An explanation of Vedic caste system, Manu Smriti and role of women
In my previous article, the Valmiki Ramayana was explained in order to correct certain incorrect ideas and biased distortions usually spread among the masses. In this article, let us examine another topic that is favourite among the biased Leftists and ‘secularists’, the caste system.
The Vedic caste system is nothing like what we are following currently in our country. There are no dalits, MBCs, OBCs, nadars, chettiyars and other such appellations. The vedic caste system simply comprises of 4 Varnas – Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. The people who belong to these castes are not oppressed in the vedic philosophy – they are all vaidikas or followers of the Veda (including Shudras) as they have accepted their castes. The outcasts are the Chandalas and Mlecchas who are outside of the Vedic fold.
Before we begin to address this, let us understand that on what basis one belongs to a superior or inferior caste. Are upper caste people superior in looks, or intelligence, or strength as compared to lower caste people? The answer is no. There is no Shastra that says that shudras are lesser than brahmanas or others on the basis of looks or acumen or strength. So, the narrative that “caste system is racist/discriminatory” on this basis is nonsense.
The sole criterion for caste is vedAdhikAra. The Brahmanas and Kshatriyas are eligible to perform Vedic rituals. The Vaishya is barred from the Vedic rite called “Satra Yaga” and the Shudra is denied the eligibility for the Vedic rituals. Note that vedic eligibility alone – and not one’s looks, wealth or social standing – is the determinant of caste.
Why are the Shudras ineligible to learn the Veda? It is because of their Karmas acquired in previous births. Here, our opponents have a twofold objection – Is this not unfair to deny Vedic eligibility on the basis of deeds in past births we cannot remember? Is this not unfair to deny Vedic eligibility and thus the way to liberation for Shudras?
To that, we reply as follows. If it is asked as to whether it is unfair that we are being denied Vedic eligibility for an unseen cause like Karmas in a prior birth, it is replied that the very fact that one doesn’t remember his or her previous births is due to their own Karmas. Some Rishis like Jada Bharata who have performed austerities were seen to remember their previous births. Thus, it is in our hands to remember our own births and no-one else’s.
If it is asked as to whether it is unfair Shudras are denied a means to liberation, the answer is no. The Shudras can get liberation in this birth itself, and need not become Brahmanas to be liberated. This is possible by acquiring knowledge of Brahman from the Ithihasas and Puranas which are not barred for them. Thus, whatever knowledge is imparted by the Shruti, that knowledge is acquired via the Smriti by virtuous Shudras and hence they are not denied liberation.
Lastly, anyone can be born as a Shudra or a Brahmana in alternate births and hence, there is no motivation to discriminate when all Jivas inhering in a Shudra or Brahmana body are equal. The Shastras advice us to transcend differences of bodies and recognise that all individual selves are knowledge-bliss (jnAnAnandamaya svarUpa) by nature, hence it is not possible for them to discriminate on the basis of bodily differences. The individual self in a tree or plant is identical to that in a human body, so where is the question of discrimination on the basis of bodily features?
The basis for the castes is declared by Shri Krishna in the Gita as follows:
cātur-varṇyaṃ mayā sṛṣṭaṃ guṇa karma vibhāgaśaḥ (~Gita 4.13)
Meaning: In accordance with the gunas like sattva, etc (prevalent at birth) and the actions like self-control corresponding to the gunas, I created the four castes.
In other words, there is no discrimination on the basis of looks, wealth or anything else in the Vedic caste system. The idea is that Bhagavan has to ensure that certain living beings exhaust their papa karmas (sins) from previous births and attain liberation. So by giving them a Shudra birth, he denies them the eligibility to learn the Vedas, which he takes as an excuse to burn away their sins. At the same time, he does not deny them the knowledge to reach him via the medium of Purana-Ithihasa which conveys the same knowledge as the Veda. In this manner, a Shudra’s means to liberation is far easier than a Brahmana, and the insignificant excuse of “not being able to learn the Vedas” is used to completely destroy his sins!
