The Status Of Women As Depicted By Manu In The Manusmriti

Written by August 27, 2011 7:29 pm 344 comments

The Manusmriti also known as Manav Dharam Shastra, is the earliest metrical work on Brahminical Dharma in Hinduism. According to Hindu mythology, the Manusmriti is the word of Brahma, and it is classified as the most authoritative statement on Dharma .The scripture consists of 2690 verses, divided into 12 chapters.  It is presumed that the actual human author of this compilation used the eponym ‘Manu’, which has led the text to be associated by Hindus with the first human being and the first king in the Indian tradition.

Although no details of this eponymous author’s life are known, it is likely that he belonged to a conservative Brahman class somewhere in Northern India. Hindu apologists consider the Manusmriti as the divine code of conduct and, accordingly, the status of women as depicted in the text has been interpreted as Hindu divine law.  While defending Manusmriti as divine code of conduct for all including women, apologists often quote the verse: “yatr naryasto pojyantay, ramantay tatr devta [3/56] (where women are provided place of honor, gods are pleased and reside there in that household), but they deliberately forget all those verses that are full of prejudice, hatred  and discrimination against women.

Here are some of the ‘celebrated’ derogatory comments about women in the Manusmriti :

1. “Swabhav ev narinam …..” – 2/213. It is the nature of women to seduce men in this world; for that reason the wise are never unguarded in the company of females.

2. “Avidvam samlam………..” – 2/214. Women, true to their class character, are capable of leading astray men in this world, not only a fool but even a learned and wise man. Both become slaves of desire.

3. “Matra swastra ………..” – 2/215. Wise people should avoid sitting alone with one’s mother, daughter or sister. Since carnal desire is always strong, it can lead to temptation.

4. “Naudwahay……………..” – 3/8. One should not marry women who has have reddish hair, redundant  parts of the body [such as six fingers], one who is often sick, one without hair or having excessive hair and one who has red eyes.

5. “Nraksh vraksh ………..” – 3/9. One should not marry women whose names are similar to constellations,  trees, rivers, those from a low caste, mountains, birds, snakes, slaves or those whose names inspires terror.

6. “Yasto na bhavet ….. …..” – 3/10. Wise men should not marry women who do not have a brother and whose parents are not socially well known.

7. “Uchayangh…………….” – 3/11. Wise men should marry only women who are free from bodily defects, with beautiful names, grace/gait like an elephant, moderate hair on the head and body, soft limbs and small teeth.

8. “Shudr-aiv bharya………” – 3/12.Brahman men can marry Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaish and even Shudra women but Shudra men can marry only Shudra women.

9. “Na Brahman kshatriya..” – 3/14. Although Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaish men have been allowed inter-caste marriages, even in distress they should not marry Shudra women.

10. “Heenjati striyam……..” – 3/15. When twice born [dwij=Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaish] men in their folly marry low caste Shudra women, they are responsible for the degradation of their whole family. Accordingly, their children adopt all the demerits of the Shudra caste.

11. “Shudram shaynam……” – 3/17. A Brahman who marries a Shudra woman, degrades himself and his whole family  ,becomes morally degenerated , loses Brahman status and his children too attain status  of shudra.

12. “Daiv pitrya………………” – 3/18. The offerings made by such a person at the time of established rituals are neither accepted by God nor by the departed soul; guests also refuse to have meals with him and he is bound to go to hell after death.

13. “Chandalash ……………” – 3/240. Food offered and served to Brahman after Shradh ritual should not be seen by a chandal, a pig, a cock,a dog, and a menstruating women.

14. “Na ashniyat…………….” – 4/43. A Brahman, true defender of his class, should not have his meals in the company of his wife  and even avoid looking at her. Furthermore, he should not look towards her when she is having her meals or when she sneezes/yawns.

15. “Na ajyanti……………….” – 4/44. A Brahman in order to preserve his energy and intellect, must not look at women who applies collyrium to her eyes, one who is massaging her nude body or one who is delivering a child.

16. “Mrshyanti…………….” – 4/217. One should not accept meals from a woman who has extra marital relations; nor from a family exclusively dominated/managed by women or a family whose 10 days of impurity because of death have not passed.

