The Indian Cultural Encyclopedia describes an important term; Dharma Shastra as the Science of religion, but it is actually a science of morals. This is also termed as Smruti. However, in modern times, in the words of Justice Katju they may be called as the books written by Sanskrit scholars specialized in law. Sanskrit Literature has many such Smrutis or scriptures which describe moral science such as those written by Manu, Bhrugu, Vasishtha, Parashara, Vyasa. However Manu Smruti and Yadnyavalkya Smruti are considered to be the most prominent amongst them all.
An ancient Indian Sanskrit scholar namely Yadnyavalkya is the author of Yadnyavalkya Smruti. He belonged to the Family of Shri Narayana and was a son of sage Devavrata. He was the nephew of Sage Vaishampayana and was his disciple also. He lived in the city called Mithila. His reference is mainly found in Skanda purana Atma purana and Brahmanda purana. It is believed that the Vedas were taught to him by lord Surya, the sun god. It is cited in Yadnyavalkya Smruti as,
ज्ञेयं चारव्यकमहं यदादित्याद् प्राप्तवान्
Dnyeya caravyakamaham yadadityad praptavan
(Please understand/learn the knowledge I have received from the lord sun).
Yadnyavalkya is also known as Yogishwara Yadnyavalkya – the title was conferred upon him by Lord Shiva, as he was impressed with Yadnyavalkya’s command over the science of Yoga. His contribution does not end merely with this smruti, but he has written some other books such as, Yadnyavalkya Shiksha, Pratidnyasutra, Shathapatha Brahmana. With his writings he has hugely contributed for the development of Yajurved.He is also known to be the Pravartaka or the Founder of Vajasaneyi branch.
The Smruti is considered to be written by Yadhnyavalkya himself. However an argument also says that one of his disciples must have written it. The argument is supported with a reference from Mitakshari commentary as,
याज्ञवल्क्यशिष्यः कश्चित्प्रश्नोत्तररूपं याज्ञवल्क्यमुनीप्रणीतं धर्मशास्त्रं संक्षिप्य कथयामास ।
Yadnyavalkyah kashcitprashnottararupam yadnyavalkyamunipranitam dharmashastram samkshipya kathayamasa |
(One of his disciples shared the teachings of YADHNYAVALKYA in the form of a conversation).
Considering the opinion, we may conclude that; Yadnyavalkya Smruti was not written by Yadnyavalkya but was composed and narrated by him and one of his disciples had written or documented his thoughts. But maybe this was the case with many scriptures of ancient India. Barring the above mentioned reference, we do not have any other evidence.
Date of Yadnyavalkya Smruti
The Mangalacharan of the Yadnyavalkya Smruti speaks about the city namely Kalyanakalpa and King Vikramaditya. A Study locates the city in the state of Hyderabad. In addition, the list of the kings from the Chalukya Dynasty has the name of King Vikramaditya included in it. Chalukyan kings ruled over the Southern and Deccan part of India. Vidnyaneshvara who is the author of Mitakshara commentary was in the royal court of Chalukyan King Vikramaditya. Based on the reference, we may conclude that the commentary was written somewhere between 998-1048. So definitely the period of original texts goes much back to that, roughly three to four centuries before.
Vishvarupa was the very first to write a note on the Yadnyavalkya Smruti and he belonged to 8th century; naturally this becomes the upper limit of the date of Yadnyavalkya Smruti. According to Dr. Jolly, the period before 7th century should be the date of Yadnyavalkya Smruti.
Hence, the period of smruti must be between 1st to 3rd centuries. Another view is that the text most likely dates to the Gupta Period, between roughly the 3rd and 5th centuries. There is some debate as to whether it is to be placed in the earlier or later part of that time span.
Structure of Yadnyavalkya Smruti
Yadnyavalkya Smruti is appreciated for its well organized structure. It has a total of 1009 verses, which covers various aspects and circumstances of day-to-day social and personal human life. It speaks of regulations, duties, sets criteria and provides solutions over conflicts. All the verses are divided into three main divisions namely Acharadhyaya, Vyavaharadhyaya and Prayashchittadharma.
