Manu: Duties of Women

Introduction: The “Laws of Manu” (Manusmriti or Manava-dharmasastra) is the first and the most important law book (Dharmasastra) of Hinduism. Its age and authorship are uncertain. But there are good reasons to assume that it was compiled from various sources in north India over a long period from c. 2nd century B.C. to 2nd or even 3rd century AD. But it might have undergone a final editing by an unknown orthodox Brahmin. It is regarded as a conservative Brahmanic reaction against the rule of several foreign dynasties in northern India during these centuries and their patronage of cosmopolitan urban Buddhism. The Manusmriti has become a model for later Dharmasastras and their regional varieties with their local laws (desadharma) which partly mitigated social excesses. The rigid orthodoxy of its social and cultural regulations, e.g. of the caste system and “the duties of women”, have been strongly criticised by several Indian reform movements since the 19th century, recently particularly by Dalit outcastes and feminists.

(see AHOI, ch.2, section The Splendour of the ‘Dark Age’)

(quoted from The Laws of Manu, translated by G. Bühler, Oxford 1886, Indian repr. Delhi 1964, pp. 195-197)

141. Drops (of water) from the mouth which do not fall on a limb, do not make (a man) impure, nor the hair of the moustache entering the mouth, nor what adheres to the teeth.
142. Drops which trickle on the feet of him who offers water for sipping to others, must be considered as equal to (water) collected on the ground; they render him not impure.
143. He who, while carrying anything in any manner, is touched by an impure (person or thing), shall become pure, if he performs an ablution, without putting down that object.
144. He who has vomited or purged shall bathe, and afterwards eat clarified butter; but if (the attack comes on) after he has eaten, let him only sip water; bathing is prescribed for him who has had intercourse with a woman.
145. Though he may be (already) pure, let him sip water after sleeping, sneezing, eating, spitting, telling untruths, and drinking water, likewise when he is going to study the Veda.
146. Thus the rules of personal purification for men of all castes, and those for cleaning (inanimate) things, have been fully declared to you: hear now the duties of women.
147. By a girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house.
148. In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent.
149. She must not seek to separate herself from her father, husband, or sons; by leaving them she would make both (her own and her husband’s) families contemptible.
150. She must always be cheerful, clever in (the management of her) household affairs, careful in cleaning her utensils, and economical in expenditure.
151. Him to whom her father may give her, or her brother with the father’s permission, she shall obey as long as he lives, and when he is dead, she must not insult (his memory).
152. For the sake of procuring good fortune to (brides), the recitation of benedictory texts (svastyayana), and the sacrifice to the Lord of creatures (Prajāpati) are used at weddings; (but) the betrothal (by the father or guardian) is the cause of (the husband’s) dominion (over his wife).
153. The husband who wedded her with sacred texts, always gives happiness to his wife, both in season and out of season, in this world and in the next.
154. Though destitute of virtue, or seeking pleasure (elsewhere), or devoid of good qualities, (yet) a husband must be constantly worshipped as a god by a faithful wife.
155. No sacrifice, no vow, no fast must be performed by women apart (from their husbands); if a wife obeys her husband, she will for that (reason alone) be exalted in heaven.
156. A faithful wife, who desires to dwell (after death) with her husband, must never do anything that might displease him who took her hand, whether he be alive or dead.
157. At her pleasure let her emaciate her body by (living on) pure flowers, roots, and fruit; but she must never even mention the name of another man after her husband has died.
158. Until death let her be patient (of hardships), self-controlled, and chaste, and strive (to fulfil) that most excellent duty which (is prescribed) for wives who have one husband only.
159. Many thousands of Brāhmanas who were chaste from their youth, have gone to heaven without continuing their race.
160. A virtuous wife who after the death of her husband constantly remains chaste, reaches heaven, though she have no son, just like those chaste men.
161. But a woman who from a desire to have offspring violates her duty towards her (deceased) husband, brings on herself disgrace in this world, and loses her place with her husband (in heaven).
162. Offspring begotten by another man is here not (considered lawful), nor (does offspring begotten) on another man’s wife (belong to the begetter), nor is a second husband anywhere prescribed for virtuous women.
163. She who cohabits with a man of higher caste, forsaking her own husband who belongs to a lower one, will become contemptible in this world, and is called a remarried woman (parapûrvâ).
164. By violating her duty towards her husband, a wife is disgraced in this world, (after death) she enters the womb of a jackal, and is tormented by diseases (the punishment of) her sin.
165. She who, controlling her thoughts, words, and deeds, never slights her lord, resides (after death) with her husband (in heaven), and is called a virtuous (wife).
166. In reward of such conduct, a female who controls her thoughts, speech, and actions, gains in this (life) highest renown, and in the next (world) a place near her husband.


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