by the term, uru. Many social thinkers have raised strong objection to the statement that the Shudras sprang from the feet of Purusha or Brahma (God). The presence of the four varnas or classes, intellectuals, armed militia, commonalty and workers may be noticed in every society, ancient or modern. In its origin, the four-varna system was pre-Manusmrti. It accepted what was there already. Manusmrti only defined the rights and duties of the members of these four classes and tried to bring under their ambit most of those who were not covered by it.
Buhler translates the next verse (32) as: Dividing his own body, the Lord (Prabhu) became half male (Purusha) and half female (Nari); with that (female) he produced (srja) Viraj. Jones read it as: Having divided his own substance, the mighty Power became half male and half female, or nature active and passive; and from that female he produced Viraj. The Prabhu was visualized as the head of the larger society. Neither the Prabhu nor the Viraj is presented as God. The Viraj was the head of the Vedic federal state. According to this verse he was the offspring or evolute of Purusha. This stand differs from that of the Atharvaveda version of Purushasukta whichheld Viraj to be anterior to Purusha and also from that of the Rgvedic version which posited two Purushas, one anterior to Viraj and the other, the evolute of Viraj. (Vide Ch.2 of my thesis, Evolution of Social Polity of Ancient India)
The concepts, Prabhu, Purusha and Viraj, belonged to the field of social polity and were later adapted to similar concepts cherished by religious creeds. It is unsound and irrational to interpret them as implying God.As directed by the Prabhu, the head of the larger society, a college of social leaders, purushas and independent women, naris, elected the Viraj. The concept, nari, indicated an assertive independent woman, which the housewife (stri) was not. The editors of Manusmrti indicate their inability to toe the line of the author of Purushasukta. It may be noted that the medieval commentators had lost sight of this aspect of the Vedic social polity. Jones was misled when he interpreted that the terms, purusha and nari, indicated the difference between the two natures, active and passive.
Jones translated the next verse (33) as: Know me, O most excellent of Brahmans, to be that person whom the male power, Viraj, having performed austere devotion, produced by himself; Me, the secondary framer of all (sarva) this visible world. Buhler read it as: But know me, O most holy among the twice-born, to be the creator of this whole (world), whom that male, Viraj, himself, produced, having performed austerities. Burnell translated it as: But, O Best (uttama) of twice-born (dvija) men! Know that I am he, the creator of all this world, whom that male (Purusha) Viraj, having practised austerity (tapas), spontaneously (svayam) produced (srja).
The Viraj, who had been earlier a Purusha, a social leader, claims that he has created this entire social system based on productive economic activities (vitta). He appears to be addressing the dvijas (Brahmans, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas) of the period of Manu Uttama. He was appealing to them to accept the new social order that would accept the rich plutocrats too in the four-fold system. [Manu Uttama, a grandson of the first Manu, Svayambhuva was opposed to their entry and was killed. His brother wanted to take revenge against these leaders of the other society but was prevailed on by Svayambhuva who was then in retirement, not to do so. Svayambhuva, the nominee of the Viraj wanted all persons who were engaged in economy to be accepted in the new social order.]
Buhler translates the next verse (34) as: Then I desiring to produce created beings, performed very difficult austerities, and (thereby) called into existence ten great sages, lords of created beings. Burnell read it as: Now, I, desirous of creating beings, having performed very severe austerity, first created the ten lords of beings, great seers. Jones interpreted this verse as: It was I who, desirous of giving birth to a race of men, performed very difficult religious duties, and first produced ten Lords of created beings, eminent in holiness.
Manu Svayambhuva tells the sages that in order to create (sisrukshu) cadres of prajas after great endeavour he created (srja) the posts of chiefs of people (Prajapatis) and nominated ten great sages (Maharshis, who were legislators) to those posts. Marici, Atri, Angirasa, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Pracetas, Vasishta, Bhrgu and Narada were the ten sages who were nominated as Prajapatis in charge of the different sections of the larger society governed by the concept of Viraj. (35) It is likely that this Board of Ten Prajapatis started functioning under a Viraj after the tenure of the first Manu.
As Buhler translates these sages created seven other Manus possessing great brilliancy, gods (devas) and classes of gods (devanikaya) and great sages (maharshis) of measureless power (ojas). They created also Yakshas (the servants of Kubera), (the demons called) Rakshasas and Pisachas. Similarly they created Gandharvas (or musicians of the gods), Apsarases (the dancers of the gods), Asuras, (the snake deities called) Nagas and Sarpas, (the bird-deities called) Suparnas and the several (prthak) classes (ganas) of the manes (pitrs), lightning (vidyut), thunderbolts (ushani) and clouds, imperfect (rohita) and perfect rainbows (indradanush), falling meteors, supernatural noises, comets and heavenly lights (jyoti) of many kinds, (horse-faced) kinnaras, monkeys (vanara), fishes, birds of many kinds, cattle, deer, men (manushyas) and carnivorous beasts with two rows of teeth, small and large worms and beetles, moths, lice, flies, bugs, all stinging and biting insects and the several kinds of immovable (sthavara) things. (36 to 40)
The ten Prajapatis took into account the composition of the larger society that covered all living beings. They were entrusted with the task of selecting suitable candidates for the positions of nobles (devas) and for assigning these cadres the places from where they were to function. Similarly they were required to recommend prominent sages, maharshis, to be appointed by the Manu to the council of seven sages. This board selected the successors to the post of Manu.