- Acharadhyaya describes behavior or what to follow in life by one. It contains about 368 verses placed in 13 sub-chapters called prakarana. The Adhyay mainly covers first two Ashrams preached by tradition i.e. Brahmacharyashrama and gruhasthashrama.
- Vyavaharadhyay speaks about how to deal with daily life. It is concerned about the activities mainly related to justice, finance etc. It has 307 verses covered under 25 subchapters.
- Prayashchittadharm is the third division and the title is self explanatory. It mainly explains the ways to expiate wrong deeds. It also contains an element of philosophy. It has 14 subchapters or prakaran, consisting of 334 verses.
A brief introduction to the subchapters
1. Upoddhata Prakarana – It is an introductory part of Yadnyavalkya Smruti, where Yadnyavalkya starts his book by offering his prayer to god. He later explains the purpose of learning Vedas and Puranas, characterizes the purpose of the Dharma, recalls the scholars who have written smrutis. In the 9th verse he also presents his definition of moral laws as ‘the teachings and preaching by a group of Brahman or an individual Brahman, who have great command over Veda, Shastra and Vedanta’.
2. Brahmachari Prakarana – It explains how the Varna (it is a status, which earlier meant to be based on the achievements, and lifestyle of an individual but eventually in later Vedic period came to be recognized as the caste) is decided, essential ceremonies, the importance and advantages of performing a birth ceremony, and advantages of learning Veda.
3. Vivaha Prakarana – It covers the stage of marriage; an immensely significant ceremony in Indian culture. It involves criteria or conditions to decide whether the bride or the groom is fit for the ceremony or not, types of marriages (verses 58 – 61 talks about six types of the marriages found and recognized in Indian culture and tradition i.e. Arsha, Daiva, Prajapatya, Gandharva, Rakshasa, Paishacha) based on their nature. It also goes through various moral limitations imposed over women (verses 73 – 78) and over sexual conduct (verses 79 – 81).
4. Varna-jati Viveka Prakarana – It states that the status of a fetus depends upon his parents. (Here the term status refers to the caste.) Yadnyavalkya describes about the eleven types of children born out of the inter-caste marriages. The smruti divides such marriages into Anuloma and Pratiloma types.
5. Gruhasthadharma Prakarana – This Sub chapter speaks over how a married person who is known as Gruhastha should behave, his duties and the things to be avoided by him.
6. Snatakadharma Prakarana – It explains about the daily routine of a Brahman, from whom he should accept the money (verse 130), what things should be avoided by him (verses 132, 134, 135) and how a Brahmin should be dressed (verse 133).
7. Bhakshya-abhakshya Prakarana – Yadnyavalkya Smruti explains which things should be avoided as food (verses 167-68, 171-72, and 174), when a meal is to be eaten (verse 179) and the advantages of following the advised conduct (189) in this chapter.
8. Dravyashuddhi Prakarana – In India, Wealth is considered as god. Hence, it is necessary to make it purified. The verses here, explain various ways for the purification of the wealth (washing, scrubbing etc). In addition, it covers the conditions to decide the purity of the wealth.
9. Dana Prakarana – The term Dana can be translated as Donation. The Prakaran speaks about various conditions and regulations to be followed while donating things.
10. Shraddha Prakarana – Shraddha is after death ritual. This chapter gives us information about ‘how to perform them’.
11. Ganapati kalpa Prakarana – Ganapati is the god of intelligence, who is also known as Vighneshwara. He was basically the leader of Ganas (troups) of gods. This chapter suggests essential chants and ways to please him to get rid of problems.
12. Grahashanti Prakarana – this chapter talks about the various prayers done to pacify the imposing factors (Graha) in human life.
13. Rajadharma Prakarana – It explains about the king, his duties and kingship.
14. Sadharana Vyavahara Matruka Prakarana – The section involves administrative things such as, qualities of official, court members, ways of dealings, types of reacting.
