Sacred Texts  Hinduism  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

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

22. The Ordeal by Water.

304. I will now proclaim the excellent law regarding the (ordeal by) water, (which may be performed at all seasons) one after the other, excepting the winter and dewy seasons.

* 305. 305 (This ordeal may be performed) in streams

p. 112

which have not too swift a course, in oceans, in rivers, in lakes, in ponds dug by the gods, in tanks, and in pools.

* 306. 306 The diving shall take place after three arrows have been discharged from a bow which must not be too strong. Wise men (have declared) what its strength should be.

* 307. 307 A strong bow is declared to be 107 (Aṅgulas) long, a moderate bow 106, and an inferior bow 105 (Aṅgulas). This is declared to be the rule regarding the bow.

* 308. A strong man should be placed like a pillar in water, reaching to his navel. The defendant should seize him by the thigh and dive under water.

p. 113

* 309. From the place where the arrows have been discharged, a young man endowed with swiftness of limb should walk as quickly as possible to the place where the middlemost arrow has fallen down.

* 310. Another man, who must be an equally swift runner, should seize the middlemost arrow and return with it quickly to the place from which the (first) man has proceeded.

311. If he who took the arrow does not see the defendant in water on arriving, because he is completely under water, the defendant must be acquitted.

* 312. Otherwise he is guilty, though only one limb of his have become visible. (He is pronounced guilty) equally, if he has moved to a different place than that where he was first immersed.

* 313. Women or children must not be subjected to the ordeal by water by persons acquainted with the law; nor sick, superannuated, or feeble men.

* 314. Cowards, those tormented by pain, and persons afflicted by a calamity should also be held exempt from this trial. Such persons perish immediately after diving, because they are declared to have hardly any breath.

* 315. Should they even have appeared before the court on account of a serious crime, he must not cause them to dive under water, nor must he subject them to the ordeal by fire, or give them poison.

* 316. 316 ‘Nothing is more capable than water and fire of showing the difference between right and wrong.

p. 114

[paragraph continues] Because fire has arisen from the waters, therefore suspected persons

* 317. Are subjected to this proof by preference, by persons thoroughly conversant with the law. Therefore deign, O venerable Lord of Waters, to effect acquittal through truth.’


111:305 305-317. Vishnu XII; Yâgñavalkya II, 108, 109.

The ordeal by water may be briefly described as follows: 1. This ordeal should be either performed in a tank or in a river which has no swift current. 2. Three arrows should be discharged from a bow of middling size. 3. After that, a strong man should enter the water as far as his navel. The defendant should seize him by the thigh and dive under water. 4. A swift runner should be sent after the second arrow. When he has reached the place where it has fallen, another equally swift runner should be sent back with it to the place where the defendant has entered the water. 5. The defendant is declared innocent, if he has remained under water till the arrow has been brought back. He is declared guilty, if any one of his limbs have been seen, or if he were to emerge from the water in a different spot from that where he entered it. 6. During the proceeding, a prayer is addressed to the deity of water, in which it is asserted, that fire arose from water, and that the water ordeal is superior therefore to the ordeal by fire.

305. The winter season comprises the months Agrahâyana and p. 112 Pausha. The dewy or cold season (Sisira) comprises the months Mâgha and Phâlguna. It appears, therefore, that the ordeal by water must not be performed during the period extending from the middle of November to the middle of March, i.e. during the cold weather. This is no doubt because the low temperature of the water during the cold weather might affect the capacity of the defendant to hold out under water sufficiently long.

112:306 Devakhâta. 'a pond dug by the gods,' denotes a natural hollow or lake. (Böhtlingk's Dictionary.) Nandapandita, in his Commentary of the Vishnu-smriti (LXIV, 16), gives the well-known lake of Pushkara, near Agmîr, as an instance of a Devakhâta.

112:307 It seems strange that the difference in length between the bows should not amount to more than one Aṅgula or inch. The commentators take the three numerals in this paragraph to denote 105, 106, and 107 respectively, and I have translated in accordance with this interpretation. It is, however, possible to translate the three numerals by 500, 600, and 100 respectively, and to refer them to the number of Hastas (1 Hasta = 18 inches) traversed by each of the three arrows. According to another text, which is wrongly attributed to Nârada by some commentators, the arrows shall be shot at a target, which has to be placed at a distance of 150 Hastas from the marksman.

113:316 316, 317. These two paragraphs contain the prayer by which the deity of water should be addressed. A. Vishnu XII, 8; Yâgñavalkya II, 108.

Next: 23. The Ordeal by Poison