Sanatana Vedic Dharma has evolved over thousands of years. Known as Hindu Dharma or the Sanatana (eternal) Vedic Dharma, it is as old as human civilization itself. It is the ancient code of conduct supported by the voice of the inner- self. The Vedic literature which comprises of the works like the Vedas-(RK Yajus, Sam and Atharva), Upanisads, Puranas (epics), Smrti (works having the Vedic background and teaching the ethics), and works presenting philosophy and the scriptures is a comprehensive and schematic system.
The ancient rules of polity and code of conduct has been laid down in the classical treatises called Smrti. Smrti, as the word explains itself, is the knowledge reproduced in different versions based on the sacred know ledge of the Vedas. Yajnavalkya-Smrti, also known as the ordinances of Yajnaavalkya holds a prominent place among the other sacred scriptures of Vedic literature. Yajnavalkya-Smrti was composed by sage Yajnavalkya as a codification of the guiding rules for the proper management of society in almost all walks of human life. Divided into three major groups Acaradhayah, Vyavaharadhyayah, and Prayascittadhyayah, Yajnavavalkya-Smrti is a compendium of ancient wisdom systematically epitomizing the rules of practice in religion, political, social and cultural life of people. It outlines the laws for the organization of a peaceful society, the administration of country, source of revenue, methods of conducting trade, business, and punishment of criminals and offenders. The institutes of sacred law proclaimed by Yajnavalkya serves as a decisive authority in various fields of life in Hindu society. The ethical code of Yajnavalkya were written for the proper development of society, to live with mutual respect, in peace and harmony with each other, and promote economic progress, better standards of life and freedom attaining the fulfillment of the Purusariha-catusiaua (the four human-values of Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksa).
The last group of this treatise called Prayscittadhyayah is prescribed here for the purpose of purification in a very comprehensive manner.
The present treatise contains the original Sanskrit text duly translated into English. The book has been made highly useful with inclusion of the Mitaksara commentary of Vijnanesvara with annotations and notes. This is indeed a very comprehensive commentary in Sanskrit and the readers will be highly benefited by this work.
The Vedic literature comprises of the works like the Vedas- the Rk, Yajus, Sama and Atharvan, the six Vedangas, the eighteen Puranas, Nyaya, Mirnarnsa, Dharma-Sastra etc. The works related as anxiliary to the Vedas and designed to aid in the correct interpretation of the Text are siksa (the science of proper articulation), Chandas (prosody), Vyakarana (grammar), Nirukta (etymological explanation of words), Jyotisa (astronmy) and Kalpa (ritual). The Srutis, Smrtis, conduct of pious men, self-love, desire begotten of perfect determination are held to be the sources of religions (religious knowledge). Acarya Manu says-Srutis are the Vedas and the Smrtis the Dharma-sastra Smrti or the code of laws are the ancient rules of polity and code of conduct had been laid down in these classical treatises. The basic canon of religiousity and Divine will, forms the core of conduct. The discussions in these canonical works relate to the attainment of the four fold aims of human endeavour (Purusartha), i.e Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksa. The founders of the religious codes are said to be the sages like Manu, Atri, Visnu, Harita, Yajnavalkya, Usana, Angira, Yama, Apastamba, Samvartta, Katyayana, Brhaspati, Parasara, Vyasa, Sankha, Likhita, Daksa, Gautama, Satatapa and Vasistha. Each of them wrote a smrti, The popular smrtis are Manusmrti, Yajnavalkya-smrti, Airi-smrti, Harita-smrti; Ausanasa-smsti, Parasara-smrti, Daksa-smrti; Goutama-Smrti, etc. The various branches of Vedic literature bequeathed to us consist of innumerable treatises, each excelling in the depth of thought and content. Thus, it is this treasure of knowledge which has enabled the preservation of the core of Sanatana Dharma, the eternal Dharma of India.
