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The Laws of Manu (Manusmriti) (1500 B.C. to 200 A.D.)


1. A king, desirous of investigating law cases, must enter his court of justice, preserving a dignified demeanour, together with Brahmanas and with experienced councillors.

2. There, either seated or standing, raising his right arm, without ostentation in his dress and ornaments, let him examine the business of suitors,

3. Daily (deciding) one after another (all cases) which fall under the eighteen titles (of the law) according to principles drawn from local usages and from the Institutes of the sacred law.

4. Of those (titles) the first is the non-payment of debts, (then follow), (2) deposit and pledge, (3) sale without ownership, (4) concerns among partners, and (5) resumption of gifts,

5. (6) Non-payment of wages, (7) non-performance of agreements, (8) rescission of sale and purchase, (9) disputes between the owner (of cattle) and his servants,

6. (10) Disputes regarding boundaries, (11) assault and (12) defamation, (13) theft, (14) robbery and violence, (15) adultery,

7. (16) Duties of man and wife, (17) partition (of inheritance), (18) gambling and betting; these are in this world the eighteen topics which give rise to lawsuits.

8. Depending on the eternal law, let him decide the suits of men who mostly contend on the titles just mentioned.

9. But if the king does not personally investigate the suits, then let him appoint a learned Brahmana to try them.

10. That (man) shall enter that most excellent court, accompanied by three assessors, and fully consider (all) causes (brought) before the (king), either sitting down or standing.

11. Where three Brahmanas versed in the Vedas and the learned (judge) appointed by the king sit down, they call that the court of (four-faced) Brahman.

12. But where justice, wounded by injustice, approaches and the judges do not extract the dart, there (they also) are wounded (by that dart of injustice).

13. Either the court must not be entered, or the truth must be spoken; a man who either says nothing or speaks falsely, becomes sinful.

14. Where justice is destroyed by injustice, or truth by falsehood, while the judges look on, there they shall also be destroyed.

15. 'Justice, being violated, destroys; justice, being preserved, preserves: therefore justice must not be violated, lest violated justice destroy us.'

16. For divine justice (is said to be) a bull (vrisha); that (man) who violates it (kurute 'lam) the gods consider to be (a man despicable like) a Sudra (vrishala); let him, therefore, beware of violating justice.

17. The only friend who follows men even after death is justice; for everything else is lost at the same time when the body (perishes).

18. One quarter of (the guilt of) an unjust (decision) falls on him who committed (the crime), one quarter on the (false) witness, one quarter on all the judges, one quarter on the king.

19. But where he who is worthy of condemnation is condemned, the king is free from guilt, and the judges are saved (from sin); the guilt falls on the perpetrator (of the crime alone).

20. A Brahmana who subsists only by the name of his caste (gati), or one who merely calls himself a Brahmana (though his origin be uncertain), may, at the king's pleasure, interpret the law to him, but never a Sudra.

21. The kingdom of that monarch, who looks on while a Sudra settles the law, will sink (low), like a cow in a morass.

22. That kingdom where Sudras are very numerous, which is infested by atheists and destitute of twice-born (inhabitants), soon entirely perishes, afflicted by famine and disease.

23. Having occupied the seat of justice, having covered his body, and having worshipped the guardian deities of the world, let him, with a collected mind, begin the trial of causes.

24. Knowing what is expedient or inexpedient, what is pure justice or injustice, let him examine the causes of suitors according to the order of the castes (varna).

25. By external signs let him discover the internal disposition of men, by their voice, their colour, their motions, their aspect, their eyes, and their gestures.

26. The internal (working of the) mind is perceived through the aspect, the motions, the gait, the gestures, the speech, and the changes in the eye and of the face.

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156. He who has made a contract to carry goods by a wheeled carriage for money and has agreed to a certain place or time, shall not reap that reward, if he does not keep to the place and the time (stipulated). 

157. Whatever rate men fix, who are expert in sea-voyages and able to calculate (the profit) according to the place, the time, and the objects (carried), that (has legal force) in such cases with respect to the payment (to be made). 

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399. Let the king confiscate the whole property of (a trader) who out of greed exports goods of which the king has a monopoly or (the export of which is) forbidden. 

400. He who avoids a custom-house (or a toll), he who buys or sells at an improper time, or he who makes a false statement in enumerating (his goods), shall be fined eight times (the amount of duty) which he tried to evade. 

401. Let (the king) fix (the rates for) the purchase and sale of all marketable goods, having (duly) considered whence they come, whither they go, how long they have been kept, the (probable) profit and the (probable) outlay. 

402. Once in five nights, or at the close of each fortnight, let the king publicly settle the prices for the (merchants). 

403. All weights and measures must be duly marked, and once in six months let him re-examine them. 

404. At a ferry an (empty) cart shall be made to pay one pana, a man's (load) half a pana, an animal and a woman one quarter of a (pana), an unloaded man one-half of a quarter. 

405. Carts (laden) with vessels full (of merchandise) shall be made to pay toll at a ferry according to the value (of the goods), empty vessels and men without luggage some trifle. 

406. For a long passage the boat-hire must be proportioned to the places and times; know that this (rule refers) to (passages along) the banks of rivers; at sea there is no settled (freight). 

407. But a woman who has been pregnant two months or more, an ascetic, a hermit in the forest, and Brahmanas who are students of the Veda, shall not be made to pay toll at a ferry. 

408. Whatever may be damaged in a boat by the fault of the boatmen, that shall be made good by the boatmen collectively, (each paying) his share. 

409. This decision in suits (brought) by passengers (holds good only) in case the boatmen are culpably negligent on the water; in the case of (an accident) caused by (the will of) the gods, no fine can be (inflicted on them).

Source of electronic text: Internet Medieval Source Book.