M. N. Roy Jawaharlal Nehru

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The Date of Manu

Although Smritis or Dharmasastras occupy the most important place in the Hindu literature on the regulation of life in all its aspects—social, political, economic, domestic, religious, legal and cultural—it is quite unfortunate to find out that it is not pos­sible to ascertain their exact dates. Their origin perplexed even ancient writers. There is a great controversy about the date of Manu. The opinions of modern scholars range over an extra­ordinary long period. Sir William Jones, for instance, refers Manu to 1200 b.c. Later, some scholars brought him down to the twelfth or thirteenth century a.d. It is now generally agreed that the Smritis assumed their present shape at various epochs in the first millennium of the Christian era. R. G. Bhandarkar placed them in the Kushan-Gupta period, that is, between the middle of the second and the end of the fifth century a. d. Hopkins refers Manu to th beginning o" or even before the Christian era, while he assigns Vishnu to f-third, Yajnavalkya to the fourth and Narada to the fifth centu*> a. d.1 Jolly thinks that Manu cannot be later than the second or third century a. d„ while Vishnu cannot be earlier than the third. He would place Yajnavalkya in the fourth and Narada about the commencement of the sixth century while referring Brihaspati and Katyayana to the sixth or seventh century a. d. Buhler's conclusion is that Manusmriti existed in the second century a.d. Thus it is difficult to say anything definite about the period of Manu and his work Manusmriti


The political ideas of Manu are expressed in his great Smriti work and of all the Smritis that of Manu is admittedly the most important and authoritative. Brihaspati remarks that the first rank belongs to Manu, because he has embodied the essence of the Veda in his work, and that the Smriti text which is opposed to Manu is not approved. The Dharmasastra of Manu is perhaps based on the Manava-Dharmasastra which has disappeared. According to a tradi­tion, Manusmriti is addressed to Rajas and other such personages and not to scholars. There are many verses common to the Smriti and

1 Hopkins : Cambridge History of India, Vol. I, p. 279.



the Mahabharata. Manu treats of the whole of life, and differing from others declares that the chief good consists in the combination of Artha, Dharma and Kama. Needless to say, he is wedded to the recognized Dharma of castes and stages and declares, in a most pro­nounced and dogmatic fashion, for supremacy of Brahmanas over the persons of other castes. He prescribes jobs for the people of all castes aDd asks them to attend on their respective occupations. In particular, Vaisyas and Sudras should be compelled to perform their prescribed jobs strictly, because if they swerved from their duties, the whole world would be thrown into confusion.8 It is not impos­sible that Manu's advice was partially followed in practice. It was about this period that Gautamiputra Satakarni prided himself on his restoration of caste rules.

The King and His Duties

  1. Manu, III, 13 , VHI, 418.

  2. The above follows the explanation of most of the commentators (Kulluka, Narayana, Raghavananda, and Nandana), According to Medhatithi'sexpla­nation, on the other hand, the king should ordain for regions, castes and families the practice of good and righteous twice-born men, provided these are not opposed to the canon—a view which is more in accordance with the spirit of the old Smritis.

Manu's view of the sources of state law repeats that of the early Smritis. The king, we read in one place (VIII, 3), shall daily examine the suits of litigants falling under the eighteen titles of law in accor­dance with the principles derived from regional usage (desadrishta) and from the Sacred Canon (sastradrishta): the righteous king, we read elsewhere (VIII, 41), shall enquire into the usages (dharmas) of regions and castes (or according to another interpretation the regional dharmas applicable to each caste) as well as those of guilds (sreni) and families (kula), and he shall then settle the distinctive usage (dharma) of each group; the king, we are told in a third extract (VIII, 46), shall establish as law what may have been practised by good men as well as the virtuous twice-born classes, provided that this is not opposed to the usages of regions, families and subcastes.3 The above extracts stamp tbs Sacred Canon and custom as the joint source of state law, the tetter being taken as before in a wide sense so as to embrace he usages of local, social and economic groups. Also, he admits one's own conscience as the source of law. Manu asks the king, while discussing the modes of judicial decision, to examine daily the su?*s of litigants by applying the lessons of Virtue and Wealth as well as their opposites, and to discover the internal dis­position of men by external signs : the king should discover the right path by inference as a hunter discovers the lair of a wounded deer by drops of blood, and he should pay full attention to the witnesses, to the time and place and to such other factors. These extracts impli-



citly recognize the early Smriti principle that justice administered at the king's court involves the application of human reason or one's own conscience to the sources of state law.

