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Manusmṛti: Patchwork or Careful Construction?

Manusmṛti Patchwork or Careful Construction


Starting from George Bühler in the 19th century to Patrick Olivelle and Wendy Doniger of our own times, Western scholarship has had a long engagement with the text of Manusmṛti. Though their engagement has been long and at many different levels, one thing with which they are yet to come to terms with is the sheer size of the text as well as the wide range of the subject matter covered in it.

Wendy Doniger, for example, calls it a patchwork [1] woven using scraps from multiple sources. It is often held that the text was composed in layers over a period of time, using multiple sources, and hence, is filled with excurses and later day interpolations.

In this paper, I content that the predominant position of modern scholarship on the composition and integrity of the text of Manusmṛti is problematic as it side-lines the evidence presented by the native tradition regarding how the text has been received within the tradition.

It will be shown that a careful understanding of the native accounts of the origination of the text as well as the general process of transmission of knowledge prevalent in the Hindu tradition clearly points to Manusmṛti as a carefully created text with unitary authorship. It will be further shown how the very narrative structure of the text as well as its deeper architecture supports the position of unitary authorship.


Starting from George Bühler and E. Washburn Hopkins in the 19th century to Patrick Olivelle and Wendy Doniger of our own times, Modern scholarship has had a long engagement with the text of Manusmṛti. Though their engagement has been long and at many different levels, one thing with which they are yet to come to terms with is the sheer size of the text as well as the wide range of the subject matter covered in them.

Modern scholarship has generally held that Manusmṛti, like many other Hindu texts like Mahābhārata, was composed gradually over a long period of time. The predominant view is that such a composition was accomplished by collating and patching together various proverbial verses, moral sayings, and legal adages that were floating in the society over many centuries by anonymous authors, compilers, and copyists (Olivelle, 2005).

Hopkins (1885, p. 268), for example, expressed such a view way back in his 1885 publication:

“I draw the conclusion that the Çâstram [Manusmṛti] was in great part collated between the time when the bulk of the epic [Mahābhārata] was composed and its final completion, that previous to its collation there had existed a vast number of sententious remarks, proverbial wisdom, rules of morality, etc. which were ascribed, not to this treatise of Manu at all, but to the ancient hero Manu as a type of godly wisdom. These I conceive to have floated about in the mouths of the people, not brought together but all loosely quoted as laws or saying of Manu and these sayings were afterward welded into one with the laws of a particular text called the Manavas—a union natural enough, as the two bodies of law would then bear the same title, although the sect had no connection with Manu except in name. . . . According to my theory, these Manu-verses found in the Mânava treatise were simply caught up and drawn from the hearsay of the whole Brahman world, keeping their form after incorporation with the Manavas’ text (emphasis mine).”

Echoing a similar view almost a hundred years later in her Introduction to her 1991 translation of Manusmṛti, Wendy Doniger (1991) writes:

“The Laws of Manu encompasses contradictions that may indeed be ultimately ‘insoluble’, but not necessarily irreconcilable, nor are its attempts to reconcile them necessarily ‘frenzied’. Given the historical background, it is not surprising that Manu expresses a number of different views on many basic points. Different parts of the text were added at different periods (the portions dealing with legal cases are generally regarded as the latest) and, in the recension that we have, some topics are split up and treated in several different places, or in what seem to us to be the wrong places.”

She further calls the text a patchwork [2] woven using scraps inherited from ancient sources.

We can summarize the predominant view of modern scholarship on the composition of Manusmṛti thus:

  1. It was a gradual composition, which spread over many centuries. Different parts of the text being added at different times.
  2. It was a collation from various sources, predominantly drawn from hearsay, proverbial wisdom, and prevalent rules of morality, and involved the work of a large number of anonymous compilers, editors, and copyists.
  3. Different parts of the text have been designated excursions and later day interpolations.

There are many gaps in this predominant view of modern scholarship and how the Hindu tradition itself has received and understood the text. These gaps have largely arisen due to the side-lining of the evidence available within the Hindu tradition, be it in the commentary tradition, or in the form of textual evidence found in other Hindu texts.

This paper intends to address the problematic areas in the above-delineated conclusions of modern scholarship from an emic perspective.

It will further contend that the extant text of Manusmṛti is a carefully created text having unitary authorship but with a long history of knowledge transmission of the subject-matter through successive abridgment in different schools of transmission prior to its composition in the current form.

In the first section, I carefully examine the evidence available within the extant text of Manusmṛti regarding its origination and composition. In sections two and three, an examination of the evidence available in the larger Hindu textual tradition regarding the transmission of the śāstra attributed to Manu would be taken up.

In section four, the general mechanism adopted across different branches of Hindu knowledge tradition would be examined through a comparative study of transmission in the knowledge traditions of Kāmaśāstra, Vedānta, and Manusmṛti.

In section five, the question of authorship of Manusmṛti attributed to Manu will be explored. In section six, the narrative structure and the underlying deeper architecture of the text will be examined to establish Manusmṛti as a carefully constructed unitary text.

1. Origination and Composition of Manusmṛti: Evidence from within the text

In the extant text of Manusmṛti we find an account about its origination and its composition in the very first chapter which speaks about cosmogony. After giving an account about the universe – its creation as well as its dissolution, the text notes in verse 1.58 [3] that, “After composing this treatise [śāstra], he [Brahmā] himself, in the beginning, imparted it according to rule to me [Manu] alone; and I, in turn, to Marīci and the other sages [4] (Olivelle, 2005).”

The list of sages to whom Manu taught the śāstra is available in verse 1.35 [5]: Marīci, Atri, Añgiras, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Pracetas, Vasistha, Bhrgu, and Nārada. Then, in verse 1.59 [6], addressing a different group of sages who had approached Manu for instruction on the dharma of all varṇa-s and mixed varna-s at the beginning of the extant text, Manu says: “Bhrgu here will relate that treatise to you completely, for this sage has learnt the whole treatise in its entirety from me (Olivelle, 2005).”

A question which naturally arises at this stage and which has been satisfactorily dealt by the commentary tradition is this: If Lord Brahmā is the composer of Manusmṛti, why is it attributed to Manu? Why is it even called Manusmṛti?

Anticipating this question, Medhātithi, who probably lived in 9th or early 10th century CE, in his commentary on verse 1.58 [7] of the extant text, gives two possible resolutions of this. One, that the term śāstra which is said to be composed by Lord Brahmā does not refer to any particular text or treatise, but to the entirety of the subject of injunctions and prohibitions that are the subject-matter of the smṛti-s (Jha, 1920).

That is, it refers to the entirety of subject-matter of dharmaśāstra and not to a specific text. Second, that just as the Veda despite being eternal and apauruṣeya, its sections are referred by the names of ṛṣi-s like Katha; so also this śāstra can be referred as Manusmṛti, though it originated from Brahmā (Jha, 1920).

In other words, the attribution of the text to Brahmā is merely in the sense of origination of the entirety of the subject-matter of dharmaśāstra and not in the sense of composition of a particular text [8].

Brahmā is the apauruṣeya originator of all knowledge including the knowledge about dharma, while Manu is considered as the pauruṣeya composer or author of the particular śāstra attributed to Manu. Further, the account makes it clear that though Manu had originally taught the śāstra to not just Bhrgu, but to nine other sages as well, the extant text that is available to us has come down to us in the recension of or in the line of transmission from Bhrgu.

