The text presents itself as a discourse given by the sage Manu, to a congregation of seers, or rishis, who, after the legendary great floods in the vedic state of Brahmavarta in India some 10,000 years ago, beseeched him to guide them in how to face such calamities in future though an organized life with “guidelines for all the social classes”, His response was captured and preserved in memory as a dialog between himself and the sage Bhrigu in some 2685 ślokas, the compilation of which is called Manusmriti.
Different scholars have given a range of timings for creation of this text, from 1500 BCE to 500 AD. However, the basic fact of the time period of existence of flood-figure Manu and Bhrigu, compatriot and contemporary of Saint Manu, who had his Ashram on the bank of ‘Vadhusar River’ in the Vedic state of ‘Brahmavarta’,who were the authors of Manusmriti, is ignored all together, which happens to be the period of great floods, 10,000 years ago, after last ice age having mentions in Persian book Avesta, Indian Sanskrit text Shatapatha Brahmana and now scientific evidence is available on various websites. Floods had ravaged the vedic state of ‘Brahmavarta’, located on the confluence of two huge Vedic rivers Saraswati and Drishadwati, where the Ashrams of Devas were located. The state ‘Brahmavarta’ is now identified on the borders of North Rajasthan and South Haryana, mainly in and around Shekhawati and Jhunjhunu region of Rajasthan and parts of Haryana in the districts of Mahendragarh and Rewari on the basis of images of paleochannals of these rivers from satellites, geo-morphological studies of the soils, which confirm presence of soil particles of Himalayan rocks in the areas represented by Saraswati river, and mentions of the area in Mahabharata, Rigveda, Shatapatha Brahmana, Manusmriti and various Puranas. As per epic ‘Mahabharat’ Bhrigu Rishi had his Ashram at ‘Deepotsak’ on ‘Vadhusar’ river, and his son Chyavana, on Dhosi Hill a tributary of Drishadwati river, in the Vedic state of ‘Brahmavarta’. As per Skanda Purana, Bhrigu Rishi had migrated to ‘Bharuch’, located on Narmada river later on. Even Archeological findings near Narmada river are dated more than 8500 years old and said to be belonging to post Bhrigu era, confirming that Bhrigu and Manu had existed some 10,000 years ago, and their creation ‘Manusmriti’ is that old.
The identity of place ‘Brahmavarta’, the Vedic state where, sages Manu and Bhrigu had given the discourse, and Manusmriti was compiled is also confirmed by the fact that the nomenclature used to describe animals, birds, crops, trees, plants, house utilities, activities of people, geographical conditions etc. in ‘Manusmriti’ is still in use in the area, and these things exist physically also. The Khetri Copper Mines and Dhosi Hill are important landmarks in ‘Brahmavarta’. The Saraswati river, which had flown at the time of floods, made the western border of Brahmavarta state,while northern border was formed by Drishadwati river which had flown in along the inner side of Aravali hill from the pot of ‘Brahma’ called Pushkar lake near Ajmer in Rajasthan. Because of seismic activities in Aravali ranges 7–8000 years ago, Monsoon water from Ajmer district stopped flowing in to Drishadwati and migrated to Chambal River, however water from part of Jaipur, Sikar and Alwar districts in Rajasthan, still flows in the old Drishadwati river, presently known as ‘Sahbi river’ and finally goes in to Yamuna river near Delhi.
Great floods which occurred after rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers at the end of last ice age, and higher rainfalls in Aravalli ranges,were devastating for habitants of Vedic state of ‘Brahmavarta’ and surrounding areas. Senior Rishis of the area gathered and decided to approach the oldest Saint or Rishi Manu, who had escaped the floods and is said to be 400 years old at that time, to advise the conference, from his memory (in Sanskrit and Hindi Smriti) and experiences, on ‘how to face such calamities in future and lead a peaceful and organised life’. Thus, the 2685 shaloks discoursed by Manu and Bhrigu to the conference on various aspects came to be known as ‘Manusmriti’, which some call ‘Laws of Manu’, while others consider it to be an ‘advisory’ only. This conference/congregation was also the beginning of organised living by Vedic people or formal launching of Vedic Sanatana Dharma. Olivelle says that Manu’s discourse was referred in all later Dharamshastras.
Though most scholars had previously considered the text a composite put together over a long period of time, Olivelle has recently argued that the complex and consistent structure of the text suggests a single author. However, no details of this eponymous author’s life are known, though it is likely that he belonged to a conservative Brahmin caste somewhere in Northern India.
