Yajnavalkya-smriti (Vyavaharadhyaya)—Critical study

by Kalita Nabanita | 2017 | 87,413 words

This page relates ‘Supreme Judicial Mechanism’ 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.

The Principal machinery to impart justice is the king. The primary duty of the king is to administer justice, by securing just settlement of disputes to his subjects and punishing the offenders. The king appears to be the supreme judge within his territory. As per the Yājñavalkyasmṛti, the king should examine judicial proceeding along with the learned Brāhmaṇas.[1]

In the Mitākṣarā, Vijñāneśvara comments that the term nṛpaḥ in the present context, means one having authority to protect the subjects and not merely a Kṣatriya.[2] The phrase brāhmaṇaiḥ saha is explained by Vijñāneśvara that the use of third case ending plural form in the stem brāhmaṇa indicates the Brāhmaṇas are not principal or prominent here, due to a grammatical rule i.e. the indeclinable saha following a word, denotes the subordinate position of the latter. Therefore, even if the king is assisted by Brāhmaṇas and though he is to follow the advices rendered by them, yet the king is to be held guilty, in case of any injustice done and not the Brāhmaṇas who advised him.[3] Moreover, emphasizing on the words krodhalobhavivarjitaḥ, i.e. ‘free from anger and greed’, he remarks that this is a special injunction and not just a formality.[4] A similar view is expressed in the Manusmṛti, when it is held that the king with the intention to investigate litigation or law cases, preserving a dignified demeanour is to enter the sabhā or hall of justice, accompanied by the Brāhmaṇas and with experienced ministers.[5]

Besides the king, who is the fountainhead of justice, the court of justice consists of members appointed by the king to assist him. Yājñavalkya wants the king to be cautious and careful while selecting the members of the court of justice called sabhāsadas or sabhyas. The success of the king in delivering justice depends upon the members of the court of justice. The king can shoulder the greater responsibility of administration of justice, if he is attended by good assessors. Yājñavalkya sets forth that the king should appoint as members of the court of justice such persons, who are possessed of Vedic learning and study, who know dharma or law, who are the speaker of truth and who are impartial to friend and foe.[6] Yājñavalkya has not given the number of sabhyas to be appointed by the king. Manu mentions that sabhā is formed by three Brāhmaṇas, well versed in Vedas, and one learned Brāhmaṇa appointed by the king.[7] According to Bṛhaspati, the number of sabhyas are seven, five or even three.[8] Therefore, Vijñāneśvara thinks that the word sabhyas used in plural number by Yājñavalkya, refers to three sabhyas.[9] Perhaps, the ideal least numbers of sabhyas to be appointed to the court of justice to assist in disposal of suits are three.

The difference between the Brāhmaṇas and the sabhyas, with whom the king observes administration of justice, is shown in the Mitākṣarā. The Brāhmaṇas are not king’s appointee, but the sabhyas are appointed by the king to assist him in the matters of administration of justice. The former enjoys the special privilege to be present in the court. Either the appointee or the non-appointee, who knows law, can speak in the court of justice but there is a difference in matters of responsibility and liability towards the king. It is the duty of the sabhyas to give proper or right advice to the king in supervising judicial proceeding. They are responsible to prevent the king from doing any injustice and in failing to do so they are to be held guilty. As regards the nonappointed Brāhmaṇas, Vijñāneśvara says that they are not held guilty even if they utter anything wrong or unlawful or remain silent and do not prohibit the king from committing any error in administration of justice.[10] Therefore, it can be said about the Brāhmaṇas that though they had the right to express their opinions, but the king was not bound by it, nor could they restrict the king from acting according to his own judgment. Commenting on it, Vijñāneśvara also expresses that some distinguished merchants should be present or invited to the court of justice in order to gratify the people.[11]

Nārada agrees with Yājñavalkya on the qualifications of sabhyas to be selected to the court of justice. The members of the royal court of justice must be acquainted with the sacred law and with the rules of prudence. They should be descended from noble families, veracious and equal towards friend and foe.[12] It appears that Manu, Yājñavalkya and Nārada realized the necessity of learned and good assessors for the court of justice.