Having said this, let us examine whether the Shastras say that Shudras are inherently evil as our opponents allege. They take up the manusmriti mainly where certain gory punishments are described for Shudras. But before that, let us see what the shastras have said regarding the nature of Shudras in other places.
Firstly, let us understand further the nature of a Shudra birth or a Brahmana birth with an analogy often provided by modern day Vedic scholars. Consider two planes. One plane is flying in turbulent weather and another plane is flying in fantastic weather conducive for flight. The weather signifies our births in a Shudra or Brahmana body. Turbulent weather is symbolic of a person being denied Vedic eligibility as a Shudra and fine weather is symbolic of us having Vedic eligibility as a Brahmana.
However, the pilot in the plane flying in turbulent weather (Shudra) is extremely skilled and steers the plane out of danger. Whereas, the pilot in the plane flying in fine weather (Brahmana) is very inept and crashes the plane despite the good weather. In this manner, a Shudra can be virtuous and attain liberation as seen in the case of Vidura, and a Brahmana can be evil and fall despite having Vedic eligibility like Ravana. Hence, there is again no discrimination to be seen here.
When it is said that the duty of a Shudra is to serve the higher castes, it is meant that he should serve people of those castes who are pious and free of anger, hatred, desire etc, and who have gained knowledge of Brahman. Using common sense, do not such people deserve worship and being waited upon? Everyone should serve them as they are self-realized. There is no point in serving Brahmanas like Ravana and it is certainly not incumbent on a Shudra to do so!
The idea of serving a devoted person of the higher caste who is free of anger, and helping him with small acts of service while he meditates on Brahman is a virtous path to liberation as we need the blessings of such people. It is not menial labour or oppression.
In addition, not only Shudras but even the members of the higher castes are required to serve people of all castes who are pious and virtuous. However, it is emphasized more for the Shudra because he does not have the additional means of learning the Vedas and performing Upasana by himself to attain liberation and hence, this path of serving men of knowledge is the main means for him to attain liberation, whereas, for other castes, it is just one among many means.
Here are the words of Shiva to Parvati on the status of a Shudra who has attained perfect knowledge:
karma bhiḥ śucibhir devi śuddhātmā vijitendriyaḥ śūdro ‘pi dvijavat sevya iti brahmābravīt svayam svabhāvakarma ca śubhaṃ yatra śūdre ‘pi tiṣṭhati viśuddhaḥ sa dvijātir vai vijñeya iti me matiḥ na yonir nāpi saṃskāro na śrutaṃ na ca saṃnatiḥ kāraṇāni dvijatvasya vṛttam eva tu kāraṇam (~ Anushasana Parva, Mahabharata)
Meaning: Even a Shudra, O goddess, that has purified his mind by pure deeds (such as serving the Supreme Brahman, meditating on him and attending to devotees) and has conquered his senses, deserves to be waited upon and served with reverence as a Brahmana. This has been said by the Veda itself. When auspicious attributes and deeds are noticeable in even a Shudra, he should, according to my opinion, be held superior to a person of the three upper castes. Neither birth, nor the purificatory rites, nor learning of the Vedas, nor offspring, can be regarded as grounds for conferring upon one the status of a Brahmana. Verily, conduct is the only ground. All Brahmanas in this world are Brahmanas in consequence of conduct. A Shudra, if he is established on good conduct, is regarded as possessed of the status of a Brahmana.
While by birth he is a Shudra, not only he is given the same honor and respect as a Brahmana but, a jnani who is a Shudra is considered greater than the jnanis of the three upper castes because he (the Shudra) has attained perfect knowledge despite not having the tool of learning the Vedas, which the upper castes possess! This is the intent behind Mahadeva’s words.
If the intent of our shastras like manu smriti was to malign people based on caste, the words of Shiva would be empty, and that is never the case.Furthermore, our shastras all have a uniformity of thought and were not written by a bunch of imperfect people – hence, there are to be no contradictions.
Having explained that there is no discrimination based on caste other than the mere birth in such castes due to purva janma karmas, let us come to the explanation of the so-called violent verses in Manu Smriti against Shudras.
