Don’t Tax Brahmins: Manu’s Warning! (Post No.3347)

Research article written by London Swaminathan

Date: 12 November 2016


Time uploaded in London: 8-16 AM


Post No.3347


Pictures are taken from various sources; they are representational only; thanks.







Manu in his Manava Dharmasastra gives lot of concessions to Brahmins. At the same time he lays down very strict rules for the Brahmins. He asks the kings nit to tax the Brahmins. Chapter seven of the book contains rules regarding taxation; we get precise rates of taxation from Kautilya’s Arthasastra. But that is a book on Economics. Though Manu also mentions the proportion of tax in some of his couplets, it is not very comprehensive.


Here are some interesting couplets on taxation:

Even if he is dying of hunger, a king must not take taxes from a priest who knows his Veda by heart and no priest who knows his Veda by heart living in his territory should faint with hunger (7-133)


If a priest who knows his Veda by heart faints with hunger, the kingdom of the king in whose territory he lives will also soon faint with hunger (7-134)


The king should always establish the taxes in his kingdom after due consideration, in such a way that both the king and the man are rewarded 7-128

Leech, Calf and Bee

Just as the leech, the calf and the bee eat their food little by little, so the king should take the early taxes from the people little by little 7-129


The king should take a fiftieth part of livestock and god and an eighth or a sixth or a twelfth of crops.7-130


My comments:-

We may think that Manu is unbalanced in his views. But if we replace the word Brahmins with the word “Intellectuals”, then we will understand the significance of his rule. Poor Intellectuals, if exempted from taxes, will work more efficiently to elevate the society.

Thousands of Tamil inscriptions and epigraphs on land donations to Brahmins and the temples talk about the exemption of taxes to Brahmins. So we know that Manu’s laws regarding Tax exemption were followed by the kings for a very long time.

The simile of leech, calf and bee allows us to give a new interpretation: If one is wealthy suck his blood, that means take more tax. We do see such things in most of the countries the rich are taxed up to 60%. If one belongs to the middle income group, be a calf in taxing. If someone is poor be a bee to him.


Tamil Veda Tirukkural says don’t tax the people like a robber (Kural 552)


A sceptered king demanding illegitimate gifts or exhorting taxes beyond approved limit

Is like an armed robber relieving wayfarers of their belongings. (Kural 552)


Kalidasa says be a sun when you tax the people. Take the water with your thousand hands (rays) and return it with million drops of rain (benefits) in his Raghuvamsa Kavya(1-18)

Taxation in Sangam Tamil Literature

Sangam Tamil literature gives details of import tax. When goods were brought in from foreign countries they were taxed.

Pisiranthaiyar, a famous Tamil poet advises his king Panyan Arivudai Nambi to follow moderation in taxing. He gives a beautiful simile to emphasize his point.

If an elephant is fed with cooked food mouth by mouth from a small patch of land, the harvested grains will last for many months. If the same elephant is allowed to graze the fields larger in size, there will be more wastage than the food it took. The crops will be crushed under its feet and left wasted. So be wise in taxing the people. Don’t crush them under your feet like a rash elephant. Take it little by little.(Puram 184)

Later day Tamil inscriptions gives a long list of different taxes.



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1 Comment

  1. There is something surely wrong with our modern systems of taxation.
    In the Hindu system, tax was limited (fixed ) at one sixth of the produce or income. This was after honouring householders’ obligation to five categories to whom they were indebted by ancient dharma and which had a prior claim on their income.. And this tax was collected in kind,

    With the introduction and spread of money economy, income is taken as the index of ability to pay and we have resorted to mindless progressive taxation. But real thinkers know that money does not have the same value for all: economists recognise this as the marginal utility of money. But there are other categories which the bookish economists do not care about. The same income does not mean the same value for a bachelor and man with family and /or dependents. . In the absence of social welfare, a God-fearing and dharma bound Indian still takes care of old parents and their relatives, the physically handicapped, the differently able, etc. The earning man still cares for an unmarried sister or younger siblings still at school or college. The money income does not correctly measure their ability to pay vis a vis one who has none of these duties or obligations.

    England was the country to introduce progressive taxation and the welfare state first. This really amounts to taxing people who work and earn to support those who cannot find work or such other categories. [ Think of all the immigrants and refugees which EU has dumped on them] This is good in theory, but all this takes place through a bureaucracy which keeps bulging all the time. So our tax money ends up to support the bureaucracy which only knows how to spend and how to expand. In one small study that I undertook 20 years ago, I found that 85% of current revenue was spent on administration in one Indian state. This shows where our tax money is going.
    Adam Smith wrote beautifully on taxation and he also laid down the so called canons: Equity, Certainty, Convenience, Economy. But he also laid down what the govt ought to do: defence, law and order ( justice), public works ( including minimum level of education.) All this with a view to facilitating free trade and commerce so that people will use their natural industry and interests to promote themselves and their country. The problem with modern govts is that they imagine they know better than citizens and keep expanding the sphere of public involvement, and have to keep expanding the tax base or resort to debt which most citizens do not even understand. High taxation+ public debt+ inflation really amount to robbery committed on the citizens, including future generations.

    “A good shepherd shears his flock- he does not flay them”.
    Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars.

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