Kalpa Vedanga (कल्पवेदाङ्गम्)

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Kalpa (Samskrit : कल्पः) not to be confused with Kalpas defined by Kala pramana (time) is a part of the Shad Vedangas. They are called as Sutra Charanas consisting of a group of texts that relate specifically to aspects of conduct of Vedic or Shrauta yajnas, the Grhya yajnas, samskaras, the agni or fire involved in these activities, their procedural explanations, yajna vedi measurements involved and associated dharmas both for individual and society at large.

Guru describing preparation of Vedi for Yajna Courtesy: Book "Sarwang" Published by Adivasi Lok Kala Evam Boli Vikas Academy, Madhya Pradesh Sanskriti Parishad

Usually described as the "arms of Vedapurusha", they systematically codified the ceremonies given in the Brahmana texts of the Vedas referred to as manuals for karmakanda or yajna related activities. It may be noted that the article is titled Kalpa Vedanga to distinguish it from Kalpa, the time terminology.

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

The origin of Kalpa was for the organization of all the extensive rituals described in Vedas (वैदिककर्मकाण्डः | Vaidika Karmakanda). Kalpas are texts classified under the Shad Vedangas. They include the contents directly mentioned in Brahmanas and Aranyakas, presented in a systematic manner, explaining those not mentioned explicitly in the Brahmanas and omitting others not directly related to a particular yajna or ceremony.

Since Kalpas generally presuppose the knowledge of Veda samhitas and Brahmanas, they are often placed after the Vedic time. Unlike Brahmanas, the Kalpasutras are not included in Shrutis and bear the names of human authors. Thus they are Paurusheyas whereas Vedas are Apaurusheya. However, Kalpasutras are not mere summaries of Brahmanas and they both differ in their aim and scope.

Brahmanas explain the significance of various procedural acts in vedic yajnas and to lay down the doctrines. Kalpasutras are chiefly concerned with giving a succinct and systemic account of all the yajnas (not just Vedic) along with the customs and traditions prevalent at the time of their composition. While brahmanas are texts with explanatory rationale, Kalpasutras systematically record the account of yajnas as described the respective shakas of Vedas. It should be remembered that all these sutras were transmitted by oral tradition just as the Vedas were.[1]

The Kalpasutras are a veritable repository of ancient vedic traditions and amply augment and elucidate the cultural data derived from the Samhitas and Brahmanas. They are the "sutras" that interlink the Vedas and the modern day life.[1]

व्युत्पत्तिः॥ Etymology

The word Kalpa (कल्पः) is derived from the dhatu "कलृप्" used in the sense of Vidhi (विधिः । injunction).

  • एष वै प्रथमः कल्पः प्रदाने हव्यकव्ययोः । eṣa vai prathamaḥ kalpaḥ pradāne havyakavyayoḥ । Manusmriti (3.147)[2] defines Kalpa as विधिः । Vidhi to follow in the offering of हव्यकव्याः | havyakavyas (yajna vidhis).
  • कल्प्यते विधीयते | kalpyate vidhīyate | (Shabdakalpadruma) defines kalpa as vidhis (for yajnas)
  • वैदिकविधानज्ञापकेशास्त्रभेदे स चाश्वलायनापस्तम्बबौधायनकात्यायनादि-सूत्रात्मकः। vaidikavidhānajñāpakeśāstrabhede sa cāśvalāyanāpastambabaudhāyanakātyāyanādi-sūtrātmakaḥ | (Vachaspatyam)[3] Kalpa is defined as the (set of) sutras defining the vaidika vidhanas (vedic rituals) as given by Ashvalayana, Apastamba, Baudhayana, Katyayana among others.
  • As given by Vishnumitra, कल्पो वेदविहितानां कर्मणामानुपूर्व्येण कल्पनाशास्त्रम् | kalpo vedavihitānāṃ karmaṇāmānupūrvyeṇa kalpanāśāstram | ie. Kalpa shastra is a guideline for all the actions laid down in Veda (such as yajnas and yagas)[4] 

सूत्रशैली ॥ Sutra Style of Writing

As we see the Vedas and their extensive associated literature needed to be preserved for the coming generations. In order to accomplish the task of preserving the precious mass of cultural traditions in a manageable and recollectable form, the seers of ancient Bharatavarsha invented the style of composition of texts characterized by utmost brevity and rigid systematization. A short sentence composed in this peculiar style is called Sutra, i.e., a thread. The lakshana of Sutra is as follows[5]

अल्पाक्षरमसन्दिग्धं सारवद्विश्वतोमुखम्। अस्तोभमनवद्यञ्च सूत्रं सूत्रविदो विदुः ।।

A sutra is said to contain extremely few (as possible) syllables, without any ambiguity in the concept presented, representing the essence in a universal manner. A diffuse and scattered precepts are succinctly systematized in a compact sentence called sutra, just as the loose fibres are compressed into a terse thread.

It may be noted that while the Paninian Ashtadhyayi Sutras are cited as the perfect example of the above sutra lakshana which is taken seriously in grammatical texts, the aim of achieving such brevity of letters and syllables is not strictly followed in the Kalpa sutras. They appear to be shortened to the extent possible to enable easy memorization for the students who were learning them.[5]

Among the different types of Sutras composed during Sutra period the Kalpasutras are by far the most important reflecting the cultural history of that period. [1]

कल्पसूत्राणि॥ Kalpasutras

In this section we cover a few important aspects about the kalpasutras as follows.