Firstly, one needs to understand that dharma as defined by our smritis is changeable depending on several factors. Our shastras are not concerned with petty injunctions on morality like other religions. This is because morals are strictly common sense. We do not need a religious book to know that killing others, punishing adultery by throwing stones at the women, etc is immoral. The shastras thus only talk about Adhyatma Vidya (science of self-knowledge) by assuming that the interested seeker already knows petty morals and is evolved enough to practice them. However, certain smritis like manu smriti do contain minor injunctions on even morals for each caste for the sake of being comprehensive in scope.
The smritis themselves state thus with respect to morals:
deśajātikulānāṃ ca ye dharmāstat pravartitāḥ |
tathaiva te pālanīyāḥ prajā prakṣubhyatesnyathā || (~Brihaspati Smriti)
Meaning: Desha dharma, kala dharma and jaati dharma are different at different places. These dharmas must be adhered to, and practised, as is. If done otherwise (imposing other dharma), there shall be great kshobha (deprivation).
yeṣu deśeṣu ye vedāḥ yeṣu deśeṣu ye dvijāḥ | yeṣu deśeṣu yat toyaṃ yā ca tatraiva mṛttikā ||yeṣu sthāneṣu yacchaucaṃ dharmācāraśca yādṛśaḥ | tatra tān nāvamanyeta dharmastatraiva tādṛśaḥ ||yasmin deśe pure grāme traividye nagarespi vā | yā yatra vihito dharmasthaṃ dharmaṃ na vicālayet || (~Devala Smriti)
Meaning: In every (different) place, whatever is the knowledge, whoever are the knowledgeable, whatever is the appropriate water and soil, whatever constitutes cleanliness, whatever constitutes the right practice – these must never be rejected. They alone are dharma in those places. Whatever is acceptable as dharma to the knowledgeable (of that place), those alone must be practised as dharma – be it a country, town or a village.
Thus, what constitutes virtue in one place may not necessarily be virtue in another. Hence, the morals prescribed in the Shastra need to be analysed to see if they are fit for practice in current situation. And hence it is only Adhyatma Vidya – Knowledge of the self – that is unchangeable, eternal and inflexible everywhere.
And the shastras are clear that Manu Smriti with all its gory punishments for Shudras is not even meant for this particular age (Kali Yuga):
kṛte tu mānavā dharmāḥ tretāyāṃ gautamāḥ smṛtāḥ |
dvāpare śaṅkhalikhitāḥ kalau pārāśarāḥ smṛtāḥ (~Parashara Smriti)
Meaning: In the Krita Yuga, it is manu Smriti that is applicable while gautama Smriti is the one for Treta Yuga. In the Dvapara Yuga, Shankhalikhita Smriti must be adhered to, while the Parashara Smriti is the book for Kali Yuga.
The Manu Smriti is intended for the Krita Yuga. This Yuga is described as consisting of people who are virtuous and perfect in every manner, who are devoted to self-knowledge. There is no sin or illness in this age. In the context of this age, considering there are no sinful persons, the punishments for Shudras prescribed by Manu are far harsher, for such a crime is unheard of in this Yuga and it is unlikely anyone transgresses laws to merit such punishments. Also, in this Yuga, all brahmanas are pious, free of anger and undesirable qualities and virtuous, whereas in the current age, this is not the case. Hence, Shudras being commanded to serve Brahmanas in the Krita yuga is justified considering how perfect the Brahmanas were in that age. And as mentioned by Shiva in the Mahabharata quoted earlelier, the pious Shudra is also worthy of worship.
