Dharmashastra Smriti Refer to the Treatises on Dharma

Dharmashastra Smriti (धर्मशास्त्र स्मृति) are Sanskrit texts on law and conduct and refer to the treatises (śāstras) on Dharma. Unlike Dharmasutra which are based upon Vedas, these texts are mainly based on Puranas. There are many Dharmashastra Smriti, variously estimated to be 18 to about 100, with different and conflicting points of view. Each of these texts exists in many different versions, and each is rooted in Dharmasutra texts dated to the 1st millennium BCE that emerged from Kalpa (Vedanga) studies in the Vedic era. Dharmashastra Smriti became influential in modern colonial Indian history when they were formulated by early British colonial administrators to be the law of the land for all non-Muslims (Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs) in the Indian subcontinent, after Sharia set by Emperor Aurangzeb, was already accepted as the law for Muslims in colonial India.


“Dharmashastra Smriti” refers to a category of ancient Indian texts that are part of the broader body of Hindu religious and legal literature.

Dharmashastra: Dharmashastra refers to the religious and legal texts in Hinduism that provide guidelines for ethical and moral conduct, social duties, and legal principles. These texts often cover a wide range of topics including personal conduct, family law, social ethics, and governance. Dharmashastra texts are considered authoritative in Hindu tradition and are often attributed to sages and scholars of ancient India. Smriti: Smriti means “that which is remembered” and refers to a category of Hindu scriptures that are considered secondary in authority to the Vedas but are still highly respected. Smriti’s texts include religious and legal codes, epics, and other narrative literature. Unlike the Vedas, which are considered to be divinely revealed and eternal, Smriti texts are believed to be authored by human sages and are subject to modification over time.

What are Smritis?
Dharmashastra Smriti Includes Religious and Legal Codes

Purpose of Dharmashastra Smriti

The purpose of Dharmashastra Smriti is multifaceted and can be understood in several dimensions:

Ethical and Moral Guidance

One of the primary purposes of Dharmashastra Smriti is to guide ethical and moral conduct. These texts outline principles and guidelines for individuals to lead virtuous lives, uphold righteousness, and fulfill their social and familial duties.

Legal and Social Framework

Dharmashastra Smriti texts also serve as a legal and social framework for Hindu society. They offer principles of governance, administration of justice, family law, inheritance, and social order. These texts help in the regulation of societal relationships, resolving disputes, and maintaining harmony within the community.

Preservation of Tradition

Dharmashastra Smriti texts play a crucial role in preserving and transmitting Hindu traditions, customs, and cultural practices across generations. They contain narratives, rituals, and codes of conduct that reflect the values and beliefs of ancient Indian society.

Spiritual Development

Many Dharmashastra Smriti texts incorporate spiritual teachings and practices aimed at promoting personal growth and enlightenment. They offer insights into the nature of existence, the pursuit of dharma (righteousness), and the paths to spiritual liberation (moksha).

Social Cohesion and Harmony

By providing guidelines for ethical living and social conduct, Dharmashastra Smriti’s texts contribute to the cohesion and harmony of Hindu society. They promote values such as compassion, tolerance, respect for elders, and social justice, fostering a sense of unity and cooperation among community members.

Overall, the purpose of Dharmashastra Smriti is to provide a comprehensive framework for individuals and society to lead righteous, harmonious, and fulfilling lives by Hindu principles and traditions.

Philosophy of Dharmashastra Smriti

The philosophy underlying Dharmashastra Smriti is deeply rooted in Hindu religious and philosophical traditions. Several key philosophical concepts shape the foundation of Dharmashastra Smriti:


Central to the philosophy of Dharmashastra Smriti is the concept of Dharma, which encompasses the moral, ethical, and religious duties and responsibilities of individuals within society. Dharma is often described as righteousness or duty and is believed to uphold the cosmic order (Rita). The texts emphasize the importance of adhering to one’s dharma in all aspects of life, including personal conduct, social interactions, and governance.


Dharmashastra Smriti’s texts are influenced by the concept of Karma, which denotes the law of cause and effect. According to this doctrine, individuals are responsible for their actions and will reap the consequences, whether in this life or the next. The texts emphasize the importance of performing righteous deeds (good karma) and avoiding unrighteous actions (bad karma) to attain spiritual progress and liberation.


The ultimate goal of life, according to Hindu philosophy, is Moksha, or liberation from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (samsara). Dharmashastra Smriti texts recognize Moksha as the highest spiritual attainment and emphasize the importance of leading a righteous and virtuous life as a means to attain liberation from the cycle of worldly existence.

