Smrti (स्मृतिः)

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Smriti literally "that which is remembered," refers to a body of Hindu texts usually attributed to an author, traditionally written down but constantly revised, in contrast to Śrutis (the Vedic literature) considered authorless, that were transmitted verbally across the generations and fixed.[1]


Smritis are ancient law-codes dealing with the sanatana-Varnasrama-Dharma. They supplement and explain the ritualistic injunctions called Vidhis in the Vedas. The Smriti Sastra is based on the Sruti. The Smriti stands next in authority to the Sruti. It explains and develops Dharma. It lays down the laws which regulate (Hindu) national, social, family and individual obligations. The works which are expressly called Smritis are the law books, Dharma Sastras. The laws for regulating Hindu society from time to time are codified in the Smritis. The Smritis have laid down definite rules and laws to guide the individuals and communities in their daily conduct and to regulate their manners and customs. The Smritis have given detailed instructions, according to the conditions of the time, to all classes of men regarding their duties in life. The Hindu learns how one has to spend his whole life from these Smritis. The duties of Varnasrama and all ceremonies are clearly given in these books[2].

The Smritis prescribe certain acts and prohibit some others for a Hindu, according to one's birth and stage of life. The object of the Smritis is to purify the heart of a person and take him/her gradually to the supreme abode of immortality and make him/her perfect and free. These Smritis have varied from time to time. The injunctions and prohibitions of the Smritis are related to the particular social surroundings. As these surroundings and essential conditions of the Hindu society changed from time to time, new Smritis had to be compiled by the sages of different ages and different parts of India.[2]

Swami Ranganathananda[3] explains that Sruti contains universal truths - they contain the ideas that are Sanatana. Along with this idea of Sanatana Dharma, comes the idea of Yuga Dharma, a Dharma for a particular Yuga or period, for a particular age of history, for a particular group of people - this is called Smriti.

The Celebrated Hindu Law Givers[2]

During course of history, a great lawgiver would take birth amd this person would codify the existing laws and remove those which had become obsolete. He/ she would make some alterations, adaptations, readjustments, additions and, subtractions, to suit the needs of the time and see that the way of living of the people would be in accordance with the teachings of the Veda.

Of such law-givers Manu, Yajnavalkya and Parasara are the most celebrated. Hindu society is founded on, and governed by the laws made by these three great sages. The Smritis are named after them. There is Manu Smriti or Manava Dharma-Sastra (the Laws of Manu or the Institutes of Manu), Yajnavalkya Smriti and Parasara Smriti. Manu is the oldest law-giver. The Yajnavalkya Smriti follows the same general lines as the Manu Smriti and is next in importance to it. Manu Smriti and Yajnavalkya Smriti are universally accepted at the present time as authoritative works all over India. Yajnavalkya Smriti is chiefly consulted in all matters of Hindu Law. Even the Government of India are applying some of these laws. There are eighteen main Smritis or Dharma Sastras. The most important are those of Manu, Yajnavalkya and Parasara. The other fifteen are those of Vishnu, Daksha, Samvarta, Vyasa, Harita, Satatapa, Vasishtha, Yama, Apastamba, Gautama, Devala, Sankha-Likhita, Usana, Atri and Saunaka. The laws of Manu are intended for the Satya Yuga, those of Yajnavalkya are for the Treta Yuga; those of Sankha and Likhita are for the Dvapara Yuga; and those of Parasara are for the Kali Yuga. The laws and rules which are based entirely upon our social positions, time and clime, must change with the changes in society and changing conditions of time and clime. Then only the progress of the Hindu society can be ensured.

Need for a New Law-Code[2]

It is not possible to follow some of the laws of Manu at the present time. We can follow their spirit and not the letter. As society advances, it outgrows certain laws which were valid and helpful at a particular stage of its growth. Our present society has considerably changed. A new Smriti to suit the requirements of this age is very necessary.


