INSTITUTION OF JUSTICE
RULES RELATING TO CIVIC MISDEMEANOUR
(8-386 to 420)
That king (raja) in whose capital (pura) there is no thief or adulterer or slanderer or robber or assailant attains the social world (loka) (and status) of Sakra Indra (the ideal generalcum-ruler who destroyed the forts of a hundred feudal lords, asuras). Sakra Indra who belonged to the later Vedic times had undertaken the onerous task of wiping out feudalism and setting up the serfs of nobles as independent owners of lands. (8-386)
The suppression of these five classes of criminals in his own domain (svaka) secures to the king (raja) among his peers (sajati, members of communities with equal status) the status of the ruler of an empire (samrajya) and fame (yasa) in the social world (loka) of commoners. (8-387) He had the status, svaka, marginally lower than that of the noble, sva.
Manava Dharmasastra had institutionalized the Vedic practice of performance of sacrifices and made it obligatory for the members of the three higher social classes, Brahmans, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas. The priests, rtvijas, (officers in charge of protocol and performance of duties) had each been assigned a specific number of families and they could not abandon the performers of sacrifices and the latter could not fail to invite the former. Only when the council had disqualified the priest for violation of its codes or the performer of sacrifice for the provisions of the Dharmasastra, this arrangement could be repudiated. One who refused to officiate at a sacrifice or one who failed to perform the sacrifice was liable to pay a fine of 100 panas. (8-388)The clergy was getting crystallized. The family too needed to be placed on a sound footing.
Neither the mother not the father nor the wife nor the son is to be forsaken; he who forsakes these unless they are declared (by the appropriate social councils) as outcasts, shall be fined 600 panas by the king (raja). (8-389) This was slightly more than the middle amercement. The householder was bound to protect them. He had to protect his daughters until they were married. The king ensured that the family did not crumble on account of the irresponsibility of its head. Of course the latter could not entertain a member who had been outcast.
If there was a dispute among men belonging to two or more twice-born communities (dvijati), about the duties of the individuals on the basis of their asramas, stages of life, it would be in the personal interest of the civic administrator (nrpa) that he did not personally proceed to determine (vibruya) the law (dharma). (Jha) (8-390)
This falls within the jurisdiction of the council of priests like Rtvijas, who looked after observance of protocol and performance of duties and scholars and is not covered by civil laws. An administrator or king who meddles with the rights and duties of the individuals as prescribed in accordance with asramas will come to grief. But civil law could bend and redefine the laws pertaining to varnas, social classes. [Of course many commentators did not accept this compromise between the state and the clergy.]
If the members of the three higher varnas approached the parthiva, the ruler of the agrarian terrain who ranked higher than the civic administrator, nrpa, the parthiva along with the jurists (Brahmans) should receive the disputing parties with honour. He should first pacify them with soothing words and then explain to them the duty of every individual (svadharma) (according to his varna and asrama). (8-391) The duties of the individual include civic duties and the duty to behave like a civilized person keeping aside class-consciousness and class-pride.
Jha interprets the verse (8-392) as: If at a festival where twenty twice-born men are invited, a Brahman does not entertain his frontal and back neighbours who are quite worthy, he deserves to be fined one (silver) masa.
Buhler translates it as: A Brahman who does not invite his next neighbour and his neighbour next but one (though) both (be) worthy (of the honour) to a festival at which twenty Brahmans are entertained, is liable to a fine of one masa.
The word, kalyana indicates an auspicious occasion like a wedding where twenty persons are invited for dinner. Courtesy requires that immediate neighbours and their neighbours too be invited. If a Brahman host fails to invite them he may be fined a token amount. At these social programs, all the three higher classes were on par and none of them was to be discriminated against. Of course the Shudras were not invited to participate in these gatherings as they were servants and could not be seated beside the higher classes. Servants continue to be kept at a distance in all societies.
Since the Brahman jurists were to hear these disputes their directions were binding for all. Lack of courtesy led to undesirable bitterness and it invited at least a token fine. Not all Brahmans were catholic in their outlook or gentlemanly in their conduct. If a Vedic scholar hosting a party refused to entertain a pious Vedic scholar (who might have come uninvited), he should be made to pay twice the quantity of that meal and a masa of gold.(8-393) It would be deemed an insult to that pious scholar and it was justifiable though it was not an economic dispute and was essentially an issue of social etiquette.
The editors of Manusmrti were eager to ensure that those who depended on the Vedic scholars (srotriyas) were not taxed by any official, especially the blind, the mentally backward, the physically crippled, the old among them and their personal attendants. (8-394) Of course these scholars themselves were exempt from taxes.
The king (raja) is advised to remember that the Vedic scholars (srotriyas), the sick, the distressed, children, the aged and the destitute are to be addressed gently with respect and sympathy as he would address the aristocrats (mahakulina) and the owners of property (Aryas). (8-395) Disrespect to them will recoil on him and he would lose his reputation.
Returning to the duties of the commoners, Manusmrti exhorts the person handling laundry to be cautious while washing the clothes and not to carry the dirty linen with the cleaned ones and not to allow them to be worn. (8-396)
The weaver who receives ten palas of yarn should return to the spinner eleven palas of cloth; otherwise he shall pay a fine of twelve panas. The additional pala was meant to compensate the spinner for his or her unpaid labour. (8-397)
The spinners who were mostly girls and women who worked in their cottages needed protection against exploitation by weavers who belonged to the semi-organized industrial sector. The civic administrator shall take five percent of the price of all the commodities sold in cash transactions (panya) as fixed by experts who were experienced in the practices of tollhouses. There could be no arbitrary appropriation of tolls and no harassment of traders and consumers. (8-398)
If any one exported out of greed the commodities that had been proclaimed as kings (raja) property and those that were forbidden, the administrator (nrpa) shall seize all his property. (8-399) If one buys or sells avoiding the tollhouse or at the improper time or makes a wrong statement in counting, he shall have to pay a fine eight times the amount evaded. (8-400)
The administrator shall regulate the purchase and sale of all marketable commodities (panya), after taking into account their source, destination and period of detention and also profit and loss. (8-401)
Vyavahara dealt with economic disputes involving deposits, pledges and ownership and were justiciable. Panya dealt with trade and marketing, especially cash transactions covering these. (Vide my dissertation, Foundations of Hindu Economic State based on Kautilyan Arthasastra.) The nrpa was in charge of local trade. After lapse of five nights or after a fortnight, the administrator (nrpa) shall publicly fix the prices of articles coming to the market. (8-402) Scales, weights and measures should be duly marked and reexamined after every six months. (8-403)
The ferry-charge for a laden cart is one pana, for a porter carrying a head-load, half a pana, for a woman and an animal, one fourth of a pana and for a boy, one eighth of a pana. (8-404) The civic administrator was in charge of the ferry crossing. Carts laden with commodities should be made to pay the ferry-toll according to their value; those not laden with commodities may pay a trifle (less than a pana) as also men without luggage. (8-405) This rule seems to be a later amendment to the rule in the previous verse.
For a long journey, the boat-fare should be in proportion to the time and place; this should be understood as the rule regarding river-banks; for sea-journey there is no fixed fare." Maritime trade was in its infancy. But internal trade by river was well regulated. At a ferry crossing, pregnant women should not be asked to pay any toll and so too ascetics (pravrajita) and silent hermits (munis) and Saivaite Brahmans who wore lingas around their necks. This exemption to Buddhist and Sramana monks and Lingayat Brahmans must have been a later interpolation. It placed them on par with the Vedic scholars. (8-406,407)
If anything on the boat happen to be damaged by the fault of the boatmen, it shall be made good by the boatmen collectively, each according to his share. (8-408) The civic administrator was in charge of safe travel whether by road or river. The above is an economic dispute, vyavahara, and is justiciable in a court of law where the parties are entitled to present witnesses. This rule pertains to decision on civil suits arising from negligence of boatmen; there is no punishment in the case of accidents attributed to divine causes. (8-409) Accidents caused by nobles (devas) could not be brought before the civil court.
