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:

सर्ववर्णेषु तुल्यासु पत्नीष्वक्षतयोनिषु ।
आनुलोम्येन सम्भूता जात्या ज्ञेयास्त एव ते ॥ ५ ॥

sarvavarṇeṣu tulyāsu patnīṣvakṣatayoniṣu |
ānulomyena sambhūtā jātyā jñeyāsta eva te || 5 ||

Among all castes, those only who are born of consorts wedded in the natural order, as virgins of equal status, are to be regarded as the same (as their father).—(5)


Medhātithi’s commentary (manubhāṣya):

“Who are these that are called ‘Brāhmaṇa’ and the rest? We cannot perceive any difference among men. The determination of the caste is dependent upon a knowledge of individuals belonging to the caste; and individuals, devoid as they are of any knowledge of the disposition of the component atoms, cannot indicate any difference among the castes. Nor is there any difference in the figures of the ‘Brāhmaṇa’ and the ‘Kṣatriya’ as there is in those of the ‘cow’ and the ‘horse,’ for instance,—by virtue of which the said castes could be perceptible by the eye Nor are the said castes discernible by any other acts; as, for instance, the nature of the oil or the melted butter can be discerned by smelling or tasting. Nor again can the difference among them be discerned by differences in such details as those of purity, conduct, colour of the hair, and so forth; because these details are almost always found to be mixed up. Further, actual usage is dependent upon men, and as men are mostly deceptive, the character of anything cannot be ascertained by a mere reference to them.”

It is in view of these difficulties (in the ascertaining of a man’s caste) that the author is asserting here the definition of the castes.

Among all castes,’— the definition that is applicable is that those born of women ‘0f equal status’—of the same caste as the husband,—these women being the ‘wives’—lawfully wedded consorts,—are to be regarded as the same. That is, in most cases, the caste of the child born of parents legally married is the same as that of its parents.

Since the term ‘wife’ is a relative term, it follows that the person who has married her is the ‘father’ of the child. So that the meaning comes to be that the child is of the same caste as the parents, when it is born of the woman from that same person who has wedded her.

The epithet ‘virgin’ has been added, and it precludes the possibility of a remarried woman being regarded as the ‘wife,’—as also of the mother of the ‘Sahoḍa’ and ‘Kānīna’ sons.

Objection:— “As a matter of fact, there is no marriage - sacrament in the case of these latter; since it has been declared (Manu 8. 226) that ‘the sacred texts recited at the marriage-ceremony are applicable to maidens only.’ Though verse 9.173 declares that ‘the child belongs to the person who married her,’ where the mention of the term ‘marry’ indicates that there is legal sacrament in the cases in question also, yet all that this text can be taken as indicating is the possibility (of the sacrament), and there is nothing in it to indicate that it refers to something actually enjoined; so that in this text all that ‘the person marrying’ can mean is ‘the person who accepted her,’—the verbal root signifying mere acceptance; and what the text means is that ‘when a man has accepted a girl for his wife, after having cheated her father and kinsmen, if a son happens to be born from her, he belongs to that man.’

There is in fact no sacrament in the case of remarried women; in regard to whom also it has been laid down that—‘she is fit for a second nuptial ceremony, only if she he still a virgin’ (9.176). In connection with the girl who as ‘gone away and come back’ also, we find the term ‘again’ used (‘she may be married again’), which implies that she belongs to her husband. But none of these are entitled to associate with the ‘duly wedded consort;’ because the term ‘paint,’ ‘consort,’ connotes ‘co-operation at sacrificial rites.’ From all this it would seem that the qualification ‘if she be a virgin’ becomes superfluous. The older commentators read ‘nārīṣu’ (women) in place of ‘patnīṣu’ in the text But this also is nothing. If we had the qualification of ‘virginity’, only then would sons born of unmarried women belong to the same caste as the father. By using the term ‘patnī’ (consort) however it becomes clearly indicated that the women meant are only such as have been married with due religious rites. As for the girl with whom a man has intercourse before they are married, she may be a ‘virgin’ but certainly not a consort. Thus then it becomes necessary to explain the use and purport of the qualification ‘virgin’.”

