Vedas and Dharma (वेदाः धर्मः च)

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Vedas (वेदाः) and Dharma (धर्मः) have been the pillars on which Sanatana Dharma (सनातनधर्मः) stood ground since time immemorial. That Vedas are the source of all Dharma (in moral, social, religious, judicial, and spiritual sense) is irrefutably advocated by all authoritative texts of our Bharatiya Samskrtika Parampara. The word Dharma (धर्मः), for which no word of any language can be substituted, is used erroneously and loosely in the sense of sanctioning various unrighteous deeds in the name of changing society and times by different people all over the globe.

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

धर्मः ॥ Dharma is a samskrit expression of the widest import. There is no corresponding word for Dharma in any other world language as it is a unique and ancient concept promulgated by rshis since times immemorial. Any single definition of Dharma would be an insufficient attempt to define the word. It can only be explained and has a wide variety of meanings. The extensive vedic literature has shown the irrevocable link between Dharma and Vedas, a few instances are presented here.

व्युत्पत्तिः ॥ Etymology

The samskrit word veda (वेदः | knowledge, wisdom) is derived from the धातुः (root) विद् (vid) - ज्ञाने (वेत्ति) in the meaning "to know" (Dhatupatha 1064)[1]. Apart from this, Veda is derived from विद् (vid) धातुः with the addition of Bhavarthaka (भावर्थकः), Karmarthaka (कर्मार्थकः ) and Karanarthaka (करणार्थकः) "धम" Dhama pratyaya (प्रत्ययः | suffix) to form the meanings "knowledge, pertaining to knowledge and instrument of knowledge" respectively (See Page 2 footnote 1 for further reference).[2]

वेद्यन्ते ज्ञाप्यन्ते धर्मादिपुरुशार्थचतुष्ठयोपाया येन स वेदः। vedyante jñāpyante dharmādipuruśārthacatuṣṭhayopāyā yena sa vedaḥ।

Meaning: That which is the means for obtaining the knowledge of Dharma and other (अर्थः ॥ Artha, कामः ॥ Kama and मोक्षः ॥ Moksha) purusharthas is called Veda.[2] Thus, the inseparable link between Dharma and Vedas is well established by scholars in many instances.

Here below we can see a few instances where such a link between Vedas and Dharma has been expressed.


A word whose exact meaning cannot be given in English or any other language, Dharma appears to be used in Rigveda as an adjective or noun in the form of dharman (धर्मन्) in neuter gender. The word is clearly derived from dhatu धृञ् (in the meaning धारणे) meaning - "to uphold, to support, to nourish".[3]

  • Dharma is used in the sense of - 'upholder or supporter or sustainer' as in Rigveda (1.187.1 and 10.92.2 and 10.21.3)[3]
  • It is used in sense of religious ordinances or rites
  • It is also used as notation for fixed principles or rules of conduct

Aitareya Brahmana mentions a whole body of religious duties associated with Dharma.

स्मृतिः॥ Smrtis

Smrtis are the Dharmashastra granthas, given by seers as the 'remembered texts'.

 मनुस्मृतिः ॥ Manusmriti

Manusmriti has attached great importance to the Vedas and primarily advocates that the source of Dharma are the Vedas.

वेदोऽखिलो धर्ममूलं स्मृतिशीले च तद्विदाम् । आचारश्चैव साधूनां आत्मनस्तुष्टिरेव च । । २.६ । । (Manu. Smri. 2.6)[4][5]

vedo'khilo dharmamūlaṃ smṛtiśīle ca tadvidām । ācāraścaiva sādhūnāṃ ātmanastuṣṭireva ca । । 2.6 । ।(Manu. Smri. 2.6)

Meaning: Indeed ! Vedas are the source of all Dharma. Secondly it’s source is attributed to tradition and the virtuous conduct of those who follow the Veda, thirdly, to the customs of holy men and finally आत्मसन्तुष्टिः || Atmasantushti (satisfaction of the inner self).[1][6]

धर्मजिज्ञासानां प्रमाणं परमं श्रुतिः ॥ (Manu. Smri. 2.3)[4]

dharmajijñāsānāṃ pramāṇaṃ paramaṃ śrutiḥ ॥ (Manu. Smri. 2.3)

Meaning : For those greatly interested seekers of Dharma, the Vedas (श्रुति-s || Shrutis) are the highest authorities.[6] That the Vedas are the very treasure house of all Dharma, i.e. religion, morality, righteousness, and good conduct, was unequivocally and unquestionably proclaimed by मनुः ॥ Manu, the first Law-giver after the Vedas as follows:

बिभर्ति सर्वभूतानि वेदशास्त्रं सनातनम् । तस्मादेतत्परं मन्ये यज्जन्तोरस्य साधनम् । । १२.९९ । । (Manu. Smri. 12.99)[7]

bibharti sarvabhūtāni vedaśāstraṃ sanātanam । tasmādetatparaṃ manye yajjantorasya sādhanam । । 12.99 । ।

Meaning: The eternal Veda shastra upholds or protects all beings (by being their flawless guideline). Those endeavoring for the welfare of all beings, regard Vedas as their supreme authoritative instrument in achieving it.

