Sunday, September 3, 2017

Manusmriti...not a Hindu code!

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Manusmriti is vehemently blamed for the stratification of the caste system. As I have stated in earlier chapters, here too, we can note that the scholars have been confused with Varna (class) and the caste system considering them one and the same while discussing the castes. It is, however, necessary to critically analyze the Manusmriti to understand for whom the code was intended.  

Let us begin with the early geography of the Manusmriti. The regions known to Manusmriti were Kuru, Panchal, Matsya, and Shaursena in its early times. (Manu. 2.17-2.19) Manu did not know the regions and people beyond Vindhya Mountain. It also did not know Magadha or eastern regions. Manu enumerates only the known lands where early Vedics were settled and with reverence applauds it as the region of the Brahmarshi’s. The Brahmavart, the land they had left far behind, the land where Sarasvati and Drishadvati flowed, Manu revered the most placing it at the highest rank.

The code was intended to those people who adhered to the Vedic religion which was limited to the lands situated within the boundaries of Brahmarshi Desha. Elsewhere, various tribes dwelled and ruled the territories enjoying their own culture and religious practices, to which they wholesomely addressed as Shudras. Naturally, though Manu proclaims that the code is intended for all four Varnas and intermediate ones in its very first chapter (1.2) would have intended to the people living in the region of Brahmarshi, comprising of five states and adhering to the Vedic religion. 

Manu has enacted many laws against Shudras. Manu in the first chapter considers Shudras as the fourth Varna of the Vedic system. Yet Manu states that the Shudras could be anywhere. Also, Manusmriti proclaims that 
“Let him not dwell in a country where the rulers are Sudras, nor in one which is surrounded by unrighteous men, nor in one which has become subject to heretics, nor in one swarming with men of the lowest castes.” (Manu4.61) We are aware that the pre-Vedic religion that is still flowing to us was idolatrous and mainly Tantrik in nature, to its followers Manu calls non-religious and unrighteous. In Rig Veda also we find that the enemy tribes are addressed in the same fashion. 

Now the question will arise that if there were kingdoms of the Shudras, they had their own religion to which Manu calls “heretics” how could his code be intended to them and how the Shudras could be part of the Vedic religion?

While formulating the rules as to who cannot attend the Shraddha, Manu enumerates various occupations, from cattle herders, physicians, traders, temple-priests to actor or singers, however, he does not refer them as Shudra, though all these professions were thought to be the domain of the Shudras. (Manu. 2.150-155) He could have done with the usage of single term “Shudra” instead of enumerating their various professions! If these people were not Shudras, whom Manu treated as Shudras while making his most condemnable and hostile laws, whether followed by the people or not?

Manu all the time speaks of the sacred Vedas and sacrificial fires, neither temples nor any deity that Hindus worship. His command to prohibit temple priest from attending the Shraddha does only mean that the Manu was aware that the idolatrous religion was alien to his. However, he does not mention any god like Shiva, Shakti etc. those Hindu worship the most. His instructions only mention and revere the Vedas and fire sacrifices, thus making it clear that they were intended to the followers of Vedic religion.

Manu was aware of the codes and philosophies those were non-Vedic. He denounces them and threatens of no reward after death if followed by any. (Manu. 12.95-96) It was but natural for Manu as he was advocating his Vedic religion and thus it was necessary to him to denounce all other religious codes, traditions, and philosophies those were not based on the Vedas. Important here is Manu acknowledges the existence of non-Vedic codes and philosophies. 

Most importantly, to Manu, the clans like Paundra, Aundra, Dravida, Camboja, Yavana, Shaka, Pahlava, China, Kirata, Darada, and Khasha are Shudras. (Manu. 10.44) Manu reasons, these clans reached lower positions because they violated the code and omitted the sacred rites. It is clear that Manu here includes indigenous as well foreign clans in the Shudra category, no matter what religion they belonged to. The fact remains that these clans couldn't have been part and parcel of the Vedic religion as fourth Varna and still, they are called as Shudras. Why this anomaly in Manusmriti would have arisen? 

Manusmriti did not know these clans when the code had begun its formulation. The geography of the Manusmriti was limited to five regions. The spread of the Vedic religion was so much so limited at that time that the Vedics did not know the people living elsewhere, thus referring to them wholesomely as Shudras. Later on, gradually, they not only came to know the various clans delving in the country, realized that they had their own identities; still, they went on addressing them as Shudras. Shudra, in fact, became a designation of the people those were not Vedic. It was impossible that these non-Vedics, Shudras, would have given any heed to the commands of the alien religion! And they did not as the history evidences it. 