It may be prudent to note here that the Manu to whom the extant text attributes its authorship to is Svāyambhuva-Manu and not the other well-known Manu-s.

We will take up the question of pauruṣeya authorship attributed to Manu and what it implies at a later stage.

2.  Different recensions of Manusmṛti: Evidence from Mahābhārata and Purāṇa

From Mahābhārata and different purāṇa-s, we come to know that the śāstra on dharma has been transmitted over the ages through different schools of transmission.

In Mahābhārata Śānti parva, chapter 59, for example, it is revealed that the original work of Brahmā on dharma, artha and kāma consisted of one hundred thousand chapters. This was then subsequently abridged into 10,000, 5,000, 3,000 and 1,000 chapters respectively by Śiva, Indra, Bṛhaspati, and Kavi Usanas (Ganguli, 1883-1896).

Again in chapter 336 of the same Śānti parva, it is narrated how Svāyambhuva-Manu along with seven other sages (Marīci, Atri, Añgiras, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu and Vasistha) composed a grand treatise promulgating the dharma-s in one hundred thousand verses with the guidance of the supreme-being Nārāyaṇa himself, and how at a latter period, Usanas and Brhaspati composed their own works on the subject based on this treatise of Svāyambhuva-Manu (Ganguli, 1883-1896).

Since, both the accounts mention Usanas and Brhaspati, most likely they refer to a particular school of transmission, which starts with the supreme-being conceived either as Brahmā or as Nārāyaṇa and Svāyambhuva-Manu and was then transmitted through successive abridgements of the śāstra by Śiva, Indra, Bṛhaspati and Usanas.

The latter account which mentions Usanas and Brhaspati as composing their own treatises with the guidance of and by quoting from the treatise of Svāyambhuva-Manu may point towards abridgement being not just an act of cherry-picking of select verses from the previous larger work, but instead as a new creation, which is new in its form and presentation and presents the sum-total of the subject-matter of the larger work in a nutshell.

In the purāṇa-s also, we find evidence for the presence of different schools of transmission of the śāstra of Svāyambhuva-Manu. In a verse [9] attributed to Bhaviṣya-purāṇa by Hemādri Paṇḍit (belonging to 13th century CE) in his magnum opus Chaturvarga Chintāmaṇi as well as in other well-known works on dharma like Saṃskāra Mayūkha (Kane, 1930, p. 138) and the same verse attributed to Skanda-purāṇa by Rao Saheb V. N. Mandlik (1880, p. xlvii), it is mentioned that there are four acknowledged versions [10] of Svāyambhuva śāstra composed by Bhṛgu, Nārada, Bṛhaspati and Añgiras.

Further, the fact that the extant text of Manusmṛti mentions Manu as teaching the śāstra to ten sages clearly points towards the presence of multiple recensions and schools of transmission of the śāstra even if we sideline the narrative aspect of the account as being allegorical.

Thus, the Hindu tradition has retained a memory of the presence of different recensions and lines of transmission of the śāstra of Svāyambhuva-Manu, among which, the four mentioned in the purāṇa-s appear to be prominent ones. Among them, the extant text of Manusmṛti in all likelihood belonged to the recension of Bhṛgu [11].

This conclusion is not only evident from within the extant text itself but also from the colophons of the available manuscripts of the text. We already saw how in verse 1.59, Manu says that the rest of the treatise would be narrated by Bhṛgu who has learned the śāstra in its entirety from Manu himself.

Again in verse 1.119, addressing the sages who had approached for instruction, Bhṛgu says: “Just as, upon my request, Manu formerly taught me this treatise, so you too must learn it from me today (Olivelle, 2005).” Moreover, the colophons of the available manuscripts of the extant Manusmṛti designates the text as Mānava Dharmaśāstra in the recension of Bhṛgu [12] (Jolly, 1889, p. xii).

3. Transmission of the Bhṛgu recension of Manusmṛti: Evidence from Nāradasmṛti

The opening preface of the Nāradasmṛti has an interesting account of the transmission of the śāstra of Svāyambhuva-Manu. It says in verse 2-5 [13]:

“Holy Manu, after having thus (composed) that (book) in a hundred thousand slokas, and in one thousand and eighty chapters, delivered it to the divine sage Nārada. He having learnt it from him, reflecting that a work of this kind could not be remembered easily by mortals on account of its size, abridged it in twelve thousand (slokas) and delivered it to the great sage Mārkaṇḍeya. He, having learnt it from him, and reflecting on the (limited duration and) capacity of human life, reduced it to eight thousand (slokas), and delivered this (abridgement) to Sumati, the son of Bhrigu. Sumati, the son of Bhrigu, after having learnt (this book) from him and considered what human capacity had been brought down to through the (successive) lessening of life (in the four ages of the world), reduced it to four thousand (slokas). It is this (abridgment) which Manes and mortals read, whilst the gods, Gandharvas, and other (exalted beings) read in extenso the (original) code, consisting of one hundred thousand (slokas) [14] (Jolly, 1889, pp. 2-3).”

It must be pointed here that what Jolly translates as “son of Bhṛgu” is the term “Bhārgava”, which simply means a descendant of Bhṛgu. That is, Sumati Bhārgava more likely was a descendant in the lineage of Bhṛgu rather than a biological son.

In any case, what Nāradasmṛti narrates is the account of the transmission of the śāstra of Svāyambhuva-Manu through successive abridgment by Nārada (12,000 verses), Mārkaṇḍeya (8,000 verses) and Sumati Bhārgava (4,000 verses) until it was reduced from a large corpus containing a hundred thousand verses to a short manual containing only four thousand verses.

Though Nārada is mentioned as one of the sages doing the abridgement, the account of transmission mentioned in the text does not refer to the line of transmission of the Nārada recession.

This is because, Nāradasmṛti itself notes in verse 6 of the opening preface that his text is an exposition on the ninth chapter of the śāstra of Svāyambhuva-Manu and thus, clearly points out the departure of the Nārada recension from the mainstream recension of transmission of the śāstra of Svāyambhuva-Manu.

I argue that this mainstream recension whose account of transmission through successive abridgement is mentioned by Nāradasmṛti is actually the Bhṛgu recension, whose final version is the extant text of Manusmṛti.

But, there are two issues with this hypothesis, which needs to be addressed. One, the account of transmission mentioned in Nāradasmṛti does not mention Bhṛgu. Two, while Sumati Bhārgava abridged the śāstra to contain 4,000 verses, the extant text of Manusmṛti contains only 2684 [15] verses.

Regarding the first, while Nāradasmṛti’s account of transmission does not mention Bhṛgu himself, it mentions Sumati Bhārgava, a descendant in the Bhṛgu lineage, thus indicating that the school of transmission referred to in the Nāradasmṛti is indeed the Bhṛgu recension of the extant text of Manusmṛti. Further, Nāradasmṛti notes that the original śāstra of Svāyambhuva-Manu contained twenty-four sections and gives a list of these sections, which clearly corresponds to the topics dealt in the extant text of Manusmṛti [16] (Jolly, 1889).

