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...

Verse 11.44 [Expiation: General Laws (prāyaścitta)]

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

अकुर्वन् विहितं कर्म निन्दितं च समाचरन् ।
प्रसक्तश्चैन्द्रियार्थेषु प्रायश्चित्तीयते नरः ॥ ४४ ॥

akurvan vihitaṃ karma ninditaṃ ca samācaran |
prasaktaścaindriyārtheṣu prāyaścittīyate naraḥ || 44 ||

If a man does not do what is enjoined, or does what is censured, or becomes addicted to sensual objects, he becomes liable to expiatory rites.—(44)


Medhātithi’s commentary (manubhāṣya):

The text now proceeds to describe those Expiatory Rites which form the subject-matter of the discourse, and first of all it describes the persons liable to the performance of these rites. What is it that makes a man liable?

What is enjoined’—as a compulsory act, such as the Twilight Prayers, the Agnihotra and so forth, all such as have their compulsory character indicated by such words as ‘one shall perform the Agnihotra throughout life.’ Those acts also that have been laid down as to be done under specified circumstances,—such as bathing when one is defiled by the touch of something unclean—are included among those ‘enjoined.’

Does not do’—through carelessness or laziness.

Similarly ‘what is censured’—forbidden, such as the drinking of wine and so forth. If one, transgressing the Scriptures, has recourse to such acts.

Becomes liable to expiatory rites.’—All this means that the liability in this case is conditional; the performance of expiatory rites being incumbent upon one who omits what is enjoined and does what is forbidden.

“For one who is desirous of acquiring a village the Sāṅgra haṇī sacrifice has been enjoined; so that if one who is desirous of acquiring a village is somehow unable to perform that sacrifice, this would be an omission of what is enjoined on his part; as soon as he conceives a desire for the acquisition of a village, the said sacrifice becomes for him an ‘enjoined act’; so that if he does not undertake it, he transgresses the injunction and hence should be liable to the expiatory rites.”

Our answer to the above is as follows:—What the injunction in such a case means is that ‘when one undertakes the performance of the particular sacrifice, he is led to it by a desire for the reward in the shape of a village’; so that what the scriptural injunction really does is to indicate the relation of cause and effect between the ‘sacrifice’ and the ‘acquisition of a village.’ Even though in this case also the main idea expressed by the injunctive sentence is that the act in question should be done, yet what the injunction actually does is to lay down that the act should be done only for the accomplishment of the said purpose. So that all that happens to the person omitting the performance of that sacrifice is that that purpose is not accomplished; such omission does not involve a sin; and an expiatory rite would be necessary only when there has been some sin.

“Whence is the idea derived that the omission of a compulsory duty involves sin? In connection with the Agnihotra and such other compulsory acts, we do not find any such assertion as—‘he who does not do it incurs sin.’”

As a matter of fact we do find sentences occurring in the wake of the injunction of compulsory duties,—such as ‘vedibh-yaḥ paramā bhavati’ [which are understood to be indicative of the said idea]; and in almost all cases there are declamatory passages indicative of the sin involved in the omission of compulsory acts; and there must be some truth in these; otherwise they could not be construed along with any injunction. Even in cases where no such declamatory passages are actually found, they are always assumed in support of injunctions. In fact it is the declamatory passages that constitute the driving force behind injunctions; such driving force would not be efficient unless it were assumed that an omission would involve sin. In the actual practice of all experienced men such is the operation of all Injunctions. Injunction is as a rule known to urge people to actions;—men are never urged to anything except what serves a useful purpose for them; and it is with a view to guard against the contingency of the Injunction becoming deprived of this urging force that we have to make the said assumption (of passages declaring that omission involves sin). Though the urging power could be secured also by assuming that the act concerned leads to Heaven, yet, as such an idea would be inconsistent with the conception that the act should be done throughout life, it becomes necessary to conclude that the due performance saves one from sin. To this end we have the assertion—‘even a hundred injunctions do not secure that activity of men which is brought about by fear.’

From all this it is clear that when the text speaks of a man not doing ‘what is enjoined,’ it refers to the compulsory acts.

“In connection with bathing on touching an unclean thing, there are no words indicating its compulsory character, like such expressions as ‘throughout life’ and the like.”

What is the need of any other words? What the text is understood to indicate is that a certain act is to be done under certain specified circumstances; and there is no need for any other driving agency. The fact of the act being compulsory is expressed by the notion that whenever the said circumstance presents itself, it should be done. In the case of Agnihotra and such other rites also, we do not find the texts actually containing the term ‘compulsory,’—the compulsory character bring indicated only by the absolute certainty of the condition mentioned (‘throughout life,’ in connection with the Agnihotra).

Addicted’—Constantly using such sensual objects as richly cooked food, sandal-paint and unguents, etc. This implies the character of bring always given to such enjoyment.

