Yajnavalkya-smriti (Vyavaharadhyaya)—Critical study

by Kalita Nabanita | 2017 | 87,413 words

This page relates ‘Style and Contents 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 1.2c - Style and Contents of the Yājñavalkyasmṛti

The Yājñavalkyasmṛti occupies an exalted place among the Smṛti literature due to the intrinsic qualities of the work. Regarding style and contents, Robert Lingat aptly remarks that of all the Smṛtis, which have come down to us that of Yājñavalkya is surely the best composed and appears to be the most homogenous, even if it may have been made up of elements borrowed from various sources.[1]

The whole work of the Yājñavalkyasmṛti is composed in verse form, with Anuṣṭubh metre. The use of un-Pāṇinian or archaic expression is very less. The author’s treatment is always concise. He attains a great success at brevity, while describing entire subjects in a little more than a thousand verses. Its presentation is flowing and direct. Though, his formulae are brief yet unfailing with clarity and hardly ever ambiguous. In view of Winternitz, the Yājñavalkyasmṛti like the Manusmṛti reveals resemblance with gnomic poetry in respect of language, style and subject matter.[2] The work seems to be almost free from defects of repetitions, contradictions, etc.

The content of the Yājñavalkyasmṛti is systematic, well arranged and scientific. Yājñavalkya is the first Smṛti writer to treat the subjects under three sections viz.

  1. ācāra (rites, custom or proper conduct),
  2. vyavahāra (administration of justice or proper law),
  3. prāyaścitta (expiation).

Later Smṛti writers followed this division. He has devoted more or less equal length to each section of the work, which earlier works on dharma did not receive.

(1) Ācāra-adhyāya:

The first part of the Yājñavalkyasmṛti called the Ācārādhyāya consists of thirteen prakaraṇas.

(1) Introductory verses of the first prakaraṇa enumerates under which circumstances Yājñavalkya promulgated the rules. Then follows the description of fourteen roots of knowledge and religion, list of twenty expounders on dharma, sources of dharma etc.

(2) Second prakaraṇa tells about various saṃskāras such as conception, upaṇayana, etc. and duties of Brahmacārin, so on and so forth.

(3) In the third prakaraṇa rules related to marriage are laid down. It includes qualifications of girl to be married, limits of sapiṇḍa relationship, inter-caste marriage, eight forms of marriage, grounds of supersession of wife, duties of wife.

(4) Fourth prakaraṇa relates to class, caste, consciousness and cautions about the result of unholy marriage and the sons begotten from wives of different castes.

(5) Fifth prakaraṇa contains the duties of householder to perform Smārta, Śrauta actions, five daily mahāyajñas.

(6-8) Sixth to eight prakaraṇas discuss respectively duties of an initiated householders, eatables and non-eatables, purification of various materials, etc.

(9) Ninth prakaraṇa deals with gift, who is eligible to accept, what kinds of gifts to be offered and results of such gifts, etc.

(10) Tenth prakaraṇa enumerates pros and cons of śrāddha ceremony.

(11-12) Following two prakaraṇas i.e. eleventh and twelfth, are dedicated to the propitiatory ceremonies as regards Vināyaka and nine grahas.

(13) Last prakaraṇa of the first adhyāya contains king’s qualifications, ministers, purohita, king’s duties, administration of justice, taxation, expenditure, units of measure and weight, grades of fine, etc.

(2) Vyavahāra-adhyāya:

There are twenty five prakaraṇas in the second adhyāya named the Vyavahārādhyāya of the Yājñavalkyasmṛti.

(1) The first prakaraṇa discusses laws and regulations in general relating to the king, members of the court of justice, definition of vyavahārapadas, rules of procedure, plaint reply, etc.

(2) Second prakaraṇa deals with exceptional regulations including rules of counterclaim, fees paid by the parties, time for giving reply, sign of false party or witness, means of proof, grounds of re-evaluation of judgment, finding of goods, etc.

(3-4) Third and fourth prakaraṇas treat laws relating to loans and deposits respectively.

(5-6) The laws of evidence, written document, etc. are thoroughly stated in fifth and sixth prakaraṇas. Seventh prakaraṇa describes divine tests through the ordeal of balance, fire, water and poison.

(8) Eighth prakaraṇa incorporates divisions of property among heirs, property not liable to partition, joint ownership of father and son, twelve kinds of son, succession to a sonless man, re-union, exclusion, etc.

(9-11) Next three prakaraṇas, i.e. ninth, tenth, eleventh contain laws on boundary dispute, dispute among keepers and sale of articles without ownership.

(12-14) Laws relating to gift and its acceptance, rescission of sale, breach of contracts are discussed in twelfth, thirteenth and Fourteenth prakaraṇas.

(15-17) Fifteenth, sixteenth, seventh prakaraṇas are devoted to laws relating to violation of established usage, non-payment of wages, gambling and betting with living creatures.

(18-19) The subject-matter of eighteenth, nineteenth prakaraṇas relate to laws for use of abusive words, defamation, assault, hurt etc.

(20) Twentieth prakaraṇa discusses laws regarding robbery.

(21-22) Laws pertaining to nondelivery of articles sold, joint stock companies are enumerated in the preceding two prakaraṇas viz. twenty-first, twenty-second.

(23) Twenty-third prakaraṇa contains laws on theft. Last two prakaraṇas i.e. twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth discuss adultery, seduction, and miscellaneous wrongs.

(3) Prāyaścitta-adhyāya:

The third adhyāya known as the Prāyaścittādhyāya of Yājñavalkyasmṛti is devided into five prakaraṇas.

(1) Āśauca, the first prakaraṇa is related to regulations about impurity, which describes cremation and burial, rules of mourners, time of mourning for various deceased persons, means and practice of purification on death or birth, etc.

(2) Procedures not usually proper for a caste, but permitted in times of distress, are laid down in the second prakaraṇa called āpaddharma.

(3) Third chapter vānaprasthadharma deals with rules and practices to be observed in third stage of life, i.e. vānaprastha.

(4) Fourth prakaraṇa contains duties and rules for a yati, meaning a person, who has renounced the world. In this prakaraṇa detailed description of human body, soul, other tattvas and discourse on importance of yoga are introduced.

(5) The fifth prakaraṇa is devoted to atonement or expiation, which deals with regulation about penance for killing Brāhmaṇa or other persons, drinking wine, theft of gold, killing wife, cow and other animals of various sorts, other mortal and venial sins, etc. Moreover, it contains secret penance, various religious observances, expiation, such as Kṛcchra, Cāndrāyaṇa, etc.

Thus, the contents of the Yājñavalkyasmṛti, corresponding to the systematized three chapters provide a logical classification within the vast domain of dharma. K. P. Jawaswal calls it a dharma-vyavahāra code, as it deals with the matters of both dharma and vyavahāra, unlike the later Smṛtis of Nārada, Bṛhaspati, etc., which contain only vyavahāra portion.[3] All the three streams of regulations elaborated therein, aim for the organization of a peaceful society, proper administration of country, maintaining law and justice to bring an all round perfection of the individual in his religious, civil and moral relations both as an individual and as a member of the society.

Footnotes and references:


cf., Lingat, R., Op.cit., page98


Winternitz, M., Op.cit., Volume3, page600


Jayaswal, K.P., Op.cit., page 55

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