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Swayambhu Manu – Who is Swayambhu Manu in Hinduism?

Swayambhu Manu in Hinduism is the name of one of the most ancient dharmashatra karas – writers of Dharmashastra, the text concerned with rules of conduct and law of India. Swayambhu is he who appeared on his own or is of divine origin (not born as a result of sexual union). Manu is a generic and honorific title indicating the ‘father of the human race.”

The word ‘manu’ is considered to be the title of a post in the hierarchy of divinity, like the post of Indra.

Manu is the sole monarch of the Earth for a given period called manvantara. A manvantara is approximately equal to 306, 720, 000 human years.

The first part of this name Swayambhu means Brahma. This is in conformity with the narrative indicated in the present Manusmriti, where it is said that Brahma taught the first discourse of dharma, which was condensed in stages by later writers.

Swayambhu Manu is said to have promulgated dharma for the first time on this Earth as per the description in the Mahabharata (Shanti Parva – 336 – 38 to 46).

Manu occurs in Rig Veda 7-30-3 – “Oh gods, may you protect us, help us, speak in your favor; may you not let us stray from the ancestral path of Manu.”

Manu referred to in Satapatha Brahmana and Matsya Purana, apropos of the story of the deluge of world, the incarnation of Vishnu as a fish is considered to be a reference to the first of the Manus, who happens to be the Swayambhu Manu.

The teachings of Swayambhu Manu took four streams, under the masters Bhrigu, Narada, Brihaspati and Angiras. All these are revered as Dharmashastra writers.

The extant Manusmriti is under the stream of Bhrigu. According to the narrative in Manusmriti, six Manus sprang from Swayambhu Manu. And they rule in turn for their respective cycle of time.

Matsya Purana provides a reckoning of the lunar day from which rule of each of the fourteen Manus begins. According to this, Swayambhu Manu’s rule started on lunar calendar reference – Kartika lunar month – bright half, twelfth day.

A controversy as to the identity of Swayambhu Manu, Pracetasa Manu and Manu is discussed by scholars. The basis for the discussion is the indiscriminate taking of these names in the Mahabharata and some earlier works.

As noted above, if one accepts that Manu is a generic title of a post, the issue needs to be resolved by the meaning of the two words Swayambhu and Pracetasa. The word praceta is an epithet of Varuna, the lord of oceans and the water (praetah varunah pasi, yadasam pati rappatih amara kosha); Pracetasa means a person born in the lineage of Varuna.

We learn from Taittirya Upanishad that Bhrigu is the son of Varuna (Bhrgurvai Varunih); and we have a Bhrigu who is the son of Swayambhu Manu, who has condensed/compiled the original work to the present state. Thus Bhrigu is identifiable as Pracetasa. The use of the word Pracetasa may be for metrical reasons for the completion of the shloka or to indicate the opinion of Manu as expressed by Bhrigu’s stream of thought. Thus, there is no need to make efforts to identify Pracetasa Manu as distinct from Swayambhu Manu. According to scholars, Swayambhu Dharmashastra is the most ancient work and the precursor of later Manusmriti.

  • History of Dharmasastra (1962) by PV Kane – published by Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute Pune.
  • Manusmriti (translation) (1999) by Ganganath Jha – published by Motilal Banarsidass New Delhi
  • Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume X page 251 – 252 – IHRF.