Yajnavalkya-smriti (Vyavaharadhyaya)—Critical study

by Kalita Nabanita | 2017 | 87,413 words

This page relates ‘Untouchability’ 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.

An important social stigma of ancient India, which subsists until modern times, in spite of various reformative movements led by great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, etc., also prohibited by the Constitution of India and by other legislation, is the untouchability. It is interesting to note that in the Vyavahārādhyāya of the Yājñavalkyasmṛti the only caste, which is declared as untouchable in [is?] the Cāṇḍālas. In fact, there is not any extreme view expressed that even the shadow of the Cāṇḍālas is impure or should be deemed polluting. Yājñavalkya prescribes a fine of one hundred paṇas as fine to the Cāṇḍālas for touching the higher caste like the Brāhmaṇas, etc.[1] An issue born from the union of a Brāhmaṇa woman and a Śūdra male is known as a Cāṇḍāla.45 Their untouchability appears to have originated by birth as a mixed caste, born in the reverse order of sex relation in the society.

The difference between the Śūdras and the untouchables is retained in the Yājñavalkyasmṛti. There is a reference found in the Vyavahārādhyāya regarding Antya in connection with penalties for crime of adultery, which might have been treated as lower caste than the Śūdras. It is said that a Śūdra, having physical relation with a woman of Antya caste is reduced to the same caste. According to Viśvarūpa, Antya means outcaste or lower than the Śūdras.[2] The Mitākṣarā states that an Antya woman is a female of a Cāṇḍāla.[3] Hence, Antya appears to represent a generic appellation for all lowest caste like the Cāṇḍāla, etc.[4] Thus, Yājñavalkya has distinguished the Antya from the Śūdra, suggesting that during his time the untouchables and the mixed castes have not been considered as Śūdras in general. It seems untouchability might have been exaggerated in later periods and more and more castes are brought to its purview.

Footnotes and references:


… caṇḍālo’cottamānspṛśet// Yājñavalkyasmṛti, 2.23445 brāhmaṇyāṃ kṣatriyātsūto vaiśyādvaidāhikastathā/ sūdrājjātastu caṇḍālaḥ sarvadharmabahiṣkṛtaḥ// Ibid., 1.93


antyaśabdo’yaṃ śūdrānnikṛṣṭāpaśadvacanaḥ/ Bālakrīḍā,Ibid., 2.297


antyā cāṇḍālī…/ sūdraḥ punaścāṇḍālyabhigame’ntya eva cāṇḍāla eva bhavati/ Mitākṣarā, Ibid., 2.294


Kane, P.V., History of Dharmaśāstra, Volume 2, Part 1, pages 60-70

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: