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The Minor Law Books (SBE33), by Julius Jolly, [1889], at

21. The Ordeal by Fire.

* 285. 285 I will propound, next, the excellent law regarding the (ordeal by) fire. The interval between

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every two circles is ordained to measure thirty-two Aṅgulas.

* 286. Thus the space covered by the eight circles will measure two hundred and fifty-six Aṅgulas.

* 287. He should place seven leaves of the holy fig-tree in the hands of the defendant, and should fasten the leaves (on his hands) with seven threads.

* 288. 288 A professional blacksmith, who has practice in working with fire, and whose skill has been tested on previous occasions, should be caused to heat the iron in fire.

* 289, 290. 289 An iron ball fifty Palas in weight having been repeatedly made fiery, sparkling and red-hot, a pure Brahman who reveres truth, should address it as follows, when it has been heated thrice: ‘Listen to the law of Manu, which is superintended by the guardians of the world (themselves).

* 291. Thou, O fire, art the means of purification and the exalted mouth of all the gods. Thou, dwelling in the heart of all beings, knowest this affair.

* 292. Truth and falsehood proceed from thy tongue. Deign not to show thyself unworthy of the character thus attributed to thee in the Vedas and other books.

* 293. This man (the defendant) has been thus addressed by that man (the plaintiff), and has denied

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the charge, (declaring) "I will seize the fire, in order to show that it is all untrue."

* 294. Thus confiding in truth, this man is holding thee. Therefore, O fire, be cool for him, if he speak the truth. If, however, he should tell a lie, as a sinner, I implore thee, to burn his hands.’

* 295. This prayer having been carefully written on a leaf and recited, he should fasten the leaf on his head, and after having done so, should then give him the iron ball.

* 296. Having bathed and stepped into the space covered by the (eight) circles, he should seize the fiery ball, take his stand in one circle, and walk slowly through the seven others.

* 297. (The man) must not put it down again till he has passed through the whole of the measured ground. On reaching the eighth circle, he may drop the fiery ball.

* 298. That man who lets the ball drop from fear, or who cannot be proved to have been burnt, shall take the hot iron once more; this is a fixed rule.

* 299. 299 Each circle should be made as broad as his foot. He must not go further than the breadth of one circle with one step, nor must he remain behind it.

300. In this way the ordeal by fire should always be performed. It is adapted for every season except summer and very cold weather.

* 301. All sores or scars on his hands should be marked with signs previously, and one should examine the hands again afterwards (and look after) the dots with which (the sores) have been marked.

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* 302. 302 If it does not appear whether (either of) the two hands is burnt, he shall take and seven times crush grains of rice in his hand, with all his might.

* 303. The grains having been crushed by him, if the members of the court should declare him to be unburnt, he shall be honourably released as being innocent. If he is burnt, he shall receive due punishment.


108:285 285-303. Vishnu XI; Yâgñavalkya II, 103-107.

The essential features of the ordeal by fire are as follows: 1. Eight concentric circles of equal breadth are marked on a piece of ground. 2. An iron ball is heated repeatedly by a blacksmith. 3. The hands of the defendant are examined, and all existing sores or scars coloured with dots. 4. His hands are wrapped up in leaves, in order to protect them against the hot iron. 5. A prayer addressed to Agni, god of fire, shall be recited and written on a leaf, which is fastened on the head of the defendant. 6. The iron ball is placed in his hands, and he is made to walk slowly through all the circles successively, taking one circle with each step. On reaching the last circle he may throw the ball on the ground. 7. His hands are examined once more. If they are found to contain any fresh sores or wounds, he is guilty; if not, he is innocent. 8. If he lets the ball drop from fear, before having reached the last circle, or if the examination of his hands has yielded no definite result, the whole proceeding has to be repeated.

285. Other legislators state that each circle shall be thirty-two Aṅgulas broad together with the space situated between it and the next circle. In par. 299 it is said that the breadth of each circle shall equal the length of the defendant's foot. This rule, according to the commentators, refers to the circle minus the intermediate space between it and the next circle, and means that a p. 109 circle shall equal the defendant's foot in breadth, where the foot is longer than sixteen Aṅgulas. Pitâmaha says that the outlines of the circles shall be marked with cow-dung.

109:288 'A professional blacksmith,' not one officiating temporarily in that capacity. A.

109:289 289, 290. The Vîramitrodaya says that the iron ball shall be put into cold water, after it has been heated for the first and second times.

110:299 Read tatpadasammitam in the text.

111:302 302, 303. The crushing of grains of rice serves the purpose of making visible such wounds as might have been overlooked previously. Here ends the section of the ordeal by fire. A.

Next: 22. The Ordeal by Water