Unlike the Brahmanas, the Kalpasutras are not included in the Shrutis and bear the names of human authors with the rare exception of Vishnu Dharmasutra claiming divine authorship. A large number of Kalpasutras belonging to all the Vedas are now extinct, and that only a small fraction of rich cultural heritage has come down to us in the form of the extant Kalpasutras.

There was no sacred injunction that a Sutrakara must compose all types of sutras, and that every Sutra charana must have an associated Dharmasutra. One sutra charana was independent of the other sutracharanas or granthas, though they borrowed some rules from other charanas. So far as the rules on Grhya topics, such as marriage and Upanayana were concerned they could depend upon the Grhyasutras. And the rules on other topics such as occupations of varnas, duties of kings, administration etc, which were within the purview of Dharmasutras were equally applicable to all the Sutra Charanas and thus unfettered by any individual vedashaka. It was therefore, not necessary that each Sutra charana must possess a Dharmasutra of its own. Thus it can be safely said that so far as the broad principles of Dharma were concerned, the Dharmasutras did not depend on any particular Veda and drew upon all the Vedas and Brahmanas without any distinction. But in the case of domestic activities or Grhya rites and customs, the Sutrakaras or authors adhered to their own traditions; and they were naturally inclined to accord the first preference to those rites and traditions in which they were brought up in. Thus the Grhyasutras reflect the particular activities of those Veda shakas in ancient times.[6]

Certain Shrauta and Grhyasutras clearly indicate their composition by a single author without any doubt. They are Shankhayana, Asvalayana, Baudhayana, Bhradvaja, Apastamba, Hiranyakeshi, Manava, Jaimini, Varaha and Varaha; where the authorship of both types of Sutras is ascribed by native tradition to a single teacher whose name is borne by both types of the Sutras. This can be ascertained by the facts such as cross-references to the Shrautasutra and a close agreement of the Sutras on both the vaidika yajnas and grhyayajnas, in language and style observed in them.

Textual Divisions

The broadest division of the Kalpasutra texts such as Apastamba and Baudhayana is termed "Prashna". Each prashna is divided into sections called "kandika" and "khanda" respectively. Further divisions are called "patala" in Apastamba sutras and "adhyayas" in Baudhayana. Texts of Gautama and Vasishta are divided simply into "adhyayas". The smallest division of all these documents is into "sutras".

Vadhula shrautasutras are divided into Prapathakas, Anuvakas, Khandas or Patalas.

The Four Sutra Charanas

Kalpa Vedanga deals with four important types of Sutra Charanas or granthas, all closely allied and complementary to each other. They are

श्रौतसूत्राणि || Shrautasutras

गृह्यसूत्राणि || Grhyasutras

धर्मसूत्राणि || Dharmasutras

शुल्बसूत्राणि || Shulbasutras

Some of these four types of texts belonging to the same school were composed by one and the same author in some cases. All the Vedas possess their distinct Kalpasutras, their number being the largest for Yajurveda and the smallest being two for Atharvaveda. A few kalpasutras belonging to the Yajurveda are complete (with all the four sutragranthas) whereas those belonging to other Vedas are deficient in one or the other type of Sutras. The complete Complete set of Kalpasutras available in the present day belong to that of Baudhayana, Apastamba, and Hiranyakeshi belonging to the Taittriya shaka of Krishna Yajurveda.

The sutras were either intended by their authors for more than one Charana or adapted to more than one Shaka of the Veda over time. No single shaka contained a complete account of the ceremony and other shakas were often referred to thus came into the existence the Sutra texts. Hence we find references of various shaka authors and their stance on any particular ceremony. Gradually communities coalesced, by adopting a collection of Sutras as the highest authority for their ceremonies, and became naturally inclined to waive minor points of difference in the Samhitas and Brahmanas. Such communities passed on their tradition under the name of the Charana and the Sutrakara who compiled them. This tradition is seen even in the present day where a person is said to belong to a Gotra (the rshi lineage) and Sutra (Baudhayana, Shankhayana, Apastamba etc) which is informed in the Pravara recitation during various ceremonies.[7]

Supplementary Texts

Apart from the four sutracharanas, there are supplementary minor subjects of study developed along with them namely Paribhashas, Anukramanikas, Parishishtas, Prayaschitta and Pravarasutras which are used at various occasions in yajnas.

For example, the Pravara sutras aid the Hotr and Adhvaryu recite the Pravara (ancestral descent) and the Gotra (the rshis group) of the yajamana during Darsapurna maseshti and other yajnas.[1][8][5]

Prayogas are manuals which describe the course of each yajna and the functions of the different classes of rtviks with reference to its practical performance. Paddhatis are guides which follow the systematic accounts of the Sutras and sketch their contents. Anukramanikas were developed and they played an important role in maintaining the oral tradition with deviations for they are vedic indexes containing the list of mantras, the mantra-drashtas, the chandas and the devatas in the exact order in which they occur in the various samhitas.[7]

Vedas and Associated Sutra Charanas

Mahadeva the commentator of Hiranyakeshi Shrautasutras, in his work called Vyjayanti tika, summarizes the six Sutrakaras of Taittriya Shaka of Krishna Yajurveda as follows[9]