The answer to the above is as follows:—It has been argued above that “the remarried women are not ‘consorts,’ because they are not entitled to co-operate at sacrificial rites.” But if such girls were wedded, this wedding itself would constitute a ‘sacrificial rite,’ since even at this ceremony offerings are made to Pūsan, Aryaman and Varuṇa; and ‘offering’ and ‘sacrifice’ are synonymous terms. Hence these girls also would be ‘consorts.’ In fact, the right view to take is that, inasmuch as they are no longer ‘maidens,’ they are not fit for the wedding ceremony; and it is on this ground that they cannot be ‘consorts.’ And even so the qualification ‘virgin’ being apparently superfluous, we proceed to explain its use. As a matter of fact, the term ‘consort’ is found to be applied, though figuratively, even to such women as are not entitled to co-operate at sacrificial rites; e.g., in such expressions as ‘the washerman’s consort’ (though no sacrificial performance is possible for the washerman). Similarly in the case of the ‘kept’ woman also, the name ‘housewife’ is applied, in the sense of the ‘wife’; and this on the ground of certain points on which such a woman resembles the real wife. Though it is true that, so long as a word can be used in its direct sense, it is not right to have recourse to its figurative sense,—yet what the writer does is to explain, in a friendly spirit, to dull-headed people, the impropriety of entertaining certain notions; specially what notion is there that may not be entertained by dull-headed people?

The qualification ‘in the natural order’ has been added in view of what follows later on.

Those who adopt the reading ‘ta eva te’, for them also the meaning is the same—i.e., ‘they belong to the same caste.’

The following arguments have been urged in connection with this subject:—“What is the authority at the root of this and similar assertions made by the authors of Smṛtis? Inasmuch as these do not make mention of anything to be done, they cannot stand on the same footing as the teachings regarding Virtue and Vice (what should be done and What should be avoided); and we have already shown that there is no other authority possible. If another Smṛti- text were cited as the requisite authority, then this would come to be a case of ‘the blind leading the blind’; as has been made clear under the verse dealing with the sources of knowledge of ‘Dharma’ (2.6).”

The answer to the above is as follows:—The authority consists in the practices of experienced men; just as in the case of the Smṛti -rules bearing on the correctness of words (i.e., grammar). It is true that the said practices may be defective and misleading. But it is there that the rules laid down in the Smṛti come in useful, as serving to control them. Specially as it cannot be said that the ‘Smṛti,’ ‘recollection,’ of learned men is wrong; for persons intent upon the following of the scriptures are universally known as exceptionally trustworthy; and the basic authority for these would consist in eternal usage.

It is the theory of some people that men who are steeped in the study of the Smṛti and belong to certain selected noble families may be able to have a direct (intuitive) knowledge of things. This we have dealt with in detail in the Smṛtiviteka.

“In another Smṛti (Yājñavalkya, 1.20) there are no such qualifying conditions as we find in the present text; all that is said there is—‘Children born to men of a certain caste from women of the same caste, are also of the same caste;—sons born of unblamable marriages are the perpetuators of the race’;—where the first half indicates the caste of the child, and the latter declares the fact of the products of the ‘Brahma’ and other marriages being ‘perpetuators of the race.’ Now in this text, all that is said is ‘sons born to a man from women of the same caste,’ and there is no mention of the name ‘patnī,’ ‘consort.’”

How can it be said that there is no such qualification, when it is added later on that ‘this rule applies to the case of wedded women’ (Yājña, 1.92)? Further, what if there is no qualifying phrase in this other text? A qualified text is always more authoritative than an unqualified one; as perception is always more reliable than non-perception; it is just possible that the qualifying condition, actually present, may have been seen by one, but missed by the other (writer).

