The social guidelines contained in Manusamriti are relevant till date. Precisely for a Hindu, Manusamriti suggested the guide line, Ramayana a sample, and Gita a user guide to solve unforeseen problems for living a contented life. Every practice in Hinduism is aimed to integrate all elements in the society to local environment.
Health and Hygiene
Instructions for maintaining cleanliness fall within commonsense and behavior desired in any civil society. Even today the same could be found scripted at public baths and eating places. It is commendable that thousands of centuries ago Hindu society had thought about the same in the public interest. Few illustrative examples from Manusamriti are summed up below:
- One should neither take nude bath, nor urinate in water, ploughed field, near a temple, in public place, or on ash, an item used for purification.
- Food should always be accepted with respect. There should be no criticism of food, and one must wash mouth after meals. Left over and stale food should not be served to anyone.
Today excluding parents, every male is called ‘uncle’ and every female is addressed ‘aunty’. In contrast, it was the maturity of Hindu society that specific titles for all relationships had been evolved to precisely explain proximity between two persons. There were no legal relations, such as father in law, or mother in law, but all relations were extensions of natural blood relations.
Due consideration was given to the age of the person. Elders were accorded full respect, and in return, they were to showers affection on the younger. Elders were addressed by their relation and not by name. The elder had the privilege to call the younger by first name. It is disgusting to see convent educated TV anchors, addressing elders by using first name. This is nothing but a sign of arrogance and poor upbringing.
Social Behavior and Courtesies
Following are some samples of social behavior and courtesies since the time of Sage Manu. The implied meaning is summed up below each verse quoted here:-
यो न वेत्त्यभिवादस्य विप्रः प्रत्यभिवादनम्। नाभिवाद्यः स विदुषा यथा शूद्रस्तथैव सः ।।
(मनु स्मृति 2- 125-126)
- It is imperative that compliments should be returned without any exception of high or low. If a Brahmin ignored to respond, other Brahmins should treat him as uncivilized and must not reciprocate his compliments.
- For communicating with teachers and Brahmins, one is expected to get up if the superior is sitting, position himself in front of the superior, if the latter is standing, and run to the superior if the superior is walking. One should not sit on the seat of the superior while the latter is away. Also, one should never imitate mannerisms of the teachers and superiors.
- One should not talk to a person, who is sleeping, eating, or looking elsewhere.
अप्रणोद्योSतिथिः सायं सूर्योढी गृहमेधिना।
काले प्राप्तास्त्वकाले वा नास्यानश्नगृहे वसेत्।। (मनु स्मृति 3- 105)
- Guests are treated like gods in houses. Even if a guest visited after sun set he should be welcomed fed, and looked after by the couple.
भुभवत्स्वथ विप्रेषु स्वेषु भ़त्येषु चैव हि। भुञ्जीयातां ततः पश्चादवशिष्ठं तु दम्पति।। (मनु स्मृति 3- 116)
- The couple should serve food to Brahmins first, and thereafter to servants before taking their own meal.
- There is no compulsion in Hindu religion on following any specific ritual. But it is obligatory to pay the priest if he was asked to perform any ritual.
- Truth must be spoken in a pleasant form. It should never be hurting.
- Old people, patients, load carriers, women, learned persons, kings and person riding a vehicle, are given the right of way.
These aspects show that Indian life codes were more civil than today in every sphere.
Crime Control and Punishments
The chapter on Crime Control and Punishments is most relevant to our contemporary environment, since this obligation is being overlooked or implemented half-heartedly by the rulers. Sage Manu has laid down that it is the fundamental duty of the ruler to punish criminals, because unpunished crime breeds more crime in the society. Those having contacts with criminals, or helping them with food and shelter, should also be punished.
Severe punishment was prescribed in Manusamriti, for those who polluted water sources, impeded entrances, or created road blocks. Only patients, children, women, old, infirm and those in distress could be exempted. Punishments were suggested to be inflicted in public view for the following offences:-
- Cow slaughter, cruelty to animals and killing them just for pleasure,
- Sedition against the king,
- Homicide and black magic,
- Adultery, seduction, prostitution,
- Selling one self, women and children, as well as neglecting parents, teachers, and children,
- Money laundering, selling of prohibited goods,
- Pilferage, misappropriation, stealing, and snatching the property of others,
- Defaulting on loan and contractual payments.
Undesirable Behavior in Society
Several moral breeches have also been listed, such as:
- Sleeping during day, finding faults with others, and over familiarity with stranger women,
- Drinking, dancing, and loitering in public,
- Causing public disturbance by noise,
- Exposing weakness of someone with evil intent,
- Showing off through evil deeds,
- Intemperate language.
- Sending garlands and perfumes to un-related persons of opposite sexes, joking, hugging, touching their ornaments, and sharing of seats are some of the acts that have been listed as undesirable and detrimental to harmony in the society.
Commercial aspects and public utilities
Manusamriti prescribed that the king should get wells and canals dug and temples built at the boundaries. For controlling undesirable activities, the king should keep public places under surveillance such as sweat shops, bars, cross roads, resting places, uninhabited houses, jungles, parks, markets, and brothels.
Comprehensive Rules were provided for:-
- Transportation and payment to boatmen as well as compensation in the event of accident or dis-service.
- Loans, sureties, and mortgaged items.
- Safe guards for the interests of lunatics and children.
- Maintain cleanliness at washing points.
- For controlling smuggling, tax evasion, adulteration, and quackery.
- Regulation of contracts, and
- Principles of inheritance.
System of taxation prescribed that ruler should tax the subjects to finance projects for the good of society. King should not exempt even the poorest person otherwise the poor will get used to seeking exemptions for ever. The King should periodically check implements used for weights and measures by traders.
Implementation and Regularity System
No legislation is complete without mechanism for its implementation, and a procedure for dealing with matters un-provided for. Manusamriti has made provision for this vital aspect also.
- Detailed instructions have been provided for convening disciplinary committee on the pattern of modern jury system.
- Matters un-provided for should be decided by common sense with regard to time place, environment, and intentions.
- It has also been settled that one learned person’s opinion is worth thousand illiterates.
- Any name sake Brahmin without knowledge has been declared worthless in this context.
Most of the social laws enunciated by Sage Manu have been codified, by present day governments. Unwritten laws have been amalgamated with traditions and customs of the societies. As legislation is considered to be the image of every society, the social laws framed by Sage Manu at a very early time, when most of the population on other part of the world was absolutely primitive, proves the point, that Hindu society was neither drenched in superstitions nor was a land of snake charmers. Ours was the only advanced civilization from the times immemorial.
Chand K Sharma
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