By Swami Harshananda
Sometimes transliterated as: Parisad, PariSad, Parishad
Pariṣad literally means ‘a gathering of people sitting around’.
Though the Vedas and allied literature give general rules and guidance about dharma, they do not offer solutions to all the problems that arise in the life of an individual or society. Hence, the ancient sages advised a person in doubt about a particular mode of conduct to consult or observe the wise brāhmaṇas. In course of time ‘pariṣads’ of learned men, which was earlier known as ‘sabhās’ or ‘samitis’, were recommended for deciding such issues concerning dharma and even prescribing expiations for transgressions.
A pariṣad should consist of at least ten śiṣṭas though it could be less, if such men are not available in the required number. However, a pariṣad of only one person though permitted theoretically under extraordinary circumstances, was not encouraged. The members of the pariṣads were to be experts in the Vedic lore and also the dharmaśāstras and vyavahāra. They were to be persons of exceptional character and merit. They must be competent to decide the subtlest points of dharma and offer the necessary solutions and guidance when the problems were brought before them. They should also be capable of prescribing the necessary expiations for sins depending on their gravity.
Generally, the king of the land and also a monk of exceptional merit were part of the pariṣad. Though the king might not sit with the members of the pariṣad, his consent to the decisions taken was compulsory. However, even the king could not take any decision in such matters without consulting the pariṣad.
- Taittiriya Upaniṣad 1.11
- Śiṣṭas means good and great men of character.
- Vyavahāra means social conduct.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore