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Many contemporary groups (fundamentalist Christians and Muslims; secular liberals; Marxists) have denounced the "Manu Smriti" text as a source of discrimination against the "lesser castes" as well as against women. One researcher from the Arya Samaj has said that the "Manu Smriti" text has been altered (via addition of later shlokas) throughout the centuries in order to give economic and political power to the Brahmins and Kshatriyas. This same researcher states that the true and original verses of Lord Manu did not contain such discrimination and inequality.

What is the validity of such accusations and assertions? Please provide guidance to all the interested individuals of Hindu Dharma living abroad who don't have access to the primary textual sources of "Manu Smriti".

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    1) And what parts of Hindu scripture do they not condemn?? 2) Have you read the Manu Smriti? It is an ancient text, with many parts meant for people of that time. The Old Testament of the Bible gives directions as to how a man should treat his young female slaves - what about that? 3) The laws of Manu are smriti, they are not sruti. If parts of it conflicts with sruti then reject it. All modern Vedanta rests on three legs - the Upanishads, the Gita, and the Brahma Sutras - no matter what your sect. Don't get lost in secondary texts. Commented Jul 4, 2016 at 6:05
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    @SwamiVishwananda, i need advice on day-to-day matters - how to divide inheritance, how to choose a bride/groom, how to clean myself after nature's call, what direction to keep my head while sleeping etc. Do Vedas have these ? If so, can you show me where ? The philosophy 'reject smriti if conflicting with sruti' was made famous by Swami Vivekananda (I read almost full CW and Ramakrishna Kathamrita end-to-end), but he didn't sweep all age-old wisdom under 'irrelevant for today'-carpet, which has lead to disastrous consequences. If u can show which Manu Smriti verses are against Vedas, pls do.
    – ram
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 3:25
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    In the Dharma sastras such as Manu-smriti sages explained things which they learned from Sruti, and Itihasas, Pancaratras and sattvic Puranas such as Vishnu Purana and Bhagavatam are also written according to teachings of Sruti. Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 15:40
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    @ram Hinduism can do without the text offering such mechanical control of life. Religious texts are meant to be pondered and critiqued to obtain wisdom. Not to be used like an OS manual.
    – tejasvi
    Commented Dec 31, 2019 at 14:29
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    @tejasvi88, hmm.. a fitness athlete gives you a day-to-day, hour-by-hour exercise program (90 minute workout, 30-day fat loss) etc., and you lap it up without question.. why ? because you are interested in the results, right? do you know what majority of people call such people... 'suckers' . But do those 'suckers' who actually followed it, and verified the results for themselves, think of themselves as 'suckers' ? No. They think the rest of majority people are ignorant, lazy, sour-grapes foxes. Similarly, shastras are god-send for people interested in results. For others, they are 'OS manual'
    – ram
    Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 6:15

5 Answers 5

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No Manusmriti is not altered.

  • The fault is in the eyes of those whose views have been brainwashed by the Abrahamic educational approach of the occidentals.

  • The fault is in the eyes of those who are trying to equate a pig and a cow(trying to equate a Chandala and a Brahmana).

  • The fault is in the minds of those who are propounding the Western notion that all men are born equal which is against the Vedas.

When a person obtains birth in a comparatively, lower class family or a high class family, it is for his own good and not an act of unjust because he is, merely, rewarded that jati due to his good or bad deeds in his previous birth. Now, he has an opportunity to ascend to higher stages in a sequence. Short-cut methods do not work in the Vedic system. So Manusmriti is correct when it degrade low caste people.

The super-imposed fraudulent notion that Manusmṛti has been mutilated and modified a number of times is just a myth created by Arya Samaj since they can't accept the original teachings of Hindu Dharma. Before the arrival of British in India(in 18th Century AD) no Hindus ever considered that his Vedic scriptures and texts are mutilated and modified. How can Manusmṛti be mutilated when Bhagavad Geeta cannot be? All verses of Geeta are, till now, accepted as comprising the original form of the text and all 20+ classical Sanskrit commentaries (by commentators belonging to diverse Vedic sects) on Geeta have accepted the same version of the text despite Gītā being written.

