Grhyasutras (गृह्यसूत्राणि)

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Grhyasutras (Samskrit: गृह्यसूत्राणि) belonging to Kalpa of the Vedangas, as their title suggests, deal with grhya-karmani (गृह्यकर्माणि), i.e., the domestic activities. Written in the sutra style, these treatises systematically describe the grhyakarmas as practiced in their respective schools. The number and order of these activities vary from one Grhyasutra to another. Since most of the ceremonies prescribed in the Grhyasutras are to be performed with the help of the Grhyaagni, i.e., grhya fire, the domestic fire, the description of the setting up of this fire finds an important place in the Grhyasutras.[1]

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

Grhyasutras belong to the class of Kalpasutra texts. Kalpas are important texts of six vedangas, the ancilliary subjects which are required to understand Vedas and hence are one among the Chaturdasha Vidyas. They pertain to domestic rituals as known from the word Grhya and involve the grhyaagni. Thus the subject matter of grhyasutras involves the domestic life of a person and they are the texts most pertinent to people in Grhasthashrama. They are the oldest manuals on the samskaras and in the whole set of Kalpa Vedanga texts, the Dharmasutras as a rule follow the Grhyasutras.

The origin of the Grhyasutras appear to be traceable to an oral tradition prevalent among the people of ancient times which preserved them till date. They employ many mantras from the veda samhita parts while performing the domestic rituals. So one can understand the antiquity of these ceremonies which are traced back to the time of the Vedas.

Authors and Commentators

Unequivocally scholars opine that the composition of the Grhyasutras did not happen all at one time point and that the final form of texts available at present, involved at least four stages of compilation at various time points.

  1. Early time when grhyakarmas took place seamlessly
  2. Time during which the Sutras were present in oral tradition
  3. Time when mantras were used as per the tradition of a particular Veda shaka
  4. Compilation of various grhyasutras

During the early period and mantra period, people followed the Grhyakarmas easily without much need to write them down. Gradually as the complexity of the grhyakarmas grew, the task of compiling them was taken up by the Guru-shishya paramparas of that Veda shaka and they became the repositories of the Grhyasutras which were memorized and handed down over generations. Further as time passed with increasing changes in the local microenvironments, population growth, and geographical differences there came about new activities which came to be included in the Grhyasutras. As the differences widened they came to be specialized vidhis of Veda shakas and could not be be grouped under the Vedas themselves, bringing about the compilation of shaka-based Grhyasutras.[2]

Thus Grhyasutras are associated with the particular Vedas but more intricately with the Veda shakas. The most important of these texts include 19 extant texts; Ashvalayana, Shankhayana, Kaushitaki, Baudhayana, Manava, Bharadvaja, Apastamba, Kathaka, Agniveshya, Hiranyakeshi, Vaaraha, Vaikhanasa, Paraskara, Gobhila, Kauthuma, Khadira, Drahyayana, Jaiminiya, and Kaushika.[2](Check on Drahyayana)

Following is the list of Grhyasutras including both published and unpublished works.[1][3]

Vedas Veda Shakas Published Grhyasutras Contents Commentator and commentary Unpublished Grhyasutras
Rigveda Shakala Ashvalayana (By Ashvalayana the student of Saunaka) 4 Adhyayas Shadgurushishya's Abhyudayaprada Saunaka, Bharaviya, Sakalya, Paingi, Parasara, Bahvricha and Aitareya
Shakala Shankhayana (By Suyajna Shankhayana) 6 Adhyayas Narayana, Vasudeva's Sankhayana Grhyasangraha
Kaushitaki Kaushitaki (By Shambhavya) 5 Adhyayas Bhavatrata
Shukla Yajurveda Vajasaneya Paraskara or Katiya Grhyasutra 3 Kandas Jayarama, Karka, Harihara, Gadadhara, Vishvanatha Baijavapa
Krishna Yajurveda Taittriya Baudhayana (By Baudhayana) 4 Prasnas Sandilya, Mavila, Maitareya
Apastamba (By Apastamba) 30 Prasnas Rudradatta, Haradatta
Hiranyakeshi (By Satyashadha Hiranyakeshi) 2 Prasnas Matridatta
Bharadvaja 3 Prasnas
Vadhula Agnivesya (By Agnivesya)
Maitrayani Vaaraha
Manava (By Manavacharya) 2 Purushas Ashtavakra
Katha Kathaka (काठक) (By Laughakshi) 5 Adhyayas
Samaveda Kauthuma Gobhila (गोभिल) (By Gobhila) Gautama, Chandogya
Rananiya or Drahyayana Khadira (खादिर) Rudra Skanda
Jaimini Jaimini Purvam (24 Khandas) Uttaram (9 Khandas) Srinivasadhvari's Tika
Atharvaveda Saunaka Kaushika (कौशिक) 14 Adhyayas Hari and Kesava's Tikas

The Grhyasutras mention the views of a number of authorities on the Grhyakarmas. They profusely quote the names of the rshis whose views are mentioned and discussed in any particular grhyasutra. The following is the list of rshis who were regarded as the authorities of the subject mentioned by the author of the sutra.