It scrutinized the cadres of yakshas (plutocrats), asuras (feudal lords), gandharvas (intellectuals-cum-warriors), apsarases (talented independent women), rakshasas (militants of the frontier guards), paisacas (counter-intelligentsia who remained incognito), nagas and sarpas (mobile groups of technocrats and proletariat of the frontier society), suparnas (counsellors who were dressed in feathers), vanaras (free men of the forests), manushyas (commoners) and other cadres and recommended who among them might be approved and accepted in the enlarged Vedic social polity, Virajam. The new social system of four classes drawing its members from these Vedic cadres would function according to the laws of nature that would be applicable to all the diverse living beings.
Burnell translates the verse (41) as: Thus was this all (consisting of things) stationary and movable according to (their) acts, created by these great beings at my command (manniyoga), through the force of austerity (tapoyoga). Buhler reads it as: Thus was this whole (creation), both the immovable (sthavara) and the movable (jangama), produced by those high-minded ones (mahatmas) by means of austerities and at my command, (each being) according to (the results of) its actions (yathakarma).
Manu Svayambhuva tells the sages and others that he had after communion with the Prabhu and the Viraj directed the members of the Board of Ten Prajapatis to take into consideration all the cadres and systems of the Vedic social polity and assign every individual (and object) his (or its) function. It was a strenuous exercise.
The ensuing verses (42-48) explain the criteria adopted for effecting this classification on the basis of duties and vocations that would be in tune with ones natural aptitude.Burnell translates them as: What kind of acts is ordained for what creatures here, that I shall declare to you, also (their) order in origin. Cattle and also deer and also wild beasts with two rows of teeth, demons (rakshas) and devils (Pisachas) and men (manushas) are born from a caul (jarayu, womb). Produced from eggs (are) birds, snakes, crocodiles and fish, and tortoises; and likewise all other kinds (of reptiles which are) produced on land or (are) aquatic. From moisture are produced gnats and flies, lice, fleas and bugs; and from heat is produced whatever else is of this kind. All plants (which are) fixed grow from seed or slips. Herbs (are) those which perish with ripening of fruit, (and) abound in flowers and fruit. Those (trees), which have no flowers (but) have fruit, are called vanaspati (forest-lord); those that have flowers, and also that bear fruit (are) both called trees. Plants with one stem and many stems are of many kinds; so also grasses; but convolvulus and creepers spring from seed or a slip.
Buhler translates the verses (49,50) as: These (plants) which are surrounded by multiform (bahurupa) Darkness (tamas), the result of their acts (karmahetu) (in former existence) possess internal consciousness and experience pleasure and pain. The (various) conditions in this always terrible and constantly changing circle of births and deaths to which created beings (bhutasamsara) are subject, are stated to begin with (that of) Brahman, and to end with (that of) these (just mentioned immovable creatures). Burnell read them as: These (creatures) enveloped a manifold darkness caused by (past) deeds, have an internal conscience and are endowed with pleasure and pain. The existences, beginning with Brahma and ending with those (plants) which occur in this terrible, ever-progressive transmigration of beings, have (thus) been related.
Jones interpreted them as: These animals and vegetables, with multiform darkness, by reason of past actions, have internal conscience and are sensible of pleasure and pain. All transmigrations recorded in sacred books, from the state of Brahma to that of plants happen continually in this tremendous world of beings, a world always tending to decay. The societal approach of Manusmrti covers all, from Brahma, the great intellectual, to the discrete individual objects and beings, bhutas, who lack communal life and are involved in a fierce (ghora) struggle for existence at the primal level. All these are constantly undergoing change. It is not sound to read transmigration in this context. TheBrahmavadis, the socio-political ideologues and activists who followed the Atharva-Angirasa school, upheld this stand. Ghora Angirasa, one of the teachers of Krshna, belonged to this school.
Buhler translates the ensuing verses (51-53) as: When he, whose power is incomprehensible, had thus produced the universe and me, he disappeared in himself, repeatedly suppressing (pidaya) one period by another. When that divine one (deva) wakes (jagarti), then this world (jagat) stirs (cheshta); when he slumbers tranquilly, then the universe (sarva) sinks to sleep. But when he reposes in calm sleep, the corporeal beings (saririna) whose nature is action (karmatmana), desist from their actions (svakarma) and mind becomes inert.
Burnell reads it as: Having thus created (srshta) all This and me, he of unthinkable powers (parakrama) was again absorbed into himself, alternating a time (of creation) by a time (of repose). For when that Divine Being wakes, then this world is active; when he, peaceful, sleeps, then all sleeps. Now when he sleeps in repose, those active beings with a body cease from their own proper acts, and the mind (manas) becomes powerless (glani).
The role of the creator of this social universe (jagat) is dwelt on here. It is a process of activity-repose-activity. When the noble (deva), who supervises and activates this social system and ensures that every individual (and every institution), is engaged in his assigned activity (svakarma), there need be no worry. But this creator can not afford to take rest for it would lead to neglect of duty by members of the social system and consequent decline. Manusmrti seems to endorse the approach of Krshna, a disciple of Ghora Angirasa. Jha was imprecise when he said that these verses dealt with the disappearance of Brahma.
