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In Abrahamic religions, owning both ordinary and sex slaves was legal. What do Hindu scriptures say about owning people as slaves? Did Rama and Krishna free any slaves?

  • There were no slaves in the Hindu world like the equivalent of it in the western world. – user1195 Oct 15 '16 at 2:22
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    There was no slavery in Hinduism (Vedanta). I think you may be asking about slavery in Indian culture, not Hinduism. – Swami Vishwananda Oct 15 '16 at 5:32
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    India , where most followers of Hinduism are ,never attacked any other country since from past. And nor captured people to make them slaves by using force .So the case with Hinduism or Sanatan Dharma naturally . – SwiftPushkar Oct 15 '16 at 7:05
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    @Pythagorean Mystic Devadaasi system was a social . practice. – Narasimham Oct 15 '16 at 21:59
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    I do not understand. So the brahman encourages slavery in one religion but forbids it in another? – Wikash_ Apr 19 at 8:31
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There were no slaves in the Hindu world like the equivalent of it in the western world

The above statement is true.But we do have the concept of "dasa/dasi" or servants or (some translate it as) slaves.But they are not the same as say sex slaves or war slaves."Servant" is the more proper word here not "slave".

The dasa or dasis are there to help the householder in his daily duties/chores.In return they get shelter,wages,fooding etc.

Few references of slaves/servants/dasa/bhritya from Scriptures are given below:

8.363. Yet he who secretly converses with such women, or with female slaves kept by one (master), and with female ascetics, shall be compelled to pay a small fine.(Manu smriti)

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4.180. With his father and his mother, with female relatives, with a brother, with his son and his wife, with his daughter and with his slaves, let him not have quarrels.(Manu smriti)

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The following verse also shows that the dasas(servants/slaves) are to be treated with due respect:

3.116. After the Brahmanas, the kinsmen, and the servants have dined, the householder and his wife may afterwards eat what remains.(Manu Smriti).

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I have found further references in Parashara Smriti as well.

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    Slave is not a true translation of the word dasa/dasi. So, the references do not portray an accurate picture. – user1195 Oct 15 '16 at 12:58
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    I already mentioned that in the answer itself.Nothing more to explain."Servant" is more appropriate than "slave" . – Rickross Oct 15 '16 at 14:11
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No, Hinduism forbids forced slavery, i.e. enslaving of others.

Verses from various Dharma Shastras:

Nārada (Theft, 28).—‘he who steals a man shall have to pay the highest fine; he who steals a woman shall be deprived of his entire wealth; and he who steals a maiden shall suffer corporal punishment.’

Bṛhaspati (22. 27-28).—‘In the case of women, men, gold, gems, the property of a deity or a Brāhmaṇa, silk and other precious things, the fine shall be equal to the value of the article stolen; or double that amount shall he inflicted as fine; or the thief shall be executed.’

Do. (22.18; Vivādaratnākara, p. 317)—‘Those who steal human beings should be burnt by the slow fire of chaff.’

Vyāsa (Do.).—‘The stealer of women shall be burnt on an iron bed by the slow fire of chaff; the stealer of man should have his hands and feet cut off and then exposed on the road-crossing. He who steals a man should he fined the highest amercement; he who steals a woman should have his entire property confiscated; and he who steals a maiden shall he put to death.’

Śaṅkha-Likhita (Do., p. 318).—‘For stealing a king’s son, the fine is 108 kārṣāpaṇas, or corporal punishment; half of that for stealing persons of the royal family, or of men and women in general.’

Also, those who have already been enslaved by force, should be liberated by a king, from the Vivada Chintamani of Vācaspati Miśra:

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However, there are other ways one can enter slavery according to the Manusmriti:

There are seven kinds of slaves—(1) captured under a banner, (2) slave on food, (3) born in the house, (4) bought, (5) presented, (6) hereditary, and (7) slave by punishment.—(8.415)

Above it has been cited that forced slavery is immoral, but why is this verse allowing it? The commentator Medhatithi answers:

Hence, ‘Dhvajinī’ means the army; he who is captured ‘under the banner’ is the captive of war, who is made a slave.

“What is stated here,—does it refer to the Kṣatriya,—the meaning being that the Kṣatriya made captive in war becomes a slave?”