From all this it follows that the ‘recollection of learned men’ is authoritative, on account of the possibility of its being based upon the Śruti.

“The definition provided by the verse is not correct, since it does not include all that should be included. For instance, under the definition ‘Brāhmaṇa-hood’ could never belong to the ‘son taken along with the mother,’ the ‘maiden-born son,’ or the ‘son of the remarried woman.’ It might be argued that—‘as in the cases of the son born of another man to an unwidowed woman, the son born to a widow and the soil-born son, so in the case of these sons also, it is intended that Brāhmaṇa-hood should not belong to them.’ But in that case, what would be the caste of these? Further, if the ‘son of the unwidowed woman born of another man,’ and the ‘son of the widow’ were not Brāhmaṇas, there could be no possibility of anyone thinking of feeding them at Śrāddhas, and hence there would be no point in the prohibition (contained in 3.155, 156) of such feeding. Then again, such a view would he contrary to other Smṛti -texts. For instance, we read—‘This rule that I have described pertains to sons of the same caste as the father.’ (Yājñavalkya, 2.33).

“Further, as a rule, the definition is the same as the thing defined,—the only difference being that ‘what is to be defined’ is not known, while ‘the definition’ is well known. E.g. it being doubtful (not known) who Devadatta is, we have the definition—‘he who is wearing the armlet and the ear-ring, of the developed chest and rounded arms’ (all which is already known). What the present text does is to declare,—in answer to the question who is a Brāhmaṇa?—that ‘he is one born of a Brāhmaṇa;’ and this is exactly as if, on being asked—‘what is a crow?’—one were to say ‘it is what is born of a crow!’ In fact, it is still to be known what is that ‘Brāhmaṇa-hood’ that belongs to the father.

“The definition is illogical also: In the world one born of a female from a male of the same genus always belongs to that same genus; e.g., what is born of the cow is of the genus of the ‘cow,’ what is born of the ‘mare’ is of the genus of the horse’ [and certainly in all these eases marriage does not enter as a necessary factor].”

The answer to the above is as follows:—First of all it has been asked—what would be the caste of certain kinds of sons? Well, what is the need for any ‘caste?’ They belong to the genus ‘man;’ and even without having any specific caste-distinction attributed to them, they become entitled to all that characterises the man,—both as ‘sons’ and as persons dealing with Śrāddhas. Specially as all men are equally entitled to making gifts.

“But in the absence of further distinction, dealings with the man could not proceed (merely on the basis of his belonging to the genus ‘man’); for the simple reason that the genus ‘man’ is common to all human beings.”

There is no force in this; every person has his own distinctive appellation; every man is called either ‘Devadatta’ or ‘Yajñadatta.’ Then, if it be considered necessary to specify the particular relationship of the persons in question,—well, they have such appellations as ‘Kānina’ (‘maiden-born’),

Sahoḍha’ (‘taken with the mother’) and so forth.

“But all these names are found among all the four castes; so that they also would be general (just like the genus ‘man’).”

In that case, they would be distinguished by the name of their father—‘he is the maiden-born son of Devadatta,’ and so forth.

Thus there is no force in the argument based upon the difficulty of distinguishing these sons.

All the laws that are formulated herb are with reference to all the four castes; as is clear from what has been declared in 1.2 above. That is why we have the plural number in the text, which refers to the four castes, ‘Brāhmaṇa’ and the rest. The persons here mentioned do not all belong to any one caste; since the definition set forth is such as is applicable to all castes. Just as the son born to a Brāhmaṇa from his wedded Brāhmaṇī wife is a Brāhmaṇa, so is the son born to a Kṣatriya and the other castes also, born of parents of the same caste, belong to that same caste. Then again, there could be no ‘genus’ in the absence of all particulars. E.g., in the absence of the particular trees, Śiṃśapā and the rest, where could there be the genus ‘tree?’