They came to know the people like Dravida, Aundra, Paundra only after first century AD. Shakas and Kushanas were ruling the parts of the country by that time. Since there was no question of their being Vedic anytime in their history, how could they have been degraded because they violated the sacred code of the Vedics? In all this was just a boastful proclamation studded with Vedic supremacist approach to show their religion was ancient and once all belonged to it.  Even so, the fact remains this code couldn’t have been intended for them, though they were designated as Shudras.

The geography of early Vedics had shifted to Magadha region in later times. We find Magadha becoming the center of this religion from where the attempts were made to spread it by missionary practice. The opposition in form of Buddha and Mahavira arose in sixth century BC only in these parts. Elsewhere there was no slightest presence of this religion and hence there was no question of any opposition.

None of the clan of India belonged to the Vedic religion anytime and hence there was no question of their being degraded because of omission of the sacred rites or violation of the code. The Vedic religion was new to this land, however, the proclamation just was sort of an explanation that could be used as propaganda to attract non-Vedics to their fold. The Aundra, Poundras, Dravidas etc., the mighty clans of southern India, hardly had heard about this religion till first century AD. Only two inscriptions of Satvahanas indicate that this religion was known to them, but Gatha Saptashati, an anthology of this period, does not show the existence of the adherents of this religion in contemporary society! It is ridiculous to think that the instructions of Manusmriti would be ever applicable to them. The fact is these rulers seem to have hardly entertained Vedic religion in their domain. Vedics had to work hard to get the entry in every region of India and still they could not convert all to their fold because of the inherent limitations of their religion.

The historical fact is the code of Manu was completely neglected by the so-called Shudra masses as they continued to follow their independent idolatrous religion and their own code. In fact, though Manu kept on insisting the Vedic rites and sacrifices, the new converts forced many Vedics to adopt idol worship though it was not part of the Vedic religion ever. Rather idolatry was condemned and prohibited. If Manusmriti was so much so powerful to change and command entire social order, the Vedics wouldn’t have dared to commit such blasphemy that was disastrous to the core of their religious tenets. But the reality is the Vedics were forced to change the core of their religion and yet how boastfully the Vedic supremacy was proclaimed!

The fact must be understood that Manu (and his co-authors of later times) were the representatives of a religion that boasted of the supremacy of the Vedas and twice born to make feel others inferior. It cunningly tried to show all mankind been sheltered under one roof and still humiliated those who had not converted. To Manu, once everyone was Vedic and those deviated from the code and rites were fallen to the lowest rank and hence despicable. Every religion for that matter behaves in a similar way with the other. Many of Manusmriti’s instructions and explanations are imaginary, crooked, contradictory and confusing only because the writers of various times did not know how to confront new situations those arose while spreading the religion and the opposite principles that were carried in by the converts. In fact, Vedic religion got heavily polluted in this process which reflects well from the contradictory and yet stringent instructions those were inserted from time to time in the original script of Manusmriti.

In fact, if studied carefully, Manu originally is clear in his commands. He knows to whom commands are intended and to whom not. He explicitly states, “Vedas, Smritis, the custom of virtuous men and one’s own pleasures is the defined fourfold religion.” (Manu-2.12) and in the earlier verse, Manu states, “Every twice-born man, who, relying on the institutes of dialectics, treats with contempt those two sources of the law, must be cast out by the virtuous, as an atheist and a scorner of the Vedas.” (Manu-2.11) His address is to the people those faithfully adhere to the Vedic principles and revere the Vedas. All other faiths opposite to Vedic principles are despicable to Manu to which he calls heretics. We are aware that the pre-Vedic religion of India was based on Tantras to which we call today Hindu religion. The commands of Manu are more strict for the three Varnas and contemptuous and humiliating for Shudras. Every religion in a similar way has given commands against the people of opposing faith. It does not mean that the day-dreaming vicious commands would be followed by the others. 

Here we come across a serious juncture where Manu defines the Vedic religion that finds the source in the Vedas and virtuous conduct of the twice- born men. He threatens the twice-born men of being outcast if they do not respect the Vedas and the laws. Manu also might have felt an imminent threat that the people of his religion could deviate from Vedicism and embrace the religion of Shudra if not stopped by divine command! The contempt for Shudra, too, could have been the outcome of this threat.

The twice-born are just three Varnas and the Shudra is not covered in this command because they are not Vedics, because they are not twice-born. They had their temples and priests and several professions to conduct for livelihood as is evident from the second chapter of Manusmriti. They are not expected to respect the Vedas, instead, they are forbidden. In fact, there are Vedic Brahmins those perform the sacrifices for the Shudras on fees.  Manusmriti verse 3.178  proclaims that “The giver (of a Sraddha) loses the reward, due for such a non-sacrificial gift, for as many Brahmanas as a (guest) who sacrifices for Sudras may touch (during the meal) with his limbs.”
And at other hand, we find the instructions like-

1.    God said the duty of a Shudra is to serve the upper Varnas faithfully with devotion and without grumbling. (Manu 1-91)

2.    Let the first part of a Brahman’s name denote something auspicious, a Kshatriya’s be connected with power, and a Vaishyas with wealth but a Shudra’s express something contemptible. (Manu II.31)

3.   Shudra who insults a twice born man with gross invectives shall have his tongue cut out; for he is of low origin. (Manu VIII. 270.)