यत्राकरोत् सूत्रमतीव गौरवाद् बौघयनाचार्यवरोऽर्थगुप्तये। तथा भरद्वाज मुनीश्वरस्तथाऽऽपस्तम्ब आचार्य इदं परं स्फुटम् ||

अतीव गूढार्थमनन्यदर्शितं न्यायैश्च युक्तं रचयन्नसौ पुनः। हिरण्यकेशीति यथार्थनामभाग् अभूद्वरात्तुष्ट मुनीन्द्रसम्मतात् ||

वाथूल आचार्यवरोऽकरोत् परं सूत्रं तु यत् केरल देशसंस्थितम्। वैखानसाचार्यकृतं त्वथापरं पूर्तेन युक्तं त्विति सूत्र षड्विधा || (Vyjayanti Bhumika, Shlokas 7-9)

In the above shlokas Mahadeva states the order and names of the six sutrakaras - Baudhayana, Bharadvaja, Apastamba, Hiranyakeshi, Vaikhanasa and Vadhula. Baudhayana is also known as "Pravachanakara".

Vedas and Associated Sutra Works[8][9]
Vedas Shakas Shrautasutra Grhyasutra Dharmasutra Shulbasutra
Rigveda Shakala amd Bashkala Ashvalayana (आश्वलायनः) Ashvalayana Vasishta None available
Bashkala? Shankhayana (शाङ्खायनः) Shankhayana
Kaushitaki None available Kaushitaki Vishnu dharmasutra
Shukla Yajurveda Vajasaneya Katyayana (कात्यायनः) Paraskara Harita, Shankhalikhita Katyayana
Krishna Yajurveda Taittriya Baudhayana (बौधायनः), Apastamba (आपस्तम्बः), Hiranyakeshi (हिरण्यकेशी), Vaikhanasa, Bharadvaja Baudhayana, Apastamba, Hiranyakeshi, Varaha, Bharadvaja, Vaikhanasa Baudhayana, Apastamba, Hiranyakeshi, Vaikhanasa Baudhayana, Apastamba, Hiranyakeshi,

Varaha (वाराहः)

Vadhula Vadhula (वाधूलः)[9] Agnivesya None available Vadhula (वाधूलः)
Maitrayani Manava (मानवः) Varaha (वाराह)[9] Manava Manava, Maitrayana
Katha Kathaka (काठक) Kathaka (काठक) None available
Samaveda Kauthuma Arsheya (आर्षेयः), Latyayana (लाट्यायनः) Gobhila (गोभिल) None available None available
Rananiya Drahyayana (द्राह्यायनः) Khadira (खादिर)
Jaimini Jaiminiya (जैमिनीयः) Jaiminiya Gautama (गौतमः)
Atharvaveda Vaitana (वैतानः) Kaushika (कौशिक) None available None available

Comparison of the Sutra Charanas

Here below are the distinctions between Shrauta, Grhya and Dharmasutras. The Sulbasutras are considered more as manuals for measurements and setting up altars thus their subject matter being completely different is not listed in this table.

Shrautasutras, Grhyasutras and Dharmasutras- Contrasting Points[1][10]
Shrautasutras Grhyasutras Dharmasutras
1 They describe major yajnas (Shrauta) extending to days involving extensive procedures. They deal with simple domestic ceremonies (grhya yajnas) of the daily life. They do not discuss yajnas but elaborate about the conduct, ethics and justice among other things based on the earlier two sutras
2 They are related to the yajna karmas in the respective veda shakas They are confined to the customs and conventions of their respective veda shakas and to a certain extent communities They include broader views of the whole society across veda shakas and communities
3 These pertain to the rituals associated with societal welfare, public life of a person These pertain to the rituals related to the household - private life and family structure These sutras codify rules and customs (duties and general code of conduct) to prevail in the interactions between family and society.
4 Involve three or more fires - tretagni Involves single grhya fire. No fires are involved
5 Services of a number of rtviks - upto sixteen for Somayajna, are exclusively required. They are performed by the grhastha himself, or by his representatives namely his wife, son, student or in some instances a rtvik. They are not ceremonies as such and involve the moral, social and political spheres of a person or community as a reference
6 Offering of Soma is exclusively restricted to Shrauta yajnas Grhyayajnas do not involve the usage of Soma rasa or plant. Soma is not involved in this segment
7 Shrauta yajnas are very rarely performed in the present day. Grhyayajnas are common in the present days if not widely followed Dharmasutras are the backbone of the society and preserve the traditional lifestyle
8 Scope is limited to Shrauta karmas. Scope is broader, including Shrauta and Grhaya karmas. Scope is extensive inclusive of the global communities

The Four Sutra Charanas

The sutra charanas portray different facets of social life and customs of people. People attained a high degree of culture long before the Sutra works came into existence as seen from the Brahmana works.

श्रौतसूत्राणि || Shrautasutras

They include procedures of great Shrauta yajnas as described in the Brahmanas of particular veda shakas. They also include Paribhasha sutras which imply general rules and their application in the interpretation of the Vedas. Shutis are vedas and the activities (primarily yajnas) described there are Shrauta karmas. The vidhis pertaining to Shrauta karmas are given in Shrauta Sutras. They detail the 14 yajnas (major) laid down in the Brahmana and thus Shrautasutras are highly related to Brahmanas. However, not all yajnas discussed in Shrautasutras are found in Brahmanas.