15. Asadharana Vyavahara Matruka Prakarana – It talks about the special case such as conflicts over the territories. It states how judicial authority should tackle with the case.
16. Runadana Prakarana – Word Runadana is the repayment of loan. The Prakaran is about the ethics regarding the loan and repayment of loan.
17. Upanidhi Prakarana – Upanidhi refers to accessories such as various gems, ornaments safety, robbery and invalid encroachment related to them is discussed in this chapter.
18. Sakshi Prakarana – Saksha is interpreted as witness and this chapter deals with that.
19. Lekha Prakarana – This sub chapter is a broad characterization of various documents for administration as well as of personal purposes. It describes how those should be written or documented.
20. Divya Prakarana – Divya can be explained better with an example of a situation, when in the circumstance of conflict, anyone of the two parties claims to be honest, Divya is a way to determine, to prove his innocence. There five kinds of such acts mentioned in smrutis. The Prakaran not only describes the types but also authority to perform them along with circumstances.
21. Dayavibhaga Prakarana – It involves the distribution of property and wealth among the successors and related issues.
22. Seema vivada Prakarana – The word Seema stands for territory or a border. Issues or conflicts happened over a border are discussed in this chapter.
23. Asvamivkraya Prakarana – The term stands for ‘a situation in which a handed over wealth is sold or taken without any consent by its owner. Surprisingly here, instead of suggestions for the punishments the text talks of ways of expiation such as repaying the amount equivalent to the wealth taken, or locating it in case it is displaced from its original place etc. (verses 169-70).
24. Dattapradanika Prakarana – It talks of a situation when the wealth is transferred through unaccepted or immoral ways and methods to get back, the un-accepted ways of donations and the circumstances in which it can or cannot be returned.
25. Kritanushaya Prakarana – Narada defines the Kritanushaya term as a situation when a customer returns the purchased item to the shopkeeper. Yadhnyavalkya speaks of “exchanging period”. In addition, it involves verses explaining the expected proportion of cotton, metals such as gold when fabrics and ornaments are made out of them in order to avoid adulteration and fraud.
26. Abhyupetya Shushrusha Prakarana – It talks about the situation when a commitment of serving is not fulfilled.
27. Sanvidyatikrama Prakarana – Precisely, it is based on the concept of how the system is maintained, peaceful and safe. As per the text, the king is responsible for the security of the society and people are expected to obey their leader or ruler. It offers suggestions to maintain security.
28. Vetanadana Prakarana – As mentioned in the title, it discusses the matter of salary and servant as well as related issues for both the sides
29. Dyutasamavhya Prakarana –Dyuta involves a section of gambling including animal fights and board games. The section is entirely based upon explaining the nature of the activities involved, types and regulations.
30. Vakparushya Prakarana – Verbal abuse has got the status of crime. Text suggests penalties and punishment in this chapter.
31. Dandaparushya Prakarana – just like verbal abuse, physical abuses causing pain and injury to another person are discussed in this chapter.
32. Sahasa Prakarana – It explains the nature and punishments for misadventurous wrong deeds. Yadhnyavalkya here speaks of a very important thing that, the person forced to commit the crime is responsible for the sentence, also the person forcing someone to commit it has to be punished.
33. Vikriyasampradana Prakarana – Another unusual chapter that speaks about consumer rights, the situation if he is not supplied with the goods, morals and punishments in the case of injustice (done by a supplier).
34. Sambhuyasamutthana Prakarana – This chapter is about business partnership. In case of partnership business, yadhnyawalkya says that every decision should be taken with consent of each partner and the profit to be distributed equally.
35. Steya Prakarana – It talks of the judicial proceedings in case of robbery including ways to confirm innocence, possibilities of false answers and last but not the least, punishments.
36. Stri sangraha Prakarana – It deals with betrayal by wife or a female partner, by talking of ways to know if it happens, sentences to be given, how to identify the culprit etc.