Jha translates the next verse (8-410) as; He shall make the Vaisya to carry on trade (vanijya), money-lending (kusida) and agriculture (krshi) and cattle-rearing (pasurakshana); and the Shudra to perform service (dasyam) for the twice-born castes (dvijanmana).
Buhler read it as: (The king) should order a Vaisya to trade, to lend money, to cultivate the land or to tend cattle; and a Shudra to serve the twice-born castes. Jones translated it as: The king should order each man of the mercantile class to practise trade or money-lending or agriculture and attendance on cattle; and each man of the servile class to act in the service of the twice-born. Burnell translates it as: The king should make the Vaisya practise trade, gold-loaning, agriculture and cattle-rearing; and make the Shudra (act) as the slave of those who are twice-born. This verse again is a considerably later interpolation.
Only agriculture, animal husbandry and trade were the vocations assigned to Vaisyas. They were owners of property and their employees who did not have property of their own assisted them in all these vocations. The latter were known as Shudras and were treated with little respect. They were not the personal attendants of the members of the higher classes. They were wage earners until economic necessity drove them to become dasas again. Earlier they had been the attendants of the nobles and when they were discharged they became free wage earners though economically they were weak. Usury was not recognized as an independent vocation earlier.
This verse treats Shudras as servants of the persons who were known as twice born. They were workers who had been relieved from their jobs as tillers and reapers, cowherds and shepherds and hawkers and assigned the jobs of domestic helps and personal attendants. All those who were engaged in agriculture, animal husbandry and trade whether as employers or as employees or were self-employed were given the status of Vaisyas. As every Shudra was attached to a particular household, there was no class of proletariat. It is imprecise to describe the Vaisyas as the mercantile class and unfair to describe the Shudras as the servile class.
Burnell and others had deliberately presented their status as that of slaves. The civil administrator was required to ensure that every one followed this new arrangement. Brahmans and Kshatriyas could no longer be engaged in money lending. A trader or agriculturist too could not lend money on interest. A new separate vocation, banking, was created under state supervision. Medieval commentators missed this note.
Jha translates the next verse (8-411) as: A Brahmana should through compassion support a Vaisya and a Kshatriya who is distressed for a livelihood and should make them do his own work (svakarma). Jones translated it as: Both him of the military and him of the commercial class, if distressed for a livelihood, let some wealthy Brahman support, obliging him without harshness to discharge their several duties.
Buhler translated it as: (Some wealthy) Brahmana shall compassionately support both a Kshatriya and a Vaisya, if they are distressed for a livelihood, employing them on work (which is suitable for) their (castes)." This has been wrongly interpreted by some to mean that the Brahman may offer the Kshatriya the job of a guard and a Vaisya that of a cowherd but not appoint them as his personal servants. But very few Brahmans would have been rich enough to give them these jobs. This verse again appears to be an addition effected during the British rule. The distressed Vaisyas and Kshatriyas could opt for any work of their choice.
Jha translates the verse (8-412) as: If the Brahmana, through the sense of mastery and out of greed, makes sanctified (samskrta) twice-born persons (dvijas) do servile work against their will he should be fined by the king (raja) six hundred. Jones read it as: A Brahman who, by his power and through avarice, shall cause twice-born men, girt with the sacrificial thread to perform servile acts, such as washing his feet, without their consent, shall be fined by the king 600 panas. Buhler translated it as: But a Brahmana who, because he is powerful, out of greed makes initiated (men of the) twice-born (castes) against their will do the work of slaves, shall be fined by the king 600 (panas).
A few rich Brahmans were arrogant and greedy and belonged to the cadre of chiefs (prabhavas) of social bodies and they had many personal unpaid attendants,dasas. (These were not slaves.) The Kshatriyas and Vaisyas who were well trained in their respective professions and were dvijas should not be compelled to do the work of these untrained servants. The term, samskrta, implies cultured rather than sanctified.
It was a period of social change. Vaisyas had ceased to be employers and Kshatriyas had ceased to be the ruling elite. They were all constrained to do physical work and ply their respective vocations and most of them could not afford to employ labourers.
A new politico-economic elite had emerged and its members claimed to be Brahmans entitled to supervise social activities. They were delighted to take under their protection the Vaisyas and Kshatriyas who had failed to thrive in their vocations but were cultured (samskrta) dvijas. As these groups were available to do most of the work that had till then been done by unpaid Shudra servants, many of the latter must have lost their jobs and been constrained to become bonded labourers. The Dasas had earlier been liberated from servitude and granted the status of Aryas, free citizens entitled to own property. But this freedom was short-lived and they were once again available as purchased (kreeta) slaves.
Jha translates the verse (8-413) as: But a Shudra, whether bought or not bought, he shall make to do servile work; since it is for doing servile work for the Brahmana that he has been created by the self-born one." Buhler translated it as: But a Shudra, whether bought (kreeta) or not bought (akreeta), he may compel to do servile work (karya); for, he was created by the self-existent (Svayambhu) to be the slave (dasya) of a Brahmana. Jones read it as: But a man of the servile class whether bought or not bought, he may compel to perform servile duty; because such a man was created (srshta) by the Self-existent, for the purpose of serving Brahmans. [This interpretation is unacceptable.]
Burnell translates this verse as: But a Shudra, whether bought or not, (the Brahman) may compel to practise servitude; for that Shudra was created by the Self-existent merely for the service of the Brahmans. This verse denied the Kshatriyas and the Vaisyas the right to employ Shudras as personal attendants. It made the latter depend purely on the rich Brahmans. This was a misinterpretation and misrepresentation of ancient Hindu social polity if not an undesirable distortion effected by the later-day Brahmans under lure.
In the verse (8-415) Manusmrti presents seven classes of dasas: (1) prisoners-of-war; (2) he who serves to earn his livelihood; (3) one born in his master's house; (4) one who is bought; (5) one who is given as a slave; (6) one inherited from the ancestors as slave; (7) one enslaved by way of punishment.
When buying and selling of slaves was banned many who had domestic servants attached to their families for generations found it difficult to face the government officials who were asked to implement the new rule strictly. All those who were working under Vaisya landlords and Kshatriya chieftains were liberated and they could have only paid employees.
The liberated Dasas could not all be absorbed in the cadres of paid servants and it was proposed that those who had no means of livelihood should be taken care of by the State or by the Brahmans. The social scheme outlined by Manu Svayambhuva permitted only the Brahmans (who were pious scholars) to have unpaid servants (dasas) under them as personal attendants. Not even the King could have bonded labourers under him.
The prisoners-of-war and the civil prisoners had to work and earn and obtain their release by paying the ransom money. All the other five types were released from their obligations to their masters and could not be re-employed by them. But they could seek refuge under the Brahmans who could use them only as personal attendants and not as guards or for hard physical work. In return for their service, the Brahmans had to educate them.
The laws pertaining to economic disputes covered the service under the Brahmans whether by an erstwhile bought serf or one not bought. The service rendered would be evaluated in monetary terms and the accrued income paid to the servant whenever he asked for it. It was assumed that the Brahman master would keep that amount in trust and pay him honestly. This provision in the rules, which released the Shudras from the service of the Vaisyas and Kshatriyas and placed them under that of the Brahmans, was a significant one. It was as pregnant as the permission given to the Vaisyas and Kshatriyas to seek asylum under the Brahmans when in distress.
Jha translates the verse (8-414) as: Even though set free (nisrshta) by the master (svami), the Shudra is not released (vimuchyata) from service (dasya); since that is innate (nisargaja) in him, and who can release (apoha, remove) him from it? Buhler translates it as: A Shudra though emancipated by his master, is not released from servitude; since that is innate in him, who can set him free from it? Jones interpreted it as: A Shudra, though emancipated by his master, is not released from a state of servitude; for, of a state, which is natural to him, by whom can he be divested? Burnell interprets this verse as: Even if freed by his master, the Shudra is not released from servitude; for this (servitude) is innate in him; who then can take it from him?