Several countries in South East Asia and neighbouring countries, as shown in picture here, had followed Dharmasustra of Manu in the ancient times to form their laws, before the advent of Buddhism.
An earlier opinion generally dated composition of the text any time between 200 BCE and 200 CE. After the breakdown of the Maurya and Shunga empires, there was a period of uncertainty that led to renewed interest in traditional social norms. In Thapar’s view, “The severity of the Dharma-shastras was doubtless a commentary arising from the insecurity of the orthodox in an age of flux.
The dharma class of texts were noteworthy also because they did not depend on the authority of particular Vedic schools, becoming the starting point of an independent tradition that emphasiseddharma itself and not its Vedic origins.
Is varna of a person hereditary or acquired?
This is the topic that appears controversial in Manusmriti. There are several shlokas which explain the fluid nature of varna classification and how varna could be changed with acquiring knowledge. There are some others which advocate compartmentalised varnas.
For example, the Brahmins are considered the highest varna or caste, and are supposed to be engaged in learning, teaching and religious sacrifices. The Kshatriyas are the ‘guardians’ — the kings, the soldiers etc., the “Vaishyas” are the traders and farmers and the “Shudras” are the serving class. The first three classes are called “twice born” or Dvija. The first three wear the sacred thread on their body, while the Shudras do not.
Knowledge is more important than birth in a clan
Manusmriti assigns various roles for the four Varnas of the community on the basis of their knowledge of Vedic texts. Manu, the senior most saint at that time, did not issue an ‘ordinance’ on classification of community by birth, as Britishers made it out to be. Their wrong consideration of Manusmriti as an ordinance, compartmentalised the Varna system in to four rigid caste system and harmed the Indian community. Manu’s sermon to the congregation of Rishis was only an ‘advisory’. The concept of dwija and shudra, at birth of a human is not rigid or compartmentalised. It is fluid and flexible and can change with the type of work one adopts. Yajurveda says that at birth, all humans are born shudras, but the true birth or the second birth or true varna has to be achieved through education and profession. An important message is that a Shudra could qualify to a higher class by remaining clean, showing polite behaviour and by being in the company of other three higher Varnas. Manusmriti also says that a Brahmin would be degraded and classified as a Shudra if he consumes liquor even once. Also, if a Brahmin remains uneducated he will be equated to a Shudra
Knowers of Vedic texts, the ‘Brahmins’ are given the most important status for their enormous contributions to Dharm, Earth and Environment.Dharmic duties of Brahmins are defined as reading and gaining knowledge, teaching to others, performing Yajnas and rituals, give and accept donations Kshatriyas are told to provide security to people, give donations, hold yajnas, study and not to involve in discussions. while that of Vaishyas are, animal husbandry, giving donations, hold yajnas, to study, do business, charge interest and do agriculture,. Shudras, who are not educated at all, are given the task to serve the other three varnas. This division of community is strictly on ‘knowledge’ basis. Even among Brahmins, those who have higher and deeper knowledge of Vedas are considered superiors.
Lower classes can upgrade
There are several examples from history, that prominent Saints were born in lower varnas but qualified to higher varnas and were duly respected by all. Rishi Valmiki who was born in lower varna got education and qualified to become a religious writer and wrote, Valmiki Ramayana which is a revered document even today. Similarly, Aitareya saint or Rishi was son of a Daasa or criminal, but became a Brahmin of highest order and wrote one of classics Aitareya Brahmana and Aitareyopanishad. Aitareya Brahman is considered critical to understand Rigveda.
There are historical migrations of varna, in ancient history. Satyakaam Jaabal was son of a prostitute but qualified later on, to become a Brahmin. Allush Rishi was son of a ‘Daasi’, gambler and of low character but he did research on Rigveda and made several discoveries. Not only was he invited by Rishis but also made an Acharya
Prishad who was son of king Daksha, became a Shudra because of his activities, had to do tapasya and achieve salvation after repenting. Vidur, who was a son of a servant, became a Brahmin and a prominent minister in Hastinapur empire. Similarly, Vatsa became a Rishi though born to a Shudra. Vishnu Puran says that Guru of Pandavas, Shaunak, was born in a Kshatriya family but became a Brahmin. Raavana who was born a Brahmin to Pulatsaya Rishi, is considered a ‘Raakshasha’.
During medieval period, in the 16th century, the Hindu king Hem Chandra Vikramaditya born in to a family of Purohits (Brahmins) got involved in business (Vaishya) and changed his profile again and became a warrior (Kshatriya) to win 22 battles continuously against Afghan rebels and Mughal forces throughout north India.