Similarly, when Manusmṛiti has more than 6 commentaries available till date and all the commentators have accepted the same version of the text and have shared same views in their interpretation with very trivial variance of opinion, it is, totally, idiotic to say that the text has undergone any mutilation. After all, these commentators were highly proficient scholars in the dharma- Shastra as trained by the Srauta and smartta traditions.

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    -1 Unlike most major religions, Hinduism does not have a core dogma or doctrine. This answer presents an obscure aspect of it.
    – tejasvi
    Commented Dec 31, 2019 at 14:13
  • I thought there were different lengths of manuscripts found and kings were allowed to amend it from my answer, so please correct me where I am wrong.
    – Haridasa
    Commented Jan 1 at 1:48
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    @tejasvi88 The Vedas are a core doctrine and must be accepted as authority to be a part of the Vedic religion ie Hinduism. Otherwise, you're not a Sannatani or Hindu. How you see the Vedas as authority and the way you interpret them is free, however, and up to debate per the six current orthodox schools of thought.
    – Haridasa
    Commented Jan 1 at 1:50
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    Also don't get confused by shudras not allowed vedic education they are allowed vocational education. For brahmins, kshatriya and vaishya professions are restricted to teaching military and agriculture whereas a shudra pratiloma etc have all vocational professions like architecture, construction, labour, transportation,etc. which are major sources of revenue and economy. Thus in a manusmriti society shudras, pratilomas etc.are far richer than brahmans and lead a more luxurious life.
    – ekAntika
    Commented Jan 1 at 6:12
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    Upper caste are not allowed to choose these professions as they are reserved for shudras. If a upper caste enters these, they lose their caste status as per manusmriti. The plight of brahmins in a manusmriti society is no different from low wage earning government employees of modern Era.
    – ekAntika
    Commented Jan 1 at 6:12
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Dr. Surendra Kumar of the Arya Samaj has written a concise and critical commentary of the "Manu Smriti". A scanned version can be located on-line via Google. In this commentary, Dr. Kumar states that spurious interpolations have been made to the original text of the "Manu Smriti" over time. The interpolated verses seem to be written in a different style of Sanskrit and they also tend to be "irrelevant and out of context but also thematically discordant". These interpolated verses were added to the original manuscript by various interpolaters throughout history who had vested interests in maintaining socio-economic and political power.

In his critical analysis, Dr. Kumar concludes that the original verses seem to embody Maharishi Manu as "a legal luminary and religiously righteous sage". These original verses embody "noble and just laws" of the time-period as well as displaying "due considerations to a man's potentialities, actions and abilities".

In brief, it seems as though the "Manu Smriti" discusses noble and well-balanced principles on the one hand, while other verses embody extremely objectionable principles (which seem quite anti-Manu in essence). These other verses also seem to be written in a different style of Sanskrit and seem out of context in the overall flow of the manuscript. Hence, the probability of interpolation of verses by vested groups is quite high.

In the end, I agree with Dr. Kumar's conclusions. Maharishi Manu was a stellar shastrakar and smritikar during the epoch of monarchy. I highly doubt that such a brilliant individual would include paradoxically contradicting verses within the same manuscript.

It is true that we cannot import all of the original verses of Maharishi Manu to our contemporary pluralistic society (founded on democratic principles). However, there is much within "Manu Smriti" which can be studied and emulated.

Dr. Surendra Kumar's arguments can be found in "Opposition to Manu: Why". It is published by the Arsh Sahitya Prachar Trust (Delhi). A copy of this concise booklet has been scanned online; one can find it easily via a Google search.

I'll end this response with a very relevant comment from Dr. Surendra Kumar (from the "Foreword" section of the booklet):

"No system in the world is completely foolproof or wholly acceptable. Even the present social and political system is not perfect. If some flaw creeps into the system then it can be remedied. Our ancient saints and sages have suggested to us a panacea for tackling such unwarranted situations: [Sanskrit verse quoted from Taittiriya Upanishad, I-II-2] This means that good actions of others should be embraced and imitated and not the rest."