Not so, we reply; since it is the Śūdra that forms the subject-matter of the context; as is clear from the preceding statement—‘it is for the purpose of servitude that he has been created.’ What the text refers to is the case where the owner of the slave having been defeated in battle, the slave is brought over and enslaved by the captor.

The next verse says even the wife and the son are "slaves" to the father:

The wive, the son and the slave,—these three are declared to have no property; whatever they acquire is the property of him to whom they belong.—(416)

Also, there is a difference between slavery and servitude according to Narada:

All this however is not right. ‘Serving’ is one thing and ‘slavery’ is another. Slavery consists in doing servile work, and in not objecting to going anywhere he may be sent to; while ‘service’ may consist in shampooing the body, guarding the family or property and so forth. All this has been dealt with in detail by Nārada.

And here Medhatithi is saying that the duty of Shudras is servitude and not slavery:

“When the Śūdra works as a slave entirely through considerations of his duty, why should there be only seven kinds of slaves?”

There is no force in this objection. Because in his case ‘slavery’ is not innate in him; it is purely voluntary wish him; he having recourse to it only with a view to acquiring merit. And further, such a slave cannot be given away or pledged;—as the bought and house-born slaves can. In fact the Śūdra in question is guided by what has been declared (under 10.128) regarding the Śūdra ‘imitating the behaviour of the virtuous, etc., etc.’; and by this it is clearly implied that slavery is not inherent in him; he takes to it only with a view to a definite result. Hence there is real ‘slavery’ only when it is involuntary. So that if a Śūdra has property of his own and lives upon it, not supporting himself by depending upon the Brāhmaṇa and others, he does nothing wrong.

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  • What about this? – “What is the difference between this last and the slave born in the house?” The latter is one born of a slave-girl that may have been acquired by the master himself, while the other is hereditary. – so slavery is only limited to śūdras? – sv. Jan 25 '19 at 18:21
  • @sv. And what about that verse you cited? You want clarification? – Ikshvaku Jan 25 '19 at 18:27
  • @sv. Everyone can enter slavery except Brahmanas: archive.org/details/vivadachintamani00vcas/page/94 – Ikshvaku Jan 25 '19 at 18:28
  • Why are Brāhmaṇas excluded? Manu says: "In fact, according to some people, such slaves are possible for the other castes also, in view of what has been said regarding the propriety of repaying a debt even by manual labour." What is done with a Brāhmaṇa who cannot repay a debt? – sv. Jan 25 '19 at 18:57
  • @sv. Good question.I think "other castes also" in that quote means Kshatriyas and Vaishyas too. But for Brahmanas, I'm not sure. Maybe you can punish him in other ways like deporting him until he pays his debt. – Ikshvaku Jan 25 '19 at 19:01
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You can copy-paste the quoted text and google search to see the full text of these books.

There's a concept of intercourse with female slave in The Minor Law Book (Narada and Brihaspati), so prostitution is also permitted.

TWELFTH TITLE OF LAW. THE MUTUAL DUTIES OF HUSBAND AND WIFE.

  1. Intercourse is permitted with a wanton woman, who belongs to another than the Brahman caste, or a prostitute, or a female slave, or a female not restrained by her master (Nishkasini), if these women belong to a lower caste than oneself; but with a woman of superior caste, intercourse is prohibited.

Owner can also earn money with female slave:

The Minor Law Book (Narada and Brihaspati): VII. MISCELLANEOUS LAWS. 9-13

  1. It is by permission (of the owner) only that a female slave, cattle, or an estate may be enjoyed (by a stranger). He who enjoys that which had not been given up to him (by the owner), must pay for the (illegitimate) enjoyment of what he had been enjoying.

  2. (Let him give) two Panas a day for the use of a female slave; eight Panas for the use of a milch-cow; thirteen for the use of a bull; sixteen for the use of a horse or of an estate.

The child borne from intercourse with female slave will be also slave. From The Minor Law Book (Narada and Brihaspati):

BREACH OF A CONTRACT OF SERVICE.

Law article 26-28 (who are the 15 kinds of slaves?)

  1. One born at (his master's) house;

Footnote: 26-28. 'One born at (his master's) house,' one born of a female slave in the house (of her master).

The son of Sudra coming through intercourse with female slave (Manu IX):

  1. A son who is (begotten) by a Sudra on a female slave, or on the female slave of his slave, may, if permitted (by his father), take a share (of the inheritance); thus the law is settled.