Also, regarding the verses in Manu Smriti claiming molten lac should be poured into the ear or hammering nails into the tongue of a Shudra who learns the Vedas as follows:
If he (the Shudra) arrogantly teaches Brahmanas their duty, the king shall cause hot oil to be poured into his mouth and into his ears. (~Manu Smriti 8.272)
These verses should not only be taken in context of Krita Yuga when transgressions are impossible (rendering these punishments unnecessary), but should also only be taken as metaphorical. The idea is, the sin accrued by transgressing the laws is very huge in the Krita Yuga, the age of virtue, and getting rid of this sin will be as strenuous as requiring hot oil to be poured into one’s ear. Meaning, “your sin is so great that it can only be exhausted by pouring hot oil into your ear” – This is the intent of such shlokas, to drive home the enormity of the sin and not to literally recommend such punishments even in the Krita Yuga. The ancient commentators have not taken such punishments literally either or noted any historical execution of such punishments.
The concept of arthavAda is well entrenched in the Vedantic philosophy. There is a Vedic statement “In svarga, the cows walk upside down” – Now, practically, cows do not walk upside down. This statement then, is an arthavAda to show that “svarga is such a wonderful place, it causes as much wonder as could be caused by potentially seeing impossible things like cows walking upside down”.
Similarly, “Pour hot oil into the ears of a shudra who learned the Vedas” is only understood as “learning of a Veda by a Shudra incurs so much sin that only suffering equivalent to the extent of pouring hot oil into his ears can expunge that sin”— the meaning is, such sin is not easily shaken off or expiated. It is arthavAda.
In contrast, the Parashara Smriti does not recommend any such punishments for Shudras. Because it is meant for the age of Kali when nobody follows Vedic principles anyway and even many brahmanas are sinful and not worthy of being offered reverence. Committing sins in a decadent age is not as heinous as the rarity of a sinful person in an age of virtue (Krita Yuga), the latter age being the age for following Manu Smriti.
There is a statement in Chandogya Upanishad that the sinful take birth as a dog, pig or chandala which is quoted by ignoramuses against Hinduism. The position of a chandala is one who eats dogs and has forsaken the Vedas (a Shudra is a follower of the Vedas by comparison) and so it certainly is a sinful birth. But again, if a Chandala exhibits pious behaviour, he is to be considered worshipful. This is highlighted in the Kaisika Mahatmyam of Varaha Purana where the greatness of a chandala devotee of Vishnu is described. Thus, there is no discrimination again.
Which now brings us to the status of women. The following Gita verse is often maligned by ignorant anti-hindu folk:
mam hi partha vyapasritya ye ‘pi syuh papa-yonayah striyo vaisyas tatha sudras te ‘pi yanti param gatim (~Gita 9.32)
Meaning: Women, Vaisyas and Shudras, and even those who are of sinful birth, can attain the supreme state by taking refuge in me (Krishna). How much more then the well-born Brahmanas and royal sages who are devoted to me!
The usage of “papa-yonayah” in no way demeans Shudras, Vaishyas or Women in looks, strength or intelligence. Bhagavan is referencing the fact that women and shudras are denied Vedic eligibility while vaishyas cannot perform the “satra yaga”. This is on account of their birth based on purva janma karmas referred to as “papa-yonayah”. “papa” does not mean wickedness, but simply the sanchita karmas which cause suffering and are still yet to be exhausted. However, he says that lack of Vedic eligibility does not exclude them from attaining knowledge of Brahman and surrendering to Krishna.
This way is also open for Brahmanas and Kshatriyas who also have Vedic eligibility and so they can do what the Shudras do, or follow the path of Upasana through the Veda. And since the Shudras do not have the option of Upasana, they are held in higher esteem if they acquire knowledge as compared to knowledgeable people from the other varnas. This was discussed earlier.
In the case of women, regardless of caste, the path of Upasana is barred for them, as they have to deal with issues like menstruation and pregnancy. Upasana requires meditation that is uninterrupted like the flow of oil. There cannot be a moment’s distraction or it will fail, much like how Arjuna was fixated on the eye of the bird he had to shoot. And it is impossible during menstruation and pregnancy when such distractions of mind and body are bound to occur. Thus, the verse in the Gita is not claiming women are inferior, but merely saying that such interruptions make the path of Upasana impossible for them.