Agni plays an important role in all Shrauta (or Vaidika) and Grhya (or Smarta) karmas. Shrauta karmas are performed using the three agnis namely - Garhapatya, Ahvaniya and Dakshinagni, which are kindled by the process of Agnyadhana at the prescribed time for prescribed varnas of people. Two other agnis namely Sabhya (सभ्य) and Avasathya (आवसथ्य) are also kindled during the Agnyadhana process, however they are not used widely and the commonly prescribed shrauta karmas are performed using the three agnis called as Tretagni. The deviations or digressions that happen during shrauta karmas are to be removed by performing expiatory activities called Prayaschittas mentioned in these sutra texts.[5]

गृह्यसूत्राणि || Grhyasutras

They deal with the rules and regulations pertaining to the social and domestic activities and customs prescribed to a grhasta and his family. They detail the samskaras, seven kinds of Grhyayajnas called as Pakayajnas, and Panchamahayajnas. These texts have very little relationship with the Brahmanas. The Grhyagni (or Smartagni) is a single fire hence called Ekagni, is kindled at the time of vivaha samskara of a person and is used to perform the grhyakarmas of the person and his family. The mantras that are recited in the performance of samskaras, such as Upanayana, are from the Veda samhitas of that particular shaka. Again just like the Shrautasutras, not all mantras given in the Grhyasutras are traceable to the extant Veda samhitas.[5]

The grhyasutras, in general, presuppose the knowledge of the Shrautasutras of their respective schools. A good number of Shrautasutras are found repeated in the Grhyasutras belonging to the same veda shaka. A number of important rites such as Agraayaneshti, Madhuparka, Darshapurnamaseshti and Antyesti find description in the Shrautasutras as well as in the Grhyasutras. If a ceremony that has been described by some Shrautasutras happens to be treated of by the Grhyasutras, it cannot be taken for granted that it belongs to the domain of Shrautasutras.

Consider the case of Antyeshti or funeral ceremony that has been treated by both Shrauta and Grhyasutras. It is important to note that the funeral of an Ahitagni (one who had set up tretagni and conducted Shrautayajnas) involves the employment of the three fires, which is not applicable as a common rite for the funeral of each and every person. But the funeral ceremony is common to one and all. Thus it is clear that funeral, as a whole, does not belong to the exclusive sphere of Shrauta karmas. The purvapaksha that - since three fires are used in the funeral ceremonies hence it is a Shrautakarma, does not hold good. Further, unlike the Shrauta ceremonies, the funeral of an Ahitagni is performed by the relatives of the deceased and not by a number of rtviks, who play an important role in Shrauta rites. Thus the uttarapaksha holds ground that the inclusion of funeral rites in the subject matter of Grhyasutras is, therefore, entirely compatible with the essential nature of these treatises which deal with domestic rites in general. The Grhyasutras describe the funeral rites for those who had set up tretagni in their life-time and also for those who did not.[1]

धर्मसूत्राणि || Dharmasutras

They are connected closely with the Grhyasutras in their contents but are elaborate with the laws of social, religious, political and economic life of the people. They deal with Varna, Ashrama and Rajadharmas. They take their concepts from the Vedas, and deal with social customs common to all the Veda shakas. Thus the concept is not confined to followers of one particular shaka whereas the ceremonies or yajnas described therein are undoubtedly inclined to follow the traditions of their own shakas. No Dharmasutra associated with Atharvaveda is available at present, though earlier works like Patanjali's Mahabhashya mentioned their existence. Examples of Dharmasutras include Baudhayana and Apastamba Dharmasutras.

In the whole body of Kalpasutras, as a rule, Dharmasutras follow the Grhyasutras of their respective veda shakas. The Baudhyana, Apastamba, Hiranyakeshi, and Vaikhanasa Grhyasutras have their respective Dharmasutras that follow them. The other Grhyas have no Dharmasutras to follow them. It is debatable whether each Grhya possessed a Dharmasutra belonging to one particular shaka or if Dharmasutras were composed only in a few shakas of the Kalpas. Since the chief aim of the Grhyasutra is to give a mere description of the rites and that of the Dharmasutra is to expound Smarta Dharma, the style of the latter is not so terse and laconic as that of the former.

Undeniably the primary differentiating feature of the Dharmasutras from the Grhyasutras is that they cover a wider range of subjects which are by no means confined to the limits of any particular veda shaka to which the sutras belong to. Moreover, the outlook of the Grhyasutras is limited to the customs and conventions of their respective schools confining themselves principally to the various events of domestic life.[1][10]

Grhyasutras include the following topics which are elaborate in the Dharmasutras : Domestic fire, Grhyayajnas, yajnas involving cooked food, marriage, pumsavana, jatakarma, upanayana and other samskaras, rules for students, snatakas and anadhyayana, shraddha and offerings, madhuparka. Dharmasutras also contain rules on some of the above topics such as marriage and samskaras, Brahmacharya, snataka etc. While both of them contain similar topics, for example, duties of a Brahmachari are meagerly dealt with in grhyasutras as compared with the corresponding dharmasutra. Some sutras are common to both grhya and dharmasutras. Again there are points of difference between the dharmasutras and Smrtigranthas such as Yajnavalkya smrti and Manusmrti which will be discussed in Smrtis.[10]

