Since 1948 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), upon the recommendation of the General Assembly of the United Nations, has been concerned with facilitating the translation of the works most representative of the culture of certain of its Member States, and, in particular, those of Asia.
One of the major difficulties confronting this programme is the lack of translators having both the qualifications and the time of undertake translations of the many outstanding books meriting publication. To help overcome this difficulty in part, UNESCO’s advisers in this field (a panel of experts convened every other year by the International Council for Philosophy and Humansitic Studies), have recommended that many worthwhile translations published during the 19th century, and now impossible to find except in a limited number of libraries, should be brought back into print in low-priced editions, for the use of students and of the general public. The experts also pointed out that in certain cases, even though there might be in existence more recent and more accurate translations endowed with a more modern apparatus of scholarship, a number of pioneer work of the greatest value and interest to students of Eastern religion also merited republication.
This point of view was warmly endorsed by the Indian National Academy of Letters (Sahitya Akademi), and the Indian National Commission for UNESCO.
It is in the spirit of these recommendations that this work from the famous series “Sacred Books of the East” is now once again being made available to the general public as part of the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works.
For all students of Sanskrit philosophy and Indian history Apastamba’s aphorisms on the sacred law of the Aryan Hindus possess a special interest beyond that attaching to other works of the same class. Their discovery enabled Professor Max Muller, forty-seven year ago, to dispose finally of the Brahmanical begend according to which Hindu society was supposed to be governed by the codes of ancient sages, compiled for the express purpose of tying down each individual to his station, and of strictly regulating even the smallest acts of his daily life. It enabled him not only to arrive at this negative result, but also to substitute a sounder theory the truth of which subsequent investigations have further confirmed, and to show that the sacred law of the Hindus has its source in the teaching of the Vedic schools, and the so-called revealed law codes are, in most cases, but improved metrical editions of older prose works which latter, in the first instance, were destined to be committed to memory by the young Aryan students, and to teach them their duties. This circumstance, as well as the fact that Apastamba’s work is free form any suspicion of having been tampered with by sectarians or modern editors, and that its intimate connection with the manuals teaching the performance of the great and small sacrifices, the Srauta and Grihya-sutras, which are attributed to the same author, is perfectly clear and indisputable, entitle it, in spite of its comparatively late origin, to the first place in a collection of Dharma-sutras.
The Apastambiya Dharma-sutra forms part of an enormous Kalpa-sutra or body of aphorisms, which digests the teaching of the Veda and of the ancient Rishis regarding the performance of sacrifices and the duties fo twice-born men, Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, and Vaisyas and which, being chiefly based on the second of the four Vedas, the Yagurveda in the Taittiriya recension, is primarily intended for the benefit of the Adhvaryu priests in whose families the study of the Yagur-veda is hereditary.
The entire Kalpa-sutra of Apastamba is divided into thirty sections, called Prasnas, literally questions. The first twenty-four of these teach the performance of the so-called Srauta or Vaitanika sacrifices, for which several sacred fires are required, beginning with the simplest rites, the new and full moon offerings, and ending with the complicated Sattras or sacrificial sessions, which last a whole year or even longer. The twenty-fifth Prasna contains the Paribhashas or general rules of interpretation, which are valid for the whole kalpa-sutra, the Pravara-khanda, the chapter enumerating the patriacrchs of the various Brahmanical tribes, and finally the Hautraka, prayers to be recited by the Hotraka priest. The twenty-sixth section gives the Mantras or Vedic prayers and formulas for the Grihya rite, the ceremonies for which the sacred domestic or Grihya fire is required, and the twenty-seventh the rules for the performance of the latter. The aphorisms on the sacred law fill the next two prasnas; and the Sulva-sutra, teaching the geometrical principles, according to which the altras necessary for the Srauta sacrifices must be constructed, concludes the work with the thirtieth Prasna.
The position of the Dharma-sutra in the middle of the collection at once raises the presumption that is originally formed an integral portion of the body of Sutras and that it is not a later addition. Had it been added later, it would either stand at the end of the thirty Prasnas or altogether outside the collection, as is the case with some other treatises attributed to Apastamba. The Hindus are, no doubt, unscrupulous in adding to the works of famous teachers But such additions, if of considerable extent, are usually not embodied in the works themselves which they are intend to supplement. They are mostly given as seshas or Parisishtas, tacked on at the end, and generally marked as such in the MSS.
In the case of the Apastamba Dharma-sutra it is, however, not necessary to rely on its position alone, in order to ascertain its genuineness. There are unmistakable indications that it is the work of the same author who wrote the remainder of the Kalpa- sutra. One important argument in favour of this view is furnished by the fact that Prasna XXVII, the section on the Grihya ceremonies, has evidently been made very short and concise with the intention of saving matter for the subsequent sections on the sacred law. The Apastambiya Grihya-sutra contains nothing beyond a bare outline of the domestic ceremonies, while most of the other Grihya-sutras, e.g. those of Asvalayana, Sankhayana, Gobhila, and Paraskara, include a great many rules which bear indirectly only on the performance of the offerings in the sacred domestic fire. Thus on the occasion of the description of the initiation of Aryan students, Asvalayana inserts directions regarding the dress and girdle to be worn, the length of the studentship, the manner of begging, the disposal of the alms collected, and other similar questions. The exclusion of such incidental remarks on subjects that are not immediately connected with the chief aim of the work, is almost complete in Apastamba’s Grihya-sutra, and reduced its size to less than one half of the extent of the shorter once among the works enumerated above. It seems impossible to explain this restriction of the scope of Prasna XXVII otherwise than be assuming that Apastamba wished to reserve all rules bearing rather on the duties of men than on the performance of the domestic offerings, for his sections on the sacred law.
