So, I was browsing here and found a post which supposedly said that Yudhishthira gave female slaves to a bunch of Brahmins. Slavery is obviously immoral and is even condemned in several scriptures so I struggle to think why Yudhishthira would do this. Can someone help me out?


1 Answer 1


Slavery is obviously immoral and is even condemned in several scriptures...

It seems like the rest of the world, the dharma śāstra writers of Ancient and Medieval India, did not consider slavery to be immoral. I don't know which Hindu scriptures you are referring to, but I'm yet to find a single one which condemns slavery outright.

The Manusmṛti lists 7 kinds of slaves:

dhvajāhṛto bhaktadāso gṛhajaḥ krītadattrimau |
paitriko daṇḍadāsaśca saptaite dāsayonayaḥ || 8.415 ||

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)

bhāryā putraśca dāsaśca traya evādhanāḥ smṛtāḥ |
yat te samadhigacchanti yasya te tasya tad dhanam || 8.416 ||

The wife, 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.—(8.416)

The Nāradasmṛti lists 15 kinds of slaves and the work usually assigned to them:

2. The sages have distinguished five sorts of attendants according to law. Among these are four sorts of labourers; the slaves (are the fifth category, of which there are) fifteen species.


5. Know that there are two sorts of occupations; pure work and impure work. Impure work is that done by slaves. Pure work is that done by labourers.

6. Sweeping the gateway, the privy, the road, and the place for rubbish; shampooing the secret parts of the body; gathering and putting away the leavings of food, ordure, and urine,

7. And lastly, rubbing the master's limbs when desired; this should be regarded as impure work. All other work besides this is pure.


25. Thus have the four classes of servants doing pure work been enumerated. All the others do dirty work and are slaves, of whom there are fifteen kinds.

26. One born at (his master's) house; one purchased; one received (by gift); one obtained by inheritance; one maintained during a general famine; one pledged by his rightful owner;

27. One released from a heavy debt; one made captive in a fight; one won through a wager; one who has come forward declaring, 'I am thine;' an apostate from asceticism; one enslaved for a stipulated period;

28. One who has become a slave in order to get a maintenance; one enslaved on account of his connection with a female slave; and one self-sold. These are the fifteen classes of slaves as declared in law.

29. Among these, the four named first cannot be released from bondage, except by the favour of their owners. Their bondage is hereditary.

30. Should any one out of them (however) save his master's life, when his life is in peril, he shall be released from slavery and shall take a son's share (of his master's wealth).

So, Yudhiṣṭhira's actions (owning, inheriting and gifting of slaves) were consistent with the dharma śāstras.

Also, as I discuss in this answer, even Rāma and Bharata gifted slaves to brāhmaṇas during their time.

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    I mean, Now I am very sure that it was mistranslation of Dasa and dasi which means servant not slave.
    – user21577
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 8:58
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    @123456789 Have you ever hired someone for work? If yes, have you tried 'gifting them' to someone else? You can only gift something you already own. You can read this answer to understand the difference between प्रेष्य/भृत/भृतक/servant (who works for wages) and slave (dāsī/dāsa). Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 17:14
  • Again, dasa dasi is translated it servant, not slave. Rama is a king who has servants it is most likely him assigning them to the riches and not 'gifting them'. It is better to read it in Sanskrit.
    – user21577
    Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 8:38
  • FYI, Arthaśāstra has a whole chapter devoted to the humane treatment of slaves. If dasa/dasi are simply paid servants, why would anyone create these rules for them? Even if you are a king, you cannot donate servants to others without their permission because servants are not your property. Whereas slaves are one's property, so you can donate/give them away freely. In this chapter of Mahābhārata, Yudhiṣṭhira can be seen betting male/female slaves. @123456789 Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 16:51
  • "If yes, have you tried 'gifting them' to someone else?" Managers/Owners might not use the terminology of "gifting", but hired workers are often "given" to other owners to work on other contracts, projects, etc. And this is more so in the military where troops are given to other commanders to assist in other battles, etc. So yes, even today people give/gift their workers.
    – Ikshvaku
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 13:43