Talk:When Dharmashastra Works were First Composed

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

The important question is to find out when formal treatises of Dharma began to be composed. It is not possible to give a definite answer to this question. The Nirukta (III. 4-5) shows that long before Yaska heated controversies had raged on various questions of inheritance, such as the exclusion of daughters by sons and the rights of the appointed daughter (putrika). It is very likely that these discussions had found their way in formal works and were not merely confined to the meetings of the learned. The manner in which Yaska writes suggests that he is referring to works in which certain Vedic verses had been cited in support of particular doctrines about inheritance. It is further a remarkable thing that in connection with the topic of inheritance Yaska quotes a verse, calls it a sloka and distinguishes it from a rk. This makes it probable that works dealing with topics of dharma existed either composed in the sloka metre or containing slokas. Scholars like Buhler would say that the verses were part of the floating mass of mnemonic verses, the existence of which he postulates without very convincing or cogent arguments in his Introduction to the Manusmrti (S. B. R. vol. 25 Intro.xc).

If works dealing with topics of dharma existed before Yaska, a high antiquity will have to be predicated for them. The high antiquity of works on dharmashastra follows from other weighty considerations. It will be seen later on that the extant dharmasutras of Gautama, Baudhayana and Apastamba certainly belong to the period between 600 to 300 B. C. Gautama speaks of dharmashastras and the word dharmasutra occurs in Baudhayana also (IV. 5.). Baudhayana speaks of a dharmapathaka (I. i. 9.). Besides Gautama quotes in numerous places the views of others in the words ityeke ( e. g. II. 15, II. 58, III. I, IV. 21, VII. 23 ). He refers to Manu in one place and to Acaryas in several places ( III. 36, IV. i8 and 23 ).

Baudhayana mentions by name several writers on dharma for him. jahghani, Katya, Kasyapa, Gautama, Maudgalya and Harita. He also cites the views of numerous sages such as those of Kanva, Kautsa, Harita and others.

There is a Vartika which elaborates the topics of Dharmasatra. Jaimini speaks of the duties of a Jsudra in the dharmasashtra. Patanjali shows that in his days dharmasutras existed and that their authority was very high, being next the the commandments of God. He quotes verses and dogmas that have their counterparts in the dharmasutras. The foregoing discussion establishes that works on the dharmashastra existed prior to Yaska or at least prior to the period 600-300 B. C. and in the 2nd century B. C. they had attained a position of supreme authority in regulating the conduct of men.

In this book the whole of the extant literature on dharma will be dealt with as follows: First come the dharmasutras, some of which like those of Apastamba, Hiranyakesin and Baudhayana form part of a larger sutra collection, while there are others like those of Gautama and Vasistha which do not form part of a larger collection; some dharmashastras like that of Visnu are, in their extant form, comparatively later in date than other dharma works; some works like those of Sankha-Likhita and Paithinasi are known only from quotations. Then early metrical smrtis like those of Mann and Yajnavalkya will be taken up for discussion; then later versified smrtis like that of Narada; there are many smrti works like those of Brhaspati and Katyayana that are known only from quotations. The two epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, and the Puranas also have played a great part in the development of the Dharmashastra. The commentaries on the smrtis, such as those of Visvarupa, Medhatithi, Vijnanesvara, Apararka, Haradatta will be next passed in review then the digests on dharma such as the works ol Hematiri, Todararaalla, Nilakantha and others. It’s very difficult to settle the chronology of the works on dharmasastra, particularly of the earlier ones. The present writer Jws not subscribe to the view of Max Muller (H. A. S. L. p. 68) and others that works in continuous Anustubh metre followed sutra works 3. Our knowledge of the works of that period is so meagre that such a generalization is most unjustifiable. Some works in the continuous sloka metre like the Manusmrti are certainly older than the Visnudharmasutra and probably as old as, if not older than, the Vasisthadharmasutra. One of the earliest extant dharmasutras, that of Baudhayana, contains long passages in the sloka metre, many of which are quotations and even Apastamba has a considerable number of verses in the sloka metre. This renders it highly probable that works in the sloka metre existed before them. Besides a large literature on liharwa existed in the days of Apastamba and Baudhayana which has not come down to us. In the absence of that literature it is futile to dogmatize on such a point.


It is difficult to say when composed -Nirukta ( III. 4-5 ) exhibits controversies about inheritance and quotes a verse Sloka from some work on dharma - Buhler’s view about such verses - Gautama and Baudhayana speak of dharmashastra - Baudhayana and Apastamba mention numerous sages on dharma - Vartika of Katyayana and Jaitnini speak of dharmashastra - Patanjali on dharmasutrakaras - dharmasastra works existed prior to Yaska or at least before 600 B. C. and in 2nd century B. C. dharmasutras had become authoritative - method of dealing with the whole dharmashastra literature followed in this book, first dharmasutras, then early metrical smrtis like those of Manu and Yajnavalkya, later versified smrtis, then commentaries and digests, such as the Mitaksara - chronology of early writers very difficult to settle - Max Miillcris view that works in continuous sloka metre followed sutra works not acceptable.