Laws of Manu

(200 BCE–200 CE)

Known by many names—Manavadharmashastra, Manu Smriti, and the Law Codes of Manu—the Laws of Manu is both a legal and a religious text that elaborates on the basic Hindu tenets while providing a window into the religion, culture, and society of ancient India. It covers topics ranging from the role of women to the definition of sin to an explanation of the caste system and its utility in the maintenance of the universe. The Laws of Manu probably dates to between the second century BCE and the second century CE, most likely during the end of the Maurya Dynasty (324–180 BCE).

The Laws of Manu is part of the set of early post-Vedic texts—that is, texts written after the ancient Hindu Vedas (ca. 1200–900 BCE)—known as the Dharma Shastras, which further develop the concept of dharma. While a clear, authoritative definition of Hinduism continues to elude scholars, who debate whether Hinduism is a religion or a way of life, the concepts of dharma, karma, and moksha are constants....

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Bas-relief of Brahma (Library of Congress)

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