Is Dasabhava natural to some? The later editors held that the move to call upon all masters to discharge theShudras from service so that they might become self-employed would not succeed in its objective of creating a classless society. For, there are some persons who do not have the dynamism necessary to determine the courses of their own lives and would only do as directed by their superiors. Such persons who are prone to Dasabhava, the trait of being a subordinate, need protectors. They have to be placed under those who are not authoritarian or greedy.
They are released from the plan of a classless mass society outlined later. The new cadre of Shudras would consist of those who cannot be assertive and who need to serve and be looked after with solicitude. As Medhatithi points out, the argument that servitude has been declared to be for all Shudras as servitude is innate in them is untenable. There is real slavery only when service rendered to another is not voluntary. These verses have to be interpreted against the background of the movement to wipe out all traces of subjugation of one individual to another and to create a society where there would be no class of masters or a class of servants.
What is the implication of this stand to the right to property? Manusmrti says: The wife, the son and the Dasa are declared to have no property; whatever they acquire is the property of him to whom they belong, that is to the husband or to the father or to the master."(8-416) The wife or the son or the servant can not dispose of the property standing in the name of the head of a household. Whatever they earn must be handed over to the latter. This was an arrangement for purposes of revenue records. Nothing more than this is to be read here.
The next verse (8-417) is a crude interpolation that took undue advantage of the above procedure. Jha interprets this verse as: The Brahmana may confidently have recourse to seizing the goods of the Shudra; as the latter has no property and his property is meant to be seized by the master. Buhler interpreted it as: A Brahmana may confidently seize the goods of (his) Shudra (slave); for, as that (slave) can have no property, his master may take his possessions.
Jones interpreted it as: A Brahman may seize without hesitation, if he be distressed for subsistence, the goods of the Shudra slave: for, as that slave can have no property, his master may take his goods. Burnell reads it as: A Brahman may take possession of the goods of a Shudra with perfect peace of mind; for, since nothing at all belongs to this (Shudra) as his own, he is one whose property may be taken away by his master.
It is wrong to describe a Shudra as a slave. The arguments advanced by the Brahman master who had monopolized the right to employ Shudras as his personal attendants and had deprived them of the right to be even wage earners have to be read in the light of the collapse of both the state and the bourgeoisie. Such collapse must have been a later medieval phenomenon that immediately preceded the advent of British colonialism sponsored by the East India Company.
Dasas were not all slaves. Not all Shudras were Dasas; and nor all Dasas were Shudras. A Kshatriya might become a prisoner-of-war and hence a Dasa; similarly, a Vaisya may become a civil prisoner and hence, a Dasa, until he discharged his debts. A Dasa could have no property. But a Shudra could earn and gain property; and if he decided to till his own field or ply his own vocation, he became a Vaisya. As the Vaisyas were prohibited from employing any servant, the Shudras who were not confident of standing on their own legs took refuge under the Brahmans.
As they accepted the status of servants, Dasas, they could not own property. The property they had brought had to be surrendered to the masters (bhartru) who would keep it separately and return them to the servants when they left. The master did not become the owner of the property of the servant. The administrator assured the Brahmana master that his action would not be treated as misappropriation of the property of another person. True that later greedy Brahmans who claimed that Shudras should serve them only and hand over all their property to their new masters misused these provisions. But the intents of these provisions were different and noble and certainly not dishonourable.
Buhler translates the next verse (8-418) as: (The king) should carefully compel Vaisyas and Shudras to perform the work (prescribed) for them; for if these two (castes) swerved from their duties they would throw this (whole) world into confusion. Jha translates it as: The king shall make the Vaisya and the Shudra carefully perform their duties; for by swerving from their duties they would disturb this world.
Jones translated it as: With vigilant care should the king exert himself in compelling merchants and mechanics to perform their respective duties (svakarma); for when such men swerve from their duty, they throw this world (jagat) into confusion. Burnell translated it as: (The king) should with great care oblige the Vaisya and the Shudra to perform each his own occupation, for by departing from their own occupations these two would cause the universe to shake. (It is unsound to refer to Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras as castes. They were classes.)
The new social universe (jagat) envisaged by the editors of Manusmrti had two major sectors managing the economy, the Vaisyas and the Shudras. The former looked after trade, banking, agriculture and animal husbandry and the latter was an amalgam of artisans, artistes and self-employed persons, each with his chosen work (svakarma). All those who had remained outside the four-fold social order that covered the social world (loka) of the commonalty (prthvi, manushyas) were required to merge in that commonalty and each individually choose his vocation. The above distinction between employer and employee was overcome by the new concept of self-employed person.
The Vaisyas had landed property and liquid assets besides ranches while the Shudras had their independent vocations, which did not need these. They were no longer servants of the Vaisyas. The few who could not stand on their own legs had been advised to become servants of the Brahmans. The concept of svakarma was based on the right to pursue a means of livelihood according to ones aptitude, svabhava. It is wrong to explain it as ones duty. The term, svadharma, means ones duty. The ruler is advised to honour the concept of svakarma that precludes working for the fulfillment of the interests of another individual.
The new socio-economic system based on an occupation selected on the basis of personal aptitude, proposed for the till-then unorganized social universe (jagat) required that every one adhered to his vocation and did not resort to that of another. The administrator and the King are advised to ensure that the Vaisyas and the Shudras adhere to it. The medieval authors failed to notice this conversion of the class of Vaisyas into petit bourgeoisie and small farmers and the class of Shudras into guilds of independent artisans. Was this verse a subtle interpolation effected by Jones or was it a discovery he had made but had not understood its pregnant significance?
Buhler translates the next verse (8-419) as: Let him daily look after the completion of his undertakings, his beasts of burden and carriages, (the collection of) revenue and disbursements, his mines and his treasury. Jha translated it as: Day after day he shall look after his business centres, his conveyances, his income and expenditure regularly and mines and treasury. The term, karmanta, meant workshops. Industry was kept as a state prerogative and so too mines. The king controlled the treasury and the army, which were dependent on these. Jones was off the mark in his interpretation of this verse. (8-420). The king (raja) who completes all this (legal) business (vyavahara) removes all sin and attains the highest state.
SOCIAL LAWS AND JUSTICE
PRIVILEGES OF BRAHMAN JURISTS
(Manusmrti Bk. Eleven 1 to 35)
At the sacrificial enclosure only nine categories of Brahmans were eligible to be fed. Others including other categories of Brahmans had to be served food outside this enclosure. They were not eligible to receive the fees (dakshina) and other gifts, which the nine special categories were eligible for. These Brahmans were treated as graduates (snatakas) who had become alms-seekers, Bhikshus, to fulfil the conditions laid down by dharma. They had no personal possessions and were to be given gifts in proportion to their learning.
They were classified under the nine categories: "One who wishes to marry with the intent to have a offspring, one who wishes to perform a sacrifice, a traveller, one who has given away all his property, one who begs for the sake of his teacher, one who does so for his father, one who does so for his mother, one who seeks to continue studying by himself (svadhyaya) and one who is ill." (11-1 to 3) The society has the duty to feed and aid its students even after they have graduated from their schools. They are not teachers or priests and have no property of their own. They are bachelors and not householders.
The householders among the Brahmans who are Vedic scholars and who are entitled to officiate at public sacrifices, yajnas, are to be honoured by the King (raja) with jewels of all sorts and presents for the public service rendered by them. (11-4) But not all Brahmansconducted themselves as members of a selfless intelligentsia at the service of the society.
Buhler translates the verse (11-5) as: "If a man who has a wife weds a second wife, having begged money (to defray the marriage expenses) he obtains no advantage but sensual enjoyment; but the issue (of his second marriage belongs) to the giver of the money."
Manusmrti did not support bigamy though it upheld the right of an individual to marry and have heirs. It conceded that this was not only a right but also a duty. It however considered that men resorted to bigamy mostly to gratify their sex needs. This clause warned that the Brahmans who sought aid for a second marriage would lose their children to the host. While the Brahmans were eligible to receive gifts they could not stipulate what and how much the host should give them.
