Manu Smriti: The Left-Liberal tool for undermining Hinduism

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1571
Photo: www.ajabgjab.com

By Nithin Sridhar

Today, Manu Smriti is a very maligned and abused scripture. It is largely considered as being violent and discriminatory and is often accused of being biased against women and lower castes. More importantly, Manu Smriti is a favorite tool in the hands of anyone who wants to accuse Hinduism of perpetrating the most heinous crimes in the world. It is a pet weapon of the Secular-Liberal-Outrage-Brigade (SLOB) who bash Hinduism and Hindu practices left and right using Manu Smriti.

The latest person to use Manu Smriti to bash Hinduism for current social conditions is a well-known journalist Rana Ayyub. She tweeted yesterday connecting Manu Smriti with the issue of suicide of Rohith Vemula thus:

Though, the suicide of Rohith Vemula is very troubling, and it must be properly investigated, the unnecessary dragging of Manu Smriti into the issue could be nothing but a deliberate ploy to bash Hinduism and portray it as being castiest and discriminatory by using Manu Smriti as a tool.

Manu Smriti- a scripture that imparts Svadharma

The truth is Manu was one of the earliest sages who propounded in depth about various aspects of Dharma (righteous duty) and how people should discover and practice their own Swadharma (personal righteous duty). His work comes under the corpus of Smriti literatures that were imparted by various ancient Sages that intends to help people in understanding the essence of Vedas and implementing them in everyday life. Thus, Hindu tradition holds both Vedas and Smriti as valid sources of knowledge about Dharma, though Vedas reign supreme in case of any contradiction.

Now, coming to Manu Smriti, it is a very large scripture with more than 2500 verses divided into 12 chapters. Narada Smriti gives an interesting account about how the original Manu Smriti was around 100,000 verses and it was later successively abridged into 12,000, 8000, and 4000 slokas.

If we are to accept this traditional account, then the Manu Smriti available to us is very incomplete even with respect to the final abridged form of 4000 slokas. In other words, many important aspects of Dharma as well as the nuance and explanations of various contexts may have become permanently lost. This sufficiently explains why Manu Smriti at places appears problematic. But, just because it appears problematic and inconsistent on a literal reading at a few places, it does not mean the whole scripture is violent or discriminatory in nature. We have a wide number of Dharmic literature, using which a wholesome view on Dharmic issues may be arrived at.

It is also important to remember that Hindu scriptures are known to have various layers of meaning even for a single word. There is a well-known story in Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, which clearly brings out this fact. When the gods, the humans, and the demons approached Lord Brahmaa with a request to teach them. He taught them the syllable ‘Da’. The Gods understood it as ‘Dama or Self-restraint and attained fulfilment. The Humans understood it as ‘Datta or Charity and attained fulfilment and the demons understood as ‘Daya or ‘Compassion’ and attained fulfilment. Though, the word imparted was one, to each group it had a different meaning and application. This episode clearly establishes how any verse, any instruction in Hindu scriptures must be properly understood with respect to the context as well as the audience to whom the verse is addressed to.

Such being the case, how valid are the claims of left-liberal brigade who cherry pick a few verses using some faulty translations without ever deeply examining scriptures? Have people like Rana Ayyub undertaken years of deep study in Sanskrit and Smriti literature? Have they attained expertise and competence in the scriptures to pass moral judgments on them? It is quite clear that their snide remarks on Manu Smriti are not based on Pandityam (academic and spiritual scholarship) but are politically motivated.

The issue of pouring molten lead into Shudra’s ears for listening to Vedas

Rana Ayyub tweets a verse supposedly taken from Manu (supposedly because she does not mention Manu in the tweet, but mentions him in the next tweet, as shown above), which says if a Shudra intentionally listens to chanting of Vedas, he should be punished by pouring molten lead into his ears. This, along with a link containing similar cherry-picked verses are used by her as evidence for Manu Smriti propagating Caste discrimination and violence.