Grhyasutras Authority
Grhyasutra Refers to Authority of Rshis
Baudhayana Atreya, Angirasa, Atharvana, Saliki, Badari, Kasakristsna, Aupamanyava and Bodhayana.- 24
Bharadvaja Asmarthya, Alekhana, Dhaumya, Asita Turanga and Kavya Dalbhya -25
Hiranyakeshi Atreya, Badarayana and Pushkarasadi
Shankhayana Mandukeya and Kaushitaki
Ashvalaayana Saunaka and Samvatya
Kaushika Gargya, Parthashravasa, Bhagali, Kankayana, Uparibabhrava, Kaushika, Jatikayana, Kaurupathi, Ishuphali, Mathara
Katha Chyavana and Bhrigu
Gobhila Manatantavya, Kautsa, Audgahamani, Gautama, Varkakhandi and Kauhaliyas
Jaimini Audgahamani and Aruni Gautama

It is amply clear from the above enumeration of the authorities on the Grhyakarma that the topics treated of in the sutras had already undergone a great deal of discussion before the present Grhyasutras came to be composed. However, the form of discussion on the ritual adopted is rather difficult to be determined.

Subject-matter of Grhyasutras

The importance of traditions and social conditions came to be highlighted in the Grhyasutra texts. Until then the Shrauta sutras paid complete attention to the yajnas that were prevalent with less importance to the existing domestic rites. Grhyasutras brought out the Loka-dharmas (socio-economic traditions) in the village and town environment of that society. Apastamba, and Paraskara have compiled various such prevalent laukika traditions, and such information should be collected from the elderly women in the villages. Ashvalayana ghyasutras mention this point as follows[2]

अथ खलूच्चावचा जनपदधर्मा ग्रामधर्माश्च तान्विवाहे प्रतीयात् १ (Asvh. Grhy. Sutr. 1.7.1)[4]

During marriage, the various dharmas followed in the villages and towns have to be adhered to.

Broadly the subject of Grhyasutras can be listed out as follows.

  1. Social Organization (Varnas and Ashrama Systems)
  2. Family life and position of women
  3. Morals and manners (Good conduct, Truth and Dharmas)
  4. Purusharthas (Trivarga, Karma, Ethics)
  5. Yajnas (Daily, periodical and special) and Worship
  6. Occupations (other than the primary ones described for the four varnas)
  7. Agriculture and Cattle breeding
  8. Trade and commerce
  9. Transport and communication
  10. Cities and Village life
  11. Personal aspects (Dress, Ornaments, Hair fashion, food and drinks, amusement)
  12. System of Governance (Functions of Raja and Maharajas, Revenue and Expenditure, Civil administration, Army and warfare)
  13. Law and justice (Penal and Civil laws, Administration of Justice)
  14. Samskaras for Maternity and Child welfare
  15. Education System (Includes Samskaras related to education)
  16. Marriage (Laws and customs, Rites and festivities)
  17. Death and funeral (Pre-cremation, cremation and post-cremation rites)
  18. Shraddhas (Activities for the ancestors)

Samskaras form an important subject of the Grhyasutras. They pertain to the activities surrounding an individual and fundamentally prescribe the procedural methods and specifical mantras to be recited at different stages of a particular samskara. Dharmasutras on the other hand rarely describe the procedural aspects of a ritual and delve upon the code of conduct of an individual. Broadly the topics treated in these texts include pre-birth ceremonies for the mother Pumsavana, Seemantonnayana etc) and post-birth ceremonies of the child starting from Namakarana, a detailed account of Upanayana, Upakarma, Samavartana, Snataka conduct, marriage followed by Antyeshti or the funeral ceremonies. The Grhyasutras give a detailed account of the ceremony of Upanayana and other education related samskaras which a child undergoes starting from initiation into the study of Veda. Being the pivot of all domestic ceremonies, the marriage with its diverse and diffuse details occupies a great deal of explanation in the Grhyasutras.

The daily obligatory activities of a grhastha such as Panchamahayajnas, Pakayajnas and the periodical yajnas, shraddha, monthly rituals to be performed on the new-moon and full-moon days, annual rituals among other information are extensively discussed. The yajnas that are performed annually include Sravana, the Indrayajna, the Asvayuji, the Agrahayani, the Ashtakas, the Phalguni, and the Chaitriyajna.