Buhler reads the next verse (11-6) as: "One should give, according to one's ability, wealth to Brahmans learned in the Veda and living alone; (thus) one obtains after death heavenly bliss." This verse has been omitted by Medhatithi and other later commentators, perhaps because it debarred all Brahmans who were householders from receiving social aid in the form of being beneficiaries as guests at social functions and sacrifices, yajnas, performed by other members of the society, even if these Brahmans were not present as priests. It was permissible to extend financial aid to aBrahman scholar who stayed alone and pursued his study and taught others.
Who was entitled to perform the Soma sacrifice that needed the drink being sanctified by the presence of the rich intelligentsia as the special guests? Buhler translates the verse (11-7) as: "He who may possess (a supply of) food sufficient to maintain those dependent on him during three years or more than that is worthy to drink the Soma juice." Both the host and the guests at this Soma sacrifice belonged to the aristocracy and were not in need of financial assistance. They were rich enough to protect their dependents for a long period even if the crops failed. The cultural aristocracy could allow the rich intelligentsia to enjoy its company.
But a Brahman or any other educated person, dvija, who is once admitted to the company of the aristocracy on drinking the Soma juice, if he loses the ability to maintain his dependents by frittering away his wealth while in the company of the nobles, will be no longer respected by them. He will not have a second chance to drink Soma and be admitted again to that company. Even if he drinks Soma again, that is, is readmitted to the company of the aristocrats, it will be of no avail. For respect once lost cannot be regained by the spendthrift. (11-8) This caution has not been understood in its proper note by the medieval commentators and the modern interpreters. (There is no suggestion that the Soma juice was an intoxicant or even a depressant.)
Buhler reads the next verse (11-9) as: "If an opulent man (shakta) is liberal towards strangers (parajana), while his family (svajana) lives in distress, that counterfeit (pratirupaka) virtue (dharma) will first make him taste the sweets (of fame), but afterwards make him swallow the poison (of punishment in hell)." Burnell translates this verse as: "A man of means giving gifts to strangers while his own family lives in wretchedness takes poison while seeking honey; he makes a counterfeit of right." The editors of Manusmrti caution the readers against misinterpreting 'dharma' as a charitable act intended to help persons other than members of one's family. Charity begins at home. Manusmrti was for simplicity and sacrifice and not for fame through such gifts that harmed one's own family.
Burnell translates the next verse (11-10) as: "If any one perform funeral rites by (means, which entail) distress on his dependents, this (act) results in his woe, living and dead." Buhler reads it as: "If a man does anything for the sake of his happiness in another world, to the detriment of those whom he is bound to maintain, that produces evil results for him, both while he lives and when he is dead." The text does not refer to 'funeral rites'.
Performance of any act with the intent to benefit after one has given up the body should not be at the cost of one's dependents including servants (bhrtya). It will be counterproductive both in this life and in the next. The rites prescribed in the Dharmasastra are not to be treated as imperative even if they are not pragmatic. One must not live for oneself. He has a duty to those who are dependent on him. One is not required to perform any religious rite that is costly and is at the cost of the needs of these dependents. Commentators of the medieval times had preferred not to dwell on these wholesome aspects of the directives of Manusmrti.
Burnell translates the verses (11-11, 12) as: "If, where the king (rajan) is a just man (dharmika), a sacrifice should be interrupted through (incompleteness in) one article, when (any one), especially a Brahman, is offering sacrifice, one should take that article, to ensure the success of that sacrifice, from the household (possessions) of any Vaisya who (although) rich in cattle, does not perform sacrificial rites and does not drink soma." It needs to be noted that the sacrifices (yajnas) were a communal affair and all members of the local community were expected to contribute their mite to its success, whoever was the host who had embarked on it.
As the host, especially the Brahman host could not procure the required article, the king was expected to step in and compel the owner of the article needed to part with it. He might not be coerced if he belonged to the aristocracy (drank soma) or if he needed it for a sacrifice that he was scheduled to perform. Often he was required to part with a cow or a calf needed for the sacrifice. The state comes to the help of the host who performs a sacrifice with the intent to benefit others.
The next verse (11-13) is an undesirable corollary to the above. Buhler translates it as: "(Or) the (sacrificer) may take at his pleasure two or three (articles required for a sacrifice) from the house of a Shudra; for a Shudra has no business with sacrifices."
It needs to be pointed out here that the host, whether a Brahman or a Kshatriya or a Vaisya who was performing the sacrifice was not permitted to directly take away the things needed from the house of the Shudra. Only the King and the officers were permitted to take away those things from the house of the Shudra worker. The latter, that is, the Shudra, could not claim that he needed them as those articles could be used only in sacrificial rites and he was not entitled to host any sacrifice. Why should any one be in possession of a thing that he does not need, whether he is a Vaisya or a Shudra, a Brahman or a Kshatriya?
Buhler reads the next verse (11-14) as: "If (a man) possessing one hundred cows, kindles not the sacred fire, or one possessing a thousand cows drinks not the soma-juice, a (sacrificer) may unhesitatingly take (what he requires) from the houses of those too, even though they be Brahmanas or Kshatriyas." Those who had a hundred cows were counted as 'rich' and those who had a thousand cows were considered as belonging to the aristocracy whose members were entitled to partake of soma juice.
Only those who belonged to the three higher varnas and were rich had the wherewithal to perform the prescribed sacrifices. The King might make bold to enter their houses too and take away the things needed for a sacrifice if they did not themselves perform sacrifices. The demagogues who propagate that the Shudras enjoyed no protection need to be told that the King did not spare even the rich of the other social classes.
Buhler translates the next verse (11-15) as: "(Or) he may take (it by force or fraud) from one who always takes and never gives, and who refuses to give it; thus the fame (of the taker) will spread and his merit (dharma) increase." Burnell read it as: One may seize (property) from (one who) is always receiving but is not a giver, (if the latter) does not offer (it); thus his fame becomes extended and his spiritual good increased. The introduction of the phrase, "by force or fraud is unwarranted.
This verse is an addendum and must have been introduced when most of the rich refused to help in the performance of the sacrifices and the King too was not able to help the 'sacrificers'. It is too irrational to be given any weight as a social directive to the state. Theft and robbery can under no circumstances be defended and so too the selfishness of the rich cannot be.
Burnell translates the verse (11-16) as: "So too, at the seventh meal, (food) may be taken from a man who neglects ceremonies, by (a Brahman) who has taken on himself the rule of having no store for the morrow, (after he has passed) six meals (times) without eating."
The introduction of the words, 'a Brahman', is unwarranted and has led to mischievous condemnation of Brahmans. No one could be expected to bear hunger for more than three days. And the hungry who has deliberately forgone the right to save something for the morrow and decided not to earn more than what is needed for the day is not to be punished as a thief, if his sacrifice and self-denial is not respected by the rich and the greedy and if he takes away without permission what he needs to quench his hunger.
"Whether (food) be taken from threshing-floor, from field, from store-house or from any other place, if (the owner) questions (the one who takes it), the thing should be explained to him questioning." (11-17) This rule of Manusmrti is not to be interpreted as one defending theft or protecting the thief. It only calls upon the society and the state to respect the self-denial of the person who has fasted for three days and to help him. Most of those who undertook such 'religious' fasts were pious Brahmans. They were to be protected by the officials of the state.
But many of the latter were equally poor. Some of the Kshatriyas used force to take away the property of the commoners. Manusmrti calls upon them to never appropriate the property of the Brahmans. (11-18) If a Kshatriya had no means of livelihood of his own, that is, if he was serving the state gratis or was a discharged soldier, he had the right to take the property of a Dasyu or of one who did not perform ceremonies, according to this verse.
It is wrong to interpret that he was permitted to appropriate the property of a Shudra and that this smells of feudal exploitation of the workers. The 'dasyus' were mercenaries engaged by feudal lords and had come into possession of property plundered from the landlords and others. It is wrong to equate the Shudra workers with the Dasyus.
This verse permits the discharged Kshatriya officer to gain his livelihood by robbing these robbers. This may appear to be immoral, illegal and inadvisable. But this was social reality and had to be acknowledged, as justified in a society that did not respect the sacrifices of its state army and other state officials and did not look after their needs after their retrenchment from service. They were permitted to rob the idle rich (nishkriyaya) too. The last has been unnecessarily translated as "those who do not perform religious rites".
Buhler translates the next verse (11-19) as: "He, who takes property from the wicked and bestows it on the virtuous, transforms himself into a boat and carries both (over the sea of misfortune)." Manusmrti seems to honour Robin Hood. The medieval commentators preferred to overlook this claim.
The Kshatriya official who acts on his own in the above manner is not to be treated as a threat to owners of property many of whom had come into ownership of their property by dubious means. This verse tries to rationalize such permission. He is in fact relieving the latter of their burden of sin and saves himself from becoming a sinner by giving that property to the pious (sadhu). The State is not expected to protect the impious rich or to stand helpless against the latter. The rich felt insecure with the institutionalizing of this provision.
The editors of Manusmrti thereupon clarify (as translated by Burnell): "If those who are accustomed to perform sacrifice (yajna) possess any property, the wise (budhas) regard it as the possession of the gods (devas); but if those who do not offer any sacrifice possess any wealth, it is said to be the possession of demons (asuras)." (11-20) Manusmrti recommends for adoption by all this viewpoint of the unattached intellectuals (budhas) of the social periphery.
'Sheela' or high personal culture calls for the recognition of the traditional practice by which none but the nobles (devas) were entitled to have personal property. If any one came to gain such property, he should part with it to the needy at formal sacrifices. Such sincere persons who hold property only as caretakers are not to be disturbed. But those who treat it as personal property and refuse to part with any portion of it may be treated as following the way of life of the feudal lords (asuras) and they may be deprived of their property.
This policy needs attention and respect. The budhas who were intellectuals of the social periphery did not object to depriving the dasyus (the mercenaries serving the feudal lords) of their ill-gotten wealth and also that of the feudal lords, asuras, who did not perform sacrifices of a voluntary nature for the benefit of others. But the liberal nobles, devas, should not be deprived of their wealth, they counselled.
Burnell translates the next verse (11-21) as: "A sovereign (prthvipati) who does what is just (dharmika) should not have punishment (danda) inflicted (dharaya) upon this man, for (it is) through the foolishness (balishya) of the Kshatriya (that) the Brahman is afflicted with hunger. Jones translated it as: "Let no pious king fine the man who takes by stealth or by force what he wants to make a sacrifice perfect; since it is the king's folly that causes the hunger or wants of a Brahmana." Buhler reads it as: "On him (who, for the reasons stated, appropriates another's possessions), a righteous king shall not inflict punishment; for (in that case) a Brahmana pines with hunger through the Kshatriya's want of care."
These interpretations seem to permit the Brahmans to steal or use force to get their program of sacrifice carried out so that they could earn large remuneration for officiating as Brahmans and to throw the blame on the Kshatriyas and the State for forcing them to resort to these methods and for having impoverished them. The ruler of the agro-pastoral plains, prthvi, did not have control over the Kshatriya army that owed loyalty only to the King who was in the fortified city.
The rich landlords were robbed by the ex-soldiers and also by the poor Brahmans who were not supported either by the Kshatriya State or by the Vaisya landlords. The Prthvipati who was a ruler of the rural areas was required to punish the thieves but was asked not to do so as these Brahmans were themselves victims of neglect by the State and had been constrained to take to theft because of poverty.
Buhler translates the next verse (11-22) as: "Having ascertained the number of those dependent (bhrtyujana) on such a man, and having fully considered his learning (sruta) and his conduct (sheela), the king (mahipati) shall allow him, out of his own property, a maintenance (vrtti) whereon he may live according to the law (dharmya)."
Burnell reads it as: "Out of his own household goods (svakutumba) should the lord of the earth (the King) arrange (for him) (prakalpa) a righteous support, after learning (how large) a family has to be supported (by him) and understanding his wisdom and character." Jha reads it as: Having ascertained the number of persons he has to maintain, and having investigated his learning and character, the king shall provide, out of his own property, a proper living for him.
The ruler of the agricultural terrain (mahipati) was not a sovereign even as the ruler of the agro-pastoral plains (prthvipati) was not. He could not draw on the state funds to rehabilitate the poor but learned and cultured Brahman who had resorted to theft to meet his religious duties as both the rich Vaisyas and the Kshatriya rulers neglected him. Only the deserving scholars who were noted for good conduct were to be helped to lead a virtuous life. Neither the Mahipati nor the Prthvipati was a Kshatriya and certainly neither was a sovereign. Their jurisdictions were limited and the two have to be distinguished from each other and also from the Rajan who was a Kshatriya.
Burnell reads the next verse as: "And, after arranging his support, (the king) should guard (raksha) him on all sides (samantata); since it is by virtue of protecting him that the king (raja) receives a sixth part of his spiritual merit (dharma)." (11-23) Jones reads it as: "And having appointed him a maintenance, let the king protect him on all sides; for he gains from the Brahmana whom he protects, a sixth part of the reward for his virtue."
Jha reads it as: Having provided a living for him, the king shall protect him in every way; since he obtains, from the person thus protected, the sixth part of his spiritual merit. The implications of this directive need to be attended to. The Brahman defaulter who is rehabilitated under the orders of the Prthvipati by the Mahipati still does not have security of life and property, as these two chieftains are not in a position to protect him.
Only the king (Rajan) who has an army and the police under him can give this protection. But the Brahman who has been assigned a steady annual income from the property of the Mahipati will have to pay one sixth of the income received under the head, 'expenses on dharma', as tax. The Mahipati was not permitted to help the Brahman at the cost of the State.
Tax had to be paid by the Brahman for the protection given by the King against the feudal lords who could snatch away his property easily. The King (Rajan) had to collect the tax amounting to one sixth of ones income from all who were engaged in economic activities and hence could not exempt the Brahman who was aided by the Mahipati. The Mahipati who collected one sixth of the produce as tax from all agriculturists could not seek exemption from state tax for the produce assigned to the needy persons, whether Brahmans or others as part of his social duty (dharma).
The King of Manusmrti was not a feudal lord but found it difficult to protect the Brahmans and the Vaisya landlords from the local Kshatriya captains who were closer to the feudal elements. The King (Rajan) himself was not rich and could not afford to exempt the income of the teachers and priests or the expenses incurred by the landlords on maintaining them from the uniform tax of one-sixth of the gross income. The State (King) did not favour the Brahman even though the latter was needy. It also did not support the administrator of the agricultural lands (mahipati) who helped such a person as part of his social duties.
The Brahmans have to be helped not by the state and the king but by the landlords and rural administrators to perform their duties as scholars, teachers and priests. They shall never be required to beg from Shudras who themselves are poor. (It is irrational and unfair to hold that the Brahmans practised social discrimination so rigorously that they would rather starve than receive aid from the lowly placed Shudras.)
Buhler translates the verse (11-24) as: "A Brahmana shall never beg from a Shudra for sacrifice; for a sacrificer, having begged (it from such a man), after death is born a Chandala." Jha too translates this verse along this line. It needs to be noted that the Brahman faces the threat of being outcast as a Chandala for taking undue advantage of the dependence of the Shudra on him as his domestic servant and personal attendant. (The child born to a Brahman woman by a Shudra domestic servant was dubbed as Chandala and outcast. She too was outcast as a Chandali.) The threat was often not carried out.
