In inquiring into the manners of a nation, our attention is first attracted to the condition of the women. This may be gathered from the laws relating to marriage, as well as from incidental regulations or observations which undesignedly exhibit the views under which the sex was regarded.
The laws relating to marriage, as has been seen, though in some parts they bear strong traces of a rude age, are not on the whole unfavourable to the weaker party. The state of women in other respects is such as might be expected from those laws.
A wife is to be entirely obedient and devoted to her husband, who is to keep her under legal restrictions, but to leave her at her own disposal in innocent and lawful recreations286. When she has no husband, she is to be in a state of similar dependence on her male relations287; but, on the other hand, the husband and all the male relations are strictly enjoined to honour the women: “where women are dishonoured, all religious acts become fruitless;” – “where female relations are made miserable, the family very soon wholly perishes;”
but “where a husband is contented with his wife, and she with her husband, in that house will fortune assuredly be permanent.” The husband’s indulgence to his wife is even regulated on points which seem singular in a code of laws; among these it is enjoined that she be “constantly supplied with ornaments, apparel, and food, at festivals and jubilees288.”
Widows are also under the particular protection of the law. Their male relations are positively forbidden to interfere with their property. (III. 52.) The King is declared the guardian of widows and single women, and is directed to punish relations who encroach on their fortunes as thieves. (VIII. 28, 29.)
There is little about domestic manners except as relates to the Bramins, and they, as usual, are placed Under austere and yet puerile restrictions. A man of that class must not eat with his wife, nor look at her eating, or yawning, or sitting carelessly, or when setting of her eyes with black powder, or on many other occasions289.
In all classes women are to be employed in the collection and expenditure of wealth; in purification and female duty; in the preparation of daily food, and the superintendence of household utensils.”
“ By confinement at home, even under affectionate and observant guardians, they are not
secure; but those women are truly secure who are guarded by their own inclinations290.”
There is not the least mention of Sattis; indeed, as the widows of Bramins are enjoined to lead a virtuous, austere, and holy life291, it is plain that their burning with their husbands was never thought of.
The only suicides authorised in the Code are for a Bramin hermit suffering under an incurable disease, who is permitted to proceed towards a certain point of the heavens with no sustenance but water, until he dies of exhaustion292; and for a King, who, when he finds his end draw near, is to bestow such wealth as he may have gained by legal fines on the Bramins, commit his kingdom to his son, and seek death in battle, or, if there be no war, by abstaining from food293.
Few more particulars can be gleaned regarding manners. The strict celibacy imposed on the Bramin youths seems to have excited a just distrust of their continence: a student who is enjoined to perform personal services, and to kiss the feet of his spiritual father’s other near relations, is directed to omit those duties in the case of his young wife; he is desired to be always on his
guard when in company with women, and to beware how he trusts himself in a sequestered place even with those who should be the most sacred in his eyes294.
Some notion of the pleasures most indulged in may be formed from those against which a King is cautioned (VII. 47.). Among them are hunting, gaming, sleeping by day, excess with women, intoxication, singing, instrumental music, dancing, and useless travel. Some little light is also thrown on manners, by the much-frequented places where thieves, quacks, fortune-tellers, and other impostors are said to haunt. They include cisterns of water, bakehouses, the lodgings of harlots, taverns and victualling shops, squares where four ways meet, large well-known trees, assemblies, and public spectacles.
Minute rules are given for the forms of salutation and civility to persons of all classes, and in all relations.
Great respect is inculcated for parents295 and for age; for learning and moral conduct, as well as for wealth and rank. “Way must be made for a man in a wheeled carriage, or above ninety years old, or afflicted with disease, or carrying a burden, for a woman, for a priest (in certain cases), for a prince, and for a bridegroom296.”
I scarcely know where to place, so as to do justice to the importance assigned to it in the Code,
the respect enjoined to immemorial custom. It is declared to be “transcendent law,” and “the root of all piety297.” It is, indeed, to this day the vital spirit of the Hindu system, and the immediate cause of the permanence of these institutions. Learning is greatly honoured throughout the Code, and the cultivation of it is recommended to all classes. It is true the Vedas, and the commentaries on them, with a few other books, are the only ones to which the student is directed; but he is to learn theology, logic, ethics, and physical science from those works298; and we know that those subjects are discussed in the tracts appended to each Veda: each is also accompanied by a treatise entirely relating to astronomy; and, from the early excellence of the Bramins in all these branches of learning, it is probable that they made considerable progress even when this Code was formed.
The arts of life, though still in a simple state, were far from being in a rude one. Gold and gems, silks and ornaments, are spoken of as being in all families299. Elephants, horses, and chariots are familiar as conveyances for men, as are cattle, camels, and waggons for goods. Gardens, bowers, and terraces are mentioned; and the practice, still subsisting, of the construction of ponds and orchards by wealthy men for the public benefit. is here, perhaps, first enjoined300. Cities are seldom
alluded to, nor are there any regulations or any officers beyond the wants of an agricultural township. The only great cities were, probably, the capitals.