Then, in verse 5 [17] of the opening preface, Nāradasmṛti mentions that the opening verse in this śāstra of Svāyambhuva-Manu as transmitted through the successive abridgement by Nārada, Mārkaṇḍeya and Sumati Bhārgava reads thus: “This universe was wrapped up in darkness, and nothing could be discerned. Then the holy, self-existent Spirit issued forth with his four faces (Jolly, 1889).”

This clearly corresponds to verse 5-6 [18] of the first chapter of the extant Manusmṛti, with the first four verses providing narrative plot and the actual discourse beginning with verse 5. Also, as Jolly (1889, p. xiv) notes, the forensic law, which according to Nāradasmṛti, formed the ninth chapter of the original śāstra of Svāyambhuva-Manu corresponds to the discussion on law and judicature in the eighth and ninth chapter of the extant text of Manusmṛti.

Thus, we can clearly see that the account of transmission through successive abridgement mentioned in the preface of Nāradasmṛti is actually an account of the transmission of the Bhṛgu recension of the extant text of Manusmṛti.

The omission of Bhṛgu in the transmission account given by Nārada was perhaps due to the fact that the account only mentioned the names of sages who carried out the abridgement of the text in the Bhṛgu recension and not the entirety of paramparā [19] and all the sages, teachers, and others who were part of the process of transmission.

Regarding the second, i.e. the mismatch between the number of verses in the extant text of Manusmṛti and the abridgement of Sumati Bhārgava, scholars have expressed a variety of opinions. While Jolly (1889, p. xiv) has called the number 4000 attributed to Sumati Bhārgava as a “rough statement of the actual extent of the Manusmṛti”, Kane (1930, p. 156) opines: “When Nārada mentions the tradition that Sumati Bhārgava compressed the vast work of Manu into 4000 verses, he is somewhat obscurely hinting at the truth. The extant Manusmṛti contains only about 2700 verses. Nārada probably arrived at the larger figure by including, the verses attributed to Vṛddha-Manu and Bṛhan-Manu.”

But, both these opinions are expressed with an assumption that the account of transmission narrated in the Nāradasmṛti is merely allegorical and is at best a “rough statement” or “obscurely hinting” at some truth. On the other hand, we have argued in this paper for taking the native accounts of knowledge transmission as well as the memory of such transmissions available within the tradition more seriously.

Proceeding along this line of approach, if we take the abridgement of 4000 verses done by Sumati Bhārgava as a statement of fact and not merely an approximation, then there are only two ways we can account for the presence of only 2684 verses in the extant text. One, to admit that there was a further abridgement of the Manusmṛti, which was not recorded in the extant text of Nāradasmṛti.

Two, to admit that the extant text is the same as the text abridged by Sumati Bhārgava, but has lost around 1300 verses during transmission over centuries. The former seems less likely, since, the extant text of Nāradasmṛti is clearly posterior to the extant text of Manusmṛti, for otherwise, it could not have included an account about the transmission of knowledge in the mainstream Bhṛgu recension. Moreover, scholars like Jolly (1889) have established through a comparison of both the texts that Nāradasmṛti is posterior to Manusmṛti [20].

This leaves us with the latter possibility that the extant text is indeed the text abridged by Sumati Bhārgava, which has lost around 1300 verses during its transmission before it was, in its current form, preserved by the commentary tradition [21].

As Olivelle (2005, p. 367) notes “Many of these authors (i.e. commentators) are older, some by several centuries, than the oldest manuscripts we possess.”

4. General Transmission of Indic Knowledge: Evidence from Kāmaśāstra and Vedānta

To better understand and appreciate the transmission of śāstra of Svāyambhuva-Manu through different recensions and successive abridgement, let us briefly study how knowledge transmission, in general, is carried out in Indic tradition. For this purpose, let us look into the transmission of knowledge in two subject-areas: Kāmaśāstra and Vedānta.

In Vātsyāyana’s Kāmasūtra, we find an account of the origination and transmission of Kāmaśāstra. It says that Prajāpati, the lord of all creatures, after creating mankind, composed a treatise in a hundred thousand chapters for imparting instruction about dharma, artha and kāma (verse 1.1.5) [22].

While Manu expounded upon the dharma portion and Brhaspati enunciated upon the artha portion, Nandi- the companion of Mahādeva- composed a treatise with a thousand chapters on kāma (verse 1.1.6-8) [23].

Later, Śvetaketu, the son of Uddalaka, abridged this text into 500 chapters (verse 1.1.9) [24]. This was further abridged into 150 chapters by Bābhravyaḥ [25] of Pañcāla region who arranged it into under seven heads (verse 1.1.10) [26]: Sādhāraṇa (General Remarks), Sāṃprayogika (Amorous Advances), Kanyā-saṃprayuktaka (On choosing of a Wife), Bhāryādhikārika (On a Wife’s Duties and Rights), Pāradārika (Relationship with Wives of other people), Vaiśika (On Courtesans), Aupaniṣadikaiḥ (On the Arts of seduction, tonic medicines, and occult practices).

Each of these seven themes was later individually taken up and elaborately dealt with by Cārāyaṇaḥ, Suvarṇanābhaḥ, Ghoṭakamukhaḥ, Gonardīya, Goṇikāputraḥ, Dattakaḥ, and Kucumāra, respectively (verse 1.1.11-12) [27].

Then, with passing time, Vātsyāyana’s Kāmasūtra notes that owing to the creation of separate works on individual themes, these works were on the verge of being lost, and they had also lost the larger vision of the overall concept (verse 1.1.13-14) [28].

Further, Bābhravyaḥ’s comprehensive treatment of the subject had become inaccessible owing to the difficulties in its study arising due to its length (verse 1.1.14). To address these issues, Kāmasūtra notes that Vātsyāyana decided to abridge the work of Bābhravyaḥ (and others) into a short easily accessible volume in the form of Kāmasūtra (verse 1.1.14).

This account is very instructive by its parallel to the transmission through successive abridgement of the Dharmaśāstra of Svāyambhuva-Manu and the eventual composition of the extant text of Manusmṛti.

Vātsyāyana’s Kāmasūtra by its own account of its origination and composition is not an independent text standing in isolation. It is in fact a result of a long tradition of transmission of Kāmaśāstra through successive abridgement and expansion.

From Nandi till Bābhravyaḥ, the Kāmaśāstra underwent successive abridgements. Then, through authors like Cārāyaṇaḥ and others, the said śāstra underwent expansion. Finally, as Vātsyāyana himself admits since the expansion had become too bulky and hence difficult to read, he created a new abridged text in the form of Kāmasūtra.

Post- Vātsyāyana, there was another phase of expansion of the Kāmaśāstra, not only in the form of Yashodhara’s commentary Jayamangalā, but also through the creation of new independent works like Dattakasūtra of King Mādhava II, Ratirahasya of Kokkoka, Ratiratnapradīpikā of King Devarājā and many others, all of which brought new insights into the knowledge field of Kāma, but at the same time stood firmly on the shoulders of the previous tradition.

Works like Ratiratnapradīpikā of King Devarājā can in fact be considered as a summarized presentation of a few key aspects of the entire Kāmaśāstra tradition. Each text created in such a transmission of Kāmaśāstra, be it in the abridgement phase or in the expansion phase, is a new text, but the śāstra it expounds has been transmitted and received through a long lineage of transmission over a very long period.

