A Dwija is expected to be sincere, honest and self satisfied without seeking any external pleasure. Then why are Shastras fining Dwijas very less for Adultery and Sudras a lot? I know Dwijas have huge punishments if they Drink but that won't justify this law. Please answer with regards to adultery only

If a Śūdra committed adultery with a woman of the higher castes, Gaut. (XII.1-2) prescribed the cutting off of his penis and forefeiture of all his property and if he was guilty of this offence when entrusted with the duty of protecting her, he was to suffer death in addition. Vas. Dh. S.21.1, Manu VIII.366 prescribe death in the case of a śūdra having intercourse with a brāhmaṇa woman whether she was willing or unwilling, On the other hand, if a brāhmaṇa committed rape on a brāhmaṇa woman he was fined a thousand and five hundred if he was guilty of adultery with her (Manu VIII, 378) and if a brāhmana had intercourse with a kṣatriya, vaiśya or śūdra woman, who was not guarded, he was fined five hundred (Manu VIII.385)

How is killing Sudras same as killing Birds? Aren't Sudras Human Beings??

Āp.Dh.S. (I.9.25.14- says that on killing a crow, a chameleon, a peacock, a cakravaka, flamingo, bhāsa, a frog, ichneumon, musk-rat, a dog, a cow and draught ox the prayaścitta is the same as that for killing a śūdra.

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    – Pandya
    Jan 29 at 14:20

Please do read the summary and appreciate the post as the detailed part is disastrously long.

Summary: There are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Adultery (intercourse outside marriage) is a sin.
  2. Marriage beyond Varna especially pratiloma union (lower Varna man and higher Varna woman) is bad (Refer: 1 and 2
  3. Killing a Brahmin is one of the major sins (Refer: 5 greatest sins and Manu 8.381) and hence killing as a punishment by the King is out of question for Brahmins)

Hence to prevent pratiloma union a higher punishment by the King was prescribed for lower Varnas (S, V and K) whereas for a Brahmin it was tonsure.


1. Harshness of Punishment

Most Smritis give a harsh punishment, yet some contain prāyaścita too (which are referred to in Manu 11.1176. It is only when one fails to perform the prāyaścita and that a king must intervene (reference needed)

The Samvartta smṛti says:

A Brahmin uniting with a Kshatriya or Vaishya woman is purified by doing the Sāntapana kṛcchra ||153|| Uniting with a Shudra woman (for 15 days or one month) he is purified by consuming cow urine and barley ||154||. By uniting with another family’s Brahmin woman or of ones own family he is purified by Prājāpatya ||157||

If a Shudra united with a Brahmin woman then he is purified by consuming cows urine and barley for one month ||170|| Same for a Kshatriya and Vaishya - 169

So before being harsh, an opportunity is given to do prāyaścita and the harshness by the King comes later. As per Manu (cited below), adultery causes destruction and hence the harsh punishment.

2. Why death penalty only to Shudra

From the below discussion we can see that the general view is death penalty for all (especially pratiloma union ) irrespective of caste, except for the Brahmin there is tonsure rite. So it is not only the shudra who faces such a harsh penalty

The general view expressed is :

Anybody but a Brāhmaṇa shall suffer corporal punishment for adultery.
- Baudhayana DhS Praśna II, Adhyāya 2, Kaṇḍikā 4

The highest fine shall be inflicted for connexion with a woman of equal caste; half that for connexion with a woman of a lower caste; and a man who has connexion with a woman of a higher caste shall be put to death.- Brihaspati 23.10 (I’ve taken this from Manu comparative notes, emphasising Pratiloma union being worse)

Manusmriti’s view:
Manusmṛti too takes a generalised view initially 8.359 says:

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.

Reason: killing Brahmin is a sin. As per Manu 8.379 (stated below) the death penalty for a Brahmin would be tonsure (shaving off head)

The other generalised prescription of Manu as stated in 8.364-366 is:

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) [in line with the above prescription of death penalty]

If a maiden approaches a superior person, she shall not be made to pay anything; if however she courts an inferior person, she shall be kept confined in the house.—(365) [This is taking about anuloma being less severe than pratiloma]

An inferior man courting a superior maiden deserves death; he who courts a maiden of equal status, shall pay the nuptial fee, if her father so wishes.—(366). [again showing severity of pratiloma relations]

Yet after the above generalised prescriptions, Manu keeps contradicting itself and goes onto give specific prescriptions for each Varna which (in my opinion maybe interpolated, contemplating the general flow of the above verses and for the simple reason that when a death penalty has been prescribed for all non-Brahmins, why would only the Shudra suffer capital punishment in the succeeding verses?)

