Talk:Sources of Dharma

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

The Gautamadharmasutra says that 'the Veda is the source of dharma and the tradition and practice of those that know the Veda'. So Apastamba says the authority for the dharma is the consensus of those that knows dharma and the Vedas.[1] The Manusmrti lays down five different sources of dharma, 'the whole Veda is ( the fore- most ) source of dharma and ( next ) the tradition and the practice of those that know it (the Veda); and further the usages of virtuous men and self-satisfaction.’ Yajnavalkya declares the sources in a similar strain ‘ the Veda, traditional lore, the usages of good men, what is agreeable to one’s self and desire born of due deliberation — this is traditionally recognized as the source of dharma,’ These passages make it clear that the principal sources of dharma were conceived to be the Vedas, the Smrtis, and customs. The Vedas do not contain positive precepts (sidhis) on matters 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. Such information to be gathered from the Vedic Literature is not quite as meagre as is commonly supposed. In another place*^ I have brought together about fifty Vedic passages that shed a flood of light on marriage, the forms of marriage, the different kinds of sons, adoption of a son, partition, inheritance, sraddha, stridhana. To take only a few examples. That brotherless maidens found it difficult to secure husbands is made clear by several Vedic passages.

Like a woman growing old in her parents house, pray to thee as Bhaga from the seat common to all. Vide also Rgvedai I 124. 7; IV. 5. 5 and Atharvaveda I. 17. i and Nirukta III, 4-5 These passages constitute the basis of the rules of the dharmasutras and the Yajnavalkya-smrti against marrying a brotherless maiden. This bar against marrying a brotherless 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 to in the Rgveda, according to Yaska’. Rgveda X. 85 is a very interesting hymn as regards marriage ; verses from it are used even to this day in the marriage ritual. It shows that in the remote Vedic age the marriage rite resembled in essence the Brahma form as described in the Dharmasutras and Manu. But the purchase of a bride (i. e. what is called Asura marriage in later literature ) was not unknown in the Vedic age. A passage of the Maitrayaniya samhita (I. 10. II ) is referred to in the Vasisthadharmasutra in this connection, viz, ‘ she who being purchased by the husband. 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 ’, 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 (VI. 3. 10. 5) propounds the well-known theory of the three debts. The story of sunahashepa in the Aitareya-brahmana ( VII. 3 ) suggests that a son could be adopted even when he was an aurasa son.

The Taittiriya-sjainihta (VII. 1.8. i) tells the story of Atri who gave an only son in adoption to Aurva. The Ksetraja son of the Dharma-sutras is often referred to in the earliest Vedic literature. What sacrificer invites you ( Asvins ) in his house to a bed as a widow does a brother-in-law or a young damsel her lover. The Taittiriya samhita makes it clear that a father could distribute his wealth among his sons during his own life time. 'Manu divided his property among his sons’ Another passage of the same Samhita seems to suggest that the eldest son took the whole of the father’s wealth ‘ therefore people establish their eldest son with wealth. Even in the Vedic ages the son excluded the daughter from inheritance 'a son born of the body does not give the paternal wealth to ( his ) sister’. A passage of the 'taittiriya-samhita' is relied upon by ancient and modern writers on dharma shastra for the exclusion of women in general from inheritance ‘therefore women being destitute of strength take no portion and speak more weakly than even a low person'. The rgveda eulogises the stage of studenthood and the Satapathabrahmana speaks of the duties of the Brahmacarin such as not partaking of wine and offering every evening a samidh to fire’' .

The Taitiiriya-samihita (VI. 2. 8. s) 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 Sudra 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 Satapatha-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 ( thou "art like a prapa in a desert ) is relied upon by Sahara on Jaimini (I. 3. 2) and by Visvarupa on Yajnavalkya as ordaining the maintenance of prapas ( places where water is distributed to travelers ). The Rgveda condemns the selfish man who only caters for himself.

The foregoing brief discussion will 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 that 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 treatises on dharma, they contain only disconnected 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.

Synopsis: According to Gautama, Apasumba, Vasi.stha, Manu, Yajnavalkya - principal sources were Veda, smrtis and custom - Vedas do not contain positive precepts on dharma, but give information incidentally - examples from Vedic literature suggesting dharmasastra rules.


  1. Vasisthadharma-sutra I. 4-6