Burnell translates the ensuing verses as: And, when in due course, they are lost (praliya) in that great being (mahatma), then this self of all beings (sarvabhuta atma) sleeps pleasantly in rest. This one with its organs (indriya) long (chiram) remains (tishttati) (inactive), having returned to darkness (tamas), nor does it perform its proper acts (svam karma), then it issues forth (utkramati) in forms (moorti). When having become elemental (anumatrika) (and) emanate, it enters into seeds (bhija) of plants or animals, it assumes a form (moorti). Thus, he, by wakefulness and sleep, vivifies, and imperishable (himself), destroys perpetually all This movable and immovable. (54 to 57)Buhler notices that some commentators have read in the verse (54) a hint of what would happen at the end of the total destruction of the universe. These verses have evoked considerable debate on the relationship between the souls of the individuals and the great soul. The activated social system may secure a definite social structure but fail to function as intended, the sages warn. They were not dwelling on the soul.
Buhler translates the next verse (58) as: But he having composed these Institutes (sastra) (of the sacred law), himself taught them, according to the rule, to me alone in the beginning; next I (taught them) to Marici and other sages. Manu Svayambhuva had learnt this code from the Prabhu, the unidentified head of the society, and taught it to Marici and other (silent) sages (munis). But not all of them had been taught this code in entirety. Only Bhrgu had learnt it in entirety from Manu and so he was directed to communicate it to all. (59) Thus Bhrgu, the chief editor of Manava Dharmasastra expounded this work, which was attributed to the first Manu, Svayambhuva. Then that great sage (maharshi), Bhrgu, asked all the sages who had called on the Manu to listen to what he spoke on behalf of that Manu. (60) Bhrgu was placing this code drafted by the Board of Ten Prajapatis for consideration and approval by the council of seven sages convened by the seventh Manu.
Bhrgu recalled that the Board of Ten Prajapatis had selected the six successors to Manu Svayambhuva. Burnell translates the verse (61) as: There are six other Manus in successive generations sprang from this Manu Svayambhuva (born of the self-existent); they, magnanimous (mahatmana) and of great glory (mahaojas), created their own (sva) offspring (praja). These six Manus were not descendants of one another. Each of them had his sons and daughters. Manu was not a hereditary post. Svarochisha, Auttami, Tamasa, Raivata, Chakshusha and the son of Vivasvat succeeded Manu Svayambhuva. (62). A scrutiny of the Bhagavata Purana indicates that every Manu had a tenure of twelve years including the two years when he was required not to prescribe any new rule. The next verse (63) might have been a later interpolation. Buhler translates it as:These seven very glorious Manus, the first among whom is Svayambhuva, produced (utpadya) and protected (apu) this whole (sarvamidam) movable (cara) and immovable (acara) (creation) each during the period (antara) (allotted to him). Each one of the seven Manus admitted new groups of settled population and mobile groups to this larger organized society.
The ensuing verses (64-74) are obviously a later interpolation. Buhler reads them as: Eighteen nimeshaskashtta, thirty kashttas one kala, thirty kalas one muhurtha, and as many muhurthas The sun divides days and nights, both human (manusha) and divine (daivika), the night being intended for the repose (svapna) of created beings (bhutas) and the day for exertion (karma). A month is a day and a night of the manes (pitrs), but the division is according to the fortnights (pakshas). The dark (krshna) (fortnight) is their day for active exertion (karmacheshta) the bright (shukla) (fortnight) is their night for sleep. A year is a day and a night of the gods (devas); their division is as follows: the half year during which the sun progresses to the north will be the day, that during which it goes southwards the night. (twinkling of the eye) are one one day and night.
But hear now the brief (description of) the duration of a night and a day of Brahman and of the several ages (of the world, yuga) according to their order. They declare that the Krita age (consists of) four thousand years (of the gods); the twilight preceding it consists of as many hundreds and the twilight following it of the same number. In the other three ages with their twilights preceding and succeeding, the thousands and hundreds are diminished by one (in each). These twelve thousand (years), which thus have been just mentioned as the total of four (human) ages, are called one age of the gods. But know that the sum of one thousand ages of the gods (makes) one day of Brahman, and that his night has the same length. Those (only, who) know that the holy day of Brahman, indeed, ends after (the completion of) one thousand ages (of the gods) and that his night lasts as long, (are really) men (jana) acquainted with (the length of) days and nights. At the end of that day and night he who was asleep, awakes and, after awaking (pratibuddha), creates mind (manas), which is both real and unreal.
Buhler translates the ensuing verses (75-80) as: Mind (manas), impelled by (Brahmans) desire to create, performs the work of creation by modifying itself, thence ether (akasa) is produced; they declare that sound (sabda) is the quality of the latter. But from ether, modifying itself, springs the pure, powerful wind (vayu), the vehicle of all perfumes; that is held to possess the quality of touch (sparsa). Next from wind, modifying itself, proceeds the brilliant light, which illuminates and dispels darkness (tamas); that is declared to possess the quality of colour. And from light (jyoti), modifying itself (is produced) water (apa), possessing the quality of taste (rasaguna), from water earth (bhumi), which has the quality of smell (gandhaguna); such is the creation (srshti) in the beginning (adi).
The before-mentioned age of the gods, (or) twelve thousand (of their years), being multiplied by seventy-one (constitutes what) is here named the period of a Manu (manvantara). The manvantaras, the creations (sarga) and destructions (samhara) (of the world, are) numberless; sporting (krida), as it were, Brahmanti (Paramesh) repeats this again and again. This outline of a long duration of a Manvantara is a considerably later interpolation even as the quasi-Samkhya outline of the evolution of akasa, vayu, apa, bhumi etc. is.