17. “Balya va………………….” – 5/150. A female child, young woman or old woman is not supposed to work independently even at her place of residence.

18. “Balye pitorvashay…….” – 5/151. Girls are supposed to be in the custody of their father when they are children, women must be under the custody of their husband when married and under the custody of her son as widows. In no circumstances is she allowed to assert herself independently.

19. “Asheela  kamvrto………” – 5/157. Men may be lacking virtue, be sexual perverts, immoral and devoid of any good qualities, and yet women must constantly worship and serve their husbands.

20. “Na ast strinam………..” – 5/158. Women have no divine right to perform any religious ritual, nor make vows or observe a fast. Her only duty is to obey and please her husband and she will for that reason alone be exalted in heaven.

21. “Kamam to………………” – 5/160. At her pleasure [after the death of her husband], let her emaciate her body by living only on pure flowers, roots of vegetables and fruits. She must not even mention the name of any other men after her husband has died.

22. “Vyabhacharay…………” – 5/167. Any women violating duty and code of conduct towards her husband, is disgraced and becomes a patient of leprosy. After death, she enters womb of Jackal.

23. “Kanyam bhajanti……..” – 8/364. In case women enjoy sex with a man from a higher caste, the act is not punishable. But on the contrary, if women enjoy sex with lower caste men, she is to be punished and kept in isolation.

24. “Utmam sevmansto…….” – 8/365. In case a man from a lower caste enjoys sex with a woman from a higher caste, the person in question is to be awarded the death sentence. And if a person satisfies his carnal desire with women of his own caste, he should be asked to pay compensation to the women’s faith.

25. “Ya to kanya…………….” – 8/369. In case a woman tears the membrane [hymen] of her Vagina, she shall instantly have her head shaved or two fingers cut off and made to ride on Donkey.

26. “Bhartaram…………….” – 8/370. In case a women, proud of the greatness of her excellence or her relatives, violates her duty towards her husband, the King shall arrange to have her thrown before dogs at a public place.

27. “Pita rakhshati……….” – 9/3. Since women are not capable of living independently, she is to be kept under the custody of her father as child, under her husband as a woman and under her son as widow.

28. “Imam hi sarw………..” – 9/6. It is the duty of all husbands to exert total control over their wives. Even physically weak husbands must strive to control their wives.

29. “Pati bharyam ……….” – 9/8. The husband, after the conception of his wife, becomes the embryo and is born again of her. This explains why women are called Jaya.

30. “Panam durjan………” – 9/13. Consuming liquor, association with wicked persons, separation from her husband, rambling around, sleeping for unreasonable hours and dwelling -are six demerits of women.

31. “Naita rupam……………” – 9/14. Such women are not loyal and have extra marital relations with men without consideration for their age.

32. “Poonshchalya…………” – 9/15. Because of their passion for men, immutable temper and natural heartlessness, they are not loyal to their husbands.

33. “Na asti strinam………” – 9/18. While performing namkarm and jatkarm, Vedic mantras are not to be recited by women, because women are lacking in strength and knowledge of Vedic texts. Women are impure and represent falsehood.

34. “Devra…sapinda………” – 9/58. On failure to produce offspring with her husband, she may obtain offspring by cohabitation with her brother-in-law [devar] or with some other relative [sapinda] on her in-law’s side.

35. “Vidwayam…………….” – 9/60. He who is appointed to cohabit with a widow shall approach her at night, be anointed  with clarified butter and silently beget one son, but by no means a second one.

36. “Yatha vidy……………..” – 9/70. In accordance with established law, the sister-in-law [bhabhi] must be clad in white garments; with pure intent her brother-in-law [devar] will cohabitate with her until she conceives.

37. “Ati kramay……………” – 9/77. Any women who disobey orders of her lethargic, alcoholic and diseased husband shall be deserted for three months and be deprived of her ornaments.

38. “Vandyashtamay…….” – 9/80. A barren wife may be superseded in the 8th year; she whose children die may be superseded in the 10th year and she who bears only daughters may be superseded in the 11th year;  but she who is quarrelsome may be superseded without delay.

