Manusmrti, in Sanskrit, “The Laws of Manu,” is a Hindu dharmasastra, any of a class of Sanskrit texts concerned with rules of conduct and law, attributed to the mythical lawgiver Manu; also known as Manava-dharmasastra, or Manu-samhita.
The Manusmrti is the most authoritative of the Sanskrit legal texts. Its social, moral, and ethical precepts are considered binding on Hindus, although apparent contradictions in the text sometimes make literal interpretation difficult for the orthodox Hindu. The Manusmrti consists of 2,685 sloka verses divided into twelve books.
It describes creation; the source of law; varnastradharma, a code of conduct by which Hindus should live; the role of women in society; dietary obligations; political maximums and dharma of kings; civil, criminal, and domestic law; the origins of caste and caste mixing; the nature of good and evil; expiation for sin, especially against caste; and the doctrine of karma and rebirth.
The Manusmrti is chiefly devoted to caste ideology. The instruction of caste (vanra) is given divine sanction, and the supremacy of the brahman caste is maintained. Although having the authority of smrti (in Hinduism, the second art of “scripture,” less the sruti), this authority is rejected by some lower-caste Hindus who regard the Laws of Manu as brahman propaganda.
The Manusmrti may be a metrical recasting of an earlier dharmasutra, any of a class of Sanskrit prose texts concerned with law and rules of conduct (dharma), perhaps of the Manava brahmans, one of the schools of the Black Yajur Veda. The present compilation is no older than 100-300 AD. A.G.H.
Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 615-616