Jones translated the verses (81-82) as: In the Krita age, the Genius of truth and right, in the form of a bull, stands firm on his four feet; nor does any advantage accrue to men from iniquity. But in the following ages, by reason of unjust gains, he is deprived successively of one foot; and even just emoluments, through the prevalence of theft, falsehood and fraud, are gradually diminished by a fourth part. Burnell translates it as: In the Krta age, dharma stands on four feet, and is complete as is truth also; and (in that age) no advantage accrues to men by non-dharma. But in the other ages, owing to accession of (wrong), dharma, is deprived successively of one foot; and dharma disappears foot by foot, through the prevalence of theft, falsehood and fraud. Buhler read it as: In the KritaDharma is four-footed and entire and (so is) truth; nor does any gain accrue to men by unrighteousness. In the other (three ages), by reason of (unjust) (adharma) gains (agama), Dharma is deprived successively of one foot, and through (the prevalence of) theft, falsehood and fraud, the merit (gained by men) is diminished by one fourth (in each age).
Dharma has been compared to a bull in verse 8-16. Its four feet are said to represent four means of gaining merit, austerity (tapas), knowledge (vidya), sacrifice (yajna) and charity (dana), the four duties prescribed for the twiceborn. Krta Yuga (the epoch of Creation) was known also as Satya Yuga (the age of Truth) as the social laws (dharma) were then based on strict adherence to truth (satya). It was then an ideal society, according to this verse.But the subsequent epochs have indicated a steady decline in adherence to noble values. It has been because of the prevalence of theft, violation of laws of nature (anrta),and pursuit of delusion and deception (maya).
Jones translates the ensuing verses (83-84) as: Men, free from disease, attain all sorts of prosperity (sarvasiddhartha) and live four hundred years in the Krta age; but in the Treta and the succeeding ages, their life is lessened gradually by one quarter. The life of mortals (martya), which is mentioned in the Veda, the rewards of good works, and the powers (prabhava) of embodied spirits (saririna), are fruits proportioned among men (loka) to the order of the four ages. These verses too are later additions.
Buhler translates the verse (85) as: One set of duties (is prescribed) for men (nrs) in the Krta age, different ones in the Treta and in the Dvapara and (again) another set in the Kali, in proportion as (those) ages decrease in length. These were duties prescribed for free men (naras) who did not belong to any clan or community or class. It needs to be noted that the rights and duties of persons belonging to organized clans and communities, kuladharmas and jatidharmas, could not be altered. The term, naras, refers also to the individuals who assist the local administration. Their duties had to be modified from time to time depending on the stage of civilization the social polity was going through. The later editors of Manusmrti notice that there have been different sets of rules governing the rights and duties of the individuals from time to time and that there has been much dilution in duties over the ages.
In the Krta age the chief (virtue) is declared to be (the performance of) austerities (tapa), in the Treta compilation of knowledge (jnanam), in the Dvapara (the performance of) sacrifices (yajna), in the Kali liberality (danam) alone. (86) It is implied that Krta was an age when men endeavoured to create new things through rigorous exertion (tapas) and it was followed by an age (Treta) when there was compilation of all knowledge (jnana) acquired till then. This age of consolidation was followed by an age (Dvapara) of social sacrifice and self-denial (yajna). The present age (Kali) does honour liberality (danam) though it does not exhibit the humility of one performing sacrifice or of one truly learned. Nothing beyond these shifts in social orientations is to be read here.
Jones translates the next verse (87) as: For the sake of preserving this universe, the Being, supremely glorious, allotted separate duties to those who sprang from his mouth, his arm, his thigh and his foot. Burnell reads it as: Now, for the sake of preserving all (sarva) this creation (sarga), the most glorious (Being) (mahadyuti) ordained separate duties for those who sprang from (his) mouth, arm, thigh, (and) foot. Buhler reads it as: But in order to protect (guptya) this universe He, the most resplendent one, assigned (kalpayata) separate (prthak) (duties and) occupations (karma) to those who sprang from his mouth, arms, thighs and feet. Who was the Mahadyuti who recommended this assignment of vocations and duties to the four different classes? It would not be sound to interpret that God assigned them these duties. The highly revered Manu Svayambhuva effected the assignment which the Prabhu, the head of the society, recommended. A prominent sage who was close to Manu Savarni must have recommended this scheme of vocational assignment. It was incorporated later in Manava Dharmasastra.
Buhler translates the ensuring verses (88-91) as: To Brahmanas he assigned teaching (adhyapanam) and studying (adhyayanam) (the Veda), sacrificing for their own benefit (yajanam) and for others (yajanam), giving (danam) and accepting (pratigraham) (of alms). The Kshatriya he commanded (samadisat) to protect (raksha) the people (prajas), to bestow gifts (danam), to offer sacrifices, to study (the Veda), and to abstain from attaching himself (aprasakti) to sensual pleasures (vishaya). He commanded the Vaisya to tend (raksha) cattle (pasu), to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifices, to study (the Veda), to trade (vanikpatha), to lend money (kusida) and to cultivate land (krshi). One occupation only the lord (Prabhu) prescribed to the Shudra, to serve (susrusha) meekly (anasuya) even these (other) three castes (varnas).