शुल्बसूत्राणि || Shulbasutras

Associated mainly with Shrautasutras, these sutras deal with measurements and construction of the yajna vedi to conduct shrauta yajnas. They are the earliest available texts of geometry given to the world by the Vedic era. Example: Baudhayana and Apastamba Shulbasutras. One of the prime occupations of the vedic people, performing yajnas, required altars or yajna-vedis of prescribed shapes and sizes. Shulbasutras came into existence by recognizing the fact that manuals would be of immense help in constructing such altars. These texts were primarily to assist the adhvaryus in the construction of altars designed for the performance of a variety of yajnas. Thus Shulbasutras are associated with Shrautasutras. Chiti (चितिः) or fire altars are of two types, based on their usage in

  • नित्यकर्म - daily ritual
  • काम्यकर्म - intended for specific wish fulfilment

Chitis are platforms constructed of burnt bricks and mud mortar. The different chitis ranges in their shapes and were used for specific wish fulfilling purpose. Altars had multiples of five layers, with 200 bricks in each layer. The number of bricks used is 1000, 2000 and 3000 depending on the type of altar. They are of different shapes. A few of them include

  • प्रौगचितिः - isosceles triangle
  • उभयतः प्रौगचितिः - rhombus
  • रथचक्रचितिः - chariot wheel
  • द्रोणचितिः - a particular type of vessel/water jar
  • कूर्मचितिः - tortoise shaped
  • श्येनचितिः - bird or falcon shaped

Measurements were based on the performer and not standardized. The Shrauta yajnas involve vedis or kundas into which the tretagnis are kindled. They are in simple circular, semi-circular and rectangular shapes. These examples show that the purpose for which the geometry got developed in the context of construction and transformation of planar figures. These texts shed light from the viewpoint of development of mathematics in the antiquity, particularly the use of arithmetic, algebra besides geometry. The different chitis not only speak of aesthetic sense, but also of creativity and ingenuity of the authors of Sulbasutras to work with several constraints both in terms of area and volume.[11]

Subject Matter of the Sutras

In this section the general subject matter of the Sutracharanas are described. While the social organization, the ashramas and varnas, their roles, function, and inter-relationship between varnaashrama dharmas are described extensively in these texts, other aspects such as administration, finance, arts, agriculture and cattle breeding, land system, occupations, sciences witnessed further progress during the time of Sutra composition. The advance of technical skill in all branches of arts, crafts, and sciences rendered it almost impossible for an average man to acquire proficiency in every branch of these subjects. For instance, smithery which was a single occupation in earlier times branched off into many occupations in later times; it may be pointed out that the number of occupations mentioned in the Sutras exceeds fifty.[1]

As there was great progress in the departments of human knowledge during the sutra period, the scope of their economic activities had extended beyond agriculture and cattle rearing. In these texts we find expansion of the cultural and economic scopes leading to new occupations and branching out into new spheres of life. The services of teachers, administrators, physicians, singers, dancers, fishermen, hunters, barbers, washermen, cattle herdsmen, astrologers, messengers, medicants, butchers, boatmen, and distillers are alluded to in these texts. While the varna and ashrama systems are discussed in detail in other articles, here a few points of importance regarding the special aspects of economic life are summarized.[1]

वर्णव्यवस्था ॥ Varna System

Occupational activities defined by varna dharmas were associated with the four varnas that people were born into and followed as a rule in the earlier times. According to the Dharmasutras, Brahmanas (Brahmins) were to practice the occupation of teaching and practicing Vedas, and included the rtviks (priests) and purohits. Kshatriyas were involved in administration, military service and strategy. Trade and commerce, agriculture and cattle rearing were associated with the Vaishya varna. Shudras were involved in carpentry, fishing, hunting, and service to other varna people in various capacities. Baudhayana Dharmasutras (1.10) and other texts discuss the topics related to varnas and their activities extensively. Here the Gautama Dharmasutra[12]defined activities of various varnas are alluded to as an example.

ब्राह्मनस्याधिकाः प्रवचनयाजनप्रतिग्रहाः ॥२॥ (Gaut. Dhar. Sutr. 10.2)

राज्ञोऽधिकं रक्षणं सर्वभूतानाम् ॥७॥ न्याय्यदण्डत्वम् ॥८॥ (Gaut. Dhar. Sutr. 10.7, 8)

वैश्यस्याधिकं कृषिवणिक्पाशुपाल्यकुसीदम् ॥४९ (Gaut. Dhar. Sutr. 10.49)

तेभ्यो वृत्तिं लिप्सेत ॥५७ ॥ शिल्पवृत्तिश् च ॥६० (Gaut. Dhar. Sutr. 10.58-59)[12]

Summary: Teaching, officiating during yajnas, and receiving danas (gifts) pertain to Brahmanas. To a Raja (kshtriya) pertains the protection of all creatures, justice, punishment. A vaishya, in addition, relates to agriculture, trade, cattle breeding, and money lending for interest. A shudra may seek livelihood from other varna people, and by working as artisans.

