Manusmriti with the Commentary of Medhatithi

by Ganganatha Jha | 1920 | 1,381,940 words | ISBN-10: 8120811550 | ISBN-13: 9788120811553

This is the English translation of the Manusmriti, which is a collection of Sanskrit verses dealing with ‘Dharma’, a collective name for human purpose, their duties and the law. Various topics will be dealt with, but this volume of the series includes 12 discourses (adhyaya). The commentary on this text by Medhatithi elaborately explains various t...

Sanskrit text, Unicode transliteration and English translation by Ganganath Jha:

श्रुतिस्तु वेदो विज्ञेयो धर्मशास्त्रं तु वै स्मृतिः ।
ते सर्वार्थेष्वमीमांस्ये ताभ्यां धर्मो हि निर्बभौ ॥ १० ॥

śrutistu vedo vijñeyo dharmaśāstraṃ tu vai smṛtiḥ |
te sarvārtheṣvamīmāṃsye tābhyāṃ dharmo hi nirbabhau || 10 ||

The Veda should be known as the ‘revealed word,’ and the Dharmaśāstra as the ‘recollections’; in all matters, these two do not deserve to be criticised, as it is out op these that Dharma shone forth.—(10)


Medhātithi’s commentary (manubhāṣya):

Objection:—“Is this a treatise on the meanings of words, a lexicon,—like the works beginning with such words as Ātmabhūḥ, Parameṣṭhī (are the names of Brahmā), and so forth,—that it is stated that ‘Revealed Word’ means the Veda, and ‘Recollections’ means the Dharmaśāstra?”

Answer:—In ordinary life, the ‘Practices of Cultured Men’ are not regarded either as ‘Revealed Word’ or as ‘Recollection,’ on the ground of their being not codified; codified treatises alone are known as ‘Smṛtis,’ ‘Recollections’; and it is for the purpose of declaring that these Practices also are included under ‘Smṛti’ that the author has set forth this verse.

Dharmaśāstra,’ ‘Dharma-ordinance,’ is that which serves the purpose of ‘ordaining’ (teaching) Dharma as to be done; and ‘Smṛti’ is that wherein Dharma is taught, i.e., laid down as to be done; and codification or non-codification is entirely immaterial. Now as a matter of fact a knowledge of what should be done is derived from the Practices of Cultured Men also; so that these also come under ‘Smṛti.’ Hence whenever mention is made of ‘Smṛti’ in connection with any matter, the Practices of Cultured Men should also be taken as included under the name.

“If all Dharmaśāstra (‘ordinance of Dharma’) is ‘Smṛti’ then the Veda also, which is the ‘ordinance of Dharma’ par excellence, would have to be regarded as Smṛti,”—with a view to preclude the possibility of such an idea being entertained, the author has said—‘The Veda should be known as the Revealed Word.’ Where the words conveying the ‘Teaching of Dharma’ are directly perceived (heard), it is the ‘Revealed Word’; while where the words of Teaching are only recollected, it is ‘Smṛti’; and since this latter condition is also fulfilled by the ‘Practices of Cultured Men,’ this latter also comes under ‘Smṛti’; as a matter of fact, no authority can attach to any Practice, in corroboration whereof a Vedic text is not ‘recollected.’

Or, the mention of the ‘Revealed Word’ may be explained as serving the purpose of showing that the Smṛti is equal to the Veda.

Question:—“What is that common function of Revealed Word and Recollection which rhe present verse seeks to attribute to the Practices of Cultured Men?”

Answer:—‘In all matters these two should not be criticised’;—‘These two’—i.e., Revealed Word and Recollection.—‘In all matters’—i.e., even in regard to apparently inconceivable things, such as are entirely beyond the scope of those means of knowledge that are applicable to perceptible things; e.g., (a) the same act of killing leads, in one case, to good, and while in another case it leads to sin; (b) the drinking of wine leads to Hell, while the drinking of Soma removes sin. In such matters, we should not proceed to discuss the various pros and cons. ‘Criticism’ consists in raising doubts and conceiving of contrary views. For example—“If the act of killing is sinful, then since the act of killing is the same in all cases, that done in the course of Vedic sacrifices should also be sinful;—if the latter killing is a source of good, ordinary killing also should be conducive to good; the act being exactly the same in both cases.”