Smrti is a Sanskrit word, from the root Smara (स्मर), which means "remembrance, reminiscence, thinking of or upon, calling to mind", or simply "memory".[4] The word is found in ancient Vedic literature, such as in section 7.13 of the Chandogya Upanishad. In later and modern scholarly usage, the term refers to tradition, memory, as well as a vast post-Vedic canon of "tradition that is remembered".[4][5]

The Structure of Smriti Texts

The Smrti texts structurally branched, over time, from so-called the "limbs of the Vedas", or auxiliary sciences for perfecting grammar and pronunciation (part of Vedāngas).[6] For example, the attempt to perfect the art of rituals led to the science of Kalpa, which branched into three Kalpa-sūtras: Srauta-sūtras, Grhya-sūtras, and Dharma-sūtras [7] The Srauta-sutras became texts describing the perfect performance of public ceremonies (solemn community yajnas), the Grhya-sutras described perfect performance of home ceremonies and domestic rites of passage, and Dharma-sutras described jurisprudence, rights and duties of individuals in four Ashrama stages of life, and social ethics.[6] The Dharma-sūtras themselves became the foundations for a large canon of texts, and branched off as numerous Dharma-sastra texts.[6]

Jan Gonda states that the initial stages of Smriti texts structurally developed in the form of a new prose genre named Sūtras, that is "aphorism, highly compact precise expression that captured the essence of a fact, principle, instruction or idea".[8] This brevity in expression, states Gonda, was likely necessitated by the fact that writing technology had not developed yet or not in vogue, in order to store growing mass of knowledge, and all sorts of knowledge was transferred from one generation to the next through the process of memorization, verbal recitation and listening in the 1st millennium BCE. Compressed content allowed more essential, densely structured knowledge to be memorized and verbally transferred to the next generation in ancient India.[8]

Earliest Smriti on Hindu Law: Dharma-sūtras

The root texts of ancient Hindu jurisprudence and law are the Dharma-sūtras. These express that Shruti, Smriti and Acara are sources of jurisprudence and law.[9] The precedence of these sources is declared in the opening verses of each of the known, surviving Dharma-sūtras. For example,[9]

The source of Dharma is the Veda, as well as the tradition [Smriti], and practice of those who know the Veda. – Gautama Dharma-sūtra 1.1-1.2

The Dharma is taught in each Veda, in accordance with which we will explain it. What is given in the tradition [Smriti] is the second, and the conventions of cultured people are the third. – Baudhayana Dharma-sūtra 1.1.1-1.1.4

The Dharma is set forth in the vedas and the Traditional Texts [Smriti]. When these do not address an issue, the practice of cultured people becomes authoritative. – Vāsiṣṭha Dharma-sūtra 1.4-1.5

— Translated by Donald Davis, The Spirit of Hindu Law[9]

Later Smriti on Hindu Law: Dharma-smriti

The Smritis, such as Manusmriti, Naradasmriti, Yajnavalkya Smrti and Parashara Smriti, expanded this definition, as follows,

वेदोऽखिलो धर्ममूलं स्मृतिशीले च तद्विदाम् । आचारश्चैव साधूनामात्मनस्तुष्टिरेव च ॥

Translation 1: The whole Veda is the (first) source of the sacred law, next the tradition and the virtuous conduct of those who know the (Veda further), also the customs of holy men, and (finally) self-satisfaction (Atmanastushti).[10]
Translation 2: The root of the religion is the entire Veda, and (then) the tradition and customs of those who know (the Veda), and the conduct of virtuous people, and what is satisfactory to oneself.[11]

— Manusmriti 2.6

वेदः स्मृतिः सदाचारः स्वस्य च प्रियमात्मनः । एतच्चतुर्विधं प्राहुः साक्षाद् धर्मस्य लक्षणम् ॥

Translation 1: The Veda, the sacred tradition, the customs of virtuous men, and one's own pleasure, they declare to be the fourfold means of defining the sacred law.[10]
Translation 2: The Veda, tradition, the conduct of good people, and what is pleasing to oneself – they say that is four fold mark of religion.[11]

— Manusmriti 2.12

The Yajnavalkya Smriti includes four Vedas, six Vedangas, Purana, Nyaya, Mimamsa and other sastras, in addition to the ethical conduct of the wise, as sources of knowledge and through which sacred law can be known. It explains the scope of the Dharma as follows,

Rites, proper conduct, Dama (self-restraint), Ahimsa (non-violence), charity, self-study, work, realisation of Atman (Self, Soul) through Yoga – all these are Dharma.[12][13]

— Yajnavalkya Smriti 1.8

Levinson states that the role of Shruti and Smriti in Hindu law is as a source of guidance, and its tradition cultivates the principle that "the facts and circumstances of any particular case determine what is good or bad".[14] The later Hindu texts include fourfold sources of Dharma, states Levinson, which include Atmanastushti (satisfaction of one's conscience), Sadacara (local norms of virtuous individuals), Smriti and Sruti.[14]

Bhasya on Dharma-smriti

Medhatithi's philosophical analysis of and commentary on criminal, civil and family law in Dharmasastras, particularly of Manusmriti, using Nyaya and Mimamsa theories, is the oldest and the most widely studied tertiary Smriti.[15][16][17]

Smritis can be Amended

Swami Ranganathananda[3] says Smritis come and go. He mentions that Hindus have the courage to change our Smritis and develop a new Smriti in tune with contemporary thinking. For that you need great teachers - for they have the spiritual knowledge and authority to do this. That authority does not come from a status of "Pope" or "Bishop" or any religious authority. It come from spiritual realization. This courage to change a Smriti peacefully is purely a Hindu heritage.