The Yajnavalkya-Smrtih of sage Yajnavalkya occupies an important place among the significant religious scriptures of India. This treatise in grouped into three major sections; Acaradhyayah, Vyavaharadhyah and Prayascittadhyayah. The Acaradhyayah is devoted to the study of the code of conduct for a person related to the knowledge of Dharma. It prescribes the necessary rules for human conduct for a harmonious life. The Introductory verses lay emphasis an the very roots from where the sacred knowledge and religion has emanated. Sage Yajnavalkya prescribes the sources of religion which should be accepted for the human conduct. He calls for Sadacarah, i.e. the conduct of pious men, performance of religious rites, self-restraint, avoidance of cruel acts, charity and Vedic studies as the acts of religion. But the seeing of Atman (self) by Yoga is a religion superior to that of all these works.
There is demarcation of Varnasramas (station in the intellectual gradation of life and the different functional responsibilities) during the life, viz, Infancy, childhood, youth, householder, old-age. The Brahmanas, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras, are the four varnas (castes), of them first three are the twice-born (Dvija) who are entitled to perform the ceremony of samskaras. All their rites, from very conception (garbhadhanam) to death (sraddha) are performed with the recitation of Mantras. The Sarnskaras in the beginning are Garbhadhanam, Pumsavanam, Simantonnayanam, Jatakarma, Namakarana, Niskramanam, Annaprasanam, Cudakaranam, and Upanayanam. After the Upanayanam ceremony, the Preceptor, after reciting Maha- Vyahrti-Om Bhur, Bhuvas, and svas should teach the disciple the Vedas, good and pure conduct. One should daily bathe in the morning, sprinkle with the Apohisthamantram, practice pranayama, worship the Sun (Suryopasthanam) and recite the Gayatri. Sage Yajnavalkya specifies the whole gamut of daily conduct in a very systematic order. The performance of morning and evening sandhyas (adorations) are clearly indicated. There is direction for the study of Vedas, complete dedication for the preceptor, securing alms and adoration of fire (Aposana) before taking meals. The Brahmacarin is not allowed to eat meat or residue of food. He should avoid harsh words, women, injury to animals and looking at the Sun, obscene words and calumny.
The Brahmacarin (Dwija) who has completed his Vedic studies and the vows of celibacy should marry a maiden endued with auspicious marks and under the rules prescribed here in this treatise. Sage Yajnavalkya lays down the different categories of marriages and the brides who should be taken far marriage according to respective castes. The duties of wives and husbands, their household matters have been outlined. He says that women should be adored by the husband, brother, father, kinsman, mother-in-law, father-in-law, husband's younger brother and the relatives with ornaments, clothes and food.
Sage Yajnavalkya makes a clear interpretation of class, caste and consciousness and cautions about the results of unholy marriages and the sons begotten from the wives of different castes. He says that a person, leading the domestic mode of life, should daily perform the Smarta (prescribed in a code of laws) action in the Vivaha fire i.e., a fire that is kept in the house for domestic rites, or that brought according to the divisions of time and Srauta (prescribed in the Sruti) actions in Vaitanika fire, (a sacrificial fire). Defining the duties of a household, he asks to offer oblations to fire with self-control and recite the Suryadaivata Mantras and study the Vedas and various other scriptural works. In order to protect one's interests in life, one should study the Vedas, the Puranas the Itihasas and entire body of spiritual sciences, according to his capacity (ibid, 101). Enumerating the various duties of a household, the sage gives stress on the Aposana-the prayer repeated before and after eating with the Mantra 'Amrtopistaranamapi svaha' and 'Amrtopidhanamapi svaha'. This prayer converts the food substance into fire and nector. It shows a sort of sublime practice towards the food habits in order to retain the purity of mind, - As you take food so does become your mind). Eating alone and not honouring guest was never approved. The Sage here ordains to give food etc. to all castes who come over as guests. Even the uninvited in the night should be treated with kind words, shelter, water etc. Before one goes to bed, it is said to take food moderately after the performance of the evening devotion and offering oblation to fires and worshipping them.
Life finds here great respect. Sages were our well-wishers and they always looked forward towards the human welfare. However the modem outlook towards them has changed and the new generation makes a mockery of our ancient system of life which is indeed a pitiable situation and it has drawn life to a level of degradation. The routine in life had been designed to rise early in the morning and think of the well-being of one's soul One should engage oneself in work according to one's might and serve virtue, worldly profit and pleasure in proper time . All this is necessary for a life of values and respect in society. Such a person who is endued with learning, religious deeds, age, friends and wealth enjoys respect in society. Even a Sudra in old age, deserves respect. Similarly the duties for each of the Varnas-the Brahmana, Ksatriya, Vaisya and Sadra are assigned to be performed with all sincerity. This was to maintain love and harmony in the society. Moreover the religious practices which were required for all were abstention from cruelty, truthfulness, not stealing, purity, control of the senses, charity, mercy, self-restraint and forgiveness (ibid., 122).
The Smrtikara (sage) has propounded duties for an initiated householder in this treatise. Such persons as following the conduct of cranes (cheats) and the orders of life not sanctioned in the scriptures be avoided. He outlines the rules and regulations for the study of Vedas. The Dharma for a Snataka has been given in detail.
Sage Yajnavalkya has touched almost all the aspects of life in this treatise right from birth to death. Besides what is eatable and not eatable, he instructs about purification of vessels, earth purification and many other things. He talks about gifts for manes (Pitrs) and gods. He says that the Brahmanas were created to product the Vedas, please the celetials and the departed manes and to uphold Dharma (ibid., 198). Brahmanas endued with Vedic studies are superior to all other castes; of them those, given to the performance of religious acts, are superior; of them those gifted with the knowledge of self, are superior.
The worthiness of a person is not determined by mere learning or asceticism; but he is known as a worthy person in whom both these (learning and asceticism) exist.
The sage remarks that Vinayaka (Ganesa) has been stationed by Brahma and Rudra at the head of the Ganas (a troop of Demi gods considered as Siva's attendants and under the special superintendence of Ganesa), both to construct and sustain religious rites. Under the head, 'Ganapatikalpa- Prakaranam' the process of adoring Ganesa has been given. He says that one should perform adoration of the planets (Grahas) like the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupitor, Venus, Saturn, Rahu and Ketu for riches, peace, rain, longevity and nourishment. The proper technique and their requisite things have been given. He outlines the duties of a king under the head 'Raja-Dharma Prakaranam' and with this closes the first division of the book called 'Acaradhyahah’.
The second division titled 'Vyavaharadhyayah’ begins with the laws and regulations in general. The king, shorn of anger and avarice, should look after law-suits according to the codes of law, along with the learned Brahmanas who were appointed of Vedic knowledge and conversant with the laws of morality, truth and the one who can impart it to friends and foes. Then, there is exceptional regulation and laws relating to loans that is charged differently from different castes in percentage of the mortgaged property. The laws relating to deposits is meant for an article contained in a box and is made over without giving any description of its nature to another's hands which is called Aupanidhikam. If the person, with whom a deposit is made, wilfully converts it to his personal use, he must pay a monthly interest of five percent; if he uses it for trading purpose, he must return it with the additional profit made by its use. The laws of evidence specify three persons given to the practice of austerities, charitable, born in respectable families, truthful, preferring religion, possessed of wealth, simple and of the same lineage (jati) and caste (varna). In case of non-availability of the persons of the same caste, others may be taken. These are laws relating to written document. Whatever arrangement about interest and time is completed between the debtor and the creditor, with their mutual consent, it should be committed to writing with the names of witnesses.
The Smrti lays down a balanced system of punishment (Divine tests) for the persons of each Varna. The ordeals laid down for establishing the innocence of an accused are Tula (weighing in the balance), Agni (fire), Jala (Water), Visa (poison) and Kosa. These are applied in cases of serious crimes, when the accused agrees to accept himself the punishment (if his complaint is nol proved).
The text discusses of the Dayabhaga or Divisions of property among heirs. If a father takes upon himself the divisions of his property he can do so; and, at his fee, divide his self-acquired property among his sons, either giving a larger share to the eldest born, or making all the shares equal (ibid; II. 114). The laws relating to disputes about boundaries make it clear that the boundary should be determined by elevated lands, charcoal, chaff, huge trees, bridges, anthills, ditches, bones and piles of stones. In disputes relating to boundaries of land under cultivation, persons residing in surrounding villages, aged men and other competent persons should determine those disputes. The similar other provisions have also been made. In case of any false settlement, the king should punish. There are also laws regarding disputes among the keepers. If a buffalo does harm to another corn, its owner must be fined eight Masas: if a cow, with half of it, and if a goat or a lamb, with half of the half. If a keeper or a owner of cattle allows them to graze unwillingly on fields situated at the outskirts of a highway, or a village, or a plot of land covered with grass, he commits no offence. But if he does it willingly he is to be punished like a thief.