Manu expatiates at length on the ideal, the majesty of the king­ship and the need of a firm policy—danda or chastisement; but he holds that the king should "behave like a father towards all men" and please all. He is most probably reflecting actual practice when he wants the king to regulate the economic life of the community. The king should watch and control traders—'open cheats'. He must fix the prices of all marketable goods, mark the weights and measures and re-examine them every six months. The followers of various occupations, mechanics, manual workers come in for state super­vision. Physicians or veterinary surgeons, who wrong their patients, must be fined. Manu again seems to steer close to facts when he insists on the appointment of a learned Brahmana as the royal priest and of seven or eight ministers. Every day they should be consulted on peace, war, finance, endowments and general administration. The king should consult them first individually and then collectively, and ultimately decide for himself. Another official of first-rate import­ance was the Ambassador, a sort of foreign secretary and plenipoten­tiary, who negotiated alliances and transacted that business by which kings are "disunited or not." Manu also tells us about a number of other important officials who were concerned with mines, manu­factures, storehouses, revenue, etc.4

4 Manu, vi!, 54-68, 80-81, 147-51.

The complementary principle cf the king's obligation is deve­loped by Manu along the three lines hinted at or indicated in the early Smritis, namely, the divine, the cthico-religious and the quasi-contractual, the first taking characteristically enough the foremost place in our author's thought. Repeating in the first place the old Vedic dogma of creation of the four castes out of different limbs of the Creator's body. Mann (I, 89) declares that He assigned to the Kshatriya the occupation of protecting the people and so forth : the king on receiviug the Vedic sacrament, we are told more particularly (VII, 2-3) at the beginning of the author's theory of the king's creation, is bound to protect the whole world, and the Lord created the king for the protection of the whole creation : the king, we read similarly (VII, 34), has been created as the protector of those who in due order are intent upon the performance of their duties. The king's foremost duty (dharma) is tha protection of his subjects : for a Kshatriya the most commendable occupation is the protection of the people. Thirdly and lastly, we read (VII, 144 ; VIII, 307-08) that the king who enjoys the specified rewards is bound to discharge his duty of protection, that the Kiug who receives the agricultural tax, duties, fines, etc., but fails to protect his people, goes after death surely to hell; and the king who receives one-sixth of the agricultural



produce as tax but fails to give protection, takes upon himself the foulness of all people, and that when the king receives the agricul­tural tax but does not punish thieves, his kingdom is disturbed and he loses heaven. In the above extracts the author first develops the old Smriti doctrine of the Kshatriya's divine ordination for protection so as to lead to the conclusion that protection is the divine purpose of the king's creation: secondly, he repeats the early Smriti principle declaring protection to be the king's obligation by law of his order : thirdly and lastly, the author, while repeating the old Smriti conception of the king's obligation of protection in return for taxation, fortifies it with formidable temporal and spiritual sanctions.

Manu's Theory of Coercive Authority (Danda)

As regards Manu's theory of the coercive authority {danda) of the ruler, it can be firmly luaintained that he (Manu) develops it along the lines of the old Arthasastra thinkers. He tells us that for the king's sake, the Lord created in days of yore His own son Danda, the protector of all creatures, Law (dharma), formed of Brahma's lustre : Danda is the king, the male, the director, and the ruler as well as the surety of observance of their duties (dharma) by the four orders {asr tmas). Danda, he further tells us, rules all people ; danda alone protects them ; danda is awake when others are asleep, the wise de­clare danda to be identical with the law (dharma). Through the fear of danda, the author continues, all creatures, movable and immovable, "yield themselves for enjoyment" and swerve not from their duties. The whole world, as observed in Arthasastra texts, is kept in order by danda, good men are rare and it is through the fear of danda that the whole world "yields the enjoyment which it owes." Even the gods, the demons, the demi-gods, the goblins as well as the bird and snake deities, the author adds with magnificent exaggeration, "yield them­selves for enjoyment" only when they are tormented by fear of danda. The king, we read, is a just inflicter of danda, who is truth­ful, who acts after due consideration, who is wise and who is conversant with Virtue, Pleasure and Wealth : the king who is voluptuous, partial and deceitful, on the other hand, is destroyed by the same danda which he inflicts : when the king swerves from his duty (dharma), danda strikes him down with his relatives and his kingdom, nay more, it afflicts the whole world and likewise the gods and the sages. Regarding the ruler's qualifications, the author remarks that danda cannot be inflicted justly by one without assistants or a fool or a covetous man, or one whose mind is unimproved, or one who is addicted to sensual pleasures, while it can be justly inflicted by one who is pure and truthful, who acts according to the canon ; who has good assistants and who is wise.