What is prohibited here is that ‘criticism,’ in which we conceive of the form of an act to be quite the reverse of what is declared in the Veda, and proceeding to examine it by means of reasonings based upon false premisses, begin to insist on the conclusion thus arrived at. It is not meant to prohibit such enquiry and discussion as to whether the Prima Facie View or the Established Thesis is in due accord with the Veda. That such an inquiry is not meant to be prohibited is clear from what the author says later on—‘He alone, and none else, knows Dharma, who examines it by reasonings.’ (Manu, 12.106)

Question:—“Is this criticism prohibited with a view to some invisible (superphysical) results?”

We say—no. Because it was out of these two that Dharma shone forth. [This is what is intended by the said prohibition.]

This assertion points out the fact that all the arguments, set forth by casuists in support of things contrary to what is laid down in the Veda, are fallacious. These arguments are of the following kind—“The killing of animals in the course of Vedic sacrifices must be sinful, because it is killing, like any ordinary killing.”—Now that killing is sinful is learnt from no other source of knowledge except scriptures; under the circumstances, no reason can be found to establish the sinfulness of killing until the scriptures have been accepted as authoritative; and when once the authority of the Veda has been admitted, it could not be reasonable to bring forward arguments against it, as this would invalidate the (acknowledged) authority of scriptures; and this would involve self-contradiction: at first the scriptures were admitted to be authoritative, and then subsequently they are held to be un-authoritative; and this opinion would be contrary to the person’s own previous assertion,—no casuist ever says ‘my mother is childless’; and it is also contrary to the scriptures.

The Casuist might argue as follows:—

“Scripture is not authoritative; why then should contrariness to it be regarded as undesirable? That the scripture (Veda) is unauthoritative is proved by such discrepancies as (a) untruthfulness, (b) inconsistency and (c) repetition.

(a) Such sacrifices as the Kārīrī (which is laid down as to be performed for obtaining rain) are performed by men desiring min, but as a matter of fact no rain comes after the performance. As regards the rain that might come at some future time, it has been well said—‘The Kārīrī having been performed during the autumn, when the cornfields were drying up, if the rain falls during the spring, this only leads to cattle-disease!’ Further, as regards the Jyotiṣṭoma and such other sacrifices, which are spoken of as bringing their rewards at some future time, since the acts will have completely disappeared after performance, the assertion that their reward would come after a hundred years would be exactly like the confident assertion of the Vampirist. From this it is clear that the Veda is untruthful,

(b) There is ‘inconsistency’ also: when it is said ‘libations should be offered after sunrise,’ if it were offered before sunrise, it would be clearly wrong; as it is said—‘those who perform the Agnihotra before sunrise utter falsehood morning after morning.’ Then again, it is said ‘that the libations should be offered before the sun has risen,’ for (it is said) ‘the offering made after sunrise would be like the offering of reception to the guest after he had gone.’ Now in the former we have the injunction of offering after sunrise, and a deprecation of offering before sunrise, while in the latter we have the reverse. So that people are always in doubt as to which alternative they should adopt.

(c) The same Agnihotra that is enjoined in one Vedic Rescension is found to be enjoined in another Rescension also; and it has been held (by the Mīmāmsakas) that the act, mentioned in the various texts, is one and the same (Agnihotra) And this is a clear Repetition.”

