The Brahmin of Manu Smriti – The other side of the coin


Manu smriti is one of the most popular law books of ancient India. One of the reasons for its popularity is that the ‘caste system’ of the Hindus has found its deepest details in it. So it is also despised by many people. The caste system of the Hindus is based on an hierarchy which is: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra. Brahmins are meant to be teachers & priests, Kshatriyas are meant to be warriors & politicians, Vaishyas are meant to be farmers & traders, Shudras are meant to serve the above three castes. So Brahmin is at the top.

Such a position of the Brahmin makes him be inferred as a subject of the most comforts and the most power. But a sincere reading of the text shows another side of his life. The bias of a reader begins with the first chapter, where in its 93rd verse, it is said that because the Brahmin was produced from the mouth of the God, he is the lord of this whole creation, which means that all this belongs to him.

But as one proceeds to read the next chapters, one finds that such extreme gifts for a Brahmin are subject to so many regulations. It is said that even though a Brahmin is worthy of having gifts, he must not incline towards accepting them as it diminishes his divine light. So it is an order that without the full knowledge of the prescribed rules for the acceptance of gifts in the sacred law, he must not accept any gift even if he pines with hunger (Chapter 4, verses 186-187).

Then is mentioned (Chapter 4, verse 204) that if a Brahmin does not observe the paramount duties (Yama) and only observes the secondary duties (Niyama), he loses his rank, or falls from his caste. What is Yama? In Yama are included non-violence, non-stealth, self-restraint and renouncing of every possession. Niyama include cleanliness, contentedness, penance, meditating on self, and devotion to god. So even if a Brahmin is clean, is a devotee of god, but is violent and/or possesses riches/property, he shall lose his caste. So acquiring any sort of property or riches can lead to the loss of the brahminhood of a Brahmin.

In chapter 4 (verse 179-185), it is clearly mentioned that if anyone (mother, father, wife, son, daughter, servant[shudra]) insults a Brahmin, the Brahmin must bear that without anger and avoid any quarrel with them.

In the chapter 11 (verse 31 & 33) the Brahmin is given the right to himself punish someone who has insulted/injured him. And how to punish? By reading certain verses, that is it. Speech alone is said to be the weapon of a Brahmin.

So he has to be way too humble in all respects. He cannot be angry, he cannot hit anyone physically (except for his son & pupil for discipline-chapter 4, verse 164), he cannot own property or he shall lose his caste. This is the other side of the coin which is taken out of this book. One side of it has been told popularly, but this side too needs to be seen, if this book is considered to be a reflection of the society of its time.

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