About Hinduism and India

Sage Manu has been the first sociologist of human society, and Manusmriti is the first regulatory system in the history of mankind. The original Manusmriti consisted of about one million Sanskrit verses (shalokas). Alterations were made from time to time by various sages to meet the requirement of changed times and much of the text has been lost. The present form of Manusmriti is therefore is compilation made some two thousand years ago, but still most part of it is being followed in all the civilized societies of the world.

Scope of Subjects Covered

The book in its present form deals with different subjects concerning human life. Diverse topics such as evolution of life on Earth, physics, minerals, chemicals, biology, botany, concept of time,  composition of Yugas covering millions of years each, down to Nano seconds called ‘nimits’ (time taken by twinkling of an eye) have been discussed in this pioneering text.

Political: Under the subjects of political science, the text describes the boundary of the country and its sub divisions, defense, governance, administration, penal offences, punishments, administration of justice and atonement.

Commercial: Commercial aspects of human society find also mention. The document underlines control on evils like adulteration and quackery. System of taxation and regulation of weights and measures has also been discussed.

Social: In the category of sociology the topics covered are relationships and their mutual obligations, civic life, human traits, choice of professions, management of public places, social stratification; protection of minors, women, and weaker sections, principles of inheritance, cleanliness, daily routines, safety, personal  health, and hygiene.

It is significant that only the ‘duties and obligations’ have been described in the text. The rights automatically emerge from duties. Sage Manu’s concept of social structure is based on the subtle principles as under:-

  • Interdependence,
  • Division of labor,
  • Standardization of work procedures.

Social Stratification

The early man did everything himself. He searched, hunted, cooked and ate his own food. He found for himself a place of living, something for his clothing and other needs. However, everyone was not equally skilled to improvise, intelligent to think, apt at problem solving, and strong to defend in the face of dangers. Thus people started doing jobs that suited their individuality, capability, tastes and skills.

The strong man started protecting those who provided him food and other necessities. The one who was more experienced and intelligent emerged as leader or advisor, and commanded the rest to follow his advice and commands. Those who were unskilled and timid, accepted to be followers, did unskilled jobs and obeyed the commands of those who were superior and more competent. Thus men inter-depended on each other’s according to their individual needs, capabilities, and leadership traits. They have continued the same way till date. This has led to formation of groups, clans, societies and ultimately nations.

Humans have got classified into various segments according to their individual traits in every society all over the world. Manu classified the earliest society in four ‘Varnas’ keeping in mind the traits required by persons to perform various functions in a social group. The classification was based on ‘division of labor’, ‘dignity of labor’ and the ‘interdependence’ of individuals. He matched aptitudes and skills to the demands of the job. Even till present day, job descriptions and job specifications continue to be structured on the same principles, only the designations have changed to fit into the environment of each country.

Universal Rituals for civilized Society

Sage Manu has recommended the performance of several rituals, not only to give concrete shape to the abstract spiritual ideals, but also to add color and zest to life. All religions and civilized communities have been observing similar rituals with slight modifications. These are intended to formally announce the occurrence of an event in the life of an individual for the information of other members of the society.

Rituals may continue changing according to the changes in the society. A wisely planned and solemnly conducted ritual prepares the ground, creates appropriate atmosphere, so that the main performer and others concerned may do their part in a standardized manner without omitting any vital detail. All activities are drilled and practiced for optimal perfection.

Sage Manu has suggested sixteen rituals, associated with various happenings in life. Majority of these are being followed by all the civilized societies of the world with some local modifications to match their prevailing environment. The same are summarized below:-