“This has been already prohibited under 4.16, where it has been said that—‘one shall not attach himself to sensual pleasures.’”

People think that since this latter passage occurs in connection with the vows of the Accomplished Student, it cannot serve as a general Prohibition. What occurs under ‘vows’ cannot be regarded as a Prohibition; as what is enjoined under ‘vows’ is the taking of a certain resolve, in some such form as—‘I shall not do such and such an act.’

Or, some one may be inclined to think that the former prohibition being a slight one, the offence is not a serious one. With a view to guard against this, the Author has put the offence on the same footing as other serious offences.

Or, the explanation may be that it is often found that, even though something has been forbidden in a general way, it is again forbidden specifically, for the purpose of indicating its importance.

For instance, we often meet with such assertions as—‘The Brāhmaṇas have come,—the Vaśiṣṭhas have also come.’

Becomes liable to expiatory rites’— The term ‘prāyaścitta,’ ‘expiatory rite,’ is a conventional name applied to certain rites performed under certain specified conditions, and the form ‘prāyaścittīyate’ is formed according to Pāṇini 3.1.85.

Man’— This term has been added for the purpose of indicating that what is here stated applies to all the four castes.—(44)


Explanatory notes by Ganganath Jha

This verse is quoted in Mitākṣarā (3.220), which notes that the use of the general term ‘naraḥ’ implies that what is here said is applicable to the ease of men born of reversed parentage; such general sins as those of killing and the like being possible in their case also;—in Parāśaramādhava (Ācāra p. 50), which adds that the verse is indicative of those sins that accrue from the omission, through sloth, of the obligatory duties;—in Parāśaramādhava (Prāyaścitta p. 6);—in Prāyaścittaviveka (p. 10), which says that the meaning is that the act is sinful, and hence involves expiation;—and in Smṛtisāroddhāra (p. 351).


Comparative notes by various authors

(verses 11.44-47)

Mahābhārata (12-34.2).—(Same as Manu 44)

Gautama (19.2-7).—‘A man in this world is polluted by a vile action, such as sacrificing for men unworthy to offer sacrifices, eating forbidden food, speaking what should not he spoken, neglecting what is prescribed and doing what is forbidden. People are in doubt if such a man shall, or shall not, perform a penance for such a deed. Some declare that he shall not do it, because the deed must persist. The best opinion is that he shall perform a penance. For it is declared in the Veda that one who has performed the penance of Punastoma may come back to partake of the Soma-libations.’

Baudhāyana (3.10.2-5).—[The same as Gautama; but it adds ‘accepting gifts from those whose gift should not be accepted;’ for ‘eats forbidden food,’ it has ‘Eats the food of one whose food should not he eaten,’ and it omits ‘speaking etc.’ and also ‘neglecting what is prescribed.’]

Vaśiṣṭha (20.1-2).—‘A penance shall be performed for an offence committed unintentionally. Some declare that it shall he performed also for those committed intentionally.’

Do. (22.1-5).—‘Now indeed man in this world speaks an untruth, or sacrifices for men unworthy to offer a sacrifice, or accepts what should not be accepted, or eats forbidden food, or does what should not be done.’ (The rest as in Gautama).

Yājñavalkya (3.219-221).—‘A man becomes degraded by omitting to do what is enjoined, by doing what is condemned, and by not controlling the senses. Therefore for the purpose of purifying himself, he shall perform expiatory penances; thus do the people and also his own inner soul become appeased. By the performance of expiatory penances does that sin disappear which had been committed unintentionally; if the sin had been committed intentionally, the performance of the penances only makes the man fit for being associated with; such being the declaration. Those who commit sins, and yet do not perform the penances, nor repent their misdeeds, fall into terrible hells.’

Chāgaleya (Aparārka, p. 1039).—‘The expiatory penances are for sins committed unintentionally; for those committed intentionally, there is no expiation.’

Jābāli (Parāśaramādhava-Prāyaścitta, p. 153).—‘The Brāhmaṇas prescribe penances for sins committed unintentionally; some people prescribe them also for those committed intentionally, for twice-born men as well as for Śūdras.’

Devala (Do.).—‘When a sin has been committed unintentionally, and only once, there is expiation prescribed for it by persons versed in the Law. If the sin is committed a second time, the penance shall he the double of the former; if it is repeated for the third time, it shall he the three-fold Kṛcchra; and for the fourth repetition, there is no expiation. Nor is there any expiation for a sin committed even once, if it has been committed intentionally. But some people lay down expiation even for sins committed intentionally.’

Aṅgiras (Do.).—‘If the sin has been committed unintentionally, penance is performed; hut there is none for sins committed intentionally; even if there be, it will have to be double of the former.’

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