The Vasishtha Dharmasastra is, like that of Gautam, the last remnant of the Sutras of a Vedic School, which, as far as our Knowledge goes at present, has perished, together with the greater part of its writings. We owe the preservation of its Dharma-sutra probably to the special law schools of India, which, attracted as it would seem by its title and the legend connecting it with Vasishtha Maitravaruni, one of the most famous Rishis of the Rig-veda and a redoubtable champion of Brahmanism, made it one of their standard authorities. The early existence of a legend according to which the Vasishtha Dharma-sutra was considered either to be a work composed by the Rishi Vasishtha, or at least to contain the sum of his teaching on the duty of man, is indicated by several passages of the work itself. For the Dharma-sutra names Vasishtha, or appeals to his authority on no less than three occasions. First, we find a rule on lawful interest, which is emphatically ascribed to Vasishtha. ‘Learn the interest for a money lender’, the Sutra says, ‘declared by the word o Vasishtha; five mashas (may be taken ) for twenty (karshapanas every month).’ Again, at the end of a long string of rules which contain the observances to be kept by sinners who undergo Krikkhra penances, Vasishtha’s name is brought forward as the authority for them, and the last word are, ‘Thus speaks the divine Vasishtha.’ Finally, the concluding Sutra of the whole work gives expression to the devotion felt by the author for the Rishi, ‘Adoration to Vasishtha, Satayatu, the son of Mitra and Varuna and of Urvasi.’ The epithets used in this last passage conclusively show that the Vasishtha after whom the Dharma-sutra is named, is the individual who, according to the Brahmanical tradition, is the Rishi of a large portion of the seventh Mandala of the Rig-veda and the progenitor of the Vasishtha clan of Brahmans, and who is some hymns of the Rig-veda appears as the purohita or domestic priest of king Sudas and the rival of Visvamitra, and in other Suktas as a half mythical being. For the verses Rig-veda VII, 33, 11-14 trace the origin of this Vasishtha to the two sons of Aditi, Mitra and Varuna and to the Apsara Urvasi, and contain the outline of the courios, but disgusting story of his marvelous birth, which sayana narrates more circumstantially in the commentary on verse II. Morever, the word Satayatu, which in the Dharma-sutra is used as an epithet of Vasishtha, occurs Rig-veda VII, 18,21 in close connexion with the Rishi’s name. Sayana explains it in his commentary on the latter passage as ‘the destroyer of many demons,’ or, ‘he whom many demons seek to destroy,’ and takes it as an epithet of the sage Parasara, who is named together with Vasishtha. It would, however, seem that, if the verse is construed on strictly philological principles, neither Sayana’s interpretations, nor that suggest by the Dharma-sutra be accepted, and that Satayatu has to be taken as a proper name. But however that may be, it is not doubtful that we may safely infer from the expressions used in the last sentence of the Dharma-sutra, that the Vasishtha to whom the invocation is addressed and the composition of the work is ascribed, either immediately or through the medium of pupils, is the individual named in the Rig-veda. The connexion of the Dharma-sutra with one of the Rishis of the Rig-veda which is thus established, possesses a particular interest and importance, because it corroborates the statement of Govindasvamin, the commentator of Baudhayana, that the Institutes of Vasishtha were originally studied by and authoritative for the Bahvrikas, the Rigvedins alone, and afterwards became an authority for all Brahmans. In the introduction to Gautama it has been shown that a similar assertion which Govinda makes with regard to the Gautama Dharma-sutra can be corroborated by a considerable amount of external and internal evidence. It has been pointed out that not only the fact that the spiritual pedigrees of the Khandoga schools enumerate several Gautams, but also the partiality for texts of the Sama- veda, which the Institutes of Gautama show on several occasions, strongly support the tradition that the Gautamiya Dharmasastra originally was the exclusive property of a school of Samavedins. In the case of the Vasishtha Dharmasastra indications of the latter kind are, if not entirely wanting, at least very faint. The number of Vedic passages quoted is, no doubt, large; but few among them belong to the class of Mantras which are recited during the performance of grihya rites, and must be taken from the particular recension of the Veda to which the performer belongs. Besides, the texts of this description which actually occur, do not bear the mark of a particular Veda or Sakha. The numerous texts, on the other hand, which are quoted in support or explanation of the rules, are taken impartially from all the three ancient Vedas. For this reason it would be dangerous to use the references to a dozen Rikas in Chapters XVII and XXVI, as well as to the legend of Sunahsepa, which is told only in works belonging to the Rig-veda, as a proof that the Vasishtha Dharmasastra is the work of a Rigvedin. Under these circumstances the three passages, mentioning Vasishthas’s name, and especially the last which identifies him with the Rishi of the Rig-veda, have a particularly great importance, as they are the only piece of internal evidence which can be brought forward in favour of Govindasvamin’s valuable statement. But the latter is, even without any further corroboration, credible enough, because no reason is apparent who Govinda should have invented such a story, and because his assertion fully agrees with the well –established facts known about the other existing Dharma-sutras, which all were composed not for the benefit of the Aryans in general, but in order to regulate the conduct of particular section of the Brahmanical community.