Ancient Sources of Hindu Law

Spread the love

Hindu law is composed of personal laws governing the various social conditions of Hindus such as marriage, adoption, divorce inheritance, minority and so on.  It is not only Hindus who must follow Hindu law, but there are several other communities and religious denominations which are subject to its domination such as the Buddhists, Sikhs, Lingayats, Brahmo-Samajists, Jains, Prarthana-Samajists, Virashaivas and so on. The ancient sources of Hindu Law can be summarized as follows: –

Shrutis

Shrutis is what was heard, no written material is available at this time, so the primary means of imparting the knowledge was orally by the sages to their families and followers who carried it forward after supplementing it.

Shrutis are composed of following vedas: –

  • Rigveda
  • Yajurveda
  • Samaveda
  • Atharveda

Atharveda was added at later stage after Rigveda, Yajurvda and Atharveda. Rigveda is considered to be a tree whose ramifications are Yajurveda and Samaveda.

The Vedas describe the Hindu society composed of patriarchal families. Each of the family was seen as a unit headed by an eldest living ascendant called Grihapati.

Smritis

It is a corpus of texts attributable to an author, unlike the Shrutis which are authorless because they were supplemented and transmitted solely through the generations.

There are numerous Smritis but the most famous one are: –

  • Manu Smriti: – The oldest Smriti written by Manu but has been supplemented by generations because writing was not invented and it was transmitted orally. The Brahmins held a prominent position in society and there were no rights for women or shudras.
  • Yajnavalkya Smriti: – Written between the period of Buddha and Vikramaditya. It was organized more systematically and was more concise than Manu Smriti and he was more liberal than Manu Smriti, it recognized certain rights for women with regard to inheritance and possession of property and also accorded better status to the Shudras than Manu smriti.
  • Narada Smriti: – Narada was a Nepalese sage and in this smriti we can see that he was very broad-minded that Yajnavalkya and manu because in this smriti he recognized the remarriage of the widow, the woman holding the property, the king made law offered higher standing. This smriti also fixed rules concerning the pleadings and depositions of witnesses which were not at all mentioned in the preceding smritis.

Commentaries and Digests

  • Mitakshara: – The literal meaning of Mitakshara is a brief collection. Mitakshara is Vijaneshwara’s commentary on Yajnavalkya Smriti which was written in the second half of the 11th century. In this, the basis of the inheritance is the proximity of the blood relationship. The person closest by blood succeeds the property. But females are excluded and agnates were preferred to parents. The son, the grandson and the great-grandson have the right of ownership from birth. The son has the right to partition during the lifetime of the father. The surviving coparceners take share in the event of the death of a coparcener.
  • Dayabhaga: – It was written by Jimutavahana in the second half of the 12th century. This is not a commentary on a specific smriti or shruti but it is a digest of all the codes. It rejects the preferences of the agnates over the parents and the basis of the succession is based on the principle of religious efficacy or spiritual benefits. The one that bestows more spiritual benefits on the deceased is preferred. No right to a son, a grandson or a great-grandson until the father is alive, he is the master of the property and can dispose of it as he sees fit. No right to share during the father’s lifetime. If the coparcener dies childless, his widow has the right to succeed him and to have a partition enforced on her account.