Buhler reads the next verse (11-25) as: "A Brahmana who having begged any property for a sacrifice, does not use the whole (for that purpose) becomes for a hundred years a vulture (called Bhasa) or a crow." This is obviously a later interpolation and lacks a rational temper. But the spirit behind it needs to be appreciated. One may beg from the able persons for assistance in performing one's socio-religious duty but these persons are not to be taken for a ride. He should not conduct himself like a vulture. "That sinful man, who, through covetousness, seizes the property of the gods, or the property of Brahmanas, feeds in another world on the leavings of vultures." (11-26)
Many performers of sacrifices were seen neglecting to invite nobles (devas) and Brahmanas for the prescribed rites and thereby denying them their share. During the Vedic period, the nobles, the sages and the elders, devas, rshis and pitaras were to be invited for all sacrifices and their shares given. After the Upanishadic period, the cadre of sages waned and the Brahmanas took their position. The performer of a sacrifice who neglects these two cadres (Devas and Brahmans, cultural aristocracy and intellectuals) or exploits them out of greed is a sinner and is bound to suffer in his next life (paraloka, the other social world, namely, aristocracy). He is a vulture and should be made to subsist on the flesh left behind by the vulture, of its prey. The social world to which he is cast out too would harass him.
Jha translates the next verse as: In the event of the impossibility of the performance of the prescribed and animal and Soma sacrifices, one shall always offer the Vaishvanari sacrifice at the change of the year, in expiation thereof.
All those who had property and desired to enter the intellectual or cultural aristocracy were required to gift away cows or offer the sanctified soma juice to the nobles. If they had omitted to perform these acts on the due dates they could at the end of the year offer what surplus they had to the Vaisvanara of their choice. This Vaisvanara was a free man, nara, who represented the entire larger society and had no personal or narrow ends to serve. [A rational interpretation of the rituals is necessary. It is wrong to give the impression that Manusmrti prescribed animal sacrifice and that the ancients including Brahmans drank liquor and ate beef at the sacrifices performed by them.] (11-27) The rules of exigency, Apaddharma, are not to be misused.
The next verse (11-28) cautions: "A twice-born (dvija) who, without being in distress, performs his duties according to the law for times of distress, obtains no reward for them in the next world; that is the opinion (of the sages)." [The word, 'para' does not necessarily mean next life.]
Buhler translates the next verse (11-29) as: "By the Visvedevas, by the Sadhyas and by the great sages (Maharshis) (of the) Brahmana (caste), who were afraid of perishing in times of distress, a substitute (pratinidhi) was made for the (principal) rule (vidhi)." Jha read it as: The substitute of the Primary Rule was ordained by the Visvedevas, the Sadhyas and the great Brahmana sages, when they were afraid of perishing in abnormal times. The medieval commentators have avoided commenting on this verse.
Bhrgu, the chief editor of Manusmrti, silences the fundamentalists and the puritans among his audience with this claim. The members of the Vedic society had to adhere to the niyamas and yamas, the rules regarding prescribed duties and those regarding prohibited acts.
Manava Dharmasastra however adopts a liberal approach along the fourfold paradigm of duties and roles--prescription, preference, permission and proscription. The permitted conduct, Apaddharma, could be resorted to only in times of distress. These rules were an alternative to the rules prescribed, niyamas. They were drafted by the larger body of new aristocrats (Visvedevas) who rose from the larger society and the perfect among the retired scholars and sages (sadhyas). The Brahman legislators (maharshis) accepted them.
But for these liberal rules, the society might die, they feared. The concept of Vaisvanara has to be read along with that of Visvedeva. The new legislation was drafted and enacted by a larger body of scholars and aristocrats. The Visvedevas came to the fore only during the tenure of the seventh Manu, Vaivasvata. 'Apaddharma' (rules of exigency) was a section added with his permission. The first Manu had not felt it necessary as he dealt with a less complex society.
Apaddharma has not displaced Dharma, Bhrgu cautions. Buhler translates the verse (11-30) as: "That evil-minded man (durmati), who, being able (to fulfil) the original law, lives according to the secondary rule, reaps no reward for that after death." Jha translates it as: If one, who is able to fulfil the primary rule, adopts the substitute, this evil-minded man does not obtain its reward in the other world. This verse appears to have been omitted in some later texts. It implies that the succession rights would not be amended to accommodate the interests of one who pursued vocations not prescribed by Dharma for one's class.
What the chief of the society (Prabhu) had originally formulated (for the purpose of social ascent) had to be adhered to and not what had been permitted under the clauses that are corollary to the main formula. [The Prabhu mentioned here was the social authority who was senior to Manu Svayambhuva and who directed the latter to restrict the application of the four-fold classification to the commonalty of the core society.]
A Brahman may choose to follow a vocation prescribed for a Kshatriya or a Vaisya but on his death he would be treated as a poor Brahman who had no income other than what he received as alms or gifts or fees. His sons could not inherit his lands and powers, it is warned. Bhrgu would not permit Apaddharma, rules of exigency, to overrule Dharma, the original rules instituted. This verse is not a mere declamatory statement.
Burnell reads the next verse (11-31) as: "A Brahman Jones translated it as: "A priest, who well knows the law, need not complain to the king of any grievous injury; since, even by his own power, he may chastise those who injure him." Buhler read it as: "A Brahmana who knows the law (dharma) need not bring any (offence) to the notice of the king; by his own power (svavirya) alone he can punish (sishya) those men who injure him." Jha read it as: A Brahmana acquainted with the rule of right should not let anything be made before the king; by his own power alone he should punish those men (who) do (him) injury." conversant with the law shall not complain to the king; by his own power he shall punish the men that injure him. This verse has raised much controversy.
The Church in Europe had its own court and it ran parallel to and often against the court that was run by the Temporal State. Many modern scholars have tried to read a similarity between the stand of the Brahmans in this verse and that of the Church. They are unable to accept this claim of the sacerdotal class to act on its own, overlooking the sovereignty of the State. It needs to be pointed out that the term, 'Prabhu', does not imply 'King'. He was the head of the society and not of the state or the government. It was under the seal of the Prabhu that Manu Svayambhuva nominated the Board of Ten Prajapatis to draft the social legislation, Manava Dharmasastra.
This code envisaged the Brahmans as jurists who were required to uphold the Constitution, Brahma. If the jurist trying a case is himself assaulted by a litigant, he may punish under this legislation (dharma) the latter without referring it to the head of the state, Rajan.
The punishment recommended is not imposition of fine or corporal punishment but prescription of penance by which the offender repents and gets reformed (sishya). The State is not asked to come to the rescue of the Brahman jurist for the offender here is himself not a subject of any particular king and is a citizen of the world, a manava. The Prabhu, the head of the society too could not come to the rescue of the injured Brahman.The Prabhu, had little coercive power though the society stood by him because of his charisma and belonging to a noble family. It is wrong to present the Prabhu as a King or as God.
Many areas lacked credible states. Manava Dharmasastra was meant for the society and expected the states wherever they were in operation to follow its recommendations. There was no political constitution outside it with Dandaniti retracted. The Brahmans referred to in this verse does not refer to the common priests or teachers or scholars or others who are only Brahmans by class affiliation. They had to appeal to the Prabhu, if the Rajan did not protect them. They could not take law into their hands. Even the Brahman jurist tried only those cases that were entrusted to him. Brahmans were incapable of (not empowered to) even defending themselves. It would have been but vain bragging if they claimed that they could punish those who harmed them by themselves.
The Brahman knew what was within the framework and would not have transgressed its limits when he imposed penalty on the 'Manava' who had offended him during the course of the trial or before it. This Manava himself was not bound by the laws of any country, desadharma, and the King in whose country the trial took place could not impose any punishment on this 'citizen of the world' and could only request the latter to leave the realm of the former. What was violated wasDharmasastra and what was offended was the authority of the jurist.
Burnell translates the next verse (11-32) as: "(In a comparison) between his own power and the power of the king, his own power is stronger; therefore, by his own power alone should a twice-born man (Brahman) punish enemies." Buhler reads it as: "His own power is greater than the power of the King; the Brahmana, therefore, may punish his foes by his own power alone."
Jones read it as: "His own power, which depends on himself alone, is mightier than the royal power, which depends on other men; by his own might, therefor, may a Brahmana coerce his foes." Jha translates this verse (which the medieval commentators had preferred to pass by) as:His own power is more forcible than the kings power; the twice-born man, therefore, shall punish his enemies by his own power. The Indologists were eager to establish that in ancient India the priests had more power than the kings.