Another important aid to impart justice, referred to by Yājñavalkya, is a Brāhmaṇa, learned in all matters of dharma (law), along with sabhyas to be appointed by the king, when due to heavy pressure of other works the king is not able to decide the disputes of subjects.[13] This provision specifically indicates that the king is mainly responsible for the administration of justice. Generally, it is the duty of the king to preside over the court of justice and decide cases. Only in exceptional situation, he can delegate or authorize a learned Brāhmaṇa, appointed by him to preside over the court. The later one, can represent the king in the judicial proceeding in absence of him, and in his presence, he assists the king. He is subordinate to the king and the other appointee members called sabhyas are to assist both him and the king. Thus, the other appointee sabhyas appear to be subordinate to them. The commentary of Aparārka describes the learned Brāhmaṇa, representing the king, to be the prāḍvivāka as mentioned in the later Smṛtis of Nārada, Bṛhaspati, etc.[14] Aparārka quotes Nārada, who states that the king should try cases in due order with great care attending to the dictates of the Dharmaśāstras and adhering to the opinion of the prāḍvivāka.[15] Vijñāneśvara also observes that the learned Brāhmaṇa, who is to investigate and decide the lawsuits on behalf of the king as stated by Yājñavalkya is named as prāḍvivāka by Nārada and who is also the chief justice or president. It seems that the king must decide the cases following the opinion of the prāḍvivāka, but not according to his own view. As the king sees the enemies of the kingdom with the eyes of the spies, likewise he can look after lawsuits through the prāḍvivāka. Vijñāneśvara gives the etymological meaning of prāḍvivāka. He derives the word prāḍvivāka as one who questions the plaintiff and the defendant is prāṭ (from the root pracch, meaning to ask), and the replies given by them, either in favour or in opposition with the sabhyas is vivāka (from the root vac, with prefix vi). Therefore, one who is a prāṭ and vivāka is known as prāḍvivāka.[16] The same derivation is also given by Bṛhaspati.[17] It shows the major responsibility bestowed upon the learned Brāhmaṇa, appointed to preside over the court of justice, in absence of the king, in investigating a case for which he might have been regarded as the chief judge or president, and who is helped by other sabhyas. He should have knowledge not only of eighteen titles of law with its sub-divisions, of logic and other sciences but also of local and traditional usages or customs.[18]

Manu also permits to appoint a learned Brāhmaṇa to try the suits when the king cannot personally investigate them.[19] Nārada compares the prāḍvivāka with an expert surgeon. A skilful and experienced surgeon removes the dart, thorn or other morbid matter out of wound though it may be invisible and difficult to get at, with the help of the application of surgical instruments. In the same way, the prāḍvivāka or chief judge must extract the wound of inequity or injustice from the lawsuits to deliver justice, by means of careful and judicious investigations and enquiries.26

Thus, Yājñavalkya seems to refer two forms of royal or state courts, viz. that is of the chief justice and that of the king himself. The king, the president or chief judge (prāḍvivāka), judges or assessors appointed by the king and the learned Brāhmaṇas accompanying the king form the royal court of justice, which is the prime machinery, are responsible to impart justice to the people.

Footnotes and references:


vyavahārānnṛpaḥ paśyedvidvadbhirbrāhmanaiḥ saha/ Yājñavalkyasmṛti, 2.1


nṛpa iti na kṣatriyamātrasyāyaṃ dharmaḥ kintu prajāpālanādhikṛtasmānyasyāpīti darśayati/ Mitākṣarā, Ibid.


brāhmaṇaiḥ saheti tṛtīyanirdeśādeṣāmaprādhānyam/ ‘sahayukte’pradhāne’ iti smaraṇāt/ atañcādarśane’nyathādarśane vā rājño doṣo na brāhmaṇānām/ Ibid.


