Laws of Manu
(c. 200)
   The Laws of Manu is a seminal text in Indian social history. It gives greatest attention to the social obligations of BRAHMINS, whose supremacy in the social order is assumed, but it also outlines the obligations of rulers and other castes. It was the first of many systematizations of Hindu social law.
   The book begins with the history of the world and the creation by the divine being of the social order, with the Brahmins at the top. It then outlines the elements of VEDIC education that are required in the BRAHMACHARYA or student stage of life. It gives an idealized description of the householder stage of life, dealing with mar-riage, children, ceremonies for ancestors, virtues such as generosity and merit, and a listing of the permitted occupations for a twice-born person, a person of the three top castes. Among other topics are the acceptance of food from various people, the types of foods that can or cannot be eaten, and things that will pollute a Brahmin by contact. It also discusses the forest dweller’s (VANAPRASTHA’s) duties and behavior that would be taken up when the householder reached that stage of life.
   Two chapters deal extensively with the proper conduct of kings. There is a chapter on women that has become notorious for its call for their complete submission to men, and other sections on issues of inheritance and kingly justice. The book outlines the four-CASTE system and discusses the various mixed of castes. It has a chapter on restitution for various crimes; a lower-caste person is to be punished more severely than an upper-caste person. Finally it discusses issues of transmigration and KARMA.
   Further reading: Wendy Doniger, with Brian K. Smith, The Laws of Manu (London: Penguin Books, 1991); Urmila Rustagi and Sudesh Narang, Manu/Manu Smrti: An Appraisal (Delhi: J. P., 1995).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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