The doctrine of danda is dealt with by the author much more briefly in two short extracts. The whole world, he says in one place (VII, 103), stands very much in awe of one who is ever ready to



apply danda. Neither the father, nor the mother, nor the friend, nor wife, nor son, nor the domestic priest, we are told in another place (VIII, 335), is exempt from the king's danda, should they fail to follow their duties.

In these extracts the author in the first place emphasizes the old Arthasastra idea of the high authority of danda by raising it to the level of the foremost political principle as well as a divine institution derived from the highest divinity. This view is justified by the function of danda in ensuring individual security in respect of person and property as well as stability of the social order. The above conception of the origin of danda fits in with and completes the author's doctrine of Divine creation and endowment of the temporal ruler. In the second place, the author repeats the old Arthasastra doctrine of identification of danda with law, so as to mean probably that the one is the essential means of fulfilment of the other. Thirdly, the author justifies his view of the high function of danda by reference to an old Arthasastra principle based upon human psychology, namely, that the fear of danda is the grand motive for the fulfilment of individual obligations. Fourthly, according to the author, the king's mode of application of danda is the key to the weal and woe of the individual and the community. Fifthly, the author enumerates the good qualities (truthfulness, discrimination, wisdom, submission to canonical authority and equipment with good assistants) qualifying the ruler for the exercise of danda as well as the bad qualities (self-indulgence, partiality, deceitfulness, greed, ignorance and want of assistants) disqualifying him for the same. Sixthly and lastly, the author lays down the principle of the king's unlimited jurisdiction over offenders irrespectively of their rank or status. This involves the application'of the old Arthasastra-Smriti principle enjoining strict impartiality upon the king in the administration of criminal justice.

Administration of Justice

5 Manu, VII, 58-59.

Manu's discussion of the administration of justice is not confined only to the doctrine of danda which the king, according to him, should use very cautiously and impartially with a view to rendering justice in society, but also to the system of checks and limitations imposed by the paura-janapada and the council upon the king. Manu strongly holds: "Without the mantrins matters of state should never be considered by the king alone, be he an expert in all the sciences and versed in policy. A wise king must always follow the opinion of the members of the council of adhikarins or ministers with port­folios, of the President and subjects. He must never follow his own opinion. When the sovereign becomes independent (of his council) he plans for ruin. In time he loses the state and loses the subjects."1 The king should consult the ministers separately and then "all of


great political thinkers

them together" in the council, as explained earlier. By thus dis­cussing, the king was to derive benefit. The cleverest of the ministers, who should be a Brahmana, was to be completely depended upon by the king, and entrusted with the execution of all the resolutions.8 All the business, thus, was to be left for execution in the hands of a Prime Minister or Chancellor.

Further, in Manu the king is made liable to be fined. Manu writes:

"Where common man would be fined one karshapana, the king shall be fined one thousand ; that is the settled law," King's powers and obligations are defined in the law-sutras and lawbooks as part and parcel of the law (in chapters on Constitutional Law, the Rajadharma or 'Laws for Kings'). Even in the palmiest days of Hindu monarchy, neither in the Manava-Dharmasastra nor in the Arthasastra, was the king placed above the law. He could make new laws according to the Arthasastra ; according to Manu, he could not do so ; but when he could make laws he passed only regulatory laws and not laws substantive or laws making him arbitrary.