याज्ञवल्क्य-स्मृतिः ॥ Yajnavalkya Smrti

The Yajnavalkya Smrti, on which is based the present day Hindu Law, claims it's foundation on Vedas. According to Brhadyogi-Yajnavalkya-Smrti (Page No. 11 of Ved aur Vedarth)[6][8][9]

न वेदशास्त्रादन्यत्तु किंचिच्छास्त्रं हि विद्यते । निःसृतं सर्वशास्त्रं तु वेदशास्त्रात् सनातनम् ॥ (Brha. Smri . 12.1)

na vedaśāstrādanyattu kiṃcicchāstraṃ hi vidyate । niḥsṛtaṃ sarvaśāstraṃ tu vedaśāstrāt sanātanam ॥ (Brha. Smri . 12.1)

Meaning : There are no greater shastras other than the Vedas, as all shastras arose from the eternal Veda shastras only.

अत्रि-स्मृतिः ॥ Atri Smrti

Atri Smrti attributes the highest position of a गुरुः ॥ Guru (teacher) to Vedas[6]

नास्ति वेदात् परं शास्त्रं, नास्ति मातु:समो गुरु: || (Atri. Smri. 5.148)

nāsti vedāt paraṃ śāstraṃ, nāsti mātu:samo guru: || (Atri. Smri. 5.148)

Meaning: There is no other shastra greater than Vedas, just as there is no greater Guru than the mother (to the child).

उपनिषदः ॥ Upanishads

Chandogya Upanishad - peculiar duties of asramas and dharma came to mean 'duties and privileges of a person as a member of the Aryan community, as a member of the one of the varnas or as in a particular stage of life.

Same meaning is seen in Taittriya Upanishad (1.2) Bhagavadgita, and Manusmrti.

मुण्डक-उपनिषद् ॥ Mundaka Upanishad

The Upanishad texts base their spiritual philosophy on Vedas and describe the origin of vedas to be from the परब्रह्मन् ॥ Parabrahma (Infinite Consciousness).[6][10]

तस्मादृच: साम यजूंषि दीक्षा || tasmādṛca: sāma yajūṃṣi dīkṣā || (Mund. Upan. 2.1.6)[11]

Meaning: From Him (the परब्रह्मन् ॥ Parabrahma) arise the the mantras of ऋक् ॥ Rig, यजुस् ॥ Yajus and साम ॥ Sama vedas.[6]

बृहदारण्यक-उपनिषद् ॥ Brhdaranyaka Upanishad

....एतस्य वा महतो भूतस्य नि:श्वसितमेतद् यद् ऋग्वेदो यजुर्वेद: सामवेदोऽथर्वाङ्गिरस .... || (Brih. Upan. 4.5.11)[12]

....etasya vā mahato bhūtasya ni:śvasitametad yad ṛgvedo yajurveda: sāmavedo'tharvāṅgirasa .... || (Brih. Upan. 4.5.11)

Meaning: From the breath (exhalation) of this Supreme Being have arisen the ऋग्वेदः ॥ Rigveda, यजुर्वेदः ॥ Yajurveda, सामवेदः ॥ Samaveda and अथर्वणवेदः ॥ Atharvanaveda.[6]

महानारायणोपनिषद् ॥ Mahanarayanopanishad

धर्मो विश्वस्य जगतः प्रतिष्ठा लोके धर्मिष्ठ प्रजा उपसर्पन्ति धर्मेण पापमपनुदति धर्मे सर्वं प्रतिष्ठितं तस्माद्धर्मं परमं वदन्ति ॥ ७॥ (Mahanarayana. Upan. 79.7)[13]

Meaning : Dharma is the

महाभारतम् ॥ Mahabharata

महर्षिः वेदव्यासः ॥ Maharshi Vedavyasa in महाभारतम् ॥ Mahabharata extols that Vedas are the path of life for all beings.

