From the Bookshelves of IGNCA

Newsletter | List of Newsletter

Texts on Dharmashastra – wellspring of Indian code for life


The Study of dharmashastra has been a continuous scholarly pursuit in India and elsewhere.  The various texts on the subject have been commented upon by scholars, sometime quoting them out of context.  Some of the books given below offer a fresh insight into our dharmashastra, giving them a contemporary interpretation.  These are only a selection from a larger list of books on the subject in our library.

History of Dharmashastra: Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law in India by Panduran Vaman Kane: is a five-volume work.  The last volume was published in 1962.  The first volume came out in 1930.  It is a literary work which is truly magnificent both in conception and execution.  Its five volumes, which together extend over nearly 6,500 pages, seek to present the most comprehensive treatment of the religious and civil law on ancient and medieval India.  This monumental work discusses the meaning of the word ‘dharma’, its source and its use through the ages.  It says, “Dharma is one of those Sanskrit words that defy all attempts at an exact rendering in English or any other tongue.  That word has passed through several vicissitudes.  The dictionaries set out various meanings of Dharma such as “ordinance, usage, duty, right, justice, morality, virtue, religion, good works, function or characteristic.  It is very difficult to say that the exact meaning of the word Dharma was in the most ancient period of the Vedic language.  The word is clearly derived from root dhr (to uphold, to support, to nourish”).

Studies in the Dharmashastra of Manu by Nikunja Vihari Banerjee: is an attempt to present Manusmriti as an outstanding sociological work of ancient India with an unusually comprehensive outlook and to evaluate its impact on the organization of the Hindu society.  The author says “unlike modern works on sociology, prevalent in the West, it is befittingly comprehensive.  This is evident, among other things, from the fact that it treats social values, not as sufficient unto themselves but as ancillary to the supreme human value called liberation (mukti, moksa or nirvana).  This, no matter whether or not his view of liberation is above reproach, amounts to setting an example of modern sociology to emulate in order that its short-comings, which are usually left unnoticed, may be removed.  The main object in this work is to lay bare what is living and what is dead in the dharmashastra of Manu.

Studies in the Dharmashastra by S.G. Moghe: This is a collection of 35 essays by the author on the subject.  Some articles in this are of inter-disciplinary nature.  Two articles are interpretations.  Some also touch on critical editing of manuscript and restoration of lost texts.  According to Shri Moghe the Kautilya Arthashastra forms on integral part of dharmashastra.  He has included about ten papers on it in the present work.  The book presents an interesting, rich and varied material for readers of dharmasastra.

The Concept of Dharma in Valmiki Ramayana by Benjamin Khan: the Ramayana of Valmiki is the first and the most ancient epic of India.  This study is calculated to show to the present generation how in this age of seething doubts we may still draw inspiration from that ancient epic and how most of the problems that are baffling modern society can be solved by understanding and following the precepts held out by it.  It also shows how the western ethics compare with the ancient ethical notion of the Ramayana.

Studies in Hindu Law by Ganganatha Jah: “Indian culture is rooted in Veda.  And, it is only natural that every form of its expression may be traced to Veda.  It is, therefore, quite likely that Hindu Law would evolve from Veda.  Though Veda strictly stands for the literature of Samhitas and Brahmanas that are of unimpeachable authority and unquestionable respect there is still an enormous literature commanding almost equal stature and known as the sutras – the srauta-sutras, the grhya-sutras and the dharma-sutras.  The dharmasutras go by the name of smrti which for all purposes may be treated as the source books of Hindu Law”, the foreward to the book says.  The volume is a rearranged and edited articles and essays by the author himself.  They formed part of the 12 volume series earlier.

Dharmashastra in Contemporary Times: It comprises scholarly findings of the students of Indology.  They are papers presented at the Seminar (Sponsored by the University Grants Comission under the COHSSIP Scheme) organized by the Department of Sanskrit, University of Delhi.  The papers cover a range of topics encompassing economic, sociological, philosophical religious and legal aspects dealt in the dharmashastraas also their relevance in the present times.  The dharmashastra literature has preserved ancestry and contemporaneity both by way of interpretation and commentaries, in each century.  This is book looking at it from this century’s eyes.