Brahman begets from Sudra slave women (Manu IX):

  1. The son whom a Brahmana begets through lust on a Sudra female is, (though) alive (parayan), a corpse (sava), and hence called a Parasava (a living corpse).”

Mahabharata, Karna Parva, SECTION XXXVIII, (Karna says this to his army):

I will also give him that shows Arjuna to me a number of long-tressed damsels of black eyes and a car unto which shall be yoked white mules...

I shall also give unto him a hundred damsels decked with ornaments, with collars of gold, fair-complexioned, and accomplished in singing and dancing...

And Manu IX.160 gives provision about the inheritance of the children coming from these unmarried damsels

  1. The son of an unmarried damsel, the son received with the wife, the son bought, the son begotten on a re-married woman, the son self-given, and the son of a Sudra female, (are) the six (who are) not heirs, (but) kinsmen.”

Mahabharata: Sabha parva, Section XLIX:

Dhritarashtra said, 'Duryodhana, ...

I do not know what can be the reason of thy sorrow. This vast wealth of mine is at thy control. Thy brothers and all our relations never do anything that is disagreeable to thee. Thou wearest the best apparel and eatest the best food that is prepared with meat. The best of horse carries thee. What it is, therei^ fore, that hath made thee pale and emaciated ? Costly beds, beautiful damsels, mansions decked with excellent furniture, and sport of the delightful kind, without doubt, these ail wait but at thy command, as in the case of the gods themselves. Therefore, O proud one,why dost thou grieve, O son, as if thou wert destitute"

Manu IX.160 gives provision about the inheritance of the children coming from these unmarried damsels:

  1. The son of an unmarried damsel, the son received with the wife, the son bought, the son begotten on a re-married woman, the son self-given, and the son of a Sudra female, (are) the six (who are) not heirs, (but) kinsmen.”

Secretly borne son by damsel:

Manu IX:

  1. A son whom a damsel secretly bears in the house of her father, one shall name the son of an unmarried damsel (Kanina, and declare) such offspring of an unmarried girl (to belong) to him who weds her (afterwards).”

Mahabharata, Anushasana Parva, SECTION XCIII, (it was common to curse women to be under slavery and give birth of children):

Ganda said, Let her who has stolen the lotus-stalks be always a speaker of falsehoods. Let her always quarrel with her kinsmen ! Let her bestow her daughter in marriage for a pecuniary consideration ! Let her eat the food which she has cooked, alone and without sharing it with anybody ! Let her pass her whole life in slavery Indeed, let her who has stolen the lotus-stalks be quick with child in consequence of sexual congress under circumstances of guilt

Pasusakha said, Let him who has stolen the lotus-stalks be born of a slave-mother. Let him have many children all of whom are worthless! And let him never bow to the deities

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Did Rama and Krishna free any slaves?

In Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa (Ayodhyā kāṇḍa), Rāma actually instructs Lakṣmaṇa to gift slave-girls (dāsī's) to a brāhmaṇa.

kausalyām ca yāaśīrbhir bhaktaḥ paryupatiṣṭhati |
ācāryaḥ taittirīyāṇām abhirūpaḥ ca vedavit || 2-32-15

tasya yānam ca dāsīḥ ca saumitre sampradāpaya |
kauśeyāni ca vastrāṇi yāvat tuṣyati sa dvijaḥ || 2-32-16

15-16. saumitre = Oh; lakshmana! yaH = which brahmana; taithiriiyaNaam = studying Taittiriya ( a schoolf yajurveda); aachaaryaH = a preceptor; abhiruupashcha = a man of conformity; vedavit = a knower of Vedas; paryupatishhTati = seving; kausalyaam = Kausalya; bhaktaH = with his blessing; tasya = to him; sampradaapaya = in duly gifted; yaanamcha = conveyance; daasiishcha = servant-maids slave-girls; kaushayaani vastraaNicha = silken clothes; yaavat = till; saH dvijaH = that brahmana; tushhyati = gets satisfied.

Oh, Lakshmana! Which brahman is studying Taittiriya (a school of yajurveda), a preceptor, a man of conformity; a knower of Vedas, serving Kausalya with his devotion and blessing, to him see that he is duly gifted conveyance, servant maids slave-girls and silken clothing till he gets satisfied.