In other words, each person, be it an author of independent work, or a commentator, or a person carrying out abridgement, all of them built upon received tradition, but more importantly also brought in their own new insights, latest findings, and new aspects of knowledge into the field. It is through such a complicated process of transmission that the śāstra tradition continues to remain ever flourishing and relevant to its immediate present.

This becomes even more evident in the transmission of Vedānta-śāstra. The Upaniṣad-s, which are the source texts of pramāņa are very extensive and difficult to understand for the untrained. Bādarāyaṇa Vyāsa composed Brahma-sūtra by condensing the teachings of the Upaniṣad-s into a concise format of sutra-s.

Then, Ādi Śaṅkarācārya wrote his celebrated bhāṣya on the Brahma-sūtra, thus elaborately treating the subject matter. On this bhāṣya, Vācaspati Miśra wrote his monumental sub-commentary Bhāmatī thereby further expanding upon the subject.

Bhāmatī itself has a commentary titled Vedānta-Kalpataru by Amalānanda, which in-turn has another commentary by Appayya Dīkṣita called Kalpataruparimala. There have been many other independent works like Sarvavedānta-Siddhānta-Sārasangraha of Ādi Śaṅkarācārya, Vedānta-Sārasangraha of Anantendra Yatī, and Vedānta-Saṃgraha by Rāmarāya Kavi, which have presented in the entirety of Vedānta-śāstra in a very concise format. Thus, we can see both condensation and expansion phases in the transmission of Vedānta-śāstra as well.

It is important to note here that this condensation and expansion could either refer to condensation of a treatise in the form of abridgement and expansion of a treatise in the form of commentary and sub-commentaries, or it could refer to condensation of the general subject matter in the form of summarization of the salient features of a particular knowledge-field and expansion in the form of newer independent works detailing particular aspects of the knowledge field [29].

Further, while we can notice a definite trend of condensation and expansion phases following each other successively resembling an hourglass, it may not always be the case. They can easily be happening in parallel as well [30].

All these various trends are intimately linked together making the Indic system of transmission complex, but very comprehensive.

In Figure 1 below, we have given a simplified representation of the transmission of knowledge in Kāmaśāstra, Vedānta-śāstra and Svāyambhuva-Manu’s Dharmaśāstra tradition. We can see how in each of these knowledge fields, we notice successive phases of condensation and expansion, thus forming an hourglass pattern with the extant texts available to us, be it Vātsyāyana’s Kāmasūtra, Brahma-sūtra or the extant text of Manusmṛti, forming the central narrow-neck.

Just as in the case of transmission of Kāmaśāstra of Nandi where Vātsyāyana’s Kāmasūtra is the oldest available text, so also in the transmission of the Dharmaśāstra Svāyambhuva-Manu in the Bhṛgu recension, the oldest available text is the extant text of Manusmṛti.

Further, we can easily make out the complexity of the transmission process and how the condensation-expansion process is employed for the transmission of both subject-matters of a śāstra as well as a particular text or its recension.

Also, except for the Vedānta tradition, wherein the Upaniṣad-s are still easily accessible; neither in the Kāmaśāstra tradition nor in the case of Dharmaśāstra Svāyambhuva-Manu, older works i.e. works which fall in the upper portion of the hourglass pattern are available.

Further, both commentaries on authoritative works as well as newer independent works have performed the role of the expansion of a particular śāstra –with respect to both subject-matter and a particular text. In many a sense, newer independent works building upon the subject-matter of a particular śāstra can be considered commentaries in the sense that they explore and expand the existing subject-matter [31].

Figure 1: Transmission of Knowledge in Indic Tradition

Figure 1: Transmission of Knowledge in Indic Tradition

From the above discussion, it is clear that condensation, abridgement, and expansion are common tools employed in Indic tradition to transmit knowledge in various fields. The wide prevalence of these tools across different knowledge-fields implies that the absence of accessibility to texts and abridgements older than the extant texts does not prove their non-existence.

On the other hand, the retained memory of the long-line of the tradition of transmission combined with the utilization of similar tools of expansion and condensation in the present provides a strong indication of the truthfulness of memory preserved in native tradition.

Therefore, it is imperative that we approach the native accounts of the transmission of the śāstra of Svāyambhuva-Manu through successive abridgement as a factual account and not dismiss it as being fanciful. From this it follows that:

a. The extant text of Manusmṛti is not a patchwork created from floating verses, hearsay, proverbial wisdom and prevalent rules of morality as speculated by Bühler, Hopkins and others.

b. The extant text of Manusmṛti is not a gradual composition spread over many centuries with different parts added at different historical times.

c. The extant text is instead a product of a long line of transmission of knowledge. While the text itself is a fresh creation, its subject-matter is an abridgement of the entirety of knowledge transmitted in that particular school of transmission.

d. The extant text is the final abridged text in the Bhṛgu recension of transmission of the śāstra of Svāyambhuva-Manu and is probably same as the text abridged by Sumati Bhārgava.

5. Authorship and Authorial Voice: Manusmṛti as a text of Unitary Authorship

The question of authorship is one of central bearing for understanding the composition of Manusmṛti.

In the preceding sections, based on the available textual evidence, we established how the extant text of Manusmṛti is a text composed as an abridgement of the śāstra of Svāyambhuva-Manu transmitted in the recension of Bhṛgu through a process of successive abridgements over a very long period of time.

We also explored the identification of the anonymous author-narrator, who does not directly appear in the extant text and noted how it is very likely that this anonymous author is none other than Sumati Bhārgava mentioned in the Nāradasmṛti.

Thus, if the extant text of Manusmṛti has not been produced in layers at different periods of time as alleged by many Indologists and is instead a text of unitary authorship as upheld by Indic tradition, how then should we understand the pauruṣeya authorship attributed to Svāyambhuva-Manu and by extension to Bhṛgu?

While the Indic tradition answers this question by considering Svāyambhuva-Manu and Bhṛgu as ṛṣi-s or divine seers who were manifested by Brahmā and Svāyambhuva-Manu respectively [32] and who in reality were the composers and early teachers of this śāstra; the modern scholarship has rejected this pauruṣeya authorship attributed to Svāyambhuva-Manu and Bhṛgu as merely an apologetic endeavour to portray the extant text as authoritative by attributing it a divine origin [33].

Since there is no way of verifying independently the truth or falsity of these accounts in a historical sense, we must consider these accounts as “apodictic truth” i.e. “it is so because it is said that it is so [34]” as suggested by Mircea Eliade (1959, p. 95) in his phenomenal work, The Sacred and The Profane.

Since the attribution of pauruṣeya authorship primarily to Svāyambhuva-Manu and by extension to Bhṛgu is an apodictic truth, a question that arises is whether there is a meaningful alternative approach for understanding the issue of authorship, without having to indulge in either asserting or denying the existence of either Svāyambhuva-Manu or Bhṛgu.

Fortunately for us, we do have such a framework, which has been extensively used by scholars like Alf Hiltebeitel for understanding the authorship of Mahābhārata attributed to Sage Vyāsa.

Distinguishing the real authors or composers of Mahābhārata from Sage Vyāsa, who is posited as performing the author function within the text, Alf Hiltebeitel writes:

“Vyāsa gives presence to authorial claims, processes, and literary experiments in the text. So does Vālmīki…The Mahābhārata poets have provided us not only with a fictional omniscient author, but two ‘unreliable narrators’ (Booth 1983: 158–159, 271–274, 295–296) as its main oral performers, two narrators (Saṃjaya and Bhīsma) given the ‘divine eye’ to ̣handle two immense stretches of text, and various other authoritative sources, mainly Ṛsis (Adluri, 2011, pp. 22-23).”

He further notes at another place: “the ‘bard’ and all the others who figure in the epic’s three frames are fictions of the text: fictions, let me propose, of real Brahman authors who must have enjoyed creating them in some complex image of themselves (Hiltebeitel, 2001, p. 101).”

That is, according to Hiltebeitel, Vyāsa is a “narrative fiction [35]” in whom the “composing committee (of Mahābhārata) cloaked its ultimate authorial voice [36]”.

For him, the references to Vyāsa as the author as well as the allusions to the orality of the text mentioned within the text, are both “literary tropes” used for conveying teachings about dharma [37]. Further, he posits Śuka, the enlightened son of Vyāsa as an “evocative representation [38]” of Mahābhārata itself.

Whether one agrees with Hiltebeitel’s characterization of Vyāsa as fiction or not, the framework used by him for understanding authorship and authorial voice is quite ingenious and resourceful for approaching the question of pauruṣeya authorship of Indic texts, including the Manusmṛti.

After all, as Hiltebeitel notes, the emergence of author function-s with the “individualization of the authors-—divine, fictional, or otherwise—first takes on literary proportions in the early post- and para-Vedic smṛti texts… (Adluri, 2011, pp. 21-22).”

Applying this framework to Manusmṛti, we can distinguish between the actual author of the extant text, which we have identified with Sumati Bhārgava, and the author function performed by Svāyambhuva-Manu and Bhṛgu to whom the text’s authorship is attributed.

While at one level Svāyambhuva-Manu and Bhṛgu represent the authorial voice of the actual author of the extant text; at another level, the very choice of Svāyambhuva-Manu and Bhṛgu to represent the authorial intention and perform the author function can be understood as a result of the preserved memory about the origins of the śāstra.

Considering the extensive evidence about the memory of the transmission of the śāstra of Svāyambhuva-Manu through different recensions available in the smṛti-s and purāṇa-s that we examined before, it cannot be merely an accident or a coincidence that the author of the extant text chose Svāyambhuva-Manu and Bhṛgu as the authorial voice of the text and not any other deities, sages, or other divine or human beings mentioned in various Vedic texts, nor simply made-up his own fictional character as attributed author.

Further, within the extant text, the dynamics shown between Svāyambhuva-Manu and Bhṛgu is that of guru and śiṣya and the entire narrative structure in the first chapter has been created to stress upon the fact that the subject-matter enumerated in the extant text has been received through a long-line of transmission in the guru-śiṣya relationship.

Thus, the pauruṣeya authorship attributed to Svāyambhuva-Manu and to Bhṛgu can be understood as an evidence for preserved memory about the origination and the transmission of the śāstra, which imparts unitary authorship to the extant text at two levels:

a. At the level of composition of the extant text, wherein the author by employing Svāyambhuva-Manu and to Bhṛgu for performing author-function has demonstrated how the text is a careful construction and a work of single authorship, or at best a work undertaken by a committee within a short span of time.

b. At the level of śāstra being represented in the extant text, wherein the choice of authorial voices of Svāyambhuva-Manu and Bhṛgu represents the fact that the śāstra has been carefully preserved and transmitted through guru-śiṣya paramparā over a long period of time before its current composition in its abridged version. That is, the extant text has been abridged from a carefully preserved śāstra with its subject-matter having a unitary authorial voice, and not a patchwork compilation of floating verses.

Even if one were to ignore the available evidence regarding the origination and transmission of the śāstra of Svāyambhuva-Manu through successive abridgement and in multiple recensions; even then, one would have to accept the first of the two implications mentioned above that by using the literary trope of introducing Svāyambhuva-Manu and Bhṛgu for performing author-functions, the extant text shows that it is a product of unitary authorship, a text which has been carefully created for instructing its readers on dharma.

6. Manusmṛti as a Carefully Constructed text: Evidence from the Text’s Architecture

The evidence for the extant text of Manusmṛti being a carefully constructed text is available within the architecture of the text itself.

To begin with, the extant text of Manusmṛti, much like the Upaniṣad-s, and unlike the older dharmasūtra-s [39], embeds a narrative structure in the form of a dialogue between the four sages who approach for instructions and Svāyambhuva-Manu and Bhṛgu, who impart the teachings.

It opens with this dialogue, and till the very end, the text maintains this narrative structure, with the sages reappearing twice, once with a sub-question as in verse 5.1-2 [40] and then with a follow-up question as in verse 12.1 [41], and Bhṛgu’s authorial voice answering these questions.

The authorial voice of Svāyambhuva-Manu is also brought forward again and again in the text through phrases like manurabravīt [42], abravīn-manuḥ [43], manuḥ-svāyambhuvo’bravīt [44], manoranuśāsanam [45], or avatīrmanuḥ [46].

Olivelle (2005), in fact, considers the introduction of the narrative structure and the usage of śloka-s instead of prose as the two innovations of the extant text of Manusmṛti.

Apart from the inclusion of a narrative structure, the text’s architecture also incorporates transitional verses that helps the reader to make a smooth transition from one subject to another. These transitional verses are central to the very architecture of the text as they not only demarcate one theme from the other but also help us to make sense of the larger picture. Olivelle (2005) believes that these transitional verses are original and integral to the text as against the division into 12 chapters which he considers later impositions. He further notes:

“Such a technique is unique to Manu; it is not used in the Dharmasūtras and sparingly, if at all, in the later Dharmasāstras. Note also the use of the verb nibodhata in most transitional verses; this manner of expression becomes a signature of Manu. This device was, I believe, an innovation conceived by Manu and provides an insight into the plan he had for his book. By following the trail of these transitional verses, we can uncover the overall plan and structure of the MDh [Manu-Dharmasāstra] (Olivelle, 2005, p. 8).”

Using these transitional verses Olivelle (2005) recognises four major themes dealt in Manusmṛti: Cosmogony, sources of dharma, the duties of the four varṇa-s, and the concept of karma, rebirth and liberation.

Arguing that such a comprehensive architecture of the text points to its unitary authorship either by a “single gifted individual” or by a committee with a strong chairman, Olivelle (2005, p. 7) writes: “A deep structure that runs through the entire book…could not have simply happened over time as the text was being put together by different individuals separated by centuries.”

Moreover, there is a deeper mimetic architecture that runs through the extant text of Manusmṛti that imitates the cosmic cycles of sṛṣṭi and lay [47]. For example, Manu’s discourse on dharma begins with an account of sṛṣṭi at verse 1.5 and ends with an account of laya at verse 1.57. Similarly, Bhṛgu’s discourse begins and ends with an account of sṛṣṭi and laya at 1.61-62 and 12.125, respectively.

These features–the inclusion of a narrative structure with Svāyambhuva-Manu and Bhṛgu performing author function, the employment of transitional verses to demarcate different themes and the embedding of a deeper mimetic architecture—clearly show that the extant text of Manusmṛti is a carefully conceived and constructed text.