What was the coercive power that was available to the Brahman jurist to enforce the punishment on the litigant who had offended him? This power was that of the cadre of devas or svas, whose influence was not limited to the state concerned. This aristocracy backed the Brahman jurists and it was more influential than the King, Rajan. It cannot be read that the power of any individual including that of the Brahman scholar or priest is superior to that of the Head of the State.
The Vedic and early Vedic society witnessed the subordination of the King to the house of nobles, svas or devas. The foe (ari) of the dvijas (Brahmans, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas who were entitled to personal property and to education) could be restrained (nigrha) by the power of this aristocracy that patronized them. The enemy mentioned here is one who unlike the Manava has not accepted the code, Manava Dharmasastra. Not only the Brahmanas but the other two classes also enjoyed the backing of the nobles. This verse does not imply that the Brahman was more powerful than the king (Rajan) was. (Later it was wrongly claimed that these classes enjoyed the protection of the gods.)
Buhler translates the next verse (11-33) as: "Let him use without hesitation the sacred texts, revealed by Atharvan and by Angiras; speech, indeed, is the weapon of the Brahmana, with that he may slay his enemies." It is wrong to infer that this referred to the "charms and incantations" contained in the Atharvaveda and that the Brahman might invoke them to score over his enemy. Burnell translates it as: "He should employ without hesitation the verses of Atharvan and Angiras. The Brahman's weapon is speech; with this let the twice-born man slay his enemies." Jones read it as: "He may use without hesitation, the powerful charms revealed to Atharvan and by him to Angiras; for speech is the weapon of a Brahman; with that, he may destroy his oppressors."
The prejudices against and the misconceptions about the contents of the Atharvaveda have to be dispelled. Jha translates this important verse as: He should make use of the sacred texts of the Atharvaveda, without hesitation. Speech indeed is the Brahmanas weapon; by that should the twice-born strike his enemies.
While Dharmasastra as a socio-cultural constitution drew its premises from the three Vedas, Rg, Yajur and Sama and especially from the Rgveda, the politico-economic constitution, Arthasastra was founded on Atharvaveda, the socio-political constitution of the Vedic times. Its exponents were known as Brahmavadis. They were ideologues as well as activists and wielded immense influence among all sectors of the larger society. Their word, vak, was the final pronouncement on all disputes.
Atharvacharya and Angirasa were the main editors of Atharvaveda. The constitutions drafted by them for different types of societies could be used as the bases against which the conduct of the subsequent kings and judges could be adjudged. By citing from them the Brahman jurists could help the three classes defeat their enemies who had not accepted Varnasrama Dharma.
Implicit in this stand is the refutation of the claim of the Vratyas (who acclaimed Mahadeva) that this code is not backed by the consent of all sections of the population. The Brahmans had kept themselves away from political power and economic activities and others had agreed to leave education, religion and law to the Brahmans and culture including fine arts to the nobles, devas. The nobles too kept away from partisan politics and economy. But they supported the Brahmavadis in their bid to enforce law. The Constitution, Brahma, was superior to the State and even to Dharmasastra. The Brahman jurists alone could interpret it and all the states had to abide by their verdict.
Burnell reads the verse (11-34) as: "The Kshatriya might divert distress from himself by means of the power of his arm; the Vaisya and Shudra, moreover by means of wealth; (but) the highest of the twice-born by muttered prayers and oblations." Jha reads it as: The Kshatriya shall cut through his misfortunes by the strength of his arms; the Vaisya and the Shudra by their wealth, and the chief of the twice-born (dvija-uttama) by muttered prayers and oblations into the fire. Manusmrti does not envisage the Brahman resorting to force to defend himself against danger.
The Vaisya and even the Shudra worker might secure wealth and use it to keep away the distress. The later editors of Manusmrti took into account the pre-varna social classification of the commonalty into Brahmanas, Kshatriyas and Vis. By the end of the Vedic era, the Vis, the economic community split into Vaisyas and Shudras, the rich and their poor servants and employees. But the poor and weak Brahman could only pray; chant the formulae and kindle the holy fires.
This was the reality though the Brahman as a jurist could punish his opponents without seeking the help of the King. This Brahman is said to be the originator of the rules of the constitution (vidhata), the administrator (sasita) of that code, as one who pronounces the verdict (vakta) and the friend (maitri) who cautions others against pitfalls. One should not gesture to him (by raising the brow) that he is treading dangerous ground by warning others. One should not annoy and instigate him to pronounce censure. (11-35)
Jones was off the mark in his translation: "A priest, who performs his duties, who justly corrects his children and pupils, and who advises expiation for sin, and who loves all animated creatures, is truly called a Brahman; to him let no man say anything unpropitious, and use any offensive language." Jha read it as: The Brahmana is called the Creator, the Punisher, the Teacher and the Advisor; therefore one should not address unpleasant words to him, nor use any harsh word. This translation is imprecise and does not convey the intended message and warning to the delinquent. It is not sound to translate the term, 'vidhata' as 'creator'. He was a benefactor whose aid reached also those who were far from his presence.
COSTLY VEDIC SACRIFICE
(11-36 to 40)
Burnell translates the next verse (11-36) as: "Neither a maid (kanya) nor a young woman (yuvati) nor a man of small knowledge nor a fool should be the officiating priest (hotr) at a fire-oblation (agnihotra), nor a sick man, nor one not initiated." Jha reads it as: Neither a girl nor a youthful woman, nor a man of little learning, nor a fool, nor one distressed nor one without the sacraments shall act as a hotr at the Agnihotra. This hotr was required to assist the civil judge who was designated as Agni, following the Vedic constitution. He was empowered to resort to the ordeal of fire to decide the innocence of the person who was alleged to have committed an offence.
Any dvija who is trained to follow the prescribed code of conduct and is able to do so consciously may be a priest or functionary at this trial in the civil court. The medieval commentators had lost touch with the features of the Vedic social polity and interpreted that women could not be priests. Only young women were barred from serving as an official of the civil court, which tried cases of adultery and pre-marital sex. Married women were not barred from being priests.
The next verse (11-37) is obviously a later interpolation. Burnell reads it as: "For into hell (naraka) they fall (by officiating in the) sacrificing and (into hell falls) he whose (sacrifice) it was; therefore the officiating priest should be (a man) skilled in arranging the fire, one who has reached the end of the Veda." The medieval commentators have preferred to pass by this verse without comment.
The agnihotra ritual was set up by a wealthy person to get acquitted by the civil judge designated as Agni of the charges levelled against him. If the functionary was not competent, this host would be the loser. He is likely to be declared the lowest of the irresponsible free men (naras) and consigned to the ghetto (naraka). We need not enter the issue whether there is a hell or not and whether the delinquent would fall into it or not. Members of every profession are keen to guard their interests and to keep out unqualified persons from entering it and throwing them out. This verse does deserve respect, as it does not keep out qualified persons from entering priesthood.
Burnell reads the verse (11-38) as: "A Brahman who, when he has the means, does not give a horse dedicated to Prajapati as a sacrificial present at the arranging of the fire, becomes (like) one that has no (sacred) fire arranged." Jha read it as: If a Brahmana possessed of wealth, does not give a Prajapatya horse as the fee (dakshina), for the fire-laying, he becomes as good as one who has not laid the fire at all. Once again it has to be stated that the medieval commentators on whom these scholars depended had failed to notice the position, role and power of the important Vedic official, Prajapati.
The Prajapati was the chief of the people and ranked next only to the overlord (Viraj) and was superior to the King (Rajan). A Brahman priest has to ensure that the host for whom he officiates as a priest at the agnihotra sacrifice presents as fee (dakshina) a 'horse' (asva). This fee was to be passed on to the Prajapati. If the wealthy suspect failed to do so the sacrifice would be of no avail. This sacrifice was originally meant as a public acquittal of the host who had been alleged to have illegally amassed wealth or married by unlawful means. Such persons were required to surrender to the Prajapati what was not their own (asva).
