Recently in an Orkut community I came across a thread raising doubt about Manu Needhi Cholan’s act on whether it is a fiction or truth. The intention of the person who raised this query is not to be critical or sarcastic, so I am putting this efforts to try and answer the question.
First of all let us see about the legend of Manu Needhi Cholan
Manu Needhi Cholan or Manuneedhi Cholan was a legendary Chola king believed to have killed his own son to provide justice to a Cow, following Manu Needhi or Manu’s law. Legend has it that the king hung a giant bell in front of his courtroom for anyone needing justice to ring. One day, he came out on hearing the ringing of the bell by a Cow. On enquiry he found that the Calf of that Cow was killed under the wheels of his son’s (some call it his chariot) chariot. In order to provide justice to the cow, he killed his own son under the chariot as a punishment to himself i.e. make himself suffer as much as the cow. His name has since then been used as a metaphor for fairness and justice in Tamil literature.His capital was Thiruvarur.
From then on, the benchmark for justice and fairness for tamil kings is based on Manu. All the Chola kings gave utmost importance to justice, from Sibi, Elara (the legendary King who conquered Srilanka in 2nd Century BC), Karikala Chola, and the medieval kings Rajarajan and Rajendran are known for their righteousness. One start contrast if seen between the Early cholas and the medieval cholas is the interest shown on empire building. The king Elara who ruled lanka, was praised and even worshipped by the natives Sinhalese of lanka. The book Mahavamsa speaks volumes about his rule and his greatness and the amount of compassion with which he treated the native people as well. So, researchers thought that the legend of Elara was later modified and stories were written on a new imaginary king named Manu.
While, there was a king called Manu as per the vaishnavite tradition (in the same lines of Noah, and the story is almost same), and he gave some rules and regulations called as manusmirti, which too is often confused with Manu needhi. A deeper research though would throw light on the existence of Manu needhi Cholan, as a separate king. The great Ptolemy and another merchant(name unknown) during the Alexander period who traded with India has written a lot about the justice maintained in Chola kingdom, and the names of Manu, since Greeks often change the names to their convienience like Porus (for Purushotham, Indica for India, Indus for Sindu and so on) a positive inference could be made, the Chola king they spoke about should be Manu.
Why did he do it?
The answer is simple. Why should a man’s life be more valuable than a cow’s life?
The current hinduism and all other religions never give a damn about animals. The primitive vedas and brahmins methods were full of slaughtering and doing yagas by putting live animals in to the fire. Vedas talk a lot about agni, and other things than about God and karma. The period which preceded the vedic period was the one in which Saivam and Samanam (read as Jainism) flourished. Cattle was bred only for milk, and there was a common distribution system of all the resources to people. They had a leader nevertheless. So, it became all the more imperative that the leader/king should be highly ethical to maintain system.
The ancient worship that happened in indus and the worship that was practiced before that was based on compassion to all living beings. The primitive saivam and Jainism stressed a lot on not killing animals.. Jainism started much before to Mahavira, and adinath is supposedly the first person to start Jainism. The primitive Saivam, and Jainism differed in only one thing, while saivam believed that the karma earned by man can be overcome by conciously putting ourself through rigours, and both men and women too can get out of the cycle. Jainism though accepted the same concept, said that women cannot get out of the cycle, by proper practices then can be born as a man in their next birth and only then they can get out of the cycle of life and death. Another thing to note is the concept of karma (ஊழ்வினை) is different, while in Saivam it is considered as a concept and a force that controls things, in Jains it is considered as an extremely minute and invisible matter, it had laws like all other physical laws. The similarity is that the only way to get over karma is to accepting sufferings willingly and there is no way it can be bypassed, where as Saivam gave methods to break away from karma, like worshiping and complete devotion in shiva is a way to get rid of karma (But what was not said explicitly said, is that Shiva will provide people with the sufferings if they want to get out of their karma. Like Karaikal Ammaiyaar, Tirunaavukkarasar, Maanikavasagar and name any Naayanmaar, they would have went through tremendous suffering to get out the cycle of karma). It is also important to note that Valluvar though some people interpret him as a jain because his first kural had “Aadi bagavan” comparing it with Adinath (who lived during indus valley time) is not a jain because adinath/rishabhadev is never considered as a God, they are just Thirthangaras. His concept of ஊழ்வினை is similar to that of Saivam and not of that of particular nature as said in Jainism.
Also Valluvar wrote one full adigaram on the importance of being a vegetarian. So, it is very evident that Tamil culture and the ancient Indus Culture the root of the tamil culture is completely against violence towards animals. Every living being is treated on par.
I just collected some pics to show how animals too have the same feeling towards their babies
So, what Manu did in killing his son to endure the same pain that the cow experienced is thoroughly justified. He being the king and someone who the people looked upon, should be more meticulous in his behavior. Had he not punished himself like that, then how could he have punished others when a similar crime was committed? Should he not be an example? He is not only getting rid of his karma, but also preventing himself from committing a wrong thing in the future. Let us just assume that he did not punish himself by killing his son, and in the future a similar dispute arises. He have two options either to be correct and punish the person (but he will be burdened because, he had different rules for different people which will make him a bad king) or set them free or leave them away with a milder punishment (which again earns him bad karma, for being unjust). Killing a cow or for that matter any animal and inflicting pain is a crime. If that is a crime, then the only correct course of action is what he has done.
Now coming to the other question:
If all living beings are considered equal, then there would be lot of small insects that are being killed under the Chariot, then would he do as Justice?
The answer is a bit difficult to understand. There is an action, and there is volition, karma is based on volition and not just on action.
What is volition? Volition is the act or an instance of making a conscious choice or decision. I used to tell this story to the people who wants to know more about it.
There were two friends, one a highly religious guy, and the other is a flamboyant womanizer. One night, the religious guy told the other that he is going to attend a spiritual meeting and asked the other about his plans, for which the other guy answered that he would go to his favorite prostitute. They went their way. The guy who went for the spiritual meeting was constantly thinking about his friend enjoying in a prostitute place and was sad for missing such enjoyment. Whereas the guy who went to the prostitute’s place was thinking about the other guy in high esteem and cursed himself for being bad.
Now the action of the religious guy was good, and the action of the womanizer was bad. These actions will not get good and bad karma respectively, these actions as such has no effects. The Volition is what is important, while the first guy who went to the spiritual place actually earns bad karma, and the other guy earned good karma.. it is not the action that earns them karma but the volition.
Now coming back to the main topic, Insects are not killed intentionally (that is why jains wear a mask to their faces to prevent swallowing small insects, and also broom the path in which they walk to prevent killing the insects, they should do it, because they know that there will be insects and they will be killed if they walk over them so despite that if they don’t practice those things then that will earn them bad karma and they should suffer more to get rid of it). Now as I said Volition is the act or an instance of making a conscious choice or decision, now the event that happened was brought to his notice by the cow, insects don’t do that and they don’t suffer the pain of losing their offspring. In fact, some insects kill their mate after mating. So the king should not make a conscious choice and he took the right decision.
So killing an animal even without realising, will not earn you bad karma but a wishful killing will earn more.. and if you enjoy killing it is even more.