Were some of the harsher punishments laid out in smṛtis like the Manu actually carried out (any real examples?) or they merely served as a deterrent?

From Manusmṛti:

On abusing a Brāhmaṇa the Kṣatriya should be fined one hundred; and the Vaiśya one hundred and fifty; or two hundred; the Śūdra however deserves immolation.—(267)

Medhātithi’s commentary (manubhāṣya):

For the Śūdra ‘immolation,’—in the form of beating, cutting off the tongue, actual death, and so forth, to be adjusted in accordance, with the exact nature of the abuse.—(267)

If through arrogance, he teaches brāhmaṇas their duty, the king shall pour heated oil into his mouth and ears.—(272)

In a case of adultery, a non-Brāhmaṇa deserves the penalty ending in death; as the wives of all the four castes are always the most deserving of protection.—(359)

If a man of equal status violates an unwilling maiden, he deserves immediate death; but if he violates a willing one, he shall not suffer death.—(364)

1 Answer 1


Well whether real examples or not , these verses are quite doubtful. I will give reasons for each verse.

1)Manu 8.267 and 2)Manu 8.272

For saying harsh or wicked words to brahmin , a kshatriya is punished with 100 panas , a vaishya with 150 or 200 panas and shudra is liable to corporal punishment.(267)

If a shudra in arrogance , preaches brahmins about dharma ,then king shall have heated oil poured in his mouth and ears.(272)

now Manu 8.336 says

If common man is fined 1 karshapana as punishment for crime , then for same crime king will be fined a thousand.

Now if we reverse the verse , it becomes king (kshatriya) will pay 1000 times more than common man for same crime. So if kshatriya is paying 100 panas for insulting brahmin , then vaishya and shudra should be paying even lesser.

Also Manu 8.273 say

Any person who in arrogance humiliates another person by false blasphemy or wrong talks about his education , country ,varna and bodily deeds should be punished with 200 panas.

Isn't 8.273 actually implying that talking harsh and wicked words or saying wrong words to any other person with respect to anything - be it varna ,education/learning etc. will result in 200 panas fine ? So this contradicts with 8.267-8.272. (I highlighted education/learning as this is linked to 8.272)

3)Manu 8.359 and 4)Manu 8.364

If non brahmin man commits adultery , he should be punished with death as women of all 4 varnas are worthy of being protected.(359)

if a man forcibly corrupts a maiden (of same varna) who is devoid of sexual desire , should be immediately punished with death.

Now Manu 8.352 says

Men involved in promiscuity, the king shall banish after having branded them with disturbing punishments.

So quite visible 8.352 contradicts with 8.359 and 8.364

Since it appears there are 2 different punishments for adultery and abusing , so to determine which punishment is correct some assumption has to be made.

Assuming Chanakya used Manusmriti as reference for arthshastra (see page 275) it says

Abusive expressions in general, no matter whether true, false, or reverse with reference to the abused, shall be punished with fines ranging above 12 panas, in the case of persons of equal rank. If persons abused happen to be of superior rank, the amount of the fines shall be doubled; if of lower rank, it shall be halved.

so again corporal punishment not used for shudra if he abuses. Similarly see page 277 -

TOUCHING, striking, or hurting constitutes assault. When a person touches with hand, mud, ashes or dust the body of another person below the naval, he shall be punished with a fine of 3 panas; with some but unclean things, with the leg, or spittle, 6 panas; with saliva (Chhardi), urine, faeces, etc. 12 panas. If the same offence is committed above the navel, the fines shall be doubled; and on the head, quadrupled. If the same offence is committed on persons of superior rank, the fines shall be twice as much: and on persons of lower rank, half of the above fines. If the same offence is committed on the women of others, the fines shall be doubled.

see page 282

When a person does not hand over the property entrusted to him for delivery to a third person, drags with his hand the wife of his brother, has connection with a public woman kept by another, sells merchandise that is under ill repute, breaks open the sealed door of a house, or causes hurt to any of the forty-house-holders or neighbours, a fine of 48 panas shall be imposed.

again , in case of adultery no corporal punishment.

From Fa Hien 's account (see page 53 )

The king governs without decapitation or corporal punishments. Criminals are simply fined lightly or heavily.

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