The Narada-smriti or Naradiya Dharmasastra first attracted attention nearly a century ago by being quoted in the Preface to Sri W. Jones’s celebrated translation of the Code of Manu. What caused it to be brought before the notice of the learned world, was its bearing on the origin and history of the authoritative law-book of ancient India. The statements extracted by Sir W. jones from the opening chapter of Narada’s law-book require some modification at present, as he was not acquainted with the larger and more authentic of the two versions of Narada’s work, which is now translated. It appears from the present work that Narada, the reputed compiler of the Naradiya Dharmasastra , refers to four, instead of three , successive versions of the Code of Manu, in 100,000 slokas or 1,080 chapters, in 12,000, 8,000, and 4,000 slokas. The authorship of these four versions is assigned, respectively, to Manu, Narada, Markandeya, and Sumati, the son of Bhrigu, and the Narada- smriti is described as an abridgment, made by Narada, of the ninth or Vyavahara (legal) chapter of the original Code in 100,000 slokas. The first part of Narada’s abridgment of the ninth chapter of Manu’s Code is designed as a matrika or vyavahara-matrika, ‘summary of proceedings-at-law’ or ‘general rules of procedure’.
Though the mythical nature of the Preface to the Narada-smriti is sufficiently apparent, some facts which recently have come to light impart a higher degree of probability to the alleged connexion between Manu and Narada, than was formerly allowed by myself. Thus the contents of Narada’s Preface to his Smriti appear to have been known to such an early author as Medhatithi, who quotes it, rather loosely it is true, in his Commentary on the Code of Manu, where he says that ‘this work, consisting of one hundred thousand (slokas), was composed by Pragapati and abridged successively by Manu and the rest. This goes far to prove that the Preface to the Narada-smriti and attained notoriety as early as the ninth century A.D. , and must be nearly or quite as old as the remainder of the work. The antiquity of the account given by Narada of the origin and history of the principal code of ancient India is supported to some extent by the Pauranik statement regarding four successive remodellings of the original composition of Svayambhuva (Manu), by Bhrigu, Narada, Brihaspati, and Angiras, and by a curious tradition preserved in the Mahabharata, to the effect that the original Dharmasastra, produced by Brahman in 100,000 chapters, was successively reduced to 10,000, 5,000, 3,000, and 1,000 chapters by Smakara, Indra, Brihaspati, and Kavya. What is more, in a colophon of the ancient Nepalese MS. of the Narada- smriti, that work is actually designed as the Manava Dharmasastra in the recension of Narada (manave dharmasastre naradaproktayam samhita-yam), just as the Code of Manu in the Colophons is usually called the Manava Dharmasastra in the recension of Bhrigu (manave dharmasastre naradaproktayam samhitayam, or manave dharmasastre bhriguprokte). Again, the chapter on theft (kaurapratishedha), which has come to light in Mr. Bendall’s Nepalese Palm-leaf MS. of Narada, and in a Nepalese paper MS. recently discovered by the same socholar, forms an appendix to the body of the Narada-smriti, exactly in the same way as an analogous chapter on robbery and other criminal offences is tacked on at the close of the eighteen titles of law in the Code of Manu, IX, 252-293. It also deserves to be noted, perhaps, that the Dhamathats of Burma, while professing to be founded on the laws of Manu, contain several rules and maxims which may be traced to the Narada- smriti, whereas they do not occur in the Code of Manu.
Although, therefore, there appears to be an element of truth in Narada’s account of history of the Code of Manu, and of his own Smriti, there can be no doubt that the actual position of the two works has been inverted by him. The composition of Bhrigu, or of Sumati, the son of Bhrigu, i.e. the now extant Code of Manu, is not posterior, but decidedly anterior, in date to the Narada- smriti, as may be gathered easily from a comparison of both works. Thus e.g. Narada mentions twenty-one modes of acquiring property, fifteen sorts of slaves, fourteen species of impotency , three kinds of women twice married, and four kinds of wanton women, twenty women whom a man must not approach, thirty-two divisions of the law of gift, eleven sorts of witness, five or seven ordeals, four and five loser of their suit, two kinds of proof and two kinds of documents, seven advantages resulting from a just decision, eight members of a lawsuit, one hundred and thirty-two divisions of the eighteen principal titles of law. The first germs of some of these theories may be traced to the Code of Manu, and it is interesting to note how these germs have been developed by Narada. As a rule, his judicial theories show an infinitely advanced stage of development as compared to Manu’s, and his treatment of the law of procedure, in particular, abounding as it does in technical terms and nice distinctions, and exhibiting a decided preference for documentary evidence and written records over oral testimony and verbal procedure, exhibits manifest signs of recent composition.
An analogous inference may be drawn from the fact that Narada was apparently acquainted with a work either identical with, or closely allied to, the now extant Code of Manu. His analysis of the contents of the original Code composed by Manu in 100,000 slokas corresponds in the main to the topics treated in that work as it now stands. He quotes the opening verse of the original gigantic work of Manu, and it is a remarkable coincidence that this verse agrees with Manu I, 5,6, i.e. with the actual exordium of the Code of Manu, as vv. I-4 serve as an introduction only, and may be a subsequent addition. Forensic law is alleged to have formed the subject of the ninth chapter of the original composition of Manu. In the Code of Manu, law and judicature are discussed in the eighth and ninth chapters. The twenty-four chapters, divided into one thousand and eighty, i.e. 45 x 24 sections, of the original Code, seem to represent double the twelve chapters of the Code of Manu. On the other hand, Sumati, the son of Bhrigu, who is alleged to have reduced the original Code of Manu to its present size, and to have produced the law-book now current among mankind, may be identified with Brigu, the supposed author of the actual Manu- smriti; and the number of 4,000 slokas, which is assigned to his composition, may be taken to be a rough statement of the actual extent of the manu-smriti, which in reality runs up to 2,685 slokas only.
A consideration of these facts leaves but little doubt that the compiler of the Narada-smriti, whoever he was, must have been acquainted with a work closely akin to the now extant Manu-smriti. This is so much the more probable because several of his reference to the authoritative enunciations of Manu may be actually traced to the Manu-smriti, and because a number of verses either occurring in the MSS, of the Narada-smriti, or attributed to him by the digest-writers, recur in the code of Manu.
However, though acquainted with the Code of Manu, the so-called Narada was far from offering a mere slavish reproduction of its doctrines in his own work. On the contrary, the Narada-smriti must be considered as an independent, and therefore specially valuable, exposition of the whole system of civil and criminal law, as taught in the law schools of the period. It is in fact the only Smriti, completely preserved in Mss., in which law, properly so-called, is treated by itself, without any referenced to rules of penance, diet, and other religious subject; and it throws a new and an important light on the political and social institutions of ancient India at the time of its composition. Several of the doctorines propounded by Narada are decidedly opposed to, and cannot be viewed in the light of developments from, the teaching of Manu. Thus e.g. Narada advocates the practice of Niyoga, or appointment of a widow to raise offspring to her deceased husband; he declares gambling to be a lawful amusement, when carried on in public gaming-houses; he allows the remarriage of widow; he virtually abrogates the right of primogeniture by declaring that even the youngest son may undertake the management of the family property, if specially qualified for the task; he ordains that, in a partition of the family property, the father may reserve two shares for himself, and that, in the case of a partition after his death, the mother shall divide equally with the sons, and an unmarried sister take the same share as a younger son; he lays down a different graduation of fitness those laid down by Manu, &c.
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