Yajnavalkya-smriti (Vyavaharadhyaya)—Critical study

by Kalita Nabanita | 2017 | 87,413 words

This page relates ‘Laws Relating to Gambling and Betting’ 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 5.15 - Laws Relating to Gambling and Betting

Yājñavalkya has expounded the laws to regulate gambling and betting under the title of law called dyūtasamāhvaya. He dedicates five verses to describe rules concerning this title of law. While commenting upon the laws of Yājñavalkya, Vijñāneśvara characterises gambling and betting with reference to the definition given by Nārada[1] and Manu.[2] He defines that playing by means of inanimate things such as dice, small piece of leather, ivory staves, game having four components of an army division, etc., which involves betting is known as gambling. On the other hand, play by means of living creatures like cock, pigeon, wrestlers, sheep, buffaloes, etc., with a stake is called betting.[3]

Yājñavalkya lays down the rule to collect fee from gambling. In this context, the technical terms used by him are explained by the Mitākṣarā. According to it, gleha means the stake or bet, which is determined by mutual agreement of the gamblers. Sabhika is the person to whom belongs the hall, which gamesters make their haunt, i.e., the keeper of the gambling house. The person making provisions for making all the instruments for gambling such as dice, etc., and maintaining itself with the amount received therefrom is known as sabhāpati.[4] In a gambling, where the stake is a hundredfold then sabhika can collect five per cent of the wager from the gamester and from other he is entitled to take ten per cent.[5] Thus, receiving a portion from the gamblers, sabhika owes some rights and liabilities. He has to pay the stipulated amount to the king for the protection provided by him. It is his duty to recover the amount of wager from the defeated party and to give it to the winner. The author also states that a sabhika should keep patience or he should be forgiving and should speak the truth.[6] These appears to be the necessary qualities required by the nature of the job for discharging his duties. In failure on the part of the Sabhika, to recover the stake money from the loser, the burden shifts to the king if certain conditions are fulfilled.

The king should enforce the defeated party to make the payment of the due stake amount to the winning party where former consist of fraudulent gamesters and wants to avoid the payments if following conditions are fulfilled: -

  1. the bet should be owned publicly in an assembly of gamblers,
  2. it should be conducted in a gaming house having a sabhika,
  3. the king should receive the fixed amount to be paid to him.

In absence of the above mentioned conditions, the king is not liable to cause it to be paid to the winners.[7] An interesting rule provided by Yājñavalkya is that while deciding a dispute arising out of gambling, judges and witnesses should be the gamblers themselves.[8] It is a special kind of law delineated by the author. It seems that he considers expert gamblers more competent to decide such suits as they have more knowledge over it than others. He prescribes punishment for playing by fraudulent means or with a motive to cheat. Those who play with false dice or other deceptive instruments, have to be inflicted with brandation and to be banished by the king.[9] Moreover, gambling should be organized under the supervision of a single officer for the purpose of getting information about thieves. Yājñavalkya also declares that these laws are also applicable to betting by living beings.[10]

In the context of present legal system, List II of the 7th Schedule of the Constitution of India empowers the State governments to make laws regarding gambling and betting activities.[11] Section 30 of the Indian Contract Act provides agreements by way of wager to be void. Therefore, no suit can be brought for recovering anything to be won on any wager. However, this section recognises an exception in favour of horse-race. [12] Section 294–A of the Indian Penal Code resembles to some extent with the provisions on gambling incorporated in the Yājñavalkyasmṛti. According to this section, keeping of any office or place for the purpose of drawing any lottery and publication of any advertising relating to them are made a punishable criminal offence, unless it is not a state lottery, or a lottery authorised by the state government. Lottery here amounts to gambling.[13] Yājñavalkya also allows gambling when it is legalised or authorized by the King.

Footnotes and references:


akṣvadhraśalākādyairdevanaṃ jihmakāritam/ paṇakrīḍā vayobhiśca padaṃ dyūtasamāhvayam// Nāradasmṛti,4.16.1


aprāṇibhiryatkriyate talloke dyūtamucyate/ prāṇibhiḥ kriyate yastu sa vijñeyaḥ samāhvayaḥ// Manusmṛti,9.223


akṣā pāśakāḥ/ vadhraścarmapaṭṭikā śalakā dantādimayyo dīrghacaturastrā/ ādyagrahaṇāccaturaṅgādikrīḍāsādhanaṃ karituraṅgarathādikaṃ gṛhyate/ tairaprāṇibhiryaddevanaṃ krīḍā paṇpurvikā kriyate/ tathā vayobhiḥ pakṣibhiḥ kukkuṭapārāvatādibhiḥ caśabdānmallameṣamahiṣādibhiśca prāṇibhiryā paṇapūrvikā krīḍā kriyate tadubhayaṃ yathākrameṇa dyūtasamāhvayākhyaṃ vivādapadam/ Mitākṣarā ,Yājñavalkyasmṛti,2.199


parasparasaṃpratipattyā kitavaparikalpitaḥ paṇo gleha ityucyate/… sabhā kitavanivāsārthā yasyāstyesau sabhikaḥ/ kalpitākṣādinikhilakrīḍopakaraṇastadu- pacitadravyopajīvīsabhāpatirucyate/ Ibid.


glahe śatikavṛddhestu sabhikaḥ pañcakaṃ śatam/ gṛhṇīyāddhūrtakitavāditarāddaśakaṃ śatam// Yājñavalkyasmṛti,2.199


sa samyakpālito dadyadrājñe bhāgaṃ/ jitamudgrāhayejjetre dadyatsatyaṃ vacaḥ kṣamī// Ibid.,2.200


prāpte nṛpatinā bhāge prasiddhe dhūrtamaṇḍale/ jitaṃ sasabhike sthāne dāpayedanyathā na tu// Ibid.,2.201


draṣṭāro vyavahārāṇāṃ sākṣiṇaśca ta eva hi/ Ibid.,2.202


rājñā sacihnṃ nirvāsyāḥ kuṭākṣopadhidevinaḥ// Ibid.


dyūtamekamukhaṃ kāryaṃ taskarajñānakāraṇāt/ eṣa eva vidhirjñeyaḥ prāṇidyūte samāhvaye// Ibid.,2.203


Basu, D.D., Op.cit., page806


Kapoor, S.K., Contract-I, pages 195-201


Misra, S.N., Indian Penal Code, pages 434-435

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