Yajnavalkya-smriti (Vyavaharadhyaya)—Critical study

by Kalita Nabanita | 2017 | 87,413 words

This page relates ‘Difference between Dharma and Vyavahara’ 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 2.1d - Difference between Dharma and Vyavahāra

It is to be mentioned that though vyavahāra is a category, however, the same is distinct from dharma. The difference between dharma and vyavahāra can be marked in the Mahābhārata,where it is stated that the vyavahāra which is smṛta, consists of Vedic subjects and which is begotten or derived from the Vedas is dharma. Dharma regulates guṇas while vyavahāra protects the subjects.[1] Kauṭilya refers to a rule regulating interest on debt which enumerates that one paṇa and quarter is the interest allowed by dharma on one hundred paṇas per month. After this rule it is stated that the rate allowed by vyavahāra is five percent.[2] According to Jayaswal, this remarkable rule of Kauṭilya indicates the difference prevalent between dharma law and vyavahāra law.[3]

Medhātithi shows the distinction between dharma and vyavahāra in his gloss on the Manusmṛti. He has differentiated on the basis that vyavahāra forms the part of a rājadharma. He points out that vyavahāra cannot be said to have drawn its validity or authority from Vedas. It is argued that the victory and defeat in vyavahāra rather depends upon accomplished facts and the means of knowledge are direct perception while dharma gets its validity from the Vedas and leads to unseen fruits to be enjoyed in after life.[4] The end objective of dharma is to procure spiritual benefit but the fruits of vyavahāra, i.e. success and defeat are to be obtained and enjoyed in this very life. Medhātithi seems to consider vyavahāra as a secular and political act, the sanctioned behind the vyavahāra is fear of punishment from king, on the other hand, people adhered to dharma for the fear of bad consequences, suffering after death, spiritual merit, etc. Thus, vyavahāra appears to deal with secular law, which aims at ‘removal of temporal miseries’ and ‘stability of the rule’.

Jayaswal asserts that the secular laws or king’s laws called vyavahāra were not dealt with elaborately in the earlier Dharmaśāstras, rather was a subject of an independent class of literature, i.e. the Arthaśāstra or the Daṇḍanītis. Later Smṛtis, most probably, the Manusmṛti is the first of this kind to incorporate the topics of vyavahāra, more systematically and receives a fullness of treatment.[5] However, some scholars have opposed this view of Jayaswal.[6]

The Smṛti writers gradually began to distinguish the dharma meaning law, in widest sense including the rules relating to religious and moral observations, expiation from vyavahāra, relating to positive law, the breach of which results in judicial proceeding. Hence, it can be said that the word vyavahāra denotes the concept of law and administration of justice.[7]

Footnotes and references:


vyavahāraḥ smṛto yaśca sa vedaviṣayātmakaḥ/ yaśca vedaprasūtātmā sa dharmo guṇadarśakaḥ/ dharmapratyaya utpanno yathādharmaḥ kṛtātmabhiḥ/ vyavahāraḥ prajāgoptā brahmadiṣṭo yudhiṣṭhira/ Mahābhārata, Śāntiparvan.121.51,52,53


sapādapaṇā dharmyā māsabṛddhiḥ paṇaśatasya/ pañcapaṇā vyavahārikī/ Arthaśāstra, 3.11. 1


Jayaswal K.P., Op.cit., page15


na hi vyavahāra-smṛtiḥ vedamūlā iti śakyate vaktuṃ siddhārtharūpatvātpratyakṣādyavagamyatvājjayaparājaya prakārāṇām/ Medhātithi on Manusmṛti, 8.3


Jayaswal, K.P., Op.cit., page17


Vide, De, S.K. et al (Edited), The Cultural Heritage of India, Volume2, page430


Kane, P.V., Op.cit., Volume 3, page246

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