7. Conclusion

This paper makes important contributions to the study of dharmasāstra-s in general, and to Manusmṛti in particular from an emic perspective. Given the colonial history of India, much of the modern scholarship on Manusmṛti has approached the text from an etic perspective leading to side-lining of evidences existing within the Hindu textual tradition.

This paper argues for a more wholesome approach to Manusmṛti that is not only sympathetic to Hindu knowledge tradition but also integrates the evidences regarding the origination, composition and transmission of the sāstra of Manu available across different Hindu textual sources.

A significant contribution of this paper is its demonstration of the extant text of Manusmṛti as a carefully constructed text having unitary authorship through its examination of the composition, transmission, authorship, and the narrative architecture of the extant text.

It shows that the extant text is not a patchwork created out of floating verses extracted from different sources, but instead is a text of unitary authorship and a product of a long line of transmission of the sāstra in the guru-śiṣya paramparā through successive abridgements and through multiple recensions.

Further, it has been demonstrated that the attribution of authorship of the text to Svāyambhuva-Manu and Bhṛgu is neither accidental, nor done with an intention to give a divine status to the text, but instead, its inclusion in the narrative structure of the text is intentional and serves the purpose of recording the provenance, history, and transmission of the said sāstra.


  1. Doniger, Wendy. 1991. The Laws of Manu. Penguin Books.
  2. “The repeated themes and lists are inherited pieces of the bricolage of ancient Indian culture, scraps that can be woven into a patchwork, but that patchwork is, in the end, a whole blanket, a security blanket for the civilization (Doniger, 1991).”
  3. इदं शास्त्रं तु कृत्वासौ मामेव स्वयमादितः ।
    विधिवद् ग्राहयामास मरीच्यादींस्त्वहं मुनीन् ॥
  4. All translations of Manusmṛti are taken from Patrick Olivelle’s translation of Critical Edition.
  5. मरीचिमत्र्यङ्गिरसौ पुलस्त्यं पुलहं क्रतुम् ।
    प्रचेतसं वसिष्ठं च भृगुं नारदमेव च ॥
  6. एतद् वोऽयं भृगुः शास्त्रं श्रावयिष्यत्यशेषतः ।
    एतद्धि मत्तोऽधिजगे सर्वमेषोऽखिलं मुनिः ॥
  7. Medhätithi on Manusmṛti 1.58: इह शास्त्रशब्देन स्मार्तोविधिप्रतिषेधसमूहउच्यते नतु ग्रन्थस्तस्य मनुना कृतत्वात् । तथा हि मानवइति व्यपदेशोऽस्येतरथा हि हैरण्यगर्भइति व्यपदिश्येत । केचित्तु हिरण्यगर्भेनापि कृते ग्रन्थे मनुना बहूनां प्रकाशितत्वात्तेन व्यपदेशोयुज्यतएव यथा हिमवति प्रथममुपलभ्यमाना गङ्गाऽन्यतोप्युत्पन्ना हैमवतीति व्यपदिश्यते यथा च नित्यदर्शनात्काठकंप्रवचनंकठेन व्यपदिश्यते । सत्स्वप्यन्येष्वध्येतृष्वध्यापयितृषु च प्रवचनप्रकर्षात्कठेनव्यपदेशः । (Mandlik V. N., 1886)
  8. A good illustration of this interplay between apauruṣeya origination and the pauruṣeya composition of a text is present in Mahābhārata Śānti parva, chapter 336, which notes about the composition of a treatise of dharma thus: “The seven celebrated Rishis, viz., Marichi, Atri, Angiras, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, and Vasishta of great energy, who came to be known by the name of Chitra-sikhandins, uniting together on the breast of that foremost of mountains, viz., Meru, promulgated an excellent treatise on duties and observances that was consistent with the four Vedas. The contents of that treatise were uttered by seven mouths, and constituted the best compendium of human duties and observances. Known, as already stated, by the name of Chitra-sikhandins, those seven Rishis constitute the seven (Pravriti) elements (of Mahat, Ahankara, etc.) and the Selfborn Manu, who is the eighth in the enumeration, constituted original Prakriti. These eight uphold the universe, and it was these eight that promulgated the treatise adverted to…. They composed that treatise after having worshipped with penances the puissant and illustrious Narayana called also Hari, for a thousand celestial years, in company with many other Rishis. Gratified with their penances and worship, Narayana commanded the goddess of speech, viz. Saraswati, to enter into the person of those Rishis. The goddess, for the good of the worlds did what she was ordered. In consequence of the entrance of the goddess of speech into their persons, those Rishis, well conversant with penances, succeeded in composing that foremost of treatises in respect of vocables, import, and reason (Ganguli, 1883-1896).”
  9. भार्गवी नारदीया च बार्हस्पत्याङ्गिरस्यापि। स्वायम्भुवस्य शास्त्रस्य चतस्त्रः संहिता मताः ।।
  10. In his introduction to Bṛhaspati smṛti, Jolly notes the intimate connection between the extant texts of Bṛhaspati smṛti and Manusmṛti. He says: “The connexion between the Manu and Brihaspati Smritis appears first from the way in which Brihaspati refers to, and quotes from, the Code of Manu…. Secondly, in a number of other instances, the Code of Manu, though not appealed to by name, is nevertheless distinctly referred to by Brihaspati…. Thirdly, Brihaspati, even when not expressly referring to Manu, presupposes throughout an acquaintance with his Code, and a very large portion of his Smriti is devoted to the interpretation of technical terms or to the elucidation or amplification of the somewhat laconic enunciations of Manu…. Fourthly, Brihaspati declares emphatically that any Smriti text opposed to the teaching of Manu has no validity (Jolly, 1889, pp. 270-274).” We can similarly see the intimate connection between Nāradasmṛti and Manusmṛti, with the former explicitly stating that it is an elaboration and enumeration of a particular section of the original śāstra of Svāyambhuva-Manu. Jolly, who recognized this intimate connection rightly notes: “Under these circumstances the tradition preserved in the Skanda-purāna that there are four versions of the Code of Manu, by Bhrigu, Nārada, Brihaspati, and Aṅgiras, acquires a peculiar significance (Jolly, 1889, p. 274).” It is clear that the presence of such intimate connection between these texts cannot have been coincidental. Therefore, we must take the purānic account seriously and consider it as narrating a factual account about the presence of different recensions of Manusmṛti.
  11. Even Jolly appears to have come to the similar conclusion. In his introduction to Bṛhaspati smṛti, he says: “Taking the version attributed to Bhrigu to be identical with the Code of Manu, the soi-disant composition of Bhrigu, it is impossible to doubt its connexion with the Nârada and Brihaspati Smritis (Jolly, 1889, p. 274).”
  12. मानवे धर्मशास्त्रे भृगुप्रोक्तायाम् सम्हितायाम् or मानवे धर्मशास्त्रे भृगुप्रोक्ते