However for your satisfaction I will comment on this aspect too, assuming they are valid verses.

Based on the predominance of gunas and owing to the leniency (w.r.t liquor, theft, etc.), a person of a lower Varna was more prone to performing inappropriate acts, including adultery, due to having lesser control over his senses. A Brahmin (Sattva Guna predominant) was commonly expected to control his senses (as mentioned in Bhagavad Gita 18.42) whereas it was not so for a Shudra (Tamo Guna predominant) and he was more likely to be afflicted by Kama.

Manu 8.353 says adulterous intermixing of castes ultimately causes total destruction. As stated above, a child born of a Pratiloma union is considered worse than a child born of an Anuloma union (though the correct and ideal is same Varna union) and therefore a Pratiloma act of adultery results in faster destruction of society.

Accordingly since lower varnas being more prone to committing wrongful acts and especially these acts (pratiloma by a lower Varna) causing greater destruction to society, a higher degree of punishment was prescribed for them. The punishment gradually decreases for each higher Varna. For a shudra it is as you mentioned in the answer. For a Vaishya and Kshatriya we can see a gradual decrease:

The Vaiśya should be fined his entire property after a year’s imprisonment; the Kṣatriya is to be fined one thousand, and be shaved with urine. 8.375

Now there are many contradictions:
Here taking a decreasing view, Manu again goes on to contradict this view making a distinction between protected and unprotected, in the next verse, and prescribe a fine again for the same act:

If the Vaiśya and the Kṣatriya have intercourse with an unprotected Brāhmaṇa woman, the Vaiśya should be committed with five hundred and the Kṣatriya with one thousand. 8.376

But again in the case of a protected Brahmin woman, Manu again contradicts the decreasing punishment view and the fine view to go back to generalised view of death penalty (protected woman) for all except Brahmin:

But both these, when offending against a protected Brāhmaṇa woman, should be punished like a Śūdra, or burnt in a fire of dry grass.—(8.377)

Then again in the next verse he contradicts himself by prescribing fines for Brahmins as stated by you, but once more contradicts himself by saying:

Tonsure has been prescribed as the death-penalty for the Brāhmaṇa; for other castes the penalty would be actual death.—(8.379)

In cases where ‘death’ has been laid down for the Kṣatriya and other castes, it is to be ‘tonsure’ for the Brāhmaṇa. For instance, for adultery, the non-Brāhmaṇa deserves the death-penalty,—the general rule being that ‘the male shall be flayed.’
Medhatithi’s Manubhashya.

Probably Manu prescribed fine and death penalty etc but the verses got mixed up.

Vasiṣṭha Dharmasūtra’s view
Vasiṣṭha Dharmasūtra Chapter 21 as cited above prescribes such harsh punishments not only for Shudras but also for adulterous Kshatriyas and Vaishyas, in line with the generalised view of death for adultery (in case of non-Brahmins). The only the difference being in the material which is used to wrap the person before being burnt (again Brahmin killing being a sin is out of question, and this focuses on Pratiloma adultery)

If a Śūdra approaches a female of the Brāhmaṇa caste, (the king) shall cause the Śūdra to be tied up in Vīraṇa grass and shall throw him into a fire

If a Vaiśya approaches a female of the Brāhmaṇa caste, (the king) shall cause the Vaiśya to be tied up in Lohita grass and shall throw him into a fire

If a Kṣatriya approaches a female of the Brāhmaṇa caste, (the king) shall cause the Kṣatriya to be tied up in leaves of Sara grass and shall throw him into a fire

  1. A Vaiśya who offends) with a female of the Kṣatriya class (shall be treated) in the same manner,
    5. And a Śūdra (who offends) with females of the Kṣatriya or Vaiśya castes.

In line with Manu’s prescription of tonsure for Brahmins, in the above cases, the Brahmin lady is supposed to have her head shaved.

