Yajnavalkya-smriti (Vyavaharadhyaya)—Critical study

by Kalita Nabanita | 2017 | 87,413 words

This page relates ‘Economic Aspects of ancient India’ 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 3.7 - Economic Aspects of ancient India

The Smṛtis serve as an important source to furnish information regarding the economic aspects of the ancient India. The Yājñavalkyasmṛti marks the growth and development in various spheres of economic activities of that time. A greater part of the Yājñavalkyasmṛti is devoted to the topic relating to debt, wages, regulation for keepers of cattle, sale and purchase, socio-economic crimes, partnership, corporations, etc., which throws ample light on the economic life of the people. The mention of the title of law called svāmipālavivāda in Vyavahārādhyāya shows the importance attached to animal husbandry and agriculture. Cattle rearing is closely related to agriculture.

Various kinds of domestic animals mentioned in the Vyavahārādhyāya are:

Apart from other purposes, animals have been used for carrying carts, carriages, etc.[2] There are references to the construction of dykes in the field, which may indicate the existence of irrigation system.[3] With the extension of economic activities, people are found to earn their livelihood by various means or occupations. In one instance, people appear to have taken the profession of milkman, wine-seller, washerman, actor, hunter, etc.[4] Metal workers, who manufacture articles or utensils of various metals, viz. gold, silver, tin, lead, copper, iron are mentioned.[5] The Vyavahārādhyāya informs the development of the art of spinning and weaving as a commercial occupation or activity.[6] Reference is available that the big trees yield livelihood to the owner.[7]

The profession of physician is recognised as one of the important professions, which is necessary for welfare of people. The service provided by the physician to the patient has been made accountable. There is provision to punish the physician who without any knowledge of healing art poses himself as competent and administers wrong treatment.[8] The concept of hiring workers or labours by wage is found in existence from the title of law called vetanādāna, i.e. non-payment of wages (2.193-198). The growth of trade and commerce in the country results in other economic activities like currency, credit, exchange, etc. Money lending on interest appears to be one of the sources of income and the traders borrowed it for the purpose of conducting business. Therefore, Yājñavalkya has laid down regulation concerning debt as an independent subject of law (2.37-64).

The Vyavahārādhyāya contains many instances, which are evident of the fact that during that time, trade and commerce were not confined within the state, people had commercial dealings with other countries even living beyond the sea. For example, the rate of interest was different from them, who after taking loan went to other countries through dangerous passage for business purpose.[9] Likewise, the seller is liable to pay double the profit that the purchaser would have made when the purchaser belongs to another country.[10] There is also reference to different rate of profit for indigenous article and those coming from other countries. The trader is allowed to earn five per cent profit on indigenous articles and then per cent on those coming from other countries.[11] Due to development of trade and commerce, carrier’s business has become distinct and important.[12]

Formation of trading association by the merchants for doing business jointly, with the motive of profit making within the country and abroad suggest the advanced condition of trade and commerce. It resembles the present-day partnership business.[13] Julius Jolly opines that the laws of trading associations are based on foundations much more real than the theory of four varṇas and from it, a very interesting sidelight into development of castes may be obtained.[14] In the Manusmṛti, the rule relating to the shares of fees, payable to the priest, jointly performing a sacrifice, is extended to all those who similarly do their work jointly.[15] It may be assumed that up to the time of the Manusmṛti, partnership in secular sense has not attained sufficient importance, whereas, the Yājñavalkyasmṛti shows the shift of law of partnership from priest to trade.

Yājñavalkya proposes to apply the general rules about partnership in trade for merchants and foreign traders to sacrificial priests, cultivators, husbandmen and craftsmen or artisans.[16] Regarding this observation, Kane rightfully remarks that the complicated sacrifices, requiring a large number of priests have become rare in Yājñavalkya’s days and partnership of traders and artisans have assumed great importance.[17] In the Vyavahārādhyāya, the numerous fines and penalties imposed by the king appear to have been collected in the shape of coins expressed in terms of paṇas.

Thus, it is derived that in matters of social aspect, the Vyavahārādhyāya marks somewhat liberal and progressive outlook. During the age of the Yājñavalkyasmṛti, the society was regulated lawfully, and it was not devoid of ethics. All social and economic aspects were laid in a well directed manner and people were guided in every aspects for the growth of a rich set up of the society.

Footnotes and references:


Yājñavalkyasmṛti, 2.159-160


Ibid., 2.298-299


Ibid., 2.156-157


Ibid., 2.48


agnau suvarṇamakṣīṇam rajate dvipalaṃ śate/ aṣṭau trapuṇi sīse ca tāmre pañca daśāyasi// Ibid., 2.178


śate daśapalā vṛddhiraurṇe kārpāsasautrike/ madhye pañcaptā vṛddhiḥ sūkṣme tu tripalā// kārmike romavaddhe ca triṃśadbhāgaḥ kṣayo mataḥ/ na kṣayo na ca vṛddhiśca kauśeye vālkaleṣu ca// Ibid., 2.179-180


upajī vyadrumāṇāṃ ca viṃśatedrviguṇo damaḥ// Ibid., 2.227


bhiṣaṅmithyācarandaṇḍayastiryakṣu prathamaṃ damam/ mānuṣe madhyamaṃ rājapuruṣesūthamaṃ damam// Ibid., 2.242


Ibid., 2.38


gṛhītamulyaṃ yaḥ paṇyaṃ kreturnaiva prayacchati/ sodayaṃ tasya dāpyo’sau diglābhaṃ vā digāgate// Ibid., 2.254


svadeśapaṇye tu śataṃ vaṇiggṛhṇīta pañcakam/ daśakaṃ pāradeśye tu yaḥ sadyaḥ krayavikrayī// Ibid., 2.252


Ibid., 2.197


Ibid., 2.259-265


Jolly, J., op.cit., page242


Manusmṛti, 8.206-211


anena vidhirākhyāta ṛtrikkarṣakakarmiṇām/ Yājñavalkyasmṛti, 2.265


Kane, P.V., Op. cit., Volume 3, page 470.

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