अनादिनिधनानित्या, वागुत्सृष्टा स्वयम्भुवा | आदौ वेदमयी दिव्या, यत: सर्वा: प्रवृत्तय: || (Maha. Shan. 232.24)[14]

anādinidhanānityā, vāgutsṛṣṭā svayambhuvā | ādau vedamayī divyā, yata: sarvā: pravṛttaya: || (Maha. Shan. 232.24)

Meaning : In the beginning of सृष्टिः ॥ Srishti, the self existent Creator, revealed the Eternal and Divine Vedas, as they show the path for all activities of every being.[6]

षड्-दर्शनानि ॥ Shad Darshanas

Shad Darshanas, include साङ्ख्यः ॥ Sankhya, वैशेषिकः ॥ Vaisheshika, न्यायः ॥ Nyaya, पूर्वमीमांसा ॥ Purva Mimamsa, उत्तरमीमांसा ॥ Uttara Mimamsa (वेदान्तः ॥ Vedanta) and योगः ॥ Yoga. As they are deeply rooted in vedic principles, they are called आस्तिक-दर्शनानि ॥ Astika darshanas according to many scholars. Although some believe that Sankhya is not an Astika Darshana.

न्याय-दर्शनम् ॥ Nyaya Darshana

गौतम-महर्षिः ॥ Gautama maharshi gave the न्याय-शास्त्रम् ॥ Nyaya shastra to the world. It is also classified as one of the उपाङ्ग-s || Upangas which, as part of the Vaidika vangmaya, is important to understand Vedas.

मन्त्रायुर्वेदप्रामाण्यवच्च तत्प्रामाण्यमाप्तप्रामाण्यात् || (Nyay. Shas. 2.1.69)[15]

mantrāyurvedaprāmāṇyavacca tatprāmāṇyamāptaprāmāṇyāt || (Nyay. Shas. 2.1.69)

Meaning: Just like the mantras (spells) counteract the poisons and Ayurveda (medical science) prescribes reliable remedies (for diseases and prevention of disease) with authority (as they are given by the maharshis and sages who are authoritative about the subjects), so also Vedas are standard (unequivocal guidelines), as the मन्त्रद्रष्ट-s || mantra drastas or ऋषि-s || rushis to whom they were revealed are the righteous sages.[6]

वैशेषिक-दर्शनम् ॥ Vaisheshika Darshana

कणाद-महर्षिः ॥ Kanada maharshi who authored the वैशेषिक-शास्त्रम् ॥ Vaisheshika shastra also considers that the Vedas were revealed by Supreme Being

तद्वचनादाम्नायस्य प्रामाण्यम् । वैशेषिक-१,१.३ । (Vais. Shas. 1.1.3)[16]

tadvacanādāmnāyasya prāmāṇyam । vaiśeṣika-1,1.3 । (Vais. Shas. 1.1.3)

In expounding पदार्थानां धर्म ॥ padārthānāṃ dharmaḥ (nature of matter), Kanada took for प्रमाणम् ॥ pramana (source of valid knowledge), the Vedas (आम्नायः ॥ Amnaya)

मीमांसा ॥ Mimamsa

पूर्वमीमांसा ॥ Purva mimamsa deals extensively with कर्मकाण्डः ॥ Karmakanda while उत्तरमीमांसा ॥ Uttara mimamsa (वेदान्तः ॥ Vedanta) deals with मोक्षकाण्डः ॥ Mokshakanda of vedas. Mimamsa attained significance as many vedic interpretations are based and debated on the basis of the logic and rules set forth by this shastra.

नित्यस्तु स्याद् दर्शनस्य परार्थत्वात् || (Mima. Shas. 1.1.18)

nityastu syād darśanasya parārthatvāt || (Mima. Shas. 1.1.18)

धर्मः ॥ Dharma

महाभारतम् ॥ Mahabharata which is acclaimed as the मानव-कर्तव्य-शास्त्रम् || Manava kartavya shastra, has a discussion on this topic in the form of conversation between युधिष्ठिरः ॥ Yudhishthira and भीष्मः ॥ Bhishma thus. (Pt. Ramnarayan's Mahabharata: Volume 4[17] and Vol 5 Shanti Parva Page 323)[18]

तादृशोऽयमनुप्रश्नो यत्र धर्मः सुदुर्लभः । दुष्करः प्रतिसंख्यातुं तत्केनात्र व्यवस्यति ॥(Maha. Shanti. 109. 9)