I won’t comment on Gautama, because he has dedicate a chapter to punishments for Shudra Varna, none of the others have been mentioned.

3. Conclusion

Based on the above we can conclude:

  1. The general view even, as per Manu, is death penalty for a man (of any caste except Brahmin) having a Pratiloma adulterous intercourse and since killing a Brahmin is a sin, tonsure is his death penalty. So it is not only a shudra that faces a harsh punishment
  2. Though Manu contradicts himself, the basic idea is the severity of punishments for each higher Varna reduces owing to their decreasing likeliness to perform incorrect act. Hence higher punishment for shudra is prescribed.
  • 1
    Please accept my humble Pranams Arichit ji! So could we just tell them guys do whatever you want with your castes and dont intermingle with others and live happyly?! Right? <<Based on the predominance of gunas and owing to the leniency (w.r.t liquor, theft, etc.), a person of a lower Varna was more prone to performing inappropriate acts>> 10000% True Bramhanas need not be warned for adultery because when one realises Brahman then flesh of meat one cant lust.... Please accept my humble Pranams Arichit Ji! Jan 27 at 16:21
  • Please shed some light on killing Sudra Jan 27 at 16:21
  • 2
    @SethuSrivatsaKoduru I hope this has tagged you correctly. My naman to you. Ya just tell them to sit with their own castes. Intermingling scientifically destroys Guna. Is this kid a Brahmin or kshatriya? He has qualities of both. So ya sit in your caste and be happy. Also Sethuji What about killing? Will have to see/ answer already toooo long.
    – Adiyarkku
    Jan 27 at 17:46
  • 2
    @Ikshvaku , this is your type of topic :D. Please do read Sethuji’s question and the at least the summary answer up. Hope you like it
    – Adiyarkku
    Jan 27 at 18:19
  • 1
    @Archit "this is your type of topic" - Lol yep. Good answer btw.
    – Ikshvaku
    Apr 22 at 0:47

Why are Sudras fined very harshly for adultery whereas Dwijas aren't fined much?

Patrick Olivelle who critically edited Manusmṛti has this explanation:

Reading the MDh [Mānava-Dharmaśāstra] one cannot fail to see and to feel the intensity and urgency with which the author defends Brahmanical privilege. A major aim of Manu was to re-establish the old alliance between priesthood and royalty, an alliance that in his view would benefit both the Brahmin and the king, thereby re-establishing the Brahmin in his unique and privileged position within society. We hear the repeated emphasis on the inviolability of the Brahmin in his person and in his property. He has immunity from the death penalty, from taxes, and from the confiscation of his property.

The king is advised repeatedly that a Brahmin's property is poison. Stealing a Brahmin's gold is one of the five grievous sins, and the death penalty is imposed on the perpetrator. Devotion to Brahmins is a cardinal virtue of kings: 'Refusal to turn back in battle, protecting the subjects, and obedient service to Brahmins—for kings, these are the best means of securing happiness' (7.88). The reason why foreign ruling classes, such as the Greeks, Śākas, Persians, and Chinese, have fallen to the level of Śūdras, once again, is their lack of devotion to Brahmins: 'By neglecting rites and by failing to visit Brahmins, however, these men of Kṣatriya birth have gradually reached in the world the level of Śūdras' (10.43).

The Brahmanical privilege is threatened from two quarters: the Śūdra, within which class Manu often lumps all the lower classes of society, and the Mleccha (foreigner, barbarian). Now, it is true that even the Dharmasūtras contain passages that are anti-Śūdra. It is taken for granted that the sole duty of Śūdras is to serve the upper classes; penalties for killing a Śūdra are much less than for killing people of the upper classes; likewise, penalties are increased for guilty Śūdras; the list could go on. Yet we also see that Śūdras acted as cooks in Brahmin households Āpastamba (2.29.11-15) even says that one may learn aspects of the Law (dharma) from Śūdras. There is a virulence in Manu's rhetoric vis-a-vis Śūdras lacking in the Dharmasūtras that appears to indicate that there must be a subtext to it. How could the lowest class of society with little access to material resources pose such a threat to social order and to Brahmanical hegemony? The fear of the Śūdra contrasts sharply with Manu's view of Vaiśyas. These are dealt with in a dispassionate and straightforward way. Why were Vaiśyas, who are depicted as agriculturalists and traders, that is, people with resources, not a threat to the Brahmin-Kṣatriya alliance that Manu was attempting to forge and strengthen? At one level, I think, historical memory is at work here; Śūdras were once in power and posed a real threat to Brahmanical hegemony, and history can always repeat itself.

