Yajnavalkya-smriti (Vyavaharadhyaya)—Critical study

by Kalita Nabanita | 2017 | 87,413 words

This page relates ‘Major Smritis’ of the study on the Vyavaharadhyaya of the Yajnavalkya-smriti: one of the most prominent Smritis dealing with Dharmashastra (ancient Indian science of law), dating to the 1st century B.C. The Yajnavalkyasmriti scientifically arranges its contents in three sections: Acara (proper conduct), Vyavahara (proper law) and Prayashcitta (expiation). Vyavahara deals with judicial procedure and legal system such as substantive law and procedural law.

Chapter 1.1e - The Major Smṛtis

In the realm of Smṛtis, [the following are considered as primary and important]:

  1. the Manusmṛti,
  2. the Yājñavalkyasmṛti,
  3. the Nāradasmṛti,
  4. the Bṛhaspatismṛti,
  5. the Parāśarasmṛti and
  6. the Kātyāyanasmṛti.

They are of immense importance in the history of the Smṛti literature, to know the gradual development of ancient Indian law and culture. Gradually, the Dharmaśāstra works came to devote more and more attention to the question of law and administration. In the Smṛti of Manu, for the first time, topics of law receive more or less systematic treatment devoting one third of the entire work to these topics, which were lacking in early Dharmasūtras.[1] Yājñavalkya gives a more systematic treatment of the subjects organizing them under ācāra, vyavahāra and prāyaścitta. Nārada, Bṛhaspati and Kātyāyana have attained the achievement to deal only with vyavahāra or law proper, in their texts excluding the topics on ācāra and prāyaścitta. Kane is of the opinion that Nārada, Bṛhaspati and Kātyāyana form a triumvirate in the realm of the ancient Hindu law and procedure.[2]

As the work here is concerned to the Yājñavalkyasmṛti, so before going to give a detailed introduction on this Smṛti, a brief note on the Manusmṛti, the Nāradasmṛti, the Bṛhaspatismṛti, the Parāśarasmṛti and the Kātyāyanasmṛti is given below.

The Manusmṛti:

The Manusmṛti holds a pride of place among the Smṛtis. It has been treated as being of paramount authority and the oldest Smṛti from the earliest time. The Smṛti itself claims a divine origin. In this Smṛti, it is said that the creator Brahmā, after composing the sacred law taught it to Manu and then later imparted it to Marīca and other sages.[3] Having approached by the sages to instruct on dharmas, Manu entrusted Bhṛgu with the job of delivering laws to mortals. [4] Then the work is advocated by Bhṛgu only and not by Manu.[5]

Manu is referred to with great reverence in Sanskrit literature from Vedic time onwards. Greatness of Manu’s work runs as “Whatever Manu said is medicine.”[6] There is varied opinion regarding the authorship of this Smṛti. Kane states that the mythical Manu, who is even revealed in the Ṛgveda as progenitor of humankind, cannot be the author of the present work.[7] Bühler supports Max Müller’s view that the extant Manusmṛti is based on the Mānavadharmasūtra.[8] Jayaswal[9] and Kane[10] have refuted the above-mentioned view after examining the entire evidences. According to them, there is not any strict proof of existence of such work as Mānavadharmasūtra. Medhātithi says that the author of the Manusmṛti used the name of Manu to establish the antiquity and authority of the work[11] . Most of the scholars think that the extant Manusmṛti is composed between 2nd century B.C. and 2nd century A.D.[12] Internal and external evidences indicate that Manusmṛti is anterior to the Yājñavalkyasmṛti. Treatment of judicial procedure in the Manusmṛti is not such systematic and scientific as that of the Yājñavalkyasmṛti, the Nāradasmṛti, etc.

There are twelve chapters consisting of 2694 verses in the extant Manusmṛti. It deals with the topics of ācāra, vyavahāra, prāyścitta, rājadharma, without arranging any distinct division. The style of writing of this work is simple. The Manusmṛti was regarded as the principal authority on Hindu law and it served as model to the later writers. A large number of commentaries were written upon this Smṛti, which bespeak its pre-eminence among the Smṛti literature. Medhātithi is the oldest commentator on the Manusmṛti. The names of some other important commentators on it, are Kullūka, Nārāyaṇa, Govindarāja, Rāghavānanda, Nandanācārya, Rāmacandra, Asahāya, etc.