A few other related points include the following

  • Members of Brahmana, Kshatriya etc varnas were allowed to practice occupations of other varnas, however restriction in case of teaching or being priests was largely enforced mostly because of speech alteration that could make it ineffective. Except for this there were no rigorous restrictions in case of other occupations and no other occupation ever remained the monopoly of a single varna. Many exceptions of taking up inter-varna occupations are seen.
  • Agriculture and cattle rearing was common among people of all varnas.
  • Normally people adopted the occupations of their forefathers and did not dare to deviate from family traditions. They accepted them as divine decree and it was not regarded as social injustice.
  • Though the system did not allow free choice of occupations and full scope to the talents of all, it was instrumental in people acquiring special skills handed down by the forefathers and comprehensive knowledge about their field of work.
  • Social order was highly enforced and all sections of society made their due contribution to the welfare of the society.

कृषिविज्ञानम् ॥ Agriculture

The most popular occupation of the Sutra period a bulk of ancient Bharatiya economy depended upon agriculture. The greater part of Bharat's population then lived in the villages and occupied themselves with agriculture, cattle breeding and local handicrafts. Self sufficiency was the key and every village produced most of its needs. A village was a well-knit economic unit in the Sutra period. Focus on agriculture and production of food grains was of high priority by all people of the society. Though it was regarded as the normal occupation of the Vaishyas, people of all varnas practiced it. The Shrauta and Grhyasutras attach great importance to agriculture and we see a number of ceremonies connected with agricultural operations in these texts. Land ownership laws, dispute resolution, share of produce, land leasing, river, canal and well irrigation systems were all well defined. Sita yajna, performed at the time of the first ploughing of the land, and many such rituals to be performed at the time of sowing the crop are described in the Grhyasutras.

घृतेन सीतेति सीतायज्ञस्य ७ या ओषधय इति बीजवपनीयस्य ८ (Kath. Grhy. Sutr. 71. 7-8)[13]

Cultivation of soil was undoubtedly dependent on rains to a great extent and the system is more or less similar to the one that is seen in the present day. The sutras frequently refer to rituals for procuring good rains. The sutra अनूषरमविवदिष्णु भूम २ । (Asvh. Grhy. Sutr. 2.7.2)[14] clearly lays down that a house should be built on an indisputable plot of land. Farmers were generally required to pay one-sixth of the agricultural produce as land-revenue to the king.

पशुपालना ॥ Animal Husbandry

Livestock breeding was an important occupation of the Sutra period. Raising large cattle herds were considered as signs of auspiciousness and prosperity in those times. People kept big herds of cows, horses, goats and sheep. Herds of cows were so big that they were given away in hundreds and thousands as dakshina in yajnas (a form of charity to priests during yajnas). Many Shrauta yajnas describe the giving away of a large number of cows as dakshina, for example शतं सहस्राणि दक्षिणा ४३ । (Katy. Shrau. Sutr. 15.4.43)[15] a lakh cows at the time of Rajasuya yajna.

The sutras describe a number of ceremonies connected with cattle welfare and breeding. The Shugalava (a pakayajna) was performed every year. Vrshotsarga is one of the very important cattle related ceremonies (even followed in the present days) when a bull is let loose for the purposes of breeding. Many rituals for the health and protection of the cows and calves are mentioned in the Kaushika Sutras. The Manava GS (2.6) describes a ritual which was performed annually for the welfare of the horses.

हस्तकला ॥ Handicrafts

Several handicrafts, such as pottery, carpentry, metal-work, jewellery, weaving, leather-work, and glass-work were common in the sutra period, practiced on cottage industry basis. Carpenters, the indispensable artisans for society, made ploughs, carts, household furniture and chariots. Chariot making was extremely important and such skilled persons were highly distinguished forming a separate class of people from carpenters. Jewellery and ornament making was highly developed in the sutra period. We find many references to workers in stone, needlework, ropemaking, and basket-making in the sutra texts. To work for the raja one day a month without wages was the usual form of tax which the handicraftsmen were required to pay to the State. Prashna 15[16] of the Baudhayana Shrautasutras discusses the Ashvamedha Yajna and here we find quite a few references to the artisans who participate in the yajna summarized as follows

  • The artisans are brought close to him (the Raja performing the Asvamedha yajna) - carpenters (तक्षाणः) chariot-makers (रथकृतः) leather-workers (मयस्कृतः), potters (कुलालः), the two types of smiths (द्वयाः कर्माराः) (for gold and iron), and receptacle-makers (नखकृतः). He then instructs the carpenter.

...कर्मकृत उपसंगच्छन्ते तक्षाणश्च रथकृतश्च मयस्कृतश्च कुलालाश्च द्वयाः कर्मारा नखकृतः सप्तमेऽथैताँ स्तक्ष्णः सँ शास्ति १३ (Baud. Shrau. Sutr. 15.13)