See also


  1. Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty (1988), Textual Sources for the Study of Hinduism, Manchester University Press, ISBN 0-7190-1867-6, pages 2-3
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Swami Sivananda, All About Hinduism, Page 35-37
  3. 3.0 3.1 Ranganathananda, S. (2000). Universal Message of the Bhagavad Gītā: An Exposition of the Gītā in the Light of Modern Thought and Modern Needs. Vol. 1. Advaita Ashrama.
  4. 4.0 4.1 smRti Monier-Williams' Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon, Germany
  5. Gerald Larson (1993), The Trimūrti of Smṛti in classical Indian thought, Philosophy East and West, Vol. 43, No. 3, pages 373-388
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Gavin Flood (1996), An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521438780, pages 53-56
  7. John E. Mitchiner (2000), Traditions of the Seven Rsis, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120813243, page xviii
  8. 8.0 8.1 Jan Gonda (1977), The Ritual Sutras, in A History of Indian Literature: Veda and Upanishads, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 978-3447018234, pages 466-474
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Donald Davis (2010), The Spirit of Hindu Law, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521877046, page 27
  10. 10.0 10.1 The Laws of Manu 2.6 with footnotes George Bühler (Translator), The Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 25, Oxford University Press
  11. 11.0 11.1 Brian Smith and Wendy Doniger (1992), The Laws of Manu, Penguin, ISBN 978-0140445404, pages 17-18
  12. Yajnavalkya Smriti, Srisa Chandra Vidyarnava (Translator), The Sacred Books of the East, Vol 21, page 15;
    Srirama Ramanujachari, Yajñavalkya Smṛti, Dharma Teachings of Yajñavalkya, Srimantham Math, Madras
  13. Sanskrit: Yajnavalkya Smriti page 27;
    Transliteration: Yajnavalkya-Smrti Chapter 1, Thesaurus Indogermanischer Text und Sprachmaterialien, Germany; Quote: "Ijya Acāra Dama Ahimsa Dāna Svādhyāya Karmanam, Ayam tu Paramo Dharma yad Yogena Atman Darshanam"
  14. 14.0 14.1 David Levinson (2002), Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment, Volume 1, SAGE Publications, ISBN 978-0761922582, page 829
  15. Donald Davis (2010), The Spirit of Hindu Law, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521877046, pages 27-29
  16. Donald Davis (2006), A realist view of Hindu law, Ratio Juris, Vol. 19, Issue 3, pages 287-313
  17. Medhatithi - History of Dharmasastra PV Kane;
    Also see: G JHA (1920), Manu Smrti with Bhasya of Medhatithi, 5 vols, University of Calcutta Press


  1. Brick, David. “Transforming Tradition into Texts: The Early Development of Smrti. ‘‘Journal of Indian Philosophy’’ 34.3 (2006): 287–302.
  2. Davis, Jr. Donald R. Forthcoming. The Spirit of Hindu Law.
  3. Filliozat, Pierre-Sylvain (2004), "Ancient Sanskrit Mathematics: An Oral Tradition and a Written Literature", in Chemla, Karine; Cohen, Robert S.; Renn, Jürgen; et al., History of Science, History of Text (Boston Series in the Philosophy of Science), Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, 254 pages, pp. 137-157, pp. 360–375, ISBN 9781402023200<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Lingat, Robert. 1973. The Classical Law of India. Trans. J. Duncan M. Derrett. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  5. Rocher, Ludo. “Hindu Conceptions of Law. ‘‘Hastings Law Journal’’ 29.6 (1978): 1284–1305.
  6. Staal, Frits (1986), The Fidelity of Oral Tradition and the Origins of Science, Mededelingen der Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie von Wetenschappen, Afd. Letterkunde, NS 49, 8. Amsterdam: North Holland Publishing Company, 40 pages<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links