Manu Smriti and Untouchables

Written by Sulaiman Razvi

Manu Smriti is the most revered Smriti. It is mentioned in Manu Smriti that god framed the laws and first taught it to Manu. This Hindu law book is more like a torture manual for the low castes. The Purusha Sukta is often cited as a proof for caste system. Maharishi Manu also supports the Purusha Sukta when he writes,

Manu Smriti 1.31 ”For the furtherance of the (good of the) world, he created Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaisy’a and S’udra from his mouth, arms, thighs, and legs.” Tr. M.N. Dutt

Manu writes that it was god who assigned specific professions to those who came out from his mouth, chest, thighs and feet.

Manu Smriti 1.87 ”For the preservation of all this creation, He of great effulgence, laid down separate duties for those origination from his mouth (Brahmanas), from his arms (Kshatrias), from his thighs (Vaisyas), and from his legs (S’udras).” Tr. M.N. Dutt

First Brahmins originated from his mouth, Shudra from his feet and then he gave them specific professions. This article deals only with the status of low castes in Manu Smriti. In Manu Smriti Shudras and Chandalas are given capital punishment for committing certain crimes whereas a Brahmin is given very lesser punishment like paying fine or performing penance. Let’s have a look at some verses. I am using English translation of Buhler and M.N. Dutt.