Some of the Gandharvas of the Vedic times were known as Asvas and they were not under the jurisdiction of the chief of the people. They were taken into the mainstream of the commonalty when they consented to perform three sacrifices and get their homes sanctified. The Brahmans who officiated at the sacrifices performed by them had to ensure that they surrendered their wealth to the chief who permitted them to reside as 'prajas' in their territories. This system ceased to be remembered after the end of the Vedic era. Jones translated this verse as: "A Brahmana with abundant wealth, who presents not the priest that hallows his fire, with a horse consecrated to Prajapati, becomes equal to one who has no fire hallowed." Most Brahmans were poor and they might have had cows and not horses.
Jones translates the next verse (11-39) as: "Let him, who believes the scripture, and keeps his organs in subjection, perform all other pious acts; but never in this world let him offer a sacrifice with trifling gifts to the officiating priest." Buhler reads it as: "Let him who has faith and controls his senses perform other meritorious acts, but let him on no account offer sacrifices at which he gives smaller fees (than those prescribed)."
This verse too deals with the admission of the Gandharvas who were described as punya-jana to the fold of Varnasrama Dharma and the society that was regulated by the Prajapati. The latter refuses to accept any smaller gift than the horse demanded. They were not to be let off with token fine for possessing what did not belong to them. The taking away of the horse virtually restricted the movements of the Gandharvas who lacked self-restraint. They had to be made to conquer their own senses (indriyas), it was pointed out to the Brahmans who officiated at their sacrifices.
Buhler translates the next verse (11-40) as: "The organs (of sense and action), honour, heaven, longevity, fame, offspring, and cattle are destroyed by a sacrifice at which (too) small sacrificial fees are given; hence a man of small means should not offer a (Srauta) sacrifice." This is not to be interpreted as exploitation of the rich by the greedy Brahman priests and denial of access to heaven to the poor. The editors of Manusmrti refused to compromise on the quantum of sacrificial fees that the punya-jana who claimed to be virtuous and hence exempt from fees of a punitive type.
These Vedic sacrifices were costly and they were meant to initiate into and accept in the new social order an entire class that was almost equal to the aristocrats, devas. Of course there were some persons in that class who were not rich and who could not afford the fees demanded by the Prajapati. The latter were known as'naras'. Most of the Gandharvas were initiated into the three higher social classes after performing the costly Vedic sacrifices. The fees went to the chief administrator, Prajapati, who looked after the orphans and the disabled as his own children. No rash conclusions are to be arrived at about the role and influence of the Brahman priests.
PENANCES AND EXPIATION OF SINS
(11-41 to 47)
Burnell translates the verse (11-41) as: "A Brahman fire-priest (who) neglects the fire on purpose should perform the moon-course (vow) for a month, for that sin is equal to killing a man." Buhler and Jones read it as "equal to the slaughter of a son". The expression, 'virahatya' would signify 'killing a brave man appointed to guard the women and property' and indicated the confidence placed in that young warrior and killing him on his betraying that trust. The Viras were a newly raised cadre of nobles and were allied to the Rudras, a highly respected traditional cadre of nobles. Hence an assault even in anger on such a warrior called for penance as stipulated by Soma (Chandra) who was a Rudra and held sway over the people and sages of the mountains and forests.
A Brahman was required to preside over and officiate at the Agnihotra sacrifice. If this ritual connected with the people's court of the commonalty was neglected by him under the presumption that like the intellectuals of the forest he had to honour Soma and not Agni, as loyalty to Soma promised him a place among the intellectual aristocracy while allegiance to Agni kept him bound to the commonalty, this neglect was censured by Soma and the sages of the forest. (Soma and Agni were designations of the officials of the Vedic polity and both were included in the eight-member ministry of Manusmrti.)
Burnell translates the verse (11-42) as: "If any (Brahmana), on receiving goods from a Shudra, assist at a fire-oblation, (they are) blamed among those who proclaim the Veda, as they (thus become) the priests of Shudra." The term, 'Brahmavadi', implies that the priest, Rtvija, who conducted an Agnihotra sacrifice for Shudras with the latter meeting the expenses, was declared to be an ideologue and spokesman of the Shudras, the working class.
Atharvaveda, which the Brahmavadi upheld, had not barred the Shudras, the lower rungs of the commonalty, Vis, from being eligible for the rites and rights that the Vaisyas were eligible for. The only hitch was the poverty of the Shudras that prevented their bearing the expenses on these rites. The translation by Jones of this verse as: "They who receive property from a Shudra for the performance of rites to consecrated fire, are contempted, as ministers of the base, by all such as pronounce texts of the Veda" is unbalanced.
Jones translates the next verse (11-43) as: "Of those ignorant priests, who serve the holy fire for the wealth of a Shudra, the giver shall always tread on the foreheads, and thus pass over miseries in the gloom of death." This verse must have been a later interpolation. The Brahman could not be prevented from officiating at the sacrifice performed by a rich Shudra. Instead of condemning the Brahman for his greed, the later editors tried to humble and deter the Shudra host.
Burnell translates the next verse (11-44) as: "On failing to perform an act (karma) enjoined, and on practising (an act) prohibited, and on indulging in sensual pleasures, a man (nara) must perform penance." The free men, naras, had given up practising the codes of their clans and communities, kuladharmas and jatidharmas and had not yet been inducted into the codes of the classes,varnadharmas. The nara was placed in the lower rungs of the cadre of Gandharvas, and was expected to respect the code of niyamas and yamas, prescribed acts and prohibited conduct, then in vogue in the Vedic society.This stratum of naras survived even after the four classes, varnas, were instituted.
The naras, free men are directed to perform the penances prescribed for this default and delinquency. These deviations were not punishable by the state or by the society. They, as naras, were not subordinate to any clan or community or class organization. The medieval commentators have dwelt on the aspect of penances rather than on the above aspect. Jhas comment, that the term, nara, has been added for the purpose of indicating that what is here stated applies to all the four castes, only reveals his inability to explain the concept, nara.
Burnell translates the verse (11-45) as: "The wise regard a penance (as intended) for a sin committed unintentionally; some, by (referring to) the ordinances of revelation (Sruti) declare (it is) even for (a sin) committed intentionally." (It is not sound to describe the Sruti texts, that is, the Vedas, as ordinances of revelation. They were framed by the Vedic sages and were the product of their rich and varied experiences.)
According to the intellectuals (budhas) of the social periphery penance has to be performed only for unintended violation of the above code of niyamas and yamas. These intellectuals, budhas, did respect the Vedas but were not blind followers of the Vedas. The state and other social bodies would punish one who had deliberately violated the code. According to the scholars who cite the Vedic texts and precedents, penance is meant also for the latter. In other words, punishment by the state or the society is not enough. One has to repent for his sins, whether voluntary or involuntary.
Buhler reads the next verse (11-46) as: A sin unintentionally committed is expiated by the recitation of Vedic texts, but that which (men) in their folly commit intentionally, by various special penances. Jha too follows this version. Involuntary violation of the code takes place because one is ignorant of the provisions of the Vedic texts. The violator is therefore asked to study them so that he might not repeat the offence. But in the case of those who have deliberately violated the code of social discipline, different penances for different offences are prescribed.
The rest of this chapter enumerates them. Most of these are for those who have been initiated as dvijas, especially as Brahmans. Many of the penances recommended and the offences calling for them cited are irrational and appear to have been later interpolations. This verse let off those who had committed sins unintentionally.
Buhler reads the verse (11-47) as: "A twice-born man, having become liable to perform a penance, be it (the decree of) fate or by (an act) committed in a former life, must not, before the penance has been performed, have intercourse with virtuous men." Before one was admitted to the ranks of a dvija, he might have committed an offence that called for performing penance. Perhaps he might have been constrained to commit it to please a noble (deva) who was his patron. After his initiation that made him an independent person acting on his own and with full knowledge of the implications of his acts and of his rights and duties, he has to perform penance for this involuntary offence before he may enter the company of the virtuous. Fate should not be blamed for one committing a sin, which is essentially an anti-social act.