The laws of Manu - Translated by Georg Bühler - PDF ebook

The laws of Manu 

The laws of Manu


Difficult as the historical problems are which the Dharma-sutras translated in vols, ii and xiv of this Series offer, they are infinitely less complicated than those connected with the metrical law-books and especially with the Manu-smriti, or, to speak more exactly, with Bhrzgu's version of the Institutes of the Sacred Law proclaimed by Manu.

 Though mostly the materials available for the inquiry into the history of the Dharma-sutras are scanty, and in part at least belong to the floating traditions which are generally current among the learned,' but of uncertain origin, they not only exhibit no extravagancies, but agree fully with the facts known from strictly historical sources. 

Moreover, and this is the most important point, though the text of the Dharma-sutras has not always been preserved with perfect purity, they have evidently retained their original character. They do not pretend to be any- thing more than the compositions of ordinary mortals, based on the teaching of the Vedas, on the decisions of those who are acquainted with the law, and on the customs of virtuous Aryas. In some cases, their authors say as much in plain words. Thus Apastamba repeatedly laments the sinfulness and the weakness of ' the men of later times'/ and Gautama warns against an imitation of the irregular conduct of the ancients whose great 'lustre' preserved them from falling. It is, further, still possible to recognize, even on a superficial examination, for what purpose the Dharma-sutras were originally composed. Nobody can doubt for a moment that they are manuals written by the teachers of the Vedic schools for the guidance of their pupils, that at first they were held to be authoritative in restricted circles, and that they were later only acknowledged as sources of the sacred law applicable to all Aryas. 

This fact is full- acknowledged by the Hindu tradition, even in cases where the Dharma-sutras no longer are the property of particular Vedic schools. The metrical Smrztis, on the other hand, are surrounded by clearly fictitious traditions, by mythological legends which either may have grown up spontaneously, because the real origin had been forgotten, or may have been fabricated intentionally in order to show that these works possess divine authority and, hence, have a claim to implicit obedience on the part of all Aryas. Nay, what is more, such legends or portions of them have been introduced into the text, and obscure the real character of the Smrz'tis. 

These peculiarities are particularly marked in the Manava Dharma^astra, where the whole first chapter is devoted to the purpose of showing the mighty scope of the book, and of setting forth its divine origin as well as the manner in which it was revealed to mankind. L_Its opening verses narrate how the great sages approached Manu, the descendant of self-existent Brahman, and asked him to ex- plain the sacred law. Manu agrees to their request and gives them an account of the creation as well as of his own origin from Brahman. After mentioning that he learned * these Institutes of the Sacred Law' from the creator who himself produced them and that he taught them to the ten sages whom he created in the beginning, he transfers the work of expounding them to Bhrigu, one of his ten mind-born sons. The latter begins his task by completing, as the commentators call it, Manu's account of the creation. First, he gives the theory of the seven Manvantaras, the Yugas, and other divisions of time, as well as an incidental description of the order of the creation. 

Next, he briefly describes the duties of the four principal castes, passes then to an encomium of the Brahma and of the Institutes of Manu, and winds up with an enumeration of the contents of all the twelve chapters of the work, which he promises to expound ' exactly as it was revealed to him.' In the following chapters, we find frequent allusions to the situation which the first describes. Difficult as the historical problems are which the Dharma-sutras translated in vols, ii and xiv of this Series offer, they are infinitely less complicated than that con- nected with the metrical law-books and especially with the Manu-smriti, or, to speak more exactly, with Bhrzgu's version of the Institutes of the Sacred Law proclaimed by Manu. 

Though mostly the materials available for the inquiry into the history of the Dharma-sutras are scanty, and in part at least belong to the floating traditions which are generally current among the learned,' but of uncertain origin, they not only exhibit no extravagancies but agree fully with the facts known from strictly historical sources. Moreover, and this is the most important point, though the text of the Dharma-sutras has not always been preserved with perfect purity, they have evidently retained their original character. 

They do not pretend to be anything more than the compositions of ordinary mortals, based on the teaching of the Vedas, on the decisions of those who are acquainted with the law, and on the customs of virtuous Aryas. In some cases, their authors say as much in plain words. Thus Apastamba repeatedly laments the sinfulness and the weakness of ' the men of later times/ and Gautama warns against an imitation of the irregular conduct of the ancients whose great 'lustre' preserved them from falling. It is, further, still possible to recognize, even on a superficial examination, for what purpose the Dharma-sutras were originally composed. Nobody can doubt for a moment that they are manuals written by the teachers of the Vedic schools for the guidance of their pupils, that at first they were held to be authoritative in restricted circles, and that they were later only acknowledged as sources of the sacred law applicable to all Aryas. 

This fact is full- acknowledged by the Hindu tradition, even in cases where the Dharma-sutras no longer are the property of particular Vedic schools. The metrical Smrztis, on the other hand, are surrounded by clearly fictitious traditions, by mythological legends which either may have grown up spontaneously, because the real origin had been forgotten, or may have been fabricated intentionally in order to show that these works possess divine authority and, hence, have a claim to implicit obedience on the part of all Aryas. Nay, what is more, such legends or portions of them have been introduced into the text, and obscure the real character of the Smrz'tis. These peculiarities are particularly marked in the Manava Dharma^astra, where the whole first chapter is devoted to the purpose of showing the mighty scope of the book, and of setting forth its divine origin as well as the manner in which it was revealed to mankind. L_Its opening verses narrate how the great sages approached Manu, the descendant of self-existent Brahman, and asked him to ex- plain the sacred law. 

Manu agrees to their request, and gives to them an account of the creation as well as of his own origin from Brahman. After mentioning that he learnt * these Institutes of the Sacred Law' from the creator who himself produced them, and that he taught them to the ten sages whom he created in the beginning, he transfers the work of expounding them to Bhrigu, one of his ten mind-born sons. The latter begins his task by completing, as the commentators call it, Manu's account of the creation. First he gives the theory of the seven Manvantaras, the Yugas, and other divisions of time, as well as an incidental description of the order of the creation. 

Next he briefly describes the duties of the four principal castes, passes then to an encomium of the Brahma;zas and of the Institutes of Manu, and winds up with an enumeration of the contents of all the twelve chapters of the work, which he promises to expound ' exactly as it was revealed to him.' In the following chapters, we find frequent allusions to the situation which the first describes.

Publication date: 1886
 
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