The Nāradasmṛti:

The Nāradasmṛti occupies an unique place among the Smṛtis, being the first independent text, devoted to vyavahāra only. Two versions, i.e. a bigger and a smaller of this text, are at present available. A learned western scholar Julius Jolly had edited and translated both these versions of the Nāradasmṛti. There are 1028 verses in the printed version of the Nāradasmṛti. Among them 700 verses are found quoted in various digests. Another ancient manuscript of the Nāradasmṛti from Nepal occurs which has two additional chapters on ‘theft’ and ‘ordeals’. Julius Jolly accepts the authenticity of the chapter ‘theft’ and includes it as an appendix, on the other hand, he excludes the later one on the ground of authenticity.[13]

In the introductory part of the Nāradasmṛti, which is in prose, this Smṛti is attributed to divine sage Nārada. It claims to be an abridged from an ancient recension of the Manusmṛti. The name Nārada does not appear in the list of ancient writers on dharma prepared by Yājñavalkya.[14] However, Viśvarūpa while commenting on the Yājñavalkyasmṛti cites a verse of Vṛddha Yājñavalkya, which refers to Nārada as an expounder of dharma.[15] Manu refers to Nārada as one of the ten Prajāpatis.[16] Nārada is mentioned quite early in the Aitareyabrāhmaṇa, [17] and frequently figured in the Mahābhārata. Nārada is a very ancient mythical character and it is difficult to take him as identical with the law-giver of the status of Manu or Yājñavalkya.

Depending upon the internal evidences, scholars have concluded that Nārada is posterior to Manu and Yājñavalkya. Julius Jolly has placed him in the fourth or fifth century A.D. on the basis of the term dināra used by Nārada. [18] Winternitz also mentions that due to the use of word dināra in the Nāradasmṛti, it could not have come into existence before second century B.C. and probably not before fourth century A.D.[19] Kane has laid down the time of Nārada in the first century of Christian era, i.e. from 100 A.D to 300 A.D.[20]

The printed Nāradasmṛti is divided into four chapters. The first two chapters are on judicial procedure called vyavahāramātṛkā and third chapter describes judicial assembly, i.e. sabhā. Then eighteen vyavahārapadas (titles of law) are dealt with in the fourth chapter followed by an appendix on theft. It does not contain anything on ācāra and prāyaścitta parts. It is proved by the fact that Viśvarūpa, Medhātithi, Vijñāneśvara, etc., have not quoted on any other topic other than vyavahāra of Nārada.

The Nāradasmṛti is closely connected to the Manusmṛti. It has about fifty verses identical with the Manusmṛti. In many aspects, the Nāradasmṛti differs with the Manusmṛti, such as, in the names of the titles of law. Unlike Manu, he permits niyoga, remarriage of women, gambling under certain conditions. Some unique matters found in the Nāradasmṛti are fourteen kinds of impotent person,[21] three punrbhūs and four svairiṇīs.[22] Nārada for the first time fixed the age of minority up to sixteen years.[23]

Almost all the commentators of the Manusmṛti and the Yājñavalkyasmṛti have considered the Nāradasmṛti as an authoritative text on vyavahāra. The Nāradasmṛti represents for the first time an advanced and systematic exposition of ancient Indian civil and criminal law.

The Bṛhaspatismṛti:

The Bṛhaspatismṛti is available in fragments and the whole Smṛti is not found yet. K. V. Rangaswami Aiyangar had reconstructed the work and published in 1941. This work consisting of 732 pages deals with seven parts, viz. vyavahāra, saṃskāra, ācāra, srāddha, āśauca, āpaddharma and prāyaścitta. About 717 verses of Bṛhaspati on vyavahāra have been collected and translated by Julius Jolly in volume 33 of The Sacred Books of the East.

The Bṛhaspatismṛti is so closely associated with the Manusmṛti that the former may be considered as a Vārttika or Pariśiṣta to the later. For instance, Bṛhaspati elaborates terms of the four verities of interest enumerated by Manu.[24] Manu’s five modes of recovering debt are explained by Bṛhaspati.[25] Bṛhaspati agreeing with Manu, did not support niyoga and also refused to recognize kṣetraja and other sons.[26] In many aspects, he deviates from Manu too. In the matter of the right of widows to succeed to her deceased husband’s estate, Bṛhaspati, following Yājñavalkya, declares her the first heir of her sonless husband, though Manu is silent on this point.50

The close connection between the Bṛhaspatismṛti and the Nāradasmṛti is evident in several points, such as three kinds of proof, four parts of judicial proceeding, four kinds of sāhasa, division, sub-division of gifts, etc.