Who was this Prabhu? Was he an influential chief of the agro-pastoral society who was on the scene during the tenure of Manu Savarni who succeeded Manu Vaivasvata? The term, Veda is not mentioned in the text and so too the term, alms. The inclusion of usury in the occupations assigned to the Vaisyas must have been a later addition. The Shudras were not serfs, Dasas. They were nurses and attendants. They are advised not to be envious of their masters. This is an assignment and division of duties and occupations. This covered the agro-pastoral core society.
It did not envisage the Shudras as a class of workers. The Brahmans were scholars, teachers and priests. The Kshatriyas were selfless rulers and protectors of their subjects. Both employers and employees were Vaisyas and they were connected to agriculture, animal husbandry and trade routes (and banking). Jha translates these verses as: For the Brahman he ordained teaching, studying, sacrificing and officiating at sacrifices, as also the giving and accepting of gifts. For the Kshatriya he ordained protecting of the people, giving of gifts, sacrificing and studying, as also abstaining from the objects of sense and for theVaisya, tending of cattle, giving of gifts, sacrificing and studying, as also trade, money-lending and cultivating of land. For the Shudra the Lord (Prabhu) ordained only one function, the ungrudging service of the said castes.
This arrangement proposed by the head of the larger commonalty rejected the move initiated by some newly to include artisans, artistes and other workers in the class of Shudras. It also lifted those who kept and tended cattle to the cadre of Kshatriyas from that of the Vaisyas. It absorbed the erstwhile aristocrats in the three higher classes by making giving gifts a prescribed duty for them. Thereby it lifted these classes above the level of the commoners, manushyas, who were earlier only recipients of the liberal gifts given to them by devas, nobles.
Jones translated these verses as: To Brahmans he assigned the duties of reading the Veda, of teaching it, of sacrificing, of assisting others to sacrifice, of giving alms, if they be rich, and if indigent, of receiving gifts. To defend the people, to give alms, to sacrifice, to read the Veda, to shun the allurements of sensual gratification, are in a few words, the duties of a Kshatriya. To keep herds of cattle, to bestow largesse, to sacrifice, to read the scripture, to lend at interest and to cultivate land are prescribed or permitted to a Vaisya. One principal duty the supreme Ruler assigned to a Shudra; namely, to serve the before-mentioned classes, without depreciating their worth.
This distribution of occupations belongs to a period when the Vedas were not yet regarded as religious scriptures, that is, to the decades that immediately followed the famous battle of Kurukshetra. They had been recently compiled as anthologies of hymns that presented a critical appreciation pertaining to the lore that was a part of the then socio-cultural history. Only the Brahmans as teachers taught them to all. But all who were educated could study them.
But the poor Shudras did not have access to these schools unless they were also assistants attending on these teachers and priests. They were not impure. However, only the Brahmans and the Kshatriyas were considered to be pure and of the two, the Brahmans were treated to be purer. Such blatant discrimination has been introduced later and the name of Manu Svayambhuva invoked to give it an authority that was not valid. Jones translates the verse (92) as: Man (Purusha) is declared (parikirtita) to be purer (medhyata) above the navel (nabhi); but the self-existing Power (Svayambhuva) declared the purest part of him to be his mouth. It is not sound to hold that this statement pronounced the Vaisyas and the Shudras who formed most of the society to be impure.
This statement, a later interpolation, holds even the Kshatriyas to be impure. Such statements are unauthorized and irrational and have to be openly condemned and rescinded. The school of thought promoted by the influential thinker and head of the agro-pastoral commonalty of the times of Manu Savarni held both the Kshatriyas and the Brahmans to be eligible for the status of social leaders (purushas).
But later editors of Manusmrti refused to accept this claim and held that in the opinion of the first Manu, Svayambhuva, only the Brahmans, that is, those who had emerged from the mouth (of the Purusha) could be held to have the intellectual acumen (medhyata) needed to be the social leaders, purushas. These later editors would not concede that Kshatriyas and Sutas had the authority to pronounce verdicts as leaders of the entire society. During the times of Manu Savarni the Sutas dominated the political scene as statesmen and ambassadors with all immunities.
Buhler translates the next verse (93) as: As the Brahmana sprang from (Brahmans) mouth, as he was the first-born, and as he possesses the Veda, he is by right the lord of this whole creation. Burnell translates it as: Since he sprang from the most excellent (uttama) part (anga), since he was the first-born (jyeshta), and since he holds (dharana) the Vedas (Brahmana), the Brahman is, by right (dharmata), the lord (Prabhu) of all this creation (sarga). The status of Prabhu, the head of the society is to be assigned according to the Dharmasastra to the Brahmana as he belongs to the first social cadre established as teachers and as he knows, upholds and adheres to the social constitution, Brahmana (Atharvaveda in particular and Vedas in general).
The later editors of Manusmrti defend this claim in the next verse (94), an obvious interpolation. Buhler translates it as: For the Self-existent (Svayambhu), having performed austerities (tapa), produced (srja) him first (adita) from his mouth, in order that the offerings might be conveyed to the gods, and manes and that this universe (sarva) might be preserved (guptaya). This verse belongs to the post-Vedic times when the Sraddha rites had been institutionalized and the cadres of nobles, devas, and elders, pitaras, had ceased to play any worthwhile role in social affairs. The Brahman is viewed here as a priest officiating at sacrifices rather than as a scholar and teacher.
Jones reads the next verse (95) as: What created being can then can surpass Him with whose mouth the gods of the firmament (tridiva okasa) continually feast on clarified butter and the manes of ancestors (pitara) on hallowed cakes? Burnell translates it as: What being (bhuta) is then superior to him by whose mouth the gods eat oblations (havya) and the manes offerings (kavya)? The three cadres of nobles, devas,belonging to traditional aristocracy (devas),frontier society (devatas) and commonalty (visvedevas) and the elders (pitaras) are duly invoked and honoured by the Brahman in his hymns and chants. The later editor of Manusmrti wonders whether there could be any individual, bhuta, of the unorganized social periphery who could be superior to this Brahman. This Brahman priest has influence over all the three sectors of the enlarged aristocracy and over the experienced elders, pitaras and has a unique place in the social system.
Jones translates the next verse (96) as: Of created things, the most excellent are those which are animated, those which subsist by intelligence; of the intelligent mankind; and of men the sacerdotal class. Buhler translated this verse as: Of created beings (bhutas) the most excellent are said to be those which are animated (prani); of the animated, those which subsist by intelligence (buddhijiva); of the intelligent, mankind; and of men (naras), the Brahmanas.
The term, bhutas,is used here to indicate all the members of the societal system, men, animals, birds, insects, trees, plants, stones etc. Of these the living ones,pranis are superior (sreshta). Among these the intellectuals who thrive by intellect, buddhijivis are superior. Among these intellectuals, buddhimas, the free men, naras, are superior. In other words, free intelligentsia deserves to be honoured.
Among these free men, naras, (who are not attached to clans or communities) the Brahmans are revered according to Manusmrti. The editors emphasize that these Brahman intellectuals are not subordinate to any clan or community or class or state. An individual of the social periphery, a bhuta, ranks far lower in this system. The text does not refer to the Brahmans as sacerdotal class. The term, naras is not to be translated as mankind.
Buhler translates the next verse (97) as: Of Brahmanas, those learned (in the Veda); of the learned, those who recognize (the necessity and the manner of performing the prescribed duties); of those who possess this knowledge, those who perform them; of the performers, those who know the Brahman. Jones translated it as: Of priests, those eminent in learning; of the learned those who know their duty; of those who know it, such as perform it virtuously; and of the virtuous, those who seek beatitude from a perfect acquaintance with scriptural doctrine. Burnell read it as:But of Brahmans, the learned (vidvan) (are most excellent); of the learned (vidvat), (those who) know their duty (krtabuddhaya); of those who know it (krtabuddhi), (such as) do it; and of those who do it (kartaram), (those who) know the Vedas (Brahmavedi).
These Brahmavadis or Brahmavedis were jurists and ideologues-cum-activists. They upheld Atharvaveda (Brahma). This work outlined the socio-political constitution of the Vedic times. They were not teachers or priests by profession. (Vide Ch. 4Atharvan Polity and Ch.5---The Vratyan Nation-State in my work, Evolution of Social Polity of Ancient India)
Jones translates the ensuing verses (98-100) as: The very birth of Brahmans is a constant incarnation of Dharma, God of Justice; for the Brahman is born to promote justice and to procure ultimate happiness. When a Brahman springs to light, he is born above the world, the chief of all creatures, assigned to guard the treasury of duties, religious and civil. Whatever exists in the universe is all in effect, though not in form, the wealth of the Brahman; since the Brahman is entitled to it all by his primogeniture and eminence of birth.
Buhler translates it as: The very birth (utpatti) of a Brahman (vipra) is an eternal (sasvata) incarnation (moorti) of the sacred law (dharma); for he is born to (fulfill) the sacred law (dharmartha), and becomes one with Brahman (Brahmabhuya). A Brahmana, coming into existence (jayamana), is born as the highest (adhijayata) on earth (prthvi), the lord (isvara) of all created beings (sarvabhuta), for the protection (guptasya) of the treasury of the law (dharmakosha). Whatever exists in the world (jagat) is the property (svam) of the Brahmana; on account of the excellence (sreshta) of his origin (abhijana) the Brahmana is indeed entitled to it all.
These translations are imprecise. The western Indologists of the 19th century and the Indian scholars of that period on whom the former had depended for guidance and the Indian scholars of the 20th century who followed these Indologists lacked a correct appreciation of the Vedic and early post-Vedic social polity. The wrong postulates they have floated need to be rejected and a correct outline of that polity presented. I choose not to mention the names of these scholars.
The Vipra, the scholar who moves about educating all and who is not bound to any family or clan, is eternal dharma incarnate. He has been envisaged as the ideal Brahman created for the fulfillment of the purposes of the social laws, dharma. He has no interests of his own.
The Brahman has been from the very beginning treated as the highest born (abhijana) among the commonalty (prthvi). He has been respected by all the bhutas (individuals of the social periphery) as their rich charismatic chief (isvara, god as loosely translated) and guardian of the cherished contents of the socio-cultural code, dharmakosha. The property of the social universe (jagat) of the people on the move is placed under the personal custody of the Brahman. For, he is not greedy and is respected even as the sreshta, a rich man of the frontier society, or the abhijana, an aristocrat of the core society is respected and trusted. All these aspects are covered in this verse.
