Manusmriti; The ancient Law of Sage Manu

The Law of Manu, also known as the Manu Samhita, Manu Smriti, or Manu Dharma Shastra, form the basis of what has been called “the most authoritative and influential text of ancient Indian laws”, which serves as a foundational work on Hindu law and jurisprudence in ancient India at least 1500 years. The law of Manu address social, moral, and legal questions, and had gradually gained precedence in Hinduism. Hindu tradition states that it was dictated by a visionary named Manu to a group of Seers, or rsi. This means that The Law of Manu is not sruti literature, but smritis which means “that which has to be remembered”.ImageSource

Manu in Hindu tradition is considered to be the first of Brahma’s sons and progenitor of the human race. Hence, it is difficult to determine the age of Manu Smriti.

Unlike the Vedas which are considered of divine origin, the Smritis are of human composition which guides individuals in their daily conduct according to time and place. They list the codes and rules governing the actions of an individual, the community, society, and the nation. They are also called Dharma Satras or laws of righteous conduct.

The first chapter deals with the creation of the world by the deities, the divine origin of the book itself, and the objective of studying it. Chapter 2 through 6 recounts the proper conduct of the members of the upper castes, their imitation in the Brahmin religion by a sacred thread or sin removing ceremony, the period of disciplined studentship devoted to the study of the Vedas under a Brahmin teacher, the chief duties of the householder. This includes the choice of a wife, marriage, protection of the sacred hearth-fire, hospitality, sacrifices to the gods, feasts to his departed relatives, along with the numerous restrictions and finally, duties of old age.

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The seventh chapter talks about the manifold duties and responsibilities of kings. The eighth chapter deals with the modus operandi of civil and criminal proceedings and of the proper punishments to be meted out to different castes. The ninth and tenth chapters relate the customs and laws regarding inheritance and property, divorce, and the lawful occupations of each caste. The eleventh chapter expresses the various kinds of penance for misdeeds and the final chapter expounds the doctrine of karma, rebirths, and salvation.