  1. Impregnation (Garbhadhan) – This is the natural process of birth all over the world. It is not a sin on the part of parents but is to be regarded as an obligation towards divine command to maintain the continuity of creation.
  2. Care of fetus (Punswana) – This reflects awareness of scientific fact that environment and state of physical and mental health of the mother during pregnancy directly affect the wellbeing of fetus Even animals also observe this restriction.
  3. Baby Shower (Semanthonana) – Pregnant mothers are advised not to undertake any rigorous activity when body parts of the baby in womb start developing. Pregnancy is formally disclosed publicly through Baby Shower.
  4. Birth ceremony (Jatakarma) – The newborn inherits parents, religion, caste, a place in the family and society by birth in every society. Accepting the newborn and wishing the baby longevity and strength are the main items involved. It is a formal welcome accorded to the new entrant by human society.
  5. Naming ceremony (Namakarana) – Names are given in every society for the identity of the individual. Names were generally reflective of the desired qualities and not merely phonetics or meaningless identities.
  6. First Exposure (Nishkramana) – To avoid damage to delicate eyes and other kind of infectionnew born is neither exposed to bright sunlight nor to body contact with outsiders before the passage of four months. The new born is brought under the Sun to symbolize worldly contact since Sun is most prominent heavenly body.
  7. Initiation to solid foods (Anna-prasana) – It is the first feeding of the child with solid food, and is considered a happy occasion for the family. The occasion marks the first step taken by the parents towards life styles subsequently to be adopted by the newborn, by feeding according to the food habits of the parents.
  8. Attires (Churakarma) – This is the only ritual that differentiates the gender. Male children are given formal haircut while females have long hair all over the world. Their clothing is also gender specific.
  9. Acupressure (Karnavedha) Piercing of the ear is also common in all the societies. It is a sort of acupuncture to stimulate memory and controlling passions. All over the world rings are worn in fingers that act as acupressure.
  10. Schooling (Upanayana) – It is the formal taking of the child to a teacher for education. From the cultural point of view this is the most important sacrament. It underlines the importance of education given in human society. Without knowledge humans and animals are alike in physiological needs. Everyone would attain higher status in life through individual efforts under the guidance of the Guru.
  11. Higher Education (Vedarambha) According to family traditions, every child undergoes higher education or vocational training to earn his living. In every country aptitude and ability and past performance are the criteria for admission to higher learning.
  12. Convocation (Yajnopavita Dharana) – It is similar to wearing of robe for the convocation ceremony held after graduation in any discipline of learning. Those days it involved receiving the loincloth (Kaupina) and the girdle (Mekhala), and wearing of the sacred thread (Yajnopavita). Like a university degree conferred upon young graduate, the wearer became entitled to be respected as a learned person in the society, since paper degrees were not in vogue. The occasion symbolized the beginning of a life of self-control. Thus the wearing of sacred thread reminds a person of his dependence on society whose debts he has to discharge throughout his life. As no degrees are awarded to failing students, only successful candidates were allowed to wear sacred thread as a symbol of being intellectuals.
  13. Marriage (Vivaha) – Of all the Hindu sacraments, marriage is considered to be the most essential ceremony in human life. No civilized society welcomes children born out of wedlock. Marriage is not a license for indulgence, but a human institution aiming at moderation in conjugal life leading ultimately to the conquest of self. It is essentially a fellowship between a man and a woman who seek to live happily in partnership. The bride and the bridegroom get united not in secrecy for committing any ‘sin’ but as a nucleus of future family.  Consequently a Hindu marriage is considered to be too sacred to be dissolved. The steps of this sacrament could be as simple as exchange of garlands before the deity, sacred fire, and family members, or lavish celebrations of fanciful dimensions depending upon the choice and capacity of the individuals.
  14. Retirement (Vanaprastha) – Old order changes all over the world yielding its place voluntarily to the new generation.
  15. Renunciation (Sanyasa) –  It is absolute and formal retirement from worldly affairs in peaceful manner.
  16. Last Rites (Antyeshti) – It is performed after death. In every society the dead body is carried to the pier by the relatives and friends for cremation or burial as a mark of decent send off.

Rituals have been chosen for the joyous occasions and provide an excuse to celebrate the event with other members of the society, and to continue the flow of life on going.  These are occasions of formal announcements to be made in the society pertaining to the important occurrences in life. One significant aspect of Hindu ritual is that all occurrences are performed after invoking the symbolic ‘presence’ of gods for testifying the occurrence, as human beings are liable to be inconsistent and unreliable for multiple reasons. Celestial witnesses are omnipresent and omniscience.

One may opt to discard any one or all the rituals, but in their absence, life will be monotonous, colorless, and present a semblance of animal existence. Rituals are pleasing as long as one can afford them. They become burdens when forced upon. The society will be reduced to chaos and animal state if the substantive actions formalized through these rituals are discarded whatever be the religion and nationality.

It is surprising how Sage Manu could visualize the necessity of introducing such system centuries ago, while some of the westernized Hindus mock at them displaying their utter ignorance. There lies the relevance of Manusmriti, the gift of Hinduism to the world for starting process of civilization.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 17 – Hinduism is not Syllabus Based)

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