Gautama Dharmasutra

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Gautama Dharmasūtra is a Sanskrit text and likely one of the oldest whose manuscripts have survived into the modern age.

The Gautama Dharmasutra was composed and survives as an independent treatise, unattached to a complete Kalpa-sūtras, but like all Dharmasutras it may have been part of one whose Shrauta- and Grihya-sutras have been lost to history. The text belongs to Samaveda schools, and its 26th chapter on penance theory is borrowed almost completely from Samavidhana Brahmana layer of text in the Samaveda.

The text is notable that it mentions many older texts and authorities on Dharma, which has led scholars to conclude that there existed a rich genre of Dharmasutras text in ancient India before this text was composed.


The Dharmasutra is attributed to Gautama, a Brahmin family name, many of whose members founded the various Shakhas (Vedic schools) of Samaveda. The text was likely composed in the Ranayaniya branch of Samaveda tradition, generally corresponding to where modern Maratha people reside (Maharashtra-Gujarat). The text is likely ascribed to revered sage Gautama of a remote era, but authored by members of this Samaveda school as an independent treatise.

Organization and content

The text is composed entirely in prose, in contrast to other surviving Dharmasutras which contain some verses as well. The content is organized in the aphoristic sutra style, characteristic of ancient India's sutra period. The text is divided into 28 Adhyayas (chapters), with cumulative total of 973 verses. Among the surviving ancient texts of its genre, the Gautama Dharmasutra has the largest portion (16%) of sutras dedicated to government and judicial procedures, compared to Apastamba's 6%, Baudhayana's 3% and Vasishtha's 9%.

The contents of the Gautama Dharmasutra, states Daniel Ingalls, suggest that private property rights existed in ancient India, that the king had a right to collect taxes and had a duty to protect the citizens of his kingdom as well as settle disputes between them by a due process if and when these disputes emerged.

The topics of this Dharmasūtra are arranged methodically, and resembles the structure of texts found in much later Dharma-related smṛtis (traditional texts).

Gautama Dharmasutras
Chapter Topics (incomplete) Translation
1. Sources of Dharma
1.1-4 Origins and reliable sources of law
2. Brahmacharya
1.5-1.61 Student's code of conduct, insignia, rules of study Template:Sfn
2.1-2.51 General rules, conduct towards teachers, food, graduation
3. Stages of life
3.1-3.36 Student, monk, anchorite
4.1-8.25 Household, marriage, rituals, gifts, respect for guests, behavior during times of crisis and adversity, interaction between Brahmin and the King, Ethics and virtues [1]
9.1-9.74 Graduates
10.1-10.66 Four social classes, their occupations, rules of violence during war, tax rates, proper tax spending, property rights [2]
4. Judiciary
11.1-11.32 The king and his duties, Judicial process
12.1-13.31 Criminal and civil law categories, contract and debts, theory of punishment, rules of trial, witnesses
5. Personal rituals
14.1-14.46 Death in a family, cremation, impurities and purification after handling corpse
15.1-15.29 Rites of passage for ancestors and the death of loved ones
16.1-16.49 Self-study of texts, recitation, annual suspension of Vedic readings
17.1-17.38 Food, health, prohibition on killing or harming animals to produce food
18.1-18.23 Marriage, remarriage, child custody disputes
6. Punishment and penances
18.24-21.22 Seizure of property, excommunication, expulsion, readmission, sins
22.1-23.34 Penances for killings animals, adultery, illicit sex, eating meat, different types of penances
7. Inheritance and conflicts within law
28.1-28.47 Inheritance rights of sons and daughters on man's property, on woman's property, levirate, estates, partition of property between relatives
28.48-28.53 Resolving disputes and doubts within law


Duties of a graduate <poem> He should not spend the morning, midday or afternoon fruitlessly, but pursue righteousness, wealth and pleasure, to the best of his ability, but among them he should attend chiefly to righteousness. </poem>

Gautama Dharmasutra 9.46-9.47

Maskarin and Haradatta have commented on Gautama Dharmasūtra – the oldest is by Maskarin in 900-1000 CE, before Haradatta (who also commented on Apastamba).

Banerji states that Haradatta's commentary is older than Maskarin.[3] Asahaya may have also written a commentary on the Gautama text, but this manuscript is either lost or yet to be discovered.[3]


  1. Kedar Nath Tiwari (1998). Classical Bharat's Ethical Thought. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 88–90. ISBN 978-81-208-1607-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  3. 3.0 3.1 Sures Chandra Banerji (1999). A Brief History of Dharmaśāstra. Abhinav Publications. pp. 72–75. ISBN 978-81-7017-370-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>