That there is no ‘untruthfulness’ in the Veda is what is meant by the last quarter of the Verse (‘it was out of these that Dharma shone forth’). Because out of the Veda ‘Dharma alonei.e., only that a certain act should be done, in the form of sacrifice,—‘shone forth,’ is expounded; and it does not say anything definite in regard to the time at which the rewards shall appear; this is clear from the fact that the passages that speak of rewards do not make mention of any time; all that we learn from the Injunction is that a certain result shall follow, and the Injunction does not specify the time. As a matter of fact, divisions of time, past, present and future, are related to what is expressed by the verbal root; while the Result is not denoted by the verbal root at all; it is only implied by the Injunction; what is denoted by the verbal root (i.e., the act of ‘sacrifice’) is actually accomplished at the time (of the performance), in the form of the offering of a substance for the benefit of a certain deity,—the fulfilment of this offering appearing in the form of the transformation of the substance offered (into the fire, for instance). Further in ordinary life also, we find that when a person, who is an obedient servant of another, is directed to go to a certain place, he at once obeys the order; though as regards his wages, in some cases he may obtain it at the very beginning; but also sometimes during the act, or even after the act has been accomplished; and then also he may get them on the same day, or the next day, or at some future time. In the same manner, there is no limit as to the time at which the results spoken of in the scriptures will appear; all that is meant is that (by the performance of the act) the result, in the shape of Heaven, Rain or so forth, is brought within reach,—and not (hat they appear on the very same day. Then again, just as there are obstacles in the way of the realising of results of acts done in the ordinary course of life, so there are also in the case of the acts prescribed by the Veda,—such obstacles consisting of past sins and so forth. This (possibility of the Rain not coming immediately after the act) is clearly shown in the Veda itself when it says ‘if the rain should not come, the man should continue as before.’ And as regards the Sarvasvāra sacrifice (which is laid down as leading the performer to heaven), people have explained that the reward does not consist in the immediate entrance to Heaven, in fact it consists in what the man actually desires, and the desire is in the form ‘may I reach heaven without difficulty [ i.e., after death; immediate translation to heaven would mean immediate death, which no man desires].

As regards the argument that there is no difference in the act of killing as done in ordinary life and as done during a Vedic sacrifice,—what has to be borne in mind is the fact that the sinfulness of the act of killing is known only from the scriptures, it is not amenable to perception or any ordinary means of knowledge; and there is certainly a difference: the ordinary killing is prompted by passion, while the sacrificial killing is prompted by Vedic Injunction; and as the killing of the animal offered to Agni-Soma is prompted by the Vedic Injunction, this constitutes a great difference. From all this it is clear that in the Veda there is nothing ‘untruthful.’

As regards ‘Inconsistency’ (which is the second point urged against the Veda), the Author is going to answer it in the text itself (Verses 14-15 below).—(10)


Explanatory notes by Ganganath Jha

Amimāṃsye’—‘not to be called into question’ (Buhler, acc. to Medhātithi) ‘Irrefutable’ (Burnell, improved by Hopkins into ‘not to be discussed’).

For an interesting discussion regarding the anṛtavyādhātapunaruktadoṣa attaching to the Veda, the reader is referred to Vātsyāyana’s Bhāṣya on the Nyāyasūtra 2.1.58-63.

Medhātithi (p. 69, l. 4) ‘Sarvasvāre tu vivādante’—The Sarvasvāra is an Iṣṭi sacrifice which is described as leading the sacrificer directly to heaven; and in regard to this there is a difference of opinion among Vedic scholars: some hold that entrance into heaven is not the actual result, the result being the accomplishment of what the man desires—viz., the fulfilment of his wish to go to heaven without any hindrance, whenever he may die.

This has been quoted by the Mitākṣarā under 1.7, in support of the view that the name ‘Smṛti’ is applied to the Dharmaśāstra.

Hetuśāstrāśrayāt’.—‘Relying upon the argumentative science of the Bauddhas, Cārväkas


Comparative notes by various authors

(Verses 6, 10 and 12)

See Comparative notes for Verse 2.6 (Sources of Knowledge of Dharma).

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