Remarkably, the Bṛhaspatismṛti appears to be the first to distinguish between civil and criminal justice in the history of Indian law. He has divided eighteen titles of law. Among these titles forteen are named under civil cases (dhanamūla) and four under criminal cases. The Bṛhaspatismṛti prohibits burning of widows, which is not seen in older lawbooks.[27]

The Bṛhaspatismṛti is considered to be of later date than the works of Manu and Yājñavalkya. Many of his rules are more advanced and rational than those of Nārada. Therefore, Kane thinks him contemporary to Nārada or not much later than him. Julius Jolly assigned him to 6th or 7th century A.D.[28] Kane has placed Bṛhaspati between 200 A.D and 400 A.D on the ground that as Kātyāyaṇa upholds the authority of Bṛhaspati so there must have elapsed several centuries between them.[29]

The Parāśarasmṛti:

It has been already stated that Yājñavalkya has enumerated the name of Parāśara as one of the ancient writers of dharma.[30] The extant Parāśarasmṛti may be a recast of the older work of Parāśara, since, Yājñavalkya is mentioned in it. The Parāśarasmṛti appears to be later than the Yājñavalkyasmṛti. Kane has assigned the time of this work between 100 A.D. and 500 A.D.[31] A summary of this Smṛti is found in chapter 107 of the Garuḍapurāṇa, which indicates that the Garuḍapurāṇa might have thought this Smṛti as authoritative and ancient.

The extant Parāśarasmṛti has 592 verses, which is divided into twelve chapters. The work is devoted to ācāra and prāyaśctta only. Mādhavācārya wrote a commentary on it called the Parāśaramādhavīya in the 14th century A.D. His commentary is very popular and authoritative and explains vyavahāra under rājadharma.[32]

The author of the Smṛti, in the introductory verses, describes that the sages requested Vyāsa to instruct them on dharmas and conducts that are suited for kaliyuga. Then Vyāsa took them to his father Parāśara who delivered dharmas of the four varṇas. In the first chapter, Parāśara gives a list of nineteen Smṛti writers. Here it is delineated that in the four ages of Kṛta, Tretā, Dvāpara and Kali dharma proclaimed by Manu, Gautama, Śaṅkha-Likhita and Parāśara were the guiding sources respectively.57

There are some unusual views in the Parāśarasmṛti. It proclaims only four kinds of sons, i.e. aurasa, kṣetraja, datta and kṛtrima. The practice of satī is favoured by it. Moreover, the verse of Nārada, i.e. naṣṭe mṛtepatiranyo vidhīyate [33] is expressed with patiranyo na vidyate at the end, thus forbidding remarriage under the stated circumstances.[34] One advanced and practical view, stated by Parāśara, is that one should save their bodies first in invasions, journeys, diseases, calamities and then he should care for dharma. According to him, one should follow rules of purity and dharma at easy times, but need not follow in times of difficulties.60

Another work named after Bṛhatparāśara occurs with twelve chapters consisting of 3000 verses. It appears to be a late work and recast of the Parāśarasmṛti.

The Kātyāyanasmṛti:

The work of Kātyāyana enjoys high authority in the domain of secular law. Kātyāyana is profusely cited on law and procedure in the commentaries and digests. His work has not yet been recovered wholly. Kātyāyana’s work is on vyavahāra. More than twenty-one Nibandhas, on vyavahāra quote about 1100 verses of Kātyāyana on vyavahāra. [35] It exhibits his authority on judicial procedure and substantive secular law. P. V. Kane has reconstructed the vyavahāra portion of dharma collecting 973 verses of Kātyāyana. Professor Rangaswami Aiyangar also published a paper with 121 additional verses of Kātyāyana.[36]

Yājñavalkya has attributed the name Kātyāyana as a writer on dharma. The work of Kātyāyana seems to be influenced by Nārada and Bṛhaspati in matters of vyavahāra. He has followed them in terminology and technique. In fact, in certain matters, Kātyāyana has attained more advancement over the law and rules of procedure of Nārada and Bṛhaspati.