Only a vipra, a scholar not dependent on others, who is fit to be such a reliable custodian of the property of others, is eligible to be appointed as a Brahman, a trustee under constitutional law, Dharma. What he has in his possession is had in trust. This picture of his importance had been lost sight of by the medieval commentators. The Vipra, who leads a life in accordance with the code of Dharma, may rise to become such an attorney and trustee of the wealth of the population on the move and be respected by all the individuals on the social periphery and treated as one born in a noble family. A Vipra was not necessarily one born in a Brahman family. Even educated Vaisyas and Kshatriyas could undertake to propagate Dharma and spread knowledge.
It is of utmost importance to recognize that the Brahman was the chairman of the constitution bench of the judiciary and was assisted by three Vipras, scholars. A Vipra could rise to become a Brahman. The scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries have failed to notice this crucial distinction between the two terms, Vipra and Brahmana, and treated them as indicating the same concept, a teacher-cum-priest. Unless we arrive at a correct description of the basic concepts like these two we would not be able to present a rational outline of ancient Indian social polity and would be allowing the demagogues and ideologues to have their ways of obscurantism unchecked and the proselytizers unchecked passage.
Burnell translates the next verse (101) as: The Brahman through the benevolence of the Brahman, indeed, the other people enjoy (all they have). Buhler reads it as: The Brahmana eats but his own food, wears but his own apparel, bestows but his own in alms; other mortals subsist through the benevolence of the Brahmana. Jha translates it as: What the Brahmana eats is his own; his own what he wears and his own also what he gives; it is due to the good will of the Brahmana that other people enjoy things. eats his own alone, wears his own and gives away his own:
The terms, sreshta and abhijana referred to the members of the intellectual aristocracy especially of the frontier society. As the rich and respected intellectual mingles with the people of the other society, itarajana, the industrial society of the forests and mountains, he tends to retain his individuality. He subsists on his own earnings and wealth rather than on what he has in his possession as the custodian of the property of the people on the move, jagat. (This intellectual aristocracy has to be distinguished from the greedy plutocracy of the frontier society that was characterized by hedonism.)
The people on the move are referred to as social universes, jagats, while the settled communities are referred to as social worlds, lokas. The sreshta does not exploit these other people. Many of them are below the subsistence level. Out of compassion (a-anrsamsya, non-inhumanity) for them he parts with what he has to them. The Brahman who lives by himself is not asocial. Medieval commentators seem to have lost sight of this aspect of the role of the Brahman who did not confine himself to the commonalty of the core society.
Buhler translates the next verse (102) as: In order to clearly settle his duties (karmavivekartham) and those of the other (castes) according to their order, wise Manu sprung from the Self-existent, composed these Institutes (of the sacred law). Burnell reads it as: For the ascertainment of his duties (and those) of the other (castes) in order, the prudent Manu Svayambhuva composed this treatise. Jones translated it as: To declare the sacerdotal duties and those of the other classes in due order, the sage Manu, sprung from the self-existing, promulgated this code of laws. Manu Svayambhuva who is noted for his discernment (dhi manam) has designed (kalpayat) this code (sastram) for regulating the work of these (Brahmans) and the rest (seshanam) in due order.
Jones translates the verse (103) as: It is a code which must be studied with extreme care by every learned Brahman, and fully explained to his disciples, but must be taught by no other man of an inferior class. Buhler translates it as: A learned Brahman must carefully study them and he must duly instruct his pupils in them, but no body else (shall do it). Only a Brahman who has carefully studied the code is entitled to teach it. The students may be from any social class. Jha interprets these two verses as: It was for the purpose of regulating the actions of the Brahmana, and incidentally others also, that the wise Manu Svayambhuva elaborated these institutes. This may be studied with care and duly taught to pupils by the learned Brahmana, not by any one else.
Buhler reads the next verse (104) as: A Brahman who studies these Institutes (and) faithfully fulfills the duties (prescribed therein), is never tainted by sins, arising from thoughts or words or deeds. Burnell translates it as: A Brahman who studies (adhyayana) this treatise (sastra) (and) who has performed (his) vows (vrata), is never defiled (lipyata) by defects (karmadosham) arising from mind, speech or body.
Burnell translates the next verse (105) as: He purifies his associates and seven of his kindred, (both) ascending and descending; and verily, he alone deserves all this earth (prthvi). Buhler explains: He sanctifies any company (which he may enter), seven ancestors and seven descendants, and he alone deserves (to possess) the whole earth. Jones read it as: He confers purity on his living family, on his ancestors and on his descendants as far as the seventh person; and he alone deserves to possess this whole earth.
The Brahman jurist(and the ruler guided by him) who adheres to the provisions of this code and observes the vows prescribed would be pure and would purify those of his generation and ensure the purity of the seven generations. (This implies purity of each of the seven lineages included in his pravara, which is a conglomeration of allied gotras). This would ensure for him control over the social system (krtsnam) of the commonalty.
The editors of Manava Dharmasastra claim that this most excellent code produces every thing auspicious, increases understanding, procures fame and long life and leads to supreme bliss. (106) Buhler translates the verse (107) as: In this (work) the sacred law (dharma) has been fully stated as well as the good (guna) and bad (dosha) qualities of (human) actions (karma) and the immemorial (sasvata) rule of conduct (acara) (to be followed) by all the four castes (varnas).