4. Shudra is unfit of receive education. The upper Varnas should not impart education or give advice to a Shudra. It is not necessary that the Shudra should know the laws and codes and hence need not be taught. Violators will go to as amrita hell. (Manu IV-78 to 81)

We come across so many such humiliating and infuriating inhuman commands against the Shudras in Manusmriti. Is Manu confused while dictating these commands? No. He is not confused. The confused lot is of the scholars who have failed to understand the true essence of the Manusmriti.  They did not give attention to the following facts:

1.          Manu admits there were Shudras Kings and the Vedic priests those performed sacrifices for them, how they were expected to serve the twice-born with devotion and without grumbling? How Manu could demand their names should be contemptible? If Shudras were well in the financial position to pay the handsome fees to the Vedic priests for conducting the sacrifices, what about the commands of Manu that prohibits Shudras from accumulation of the wealth? 

2.          They did not give attention to the changing geography and the vast time span  Manusmriti covers, which begins in Kuru-Panchal at about 1000 BC and ends in Magadha region in Gupta era. The additions and contradictions created by later authors to suit their time show the journey of the Vedic religion that was gone through several adjustments, modifications, and contractions. Still, there was not sanity on part of the scholars not to understand that the code written in certain region couldn't have been applicable to all the regions of the country. 

3.          It is evident from Manusmriti that those all who did not belong to the Vedic religion were Shudras to them, no matter even if they were foreigners, ruling dynasties or indigenous clans! Manu also was aware that the Shudras had temples and temple priests as a part of their religion, however, the fact remained neglected. Though the Shudras were designated with fourth Varna, as a class, they couldnt have been part of the Vedic religion. The fact is Vedic religion always was three-fold religion and the fourth class always stood opposite to it with its own distinct religion and faiths. The fact should have been noticed that only twice-born were the Vedics and not Shudras!

4.          There is no evidence to show that the Shudras were factually prohibited from education. There is no evidence to show that the republics and Mahajanpadas of that time belonged to the Vedic religion. Inscriptions, Numismatics and literary evidence go against the very notion that there was ever a Vedic Age prior to the Gupta period. 

5.          From historical data, beginning from Pradyota of seventh century BC till medieval era, we do not find any Vedic rulers excepting a few dynasties like Shunga and Kanvas. If we peep into the prehistory, that mostly is written in mythological and propagandist form, though we come across many so-called Vedic monarchs, the stories associated with them hardly can prove their being real Vedic. For example, Kurus and Satvatas do not seem to have any Vedic background though they are portrayed as Kshatriyas in the final recension of Mahabharata. The stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata have been used to propagate Vedic religion by heavy interpolations. However, the social values those appear even in the final versions of both the epics clearly show underneath their non-Vedic origin. 

6. Looking at above few indicative points, writing such hostile commands to regulate a majority society and its obeying them without raising any protest not only sounds ridiculous but doesn’t stand on the historical grounds as well. 

It is clear that the Manusmriti was being written during this vast span of the time and one after another command against Shudras was being added while regulating their religion, still, we do not find non-Vedic society giving any heed to it! Then the question will arise why the authors of the Manusmriti took so much so pains to invent hostile commands against the Shudras? Who were they?

From close scrutiny of the Manusmriti, it clearly appears that the commands against Shudras were intended only to the people those were in personal service of the twice-born. They could be taken into the service on wages, bought out or gifted to them by the patrons of the Vedic religion. Being their close presence the Vedics feared not only pollution to their sacred rites and habits but most importantly the fear of intermingling and creation of the mixed Varnas.  Initially, they didn’t mind the children born to Shudra woman but later on opposite too became a routine and hence they tried to prohibit such adulterous practices between twice-born and Shudras by formulating harsh laws and threats of social degradation of the children. However, Mr. Vi. Ka. Rajwade states such efforts proved worthless as inter-varna adultery and marriages did not stop. (Ref. Radhamadhavavilasachampu, Preface) This is evident from the fact that though the children born out of such relationships were assigned with various low castes like Ugra, Ambashtha, Suta, Magadha, Vaideha, Parashava etc. they were not in practical existence. Panini do not mention any of such caste born out of inter-varna relationships. We can trace no caste in India by these names though the general assumption is that the caste system is very ancient and rigid since the beginning.

It only does mean that though the Smriti tried its best to maintain original structure of their religion pure and unadulterated, they failed in doing so. 

