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

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

  • 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 Bharata 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. 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.

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.


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.[5]

The Four Sutra Charanas

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

श्रौतसूत्राणि || Shrautasutras

गृह्यसूत्राणि || Grhyasutras

धर्मसूत्राणि || Dharmasutras

शुल्बसूत्राणि || Sulbasutras

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. The 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.[1][6][7]

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. 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.

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, 7 kinds of Grhyayajnas, and Panchamahayajnas. These texts have no relationship with the Brahmanas. 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.

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 include Baudhayana and Apastamba Dharmasutras.

शुल्बसूत्राणि || Sulbasutras

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 Sulbasutras.

Vedas and Associated Sutra Works[7][4]
Vedas Shakas Shrautasutra Grhyasutra Dharmasutra Shulbasutra
Rigveda Ashvalayana Ashvalayana (आश्वलायनः) (Author Rshi Ashvalayana) Ashvalayana Vasishta None available
Shankhayana Shankhayana (शाङ्खायनः) Shankhayana (By Suyajna)
Kaushitaki Kaushitaki Kaushitaki (By Shambhavya) Vishnu dharmasutra
Shukla Yajurveda Vajasaneya Katyayana (कात्यायनः) (Author Rshi Katyayana) Paraskara Harita, Shankhalikhita Katyayana
Krishna Yajurveda Taittriya Baudhayana (बौधायनः)(Author Rshi Baudhayana), Apastamba (आपस्तम्बः)(Author Rshi Apastamba), Hiranyakeshi (हिरण्यकेशी), Vaikhanasa, Bharadvaja Baudhayana, Apastamba, Hiranyakeshi, Bharadvaja Baudhayana, Apastamba, Hiranyakeshi Baudhayana, Apastamba, Vadhula (वाधूलः)

Varaha (वाराहः)

Maitrayani Manava (मानवः) Manava Manava, Maitrayana
Katha Kathaka (काठक)
Samaveda Kauthuma Arsheya (आर्षेयः) (Rshi Mashaka), Latyayana (लाट्यायनः) Gobhila (गोभिल) None available
Ranayana Drahyayana (द्राह्यायनः) Khadira (खादिर)
Jaimini Jaiminiya (जैमिनीयः) Jaiminiya, Gautama and Chandogya Gautama (गौतमः)
Atharvaveda Vaitana (वैतानः) Kaushika (कौशिक) None available None available

Comparison of the Sutra Charanas

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

Shrautasutras, Grhyasutras and Dharmasutras- Contrasting Points[1][8]
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

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.

Shrauta and Grhyasutras

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, 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]

Grhyasutras and 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][8]

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.[8]


One of the prime occupations of the vedic people, performing yajnas, required altars or yajna-vedis of prescribed shapes and sizes. Sulbasutras 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 Sulbasutras 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.[9]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Gopal, Ram. (1959) India of Vedic Kalpasutras. Delhi : National Publishing House
  2. Manusmriti (3.147)
  3. Vachaspatyam Link for Kalpa Definition
  4. 4.0 4.1 Pt. Baldev Upadhyaya (1958) Vaidik Sahitya.
  5. Gopal, Ram. (1959) India of Vedic Kalpasutras. Delhi : National Publishing House
  6. Malladi, Sri. Suryanarayana Sastry (1982) Samskruta Vangmaya Charitra, Volume 1 Vaidika Vangmayam Hyderabad : Andhra Sarasvata Parishad
  7. 7.0 7.1 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)
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Kane, Pandurang Vaman. (1930) History of Dharmasastra (Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law), Volume 1. Poona : Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. (Pages 1-13)
  9. Prof. K. Ramasubramaniam's Lectures - Vedas and Sulbasutras, Parts 1 and 2