Yajnavalkya-smriti (Vyavaharadhyaya)—Critical study

by Kalita Nabanita | 2017 | 87,413 words

This page relates ‘Date of the Yajnavalkyasmriti’ 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 1.2b - Date of the Yājñavalkyasmṛti

In ancient Sanskrit works, it was not customary to provide information about the author and date of composition. Therefore, it is very difficult to find out the actual date and place of the author of these works. The only way is to ascertain a probable date from the references found in other sources, and examining internal evidences of the work. Scholars have made various attempts to settle the age of the Yājñavalkyasmṛti, which is discussed below.

Kane observes that the lower limit of the Smṛti cannot go beyond 9th century A.D. for the following reasons.[1]

(i) Viśvarūpa composed his commentary on Yājñavalkyasmṛti in the first quarter of 9th century A.D.

(ii) Many centuries have been elapsed between Yājñavalkya and Viśvarūpa. Hence, various readings of the texts, different interpretations of the same words were found by the later.

(iii) In many places, Viśvarūpa seems to have referred some prior commentaries to that of him.

(iv) It appears that Śaṅkara in his Bhāṣya on Brahmasūtra discussed the use of the verse (3.226) of the Yājñavalkyasmṛti, which is referred to by Nilakaṇṭha [Nīlakaṇṭha?] in Prāyaścittamayūkha and explained in Bhāmatī.

In this regard, the view of Wilson holds good that the passages taken from the Yājñavalkyasmṛti have been found on inscriptions in every part of India, dated in the 10th and 11th centuries. Hence, a considerable time must have elapsed and the work must date therefore long prior to those inscriptions to have been so widely diffused and to have then attained a general character as an authority.[2]

Julius Jolly has determined the upper age limit of this Smṛti to be 3rd century at the earliest and placed it approximately in the 4th century A.D.[3] Keith has held the date of the Yājñavalkyasmṛti not before 300 A.D.[4] They have followed Dr. Jacobi’s view while considering the time. It was based on the observation that the Yājñavalkyasmṛti marks acquaintance with Greek astrology in verse (1.205)86 and in verse (1.80)87 without using Greek term. According to Jacobi’s theory Greeks used to name the week days after planets in the end of 2nd century A.D. and Indians borrowed it from them. So according to this view the Indian work enumerating week days or planets in the sequence cannot be dated back 3rd century A.D. This theory has lost ground later.

To oppose the above-mentioned theory, Jayaswal has cited the opinion of Bühler that a work having reference to Greek astronomy must not be dated 4th century A.D. It is argued that the publication of fresh Babylonian tablets has destroyed the old assumption that Ptolemy was the founder of so called Greek astrology.[5] Contradicting the opinion of Jacobi, Losch said that the Babylonian Heptagram might have been directly derived from Babylon and not through the Greeks. This view is strengthened by the discoveries in Indus Valley.[6] In this regard, Kane is of the opinion that there are evidence, which show India was in close relation with Egypt at least from 3rd century B.C. Therefore, if Indians had borrowed weekdays and arrangements of planets, then they might have borrowed from Egyptians also.[7] It is observed that Yājñavalkya has not stated the week days, rather he has mentioned the nine grahas respectively Sun, Moon, Mars (the son of the earth), Mercury (the son of Soma), Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Rāhu, and Ketu.91 References are available that from the time of the Ṛgveda people knew Sun, Moon, Bṛhaspati and Venus.[8] Moreover, in the Baudhāyanadharmasūtra, the grahas are enumerated in the same order as that of Yājñavalkya with the addition of Rāhu and Ketu.[9] Baudhāyana is ascribed to some centuries before Christ. Thus, it may suggest that Yājñavalkya knew astrology as it was prevalent in the days of the Brāhmaṇas and the Gṛhyasūtras.