The Judges in Persia under Cambyses "found a law that the Persian king might do whatever he pleased."8 But such a finding was impossible to be admitted by Hindu judges and lawyers ; so much so that even the author of the Arthasastra tellr his prince that destruc­tion befalls an arbitrary king. As far as Manu was concerned, he could never approve of the idea of an arbitrary king, imposing his will upon his subjects unscrupulously and ruthlessly. The idea of an arbitrary or an irresponsible king was repulsive to him. His king, in fact, was a constitutional and responsible king, who always respected the decision of his mantri-parishad, and who himself was liable to be fined and admonished for his mistakes and wrong-doings.

Theory of Government

  1. Ibid., VII, 57.

  2. Ibid., VIII, 336.

  3. Rawlinson : Herodotus, II, 468 (Revised edition).

Related to Manu's principle of coercive authority of the ruler and his doctrine of danda is his theory of government which may be considered chiefly under three heads; namely, the king, the officials and the administrative organization. Under the first heading, Manu considers the intellectual and moral qualifications of the ruler as the latter is the most important unit of the state administration. Manu asks the king to follow the adviss of Brahmanas learned in the Vedas. The king should constantly worship and acquire the knowledge of Supreme Soul. He should ex*:rt every effort to conquer his senses, for



otherwise he cannot control his subjects. The king's self-control, in particular, is justified by the old Arthasastra doctrine that this is the prerequisite of his successful administration.

Under the second heading relating to the king's officials, Manu discusses the part played by the king's ministers and other officers in the administration of the state. Even an easy undertaking, says Manu, can be performed with difficulty by a single man, how much more difficult it is to govern a kingdom yielding much revenue, especially if one has no assistant. Here Manu discusses the qualifi­cations of different classes of the king's officials, such as his ministers and other officers, his ambassador, his domestic chaplain and the superintendents of the administrative departments. Here, it will not be unwise to state that Manu, following the Arthasastra tradition, repeats, of course, with slight verbal changes, the seven constituents of the state. According to the early Arthasastra thinkers, the seven constituent elements (Prakriti) of the political organization (rajya) are : swami (the sovereign ruler), amatya (the official), janapada (the rural area), durga (the fortified or urban area), kosha (revenue), bala (the standing army) and mitra (the permanent foreign ally). Manu only puts in place of durga and janapada of the Arthasastra list pura (the capital city) and rashtra (the kingdom) ; and the remaining five elements of the state have been accepted by Manu in original. Manu shows the impossibility of one-man rule in view of the difficulty and complexity of governmental affairs. He pleads for the appointment of high officials or ministers to look after each department of the government separately. Although Manu shows an originality when he states that as among the three staves tied together (by a rope of cows' hair used by a monk), no particular staff is superior, so among the seven 'limbs' of the state no particular one can be said to excel the others since each of them has a particular excellence of its own and this involves the essential parity of the factors of the state struc­ture in spite of their admitted inequality in certain respects, his view evidently makes a closer approach to the organismic theory of the state than was achieved by the earlier thinkers.

As regards the third and the last branch of the theory of govern­ment, the army which is the means of controlling (the subjects), we are told (Manu, VII, 65), depends upon the minister, the revenue and the kingdom depend upon the king, while peace and war depend upon the ambassador. This presents a sharp contrast with Kautilya's principle of distribution of the departments of the central govern­ment based on his appreciation of the political danger from minis­ters, namely, that the revenue and the army should be reserved by the king for his direct control.

Referring to his scheme of local government through a chain of officials in charge of single and larger units of villages, Manu (VII, 115-24) requires another minister (sachiva) of the king to inspect their business unremittingly. In local government the ultimate unh



was the village. Every village must have a headman. The successively higher areas of local government were formed by groups of ten, twenty, a hundred and a thousand villages. Every town must have "a superintendent of all affairs" with an army of spies to assist him in "exploring" the behaviour of the people. Local govern­ment, as a whole, should be placed in charge of a minister at the headquarters. A company of soldiers must be stationed "in the midst of two, three, five or hundreds of villages for the protection of the kingdom." All this seems to have a basis in facts. Also, there is a touch of realism in what Manu says of the need of supervising and controlling royal officials. These, though appointed for the protec­tion of the people, "generally become knaves" and seize the property of others. Evil-minded officials who were guilty of bribery, must suffer the confiscation of their whole property and must be banished. Ministers or judges who were at fault in the discharge of their duties should be fined a thousand panas* Principles and Policies of Government

