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The Dharmasastras

Topics of the Dharmasastras

The topics generally dealt with in the dharmasastras fall under three broad groups: acara (general conduct), vyavahara (social conduct, law and order) and prayascitta (expiatory rites for transgressions).

Some Important Dharmasastra Works

The dharmasastra literature (in Sanskrit) is very vast. Apart from the well-known works directly composed on the topics of the dharmasastras, there are innumerable verses spread over the two epics and the puranas dealing with the various aspects of the subject.


1. Apastamba Dharmasutras
2. Ausanasa Dharmasutras
3. Baudhayana Dharmasutras
4. Gautama Dharmasutras
5. Harita Dharmasutras
6. Hiranyakesi Dharmasutras
7. Vaikhanasa Dharmasutras
8. Vasistha Dharmasutras
9. Visnu Dharmasutras


1. Angirasa Smrti
2. Atri Smrti
3. Brhaspati Smrti
4. Brhat-Parasara Smrti
5. Daksa Smrti
6. Devala Smrti
7. Gobhila Smrti
8. Katyayana Smrti
9. Manusmrti
10. Narada Smrti
11. Parasara Smrti
12. Samvarta Smrti
13. Vyasa Smrti
14. Yajnavalkya Smrti
15. Yama Smrti


1. Caturvargacintamani
2. Kalpataru
3. Nirnayasindhu
4. Smrticandrika
5. Smrtikaustubha
6. Smrtiratnakara
7. Smrtitattva
8. Viramitrodaya


Q1. Which is the most important book in Dharmashastra?


Of the four extant Dharmasastras, Manusmriti, Yajnavalkya Smriti, and Naradasmriti, the most important is the Manu Smriti (or Manu Samhita). It was written by Manu, an administrative demigod (the “ruler of mankind”) and the first law-giver between 300 and 600 BCE. It contains 2,700 verses divided into twelve chapters.


The Manu Smriti establishes the Hindu way of life. It specifically outlines the duties of the four varnas and four ashramas, the virtues of the Brahmanas, the rules of inheritance and adoption, and with the law and the science of government. Clearly states that the Varna divisions are based on individual merit and capacity rather than birthright.

Q2. What is the importance of Dharmashastra?


The Dharma Shastras include the law codes of Hinduism, both secular and religious (since both were very much inseparable). They deal with three main subjects: codes of conduct, civil and criminal law, and punishment and atonement.


In Hinduism, dharma is the religious and moral law governing individual conduct and is one of the four ends of life. The Dharmashastra is related to Hindu dharma. It is a concept that integrates the nature of the world, eternal or cosmic law, and social law, applied to rituals and life-cycle rites, procedures for resolving disputes, and penalties for defilements of these rules.

Q3. What is Dharmashastra and what topics are covered in Dharmashastra?


The Dharmashastra gives the codes of conduct and moral principles (dharma) for Hindus. The concept of dharma is important in both Hinduism and yoga. Dharmashastra's books are about the right course of conduct. It talks not only about the legal administration but also about the procedures and the correct way to do it.


About Citizenship ( the state must protect the subjects from all harm, moral as well as material., Crime and punishment, Capital punishment, Morality (women are under perpetual guardianship of their closest male relatives), Rights and responsibilities (that duties are more significant than rights), Classless society/equal opportunity, Righteous war/chivalry.

Q4. What are the two types of Dharmasutra and Dharmashastra?


Dharmasutras and Dharmashastras are the two types of Smritis. Their subjects are nearly identical. The Dharmasutras are written in prose as brief maxims (Sutras), whereas the Dharmashastras are written in poetry (Shlokas).


However, occasionally, we find Shlokas in Dharmasutras and Sutras in the Dharmashastras. In a narrow sense, the word Smriti is used to denote the poetical Dharmashastras.


Based on the nature of knowledge, the smriti literature is of two types: one that expounds shastra and one that outlines codes of conduct. While texts like Manusmriti and Puranas contain both types of knowledge, there are specific texts for specific purposes.

Q5. Who is written by Dharmashastra?


Gautama Sutra, Apastamba Sutra, Vasishtha Sutra, Laws of Manu, Vishnu Smriti- all these are the texts of the Dharmashastra, ( c.600 and c.200 A.D.) concerns the sources of dharma, the four stages of life, dietary rules, penance, rules concerning impurity, and many other regulations and rituals for Hindu life.


The Laws of Manu articulate extensive regulations for many aspects of Hindu life, including rules governing religious offerings, purifications, rites, and many other religious and social practices. It also emphasizes the value of leaving the body, becoming free of its pains and torment, and achieving full liberation from worldliness and desire.

Q6. Who wrote ancient Dharmashastra?


The History of Dharmasastra, with the subtitle Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law in India, is a monumental seven-volume work consisting of around 6,500 pages. It was written by Bharat Ratna Pandurang Vaman Kane, an Indologist during 1930 - 1962. This work researched the evolution of the code of conduct in ancient and medieval India by looking into several texts and manuscripts compiled over the centuries. The work is known for its expanse and depth –it is difficult to find an English equivalent of the word Dharma. His output in the three languages of English, Sanskrit, and Marathi spans nearly 15,000 pages.

Q7. Is Manusmriti a Dharmashastra?


Manu’s dharmasastra, known as Manusmriti (Sanskrit: मनुस्मृति), or Laws of Manu, is one of the many legal texts and constitution among the many Dharmasastras of Hinduism. It is among the primary dharmasastra books that apply to the entire Manvantara until the appearance of the next Manu. Additionally, the 18 specific dharma-shastras are applicable at different points in time.


It describes the social system from the time of the Aryans. This country had, by all accounts, advanced civilization and culture at the time, dating back to 3500 BC, even to 6000 or 8000 BC, according to some historians.

Q8. Which of the following Dharmashastra is a book on statecraft?


Many Puranas and law books also called Smritis were compiled during the Gupta period such as Katyayana, Yajnavalkya, and Narada. Kamandaka’s Nitisara, which is a book on statecraft, was also compiled during this period. Statecraft refers to the art of conducting government affairs.


The Arthashastra is an Ancient Indian Sanskrit treatise on statecraft, political science, economic policy, and military strategy. The ArthaShastra of Chanakya (Kautilya) discusses the science of acquiring wealth and power. He also compiled an anthology of popular wisdom in the form of proverbs. His Niti-shastra includes the famous animal fables of the Panchatantra and the Hitopadesha.