Origin of the world
Commentary by Medhātithi. Translation by Ganganath Jha.
Being thus questioned by the high-souled, great sages, he, possessed of illimitable vigour, received them with reverence, and with proper courtesy answered them: “Listen.”
He - Manu - possessed of illimitable vigour being thus questioned by the high-souled great sages, answered them - listen. Thus - in the aforesaid manner; the word ‘thus’ which denotes method, includes the matter as well as the manner of the question; hence ‘thus questioned’ means ‘thus questioned i.e. questioned about duties - he answered.’
Or, the word ‘thus’ may be taken as denoting manner only. As a matter of fact, however, the word ‘questioned’ already brings to the mind the details (matter as well as manner) of what has been questioned about; hence the meaning is ‘what he was questioned about, that the answered.’ Thus the question and the answer come to have the same objective.
Under this explanation, the word ‘thus’ becomes superfluous and only serves the purpose of filling the gap in the metre. Under the former explanation, however, the word ‘thus’ itself serves the purpose of showing that the questioning and the answering have both the same objective.
The word samyak ‘with proper courtesy’ qualifies the answering: ‘he answered with proper courtesy’ i.e. gladly - not with anger or any other form of displeasure. Possessed of illimitable vigour - with undiminished power of speech; he whose vigour, power, capacity of exposition is illimitable, infinite.
The epithet ‘high-souled’ serves to show that there is no incompatibility in the persons being ‘great sages’ and at the same time ‘questioners’ (as if they themselves did not know what they were asking about); hence it is said ‘he answered the great sages.’ It is the philanthropic person that is called high-souled, hence the meaning is that though they themselves knew all about duties - otherwise they would not be great sages - yet they questioned Manu for the benefit of other people; the idea in their minds being as follows: Manu is a sage whose authoritative character is better known - what he says is always respected by people, he is always approached with trust and confidence, hence for the expounding of the treatise, we shall make him our teacher and when he is questioned by us, he will be regarded by the people as still more trustworthy.
It is this explanation that justifies the statement in the text regarding Manu having received them with reverence. If it were not as we have explained, what would be the meaning of the reverence shown by the teacher to the pupil? The word of the text which means ‘having received with reverence’ must be explained as a participle formed of the root ‘arc’ (to worship) with the prefix ā and the participial affix lyap. Another reading is archayitvā tān.
In connection with the present verse, the following question has been raised: “If the whole of the treatise has been composed by Manu himself, it is not right to attribute it to another person as is done in the statement ‘being questioned by them, he answered.’ The proper form would have been: being questioned by them, I answered. If, on the other hand, someone else is the author of the treatise, then why should it be called Mānava (of Manu)?
There is no force in this objection. In the first place, it is a well known fact that in most cases the authors of treatises state their own views as if emanating from other persons - making use of such expressions as - in this connection “they” say or “they” meet this argument thus, and so forth; and the form “being questioned by them I answered” would not be in keeping with such usage; the reason underlying this fact is that the older the person the more authoritative he is regarded to be by the people. It is for this reason that we find Jaimini (1.1.5) stating his own view as emanating from Bādarāyaṇa. Or (another explanation is that) the treatise is a compilation made and related by Bhṛgu and since the original smṛti was compiled by Manu - it is styled Mānava.
He answered the great sages. What was the answer? “Listen to what I have been questioned about” (4).