Manusmriti with the Commentary of Medhatithi

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

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:

ध्वजाहृतो भक्तदासो गृहजः क्रीतदत्त्रिमौ ।
पैत्रिको दण्डदासश्च सप्तैते दासयोनयः ॥ ४१५ ॥

dhvajāhṛto bhaktadāso gṛhajaḥ krītadattrimau |
paitriko daṇḍadāsaśca saptaite dāsayonayaḥ || 415 ||

There are seven kinds of slaves—(1) captured under a banner, (2) slave on food, (3) born in the house, (4) bought, (5) presented, (6) hereditary, and (7) slave by punishment.—(415)


Medhātithi’s commentary (manubhāṣya):

The term ‘Dhvajā’ ‘banner’ stands for the chariot;

hence ‘Dhvajinī’ means the army; ho who is captured ‘under the banner’ is the captive of war, who is made a slave.

“What is stated here,—does it refer to the Kṣatriya,—the meaning being that the Kṣatriya made captive in war becomes a slave?”

Not so, we reply; since it is the Śūdra that forms the subject-matter of the context; as is clear from the preceding statement—‘it is for the purpose of servitude that he has been created.’ What the text refers to is the case where the owner of the slave having been defeated in battle, the slave is brought over and enslaved by the captor.

“as a matter of fact, servitude has been declared to be for all Śūdras—when for instance it was asserted that servitude is ‘innate in him.’”

It is not so; for in that case there would be a great confusion; as it would not be ascertained to whom a certain slave belongs; since all the three higher castes would be their masters, to be served by them. Hence there would be no restriction. Then again, all that has been asserted before (regarding servitude being ‘innate’ in the Śūdra and all that) is not of the nature of an injunction. Further, there is the declaration that ‘among the castes each of the following shall serve the preceding’ (Gautama, 10.66),—by which the Kṣatriya and the Vaiṣhya also would have to be regarded as slaves.

All this however is not right. ‘Serving’ is one thing and ‘slavery’ is another. Slavery consists in doing servile work, and in not objecting to going anywhere he may be sent to; while ‘service’ may consist in shampooing the body, guarding the family or property and so forth. All this has been dealt with in detail by Nārada.

Slave on food’—he who has accepted slavery for obtaining food.

Born in the house’—i.e., born of a slave-girl.

Bought’—from the former master, for a price.

Presented’—given to one, either through love, or for the purpose of acquiring spiritual merit.

Hereditary’—who has belonged to the family through a line of ancestors.

“What is the difference between this last and the slave born in the house?”

The latter is one born of a slave-girl that may have been acquired by the master himself, while the other is hereditary.

Enslaved for punishment’—one who, being incapable of paying the king’s fines, is made a slave.

In fact, according to some people, such slaves are possible for the other castes also, in view of what has been said regarding the propriety of repaying a debt even by manual labour.

But this is not right; as ‘slavery’ is one thing and ‘doing manual work’ is something totally different. Nor is the case cited a case of ‘punishment,’ whereby it could be included under the present head. Then again, when it is said that debts may be repaid ‘by manual work also,’ it does not necessarily mean ‘slavery,’ though this also may be one kind of ‘work.’

“When the Śūdra works as a slave entirely through considerations of his duty, why should there be only seven kinds of slaves?”

There is no force in this objection. Because in his case ‘slavery’ is not innate in him; it is purely voluntary wish him; he having recourse to it only with a view to acquiring merit. And further, such a slave cannot be given away or pledged;—as the bought and house-born slaves can. In fact the Śūdra in question is guided by what has been declared (under 10.128) regarding the Śūdra ‘imitating the behaviour of the virtuous, etc., etc.’; and by this it is clearly implied that slavery is not inherent in him; he takes to it only with a view to a definite result. Hence there is real ‘slavery’ only when it is involuntary. So that if a Śūdra has property of his own and lives upon it, not supporting himself by depending upon the Brāhmaṇa and others, he does nothing wrong.—(415)


Explanatory notes by Ganganath Jha

Cf. 8.49, 177 and 9.229.

Dhvajāhṛtaḥ’—‘Captured in war’ (Medhātithi);—‘who has become a slave by marrying a slave-girl’ (Nārāyaṇa).

Daṇḍadāsaḥ’—‘Enslaved for debt’ (Medhātithi);—‘enslaved for having abandoned a religious order’. (Nārāyaṇa and Nandana).

This verse is quoted in Aparārka (p. 789), which explains ‘daṇḍadāsa’ as ‘one who has been enslaved in payment of fine imposed,’ and adds that the list here given is not meant to be exhaustive.

It is quoted in Mitākṣarā (2.181), which remarks that the list is not exhaustive; and Bālambhaṭṭī explains ‘dhvajadāsa’ as ‘a captive of war,’—‘daṇḍadāsa’ as ‘one who has abandoned a religious order and has not performed the consequent expiatory rite, and has thereupon, by way of punishment, been made by the king a life-long slave.

It is quoted in Parāśaramādhava (Vyavahāra, p. 240), which also notes that the list is not exhaustive.


Comparative notes by various authors

(verses 8.410-418)

See Comparative notes for Verse 8.410.

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