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  • I stated in my answer above how the Manu Smriti was meant to be changed. May interest you, but both those sources seem to be woke and liberal Hindus I suggest you look at critical interpretations and supportive ones from orthodox schools.
    – Haridasa
    Commented Jan 1 at 1:55
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Manusmriti is not canonical scriptural text in shiava, vaishnava and shakt traditions.

Only in few smarta and other sects- manusmriti will be considered among religious scriptures. In those sects, also it is not primary source, but only secondary text.

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    Manu smriti and other dharma shastras are also respected by the sects you have mentioned. The injunctions in the text are followed while doing nitya karmas (daily rituals). It is not right to say they don't consider Manu smriti as a religious text. Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 4:03
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    Read commentaries on the Vedanta sutra by several Vaishnava traditions and they all quoted from Manu-smriti. It's accepted Dharma sastra scripture. Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 5:03
  • I have mentioned that it is "not" canonical scripture
    – zaxebo1
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 2:28
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    This seems like a comment. Please add some sources. Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 19:11
  • It is not a scripture that defines the philosophy, but it is respected as a source of authority, and the daily rituals and practices are followed.
    – Haridasa
    Commented Jan 1 at 1:51
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The people complaining about the Manusmṛti base their accusations on the completely unfounded notion that it is meant for our time. Smṛti means to remember which suggests it's a memory of something from a distinct time. It is still useful because it is still pretty close to the truth and answers some important questions about other texts.

Clues that it is completely not meant for today include:

  • Probably the most important. The Sarasvatī river flows clear to see

सरस्वतीदृशद्वत्योर्देवनद्योर्यदन्तरम् । तं देवनिर्मितं देशं ब्रह्मावर्तं प्रचक्षते ॥ १७ ॥

sarasvatīdṛśadvatyordevanadyoryadantaram | taṃ devanirmitaṃ deśaṃ brahmāvartaṃ pracakṣate || 17 ||

The region lying between the divine rivers Sarasvati and Dṛṣasvatī which has been created by the gods,—they call ‘Brahmāvarta’—(17)

  • The decision-makers are somehow able to tell someone's Varṇa, which has been established as very hard to do (although Virāṭa seems to be able to do it pretty well somehow).

  • The following verse suggests food is free at this time due to the lack of pay or self-cooking. That implies a very different world.

अन्नमेषां पराधीनं देयं स्याद् भिन्नभाजने । रात्रौ न विचरेयुस्ते ग्रामेषु नगरेषु च ॥ ५४ ॥

annameṣāṃ parādhīnaṃ deyaṃ syād bhinnabhājane | rātrau na vicareyuste grāmeṣu nagareṣu ca || 54 ||

Their food should be given to them, through others, and in a broken dish; they shall not wander about in villages or cities during the night.—(54)

(By the way, the first line here misses out some of the Sanskrit meaning. Meṣa means ram/sheep. Anna is used to mean food, but especially rice (kind of like Chinese). So Annameṣa translates as rice and meat of ram/sheep dish, presumably to show the quality of food given. The sanskritdictionary.com definitions for deya and syāt are pretty self explanatory. Bhinnabhājana could translate as broken dish, or it could mean processed food in reference to the cooking and diving process. Thus, I think it means: A rice and ram/sheep meat dish (or a like substitute), [word praising the supreme god in the form of Anna] should be given to them. Perhaps (the person implementing this) could process it. It's safe to say this society is massively more wealthy than our own to afford this and it not even being a big deal to find funds.

Thus, when learning the Manusmṛti discern using your honest judgment what is true forever, what is similar to the truth now, and what does not apply anymore. Also, some verses make it obvious they are supposed to be true forever.

One prominent use of the Manusmṛti is as a companion text to Mahābhārata as many of the terms in the Manusmṛti are used in the Mahābhārata, but with much more of an explanation in the former.

The translation while probably well-intentioned, translates some qualifying terms weirdly, which has a knock-on effect on the meaning of some important verses, so you should look up the Sanskrit yourself. Sometimes it greatly changes the meaning.