Beyond that, however, 'Śūdra' for Manu is often a code word; it identifies the enemy and it encompasses a wide cross-section of society, both past and present. It evoked the memories of bad old days; it heightened the anxiety that what happened under the Mauryas could be repeated. I also think that there was a contemporary threat to Brahmanical supremacy not so much from political power but from rival religious establishments, especially the Buddhist and the Jain monastic orders. I think Manu includes these within his code 'Śūdra'. The connection between Śūdra and the non-Brahmanical ascetic sects is drawn by Manu himself. In his advice regarding a Brahmin's residence, Manu (4.61) says: 'He should not live in a kingdom ruled by a Śūdra, teeming with unrighteous people, overrun by heretical ascetics, or swamped by lowest-born people.' Here we have a clear juxtaposition between a kingdom ruled by a Śūdra king and a region populated by heretical ascetics (principally, Buddhists and Jains), by lowest-born people, and by unrighteous men.

Indeed, Manu's instruction (9.225) to the king about cleansing his kingdom of dangerous people includes men who belong to heretical sects. The strength of Buddhism in the north-western regions during this period and the patronage offered to them by what for Manu were Mleccha (foreign, barbarian) kings may also have influenced the connection between heretic and Śūdra/Mleccha.

Alongside Śūdras, we have the Mlecchas. Manu is cognizant of the regions occupied by the foreign barbarians, for at 2.23 he defines the areas outside the central Aryavarta as the region of Mlecchas. Manu, however, does not have much to say about the Mlecchas in the rest of the book; his focus is on the Śūdras. Or, is the code 'Śūdra' meant also to encompass these other outsiders as well?

Note that at 10.44 Manu presents the Mleccha groups such as Greeks, Śākas, and Chinese as sunk to the level of Śūdras, although they were Kṣatriyas by birth.

The ideology that drives Manu explains the plan of his book. He devotes 1,034 verses (38.6 per cent) to the discussion of the Brahmin and 971 verses (36 per cent) to matters relating to the king; these two take up three-quarters of the entire text.

Manu's agenda is twofold:

  • he wants to tell Brahmins how to behave as true Brahmins devoted to Vedic learning and virtue, and
  • he wants to tell kings how to behave as true kings, devoted to Brahmins and ruling the people justly.

For this agenda he brings the authority of no less a person than the Creator himself, who is presented as the absent author of the text.

  • 6
    "At one level, I think, historical memory is at work here; Śūdras were once in power and posed a real threat to Brahmanical hegemony, and history can always repeat itself." - opinion based. Western interpretation Irrelevant speculation.
    – mar
    Jan 27 at 23:41
  • 5
    "you don't need to be a priest or warrior to get special treatment" - try kidnapping a policeman, vs a local laborer, and you'll understand how society actually follows Vedas even if they don't seemingly want to
    – mar
    Jan 28 at 1:59
  • 4
    @sv. "how can Manusmriti be written by shudras when it has verses like these" - But I can equally ask, "how can the Manusmriti be written by brahmins when it has verses like this": 'A twice-born person, having, through folly, drunk wine, shall drink wine red-hot; he becomes freed from his guilt, when his body has been completely burnt by it.' - You can't just cherry pick verses that portray brahmins in a good light, that is a fallacy and deceitful because you're not giving the full picture. I ask you to be more honest, I've cited these verses for you before, but you continue to ignore them.
    – Ikshvaku
    Jan 29 at 0:47
  • 4
    by sv's logic, The PM of a country should not allocate any tax money for bodyguards for his own protection, because that would be like Obama medalling Obama. These substance-less anti-Brahmin arguments sound very teenage-ish to me. @Ikshvaku
    – mar
    Jan 29 at 8:17
  • 4
    @ram Yeah, they ignore all other verses because they are driven by bias and hatred of Brahmins.
    – Ikshvaku
    Jan 29 at 14:04

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