That women are regarded highly is mentioned in the Gita itself, where Krishna cites certain qualities of women as his vibhuti:
kīrtiḥ śrīrvākca nārīṇāṃ smṛtirmedhā dhṛtiḥ kṣamā।। (~ Gita 10.34)
Meaning: Of women (i.e., of goddesses who are the powers of the Lord) I am prosperity (Sri); I am fame (Kirti); I am speech (Vak); I am memory (Smrti); I am intelligence (Medha); I am endurance (Dhrti); and I am forgiveness (Ksama).
The idea is, each manifestation of Lakshmi represents a particular trait and such traits when seen in women, are to be considered as the vibhUti of the Lord. Thus, women are known to possess such qualities by the grace of Lakshmi, which negates the idea that they are considered inferior to men in the Shastra. The inferiority is only on basis of vedic eligibility for valid reasons and even that is no longer the case when women attain the supreme knowledge. We have several women in the Vedas like Gargi, Maitreyi, etc who were well versed in the knowledge of Brahman.
The status of the Shudras and Women in Kali Yuga is mentioned by Shri Veda Vyasa in the Vishnu Purana as well:
dadṛśus te muniṃ tatra jāhnavīsalile dvija / vedavyāsaṃ mahābhāgam ardhasnātaṃ sutaṃ mama // snānāvasānaṃ te tasya pratīkṣanto maharṣayaḥ / tasthus taṭe mahānadyās taruṣaṇḍam upāśritāḥ // magno ‘tha jāhnavītoyād utthāyāha suto mama /vyāsaḥ sādhuḥ kaliḥ sādhur ity evaṃ śṛṇvatāṃ vacaḥ /teṣāṃ munīnāṃ bhūyaś ca mamajja sa nadījale // utthāya sādhu sādhv iti śūdra dhanyo ‘si cābravīt // nimagnaś ca samutthāya punaḥ prāha mahāmuniḥ /yoṣitaḥ sādhu dhanyās tās tābhyo dhanyataro ‘sti kaḥ // tataḥ snātvā yathānyāyam ācāntaṃ taṃ kṛtakriyam /upatasthur mahābhāgā munayas te sutaṃ mama //
(~Vishnu Purana 6.2.4-9)
Meaning: They (the rishis) found the illustrious Muni (Vyasa), my son, half immersed in the water of the Ganges; and awaiting the close of his ablutions, the sages remained on the banks of the sacred stream, under shelter of a grove of trees. As my son plunged down into the water, and again rose up from it, the Munis heard him exclaim, “Excellent, excellent, is the Kali age!” Again he dived, and again rising, said in their hearing, “Well done, well done Shudra; you are happy!” Again he sank down, and as he once more emerged they heard him say, “Well done, well done, women; they are happy! Who are more fortunate than they?” After this, my son finished his bathing, and the sages met him as he approached to welcome them.
The rishis were curious as to why Shri Veda Vyasa declared the Shudras and Women in particular to be fortunate and posed the question to him. Vyasa first explained that in Kali Yuga, the tiniest of efforts yields the same reward that is achieved by far more arduous efforts in the Krita Yuga. Then, he explained his statements on Shudras and Women as follows:
vratacaryopahāraiś ca grāhyo vedo dvijātibhiḥ /tataḥ svadharmasaṃprāptair yaṣṭavyaṃ vidhivad dhanaiḥ // vṛthā kathā vṛthā bhojyaṃ vṛthejyā ca dvijanmanām /patanāya tathā bhāvyaṃ tais tu saṃyamibhiḥ sadā // asamyakkaraṇe doṣas teṣāṃ sarveṣu vastuṣu /bhojyapeyādikaṃ caiṣāṃ necchāprāptikaraṃ dvijāḥ / (~Vishnu Purana 6.2.20-21)
Meaning: Formerly the Vedas were to be acquired by the brahmanas through the diligent observance of self-denial; and it was their duty to celebrate sacrifices conformably to the ritual. Then idle prayers, idle feasts, and fruitless ceremonies, were practised but to mislead the twice-born; for although observed by them devoutly, yet, in consequence of some irregularity in their celebration, sin was incurred in all their works, and what they ate, or what they drank, did not effect the fulfilment of their desires. In all their objects the twice-born enjoyed no independence, and they attained their respective abodes only with exceeding pain.