A simple cross-checking would have revealed that such a verse does not exist in Manu Smriti at all! It is a verse actually from Gautama Dharma Sutra (12.4) and not Manu. Let’s ignore this lack of proper research on her part for a moment and consider the verse in question.

This meaning of the verse usually given can serve as an ideal example of how not to interpret a scripture! The verse literally taken indeed speaks about pouring molten lead into the ears of Shudras who intentionally hear the scriptures despite of being prohibited from doing it. But, is this the true meaning of the verse? Adi Shankara who quotes the verse in his Brahmasutra Bhashya (1.3.38), cites the verse to simply show that Shudras do not have the competency to listen to the Vedas or understanding them because they do not undergo various Samskaras (ritual ceremonies) that is aimed at making people mentally pure enough to chant Vedas, generate proper energy associated with the mantras, understand their meanings and teach correct meanings to others. Shudras, whose mind are more directed towards mundane life and responsibilities and thus are not free of greed, anger, etc. do not have required qualifications that will make them competent to chant, learn and teach the Vedas.

Thus, the so called punishment mentioned in Gautama Dharma Sutra is not literal, instead it must be understood as a simple prohibition of Vedic chanting to Shudras, owing to the difference in their inner temperaments and life’s responsibilities. Just as parents often prohibit their children from doing certain actions by telling them they will punish them and thus try to keep their children safe, similarly this verse has to be understood as an exaggeration to make people understand that certain austerity, rules, and inner temperaments are required to practice Vedas and those who do not have them should not disturb/obstruct others.

Let’s for a moment, assume that the injunction is indeed literal. Even then, if one were to understand the verse in its proper context and with regard to the times they were composed, a different picture will emerge. Consider punishment for rape and such crimes given in Manu and other smritis. It is highly severe from today’s worldview. Yet, severe crimes were punished severely in ancient times. When read in this context, Gautama’s verse clearly states that the punishment was for those who intentionally heard the Vedas, despite of knowing that they are prohibited and hence committing a wrong action. Hindu scriptures clearly speak about how Vedic mantras are infused with energy that materially and spiritually uplift entire society. It is Svadharma (personal duty) of Brahamanas to chant Vedic mantras and perform Vedic rituals for the welfare of the whole society, including Shudras. The spiritual responsibility of Shudras, who themselves are not eligible for Vedas, lies with Brahmanas who perform it for the whole society. So, obviously, if a person willingly tries to interfere and cause obstruction to Vedic recitation or ritual performances, which had been undertaken for sake of entire society, he will be punished severely for causing great harm to society. So, even by assuming the literal meaning to be true and placing it in proper context and times, it is obvious that there is neither discrimination against the lower classes, nor any violence being propagated by the said verse. Instead, it must be understood as a punishment prescribed for an intentional violation of a rule that resulted in great harm to society.

Therefore, it is obvious that the charge of Manu Smriti or other Smritis propagating violence on Shudras does not hold. It is a case of mischievous misinterpretation carried out to achieve political goals.

The Adhikara (competency) to interpret scriptures

It may be asked, why should anybody consider explanations provided above as valid? As an extension, it may also be asked, who decides what exactly the meaning of a particular verse is? Who has Adhikara (competency) to decide whether the verse is allegorical or literal, whether it is discriminatory as held by Rana Ayyub or it is not discriminatory as explained above? The answer is simple.

The Adhikara (competency) to properly explain our Hindu scriptures lies with our Hindu Acharyas, who have devoted their lives in understanding Dharma and practicing them. Adhikara also lies with those people who have studied these scriptures in-depth employing proper means of Shraddha (conviction and faith) and Viveka (discerning intellect).

A mere academic reading of the scripture, or worse cherry picking from them as done by the left-liberal brigade does not make them competent to sit in judgment on Hindu scriptures. Anybody who is truly interested may either take to keep studying in a proper prescribed manner, or may consult those who have done so.

How to study Shastras (scriptures)?