Lastly, we come to Manu's principles and policies of government, which may be conveniently considered under two heads, namely, those relating to public security and to interstate relations (matters relating to foreign policy). With regard to the policy of public security, the king, according to Manu, will detect with the help of spies two classes of thieves who are otherwise called rogues and thorns in the side of the people. The first class called 'the open thieves' consists of those who take bribes and other types of cheats, rogues, gamblers, fortune-tellers, high officers and physicians guilty of improper conduct and so forth. The second class called 'the secret thieves' comprises burglars, foresters and so forth. Manu mentions methods that the king should employ for the detection and punish­ment of both these classes of culprits. Punishments are prescribed by Manu for various acts of injury to the public such as breaking down dams of tanks, cutting off the water-supply, wrong treatment of patients by physicians, destroying bridges, adulterating commodi­ties, dishonest dealing with customers, practising incantations for destroying life, dishonest behaviour by goldsmiths as well as theft of agricultural implements and medicines. Punishment is also pres­cribed for royal officers and vassals who remain inactive during attacks by robbers and for the public failing to give help according to their capacity, when a village is being plundered or a dyke is being destroyed or a highway robbery is being committed. Interstate Relations

9 Manu, VII, 123-40 ; IX, p. 234.

As regards the policy of interstate relations, Manu indicates the principle of application of the six types of foreign policy (guna\. The king, he tells, shall make peace when he is sure of his own gain and superiority in future and of his inferiority at present; he shall



wage war when he thinks that he is very strong to defeat the enemy ; he shall march against the enemy when his army is well disposed towards him and is comparatively superior ; he shall be neutral when he is weak in chariots and troops; he shall divide his forces when he finds that his enemy is stronger in every respect; and he shall take refuge with a rich and powerful king when he is very easily assailable by the enemy's forces. The king, while determining his war policy, shall consider the future and the immediate present as well as the good and bad aspects of all past transactions.

While discussing the king ^ duty towards war and fighting, Manu tells that the king, when challenged by an enemy of equal, inferior or superior strength, must not refrain from fighting, for this is the Kshatriya's dharma. The Kshatriya's duty, says Manu (X. 119), is to achieve victory and not to turn back in battle. Manu promises heaven to those who, fighting with approved weapons, are killed in battle without thought of retreat for the purpose of acquiring land.

While summing up his discussion regarding the policy of inter­state relations, Manu makes use of the old Arthasastra doctrine of the four political expedients of conciliation, bribery, discussion and force. Manu is of the opinion that while all the four expedients being properly directed lead to success, force should be resorted to as the last alternative. As he is hesitant on the point of using force, he also speaks with a divided mind on the question of territorial annexation. As a general principle, Manu (IX, 2S1) urges the king to strive after the acquisition of countries that have not been con­quered and to protect those that have been acquired. Here he speaks like the Arthasastra thinkers, particularly like Kautilya. But at other places Manu deprecates territorial annexation and, as such, departs from the tradition of Arthasastra thinkers. Manu concludes by asking the king to abandon without hesitation even a rich and fertile land (after conquest), should this step be necessary for his own safety.

10 U. N. Ghoshal : A History of Indian Political Ideas, Chap. IX, p. 184, (Italics mine).

Thus the goal of interstate relations in Manu's thought is somewhat different from that of Kautilya and other Arthasastra thinkers. Manu's conclusion is that the political wisdom consists in arranging everything or every matter in such a fashion that neither the ally nor the neutral nor the enemy can injure him and the state. It implies that the goal of foreign policy consists in assuring for the state its complete security abroad. Tb's is somewhat a static goal which can be easily contrasted with t">e dynamic programme of Kautilya's foreign policy involving the constant advancement of the state. Hence it is not inadequate to remark that "Manu's departure from the ambitious standard of many Arthasastra thinkers and of Kautilya betrays the overwhelming influence of the traditional Smriti conception of a staple social order."10


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