  • He instructs the carpenters to prepare the yupas for the yajna (posts to tie the animals) of various sizes and wooden implements such as spoons with long hands, big carts, wheels, carriages and wagons,. He then instructs the chariot-makers separately to manufacture special chariots.[17]
  • He instructs the potters to manufacture as many bricks as may be adequate for piling up the chiti (altar), numerous big and small cooking vessels required for the performance of Ashvamedha yajna.
  • Here in Baudhayana shrauta sutra 15.13 and 15.15 blacksmiths and goldsmiths are mentioned separately. Goldsmiths generally make ornaments of gold and silver, while blacksmiths manufactured articles of iron, copper, and bell-metal. The Maharaja instructs the blacksmith to prepare arrow-tips and arrows of metals such as iron, bronze, lead and a cooking pot made of iron. He instructs the goldsmiths to prepare gold coins, pots of gold and silver, and ornaments of such as pins, girdles, fans, garlands of gold and silver for royal use.[17]
  • Manufacture of war weapons, tools for agriculture, carpentry apart from household requirements were prepared by blacksmiths. Gobhil Grhyasutras mentions a vessel made of bell-metal (अथ हविर्निर्वपति व्रीहीन्वा यवान्वा कँसेन वा चरुस्थाल्या वा २) (Gobh. Grhy. Sutr. 1.7.2) and the Ashvalayana Grhyasutra ( 4.3.18 and 4.7.8) mentions vessels made of copper, metal, stone and clay[14].
  • The use of mirror is frequently prescribed in the Sutras. A mirror is presented to the bride at the time of marriage and was also used during performance of tonsure and Simantonnayana. Ornaments of glass are also mentioned in Srautasutras.
  • Weaving was a flourishing industry and the sutra texts mention numerous varieties of clothes. Cotton, wool, hemp and flax were generally used for weaving cloth. Though the entire process of preparation of clothes is not mentioned in the Sutras, Paraskara's reference to a full spindle shows that yarn was spun with a charkha.
  • Baudhayana Shrautasutras (15.16) अथैतान्नखकृतः सँ शास्त्यपरिमितान्यष्टमानि कुरुते..। [16] further mention about making articles of leather or leather receptacles for storing ghee, honey, rice, flattened rice, barley, flours of different grains and seeds, this indicates that leather industry was well developed during that time.
  • Paraskara Grhyasutras (2.5.17-20) mention specifically about the Uttariya (upper garment) made of Ajina (animal hide), i.e., the upper garment of a Upanayana student should be made of animal hide. A Brahmin student's garment should be made of the skin of an antelope; that of a Kshatriya student should be made of the skin of a spotted deer; and that of a Vaisya student should be made of a goat's skin or a cow's skin.[18] Animal skins had special sanctity during the performance of yajnas.

ऐणेयमजिनमुत्तरीयं ब्राह्मणस्य १७ रौरवं राजन्यस्य १८ आजं गव्यं वा वैश्यस्य १९ सर्वेषां वा गव्यमसति प्रधानत्वात् २० (Para. Grhy. Sutr. 2.5.17-20)[19]

व्यापारः वाणिज्यम् च ॥ Trade and Commerce

Trade was no doubt an important occupation of the Sutra period. The first three varnas, the dvijas, are allowed by the Dharmasutras to practice trade. Cereals, livestock, cloth, wool, liquors, herbs, metals, hides, salt, wood, agricultural implements, ropes, utensils, condiments, jewellery, perfumes, pepper, and arms were the main articles of trade. The sale of cooked food is also referred to in the Sutras as in क्रीतोत्पन्नेन वा वर्तेरन् १५ (Ashv. Grhy. Sutr. 4.4.15)[14]. Sale of the sacred Soma has been mentioned and it is amusing to note that haggling over the price of Soma is referred to in the following sections of Katyayana Shrautasutras.

स आह सोमविक्रयिन् क्रय्यस्ते सोमो राजा इति २ क्रय्य इत्याह सोमविक्रयी ३ तं वै ते क्रीणानीति ४ क्रीणीहीत्याह सोमविक्रयी ५ कलया ते क्रीणानीति ६ भूयो वा अतः सोमो राजाऽर्हतीत्याह सोमविक्रयी ७.... (Katy. Shrau. Sutr. 7.8.2-7)[20]

Sutras describe the occupations suitable to each varna and alternatives, when their original occupation is not possible, in times of adversity. Gautama Dharmasutras for example, explain that a Brahmin may live by the occupations of a Kshatriya and when these are unavailable, by the occupations of a Vaishya.

तस्यापण्यम् ॥ गन्धरसकृतान्नतिलशानक्षौमाजिनानि ॥ रक्तनिर्णिक्ते वाससी ॥ क्षीरं सविकारम् ॥ मूलफलपुष्पौषधमधुमांसतृणोदकापथ्यानि ॥ पशवश् च हिंसासंयोगे ॥ पुरुशवशाकुमारीवेहतश् च नित्यम् ॥ भूमिव्रीहियवाजाव्यश्वऋषभधेन्वनडुहश् चैके ॥ (Gaut. Dhar. Sutr. 7.8-15)[12]

One may not trade in the following good: perfumes, condiments, cooked or prepared foods (कृतान्नम्), sesame seeds, hemp or linen cloth, animal skins, clothes that are dyed red or washed, milk and milk products, roots, fruits, flowers, medicinal plants, honey, flesh, grass, water, and apathya foods (अपथ्यानि), animals and those activities associated with slaughter. At all times he should refrain from trade in human beings, barren cows, heifers, and pregnant cows. Few mention that one may not also trade in land, vreehi (food grains), yava (barley), goats, sheep, horses, bulls, cows, and oxen. Gautama Dharmasutras mention the occupations of the four varnas; the primary activities of a dvija (the first three varnas who undergo initiation) include adhyayana (vedic studies), performing yajnas and giving away gifts (danas).

