The Laws of Manu, c. 1500 B.C.E.
Original Electronic Texts at the web site.

Editor's introduction: The Laws of Manu represent one of the most ancient sources for our knowledge of early Indian social structure. Though it was probably written in the first or second century BCE, the traditions that it presents are much older, perhaps dating back to the period of Aryan invasions almost fifteen hundred years earlier. Manu himself was a mythical character, the first man, who was transformed into a king by the great god Brahma because of his ability to protect the people. The fact that the ancient Indians attributed the beginnings of kingship and social classes to the first man is evidence that they themselves recognized the antiquity of these institutions.

I.3. On account of his pre-eminence, on account of the superiority of his origin, on account of his observance of particular restrictive rules, and on account of his particular sanctification, the brahmin is the lord of all castes.

I.4. The brahmin, the kshatriya, and the vaisya castes are the twice-born ones, but the fourth, the sudra, has one birth only. . . .

I.31. But for the sake of the prosperity of the worlds, [the Creator] caused the brahmin, the kshatriya, the vaisya, and the sudra to proceed from his mouth, his arms, his thighs, and his feet.

I.87. But in order to protect this universe He, the most resplendent one, assigned separate duties and occupations to those who sprang from his mouth, arms, thighs, and feet.

X.5. In all castes those children only which are begotten in the direct order on wedded wives, equal in caste and married as virgins, are to be considered as belonging to the same caste as their fathers.

X.24. By adultery committed by persons of different castes, by marriages with women who ought not to be married, and by the neglect of the duties and occupations prescribed to each, are produced sons who owe their origin to a confusion of the castes.

VII.352. Men who commit adultery with the wives of others, the king shall cause to be marked by punishments which cause terror, and afterwards banish.

VII.353. For by adultery is caused a mixture of the castes among men; thence follows sin, which cuts up even the roots and causes the destruction of everything.



X.97. It is better to discharge one's own appointed duty incompletely than to perform completely that of another; for he who lives according to the law of another caste is instantly excluded from his own.


Duties of a Brahmin

X.75. Teaching, studying, sacrificing for himself, sacrificing for others, making gifts and receiving them are the six acts prescribed for a brahmin.

X.76. But among the six acts ordained for him three are his means of subsistence, sacrificing for others, teaching, and accepting gifts from pure men.

X.81. But a brahmin, unable to subsist by his peculiar occupations just mentioned, may live according to the law applicable to kshatriyas; for the latter is next to him in rank.

X.82. If it be asked, "How shall it be, if he cannot maintain himself by either of these occupations?" the answer is, he may adopt a vaisya's mode of life, employing himself in agriculture and rearing cattle.

X.83. But a brahmin, or a kshatriya, living by a vaisya's mode of subsistence, shall carefully avoid the pursuit of agriculture, which causes injury to many beings and depends on others.

X.85. But he who, through a want of means of subsistence, gives up the strictness with respect to his duties, may sell, in order to increase his wealth, the commodities sold by vaisyas, making however the following exceptions:

X.92. By selling flesh, salt, and lac a brahmin at once becomes an outcaste; by selling milk he becomes equal to a sudra in three days.

X.93. But by willingly selling in this world other forbidden commodities, a brahmin assumes after seven nights the character of a vaisya.

III.77. As all living creatures subsist by receiving support from air, even so the members of all orders subsist by receiving support from the householder.

III.78. Because men of the three other orders are daily supported by the householder with gifts of sacred knowledge and food, therefore the order of householders is the most excellent order.

III.89. And in accordance with the precepts of the Veda and of the traditional texts, the householder is declared to be superior to all of [the other three orders]; for he supports the other three.


Duties of a Kshatriya

VII.1. I will declare the duties of kings, and show how a king should conduct himself, . . . and how he can obtain highest success.

VII.2. A kshatriya who has received according to the rule the sacrament prescribed by the Veda, must duly protect this whole world.

VII.3. For, when these creatures, being without a king, through fear dispersed in all directions, the Lord created a king for the protection of this whole creation.

VII.14. For the king's sake the Lord formerly created his own son, Punishment, the protector of all creatures, an incarnation of the law, formed of Brahman's glory.

VII.18. Punishment alone governs all created beings, punishment alone protects them, punishment watches over them while they sleep; the wise declare punishment to be identical with the law.

VII.19. If punishment is properly inflicted after due consideration, it makes all people happy; but inflicted without consideration, it destroys everything.

VII.20. If the king did not, without tiring, inflict punishment on those worthy to be punished, the stronger would roast the weaker, like fish on a spit.

VII.35. The king has been created to be the protector of the castes and orders, who, all according to their rank, discharge their several duties.

VII.87. A king who, while he protects his people, is defied by foes, be they equal in strength, or stronger, or weaker, must not shrink from battle, remembering the duty of kshatriyas.

VII.88. Not to turn back in battle, to protect the people, to honour the brahmins, is the best means for a king to secure happiness.

VII.89. Those kings who, seeking to slay each other in battle, fight with the utmost exertion and do not turn back, go to heaven.


Duties of a Vaisya

IX.326. After a vaisya has received the sacraments and has taken a wife, he shall be always attentive to the business whereby he may subsist and to that of tending cattle.

IX.327. For when the Lord of creatures created cattle, he made them over to the vaisya; to the brahmins and the the king he entrusted all created beings.

IX.328. A vaisya must never conceive this wish, "I will not keep cattle"; and if a vaisya is willing to keep them, they must never be kept by men of other castes.

IX.329. A vaisya must know the respective value of gems, or pearls, of coral, of metals, of cloth made of thread, of perfumes, and of condiments.

IX.332. He must be acquainted with the proper wages of servants with the various languages of men, with the manner of keeping goods, and the rule of purchase and sale.

IX.333. Let him exert himself to the utmost in order to increase his property in a righteous manner, and let him zealously give food to all created beings.


Duties of a Sudra

IX.334. [T]o serve brahmins who are learned in the Vedas, householders, and famous for virtue, is the highest duty of a sudra, which leads to beatitude.

IX.335. A sudra who is pure, the servant of his betters, gentle in his speech, and free from pride, and always seeks a refuge with brahmins, attains a higher caste.

IX.413. But a sudra . . . may [be compelled] to do servile work; for he was created by the Self-existent [Lord] to be the slave of a brahmin.

IX.414. A sudra, though emancipated by his master, is not released from servitude; since that is innate in him, who can set him free from it?

From: A Source Book in Indian Philosophy, edited by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957).

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