Vyasa is saying that the eligibility to learn the Veda is not a privilege as it seems for Brahmanas. There is a burden because one incorrect pronunciation or an act can render everything they have done fruitless and it is exceedingly difficult to attain liberation by Upasana. There are stories of brahmanas being born as rakshasas due to a misspelling of the mantras! So many Vedic karmas have to be performed, which results in painstaking labor. In contrast, what does the Shudra do? As below:
pāratantryaṃ samasteṣu teṣāṃ kāryeṣu vai tataḥ /jayanti te nijāṃl lokān kleśena mahatā dvijāḥ // dvijaśuśrūṣayaivaiṣa pākayajñādhikāravān /nijāñ jayati vai lokāñ śūdro dhanyataras tataḥ // (~Vishnu Purana 6.2.20-21)
Meaning: The Shudra, on the contrary, more fortunate than they, reaches the higher worlds by rendering them service, and performing merely the sacrifice of preparing food, in which no rules determine what may or may not be eaten, what may or may not be drunk. Therefore, most excellent sages, is the Shudra fortunate.
The idea is, the fruit of ascetic penances undertaken painfully by virtuous brahmanas, is attained by the Shudra, by merely serving such great people. It is not service to ALL brahmanas, or to wicked exploitative ones, but only an enlightened guru-sishya relationship. As mentioned earlier, there is no point in serving Ravana. Hence, the Shudra is more fortunate as he has attained maximum fruit by minimum effort, and is regarded as more worshipful than the other 3 castes due to achieving this without Vedic eligibility. The rishis aspire to be born as such virtuous Shudras in reality.
Next, Vyasa explains why women are fortunate:
svadharmasyāvirodhena narair labdhaṃ dhanaṃ sadā /pratipādyaṃ ca pātreṣu yaṣṭavyaṃ ca yathāvidhi // tasyārjane mahān kleśaḥ pālane ca dvijottamāḥ / tathāsadviniyogāya vijñeyaṃ gahanaṃ nṛṇām // ebhir anyais tathā kleśaiḥ puruṣo dvijasattamāḥ / nijāñ jayati vai lokān prājāpatyādikān kramāt // yoṣic chuśrūṣaṇaṃ bhartuḥ karmaṇā manasā girā / kurvatī samavāpnoti tatsālokyaṃ yato dvijāḥ // (~Vishnu Purana 6.2.26-28 //
Meaning: Riches are accumulated by men in modes not incompatible with their peculiar duties, and they are then to be bestowed upon the worthy, and expended in constant sacrifice. There is great trouble in their acquisition; great care in their preservation; great distress from the want of them; and great grief for their loss. Thus, eminent Brahmanas, through these and other sources of anxiety, men attain their allotted abodes of Brahma and the rest only by exceeding labour and suffering. This is not the case with women: a woman has only to honour her husband, in act, thought, and speech, to reach the same region to which he is elevated; and she thus accomplishes her object without any great exertion. This was the purport of my exclamation, ‘Well done!’
The woman has no Vedic eligibility, but if she serves her husband by assisting him with his Vedic karmas like agnihotra and taking care of his meals etc, then she attains the same abode as her husband! Thus she is fortunate, as it is the husband who toils and she merely assists him.
Note that “service to husband” does not mean tolerating wife beaters, or doing menial jobs. The husbands mentioned here are pious people who are free of material desire and anger, who adhere to the Vedas. Any wife would feel a desire to serve such a husband and take care of his daily needs, would they not? And neither does this service mean women are not allowed to work in the material world, or learn and impart knowledge of Brahman to others. The disqualification is only from performing vedic sacrifices, there is no claim that women are less intelligent or weaker.
