The Manava Dharmasastra or The Ordinances of Manu is a work of fundamental importance for the scholars interested in the study of Hindu civil and religion law. It seem to have been compiled during the early centuries of the Christian Era and is a codification of the guiding principles for the Hindus in all walks of human life and endeavour. These Institutes or the Ordinances of Manu - the first lawgiver of India - are also acknowledged sources of sacred law and are also known as the Manusmriti.
The Ordinance of Manu are based on the ancient Dharmasutra and I the twelve books or lectures cover the various facets of human life, following the varnas - ramadharma or the four-fold division and stage of life. However, it is not merely for the terse exposition of tenets that this work is important; it sums up an ideal or philosophy of life which has provided substance and sustenance to its followers.
The work is divided into twelve lectures or books which begin with the sources, an account of the origin of the Universe and a summary of the contents of the work. In Lecture II the sources of law and the duties of the student have been expounded. In Lectures III-V, the duties of the householder, marriage, daily rites, occupation and general rules of life, food ceremonial purity and duties of woman have been discussed. Lecture VI deals with the third and the fourth stage of life, viz., vanaprastha and Sannyasa, the hermit and the ascetic. In VII the duties of the king and the second caste, the kshatriyas, are discussed including general political maxims. In Lectures VIII and IX civil and criminal law, procedure and evidence have been elaborated under eighteen topics, the latter (IX) also containing the duties of the third and the fourth castes. In X are discussed the rules regarding mixed castes and the procedure in time of adversity and in XI the rules for gifts penances and sacrifices. Lecture XII is an exposition of philosophical principles and means for attaining moksha or final release.
The Ordinance of Manu is not merely important as a law-book or a literary work of great merit and commanding influence but epitomizes an endouring philosophy of life. The work has been translated from Sanskrit by various scholars and into many languages. In the present translation, begun by A. C. Burnell and completed by Edward W. Hopkins, mainly the recension of Kulluka has been adopted; those verses which disagree with Medhatithi have been marked. A detailed introduction and copious footnotes add to the usefulness of the present translation.
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