The professions mentioned show all that is necessary to civilised life, but not all required for high refinement. Though gems and golden ornaments were common, embroiderers and similar workmen, who put those materials to the most delicate uses, are not alluded to; and painting and writing could scarcely have attained the cultivation which they reached in after times, when they were left among the trades open to a Sudra in times of distress.
Money is often mentioned, but it does not appear whether its value was ascertained by weight or fixed by coining. The usual payments are in panas, the name now applied to a certain number of the shells called couris, which are used as change for the lowest copper coins.
The number of kinds of grain, spices, perfumes, and other productions, are proofs of a highly cultivated country; and the code in general presents the picture of a peaceful and flourishing community. Some of the features which seem to indicate misgovernment are undiminished at the present day, but affect the society in a far less degree than would seem possible to a distant observer.
On the other hand, the frequent allusions to times of distress give ground for a suspicion that
the famines, which even now are sometimes the scourge of India, were more frequent in ancient times. There is no trace of nomadic tribes, such as still subsist in most Asiatic countries.
Of all ancient nations, the Egyptians are the one whom the Hindus seem most to have resembled; but our knowledge of that people is too limited to reflect light on any other with which they might be compared301.
It might be easier to compare them with the Greeks, as painted by Homer, who was nearly contemporary with the compilation of the Code; and, however inferior in spirit and energy, as well as in elegance, to that heroic race, yet, on contrasting their law and forms of administration, the state of the arts of life, and the general spirit of order and obedience to the laws, the eastern nation seems clearly to have been in the more advanced stage of society. Their internal institutions were less rude; their conduct to their enemies more humane; their general learning was much more considerable; and, in the knowledge of the being and nature of God, they were already in possession of a light which was but faintly perceived even by the loftiest intellects in the best days of Athens. Yet the Greeks were polished by free communication with many nations, and have recorded the improvements which they early derived from each;
while the Hindu civilisation grew up alone, and thus acquired an original and peculiar character, that continues to spread an interest over the higher stages of refinement to which its unaided efforts afterwards enabled it to attain. It may, however, be doubted, whether this early and independent civilisation was not a misfortune to the Hindus; for, seeing themselves superior to all the tribes of whom they had knowledge, they learned to despise the institutions of foreigners, and to revere their own, until they became incapable of receiving improvement from without, and averse to novelties even amongst themselves.
On looking back to the information collected from the Code, we observe the three twice-born classes forming the whole community embraced by the law, and the Sudras in a servile and degraded condition. Yet it appears that there are cities governed by Sudra kings, in which Bramins are advised not to reside302, and that there are “whole territories inhabited by Sudras, overwhelmed with atheists, and deprived of Bramins303.”
The three twice-born classes are directed invariably to dwell in the country between the Himawat304 and the Vindya mountains305, from the eastern to the western ocean.
But, though the three chief classes are confined to this tract, a Sudra distressed for subsistence may sojourn wherever he chooses306.
It seems impossible not to conclude from all this, that the twice-born men were a conquering people; that the servile class were the subdued aborigines; and that the independent Sudra towns were in such of the small territories, into which Hindostan was divided, as still retained their independence, while the whole of the tract beyond the Vindya mountains remained as yet untouched by the invaders, and unpenetrated by their religion.
A doubt, however, soon suggests itself, whether the conquerors were a foreign people, or a local tribe, like the Dorians in Greece; or whether, indeed, they were not merely a portion of one of the native states (a religious sect, for instance) which had outstripped their fellow citizens in knowledge, and appropriated all the advantages of the society to themselves.
The different appearance of the higher classes from the Sudras, which is so observable to this day, might incline us to think them foreigners; but, without entirely denying this argument, (as far, at least, as relates to the Bramins and Cshetriyas,) we must advert to some considerations which greatly weaken its force.
The class most unlike the Bramins are the
Chandalas, who are, nevertheless, originally the offspring of a Bramin mother; and who might v. have been expected to have preserved their resemblance to their parent stock, as, from the very lowness of their cast, they are prevented mixing with any race but their own. Difference of habits and employments is, of itself, sufficient to create as great a dissimilarity as exists between the Bramin and the Sudra; and the hereditary separation of professions, in India would contribute to keep up and to increase such a distinction307.
It is opposed to their foreign origin, that neither in the Code, nor, I believe, in the Vedas, nor in any book that is certainly older than the Code, is there any allusion to a prior residence, or to a knowledge of more than the name of any country out of India. Even mythology goes no further than the Hemalaya chain, in which is fixed the habitation of the gods.
The common origin of the Shanscrit language with those of the west leaves no doubt that there was once a connection between the nations by whom they are used; but it proves nothing regarding the place where such a connection subsisted, nor about the time, which might have been in so early a stage of their society as to prevent
its throwing any light on the history of the individual nations. To say that it spread from a central point is a gratuitous assumption, and even contrary to analogy; for emigration and civilisation have not spread in a circle, but from east to west. Where, also, could the central point be, from which a language could spread over India, Greece, and Italy, and yet leave Chaldea, Syria, and Arabia untouched?
