Talk:Sources of Dharma

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

The Gautamadharmasutra says that 'The Veda is the source of dharma. Traditions and practices of dharma are followed by the people who know Veda'. Apastamba says the authority for the dharma is the consensus of those that knows dharma and the Vedas.[1] The Manusṃṛti lays down five different sources of dharma. It also insists that the Veda is the foremost source of dharma along with the tradition and practice of the virtuous men that know it[2]. Yajnavalkya declares the sources by similar mean asserting that, 'The Veda, traditional lore, beliefs of good and virtuous men which are agreeable to one’s self. This is traditionally recognized as the source of dharma’. The passages make it clear that the principal sources of dharma were conceived to be the Vedas, the Smrtis and customs.


According to Gautama, Apastamba, Vasistha, Manu, Yajnavalkya; the principal sources were Veda, smrtis and customs. Vedas do not contain positive precepts on dharma, but gives information incidentally. Even the examples from the Vedic literature suggest dharmasastra rules.

The Vedas do not contain positive precepts[3] on the topics of dharma in a connected form; but they contain incidental references to various topics that fall under the domain of dharmasastra as conceived in later times. There are approximately about fifty Vedic passages that highlights the different systems and forms of marriage, different kinds of sons, adoption of son, partition, inheritance, śrāddha, strīdhana, etc. The following sections denote the references regarding the mention of different traditions as per Dharma. This implies that these ancient literatures are the sources of dharma.

Marriage Rituals

It is believed that a maiden who did not have any brother had difficulty marrying. Like a woman growing old in her parents house, pray to the God as Bhaga from the seat common to all.[4][5][6][7] These passages constitute the basis of the rules of the dharmasutras and the Yajnavalkya-sṃṛti against marrying a brother-less maiden.

This bar against marrying a brother-less maiden seems to have been due to the fear that such a girl might be an appointed daughter and that a son born of such a girl would be affiliated to his mother's father. This custom of putrika is an ancient one and is alluded in the Rgveda, according to Yaska. Rgveda[8] is a very interesting hymn with regards to marriage. Verses from the Rgveda are used even today in the marriage rituals. It shows that in the remote Vedic age the marriage rite resembled in essence of the Brahma form; as described in the Dharmasutras and Manusmrti.

There was a tradition of giving money to marry a female in the ancient times, which was called as Asura marriage in the later literature, was a prevalent system in the Vedic age also. A passage of the Maitrayaniya samhita[9] is referred to in the Vasisthadharmasutra in this connection. The Gandharva form is hinted at in the words, 'when a bride is fine looking and well adorned, she seeks by herself her friend among men’.

Significance of Son

The importance of the aurasa son was felt even in the remote Vedic ages. Another person born of another’s loins, though very pleasing, should not be taken, should not be even thought of as to be taken in adoption. The Taittiriya-samhita[10] propounds the well-known theory of the three debts. The story of sunahashepa in the Aitareya-brahmana[11] suggests that a son could be adopted even when he was an aurasa son. The Taittiriya-samhita[12] tells the story of Atri who gave the only son in adoption to Aurva. The Ksetraja son of the Dharmasutras is often referred to in the earliest Vedic literature.

Adoption Procedures

The Taittiriya samhita makes it clear that a father could distribute his wealth among his sons during his own life time. Another passage of the Taittiriya Samhita seems to suggest that the eldest son took the whole father’s wealth.

Even in the Vedic ages, the daughters were excluded from the inheritance of father's property. A passage of the 'Taittiriya-samhita' is relied upon by ancient and modern writers on dharmashastra for the exclusion of women in general from inheritance. Women, though being destitute of strength, take no portion and speak more.


The Rgveda eulogizes the stage of student-hood and the Śaṭapathabrahmana speaks of the duties of the Brahmacarin such as not partaking of wine and offering every evening a samidh to fire.

Sacrificial and Penance Rites

The Taitiriya Samhita[13] relates how Indra consigned Yati to wolves or dogs and how Prajapati prescribed a Prayascita for him. The Satapathabrahmana speaks of the king and the learned Brahmana as the upholder of the sacred ordinances. The Taittiriya samhita says therefore the Śudra is not fit for sacrifice. The Aitareya Brahmana tells us that when a king or other worthy guest comes people offer a bull or a cow.

The Saṭapatha-brahmana speaks of Vedic study as Yajna and the Taittiriya-aranyaka enumerates the five yajnas, which are a prominent feature of the Manusmrti. The Rgveda eulogizes the gifts of a cow, horses, gold and clothes. Another passage of the Rgveda is relied upon by Sahara on Jaimini[14] and by Visvarupa on Yajnavalkya as ordaining the maintenance of prapas, the places where water is distributed to travelers. The Rgveda condemns the selfish man who only caters for himself.


The above mentioned references in different literatures make it clear that the later rules contained in the dharmasutras and other works on dharmasastras had their roots deep down in the most ancient Vedic tradition and the authors of the dharmasutras were quite justified in looking up to the Vedas as a source of dharma. But, as said above, Vedas do not profess to be formal treatise on dharma. They contain only intermittent statements on the various aspects of dharma. We have to turn to the smrtis for a formal and connected treatment of the topics of the dharmasastra.


  1. Vaśisṭhadharmasutra I. 4-6
  2. It refers to Veda here.
  3. It is called as sidhis.
  4. Rgveda I 124 7
  5. Rgveda IV. 5. 5
  6. Atharvaveda I. 17. i
  7. Nirukta III, 4-5
  8. Rgveda X. 85
  9. Maitrayaniya samhita I. 10. II
  10. Taittiriya Samhita VI. 3. 10. 5
  11. Aitreya Brahmana VII. 3
  12. Taittiriya Samhita VII. 1.8. i
  13. Taitiriya Samhita VI. 2. 8
  14. Rgveda I. 3. 2