द्विजातीनाम् अध्ययनम् इज्या दानम् ॥ (Gaut. Dhar. Sutr. 10.1)[12]

Further the exceptions are mentioned where vedas may be imparted by Brahmins in exchange for knowledge or money. One may note the prescribed interchange of occupations, as seen in the case where brahmins are allowed to engage in agriculture and trade if he does not do the work himself (कृषिवाणिज्ये वास्वयंकृते ॥ (Gaut. Dhar. Sutr. 10.5), including other vaishya related activities of lending money on interest.

Like agricultural rites to increase crop yields, Sutras prescribe certain rites for those who desire to gain success in trade. A rite for successful business trip is mentioned in Kausika Sutra (42, 1-5).

Trade in exchange for commodities was prevalent as was purchasing them for money. Economic activities of the ancient Bharat were not limited to just the sale, purchase and exchange of local commodities. The Sutras portray promotion of trade and commerce by travel to distant places and even overseas journeys. Sea voyages are mentioned in Baudhayana Dharmasutras in the context of explaining the regional differences.

अथ_उत्तरत ऊर्णा-विक्रयः सीधु-पानम् उभयतस्-दद्भिर् व्यवहार आयुधीयकं समुद्र-संयानम् इति ॥ (Baud. Dhar. Sutr. 1.2.4)[21]

The peculiarities of the northerners include selling wool, drinking alcoholic beverages (सीधु-पानम्), dealing with animals having teeth in both jaws, making or dealing in weapons, travelling by the sea.[22]

परिवहनं संचारं च ॥ Transport and Communication

Economic lifestyle in the Sutra period was well developed and so was trade and transport. Animal drawn carriages were the chief modes of transport on land; horses, camels, elephants, mules, bulls, asses and donkeys where the animals widely used for such travel. Wheel was invented and was very much in use in that time. Chariots were the most popular vehicles and people were skilled in building many kinds of chariots. The measurements of a chariot have been mentioned in Apastamba Shulbasutras. Loads were carried on carts drawn by bullocks. Paraskara Grhyasutra devotes whole chapters to the ceremonies of mounting a chariot (रथारोहणम् । Ratharohana) and an elephant, and it is laid down here that a woman or brahmachari should not act as a charioteer.

न स्त्रीब्रह्मचारिणौ सारथी स्याताम् ९ (Para. Grhy. Sutr. 3.14.9)[19]

Rivers were crossed by means of boats and samkramas (causeway) was made across rivers or inundated land. Many grhyasutras lay down the rule that certain mantras should be recited at time of boarding and crossing a river.[1]

It is heartening to note that the Archeological Survey of India excavations in Sanauli in 2018 have brought to light evidence that Bharatavarsha had developed sophisticated chariots long before many other civilizations.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Gopal, Ram. (1959) India of Vedic Kalpasutras. Delhi : National Publishing House
  2. Manusmriti (3.147)
  3. Vachaspatyam Link for Kalpa Definition
  4. Pt. Baldev Upadhyaya (1958) Vaidik Sahitya.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Pt. Baldev Upadhyaya (1997) Samskrit Vangmay ka Brhad Itihas, Dvitiya Khand - Vedang. Lucknow: Uttar Pradesh Samskrit Sansthan (Page 56)
  6. Gopal, Ram. (1959) India of Vedic Kalpasutras. Delhi : National Publishing House
  7. 7.0 7.1 Mookerji. Radha Kumud, (1947) Ancient Indian Education (Brahminical and Buddhist) London: MacMillan And Co., Ltd. (Page 167-168)
  8. 8.0 8.1 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)
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Pt. Baldev Upadhyaya (1997) Samskrit Vangmay ka Brhad Itihas, Dvitiya Khand - Vedang. Lucknow: Uttar Pradesh Samskrit Sansthan (Pages 56-112)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Kane, Pandurang Vaman. (1930) History of Dharmasastra (Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law), Volume 1. Poona : Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. (Pages 1-13)
  11. Prof. K. Ramasubramaniam's Lectures - Vedas and Sulbasutras, Parts 1 and 2
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Gautama Dharmasutras (Full Text)
  13. Kathaka Grhyasutras (Full Text)
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Ashvalayana Grhyasutras (Full Text)
  15. Katyayana Shrauta Sutras (Adhyaya 15)
  16. 16.0 16.1 Baudhayana Shrauta Sutras (Prashna 15)
  17. 17.0 17.1 Kashikar, C. G. (2003) The Baudhayana Srautasutra, Volume 3. New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd. (Pages 965-969)
  18. Bakhre, Mahadeva Gangadhar, (1982 Second Edition) Grihya-Sutra by Paraskar with the commentaries of Karka Upadhyaya, Jayaram, Harihar, Gadadhar and Vishvanath. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd. (Page 220 - 224)
  19. 19.0 19.1 Paraskara Grhya Sutras (Full Text)
  20. Katyayana Shrautasutras (Adhyaya 7)
  21. Baudhayana Dharmasutras (Full Text)
  22. Olivelle. Patrick, (1999) Dharmasutras. The Law Codes of Apastamba, Gautama, Baudhayana and Vasistha. Oxford: Oxford University Press (Page 137)