The special feature of Kātyāyana is his elaborate treatment of strīdhana. He is known to be the first to define the several kinds of strīdhana, to enumerate women’s power of disposal and lines of transfer in respect of them. He has given numerous definitions such as, those of vyavahāra, prāḍvivāka, dharmādhikaraṇa, tīrtha, sāmanata, etc. Kātyāyana has coined some new terms, moreover, for the first time, he has differentiated between paścātkāra and jayapatra.

From various circumstances, it is revealed that the extent Kātyāyanasmṛti is of later date than the Manusmṛti and the Yājñavalkyasmṛti. The upper limit of this Smṛti is presumed as 3rd or 4th century A.D., on the basis of the fact that Kātyāyana presupposed Nārada and quoted Bṛhaspati. Viśvarūpa and Medhātithi regarded Kātyāyana as having equal authority with Nārada and Bṛhaspati, so 6th century A.D. is thought to be the lowest limit of Kātyāyana. Thus, Kane has placed Kātyāyana between 4th and 6th century A.D.[37]

Footnotes and references:


Kangle, R.P., The Kauṭilīya Arthaśāstra, Part 3, page 14


Vide, Kane, P.V., Op.cit., Volume I, Part I, page 496


idaṃ śāstraṃ tu kṛtvāsau māmeva svayamāditaḥ/ vidhivadgrāhyayāmāsa marīcyādīṃstvahaṃ munīn// Manusmṛti, 1.58


Ibid., I.59


Ibid., I.60


ydvai kiñca manuravadattadbheṣajam// Taittirīyasaṃhitā,


Vide, Kane, P.V., Op.cit., Volume 1, Part 1, page310


Vide, Max Müller, F.(Edited), The Sacred Books of the East, Volume 25, page xviii


Jayaswal,K.P., Manu and Yājñavalkya, page 48


Kane, P.V., Op.cit., Volume1, Part1, pages 141-49


Medhātithi on Manusmṛti, 1.4


Vide, Max Müller, F.(Edited), Op.cit., Volume 25, page cxvii Also vide, Kane, P.V., Op.cit., Volume 1, Part 1, page 335 Also vide, Winternitz, M., Op.cit.,Volume3, page 586


Vide, Kane, P.V., Op. cit., Volume1, Part 1, page 467


Yājñavalkyasmṛti, 1.4-5


Bālakrīḍā on Yājñavalkyasmṛti, 1.4-5


Manusmṛti, 1.35


Aitareyabrāhmaṇa, 33.1


Max Müller, F.(Edited), Op.cit., Volume 33, pages xvi, xviii


Winternitz, M., Op.cit., Volume3, page596


Kane, P.V., Op. cit., Volume1, page 477


Nāradasmṛti, 4.12. 11-13


Ibid., 4.12.45-52


Ibid.,4.1 35-36


Vide, Kullūka on Manusmṛti, 8.153


Ibid., 8.49


Max Müller, F. (Edited), Op.cit.,Volume 33, page 369 50 Bṛhaspati quoted by Aparārka on Yājñavalkyasmṛti, 2.135


Winternitz, M., Op.cit., Volume 3, page 598


Max Müller, F.(Edited), Op.cit.,Volume 33, page 276


Kane, P.V., Op.cit., Volume 1, Part 1, page488


Yājñavalkyasmṛti, I.4


Kane, P.V., Op.cit., Volume 1, Part 2, page xx


De, S.K., et. al (Edited), Op.cit., Volume 2, page30957 kṛte tu mānavā dharāstretāyāṃ gautamaḥ smṛtāḥ/ dvāpare śāṅkhalikhitāḥ kalau parāśarāḥ smṛtāḥ// Parāśarasmṛti, 1.24


Nāradasmṛti, 4.12. 97


Banerji S.C., A Brief History of Dharmaśāstra., page3660 deśabhange pravāse va vyādhiṣu vyasaneṣvapi/ rakṣedeva svadehādi paścāddharma samācaret// Parāśarasmṛti, 7.36


Kane. P.V., Op.cit., Volume 1, Part 1, page 497


Vide, Ibid., page 496


Vide, Ibid., pages 501-2

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