Apart from the above, these texts contain ceremonies connected with agricultural operations, cattle welfare and festivities associated with them. The ceremony of Vrshotsarga, wherein a stud-bull is left at liberty, is discussed, so also the Shulagava yajna for the prosperity of cattle. Mantras which are to be recited while driving cattle to and from from pasture find a mention. Ploughing the field is started with special ceremonies as is the method of worshipping the Sita (which literally means a furrow). Agrayana yajna is connected with agriculture wherein the first fruits of the crop are to be offered to the deities. All these activities have marginally reduced but are still followed by our farmers in the present day.

Next topic of importance discussed in the Grhyasutras includes the choice of land for building a house, the rites to be performed for laying the foundation and the main door or gate of the house, and when the pujas to be performed when the owner first enters the house after its completion.

Other topics discussed include ceremonies to be performed on the appearance of certain animals such as cats, birds such as pigeons, crows in the house. Other events such as bursting of the central pillar in the house and inauspicious signs such as sight of a solitary jackal or a cat and the prayaschittas for the same are discussed. Expiating actions for the neglect of obligatory duties and rites are aptly discussed.[1]

Special attention is given to kamyakarmas done for fulfillment of certain desires, such as desire for prosperity of cattle, achievement of glory, gaining favour of certain people, appease an angry person, and desire to become a king.

गृह्यकर्माणि स्मार्तकर्माणि वा॥ Grhyakarmas or Smarta Karmas

While the Shrauta sutras are based on the Shrutis, the Grhyasutras are said to rest on the Smrti texts, thus these grhya-karmani are said to be "Smartha" karmas. Now arises the question, whether Smarta karmas guided by Vedas, or are they Avaidik (not based on Veda) in nature. The answer to this is that - while the Shrauta karmas are have a direct association with the Shrutis (Vedas), Smarta karmas have an "indirect" association with the Vedas, nevertheless are rooted in the Vedas. Karkacharya's Bhashya for the Paraskara Grhyasutras clarifies this point under the first sutra.

प्रत्यक्षा हि श्रुतयः श्रौतेषु स्मार्तेषु च पुनः कर्तृसामान्यादनुमेयाः श्रुतयः । स्मार्तानामपि हि वेदमूलत्वमुक्तम्। (Kark. Bhas for Paras. Grhy 1.1.1)[2]

Scholars opine that since Smrtis are "remembered" texts.

The authors of the Grhyasutras treat the subject matter of "grhya" very specifically denoted by their typical expressions such as those of

  • Ashvalayana starts with उक्तानि वैतानिकानि गृह्याणि वक्ष्यामः १[4] meaning "the grhyani as distinguished from the vaitanikani (shrauta) are said"
  • Shankhayana says अथातः पाकयज्ञान्व्याख्यास्यामः १[5] meaning "now with the discussion of the pakayajnas"
  • Paraskara says, अथातो गृह्यस्थालीपाकानां कर्म १[6] meaning "now of the grhyasthalipakanam karma".
  • Baudhayana directly starts with the differentiation of the Pakayajnas into seven and naming them, यथो एतद्धुतः प्रहुत आहुतश्शूलगवो बलिहरणं प्रत्यवरोहणमष्टकाहोम इति सप्त पाकयज्ञसंस्था इति ।१।[7]
  • Apastamba states his purpose succinctly, अथ कर्माण्याचाराद्यानि गृह्यन्ते १[8] meaning "now the karmani (ceremonies) derived from acharas (customs) and other practices"
  • Gobhila states अथातो गृह्यकर्माण्युपदेक्ष्यामः १[9] meaning "now the grhya ceremonies are given"

We see from the above that the grhyasutras treat their subject pertaining broadly to grhya-karmani in exactly the same style in which the shrauta yajnas have been treated by the shrautasutras.

Like the Vedas, Grhyasutras are also handed down and preserved since ancient times through oral tradition. Transmission of what was studied, memorized and practiced manifested as the tradition or custom, which, came to be regarded as an authority of these rituals. This was the foundation of Sampradayas which are the present existing authorities in matters pertaining to Bharatiya culture and dharmas.

