Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Was it Manu Cholan or Manu Needhi Cholan ?

The Cholas were one of the longest ruling dynasties from Tamilnadu. The earliest references to the Cholas are in the Sangam literature, although the Cholas claimed to be from the Solar Race ( the Ravi Kula / the Surya Kula / the Parithi Kula). They were the biggest 'Hindu' kingdom after the Guptas (the concept of Hinduism as an 'ism', came in much later). Historians classify the Chola dynasty into three eras - the Early Cholas from the pre and post Sangam era - upto 200 CE ,which included kings like Karikalan, Ilamchetcenni , Killivalavan, Kochengannan and others,  the Medieval Cholas from Vijayalaya Chola till Adhirajendra Chola ( 848 CE to 1070 CE), and the later Cholas from Kulothunga Chola till Rajendra Chola III ( 1070 CE till 1279 CE )...

The Cholas prided themselves in belonging to the lineage of two legendary selfless kings - Sibi and Manu.  King Sibi is said to have offered his flesh to a hungry hawk to rescue a dove and King Manu , who killed his son to atone for his son accidentally killing a calf that ran into his chariot wheels. The legends are still popular , with Sibi being referred as Sibi Chakaravarthy and Manu being commonly referred to as Manuneedhi Cholan. Herein lies a confusion. Was it Manu Cholan or Manuneedhi Cholan - for Manuneedhi is often interpreted as Manusmirti and the logic is stretched to say that Cholas are supposed to have adopted the Manusmriti and more dangerously to say that Saivism accepts Manu smriti. 

A detailed story of Manu was first presented by St Sekkizhar in the first sarukkam or chapter , when discussing the glory of Tiruvarur in his Periyapuraman (திருமலைச் சருக்கம் ,  திருநகரச் சிறப்பு). A more elaborate version was written by Vallalar St Ramalingam. 

Sekkizhar never uses the name Manuneedhi Cholan. He always refers to the king as Manu cholan or Manu Vendhan ( மனு வேந்தன் ). He sings in detail how Manu's only son and prince, rode with his retinue on the main street , how a calf runs into the chariot and dies. The Cow, seeing its calf die wails, goes to Manu's palace and with its horns tolls the bell hung for citizens to call the king and seek justice. The bell which was remaining unused was used for the first time, bringing Manu and his ministers to the door. On seeing the strange happening, Manu looked at his minister who informs him of the entire event.  Manu is pained to see the grieving cow and decides to seek atonement. Manu's ministers tell him to seek atonement as per the rules prescribed by the Vedic Pandits . Here again Sekkizhar uses the word Vedhiyar ( வேதியர் ) , and not Andhanar (அந்தணர் ) - clearly indicating the difference between the two. Manu declines to adopt it.  Sekkizkar says, when his ministers talk to him of laws of justice, Manu dismisses them saying
“Let your exposition of law be, what it is; 
You speak, not knowing the truth of the great nature ..."
And says only the loss of His own and only son will make him fully feel the true pain of the cow. So saying, he proceeds to run a chariot over his son and kills him.
A sculpture in Tiruvarur depicting the scene 
The story concludes with the Lord of Tiruvarur appearing to bless Manu and restoring the life of the calf, and the prince. 

Manu's idea of justice was hence very different from what 'Manu', the law giver had prescribed. To Manu the law giver, slaying a cow was a 'minor' offence that can be atoned. Manusmriti in Chapter XI says 
109. He who has committed a minor offence by slaying a cow (or bull) shall drink during (the first) month (a decoction of) barley-grains; having shaved all his hair, and covering himself with the hide (of the slain cow), he must live in a cow-house.
110. During the two (following) months he shall eat a small (quantity of food) without any factitious salt at every fourth meal-time, and shall bathe in the urine of cows, keeping his organs under control.
111. During the day he shall follow the cows and, standing upright, inhale the dust (raised by their hoofs); at night, after serving and worshipping them, he shall remain in the (posture, called) virasana.
112. Controlling himself and free from anger, he must stand when they stand, follow them when they walk, and seat himself when they lie down.

King Manu obviously hence did not follow Manu smriti. His idea of justice was egalitarian. While rebuking his ministers for asking him to follow the texts of law, Manu in Sekkizhar's words remarks 

“Is not the ruler of a realm that guards its lives
Duty-bound to rid his subjects
Of hindrance-breeding fear fivefold
Stemming from himself, his men in power,
Harmful hostility of foes, thieves and wild animals,
And thus protect Dharma? 

A close reading of the Manu smriti will clearly indicate that what the Periya puranam talks about was King Manu's justice and not Manu the law giver's justice. It was hence Manu Cholan and not Manu Needhi Cholan. 

To refer to the Chola king Manu as Manu Needhi Cholan is either a result of ignorance or is a result of a mischievous attempt to gain sanctity for the Manusmriti , which atleast in its present form is one which fosters inequality and injustice. Manu smriti not only contradicts the Bhagavad Gita and the Unpanishads (by fixing one's varna at birth), it also is against the spirit of Saivism and even if one were to suggest its adoption selectively, leaves too much scope for confusion. There is nothing universal or 'Hindu' about the text. The book needs to be read only to understand the extent of damage such a text can cause to generations of humanity and should otherwise be discarded. 

1 comment:

  1. I get reminded of a folk song I have come across when I was young: " pirappokkum enbadhu valluvam sonnadhu. Pirappil varnam enbadhu manudharmakaaran sonnadhu'