To truly understand Hindu scriptures, they must develop a certain level of mental purity and approach the scripture with Shraddha and Viveka. Shraddha does not mean blind faith. It refers to an inner conviction regarding the sincerity of the composer of the scripture and regarding the scripture being a valid source of knowledge. Viveka refers to the sharp discrimination intellect that can separate the wheat from the chaff, the essence from the outer injunction. The importance of Shraddha is depicted in the very first few verses of Manu Smriti, wherein various sages respectfully approach Manu to learn from him in an attitude of humbleness and mental surrendering, which are characteristics of Shraddha.

Without this inner conviction, surrendering, and power of discernment, one will always end up superimposing one’s own pre-conceived notions on the scriptures without letting the scriptures to impart insights that reveal their true meaning. It is for this reason that Manu Smriti (2.16) says that only those who have undergone various Samskara rituals have eligibility to study Manu Smriti. These Samskara rituals impart on the individual various inner qualities like compassion, forbearance, freedom from anger, purity, quietism, auspiciousness, freedom from avarice, and freedom from covetousness (Gautama Dharma Sutras- 8.22-25).

So, obviously those who do not have even a little Shraddha and these other qualities, will always end up misinterpreting the scriptures based on their own presumptions or political compulsions. It must also be noted that these Smritis are scriptures meant to teach people how to lead their lives, how to achieve happiness, how to solve problems. These scriptures are not political tools to be used for achieving selfish goals. It is indeed a sad commentary on current Indian society that most of the people are satisfied with cherry picking and misusing scriptures to achieve their own political ends. This is more so with SLOBs, who have so much loathing for Hinduism that they neither have regard for the sacredness of the scriptures nor have care of knowing the truth in the scripture.

If these left-liberals who use Manu Smriti to bash Hinduism about every social problem in the current society, had any real care and concern for solving the present day problems, there are hundreds of Hindu scriptures and other books written by Hindu ancestors, which may help in finding solutions to today’s problems- be it caste discrimination, poverty, or corruption.

Yet, they ignore Gita, they ignore Upanishads, they ignore Arthashastra, they even ignore those non-controversial portions of Manu Smriti that has useful instructions, and focus solely on few cherry picked verses that could be used to undermine Hinduism. It is high time that the anti-Hindu propaganda run by the left-liberal brigade is exposed and thoroughly countered. (Photo: Wikipedia)

  • Rakesh Manchanda

    If 50% population of women are not allowed to enter several temples and perform prayers and even the last rights at the funeral site then it is not cherry picking but crime against humanity.

    • Rugved Reddy

      In which comic book did you get that statistical figure sir ? There are protocols in a religion which people see through the lens of discrimination. There are ceremonies dedicated to women and even temples. You can check for yourself.

    • Lokesh

      I agree women should be allowed to all temples, but 5/10 temples throughout India out of possible million temples is definitely cherry picking.

    • Maximus Decimus

      Lol almost all temples in my city are filled more with women devotees than males , there is no such religion or system which gave women a mother status/goddess except Sanatana Dharma , this is why Bharat has very few divorce cases than Western counter parts ,religions and cults come and go it’s the Sanatana Dharma that is eternal

    • guest

      That is not true, there are very few temples where women are not allowed. Then there are several temples where men are not allowed.

  • Shiva Shankar

    Is the author, in defending manu, supporting birth based divisions of caste, and the ‘unparalleled social abuse of untouchability (A.J.Toynbee)?? Can it be true that this man is so bereft of the most elementary morality?

    • Prem Dhan

      He is defending Manu because Manu is for merit-based (not birth based) varna system (not caste derived from portuguese casta) . untouchability is a problem outside the chaturvarna system – they were the panchama. He is opposing gross translations/interpretations of false scholars who are dictionary robots. That is moral.

      • Shiva Shankar

        I bet the author is a dwija, a brahmin. And I bet you are a dwija too. If you were a Shudra, you would not have written this low brow immoral comment.