The question, therefore, is still open. There is no reason whatever for thinking that the Hindus ever inhabited any country but their present one; and as little for denying that they may have done so before the earliest trace of their records or traditions. Assuming that they were a conquering tribe, we may suppose the progress of their society to have been something like the following: that the richer or more warlike members continued to confine themselves to the profession of arms: that the less eminent betook themselves to agriculture, arts, and commerce: that the priests were, at first, individuals who took advantage of the superstition of their neighbours, and who may have transmitted their art and office to their sons, but did not form a separate class: that the separation of classes by refusing to intermarry originated in the pride of the military body, and was imitated by the priests: that the conquered people were always a class apart, at first cultivating the land for the conquerors, and afterwards converted by the interest and convenience of their masters into free tenants:
that the government was in the hands of the military leaders, and probably exercised by one chief: that the chief availed himself of the aid of the priests in planning laws and obtaining a religious sanction to them: that the priests, as they rose into consequence, began to combine and act in concert: that they invented the genealogy of casts, and other fables, to support the existing institutions, and to introduce such alterations as they thought desirable: that, while they raised the power of the chief to the highest pitch, they secured as much influence to their own order as could be got without creating jealousy or destroying the ascendency they derived from the public opinion of their austerity and virtue: that the first Code framed was principally a record of existing usages; and may have been compiled by a private person, and adopted for convenience; or may have been drawn up by Bramins of influence, and passed off as an ancient revelation from the Divinity: that, as changes arose in the progress of society, or in the policy of the rulers, alterations were made in the law, and new codes formed incorporating the old one; but that, at length, the text of the Code became fixed, and all subsequent changes were introduced in the form of glosses on the original, or of new laws promulgated by the royal authority. To all appearance, the present Code was not compiled until long after the community had passed the earliest stages of civilisation.
In making a general review of the Code, we are struck with two peculiarities in its relation to the class of Bramins by whom it seems to have been planned. The first is the little importance attached by them to the direction of public worship and religious ceremonies of all sorts. Considering the reverence derived by the ministers of religion from their apparent mediation between the laity and the Divinity, and also the power that might be obtained by means of oracles, and other modes of deception, it might rather have been expected that such means of influence should be neglected by the priesthood, in the security arising from long possession of temporal authority, than renounced in an early Code, the main object of which is to confirm and increase the power of the Bramins.
The effects of this neglect are also deserving of observation. It was natural that the degradation of public worship should introduce the indifference now so observable in the performance of it; but it is surprising that the regular practice of it by all classes should still be kept up at all; and that, on some occasions, as pilgrimages, festivals, &c., it should be able to kindle enthusiasm.
The second peculiarity is the regulation of all the actions of life, in a manner as strict and minute as could be enforced in a single convent, maintained over so numerous a body of men as the Bramins, scattered through an extensive region; living with their families like other citizens, and subject to no common chief or council, and to no
form of ecclesiastical government or subordination. Various causes contributed to support this discipline, which, at first, seems to have been left to chance, – the superstitious reverence for the divine law, which must in time have been felt even by the class whose progenitors invented it; their strict system of early education; the penances enjoined by religion, perhaps enforced by the aid of the civil authority; the force of habit and public opinion after the rules had obtained the sanction of antiquity; but, above all, the vigilance of the class itself, excited by a knowledge of the necessity of discipline for the preservation of their power, and by that intense feeling of the common interest of the class which never, perhaps, was so deeply seated as in the heart of a Bramin.
In spite of these forces, however, the Bramin discipline has gradually declined. Their rules have been neglected in cases where the temptation was strong, or the risk of loss of influence not apparent, until the diminished sanctity of their character has weakened their power, and has thrown a considerable portion of it into the hands of men of other classes, who form the great body of the monastic orders.
286. Chap. IX. 2, &c.
287. Chap. V. 147, &c.
288. Chap. III. 55–61.
289. Chap. IV. 43, &c.
290. Chap. IX. 11, 12.
291. Chap. V. 156–158.
292. Chap. VI. 31.
293. Chap. IX. 323. It is singular that the practice of self-immolation by fire, which is stated by Mr. Colebrooke (Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. i. p. 458.) to have been authorised by the Vedas, and is related by the ancients to have been practised by Calanus, is nowhere mentioned in the Code.
294. Chap. II. 211–215.
295. Chap. II. 22.5–237.
296. Chap. II. 130–138.
297. Chap. I. 108–110.
298. Chap. XII, 98. 105, 106.
299. Chap. V. 111, 112.; VII. 130.
300. Chap. IV. 226.
301. The particular points of resemblance are set forth by Heeren – Historical Researches (Asiatic Nations), vol. iii. p. 411. to the end.
302. Chap. IV. 61.
303. Chap. VIII. 22.
305. Still so called, and forming the boundaries of Hindostan Proper, on the south, as Hemalaya does on the north. The legislator must have had an indistinct idea of the eastern termination of the range.
306. Chap. II. 21–24.
307. Observe the difference which even a few years can produce between two individuals, who were alike when they began life; between a soldier of a well-disciplined regiment, for instance, and a man of the least active and healthy of the classes in a manufacturing town.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage