The Sanskrit text was first translated into English in 1794, and translations into other European languages swiftly followed. For Nietzsche the humane wisdom of Manu far surpassed that of the New Testament; for the British Raj it seemed to be the perfect tool with which to rule the Hindu. No understanding of modern India is possible without it, and in the richness of its ideas, its aphoristic profundity and its relevance to universal human dilemmas Manu stands beside the great epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
The Laws of Manu form a towering work of Hindu philosophy. Composed by many Brahmin priests, this is an extraordinary, encyclopaedic representation of human life in the world, and how it should be lived. Manu encompasses topics as wide-ranging as the social obligations and duties of the various castes, the proper way for a righteous king to rule and to punish transgressors, relations between men and women, birth, death, taxes, karma, rebirth and ritual practices. First translated into English in 1794, its influence spread from Nietzsche to the British Raj, and although often misinterpreted, it remains an essential work for understanding India today.
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
Wendy Doniger is the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions in the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, where she is also a professor of South Asian languages and civilizations. Her translations for Penguin Classics include The Laws of Manu and Hindu Myths.