39. “Trinsha……………….” – 9/93. In case of any problem in performing religious rites, males between the age of 24 and 30 should marry a female between the age of 8 and 12.

40. “Yambrahmansto…….” – 9/177. In case a Brahman man marries Shudra woman, their son will be called ‘Parshav’ or ‘Shudra’ because his social existence is like a dead body.

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344 Comments

  • what actually is this?i am a hindu yet i feel ashamed at the claims manusmriti makes about woman,especially those regarding sex sexlife and postmarital relations with brother in law and those comments that claim that sodomy with so called higher caste is non punishable………i really didnt feel proud of hinduism after reading all this!!!!!!!

    • Think updated. Manusmrithi was written thousands of years ago.The importance of Manusmrithi is it was the first law code written in the history. Kindly do not proud of anything.Chewing some rotten book of the past and feeling shame? chloroform was invented and used for anesthesia in the past and now using it, is a criminal offence. Treat the manusmrithi thoughts like that. Evolution makes the man update.

    • Sam / Srinivasan, Surprising that I am defending Manu’s laws. Strange as it may be, let me proceed. I stumbled on to this site site accidentally. I am a very staunch believer of the idea that Vedism and Sanskritan literature is very racial in character. I also believe that it is very much against women. Having said my belief, I am actually coming to the defence of some part of the test above, very specifically to the parts which you abhorred. The text is saying that a woman if she had become a widow without a “son”, she should get a “son” through a brother-in-law or a family member of her husband’s side. This seems to be a very humanistic consideration. After all, the text has previously said that women must be in the care of a father, husband or a son. If she does not have a son and the husband had died, what would be her situation? It is not as if internet was there in those days where she can go and get a new husband or any other modern means. She could not have gone to an assembly of men seeking considerations. If you read Deuteronomy in bible, there are lines which are exactly like this! strikingly so! The bible text says that such a women has a right to bear a child through a brother-in-law and if the brother-in-law refuses to give a child, she has a right to bring him out to the street and spit on his face. According to me, such ideas are very progressive ideas. I do condemn all other ideas based on race as well as character of women. These are extremely in human. After all, one should expectsuch texts from ancient Sanskritan literature because their very sole purpose is to save Sanskritan race in and out.

  • I m ashamed of being Hindu…what laws he has created are really rediculouse…

  • Deepak Panchal

    The manu smriti was created much later and created by some of the brahmins. perviously they created rigveda and other books which were absolutely perfect. this books lot of people had put on fire now as they started understanding about the truth. i am Hindu but I do not believe in this book. don’t be ashamed of being Hindu just for this one so called book manu smriti.

    • Deepak, since you mentioned that “rigveda” is perfect, could you paraphrase what you mean by that? Have you actually tried to read the translation and have you been able to make any sense of it? Here is a link in case you want to read it. I am yet to meet a Hindu who has actually read the Rig Veda.

      http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rigveda/

      • How can an ideology be perfect, nothing perfect comes from our thought process. Human thought functions from our experiences and conditioning. It might be perfect to your conditioning only and could be destructive to the masses. These religions teachings are destructive to the human race and should be viewed with suspicion and distrust.

      • What is the use of reading vedas now.The content of vedas are available now. The remarkable thing of vedas are the upanishads and its philosophy. I am proud of that because of the good thoughts it created to the world. It is absurd to bring rotten things and exhibit as hindu culture.

    • Do not defend this damming script with an excuse, the evil in this script is too large for an excuse. When you read this script are you looking at the Hindu religion rather than the contents of this evil script. To build a fair and equal society we will have to change the past Brahmin selective ideology that has brought pain to societies for centuries. Look at the Dalit’s and the plight of women in the Hindu society. Again do not look at the religion and it so called godly writers and decide but the pain it has brought to the victims.

      • First off, the other commentators are right. I don’t know what your criterion is for calling a work of poetry “perfect.” It would be best to elaborate.

        Every few weeks, some commentator ritualistically abuses Manu on here, and it’s been going on ever since this article was posted. The debate on Manu itself, however, has been going on for a hundred years, and I wonder if it can be used as a building block to actual action. This is basically what every debate on Manu is like, and it gets rather boring after a while:

        Anti-Hindu: This scripture of yours is casteist and sexist. What is it doing in your religion?