  13. तदेतदत्र श्लोकशतसहस्त्रेण साशीतिनाध्यायसहस्रेण च भगवान्मनुरूपनिबध्य देवर्षये नारदाय प्रायच्छत् । स च तस्मादधीत्य महत्त्वान्नायं ग्रन्थः सुकरो मनुष्यैरेव धारयितुमिति द्वादशभिः सहस्त्रैः संचिक्षेप तं च महर्षये मार्कण्डेयाय प्रायच्छत् २
    स च तस्मादधीत्य तथैवायुःशक्तिमपेक्ष्य मनुष्याणामष्टभिः सहस्त्रैः संचिक्षेप तं च सुमतये भार्गवाय प्रायच्छत् ३
    सुमतिरपि भार्गवस्तस्मादधीत्य तथैवायुर्हासादल्पीयसी शक्तिर्मनुष्याणामिति चतुर्भिः सहस्त्रैः संचिक्षेप ४
    तदेतत्पितृमनुष्या ह्यधीयन्ते विस्तरेण शतसहस्रं देवगन्धर्वादयः ।।
  14. All translations of Nāradasmṛti are taken from Julius Jolly’s translation
  15. In the Critical Edition prepared by Patrick Olivelle, the total number of verses is 2680.
  16. Julius Jolly writes thus in his footnote to verse 1 of the preface of Nāradasmṛti: “The table of contents, which is here given for the original Code of Manu, corresponds in the main to the contents of the now extant version of that work. Thus the creation of the world is treated of, Manu I, 5-57; the various kinds of living beings, I, 34-50; the virtuous countries, II, 17-23; the constitution of a judicial assembly, XII, 108-114; the performance of offerings, III, 69-286; IV, 21-28, &c.; established usage (Âkâra), passim, all the multifarious rules of private morals and social economy falling under this head; forensic law, chapters VIII and IX; the extirpation of offenders, IX, 252-293; the mode of life of a king, chapter VII; the system of the four castes and four orders, I, 87-101; IX, 325-336, &c.; marriage laws, III, 1-62; the mutual relations between husband and wife, IX, 1-103; the order of succession, IX, 103-220; the performance of obsequies, III, 122-286; rules of purification, V, 57-146; rules of diet, V, 1-56; saleable commodities, and those which may not be sold, X, 85-94; the classification of offences, XI, 55-71; the twenty-one hells, IV, 88-90; penances, XI, 72- 266. The Upanishads are frequently referred to, e.g. II, 165; VI, 29. Secret or mysterious doctrines are e.g. those taught in the twelfth chapter of the Code of Manu. A somewhat analogous table of contents of the Code of Manu is given in that work itself, I, 111-118 (Jolly, 1889).”
  17. तत्रायमाद्यः श्लोकः आसीदिदं तमोभूतं न प्राज्ञायत किं च न ततः स्वयंभूर्भगवान् प्रादुरासीच्चतुर्मुखः ५
  18. आसीदिदं तमोभूतमप्रज्ञातमलक्षणम् ।
    अप्रतर्क्यमविज्ञेयं प्रसुप्तमिव सर्वतः ॥ ५ ॥
    ततः स्वयम्भूर्भगवानव्यक्तो व्यञ्जयन्निदम् ।
    महाभूतादि वृत्तोजाः प्रादुरासीत् तमोनुदः ॥ ६ ॥
  19. Paramparā denotes a succession of teachers and disciples. In Indic knowledge traditions, the transmission of knowledge is accomplished through such teacher-disciple paramparā-s
  20. Jolly writes thus in his introduction to Nāradasmṛti: “the now extant Code of Manu, is not posterior, but decidedly anterior, in date to the Nârada-smriti, as may be gathered easily from a comparison of both works. Thus e.g. Nârada mentions twenty-one modes of acquiring property, fifteen sorts of slaves, fourteen species of impotency, three kinds of women twice married, and four kinds of wanton women, twenty women whom a man must not approach, thirty-two divisions of the law of gift, eleven sorts of witnesses, five or seven ordeals, four or five losers of their suit, two kinds of proof and two kinds of documents, seven advantages resulting from a just decision, eight members of a lawsuit, one hundred and thirty-two divisions of the eighteen principal titles of law. The first germs of some of these theories may be traced to the Code of Manu, and it is interesting to note how these germs have been developed by Nârada. As a rule, his judicial theories show an infinitely advanced stage of development as compared to Manu’s, and his treatment of the law of procedure, in particular, abounding as it does in technical terms and nice distinctions, and exhibiting a decided preference for documentary evidence and written records over oral testimony and verbal procedure, exhibits manifest signs of recent composition (Jolly, 1889, p. xiii).”
  21. Noting the role of traditional commentaries in fixing the text in its transmission, Olivelle (2005, p. 51) notes: “I agree with Lariviere’s (1989, xii) hypothesis that the Dharmasāstras continued to expand with the addition of new materials ‘until a commentary on the collection was composed. A commentary would have served to fix the text, and the expansion of the text would have been more difficult after that.’ Because I consider the MDh to have a single author, I take these emendations as produced by redactors working on the original text. Such activities were made more difficult after the text was ‘fixed’ by early commentators such as Bhāruci and Medhātithi, but they did not cease completely. Changes after that period, however, were limited to the addition of individual verses and minor changes in the wording of verses detectable through ‘lower criticism’.”
  22. प्रजापतिर् हि प्रजाः सृष्ट्वा तासां स्थिति-निबन्धनं त्रिवर्गस्य साधनम् अध्यायानां शतसहस्रेणाग्रे प्रोवाच || १.१.५
  23. तस्यैकदेशिकं मनुः स्वायंभुवो धर्माधिकारिकं पृथक् चकार || १.१.६
    बृहस्पतिर् अर्थाधिकारिकम् || १.१.७
    महादेवानुचरश् च नन्दी सहस्रेणाध्यायानां पृथक् काम-सूत्रं प्रोवाच || १.१.८
  24. तद् एव तु पञ्चभिर् अध्याय-शतैर् औद्दालिकिः श्वेतकेतुः संचिक्षेप || १.१.९
  25. Alain Danielou takes Bābhravyaḥ as a reference to “sons of Babhru” (Danielou, 1994).
  26. तद् एव तु पुनर् अध्य्:अर्धेनाध्यायशतेन [१]साधारण-[२]सांप्रयोगिक-[३]कन्या-संप्रयुक्तक-[ ४]भार्याधिकारिक-[५]पारदारिक-[६]वैशिक-[७]औपनिषदिकैः सप्तभिर् अधिकरणैर् बाभ्रव्यः पाञ्चालः संचिक्षेप || १.१.१०
  27. तस्य षष्टं वैशिकम् अधिकरणं पाटलिपुत्रकाणां गणिकानां नियोगाद् दत्तकः पृथक् चकार || १.१.११
    तत्-प्रसङ्गाच् चारायणः साधारणम् अधिकरणं प्रोवाच. सुवर्णनाभः सांप्रयोगिकम्. घोटकमुखः कन्या-संप्रयुक्तकम्. गोनर्दीयो भार्याधिकारिकम्. गोणिकापुत्रः पारदारिकम्. कुचुमार औपनिषदिकम् इति || १.१.१२
  28. एवं बहुभिर् आचार्यैस् तच् छास्त्रं खण्डशः प्रणीतम् उत्सन्न-कल्पम् अभूत् || १.१.१३
    तत्र दत्तकादिभिः प्रणीतानां शास्त्रावयवानाम् एकदेशत्वात् महद् इति च बाभ्रवीयस्य दुर्:आध्येयत्वात् संक्षिप्य सर्वम् अर्थम् अल्पेन ग्रन्थेन कामसूत्रम् इदं प्रणीतम् || १.१.१४
  29. Consider Kāmaśāstra, we see a condensation phase (Nandi till Bābhravyaḥ), followed by an expansion phase (Cārāyaṇaḥ and others), which again was followed by a condensation phase (Vātsyāyana) and an expansion phase (Post- Vātsyāyana). While the condensation in Vātsyāyana and Pre- Vātsyāyana period was in the form of abridgement, the expansion carried out by Cārāyaṇaḥ and others were elaboration on particular aspects of the treatise as well as the knowledge field. In Post- Vātsyāyana period, except for the commentary on Kāmasūtra, other expansions have been in the form of newer treatises. In parallel, there have been certain texts summarizing the knowledge-field as well. In the case of Vedānta-śāstra, while condensation has been in the form of summarized presentation of the knowledge field, expansion has been in the form of both robust commentary tradition, as well as independent works, both flourishing together.