Varṇa and Ashrama

Dharmashastra Smriti’s texts prescribe a social and occupational hierarchy based on the concepts of Varṇa (caste) and Ashrama (stages of life). According to this framework, society is divided into four main Varnas (castes) – Brahmins (priests and scholars), Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers), Vaishyas (merchants and farmers), and Shudras (laborers and service providers), each with its own set of duties and responsibilities. Additionally, life is divided into four Ashramas (stages) – Brahmacharya (student life), Grihastha (householder life), Vanaprastha (retired life), and Sannyasa (renounced life), with specific duties and goals associated with each stage.

Ahimsa and Compassion

Dharmashastra Smriti texts advocate for the principles of Ahimsa (non-violence) and compassion towards all living beings. While they acknowledge the necessity of upholding social order and administering justice, they also stress the importance of mitigating harm and promoting peace and harmony in society.

Overall, the philosophy of Dharmashastra Smriti is grounded in the principles of Dharma, Karma, Moksha, and the social and moral obligations of individuals within the framework of Hindu society. These texts provide guidelines for righteous living, spiritual growth, and harmonious coexistence by Hindu philosophical traditions.

Contents of Dharmashastra Smriti and Dharmasutras

Dharmashastra Smriti and Dharmasutras cover a wide range of topics related to ethics, morality, law, social duties, and religious practices in Hindu society. While both types of texts address similar subject matter, they differ in their style and approach. Here’s an overview of the typical contents of each:

Dharmashastra Smriti

Codes of Conduct

Dharmashastra Smriti’s texts provide detailed guidelines on personal conduct, social etiquette, and moral behavior. They outline the virtues that individuals should cultivate and the vices they should avoid.

Family Law

These texts offer principles and regulations concerning marriage, family structure, inheritance, adoption, and the duties of householders and family members.

Social Order and Hierarchy

Dharmashastra Smriti texts often discuss the varna (caste) system, varnashrama dharma (duties based on caste and stage of life), and the roles and responsibilities of different social groups within Hindu society.

Legal Principles and Justice

They provide insights into legal procedures, administration of justice, and punishment for crimes. They also discuss the concept of dandaniti (principles of governance and justice).

Religious Rituals and Practices

Dharmashastra Smriti texts prescribe rituals, ceremonies, and religious observances for individuals and households, including rites of passage, daily rituals, and festive celebrations.

Purification and Atonement

These texts elaborate on the concepts of purification (shuddhi) and atonement (prayashchitta) for sins or transgressions, along with the rituals and practices associated with them.


Legal and Social Codes

Dharmasutras are concise texts that focus primarily on legal and social codes of conduct. They provide succinct aphorisms and rules governing various aspects of life, including personal conduct, familial relationships, and societal obligations.


Dharmasutras offer insights into legal principles, judicial procedures, and the administration of justice in ancient Indian society. They discuss the qualifications of judges, rules of evidence, and methods of dispute resolution.

Customary Law

These texts often document prevalent customs, traditions, and practices observed in different regions and communities. They serve as a source of customary law and social norms.

Rituals and Sacraments

While Dharmasutras primarily focus on legal and social matters, they also include sections on rituals, sacraments, and religious duties. However, these topics are typically addressed in less detail compared to Dharmashastra Smriti texts.

Overall, both Dharmashastra Smriti and Dharmasutras provide valuable insights into the ethical, legal, social, and religious aspects of ancient Indian society, offering guidance for righteous living and harmonious community life.

DHARMASHASTRA(c. 600 B.C.—c. 200 A.D.)Gautama SutraApastamba SutraVasishtha SutraLaws of ManuVishnu Smriti | The Ethics of Suicide Digital Archive
Dharmashastra Smriti and Dharmasutras cover a wide range of topics related to ethics, morality, law, social duties, and religious practices in Hindu society.

Influence of Dharmashastra Smriti

Dharmashastra Smriti has been highly influential throughout the history of Hindu civilization, exerting a profound impact on religious, social, legal, and cultural practices in India and beyond. Here are several reasons why Dharmashastra Smriti is considered influential:

Religious Authority

Dharmashastra Smriti texts are regarded as authoritative scriptures within Hinduism, alongside the Vedas and the epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata. They provide guidelines for ethical conduct, moral behavior, and religious duties, shaping the spiritual lives of millions of Hindus.