The mixed castes are of two kinds—the product of marriages ‘in the natural order,’ and the product of marriages of the ‘reverse order.’ Now those of the former class take the mother’s caste; while the products of marriages of the ‘reverse order’ have no duties save the most general ones of ‘not injuring living beings’ and so forth (enumerated in 10.63). All kinds of sons have been duly specified with their own distinctive names, and yet even the name of the products of ‘reverse marriages’ is not found mentioned.

“What are those duties to the performance whereof these people would be entitled? Where too is the text that makes them so entitled? The duties described here are not with reference to any particular caste; the text—‘Of the mixed castes etc., etc.’ (1.2) clearly indicates that what is described pertains to all castes.”

The answer to the above is as follows:—As regards the mention of the general duties of ‘not injuring others’ and the rest, with reference to the four castes, it is clearly meant to be applicable to every human being.

Even though the text occurs in connection with sons born of ‘marriages in the reverse order,’ yet its direct meaning bears upon all men. In reality however it is more logical to take it as pertaining to such castes as stand on the same footing as those born of ‘reverse marriages,’ and it cannot stop short only at what is indicated by the context This we shall explain under the text (10.63) itself.

Then again, we have the following declaration—‘All those born of violation of the law are equal to Śūdras;’ (Manu 10.41),—where ‘violation of the law’ stands for ‘absence of sacramental rites;’ and this is of eight kinds, as described under verse 24 below;—where ‘adultery’ stands for sexual intercourse with the wives of other men belonging to one’s own caste; other matters relating to this matter we shall explain later on.

Thus then it follows that, even though the sons born of such ‘violations of the law’ do not belong to any caste, yet their title to the performance of certain acts rests upon the direct declarations of the texts.

In the case of the Kṣatriya the child should be taken to belong to the mother’s caste; because there are texts indicative of this: In connection with the ‘Dvyāmuṣyāyaṇa’ son a peculiar ceremony has been prescribed (?); and in connection with other Śrauta rites also, we find a distinct procedure laid down with reference to him (?)

From all this it follows that it is only the son belonging to the Brāhmaṇa caste who is entitled to an equal share with his uncle; hence it is that it is declared that ‘one should receive him legally.’ (?) All this would not be well if the injunction were in the aforesaid form. Because according to that‘he would be equal to the Śūdra;’ and as property is meant for sacrificial performances (to which the Śūdra is not entitled), how could he be entitled to any share of it?

As for the son ‘born of another man while the husband is alive,’ and that ‘born of a widow,’ these are only ‘soil-born’ sons. Such is the custom among all civilised men; e.g., Pāṇḍu, Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Vidura, all ‘soil-born’ sons, took the caste of their respective mothers.

Then again, the ‘outcast’ also has been excluded from being invited at Śrāddhas; and yet as he would be beyond the pale of all morality, there could be no possibility of any idea being entertained regarding his admissibility [so that the objector was not justified in drawing any conclusions from the exclusion of the ‘soil-born’ sons from Śrāddhas ],

As regards the text quoted above (from Yājñavalkya, 2.133),—since it is a mere reference, it may be explained away somehow. Or we may take it as referring to the ‘appointed’ son.

Then as regards the argument that “it is only what is well-known that can serve as the definition (the distinguishing feature) of anything”—we ask—Is not the meaning of the term ‘Brāhmaṇa’ already known? In fact what the text does is to preclude the idea of ‘illegitimacy’ bang entertained regarding persons to whom die name ‘Brāhmaṇa’ is applied,—the sense being that they belong to the caste of their parents. Nor can it be argued that this would lead to a regressus ad infinitum; as the world has had no beginning in time.