Which brings us to the issue of the so-called “wife beating” verses in the Brihadaranyaka that have been misinterpreted by modern day anti-hindus. The following verse occurs in the Brihadaranyaka:
If she (the wife) does not willingly yield her body to him, he should buy her with presents. If she is still unyielding, he should strike her with a stick or with his hand and overcome her, repeating the following mantra: “With power and glory I take away your glory.” Thus she becomes discredited. (~Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 6.4.7)
Those who quote this are unaware of the context or the true interpretation. This is a description of the putramantha rite for progeny. Firstly, these rites are not conducive for salvation in the first place. The Gita describes the Vedas as “trigunya vishaya” (Gita 2.45) – the Vedas not only talk about the means for liberation, but also for petty aims like attaining wealth, getting rid of enemies etc. Why? Because the Vedas recognize that not all people want liberation. Some are incurably addicted to material pleasures and sinful acts. Hence, rather than leaving them to perish, the Veda prescribes how they can attain the forbidden fruits by performing certain rituals. This way, the adherence to Vedas while seeking these fruits could purify their minds and rid them of sins, and soon they will drop their interest in such fruits and aspire for the essence of Vedas which is the knowledge of Brahman. Thus, such rituals which involve animal sacrifices, defeating enemies etc is meant for the lower class of people and should not be practiced by the evolved ones – this is acknowledged in the shrutis and smritis. The mere prescription of such rituals does not imply a recommendation.
Let us take the example of one such instance in the Veda, which is the Syena Yaga meant for inflicting injuries on enemies. The purva mimamsa commentator Shabara explains the reason for its’ existence thus in his commentary to the Purva Mimamsa Sutras. Quoting the exercept:
ADHYAYA I, ADHIKARANA (3). 7
“As a matter of fact, the Veda indicates both what is moral and what is immoral.—” What is moral?” —That which is conducive to good, such as the Jyotistoma and other acts.—” What is immoral”—That which leads to evil (sin), such as the Syena, the Vajra, the Ian and other (malevolent) acts.— Thus the Sutra has used the term ‘artha’, what is conducive to good ‘, in order to preclude the possibility of the Immoral act (which is not conducive to good) being included under the term dharma.
Objection :—” Why should the immoral act be so called?”
Reply :—Because it involves inflicting of injury, and the inflicting of injury has been forbidden.
Objection :—” How then is it that an immoral act (in the shape of the Syena sacrifice, for instance) is enjoined as something that should be done ? “
The answer to this is that the Syena and other such (malevolent) sacrifices are nowhere found to be spoken of as what should be done; they are indicated only in the form that ‘if a man desires to inflict injury upon another, the performance (of the Syena) would be the means for that purpose’. What the Vedic text says is only that ‘one desiring to inflict injury may perform the Syena’ (cf. Saclvirhaha-Brahman 8. 1-2),—not that one should inflict injury ‘. [The man is urged to undertake the performance of the Syena entirely by his desire to inflict injury, not by any Vedic text enjoining that act as what ought to be done.]
The idea is, the Veda enjoins meat eating and injuring others only because people desire to do such immoral acts. If these people do it by themselves, they are likely to incur sin and probably would continue in that track. They cannot be convinced to give up such acts. But if they follow the injunctions of the Vedas in committing atrocities, they will know that the Vedic injunctions are effective — this may instill a conviction in the Vedas in their minds and prompt them to explore the higher meanings of the Vedas that relate to the Supreme Brahman, and hence they could eventually be elevated to a peaceful disposition. So, the Vedas contain injunctions of acts to be performed for people of al dispositions, but the true injunction is to follow only that highest knowledge which is recommended by the Vedas themselves.
Now, coming to the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the idea is, there is a husband who is perfect in nature – kind, devoid of anger and attachment, devoted to Brahman and possessing virtuous qualities, who takes care of his wife very well. Such a person performs this putramantha rite and wants his wife to give him a son who will assist him with Veda karyas. When the husband is so righteous, is not the duty of the wife to accept his request which is noble on account of gaining merit by a son? It does not refer to some evil husband or just any ordinary man. The adhikari eligible for a putramantha rite itself is rare, so it doesn’t even recommend this ritual for all men in general.