Vedic References

The grhyasutras completely depend on the mantras from the Samhitas of the four vedas on the occasion of the performance of the Grhya rituals.[1]

  • Mantras recited during marriage are seen from Rigveda (10.85).
  • The term "Pakayajna" is referred to in Taittriya samhita and the Brahmanas.
  • Atharvaveda gives copious information about Grhya ritual described in Grhyasutras - marriage, Pumsavana, Jatakarma, Upanayana, Antyeshti, Godana, Astaka and so on.
  • Brahmana texts mention a number of rites and rituals found in Grhyasutras example, Agrahayana ceremony (Ait. Brah. 7.9, Kaus. Brah. 4.12, Tait. Samh. 5.7.2)
  • Tattriya and Sathapatha Brahmanas discuss the Panchamahayajnas, and Upanayana, Garbhadhana, Namakarana (of the samskaras) and others such as Soshyantikarman, Ayushyakarman, and Medhajanana.

List of Grhyakarmas

Grhyakarmas are described elaborately in a the sutras but with a varied terminology from across sutras. In this section an attempt has been made to put together a list of Grhyakarmas and a brief description of the equivalent terms from various grhyasutras where possible. Some of these activities are described as periodical as well as special yajnas both in grhya and shrauta sutras. The broad categories include Samskaras, Panchamahayajnas, Pakayajnas which constitute a whole set of yajnas, Grhapravesa and other house related rites, agricultural operations including cattle related rites and finally Prayaschittas.

The mantras used in the Grhyasutra rites include the ancient vedic mantras and those which are not found in the vedic texts. They employ many mantras borrowed from the Samhitas on the occasion of the performance of the Grhyakarmas. Some of these mantras clearly indicate the antiquity of the grhya ceremonies as far as the Vedas. Mantras from Rigveda recited at the time of marriage (Rig. Veda. 10.85), the funeral rites (Rig. Veda. 10.14, 15, 16), indicate the prevalence of Grhya ceremonies from the vedic age. Atharvaveda mantras are prescribed by the Grhyasutras in large numbers.

संस्काराः ॥ Samskaras

In most of the Sutras the term Samskara generally signifies a subsidiary act of purification performed at Shrauta or Grhyakarmas. Most of them represent Upanayana by the word Samskara. Further the term was gradually extended to include all domestic rites. Gautama Dharmasutras gives a comprehensive list of 40 samskaras which include the Pakayajnas, Haviryajnas and Somayajnas apart from the rites performed from before conception to the death of an individual. However in the present days the norm is to consider only the body related samskaras pertaining to the individual under this heading. They are according to Gautama

गर्भाधानपुंसवनसीमन्तो-न्नयनजातकर्म-नामकरणान्नप्राशन-चौड़ोपनयनम् । चत्वारि
वेदव्रतानि स्नानं सहधर्मचारिणीसंयोगः...

A few of these such as Jatakarma comprise of a number of subsidiary acts; important of them are Ayusha-homa, Prashana, Asmaabhimarshana, Medha-janana, and Stana-pradana. The sutras describe the establishment of Sutikagni, a fire kindled and maintained by the father near the southern side of the door in the chamber of the mother and newborn child. Other minor samskaras like Pravasagamana, Aditya and Chandradarshana, Nishkramanika, Karnavedhana for the newborn child are also described in the grhyasutras.

पञ्चमहायज्ञाः॥ Panchamahayajnas

These include the five mahayajnas, which are the obligatory nityakarmas of a grhastha. They are the daily rites which have been instituted to remove the papa accrued due to the five household activities.

पाकयज्ञाः ॥ Pakayajnas

Pakayajna is the name of that yajna which is performed in Ekagni or Grhyagni. These are periodic yajnas (monthly, annual, seasonal) performed by the grhastha along with his wife and family.

Now, while Gautama in his Dharmasutras included the seven pakayajnas as part of samskaras, other Sutrakaras maintain them as a separate class of yajnas. It is unfortunate that these yajnas are gradually fading away with very few people actively conducting them in the present society. Except for a few such as Aupasana, Vaisvedeva, and the Shraddha related yajnas the rest are rarely seen. Additionally the differences seen in the vidhis as per the veda shakas are not handed down to future generations.

Seven Kinds of Pakayajnas
Apastamba (Apas. Grh. Sutr. 1.1) Baudhayana (Baud. Grh. Sutr. 1.1.1) Gautama (Gaut. Dhar. Sutr. 1.7.19)
1 औपासनहोमः ॥ Aupanasa homa हुतः ॥ Huta अष्टका ॥ Ashtaka
2 वैश्वदेवम् ॥ Vaisvedeva प्रहुतः ॥ Prahuta पार्वणम् ॥ Paarvana
3 पार्वणम् ॥ Paarvana आहुतः ॥ Ahuta श्राद्धम् ॥ Shraddham
4 अष्टका ॥ Ashtaka शूलगवः ॥ Shulagava श्रावणी ॥ Shravani
5 मासिश्राद्धम् ॥ Masishraddham बलिहरणम् ॥ Baliharana आग्रहायणी ॥ Aagrahayani
6 सर्पबलिः ॥ Sarpabali प्रत्यवरोहण ॥ Pratyavarohana चैत्र्यी ॥ Chaitri
7 ईशानबलिः ॥ Ishanabali अष्टकाहोमः ॥ Ashtaka homa आश्वयुजी ॥ Asvayuji

