Laws of Manu and how it has influenced contemporary India
Every society has some sort of ranking among its members; however India’s caste system is so elaborate that it causes a rift within its society. This rift has hindered the growth of India. How is something supposed to go forward when the gears are stagnant or is even going backwards? India was home to one of the earliest settlements in human history. For many centuries the ancient Indians and Greeks were progressively claiming each culture started calculus and scientific thought. Now when one has a pedigree like that, they tend to be a dominant force. However India has not been a very dominant force until very recently; and it can be argued that is because of India’s backwards thinking.
The current Indian caste system was developed from the Manusmrti or the Laws of Manu, a Hindu scared scripture. Manusmrti is an ancient dissertation given by the first man on earth, Manu. It was written when Manu implored a group of seers to educated Indians the “law of all the social classes”. It is as it follows:
1. Society is to be divided by four varna or categories.
- Brahmans – Priests
- Kshatriyas – Governing officials
- Vaishya – Farmers, traders
- Shudra – servers of the above three varnas
2. Duties and occupations of the different varnas are to be dictated by the King. 3. Brahmans are to be treated as a god. “Even a hundred-year old Kshatriya is to treat a ten year old Brahmin as his father” (Olivelle, 2004). 4. Women are to be treated unequally. They are to treat their husbands as gods 5. The legal consequences between each Varna are unequal. “For example if a Brahmin is awarded a death sentence, it is sufficient to shave his head, but Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra are to actually die.” 6. One can only marry within their Varna. However if you wanted a second wife they can be of a lower caste, but if she is a shudra then you become a shudra as well. 7. Even though Manu does not expletively say there is a fifth Varna, Chandala would be considered the fifth. Chandala is the equivalent to an untouchable. Nobody is to interact with the Chandala. 8. Everyone is to follow this social system.
This of course is a very condense version of the sacred text, however it is very shocking. The Manusmrti is the most debated text in Indian scripture; it has been criticized by everyone. However shocking or criticized it may be, these are the rules ancient Indians abided by. This text laid out how life was to be followed. The Manusmrti portrayed two distinctive thoughts. The first is how one is to be treated depending of social status, and the second is how women are to be treated. The latter of course did not have any rights and basically was property.
As the Manusmrti was written around 200 BCE, the four varnas naturally evolved. The varnas are going to be elaborated, as the definition of each category is important for the main topic of this essay. Brahmans are the top of the caste system, and they mainly consist of priests and scholars. Within the Brahman caste there are jatis or sub-castes. The variation between the sub-castes is how educated one is and how much power they have. The Brahmans of today do not hold as much power as their ancestors. Priests and scholars are still highly regarded, however as one would expect it is not a glamorous position to be in.
After the Brahmans are the Kshatriyas. The Kshatriyas mainly were political rulers and military personnel. Not surprisingly the Kshatriyas were considered to be bold, full of fortitude, discipline, modest, and were physically superior*. The reason why the Kshatriyas are considered a level under Brahmans is because they depend on priests, while the priests do not necessarily depend of the Kshatriyas. In today’s India the Kshatriyas really do not include the military, perhaps just the high ranking officers. Being in the military used to be a honorable position however after the British took the...
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