In this Putramantha rite, the husband should be one who knows the meditation on the vital airs. He should have performed the rite as well. The wife should aves bathed for three nights. And if after all these conditions which not every random man can fulfill, and despite understanding the good intentions of the husband to have a son to propagate the Vedic lineage, the wife refuses to bear him one, he should still only try to persuade her with gifts. If she is still adamant, the shruti says he should renounce her. It doesn’t say he should indulge in marital rape, but merely says she is no longer considered to share in his glory and be his wife. And even here, actual beating is not recommended. What is said is that if the wife refuses progeny for such a virtuous husband, he should strike her with a stick or hand gently — not beat her, but just tap her which is symbolic of renouncement. The actual punishment is the mantra which translates to “I take away your glory” which means her eligibility for higher worlds is taken away by the ascetic merit gained by the husband. There is no marital rape, wife beating or torture. The “beating” is part of the ritual to make the mantra effective.
The Putramantha rite lists a string of near-unattainable qualifications for a virtuous husband to renounce his unwilling wife when she is not willing, and even the act of “beating” is nothing but a light tap symbolic of renouncement. It has absolutely no violence or rape as implied by commies who quote it.
A similar verse occurs in Manu Smriti for which Medhatithi, the commentator writes:
“What is enjoined here is the method of keeping the persons on the right path, and not actual beating; so that chastisement may be administered verbally; and in cases where the fault is serious, there may also be beating” (Here, the beating is not severe, but a tap on the back using a bamboo stick).
That this is the correct opinion is validated by the Sambhava Parva of the Mahabharata which is effusive in the praise of the wife. As this is a large section, I am not quoting the Sanskrit here for brevity, but giving a rough translation from the internet (note that the translation is not entirely accurate):
“She is a true wife who is skilful in household affairs. She is a true wife who has borne a son. She is a true wife whose heart is devoted to her lord. She is a true wife who knows none but her lord. The wife is a man’s half. The wife is the first of friends. The wife is the root of dharma, artha and kama. The wife is the root of moksha. They that have wives can perform dharma karyas (Vedic acts like agnihotra etc). They that have wives can lead domestic lives. They that have wives have the means to be cheerful. They that have wives can achieve good fortune. Sweet-speeched wives are friends on occasions of joy. They are as fathers on occasions of Vaidika karmas. They are mothers in sickness and woe. Even in the deep woods to a traveller a wife is his refreshment and solace. He that has a wife is trusted by all. A wife, therefore, is one’s most valuable possession…… Men scorched by mental grief, or suffering under bodily pain, feel as much refreshed in the companionship of their wives as a perspiring person in a cool bath. No man, even in anger, should ever do anything that is disagreeable to his wife, seeing that happiness, joy, and virtue,–everything depends on the wife. A wife is the sacred field in which the husband is born himself. Even Rishis cannot create creatures without women.” (~ Sambhava Parva, Mahabharata)
When the Mahabharata says a man must never do anything disagreeable to his wife, where is the question of beating wives?
Two points to note – the bearing of a son as opposed to a daughter is praised highly not because of sexism or other ideas, but because a son has Vedic eligibility. Secondly, by saying a wife is a possession of the husband, what is meant is that she exists solely for his sake as opposed to being considered as property. That must be evident from the effusive praise of the wife.
Thus, this rather lengthy article could help to show that there is zero discrimination of any sort in Sanatana Dharma towards anyone. Our shastras are not concerned with petty morals, sharia, adultery, or other such material things or morality. All injunctions, even those that outwardly seem worldly and on a material plane, are geared towards a realization of the self, and thus, they should be understood in that context.
- Sri Vishnu Cittiyam – a commentary on Vishnu Purana by Shri Vishnu Citta
- Purva Mimamsa Sutras with the Commentary of Shabara
- Sacred Texts.Com
- Srimad Gita Saram by Shri U.Ve Thirukallam Narasimharaghavachariar