37. Prakirna Prakarana – It covers all other areas that come under the authority of a king.
38. Ashaucha Prakarana – It involves post – death ceremonies, rituals to be performed on dead bodies.
39. Apaddharma Prakarana – It explains about the mode of livelihood after or if crisis is arrived.
40. Vanaprastha Prakarana – The third stage of human life i.e. Vanaprastha is discussed in this chapter.
41. Yatidharma Prakarana – The prakaran revolves around the philosophy referring to the life of a yati (monk), about human heart and soul (verses 73-78) and their purity.
42. Prayashchittikarana Prakarana – As mentioned earlier, prayashchitta means making up for the wrong deeds. The Smruti goes through a number of karm/acts said to be sin and suggests such acts, performing which one may set himself free of the sins. Yadhnyawalkya says, if an individual cuts the trees for a purpose other than sacrifice, he must recite the 100 hymns including gayatri mantra. If he cuts herbs from the forest or his town, he has to spend an entire day in the service of cows and has to consume only milk.
Significance of Yadnyavalkya Smruti
The Yadnyavalkya Smruti is significant in many ways and is a blessing for us; the future generations. It covers a large area of human life including laws of governance of king and his administration, marriage, varna system etc. which relevant to modern life. Another interesting area covered is the consumer’s right in Kritanushaya Prakarana, of much importance in today’s world. Division of verses into chapter is based on their content. It makes for easy reference, to search with precision the problem specific information.
Besides the text is an important resource in resolving current judicial matters and studies. However, it may receive criticism for its favor of males and higher castes. However, such thoughts are not found on a large scale, nevertheless their mention cannot be denied. It was all a part of the then society.
Comparison with Manu Smruti
When compared to Manu Smruti, following differences are observed;
1. Manu smruti permits a Brahmin to marry a woman even from shudra varna i.e. lowest caste, where as Yadnyavalkya Smruti prohibits it.
2. Manu does not specify the successors of one’s property if a person dies without dividing his property; nor does he speak of a person’s widow being his successor. However, as per Yadnyavalkya Smruti a widow has the primary right over her dead husband’s property and its division.
3. Manu prohibits the concept of Dyuta (game of dice), where as Yadhnyawalkya has made it a way to collect tax.
4. Yadhnyawalkya has described justice and law in greater detail than Manu.
5. Manu smruti mentions about the origin of world where as it is missing in Yadnyavalkya Smruti. Additionally Yadnyavalkya has included information about medical and anatomical sciences.
Commentaries on Yadnyavalkya Smruti
1. Vishvarupacharya – He was a disciple of Aadi Shankaracharya and has written a detailed note named Balakrida. Also known by the name of Sureshwaracharya, he was born as Mandanmishra.
2. Aparadityadeva – He has written a note called Apararkana. He was born in the family of king Jeemutvahan.
3. Vidnyaneshwara – he was born in the family of Bharadvaja, son of Padmanabha Bhattopadhyaya. He belonged to the period parallel to king Vikramaditya. He has written a commentary namely Mitakshara, which literally means concise. This is the most famous and authentic commentary on Yadnyavalkya Smruti.
4. Mitramishra – He wrote a commentary called Viramitrodaya. He was in the court of king Virasimha of Bundelkhand. His famous work is Anandaranga champu. It is said that Sadanand Pandit originally wrote the note and he took the credit of it.
5. Laksmi and Balambhatta – He had written a commentary on Mitakshara, which later came to be known as Balambhatti. However, opinions also say that, it was originally started by Lakshmi and was later continued by her son Balambhatt.
” Mahadeva Shastri Joshi. 1967. Bharatiya Sanskruti Kosha, Vol. IV. Pune. Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal.
” Kale Shailaja. 2008. Yogishwara Yadnyavalkya. Nagpur. Dhnyanesh prakashan.
” Bapat Vishnushastri. 1929. Shree Yadnyavalkya Smruti with Mitakshara. Pune. Chitrashala steam press.