Sources:

https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/manusmriti-with-the-commentary-of-medhatithi/d/doc145593.html

https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/manusmriti-with-the-commentary-of-medhatithi/d/doc201787.html

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  • ——It could be annam+esha—which takes the sheep out of question.. Commented Dec 22, 2020 at 21:05
  • Wondering if the verses above are for the general population or specific Varnas? Context, please!! :) Also Mahabharata from what I have seen has some differences from the Manusmirti in terms of laws since it is more reformative.
    – Haridasa
    Commented Jan 1 at 1:46
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Manu-Smirti is simply an old law code and not a religious text even if it was influenced by religion. In Vasistha Dharmasutra it states in chapter 1 verse 17 that, "Manu has declared that the (peculiar) laws of countries, castes, and families (may be followed) in the absence of (rules of) the revealed texts." https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/vasistha-dharmasutra/d/doc116363.html

Hence the Dharmashastras if by the use of knowledge fail the test of time may be refuted, reinterpreted, or amended. This is supported by Manu-Smirti 4.176 "He shall avoid such wealth and pleasures as are opposed to righteousness, as also righteousness if it be conducive to unhappiness, or disapproved by the people." https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/manusmriti-with-the-commentary-of-medhatithi/d/doc200281.html

That being said one should read the smriti in Sanskrit, before judging the whole text as evil or good. It is an ancient law -book and it was influenced by the situation and hardships of the people in that time. That being said it does support capital punishment and other laws which may be against modern society and because it was likely amended by rulers it's not the original. One should look at it as more of a prototype than a literal law for a Vedic kingdom.

Before studying Dharmashastras study the hardships and situations the people of those times faced. Study the culture, psychology, and daily lives of noble and regular people. Think about the influence of clergy and religion. Study the economic situation and anything else that sets the scene. Then using this reconstructed setting make realistic hypothetical situations and conflicts that may occur. Next, test the laws and see how well they assert to that situation this will tell you how effective the laws were. Grade them based on the situation then and not the one now. See if you can come up with better laws or amendments to such smirti and your reasoning behind them and their impact on the situation. To learn from the smirti in today's time is to take the methodology of it which insight is gained by testing it as I stated above. See if this methodology can somehow be used to make modern laws. Note methodology means the method or reasoning behind why the laws were made. This is the proper way to study them in my opinion.

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  • For hypothetical situations think weather incidents, foreign invasion, rebellion, unwillingness to work, and competition on who gets a job leading to undesirable jobs which may be needed not being done. Think about crimes and their impact on society based on this situation. Along with the impact on the victims. Think of the criminal, who is he and how would people react if he were to be arrested? Most importantly don't let bias affect majorly look through the lenses of the past and why we no longer need those laws either due to technology, global cooperation, or a shift of ethics/morals.
    – Haridasa
    Commented Jan 1 at 1:42
  • "Hence the Dharmashastras if by the use of knowledge fail the test of time may be refuted, reinterpreted, or amended. This is supported by Manu-Smirti 4.176 " - this verse doesn't invalidate any of the established smriti laws. It applies only for new scenarios which are not addressed by smriti. Best example would be modern day dairy industry cruelty to cows now this is a new issue which obviously is not covered by any of the smritis. So one has to use own judgment to solve this issue - like milk is required for rituals but at the same time milk available to us is tamasic
    – ekAntika
    Commented Jan 1 at 8:56
  • @ekAntika in certain cases it might. Also why just dairy all industries have wronged animal care and milk we have is pasturized and healthy to drink? Also I never said Manu Smirti is invalid, but at the same time it was made during the abscence of holy scriptural rulings which also provide these restrictions. At the end of the day one should use his or her own judgement and see which rules can be applied today and still followed.
    – Haridasa
    Commented Jan 1 at 12:08
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    @ekAntika in many cases yes, but in many cases smriti deals with statecraft which is no longer applicable in today's setting or may be different due to the situation.
    – Haridasa
    Commented Jan 1 at 13:25
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    @ekAntika You see I agree with you in that sense. Even if you cannot perform all the rules you still should do the best you can to do your traditional duty.
    – Haridasa
    Commented Jan 1 at 17:19

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