Bharata also donates male and female slaves (dāsī dāsam ca) to brāhmaṇas:

2. On the occasion of Shraddha rites, Bharata gave precious stones, money, a lot of cooked rice, very valuable clothes and various other kinds of presents to Brahmans.


bāstikam bahu śuklam ca gāḥ ca api śataśaḥ tathā |
dāsī dāsam ca yānam ca veśmāni sumahānti ca || 2-77-3
brāhmaṇebhyo dadau putraḥ rājñaḥ tasya aurdhvadaihikam |

tasya = in that; ourdhvadehikam = ceremony performed in honor of the dead; raajN^aH = king; putraH = Bharata the son of Dasaratha; dadou = gave; bahu = many; shuklam = white; baastikam = multitudes of goats; tathaa = and; shatashaH = hundreds of ; gaashchaapi = cows; daasii daasamcha = servants and servant maids female and male slaves; yaanaamcha = vehicles; sumahaanti = and very big; veshmaanicha = houses; braahmaNebhyaH = to brahmans.

3. In that ceremony performed in honor of the dead king, Bharata the son of Dasaratha gave multitudes of white goats, hundreds of cows, servants and servant maids female and male slaves, vehicles and very big houses to Brahmans.

Note the difference between dāsa/dāsī (slaves) and preṣya/bhṛta (servants who work for wages; one simply can't give them away to someone):

  1. प्रेष्य (preṣya) = servant

    saṃgrāmātpunarāgamya kuṅjareṇa rathena vā || 2-2-37
    paurān svajanavannityam kuśalaṃ paripṛcchati |

    putreṣvagniṣu dāreṣu preṣyaśiṣyagaṇeṣu ca || 2-2-38
    nikhilenānupūrvyācca pitā putrānivaurasān |

    37-38. punaH aagatya = After returning; sangraamaat = from battle; kuN^jareNa = on elephant; rathena vaa = or chariot; paripR^ichchhati = inquires; kushalam = well being of; pauraan = citizens; svajanavat = like relatives; pitaa = father; aurasaan putraaniva = like to their hereditary sons; putreshhu = about sons; agnishhu = about the fire; daareshhu = about the wives; preshhya sishhyagaNeshhu cha = about the servants and the disciples; nityam = always; nikhilena = completely; anupuurvyaachcha = and as per due order.

    After returning from battle, Rama goes to citizens on an elephant or a chariot and inquires about their well being as though they were his own kinsmen, like a father does to his sons. He asks about their wives and children, about the sacred fires, about their servants and students, always completely as per the due order.

  2. भृत (bhṛta) = attendant or servant

    भृतक (bhṛtaka) = hired or paid

    kāla atikramaṇe hy eva bhakta vetanayor bhṛtāḥ |
    bhartuḥ kupyanti duṣyanti so anarthaḥ sumahān smṛtaḥ || 2-100-33

    33. kaalaatikramaNaat = (when) there is delay; bhaktavetanayoH = in giving bread and wages; bhR^itaaH = the servants; kupyanti = become incensed; bhartuH = against their master; duSyanti = and become corrupt; saH = (and) that; smR^itaaH = is said to be; sumahaan = a great; anarthaH = unfortunate occurrence.

    When there is delay in giving bread and wages, the servants become incensed against their master and become corrupt; and that is said to be a great unfortunate occurrence.

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There is no doubt slavery was there in ancient India. However, that does not imply that Hinduism supports slavery.

Tuladhara said, ‘…Men are seen to own men as slaves, and by beating, by binding, and by otherwise subjecting them to restraints, cause them to labour day and night. These people are not ignorant of pain that results from beating and fastening in chains. In every creature that is endued with the five senses live all the deities, Surya, Chandramas, the god of wind, Brahman, Prana, Kratu, and Yama (these dwell in living creatures). There are men that live by trafficking in living creatures!

Mahabharata Santi Parva Section CCLXII

Hinduism does not encourage blindly following societal practices and advises one to be guided by reason. Customs that are unreasonable should be discarded.

Attitude towards ancient custom

One should practice what one considers to be one’s duty, guided by reasons, instead of blindly following the practices of the world.

Mahabharata Santi Parva Section CCLXII

However, discard the desire (kama) and material wealth (artha) if contrary to Dharma; as also, any usage or custom or rules regarded as source of Dharma if at any time they were to lead to unhappiness or arouse people's indignation.

Manu Smriti 4.176

Thus there is no reason to think that Hinduism supports slavery.

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