Analyzing the Importance of Ancient Sources of Law in the Indian Legal System
Indian law refers to the system that operates in India and handles its day to day functioning. Even before the present day laws came into existence, India was governed by a set of ancient day laws which can be broadly classified as:
Shruti means "something that is heard". The early time rishis and munis attained the heights of spirituality when the studied and presented the knowledge of the Vedas.
Shrutis refer to the four Vedas of Indian history namely Rig, Yajur, Sam, and Athrava Vedas along with their brahmanas. The brahmanas are nothing but appendices to the Vedas as you would speak in modern terms. Vedas explain the concepts of sacrifices, rituals, and customs. Vedas constitute of laws and knowledge that is to be used in day to day life is of utter importance. The Vedic society was distributed in varns and life was divided into stages known as ashramas. The concept of karma also came into existence during the Vedic age. Society was governed as per the rules and regulations mentioned in the Vedas.
Smrit means "something that is remembered". With the concept of smrutis, people started learning the Vedas. The concept written in the Vedas were the strong influencing factor behind the various stages of framing of Indian laws. The then time experienced a need of regulation in the society and thus the study of Vedas and their incorporation to local customs and traditions became the prime focus. The smrutis can be broadly classified into two - Early smritis (Dharma sutras) and Later smritis (Dharmashastras).
These dharmasutras were framed during 800 to 200 BC and contain verses. They were envisioned as the training manuals for teaching students. These generally bear the name of their authors and the shakhas to which they belong. These Dharmasutras tried to put light on the duties of a man in various relationships.
Gautama – From the Sam Veda he mainly talks about partition and inheritance along with the concept of stridhan.
Baudhayan - He is from the Krishna Yajurved School and mainly talks about marriage, sonship, and inheritance.
Apastamba – He also is from the Krishna Yajurveda School and was the one to reject prajapatya marriage.
Vashistha – Belonging to North India he followed the Rigveda School and recognized remarriage of virgin widows.
Dharmashastras are metrical verses that were based of Dharmasutras. They were more clear and focused on Aachara, Vyavahar and Prayaschitta. The three most important Dharmashastras are
This is the earliest and most important of all. Manusmriti brings together the laws in the smrutis versed before. It also binds everybody to follow law or otherwise face the “danda”. Manusmriti was constructed in 200 BC.
Written after Manusmruti, this is an utterly important smruti. It is lot more logical and appealing. He gives more importance to customs but consider the king to be below the law. This was composed in around 0 BC.
Narada Smriti is the most preserved one. It deals mainly with civil laws. It is very logical and precise by nature and was composed in 200 AD.
3. COMMENTARIES AND DIGESTS
The work that puts light on a particular smriti is called a commentary. Commentaries were framed in period following 200 AD. Digests on the other hands explained the materialistic contents of all smrutis. Some of the notable commentaries were manubhashya, manutika, and mitakshara.
These texts mainly aimed at the unification of knowledge scattered in the previous texts and present a combined effort for the all-round development and benefit of the society.
Most of the laws being followed today are derived from various customs and traditions followed by people round the globe. Customs have been provided special importance even in the smrutis. The kings were advised to make their decisions keeping the customs in mind. There are four types of customs:
1. Local Customs – These customs are confined to a particular geographical region.
2. Family Customs – The customs followed in a particular family through a long time are called Family customs.
3. Caste and Community Customs – These are the customs followed by a particular community/group for a large period of time.
4. Guild Customs - These are the customs that are followed by traders.
These ancient influences in our Indian laws are really majestic and still find their existence and influence in modern India.