MANUSMRITI — Part I (Chapters 1 to 6): Sanskrit text with meaning in Tamil byVenkatadriyagaram Anantachariar; Pub. by Pandit Krishnamachariar Trust. Copiescan be had from New No. 90/1(Old No. 133/1), L.B. Road, 3rdStreet, Kalki Krishnamoorthi Salai, Tiruvanmiyur,Chennai-600041. Rs. 100.
One of the earliest and most authoritative law texts followed by the Hindus, Manusmriti covers a wide range of topics such as creation of the world, sacraments like ‘Upanayana' and marriage; duties of men and women placed in different strata of society and stages of life; penitential rites for violation of codes of conduct; and so on. There is no philosopher or religious teacher who does not rely upon Manu. The Taittiriya asserts that the words of Manu are valid.
What needs to be remembered is that some of the rules and some parts of the code prescribed in law manuals such as those of Manu, Yajnavalkya, and Katyayana were framed in different periods of time and were meant for people living outside India also.
The law-givers of yore were convinced that a country where there is no fear of punishment for wrong-doing cannot progress. Evidently, the same yardstick cannot apply to the present time. Since Manusmriti was written in the distant past, some allowance has to be made while invoking its injunctions.
It is unfortunate that, in modern society, there is a tendency to project Manu as ‘anti-woman'. In fact, he holds women in high esteem. According to him, the land where women are honoured becomes the favourite abode of gods (III.56).
The statement Na stree svaatantryam arhati (IX.3) is often cited as an example for Manu's anti-woman stance — it is wrongly translated as a woman does not deserve independence. The word svaatantryam here does not mean “independence,” but refers to the state or condition of “depending on one's own self for sustenance.”
In Manu's perception, a woman is, by her very nature, so divine and unique that she should never be left to fend for herself. It is the duty of society to protect and take good care of her — by her father during childhood, husband in her youth, and son in her old age. Interpretations stemming from inadequate or improper understanding of the original Sanskrit text often lead to distortions and generate hard feelings in a cosmopolitan society like ours. The volume under review covers the first six of the 12 chapters. Each verse is given in the Devanagari script. It is followed up with a simple and lucid exposition in Tamil by Anantachariar, a noted scholar and prolific writer.
Its usefulness would have considerably enhanced if the publishers, who have taken the trouble of bringing his translation to light, had also provided such features as an introduction and a chapter-wise index.