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Dharmashastras (Samskrit : धर्मशास्त्राणि) are the texts that have discussed the dharmas extensively in a comprehensive manner. Unlike the Vedas which have short incidental statements and references to dharmas, these voluminous books deal with socio-economic, moral and judicial aspects in an organized manner drawing their reference from Vedas. They address many aspects unique to Sanatana Dharma such as Samskaras, Shaucha, Prayaschitta, Shraddha, Srtidharma and many others. Apart from Vedas, the Kalpa Sutra works (Dharmasutras), Itihasas and Puranas included under Vaidika Vangmaya have greatly influenced the development of Dharmashastras.
The time of composition of Dharmashastras is beyond the scope of discussion of this article.
Dharmashastra works are related to the society and are bound to display changes and modifications in the older tradition. The conduct of man has reference to his surroundings as well as to himself. The concept of "two sides of a coin" such as right and wrong, the good and bad, love and hate etc all depend upon the scheme of evolution of the beings and cannot be described independently of that scheme. Thus the determination of what is right or good has to be done carefully for the higher good of existence and not just individuals or a class of beings. Any such judgement has to be in congruity with the general goal of human evolution. Reference to many such details have been supplied to us by the rshis and maharshis, who have not only left the scheme of evolution of our world systems, but also have left to us the general rules for dealing with human, other forms of life as well as inanimate things.
For instance, the dharmas for the four Ashramas refer to the facts and laws of individual evolution; and the dharmas for the four Varnas govern the facts and laws of human evolution at large, including those about laws for ruling the states, division of labour and social organization. The conditions of the Ashramas and Varnas exhaust all possible situations in the whole life of the present day humanity, thus many rules of Sanatana Dharma are applicable in modern day socio-economic situations.