Making harsh laws, at the least on paper, against the menial class that was dependent for subsistence on the twice-born were easy. Being scattered and already pauper they wouldn’t revolt. At the most, they could leave the service and find other ways for survival. However, we do not find any instance of real execution of such commands. What we have are few imaginary stories those are nothing but the fine example of the exaggerations those were used to create moral fear among this class.

It is important to note that Panini classifies the Shudras in two categories, i.e. “Anirvasit” and “Nirvasit” (Ashtadhyayi, 2 : 4-10) Anirvasit means the Shudras those were taken into the private services of the Vedics and Nirvasit means the Shudras those were not related to the Vedic community in any way. This categorization of Panini throws the clear light on the enigmatic question, for whom the code was really intended? The code was intended for the Anirvasit Shudras those were in the services of the Vedic people. Those who were Nirvasit Shudras had nothing to do with the code and the history supports this being a fact.

Also, Manu sometimes uses the term Arya to refer twice-born and Anarya for Shudras. (Manu: 10. 66-68, 73) This distinction clearly indicates towards the religious differences between the both. The religion of the Aryas and Anaryas couldn’t be one and the same. The religion of twice-born Vedic and the Shudras couldn’t be the same. The ritualistic practices of the Shudras are clearly mentioned by Manu. They used to go to the temples and had their own priests whereas the Vedics conducted fire sacrifices and upheld supremacy of the Vedic doctrine.  There was nothing in common between them except for they had to employ some people from the Shudra community as the Vedics were too less in number and needed people to work for them.

However, it seems from the annals of the history that the term “Shudra” which originally was the name of a clan, stuck to those all who were delving in this subcontinent. Even the foreign rulers of later times also were designated as Shudras. To Vedics, those all, who were not part of the Vedic religion were Shudras. The code was intended only to those Shudras who were in their personal service. Whether or not the Anirvasit Shudras remained in the existence, the term did not vanish. The grave misunderstanding among scholars popped up that the code was intended for all the Shudras. None went back in the social and political history to check whether it really ever was practiced or accepted by the people.

Manusmriti, in fact, is overrated in regards to the caste system. It has created undue havoc and center of the hatred in the Hindu society. The code was intended to regulate Vedic religion and not of the Hindus. The scholars did further damage by treating caste and Varna one and the same when it was never a fact. Manu too uses the term Jati in the tenth chapter, though in a different sense, while elaborating on the status of the children begotten by inter-Varna marriages. Manu clearly means their status by using the term Jati and not the professions upon which the present caste system is based. The present rigid and immobile Jati system of Hindu society does not find its origin in remote past. Jatis are not the product of Varna system as is believed by some.

Varna and Jati are two distinct social systems belonging to different two religions. The scholars have failed to understand the Hindu religion does not at all find its source in Vedas and Smritis. It has independent tradition and religious practices and philosophies, Manu too evidences this. The scholars heavily have neglected various dictates of the Manusmriti those go contrary to their postulations. They have forgotten that the certain words are used in the different sense in different societies. Manusmriti is a work of many authors of different times and all the while the authors knew very well to whom their commands were intended. These are the scholars who failed to understand this and thus couldn’t solve the riddle of the caste system.

We can safely conclude that the Manusmriti was intended to regulate only the Vedic religion. The commands those appear against Shudras were limited to the people those were non-Vedic and in service of the Vedic people. Rest of the people, those were designated as Shudras by the Vedics, in fact, belonged to the various clans and preserved their identity by their clan name and occupations. The donation inscriptions of the Satvahana era evidences this fact that the people of those times too preferred to identify themselves by their profession. Rather the term Shudra is absent wherever the people have given their own identifications.  The scholars should have noticed this bare fact that the Vedic and Hindu religion are two distinct entities and they shouldn’t have mixed the both!

 The usage of the term Shudra for all those were not adherents of the Vedic religion, which otherwise is absent from entire Rig Veda, clearly indicates that the Vedic religion was alien to the subcontinent. The term Shudra was not a new invention. It was the name of a tribe and yet scholars failed to understand why this term was made applicable to all the tribes those delved in the country from ancient times. They did not attempt to draw a map of the advances of the Vedic religion in the country and its timeline. Had they done so, a crucial problem would have been solved.   

However, the fact is the term Shudra have created an inferiority complex in the Hindu society. Without even knowing that the term Shudra finds no etymology in any language still it has cast an evil spell over the society, so much so that the many communities have been jumped in a rat race to get connected with the some or other higher Varna, to attain higher social status, no matter whether Vedic religious authorities accept it or not! Albeit, they will not because Hindus are not Vedic!

The caste system is not like a pyramid as is believed. The Vedic religion is a three fold pyramid whereas the Shudras (Hindu) stand independently with their own traditions, religion and independent social order.