  30. xxvi
  31. In the case of Dharmaśāstra-s, post Manu independent works could be considered a commentary upon or an exploration and expansion of the subject matter of Manusmṛti. Olivelle (2005, p. 69) comments: “In some sense, we can extend what Lingat (1973,104) says about Brhaspati to all the authors of Dharmaśāstras subsequent to Manu—they are all commentators on the MDh, which is their exemplar and model. They are certainly not commentators in the traditional sense; but their works can be viewed as commentaries in the sense that they are drawing inspiration from and responding to the work of Manu. It is certainly at the back of their minds and perhaps in front of their eyes as they tried to both emulate it and to surpass it. Brhaspati, however, was prescient in his observation that no other smrti will ever measure up to, much less surpass, the sastra of Manu. This is demonstrated by the influence of Manu on the medieval production of texts on dharma.”
  32. Manusmṛti verse 1.32-35: “Dividing his body into two, he became a man with one half and a woman with the other. By that woman the Lord brought forth Viraj. By heating himself with ascetic toil, that man, Virāj, brought forth a being by himself—know, you best of the twiceborn, that I am that being, the creator of this whole world. Desiring to bring forth creatures, I heated myself with the most arduous ascetic toil and brought forth in the beginning the ten great seers, the lords of creatures: Marïci , Atri, Añgiras, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Pracetas, Vasistha, Bhrgu, and Närada.”
  33. George Bühler writes: “No Dharma- sūtra begins with a description of its own origin, much less with an account of creation. The former, which would be absurd in a Dharma- sutra, has been added in order to give authority to a remodelled version… (Bühler, 1886, p. lxvi)” James W. Laine writes: “Only verses 32-36 seem to pose a problem. Here Manu proclaims himself as a demiurge creator, one of the seven Manus born from the mind of the Svayambhū, This disrupts the flow of the text and can only be seen as an insertion from a separate tradition which is worked in here only for the apologetic purpose of establishing the divine origin of this dharmaśāstra (Laine, 1981, p. 166).”
  34. “The myth relates a sacred history, that is, a primordial event that took place at the beginning of time, ab initio. But to relate a sacred history is equivalent to revealing a mystery. For the persons of the myth are not
    human beings; they are gods or culture heroes, and for this reason their gesta constitute mysteries; man could
    not know their acts if they were not revealed to him. The myth, then, is the history of what took place in ilk tempore, the recital of what the gods or the semidivine beings did at the beginning of time. To tell a myth is to
    proclaim what happened ab origine. Once told, that is, revealed, the myth becomes apodictic truth; it establishes a truth that is absolute. ‘It is so because it is said that it is so,’ the Netsilik Eskimos declare to justify the validity of their sacred history and religious traditions. The myth proclaims the appearance of a new cosmic situation or of a primordial event. Hence it is always the recital of a creation; it tells how something was accomplished, began to be. It is for this reason that myth is up with ontology; it speaks only of realities, of really happened, of what was fully manifested (Eliade, 1959, p. 95).”
  35. “Hiltebeitel argues for seeing the Brahminic Vyāsa as a ‘narrative fiction,’ just as the references to orality are ‘literary tropes’ (Adluri, 2011, p. xxiv).”
  36. “According to Hiltebeitel, the composing committee cloaked its ultimate authorial voice in the persona of a shadowy seer, Veda-Vyasa, whose “thought entire” the epic portrays being unfolded to the sattra-sitting brahmins of the Naimisa Forest (Fitzgerald, 2003, p. 816).”
  37. “Thus, rather than reducing Yudhisṭhira or Vyāsa to historical personages and ̣ interpreting their interaction as evidence of a historical conflict between the Ksatriya and Brahmin castes, Hiltebeitel argues for a complete ̣shift in perspective: the epic, he suggests, is from the very beginning the product of Brahmins, who make use of tropes such as orality and bardic transmission (in the many references to the sūta), in order to articulate a comprehensive view of the proper dharma and of the way a righteous king (such as the fictional Yudhisṭhira) might be instructed ̣in maintaining this dharma (Adluri, 2011, p. xxiv).”
  38. “And Hiltebeitel sees in the fictional author’s extraordinary boy Suka an evocative representation of the text and story of the MBh itself (p. 289). The boy, a dazzling gift to Vyasa from the great god, Siva, emblem
    of the written composition of the MBh, goes on to outshine his more world-bound father by gaining moksa as a mere boy, leaving his forlorn father with only a shadow (Fitzgerald, 2003, pp. 816-817).”
  39. “The Dharmasūtras are not only written in prose but are also presented as nothing more than scholarly works. There is no literary introduction; the author gets right down to business. He presents his material in a straightforward manner, and on points of controversy and debate he presents opposing viewpoints. All this is
    eliminated by Manu (Olivelle, 2005, p. 26).”
  40. श्रुत्वैतान् ऋषयो धर्मान् स्नातकस्य यथौदितान् ।
    इदमूचुर्महात्मानमनलप्रभवं भृगुम् ॥ १ ॥
    एवं यथोक्तं विप्राणां स्वधर्ममनुतिष्ठताम् ।
    कथं मृत्युः प्रभवति वेदशास्त्रविदां प्रभो ॥ २ ॥
  41. चातुर्वर्ण्यस्य कृत्स्नोऽयमुक्तो धर्मस्त्वयानघः ।
    कर्मणां फलनिर्वृत्तिं शंस नस्तत्त्वतः पराम् ॥ १ ॥
  42. See verses 3.150, 4.103, 8.168, 9.182
  43. See verses 3.222, 5.41, 8.204, 10.63
  44. See verses 6.54, 8.124
  45. See verses 8.139, 8.279
  46. See verse 9.183
  47. I elaborately deal on the subject of the mimetic architecture of Manusmṛti in another paper I am currently working on tentatively titled “Imitating Cosmogony: Exploring Manusmṛti’s Deeper Architecture.”


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[This paper was presented at the International Conference on ‘Dispassionate Churning of Indology’ organised by Bharatiya Vidvat Parishad (BVP) and the Tattvasamshodhana Samsat, with support from Indian Council for Philosophical Research (ICPR), New Delhi and Indic Academy, Hyderabad in Udupi, Karnataka in January 2019.]

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