Oppression against lower castes

  1. Manu Smriti 8.413-14 A Sudra, whether bought or unbought must serve the Brahmin a slave purchased or otherwise, must be employed in service, inasmuch as it for serving the Brahmana that he has been created by the self-begotten one. Even set at liberty by his master, a Sudra cannot be liberated from service: service is his vocation by nature; who shall emancipate him from that?
  2. Manu Smriti 5.140 Following the path of equity, Sudras must shave their heads once, each month, follow the rules of purification laid down in respect of the Vaishyas, and eat the leavings of Brahmana’s food.
  3. Manu Smriti 8.417 Let a Brahmana unhestitangly appropriate to himself whatever (his) Sudra (Slave) has earned, inasmuch as nothing can be belong to the latter, he being himself an enjoyable good of the Brahmana.
  4. Manu Smriti 10.129 No collection of wealth must be made by a Sudra, even though he be able (to do it); for a Sudra who has acquired wealth, gives pain to Brahmanas.
  5. Manu Smriti 8.418 (The king) should carefully compel Vaisyas and Sudra to perform the work (prescribed) for them; for if these two (castes) swerved from their duties, they would throw this (whole) world into confusion.
  6. Manu Smriti 10.96 A man of low caste who through covetousness lives by the occupations of a higher one, the king shall deprive of his property and banish.
  7. Manu Smriti 8.270-1. A once-born man (a Sudra), who insults a twice-born man with gross invective, shall have his tongue cut out; for he is of low origin. If he mentions the names and castes (gati) of the (twice-born) with contumely, an iron nail, ten fingers long, shall be thrust red-hot into his mouth.
  8. Manu Smriti 8.272 If a Sudra insolently gives any religious or moral advice to a Brahmana, the king, shall cause hot oil to be poured into his mouth and ears.
  9. Manu Smriti 8.281-2 A low-caste man who tries to place himself on the same seat with a man of a high caste, shall be branded on his hip and be banished, or (the king) shall cause his buttock to be gashed. If out of arrogance he spits (on a superior), the king shall cause both his lips to be cut off; if he urines (on him), the penis; if he breaks wind (against him), the anus.
  10. Manu Smriti 8.267-8 A Kshatriya, having defamed a Brahmana, shall be fined one hundred (panas…a Sudra shall suffer corporal punishment. A Brahmana shall be fined fifty (panas) for defaming a Kshatriya…in (the case of) a Sudra twelve.
  11. Manu Smriti 2.31-32 Let (the first part of) a Brahmana’s name (denote something) auspicious, a Kshatriya’s be connected with power, and a Vaisya’s with wealth, but a Sudra’s (express something) contemptible. (The second part of) a Brahmana’s (name) shall be (a word) implying happiness, of a Kshatriya’s (a word) implying protection, of a Vaisya’s (a term) expressive of thriving, and of a Sudra’s (an expression) denoting service.
  12. Manu Smriti 3.44; 2.127; 3.111-2; 8.88; 5.92 method of marriage, way of greetings, mode of entertaining guests, or method of administering oath in the court, process of taking out funeral procession of the Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Shudra must be different.
  13. Manu Smriti 10.51.52 But the dwellings of Kandalas [Chandala] and Svapakas shall be outside the village, they must be made Apapatras, and their wealth (shall be) dogs and donkeys. Their dress (shall be) the garments of the dead, (they shall eat) their food from broken dishes, black iron (shall be) their ornaments, and they must always wander from place to place.
  14. Manu Smriti 10.54 Their food shall be given to them by others (than an Aryan giver) in a broken dish; at night they shall not walk about in villages and in towns.
  15. Manu Smriti 10.53 One, while doing religious rite, must not see, or speak to them (Chandalas); they shall carry on their monetary or matrimonial transactions among members of their own castes.
  16. Manu Smriti 11.13 (Or) the (sacrificer) may take at his pleasure two or three (articles required for a sacrifice) from the house of a Sudra; for a Sudra has no business with sacrifices.
  17. Manu Smriti 1.91 One occupation only the lord prescribed to the Sudra, to serve meekly even these (other) three castes.
  18. Manu Smriti 9.334 But to serve Brahmanas (who are) learned in the Vedas, householders, and famous (for virtue) is the highest duty of a Sudra, which leads to beatitude.
  19. Manu Smriti 10.121-3 If a Sudra, (unable to subsist by serving Brahmanas,) seeks a livelihood, he may serve Kshatriyas, or he may also seek to maintain himself by attending on a wealthy Vaisya. But let a (Sudra) serve Brahmanas, either for the sake of heaven, or with a view to both (this life and the next); for he who iscalled the servant of a Brahmana thereby gains all his ends The service of Brahmanas alone is declared (to be) an excellent occupation for a Sudra; for whatever else besides this he may perform will bear him no fruit.
  20. Manu Smriti 3.112 Even a Vaisya and a Sudra who have approached his [Brahmin] house in the manner of guests, he [Brahmin] may allow to eat with his servants, showing (thereby) his compassionate disposition.
  21. Manu Smriti 3.92 Let him gently place on the ground (some food) for dogs, outcasts, Kandalas [Chandal] (Svapak), those afflicted with diseases that are punishments of former sins, crows, and insects.
  22. 3.239 A Kandala, a village pig, a cock, a dog, a menstruating woman, and a eunuch must not look at the Brahmanas while they eat.
  23. Manu Smriti 5.131 Manu has declared that the flesh (of an animal) killed by dogs is pure, likewise (that) of a (beast) slain by carnivorous (animals) or by men of low caste (Dasyu), such as Kandalas.
  24. Manu Smriti 4.79 Let him not stay together with outcasts,nor with Kandalas, nor with Pukkasas, nor with fools, nor with overbearing men, nor with low-caste men, nor with with fools, nor with overbearing men, nor with low-caste men, nor with Antyavasayins
  25. Manu Smriti 5.85 When he has touched a Kandala [Chandal], a menstruating woman, an outcast, a woman in child bed, a corpse, or one who has touched a (corpse), he becomes pure by bathing.
  26. Manu Smriti 8.279-80 With whatever limb a man of a low caste does hurt to (a man of the three) highest (castes), even that limb shall be cut off; that is the teaching of Manu. He who raises his hand or a stick, shall have his hand cut off; he who in anger kicks with his foot, shall have his foot cut off
  27. Manu Smriti 4.61 Let him not dwell in a country where the rulers are Sudras…
  28. Manu Smriti 4.80 Let him [i.e., Brahmin] not give to a Sudra advice, nor the remnants (of his meal), nor food offered to the gods; nor let him explain the sacred law (to such a man), nor impose (upon him) a penance.
  29. Manu Smriti 4.81 For he who explains the sacred law (to a Sudra) or dictatesto him a penance, will sink together with that (man) into the hell (called) Asamvrita
  30. Manu Smriti 4.99 Let him [i.e., Brahmin] not recite (the texts) indistinctly, nor in the presence of Sudras; nor let him, if in the latter part of the night he is tired with reciting the Veda, go again to sleep.
  31. Manu Smriti 4.140 Let him [i.e., Dvija] not journey too early in the morning, nor too late in the evening, nor just during the midday (heat), nor with an unknown (companion), nor alone, nor with Sudra.
  32. Manu Smriti 4.223 A Brahmana who knows (the law) must not eat cooked food (given) by a Sudra who performs no Sraddhas; but, on failure of (other) means of subsistence, he may accept raw (grain), sufficient for one night (and day).
  33. Manu Smriti 5.104 Let him not allow a dead Brahmana to becarried out by a Sudra, while men of the same caste are at hand; for that burnt-offering which is defiled by a Sudra’s touch is detrimental to (the deceased’s passage to) heaven.
  34. Manu Smriti 8.21-22 The kingdom of that monarch, who looks on while a Sudra settles the law, will sink (low), like a cow in a morass. That kingdom where Sudras are very numerous, which is infested by atheists and destitute of twice-born (inhabitants), soon entirely perishes, afflicted by famine and disease.
  35. Manu Smriti 10.126 A Sudra cannot commit an offence, causing loss of caste (pataka), and he is not worthy to receive the sacraments; he has no right to (fulfil) the sacred law (of the Aryans, yet) there is no prohibition against (his fulfilling certain portions of) the law.
  36. Manu Smriti 11.132 Having killed a cat, an ichneumon, a blue jay, a frog, a dog, an iguana, an owl, or a crow, he [i.e., Brahmin]shall perform the penance for the murder of a Sudra
  37. Manu Smriti 11.149 He who has touched spirituous liquor, has given it away, or received it in accordance with the rule, or has drunk water left by a Sudra, shall drink during three days water in which Kusa-grass has been boiled.

Superiority of Brahmins in Manu Smriti

  1. Manu Smriti 10.1 Let the three twice-born castes (varna), discharging their (prescribed) duties, study (the Veda); but among them the Brahmana (alone) shall teach it, not the other two; that is an established rule.
  2. Manu Smriti 1.88 To Brahmanas he assigned teaching and studying (the Veda), sacrificing for their own benefit and for others, giving and accepting (of alms).
  3. Manu Smriti 1.93 As the Brahmana sprang from (Brahman’s) mouth, as he was the first-born, and as he possesses the Veda, he is by right the lord of this whole creation.
  4. Manu Smriti 1.95 Through the mouth of this (Brahmana), the celestials eat their Havyas (Oblations), and the manes, their Kavyas (oblations.)
  5. Manu Smriti 1.99 A Brahmana, coming into existence, is born as the highest on earth, the lord of all created beings, for the protection of the treasury of the law.
  6. Manu Smriti 1.101 Whatever a Brahmin receives is his only even if it belongs to others and it is only due to the kindness of Brahmins that other castes enjoy.

Though there are many more verses in Manu Smriti which praises the Brahmins, I have limited it to just 6 verses.

you may also like Caste system in Hinduism.