It was likely that Yājñavalkya was not familiar with rāśis and (zodiacal signs) and so, no such mention is obtained in his work. In one passage of the Yājñavalkyasmṛti, i.e. (1.80), the Mitākṣarā connects with signs of zodiac but Viśvarūpa’s explanation speaks of nakṣatras only, not rāśis.[10]

Another attempt is made to find out the age of Yājñavalkya considering the evidence that, in this work, nakṣatras are countes from Kṛttikā to Bharaṇī.[11] This arrangement of nakṣatras is similar to that of the Taittirīyasaṃhitā.[12] In India, from the time of Varāhamihira, i.e. in 5th centuary A.D., which is known as Gupta period, the nakṣatras were referred to from Aśvinī to Revatī. These facts show a period not so late as 4th century A.D., or anterior to Guptas.[13] The assumption that reference to the worship of Ganeśa proves a later date of Yājñavalkyasmṛti has lost its relevance, as the Baudhāyanadharmasūtra also refers to Ganeśa worship.[14]

Yājñavalkya provides punishment for the forgery of coin called nāṇaka.[15] Nāṇaka was the Gold coin of Kushans and they grew into importance probably in 700 A.D. Hence, the date of Yājñavalkyasmṛti is determined by Jayaswal to be about 150-200 A.D. with reference to the coin nāṇaka.[16]

The Yājñavalkyasmṛti represents a date prior to the Nāradasmṛti, the Bṛhaspatismṛti and subsequent to the Manusmṛti and the Arthaśāstra of Kauṭilya in matters of provisions of the work. Nārada and Bṛhaspati are assigned a time up to 500 A.D., which may be two or three centuries earlier. On the other hand, the Manusmṛti and the Kauṭilīya Arthaśāstra are believed to have flourished not before 1st century B.C. Therefore, the Yājñavalkyasmṛti is placed between 1st century B.C. and 3rd century A.D.[17] After going through all the evidences, in fine, it may be assumed that the extant Smṛti was composed during the first two centuries of the Christian era or even a little earlier.

Footnotes and references:


Ibid., Volume 1, Part 1, page442


Vide, Misra, J.R.(revised.), Mayne’s Treatise on Hindu Law and Usage, page16


Jolly, J., Hindu Law and Custom, page 43


Keith, A. B., A History of Sanskrit Literature, page44686 dātāyyāh svargamāpnali vatsarānnomas aṃmitān/ kapilā cettārayati bhūyaścāsaptamaṃ kulaṃ// Yājñavalkyasmṛti1.20587 evaṃ gacchan strīyaṃ kṣāmāṃ maghāṃ mūlaṃ ce varjayet/ sustha indrou sakṛtputraṃ lakṣaṇyaṃ janayetpumān// Ibid.,1.80


Jayaswal, K.P., Op.cit., page59


Vide, Jolly, J., Op.cit., page43, note 3 of translator


Kane, P.V., Op.cit., Volume 1, Part 1, page44491 sūryḥ somo mahīputraḥ somaputro bṛhaspatiḥ/ sukraḥ sanaiścaro rahuḥ kutuśceti grahāḥ smṛtāḥ// Yājñavalkyasmṛti1.296


Ṛgveda, 4.50.4 Taittirīyabrāhmaṇa,;


Baudhāyanadharmasūtra., 2.5.23


cf., Mitākṣarā and Bālakrīḍā on Yājñavalkyasmṛti, 1.80


kṛttikādibharaṇyantaṃ sakāmānāpnuyādimān/ āstikaḥ śraddadhānaśca vyapetamadamatsaraḥ// Yājñavalkyasmṛti1.268


Taittirīyasaṃhitā, 4.4.10


Vide., Kane, P.V., Op.cit., Volume 1, Part 1, page 445


Baudhāyanadharmasūtra, 2.5.21


Yājñavalkyasmṛti, 2.240, 241.


Jayaswal, K.P., Op.cit., pages 60- 61


Kane, P.V., Op.cit., Volume 1, Part 1, page 443

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: