Yajnavalkya-smriti (Vyavaharadhyaya)—Critical study

by Kalita Nabanita | 2017 | 87,413 words

This page relates ‘Intercaste Marriage’ 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.

In many places and among Hindus of India, intercaste marriage is of a great concerned. However, at present, there is no legal bar in solemnising intercaste marriage among Hindus, yet in actual practice people of the society look down upon it and try to restrict the occurrence of such marriages. Therefore, it is interesting to enquire about the position of intercaste marriage in the Smṛtis when the rigid caste distinction was in vogue. The area of this research provides indication about the legal status of intercaste marriage. In this context, it is important to note that while dealing with provisions of marriage in the Ācārādhyāya, Yājñavalkya opines that bridegroom and the bride should be of same varṇa.[1] In the same section, he further disapproves the saying that the twice-born may take wife from the Śūdra.[2]

It perhaps reflects the social opinion of that time that suggests the dislike of the society and the lawmaker towards intercaste marriage. However, the important fact confronted in the Vyavahārādhyāya is that the Smṛtikāras cannot deny or ignore the existence of such union or marriage in the contemporary society in spite of the strict rules of caste system. The author seems to have given legal recognition to the intercaste marriage while fixing share of paternal property for sons begotten from the principal four varṇas. He lays down the rules for inheritance of the sons of the wife of different caste in this way the sons of a Brāhmaṇa, in order of the castes, are entitled to four, three, two and one share of property. The sons of the Kṣatriya can receive in order of caste, respectively three, two and one share, those of a Vaiśya is entitled to two and one share.[3]

The Mitākṣarā commentary explicitly states that this provision has reference to another verse of the Ācārādhyāya, which points out that a Brāhmaṇa may have four wives out of each four varṇas, a Kṣatriya may have three, a Vaiśya may have two and a Śūdra may have one accordingly to the order of caste. Therefore, the rule prescribed by Yājñavalkya means that the sons born of a Brāhmaṇa father and Brāhmaṇa mother take four shares, that of a Brāhmaṇa male from Kṣatriya wife receives three shares, the son begotten by a Brāhmaṇa on Vaiśya wife gets two shares and on a Śūdra receives one share. Likewise, the sons of a Kṣatriya male upon Kṣatriya, Vaiśya and Śūdra female take three, two, one share, respectively. Those of a Vaiśya born of a Vaiśya wife, and Śūdra wife receive two and one share respectively. This rule does not mention about the Śūdras, since for them, only one wife is recommended and so he cannot have sons of different classes from his own. The shares among his sons devolve according to the general rules of partition, which are meant for sons of same caste.[4]

Thus, in the above-mentioned rule of Yājñavalkya, it may be observed that intercaste marriage has been legally recognized with some limitations. It appears, general rule is that a man of higher caste can take a wife from any of the caste lower to his, but the man of lower caste is not allowed to take a wife from the higher caste. Hence, anuloma marriage is supposed to be recognized, but pratiloma marriage is prohibited in the society. Moreover, the legal privileges of the wives and sons from the wife of respective castes are determined depending upon the castes of the wives. In case of inheritance, the sons begotten from the wife of the higher caste are entitled to larger or more shares than the sons of the wives of the lower castes. It is to be mentioned here that according to the Manusmṛti, the son of a Brāhmaṇa or Kṣatriya or Vaiśya, by Śūdra wife, does not receive any share of the inheritance, whatever, father may give to him that will be his property.[5]

Footnotes and references:


Yājñavalkyasmṛti, 1.55


yaducyate dvijātīnāṃ sūdrāddāropasaṃgrahaḥ/ naitanma mataṃ yasmāttatrāyaṃ jāyate svayam// Ibid., 1.56


catustridvyekabhāgāḥ syurvarṇaśo brāhmaṇātmajāḥ/ kṣatrajāstridvyekabhāgā viḍjāstu dvyekabhāginaḥ// Ibid., 2.125


Vide, Mitākṣarā, Ibid.


Manusmṛti, 9.155

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