Legal and Social Framework

Dharmashastra Smriti texts have served as foundational texts for Hindu law and social organization. They provide principles for governance, administration of justice, family law, inheritance, and caste-based regulations, influencing legal systems and social structures in ancient and medieval India.

Customary Practices

Many customary practices and traditions observed in Hindu society are based on the principles and injunctions found in Dharmashastra Smriti texts. These customs, ranging from marriage rituals to funeral ceremonies, continue to be an integral part of Hindu culture and identity.

Education and Scholarship

Dharmashastra Smriti has been a subject of study and scholarship for generations of Hindu scholars and intellectuals. The texts have been preserved, interpreted, and commented upon by numerous commentators and legal experts, contributing to the development of Hindu jurisprudence and religious philosophy.

Influence on Literature and Arts

Dharmashastra Smriti’s texts have inspired literary works, art forms, and cultural expressions across different regions of India. Themes, stories, and moral teachings from these texts are often depicted in literature, classical dance, music, and visual arts, reinforcing their cultural significance.

Continued Relevance

Despite being ancient texts, Dharmashastra Smriti continues to exert influence in contemporary Hindu society. While some aspects may have evolved or been adapted over time, the fundamental principles of dharma, ethics, and social responsibilities outlined in these texts remain relevant to many Hindus today.

Overall, Dharmashastra Smriti’s influence extends beyond religious and legal domains, shaping the worldview, values, and cultural practices of Hindu society for centuries. Its enduring relevance underscores its importance as a cornerstone of Hindu thought and tradition.

Teachings of Dharmashastra Smriti

The teachings of Dharmashastra Smriti encompass a wide array of ethical, social, legal, and religious principles that have been profoundly influential in shaping Hindu society and culture. Some of the key teachings include:


Emphasis on the concept of Dharma, which refers to righteousness, moral duty, and cosmic order. Dharmashastra Smriti teaches individuals to adhere to their respective dharmas, which vary based on factors such as caste, gender, stage of life, and social status.

Social Order

The texts prescribe a hierarchical social order based on the varna system, with specific duties and responsibilities assigned to each varna (caste). They also outline the principles of varnashrama dharma, which define the duties corresponding to different stages of life (ashramas).

Ethical Conduct

Dharmashastra Smriti emphasizes the importance of ethical conduct and moral virtues such as truthfulness, honesty, compassion, non-violence (ahimsa), patience, humility, and self-control. 

Family and Marriage

The texts provide guidelines for family life, marriage, and domestic duties. They outline the sacraments (samskaras) associated with various stages of life, such as marriage (vivaha), childbirth (samskara), and funeral rites (antyesti).

Legal Principles

Dharmashastra Smriti contains detailed legal principles and procedures governing civil and criminal law. It outlines rules for inheritance, property rights, contracts, and dispute resolution. The texts also discuss punishments for crimes and the principles of judicial administration.

Rituals and Worship

Dharmashastra Smriti prescribes rituals, ceremonies, and religious observances for individuals and households. It guides daily rituals (nitya karma), occasional rites (naimittika karma), and festive celebrations (utsavas).

Purification and Atonement

The texts elaborate on the concepts of purification (shuddhi) and atonement (prayashchitta) for sins or transgressions. They prescribe rituals and practices for purifying oneself spiritually and seeking forgiveness for wrongdoing.

Social Justice and Welfare

Dharmashastra Smriti advocates for social justice, equality, and welfare. It emphasizes the duty of individuals and rulers to protect the weak, vulnerable, and marginalized members of society and to promote the well-being of all.

Overall, the teachings of Dharmashastra Smriti provide a comprehensive ethical, social, legal, and religious framework for individuals and communities to lead righteous, harmonious, and fulfilling lives by Hindu principles and traditions. Despite being ancient texts, they continue to exert a significant influence on Hindu thought and practice to this day.

History of Dharmashastra Smriti

The history of Dharmashastra Smriti is complex and spans several millennia, evolving through various stages of development. Here’s a broad overview of its history:

Vedic Period (1500 BCE – 500 BCE)

  • The Vedas contain hymns, rituals, and philosophical teachings that laid the foundation for later Hindu religious and legal literature.
  • Early Vedic texts, such as the Rigveda and Atharvaveda, contain references to concepts of dharma and social order, providing the groundwork for the development of Dharmashastra.

Brahmana and Aranyaka Period (1000 BCE – 600 BCE)

The Brahmanas contain explanations and interpretations of Vedic rituals and sacrificial ceremonies, while the Aranyakas focus on philosophical contemplation and ascetic practices.

Dharmasutras Period (600 BCE – 200 BCE)

  • The Dharmasutras are a genre of ancient Indian texts that codify legal and social principles based on the Vedas. They provide concise aphorisms and rules governing various aspects of life, including ethics, law, and social conduct.
  • Prominent Dharmasutras include those attributed to Apastamba, Gautama, Baudhayana, and Vasistha. These texts form the earliest systematic treatises on dharma and serve as foundational works for later Dharmashastra literature.

Dharmashastra Smriti Period (200 BCE – 1000 CE)

  • The period from around 200 BCE to 1000 CE witnessed the emergence of Dharmashastra Smriti texts, which are more elaborate and systematic treatises on dharma and law.
  • Prominent Dharmashastra Smriti texts include the Manusmriti (Laws of Manu), Yajnavalkya Smriti, Narada Smriti, and Parashara Smriti. These texts provide comprehensive guidelines on ethics, morality, legal principles, and social organization.
  • Dharmashastra Smriti’s texts often reflect the influence of changing social and political contexts, as well as interactions with other philosophical and legal traditions in ancient India.

Medieval and Early Modern Period (1000 CE – 1800 CE)

During the medieval and early modern periods, Dharmashastra continued to be studied and commented upon by scholars and jurists across India.

Colonial Period and Modern Times (1800 CE – Present)

  • With the advent of British colonial rule in India, traditional systems of law and governance, including Dharmashastra, underwent significant transformations.
  • While Dharmashastra continued to be studied and practiced in traditional contexts, the impact of colonialism led to changes in legal systems and the emergence of modern legal codes influenced by Western jurisprudence.
  • Nevertheless, Dharmashastra remains an important source of religious, ethical, and legal guidance for many
  • Hindus, and continues to be studied and interpreted by scholars and practitioners in contemporary times.


In conclusion, Dharmashastra Smriti stands as a cornerstone of Hindu legal, ethical, and religious thought, offering a comprehensive framework for righteous living, social organization, and spiritual fulfillment. Rooted in ancient Vedic traditions, these texts provide guidelines for ethical conduct, family life, governance, and religious observances, reflecting the values and norms of ancient Indian society. Despite the passage of centuries, Dharmashastra Smriti remains relevant, exerting a profound influence on Hindu culture, legal systems, and moral philosophy. Its teachings continue to inspire individuals and communities to uphold principles of righteousness, compassion, and social justice, contributing to the preservation and transmission of Hindu traditions across generations. Through its enduring legacy, Dharmashastra Smriti serves as a timeless source of wisdom and guidance for navigating the complexities of human existence and striving toward spiritual liberation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Dharmashastra Smriti?

Dharmashastra Smriti refers to a category of ancient Hindu texts that provide guidelines for ethical conduct, social organization, legal principles, and religious practices. These texts form an essential part of Hindu religious and legal literature.

What is the significance of Dharmashastra Smriti?

They offer insights into the ethical, legal, and religious principles that govern Hindu society.

What topics are covered in Dharmashastra Smriti?

Dharmashastra Smriti addresses a wide range of topics, including ethical conduct, family law, social hierarchy, legal principles, religious rituals, purification rites, and social justice.

How do Dharmashastra Smriti texts differ from Dharmasutras?

Dharmashastra Smriti texts are more elaborate and systematic treatises on dharma and law, providing detailed guidelines and explanations. In contrast, Dharmasutras are concise texts that offer aphorisms and rules governing various aspects of life.

Are the teachings of Dharmashastra Smriti still relevant today?

Yes, the teachings of Dharmashastra Smriti continue to be studied and respected by many Hindus. 

How can one access Dharmashastra Smriti’s texts?

They are available in printed books. Online repositories, and academic journals, making them accessible to scholars, students, and practitioners interested in Hindu philosophy and law.

Are there different interpretations of Dharmashastra Smriti texts?

Yes, there are multiple interpretations and commentaries on Dharmashastra Smriti texts by scholars and practitioners. These interpretations may vary based on the cultural, historical, and philosophical perspectives of the commentators.

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dharma%C5%9B%C4%81stra

Related Posts


    1. Thanks a lot for your kind attitude and the precious words. Please stay tuned and have a nice day!!

    1. Thanks a lot for your kind attitude and the precious words. Please stay tuned and have a nice day!!

Comments are closed.