Buhler reads the next verse as: The rule of conduct is transcendent law, whether it be taught in the revealed texts or in the sacred tradition; hence a twice-born man who possesses regard for himself should be always careful to (follow) it. Burnell read it as: Usage is highest dharma, (it is) mentioned in the Vedas and approved by tradition; therefore, a prudent twice-born (man) should ever be intent on this. Jones translated it as: Immemorial custom is transcendent law, approved in the sacred scripture, and in the codes of divine legislators; let every man, therefore of the three principal classes, who has a due reverence for the supreme spirit which dwells in him, diligently and constantly observe immemorial custom. Jha was imprecise when he translated this verse as: Morality (achara, right behaviour) is highest (parama), dharma; that which is prescribed in the Sruti and laid down in the Smrti. Hence the twice-born person, desiring the welfare of his soul (atmavan), should be always intent on right behaviour. The concept of the welfare of the soul is not indicated here (108).
According to Bhrgu and other editors of Manava Dharmasastra, acara, what is practised as good conduct by the virtuous and wise is the highest socio-religious law (parama dharma). Its value is not to be underestimated and not to be rejected because it defies the logic of reason. It has its basis in both the Srutis and the Smrtis, in Vedas and in Dharmasastras. It was valid for the past as indicated in the Vedas and is valid for the present and the future as prescribed by the Sastras. Hence a properly trained dvija is expected to follow these established customs.
Since most of the society was expected to be composed of such educated persons, it was advisable not to postulate a dissociation between good traditional practices and the letter of the law whether that of the Vedas or that of the Sastras. This advice was given specially to the intelligentsia, the Brahman scholars and priests who were entitled to teach others and officiate at sacrifices performed by others.
A Vipra who departs from the rule of conduct (achara), does not reap the fruit of the Veda, but he who duly follows it, will obtain the full reward. (109) This was an advice to the scholars, Vipras, who felt that they were not bound by the traditions of their families, clans and communities and moved about teaching the commoners.They had studied Vedas and felt that these should prevail where the current practices and the letter of the Vedas were in conflict.
Bhrgu would advise them not to be too intellectualistic and not to censure those who followed irrational but good practices. In their personal lives too the advantages of scholarship in Vedas would accrue to them only if they followed good traditional practices. The Vipraswere eligible to sit as members on the constitution bench headed by the Brahman who had mastered all the four Vedas. They were advised not to disregard the importance of adherence to good social practices while interpreting what was dharma, morally and ethically just and correct.
The sages (munis) who saw (drshta) that the sacred law (dharma) is thus grounded on the rule of conduct (acara) have taken good conduct to be the most excellent (param) root (mula) of all austerity (tapas). (110) The editor of Manava Dharmasastra refers by the term, munis, to the ten Maharshis who had been asked by Manu Svayambhuva to draft the Sastra. The term, tapas, has to be appreciated correctly. It involved all intellectual and physical endeavour to locate new paths necessary for achieving the desired goals. Some of these paths may be at variance with the traditional practices.
Bhrgu would appeal to the critics of Manava Dharmasastra to note that the sages who compiled this treatise gave more importance to the continuance of the good practices of the past while permitting new endeavour and new directions than to the letter of the law as incorporated in the Vedas. Dharmasastra did not throttle new paths and creativity despite its upholding the traditional good practices.
In the ensuing verses, Bhrgu enumerates the topics covered by the Manava Dharmasastra. Buhler translates these as: The Creation (utpatti) of the Universe (jagat), the rule (vidhi) of the sacraments (samskaras), the ordinances of studentship, and the respectful behaviour (towards gurus), the most excellent rule of bathing (on return from the teachers house), (the law of) marriage and the description of the (various) marriage rites, the regulations for the great sacrifices (mahayajna) and the eternal rule of the funeral sacrifices (sraddhakalpam), the description of the modes of (gaining) subsistence (vrtti) and the duties (vrata) of a Snataka, (the rules regarding) lawful and forbidden food, the purification of men and of things (dravyam), the laws concerning women (stridharma), (the law of) hermits (tapasyam), (the manner of gaining) final emancipation (moksham) and (of) renouncing the world (sanyasam), the whole duty of a king (rajadharma) and the manner of deciding (vinirnayam) lawsuits (kaaryas), the rules (vidhanam) for the examination (prasna) of witnesses (sakshi), the laws regarding husband and wife (stripumsaya dharma), the law of (inheritance and) division (vibhaga dharma), (the law concerning) gambling (dyutam) and the removal of (men nocuous like) thorns (kantakasodhanam), (the law concerning) the behaviour (upacharam) of Vaisyas and Shudras, the origin (sambhava) of the mixed castes (samkirna), the law (dharma) for all castes (varnas) in times of distress (apad) and the law (vidhi) of penances (prayascittam), the threefold course of transmigrations (samsaragamanam), the result of (good or bad) actions (karmasambhavam), the manner of (attaining) supreme bliss (nisreyas) and the examination of the good qualities of actions (karmana gunadosha parikshinam), the primeval (sasvata) laws (dharma) of countries (desa), of castes (jati), of families (kula) and the rules regarding heretics (pashanda) and companies (ganas) (of traders and the like), all that Manu has declared in these Institutes (sastra). (111-118) Bhrgu adds, "As Manu, in reply to my questions, formerly promulgated these Institutes, even so learn ye also the (whole work) from me". (119)
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