It has been urged that what is here stated is illogical But this could be so only if the matter of castes were something negotiable by direct perception. As a matter of fact however it is something that can be determined only with the help of Smṛtis, and as such must be as they are declared to be in these texts. Just as in the case of such titles as ‘Vaśiṣṭha’ and the like (family-names), it is found that, even in the absence of any blood-relationship with the personage named, they are applied to men on the basis of uninterrupted tradition handed down from times immemorial; and serve as the basis of such expressions as ‘the Vaśiṣṭhas are listening.’ And the case of the castes also should be taken as standing on the same footing. Just as in the case of a number of Brāhmaṇas, all of whom are equally ‘Brāhmaṇas,’ they are classified as ‘Bhṛgus,’ ‘Vatsas; ‘Bhāradvājas,’ and so forth—such distinction being based entirely upon ‘Smṛti,’—so in the case of a number of persons, all of whom are equally ‘men,’ they come to be distinguished as ‘Brāhmaṇas,’ ‘Kṣatriyas’ and so forth.

Some people have brought forward (against the view that Brāhmaṇas must be born of duly wedded Brāhmaṇa couples) the case of Jābāla: Satyakāma Jābāla asked his mother—To what gotra do I belong? She answered—I do not know, as I obtained you while I was, during my youth, attending, as a maid, upon several men. Having heard this, the boy went over to Hāridrumata Gautama, and said—Revered Sir, I wish to reside with you as a Religious Student. The sage asked him—To what gotra do you belong? The boy answered—I asked my mother, and she told me that in her youth, she obtained me etc., etc.;—whereupon Gautama concluding that no non-Brāhmaṇa could speak so frankly, directed him to fetch fuel and said—‘I shall initiate thee.’ What the mother meant was that in her youth she met many men, and she knew not from whom the child was born; and what Gautama did was to infer, from the boy’s truthfulness, that he must have been begotten by a Brāhmaṇa, and hence he initiated him. From this those people conclude that sons born to persons from such women of the same caste as are not duly wedded, are also of the same caste.

There is however no force in this. All that the mother’s statement means is—‘I obtained you during my youth’—at a period of life when the mind is fickle, being beset with fancies—‘when I was attending’—as a maid-servant, suffering from hunger—‘wandering in several places’—not living at any one place,—‘hence I have no recollection of the gotra-name of my husband.’

From all this it becomes established that sons born to a person from a duly wedded wife of the same caste as himself belong to the same caste. And in the case of Jābāla also, Gautama inferred from the words of the boy, that he must be the son of Brāhmaṇa- parents; hence though he recognised him as a Brāhmaṇa, he did not know his gotra. What he wished to ascertain by means of the question regarding the boy’s gotra, was the special Vedic Rescension to which he belonged; and this for the reason that the exact method of his initiation would vary with the Rescension to which one belonged; while his gotra has no bearing upon the initiation at all. And it is not, as some people have explained, that “the question really referred to the boy’s caste, the idea in the sage’s mind being that he would deduce the caste from the nobility of his race, while a direct question about caste would be impolite.”—(5)


Explanatory notes by Ganganath Jha

Ānulomyena’.—‘In the direct order, i.e., by a Brāhmaṇa on a Brāhmaṇī and so forth’ (Medhātithi, Govindarāja and Kullūka);—‘the bridegroom being always older than the bride” (Nārāyaṇa).

This verse is quoted in Parāśaramādhava (Ācāra, p. 511), which explains the meaning to be that children born of a Brāhmaṇa couple are Brāhmaṇa by caste; so also in the case of Kṣatriya couples and so forth;—and in Nṛsiṃhaprasāda (Saṃskāra 76a).


Comparative notes by various authors

Āpastamba (2.13.1).—‘Sons begotten by a man who approaches in the proper season a woman of equal caste, who has not belonged to another man, and who has been married legally, have a right to follow the occupations of their castes.’

Viṣṇu (16.1).—‘On women equal in caste to their husbands, sons are begotten who are equal in caste to their fathers.’

Yājñavalkya (1.90).—‘From women of the same caste as their husbands are born sons of the same caste.’

Baudhāyana (1.17.2).—‘Sons of equal caste spring from women of equal caste.’

Do. (1.16.6).—‘Sons begotten on wives of equal caste or of the next lower caste are of the same caste as the father’

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