The Sense of Adharma by Ariel Gulucklich: The work moves away from the usual emphasis on symbols and theoretical formulations of dharma as a religious and moral norm.  Instead, it focuses on images that emerge from the basic experiential interactions of the body in its spatial and temporal contexts, such as the sensation of water on the skin during the morning purification or the physical manipulation of the bride during the marriage ritual.  The sense of Adharma gives an interesting reading material for scholars of Hindusim, historians of religion, and Indian sociologists and anthropologists.

Conceptualizations in the Manusmirti by Parnasabari Bhattacharyya: The author looks at the historical and philosophical perspectives, especially those pertaining to the basic and universal concepts which served as the infrastructure of the civil and criminal codes, formation of the state, social stratification, economic compartmentalization, the rules of individual and social behaviour.  Various beliefs and customs, taboos and rituals, cosmological and metaphysical principles, religions and ethical doctrines and other facets of life, as formulated therein, have also been discussed.

The Dharmashastra – Hindu Religious Codes: It is a collection of 20 Hindu smritis, which contain all the knowledge about the ancient Hindu religious laws, literature and codes which govern life.  A careful study of this supreme work is wrought with immense value and literary profit not only to the student of classical Hindu literature but to the general reader as well.  The reader will not only be bale to form an estimate of the life and conduct, so glorious and eminent in themselves, but will also be able to regulate their own life and conduct.  The texts have been translated into English by Manmath Nath Dutt.  The compleyte text of all the 20smritis, fully edited is given here.  The work is in six volumes.

Essays in Classical and Modern Hindu Law by Duncan M. Derrett: This volume is also a compilation of essays.  The author says he has neither studied law nor Sanskrit.  His writings are of a self-taught man animated by a passionate love of India.  He regrets the vanishing of the ancient Hindu Laws that governed the country.  He particularly mentioned the modern Hindu marriage law etc.  However, he is happy to note that a Hindu is not easily changed.  It is a four volume work.

Law and Society East and West-Dharma, Li, And Nomos, Their Contribution to Thought and to Life by Refinhard May: This is a three-cornered cross-cultural enquiry in Comparative Jurisprudence of India, China and Greece – dharma, li and nomos.  The author says “Glaring disparities between the topoi of dharma, li and nomos which by far outweigh their similarities cannot be minimized and must be taken into account, if an inter-cultural process of ‘legal’ understanding can be meaningful to all parties involved.  This work offers invaluable material on comparative studies.

Dharma, India and the World Order Twenty – One Essays by Chaturvedi Badrinath: The 21 essays in the book analyse Dharma, the way of the world has understood the word and the reasons for such an understanding.  The difference between cultures towards issues is one of the reasons, he says.  For example, a social system that is rooted in the assumption that wealth is evil, and that those who are rich are monsters, will have a system of regulations what will differ violently from the one which begins with the presupposition that money, wealth, is the greatest human good, and that those who are rich are verily gods, and the poor are also monster.  There is, in contrast, a third method, which is what was generally followed in traditional India.  It was the method of demonstrating that neither of the two presuppositions about wealth is true; that each does violence to human reality, for neither is suggested human facts themselves; that money, wealth, is neither evil, nor the greatest good, but simply an essential attribute of human living.  This is true also of the other differences of polity in the different societies of the world, which clearly arise from the kind of presuppositions each has concerning sex, collective memories, history, space and time, law, authority, power, and the end of life”.  The twenty essays revolve around four questions.  One: how was Indian society perceived, its past and present? Two: how did the Indian thinkers perceive British society and the civilisation of the West? Three: what principles of social reconstruction were they appealing to? Four: what was their vision of future India?

Newsletter | List of Newsletter ]