        Hindu: It’s not mine!

        Anti-Hindu: Yes it is!

        Hindu: No it isn’t!

        ad-infinitum

        Can we go beyond this? If a Hindu disavows Manu, atheists ought to congratulate him or her for it. But for the Hindus who do so– will you similarly condemn Krishna’s condemnation of the varna-samkara in the Bhagavad Gita? How about menstruation taboos or the fact that priests have to be Brahmin males? Would you support the training of women priests, as the temple in Pandharpur is now doing thanks to non-Brahmin activism?

        • Is Manu not a Hindu saint with full support from the religion and people? I am a Hindu and it is difficult so to accept this kind of evil religious script.Just go into a denial and ll will be fine including the victims.

      • Do not defend this damming script with an excuse

        When you read this script

        First of all, scripture, not script. The two are very different things.

        Second, obscuring the opponent’s argument will accomplish nothing. It is clear that he’s not defending the “script” with “excuses–” he’s saying he has nothing to do with it. So rather than play the “yes you do, no I don’t” game, let’s move beyond that.

  • Elsa Liliana Vivacqua

    I´m currently writing a book about a kidnapping of childre occured to a close woman friend of mine in Bolivia, whose husband , Christian born, entered the Hare Krishna cult. Although not a religion, and certainly not Hinduism, the abuse of genre and authority is present in this cult. After 4 years my friend finally recoverd her children that were sent as orphans and with identity changed to a gurukala. If anyone has information about these institutions and /or Hare Krishnas communities., I would very much appreciate information, since though the book is no meant to be authobiographical, but a novel, I´m in the stage of recapitulating information about said cult

    • Hi Elsa,

      Good luck with your project. This book covers the Hare Krishna movement in detail. It is the only scholarly study I know of.

      Simply putting “Hare Krishna” into Amazon will get you more results, however.

      The late philosopher Bimal Krishna Matilal also has a good essay on his reservations about the movement in his anthology “Ethics and Epics.” You can find used copies of that on Amazon.

    • All religious ideology is from the human mind and depending on their conditioning the ideology is going to be ridiculous as a whole. All religious books have tons of cruelty and evil in their doctrines. If you do not know this then wake up to this evil. A child should be taught how to think critically from an early age and this training does entail parents refraining from shoving their religious or political ideologies down their children’s throats.

  • For example, some attitudes in this book persist today:


    31. “Naita rupam……………” – 9/14. Such women are not loyal and have extra marital relations with men without consideration for their age.

    32. “Poonshchalya…………” – 9/15. Because of their passion for men, immutable temper and natural heartlessness, they are not loyal to their husbands.

    The idea that women behave different from men due to biology is surprisingly persistent all over the world.

    Some of the verses above, are not necessarily sexist though. Consider the two:


    “Trinsha……………….” – 9/93. In case of any problem in performing religious rites, males between the age of 24 and 30 should marry a female between the age of 8 and 12.

    7. “Uchayangh…………….” – 3/11. Wise men should marry only women who are free from bodily defects, with beautiful names, grace/gait like an elephant, moderate hair on the head and body, soft limbs and small teeth.

    This is advice to men on whom to marry– an ancient Cosmopolitan for men, if you will. And ultimately, yes, it’s discriminatory. If anyone here goes on Kafila, the feminist crowd there would hate statements like these that designate one group of humans as “beautiful” and others as “ugly.” And I wish that I, as a person, could see all people as similarly attractive. But I have the failing that I can’t. Is this really not the type of advice a man might get from his friend, on which girl is beautiful and which one is ugly? We’re not much better than Manu.

  • This is a piece by the Dalit intellectual Anand Teltumbde. He briefly touches on the pitfalls of using Manu as a scapegoat for contemporary caste atrocities. His views are elaborated in his 2002 book “Khairlanji.”

  • this completely signifies the patriarchal nature of the society which is even prevalent today. women is treated as an object. i was shocked after reading this. All the rights belong to men and women is made to suffer at every moment.

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