The Smrti dwells on the laws relating to sale of articles by one who is not its lawful owner. The law is clear about it and says that if a purchaser commits an offence to a secret purchase, if a person purchases an article, from a person who has acquired it by unfair means, secretly, at a reduced price, he is to be treated as a thief.
The Smrtikara does not have any room for inconvenience to the affairs of the common man. He makes provision for lifting the property etc. and rules have been framed for it. One can give away his property, if such gift does not interfere with the maintenance of his kinsmen besides his wife and son. There are clear laws for returning a thing purchased to seller.
One who has been made a slave by force, or one sold by a thief, shall be released; similarly the slave who saves the life of his master. These are laws relating to breach of control or engagement between master and servant.
The king should make the Brahmanas settle in houses built in the city. He should also grant them stipends for learning the three Vedas a Rk, Yajus and Sam. This is called' law for the established custom of the society. He who breaks the system should be banished from the kingdom. Only those persons should be placed at the head of a public body to administer its affairs who are conversant with Vedas, pure minded and shorn of avarice. The Smrtikara makes laws relating to non- payment of wages. If a servant refuses to do work, he must pay double the amount to the master. A person, who makes a servant work for him without settling his wages, must be punished by the king.
The Smrtikara enumerates laws relating to the use of abusive words and defamation. If one vilifies another of the same caste, truly or by way of life, he should be punished. The laws relating to assault or violence make it clear that a judge should try a case, where there is no eye-witness, after carefully examining the marks and the motive of assault. These are laws relating to robbery (Sahasa), non-delivery of articles sold, joint-stock companies or a number of persons carrying on a trade, theft, adultery and seduction, etc. Thus ends the treating of Vyavahara in the Dharma-sastra of Yajnavalkya Smrtih.
The last division of the book named 'Prayascittadhyayah' ie., on 'Prayascitta' or the regulations in different spheres of one's life. The Smrtikara makes every effort towards a strife. free society. The first chapter is devoted to the regulations about Asauca or Impurity which details the ways and practice of purification after the death of people from different walks of society. The rites of offering waters and recitation of mantras finds mention here. The existence of human beings is perishable as the trunk of a plantain tree and as transient as Bubbles. The body has originated from the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and space, according to the deeds acquired by one's own person and it is dissolved into the same;
No wonder death and dacay is sure to happen. The element of earth goes to destruction. So does happen to deap sea and the gods too who succumb to dissolution at the time of Pralaya. Let's not be miserable. There is no reason to weep after some one's death. One must perform funereal rites. Then, they should cut Nimba leaves with their teeth, rinse the mouth, touch fire, water, cowdung, white sesame seeds, put their feet on stone and then gradually enter the house. One should take bath and perform the yogic process of Pranayama for Immediate purification. The rest of the process is given here. The various instruments of purification are time (10 days), fire, action (bathing etc) earth, air, mind, spiritual knowledge, austerity, water, fasting etc. The soul that considers this body as one's own gets purified by the practice of the duties of one's own caste and order and worship of the Brahmanas, knowledge purifies the intellect, and the knowledge of Isvara is the purifier of the individual soul.
The Smrtikara puts forth the ways and practices necessitated for the one who has entered the Vanaprastha, the third stage of religious life. He should renounce carnal pleasures and be intent on performing religious meditation proceed to forest. (Ibid., III. 45). In order to enter upon the life of a yati, he should have studied the Vedas, practised recitations of the sacred verses, have a son, have maintained the sacred fire, and have concentrated his mind on Moksa. The duties of a such a person who has renounced the world are given here. There follows a detailed interpretation of the body, the soul and the other tattvas. The importance of yoga is also emphasized. This treatise ends with a comprehensive unfoldment of the deeds of different persons which effect their next births.