…iti vacanamādarārtham / Ibid.


vyavahārāndidṛkṣuḥ tu brāhmaṇaiḥ saha pārthivaḥ/ mantrairmantribhiścaiva vinītaḥ praviśetsabhām// Manusmṛti, 8.1


śrutādhyayanasaṃpannā dharmajñāḥ satyavādinaḥ/ rājñā sabhāsadaḥ kāryā ripou mitre ca ye samāḥ// Yājñavalkyasmṛti, 2.2




lokavedajñadharmajñāḥ sapta pañca trayo’pi vā/ Bṛhaspati quoted. in Mitākṣarā on Yājñavalkyasmṛti, 2.2


te ca trayaḥ kartavyāḥ bahuvacanasyārthavattvāt…/ Mitākṣarā onYS., 2.2


tatra brāhmaṇā aniyuktāḥ sabhāsadastu niyuktā iti bhedaḥ/ ataevaoktam-‘niyukto vā’niyukto dharmajño vaktumarhati’ iti/ tatra niyuktānāṃ yathāvasthitārthakathane’pi yadi rājā’nyathā karoti tadā’sau nivāranīyo’nyathā doṣa/… aniyuktānāṃ punaranyathābhidhāne’nabhidhāne vā doṣa natu rājño’nivāraṇe…/ Ibid.


ripou mitre ceti cakārāllokarañjanārthaṃ katipayarvarṇigvhirapydhiṣṭhitaṃ sadaḥ kartavyam/ Ibid.


Nāradasmṛti, 3.5


apaśyatā kāryabaśādvyavahārānnṛpeṇa tu/ sabhyaiḥ saha niyoktavyo brāhmaṇaḥ sarvadharmavit// Yājñavalkyasmṛti,2.3


svyaṃ ca prāḍviākasaṃjñakabrāhmaṇo rājanyo’pi vyavahārānpaśyati niyoktavya eva/ (yadāh nāradaḥ- “dharmaśāstraṃ…”/)… rājā cedvyavahārānpaśyati prāḍvivāko’numantā anyadā tu vyavahāradraṣṭā/ Aparārka, Ibid.


yadāha nārada-dharmaśāstraṃ puraskṛtya prāḍvivākamate sthitaḥ/ samāhitamatiḥ paśyed vyavahārānanukramāt// Ibid.


nāradena tvayameva mukhyo darśitaḥ-‘dharmaśāstraṃ…’/prāḍvivākamate sthito na svamate sthitaḥ/ rājā cāracakṣuṣā parasainyaṃ paśyatītivat/… arthipratyarthinau pṛcchatīti prāṭ tayorvacanaṃ viruddhamaviruddhaṃ ca sabhyai saha vivinakti vivecayati veti vivākaḥ/prāṭ cāsau vivākaśca prāḍvivākaḥ/ Mitākṣarā, Ibid., 2.3


vyavahārāsritaṃ praśnaṃ pṛcchati prāḍiti śrutiḥ/ vivadettatra yastasminprāḍvivākastu sa smṛtaḥ// Bṛhaspati quoted. by Aparāka on Yājñavalkyasmṛti, 2.3


… sarvadharmavit sarvāndharmaśāstroktānsāmayikāṃśca dharmānvetri vicārayatīti…/ Mitākṣarā on Yājñavalkyasmṛti, 2.3


yadā svayaṃ na kuryāttu nṛpatiḥ kāryadarśanam/ tadā niyujjyādvidvāṃsaṃ brāhmaṇaṃ kāryadarśane// Manusmṛti,8.926 yathā śalyaṃ bhiṣag vidvānuddhared yantraśaktitaḥ/ prāḍvivākastathā śalyamuddhared vyavahārataḥ// Nāradasmṛti,3.9

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