Law of manu essay

During the early centuries of the common era, the Sutras were expanded into the Dharam Shastras, the books on sacred and secular duty of all members of the Aryan community, which offered a model of a perfectly ordered society, and were also used in the courts of law. The Manu Smriti (The Laws of Manu) was an early but most influential text of this category.

Practically every aspect of the ideal life of Hindu men and women is addresses in these texts, leaving no doubt as to the course of conduct in a given situation. These texts were worked over in successive periods, but the essentials go back around 500 BC. The Laws of Manu consists of 2,685 verses that deal with religion, law, custom, and politics (Radhakrishnan, p. 172).

Goddesses have always been part of the religious life in India. Goddesses of local and regional significance have attracted supplicants asking for their blessings and protection for nearly three thousand years. The word “shakti” came to be used to describe these female divinities. Shakti means ‘energy’ or ‘power’ and these indeed are life energies of the world, firmly associated with both nourishment and the vagaries of nature (Radhakrishnan, p. 175).

Finally, local deities presiding over individual towns and villages were predominantly female. At this time, obviously the males in the country had a fear and there was a sense of jealousy that these women would subordinate them and they needed to control their power before the males were seen inferior to women. That is when the Laws of Manu were created, it was in the second century CE where all these laws were stated and were to be performed by all women (Ferguson, p.78).

Even though the women in Hinduism were not degraded, they were portrayed as subordinate to men. The Laws of Manu say that women are important in the Hindu religion and they are respected as women, but they are merely not independent, but instead are dependent on their husbands.  This can clearly be seen in one of the Laws of Manu in (Laws of Manu 5:56-148). A point to notice in the latter law is that her husband is seen as her “lord”, women are seen as the property of their husbands and they are to please him and make him happy even if it means to sacrifice her life.

Manu says that if a woman obeys her husband she will go to heaven, she is to be cheerful, cook and clean for her husband. The reason for Manu to make these laws was clearly to have control over women, he ordered men to have power and control over the women in their homes so that they would never have the authority to rule and would depend on the males in the house. In a law, Manu writes about the dependence of women on males and those women must be controlled if they have sensual enjoyments (Law of Manu 5:2).

These women had no choice but to listen to these laws of Manu and abide by them because if they didn’t they would be disgraced in this world as seen in Law 164, (Laws of Manu, 5:164). To be asked to respect your husband is not something that is abnormal, in my view, wives should respect their husbands exactly how men should respect women, but there are limits that need to be drawn on what a women’s role is towards a man.

The Laws of Manu cross this limit, and are unfair to women, they do not give women a chance to live her own life and pursue the things that she wants from this life. In one of the laws Manu says that a husband should keep his wife happy at all times as shown in the following law (Laws of Manu, 5:153). Manu does want women to be happy and for them to be treated with respect from their husbands, but he does not understand that a woman also has needs and wants outside of her husband and cannot worship him as a god which is what he demands in his 154th law.

Manu writes in his laws that a women shall not marry again after her husband dies, but should take care of her children, especially her son. “She must never even mention the name of another man after her husband has died” (Manu 5:157). Contradictory to this Law of Manu, there is another Law “Having thus, at the funeral, given the sacred fires to his wife who dies before him, he may marry again, and again kindle the fires (Manu 5:168).

If a husband dies the wife cannot even mention the name of another man, but if the wife dies, the husband can right away marry again, this is unjust to the women, on one hand Manu wants the wife to be respected and loved, but on the other hand he made laws that disrespect her.

Overall, the Laws of Manu depict women’s subordination to men, they give control and power to men as a whole but more specifically husbands. Manu did not like the idea of women having power in the earlier times when they were getting all the attention and respect for their powers and control, and decided to create the Laws of Manu to change that. Although, Manu wanted women to be respected by their husbands he also wanted women to worship their husbands as a god.

There is one Law in the Laws of Manu that portrays what Manu overall wanted to represent in his Laws, and that is, “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” (Laws of Manu, 5:165).

Bibliography

Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli. A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy. New Jersey: Princeton. 1957.

Ferguson, Marianne. Women in Religion. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1995.