Yajnavalkya-smriti (Vyavaharadhyaya)—Critical study

by Kalita Nabanita | 2017 | 87,413 words

This page relates ‘Legal Privilege and Disabilities of women’ 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 3.5a - Legal Privilege and Disabilities of women

Like the modern special legislations, which are framed for the uplift and development of the status of women, in the Vyavahārādhyāya some of the provisions seem to be designed for the interest and benefit of women. However, all the provisions are discussed in the second chapter or in the fifth chapter in detail, yet in the context of the women’s position, some of them require partial mention here. The land and property of a woman are given legal protection against the adverse possession, and she is enabled to claim her property or wealth from an illegal enjoyer.[1] This immunity is justified in consideration of their ignorance as well as immaturity of intellect or unskillfulness.[2] Woman is given relief from the obligation to pay the debt contracted by her husband and son except certain circumstances. Further the debt contracted by wife except made for the maintenance for the family, need not also be paid by her husband.[3] It seems, in economic matters, women enjoyed independence in her family. However, the herdsman, vinter, dancer, washerman or hunter, etc., are liable to pay the debt of their wives. The reason is specifically mentioned that it is for their livelihood depends upon their wives.[4] Thus, it may be noticed that a section of women in the society used to participate or played an active role in their husband’s professions.

The easiest form of all the divyas (ordeal), viz., tulā is ordained for women and thereby they are protected from undergoing the severest forms of the ordeals.[5] In this context, the Mitākṣarā makes it clear that here women means women without regard to any particular age, caste and position.[6]

In some cases even in the legal affairs, women are subjected to deep-rooted social bias, for which they suffer from serious discrimination. As a class, they are thought to be ignorant, untruthful or of unstable mind. Yājñavalkya appears to have tried to keep a balance between the age-old notion of society towards woman and increasing importance and situation, which demand women’s involvement. For example, the disability of women to become witness is declared in the vyavahāra section of the Yājñavalkyasmṛti.[7] Whatsoever, at the same time, they are allowed to give witness in matters relating to adultery, theft, abuse, assault and sāhasa (robbery and violence).[8]

Footnotes and references:




strīṇāmajñānādaprāgatabhyācca… upekṣā yuktaiva/ Mitākṣarā, Ibid.




gopaśauṇḍikaśailūṣarajakavyādhayoṣitām/ ṛṇaṃ dadyātpatistāsāṃ yasmādvṛtristadāśrayā// Ibid., 2.48


Ibid., 2.98


strī strīmātraṃ jātivayovasthāviśeṣānādareṇa/ Mitākṣarā, Ibid.


Yājñavalkyasmṛti, 2.70


Ibid., 2.72

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