Agriculture and Cattle Related Yajnas

In the age of the sutra literature, a greater part of the people earned their livelihood by agriculture and cattle breeding. Agricultural practices went hand in hand with cattle breeding as seen in vedas and brahmanas. This is amply reflected in the rites connected to agriculture, krshaka, varsha and pashusampada were highly respected for they provide food to all beings. All aspects of agriculture find mention in these Kalpasutra texts, namely, the land to be ploughed, ploughs, start and end of the agricultural activities, implements, barns and storage, furrowing, sowing, reaping and threshing of grains, cattle, birds and moles, deities of the rains, winds, and nakshatras. A few related yajnas were[1]

  • Bali (बलिः) to the earth and skies
  • Halabhiyoga (हलाभियोगः) a ceremony of yolking the plough
  • Sita Yajna (सीतायज्ञः) involved offerings at the time of furrowing
  • Pravapana was done at the time of sowing
  • Pralavana at the time of reaping the crop
  • Khala yajna was at the time of threshing
  • Prayayana was at the time of putting the corn into the barns
  • Offerings to Akhuraja (the moles)
  • Agrayana (आग्रयाणम्) or Nava-yajna is the offering of first fruits of the season in Tretagni or Grhyagni
  • Vrshotsarga was done to let loose a stud-bull for the purpose of breeding
  • Shulagava (one of the Pakayajnas) is performed by offering of an ox to the deity Rudra for attaining good cattle progeny, sons and fulfillment of all desires.

Shrauta and Grhyakarmas

Both the Shrauta and ghrya texts borrow from the Brahmanas regarding the rites they explain, but differ largely in the topics they present. Shrautasutras deal with the asvamedha and other great yajnas like Asvamedha and Sattra yagas which are performed over a long time, whereas Grhyasutras deal with domestic situations for short time periods such as Upanayana. For example, Shatapatha Brahmana mentions Grhyakarmas such as Upanayana, Garbhadhana, Soshyanti karma, Ayushkarma, Medhajanana.[2]

Here we summarize how they differ from the Shrauta yajnas in many ways.[1]

Differences between Shrauta and Grhya Karmas
Shrauta Grhya
1 Derived from Shrutis Derived from Smrtis
2 Involve complex Shrauta yajnas Involve simple Grhya yajnas
3 Entirely based on the Brahmanas Founded on Brahmanas to a certain extent, based on prevalent customs and traditions
4 Majority of shrauta yajnas extend over a long time period (some extend over ten years or more) Grhya yajnas typically are of short duration (days)
5 Scope includes broad section of the society Scope is limited to individual and his family
6 Shrauta yajnas are performed by Ahitagnis, and includes elaborate procedures for anyone to restart them if not performed over generations of forefathers. Grhyakarmas are to be followed by both Ahitagnis (who perform Shrautakarmas) and Anahitaginis
7 Ceremonies pertaining to welfare of the society at large (Rajasuya) Ceremonies pertaining to welfare of the individual (samskaras)
8 Rtviks of upto sixteen are required for the conduct of these yajnas Yajamana himself performs the grhyakarmas
9 These are mostly optional, kamyakarmas performed with an intent These are mostly obligatory nityakarmas while some are kamya karmas.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Gopal, Ram. (1959) India of Vedic Kalpasutras. Delhi : National Publishing House
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Pt. Baldev Upadhyaya (1997) Samskrit Vangmay ka Brhad Itihas, Dvitiya Khand - Vedang. Lucknow: Uttar Pradesh Samskrit Sansthan (Page 41-44)
  3. Gopal Reddy, Mudiganti and Sujata Reddy, Mudiganti (1997) Sanskrita Saahitya Charitra (Vaidika Vangmayam - Loukika Vangamayam, A critical approach) Hyderabad : P. S. Telugu University. (Pages 59-71)
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ashvalayana Grhyasutras (Full Text)
  5. Shankhayana Grhyasutras (Full Text)
  6. Paraskara Grhyasutras (Full Text)
  7. Baudhayana Grhyasutras (Prashna 1)
  8. Apastamba Grhyasutras (Patala 1 Khanda 1)
  9. Gobhila Grhyasutras (Prapathaka 1)