  • Rajiv Varma

    This is an important topic because the current secularist discourse on Manusmriti contributes to Hinduphobia. Your article was in response to Rana Ayub’s tweets, which represent the cliches about Manusmriti in the Secularist discourse. The people who make such remark couldn’t differentiate between a donkey and a horse. So, likes of Rana need to be mocked but not taken seriously. The moment you explain the nuances you listed, you give such ignoramuses a lease of respectability that they do not deserve. I think the approach for likes of Rana are to write a rebuttal in a lighter vein mocking her lack of depth of knowledge, and then in concluding paragraph summarily list the factors that you want to communicate to your larger audience. With your article you have given her some legitimacy, which to an unsuspecting reader (from opposing side) would look valid enough to take her tweets seriously.

    On the other hand, what needs to be done seriously is to challenge the notion of Manusmriti being the “Law book of the Hindus”. This interpretation is consecrated by likes of Patrick Olivelle, George Bühler, Brian Smith, Wendy Doniger, Werner Menski, Domenico Francavilla, Robert Lingat, and scores of others, by their mis-scholarship. I am of the opinion that these scholars were too used to their own systems of governance, viz. British Common Law and French Code, so they were looking for something equivalent in Hindu sastras. The moment these scholars stumbled something mentioned about human behavior and governance, they automatically assumed (like the Pavlovian dog), that … a ha ! … we located the “lawbook” of the Hindus. But the fundamental question remains – is Manusmriti “Lawbook of Hindus?

    To answer that you have to see what is the construct of law and jurisprudence in the Western/Islamic context? Islamic context is pretty straightforward – here is the word of Allah and the law is to enforce it by sword. Thus shariah and various schools of Islamic jurisprudence. Done.

    But what about European-American jurisprudence? If you look at them closely, they are as much instances of the same Abrahamic template – perhaps sanitized – but same category nevertheless. These are the successor law-systems to what existed in the medieval Christian states and empires.

    What about ancient India? I have consulted A.S. Altekar, Nilakantha Sastry, and Radhakumud Mokeerjee. It seems to me ancient India did not have such elaborate and codified systems of jurisprudence. … And for a good reason. This is not something negative. This does not mean there was no law and order in ancient India. There were nyayapalikas and panchayat system at the village level. But was justice based on some dogma codified as law? I do not think so.

    There was no dogma, which explains the absence of Shariah like or British Common Law kind of codification. But there was a justice system alright. If I may surmise, perhaps the justice was derived more intuitively, rather than referring to Manusmriti or other books. Perhaps it was more common sense based approach to justice.

    That brings us to the question, what is the possible locus of smritis. To make it understandable we can say smritis are guidebooks that contain the memoirs authored by the learned of their times. These provide a window of reference point to the seeker. Here the seeker is not just limited concept of those taking sanyasa or getting moksha, but a seeker is also seeking justice in the lay world.

    It is incumbent on Indians to snatch the narrative from Eurocentric scholars, and restore to Manusmriti what it actually is, and debunk this “lawbook of Hindus” business once and for all.

    • Shiva Shankar

      … A.S. Altekar, Nilakantha Sastry, and Radhakumud Mokeerjee … evil brahmins all.Of course they will justify this lowbrow half witted book.

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  • Rakesh Manchanda

    If 50% population of women are not allowed to enter several temples and perform prayers and even the last rights at the funeral site then it is not cherry picking but crime against humanity.

    • Rugved Reddy

      In which comic book did you get that statistical figure sir ? There are protocols in a religion which people see through the lens of discrimination. There are ceremonies dedicated to women and even temples. You can check for yourself.

    • Lokesh

      I agree women should be allowed to all temples, but 5/10 temples throughout India out of possible million temples is definitely cherry picking.

    • Maximus Decimus

      Lol almost all temples in my city are filled more with women devotees than males , there is no such religion or system which gave women a mother status/goddess except Sanatana Dharma , this is why Bharat has very few divorce cases than Western counter parts ,religions and cults come and go it’s the Sanatana Dharma that is eternal

    • guest

      That is not true, there are very few temples where women are not allowed. Then there are several temples where men are not allowed.

  • Shiva Shankar

    Is the author, in defending manu, supporting birth based divisions of caste, and the ‘unparalleled social abuse of untouchability (A.J.Toynbee)?? Can it be true that this man is so bereft of the most elementary morality?

    • Prem Dhan

      He is defending Manu because Manu is for merit-based (not birth based) varna system (not caste derived from portuguese casta) . untouchability is a problem outside the chaturvarna system – they were the panchama. He is opposing gross translations/interpretations of false scholars who are dictionary robots. That is moral.

      • Shiva Shankar

        I bet the author is a dwija, a brahmin. And I bet you are a dwija too. If you were a Shudra, you would not have written this low brow immoral comment.

  • Rajiv Varma

    This is an important topic because the current secularist discourse on Manusmriti contributes to Hinduphobia. Your article was in response to Rana Ayub’s tweets, which represent the cliches about Manusmriti in the Secularist discourse. The people who make such remark couldn’t differentiate between a donkey and a horse. So, likes of Rana need to be mocked but not taken seriously. The moment you explain the nuances you listed, you give such ignoramuses a lease of respectability that they do not deserve. I think the approach for likes of Rana are to write a rebuttal in a lighter vein mocking her lack of depth of knowledge, and then in concluding paragraph summarily list the factors that you want to communicate to your larger audience. With your article you have given her some legitimacy, which to an unsuspecting reader (from opposing side) would look valid enough to take her tweets seriously.

    On the other hand, what needs to be done seriously is to challenge the notion of Manusmriti being the “Law book of the Hindus”. This interpretation is consecrated by likes of Patrick Olivelle, George Bühler, Brian Smith, Wendy Doniger, Werner Menski, Domenico Francavilla, Robert Lingat, and scores of others, by their mis-scholarship. I am of the opinion that these scholars were too used to their own systems of governance, viz. British Common Law and French Code, so they were looking for something equivalent in Hindu sastras. The moment these scholars stumbled something mentioned about human behavior and governance, they automatically assumed (like the Pavlovian dog), that … a ha ! … we located the “lawbook” of the Hindus. But the fundamental question remains – is Manusmriti “Lawbook of Hindus?

    To answer that you have to see what is the construct of law and jurisprudence in the Western/Islamic context? Islamic context is pretty straightforward – here is the word of Allah and the law is to enforce it by sword. Thus shariah and various schools of Islamic jurisprudence. Done.

    But what about European-American jurisprudence? If you look at them closely, they are as much instances of the same Abrahamic template – perhaps sanitized – but same category nevertheless. These are the successor law-systems to what existed in the medieval Christian states and empires.

    What about ancient India? I have consulted A.S. Altekar, Nilakantha Sastry, and Radhakumud Mokeerjee. It seems to me ancient India did not have such elaborate and codified systems of jurisprudence. … And for a good reason. This is not something negative. This does not mean there was no law and order in ancient India. There were nyayapalikas and panchayat system at the village level. But was justice based on some dogma codified as law? I do not think so.

    There was no dogma, which explains the absence of Shariah like or British Common Law kind of codification. But there was a justice system alright. If I may surmise, perhaps the justice was derived more intuitively, rather than referring to Manusmriti or other books. Perhaps it was more common sense based approach to justice.

    That brings us to the question, what is the possible locus of smritis. To make it understandable we can say smritis are guidebooks that contain the memoirs authored by the learned of their times. These provide a window of reference point to the seeker. Here the seeker is not just limited concept of those taking sanyasa or getting moksha, but a seeker is also seeking justice in the lay world.

    It is incumbent on Indians to snatch the narrative from Eurocentric scholars, and restore to Manusmriti what it actually is, and debunk this “lawbook of Hindus” business once and for all.

    • Shiva Shankar

      … A.S. Altekar, Nilakantha Sastry, and Radhakumud Mokeerjee … evil brahmins all.Of course they will justify this lowbrow half witted book.