Last Updated: July 10, 2018

Definition - What does Dharmasastra mean?

The Dharmasastra is a collection of ancient Sanskrit texts which give the codes of conduct and moral principles (dharma) for Hindus. The concept of dharma is important in both Hinduism and yoga, which also share roots with Hinduism.

There are estimated to be between 18 and 100 texts among the collection of Dharmasastra. It is believed that these originated in the Dharmasutra texts, which emerged during the Vedic era. The Dharmasastra offers commentaries on responsibilities, duties and ethics for an individual’s behavior toward oneself, one's family and one's community. As well as forming the roots of many modern Hindu practices, these texts are enlightening historical documents which give considerable information about ancient Indian society.

Yogapedia explains Dharmasastra

The Dharmasastra texts were written in poetic verses. Unlike the Vedas, they are not considered to be the direct outcome of revelations from the Divine and, as such, are not regarded as perfect. They are smriti, not shruti.

Some scholars advise that there are many aspects of the Dharmasastra texts that seem incongruous and undesirable in a modern egalitarian society; for instance, details about maintaining the caste system. They attempt to provide a framework for human conduct and an outline for how to live a moral life.

The main texts that comprise the Dharmasastra include the following:

  • The "Manusmriti" (from about the 2nd to 3rd century C.E.) is the text most often studied from the Dharmasastra by Hindus. It has particular influence on medieval Buddhism and Hinduism in Cambodia and Indonesia.
  • The "Yajnavalkya Smriti" (from about the 4th to 5th century C.E.) is considered the best crafted text of the Dharmasastra tradition
  • The "Naradasmriti" (from about the 5th to 6th century C.E.) is a juridical text as opposed to a text about righteous conduct
  • The "Visnusmriti" (from about the 7th century C.E.) details the bhakti tradition rather than dharma directly

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