By Dharma Sastras, I mean the laws that govern(ed) Hindu Society.
The first is the Yama Dharma Sastra quoted by Bhishma in the Mahabharata and also quoted in the Vasishtha Dharma Sastra. (Bhishma’s statement on dowry (vara katnam) and bride price (kanyasulkam)
The most recent is the Indian Penal Code borrowed from British Law about 60 years ago and amended from time to time.
Dharma sastras cover all the laws from interest rates to caste and marriage and anything else that you can think of. They not only state the rule but also what to do in case of exceptions and violations, indicating that there have always been exceptions and violations. ( Anulled Marriages : Vasistha Dharmasastra, Women, Sons and Remarriage : Vasistha Dharmasastra)
And just as our present laws have been amended many times, so had the dharma sastras been amended many times. Yama, Manu, Vasisthta, Daksha, Parasara, Gautama, Baudhayana, Apastamba, and many others were Dharma Sastra Kartas. Kautilya’s Arthasastra has many dharma sastra components to it.
It appears that time, geography and faith had a lot to do with the dharmasastras. It is generally considered that Yama was the strictest of all the dharmasastra kartas and that he will make you settle your credit balance, if any, after you leave your mortal coils. Parasara Smriti is considered much easier to follow than Manu Smriti, because it makes the rules easier for Kaliyuga. (How many kinds of Yugas are there?)
Vasishta dharma sastra contains many caste rules, which are surprising since he himself married Arundhati (a mala or a dalit). To my mind some of the caste rules look like a later addition, because the Tretha Yuga (Vedic Age), was relatively caste free. The conflicts were between different races. (Indian Caste System: Then and Now: Jati, Varna, Kula)
Similarly, it talks of dark sudras and the superiority of “aryavarta”, which is surprising again because Vasishta was from Andhra, near Godavari, and migrated north with Dravidesvara Vaiswata Manu at the time of the Matsya Avataram. His great grandson Krishna Dwaipayana,Veda Vyasa वेद व्यास was dark. So all this “talk of dark sudras and superior aryavarta”, must have started after 1000 Kaliyuga, when the Aryans came to India and settled here. (Aryans to Asoka (Bhavishya Purana), Dark, handsome heroes of Uttar Pradesh – Sri Rama and Sri Krishna, Anarya! Dushyantha, Sri Rama, Sri Krishna.)
Vasishta Dharma Sastra, as translated by Buhler, talks of widow remarriage and property shares but not of Sati Sahagamanam. But we do hear that Raja Ram Mohan Roy fought against this custom around the same period as Buhler’s translation. Prof P.L. Bhargava tells us that the Vedas only stipulate that the wife lies down for a few minutes on the funeral pyre to express a desire for reunion in the next life and then is asked to get up by the family members. The Mahabharatam tells us that 4 of Sri Krishna’s wives led by Rukmini, departed along with him, while the other four led by Satyabhama retired to the forest. (Which text actually “prescribed” sati sahagamanam? Not Vedas, not Vasishta Dharma Sastra, not Kautilya Arthasastra… then which? My family has a memory of widows and widowers, but not of sati. There is a telugu book called Kanyasulkam, which fights against the practice of “child widows”, not Sati Sahagamanam. Maybe that practice was never there in Andhra-Karnataka.)
We hear that the egyptian pharoahs had their wives, servants, live stock and gems buried with them under the pyramids.
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