प्रभावार्थाय भूतानां धर्मप्रवचनं कृतम् । यः स्यात्प्रभवसंयुक्तः स धर्म इति निश्चयः ॥ (Maha. Shanti. 109. 11)

tādṛśo'yamanupraśno yatra dharmaḥ sudurlabhaḥ | duṣkaraḥ pratisaṃkhyātuṃ tatkenātra vyavasyati || (Maha. Shanti. 109.9)

prabhāvārthāya bhūtānāṃ dharmapravacanaṃ kṛtam | yaḥ syātprabhavasaṃyuktaḥ sa dharma iti niścayaḥ || (Maha. Shanti. 109.11)

Meaning : It is most difficult to define Dharma. Dharma has been explained to be that which helps the upliftment of living beings. Therefore, that which helps ensure the welfare of living beings is surely Dharma. The learned rishis have declared that which sustains is Dharma.

धारणाद् धर्म इत्याहुर्धर्मो धारयते प्रजाः | यत् स्याद् धारणसंयुक्तं स धर्म इति निश्चयः || (Maha. Karna. 69-58)

dhāraṇād dharma ityāhurdharmo dhārayate prajāḥ | yat syād dhāraṇasaṃyuktaṃ sa dharma iti niścayaḥ || (Maha. Karna. 69-58)

Meaning : The above verse eulogizes Dharma as follows Dharma sustains the society, Dharma maintains the social order, Dharma ensures the well being and progress of humanity, Dharma is surely that which fulfills these objectives

Therefore, Dharma embraces every type of righteous conduct, covering every aspect of life essential for the sustenance and welfare of the individual and society and includes those rules which guide and enable those who believe in God and heaven to attain मोक्षः || moksha (eternal bliss).

The necessity of scrupulous practice of Dharma is forcefully expressed in Manusmriti thus:

धर्म एव हतो हन्ति धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः | तस्माध्दर्मो न हन्तव्यो मा नो धर्मो हतोऽवधीत्  || (Manu 6-11-15)[5]

dharma eva hato hanti dharmo rakṣati rakṣitaḥ | tasmādhdarmo na hantavyo mā no dharmo hato'vadhīt || (Manu 6-11-15)

Meaning : Dharma protects those who protect it. Those who destroy Dharma, get destroyed. Therefore, Dharma should not be destroyed so that we may not be destroyed as a consequence thereof.

 संवादः ॥ Discussion

There are different versions and ways in which many shlokas and mantras have been interpreted by different scholars across ages. Enforcement of Dharma was of prime importance since Vedic era.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Patel, Gautam. (1999). Traditional Vedic Interpretations. New Delhi : Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan
  2. 2.0 2.1 Singh, Ahilya. (2010) PhD Thesis Title: Pracheen bharat mein aarthik jeevan prarambh se vaidik kaal tak. V. B. S. Purvanchal University.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Kane, Pandurang Vaman. (1930) History of Dharmasastra (Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law), Volume 1. Poona : Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute
  4. 4.0 4.1 Manusmriti (Adhyaya 2)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Kumar, S. (1996). The Vishuddha Manusmriti. Delhi:Arsh Sahitya Prachar Trust.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 Acharya Dharma Deva Vidya Martanda. (2002). The Rigveda, with Maharishi Dayanand Saraswati's commentary, English translation, Vol I. New Delhi:Sarvadeshik Arya Pratinidhi Sabha.
  7. Manusmriti (Adhyaya 12)
  8. Shastri, Jwalanth Kumar. (2009) Ved aur vedarth Rajasthan: Sri Ghudhmal Prahladkumar Arya Dharmarth Nyasa
  9. Gharote. M. L. (1982) Brhadyogi-yagnavalkya-smriti, English Translation Lonavla : Kaivalyadhama S. M. Y. M. Samiti
  10. Swami Sharvananda (1920) Mundaka and Mandukya Upanishads, Madras:Sri Ramakrishna Math
  11. The Works of Sri Sankaracharya (1910) The Upanishad Bhashya - Munda, Mandukya, & Aitereya. Vol 5 Srirangam: Sri Vani Vilas Press
  12. Brhdaranyaka Upanishad (Adhyaya 4)
  13. Mahanarayanopanishad (All Anuvakas)
  14. Shri Mahabharatam (Shanti Parva)
  15. Nyaya Shastra of Goutama
  16. Vaisheshika Sutras
  17. Shastri. Pt Ramnarayan. (1955). Mahabharata Vol.4. Gorakhpur:Gita Press.
  18. Shastri. Pt Ramnarayan. (1955). Mahabharata Vol.5. Gorakhpur:Gita Press.