Mitakshara and Dayabhaga Schools

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Mitakshara and Dayabhaga are two schools of Hindu law that have shaped how inheritance laws work in India.

Mitakshara is a school of Hindu law commonly followed in the western and southern regions of India. It originates from a commentary written by Vijnaneswara in the 12th century on the Yajnavalkya Smriti. In this school, coparcenary is a key concept. This means that ancestral property is owned jointly by all male family members, who share equal rights to it. The Mitakshara school also acknowledges daughters’ right to inherit property, though with some limitations.

Dayabhaga is another school of Hindu law mainly practised in the eastern parts of India, particularly in Bengal. It comes from a commentary written by Jimutavahana in the 13th century on the Yajnavalkya Smriti. Unlike Mitakshara, Dayabhaga doesn’t consider coparcenary. Instead, it emphasises individual ownership of property. Inheritance of property in this school is based on the principle of lineal succession, where the nearest male relative in the family inherits the property. Daughters also have the right to inherit property under this school, but their rights are more restricted and subject to specific conditions.

Both Mitakshara and Dayabhaga schools have significantly influenced the development of Hindu personal and inheritance laws in India. The laws related to inheritance and succession in India keep evolving due to changes in laws and court decisions, affecting the rights of heirs and the rules governing inheritance.

History of Mitakshara and Dayabhaga Schools 

The history of the Mitakshara and Dayabhaga schools goes back to ancient India. These schools of Hindu law focus on property inheritance and individual rights to property.

Mitakshara School: The Mitakshara school was established by Vijnanesvara, a scholar from the Chalukya dynasty in the 12th century. His work, the Mitakshara, is a respected text on Hindu law, specifically a commentary on the Yajnavalkya Smriti. This school is mainly followed in North India and has wide influence.

In this school, the idea of family property is important, where all family members have a claim to ancestral property. The property is inherited through the male lineage and sons share it equally. The Mitakshara school also recognises the right to create a will to distribute property.

Dayabhaga School: The Dayabhaga School was founded by Jimutavahana, a 12th-century scholar from Bengal. His work, the Dayabhaga, is a significant text on Hindu law in Bengal. This school is mainly followed in Bengal and eastern India.

The Dayabhaga school emphasises personal ownership of property, allowing an owner to control its distribution. It acknowledges women’s right to inherit property, ensuring daughters receive an equal share of ancestral property. Unlike the Mitakshara school, joint family property isn’t a recognised concept here.

The Mitakshara and Dayabhaga schools differ in their views on property ownership and inheritance. While Mitakshara promotes joint family property, Dayabhaga supports individual ownership. These schools have shaped India’s legal system and continue to be practised across the country.

Mitakshara and Dayabhaga Schools

Mitakshara School

The Mitakshara school is a branch of Hindu law focused on inheritance and succession. The term “Mitakshara” means “commentary,” and the school is named after a text called the Mitakshara, which explains the Yajnavalkya Smriti.

Primarily practised in northern and western India, the Mitakshara school centres around joint family property. This means that property belongs collectively to the entire family rather than individual members.

Within the Mitakshara school, there are four ways property is inherited: 

  • by birth
  • by adoption
  • by will and 
  • by survival

The school also recognises coparcenary, ensuring all male descendants of a common ancestor share equal rights to ancestral property.

Stridhana, another concept in the Mitakshara school, refers to property women inherit through gifts or inheritance. This property is absolutely owned by the woman and can’t be taken by her husband or family members.

Sub Schools within the Mitakshara school:

1. Banaras School: Based in Banaras, this sub-school emphasises traditional Hindu texts as the ultimate authority in law, advocating strict adherence to them.

2. Mithila School: Found in the Mithila region (parts of Bihar, Jharkhand, Nepal), this branch promotes equal inheritance rights for daughters, differing from the traditional belief that only sons inherit.

3. Maharashtra School: Operating in Maharashtra, this sub-school interprets the law more liberally. It supports individual ownership rights, even if it contradicts joint family rules.

4. Andhra School: In Andhra Pradesh, this branch emphasises coparcenary, where the ancestral property is jointly owned by male heirs. Daughters’ rights are not considered equal here.

5. Dravida School: Prevalent in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, this school emphasises religious freedom, allowing individuals to follow their own beliefs despite traditional Hindu law.

These sub-schools emerged due to varying interpretations and regional influences. Though differing in some aspects, they all focus on joint family ownership and inheritance within the broader Mitakshara tradition.

Dayabhaga School

The Dayabhaga school is one of the two main schools of Hindu law in India, the other being the Mitakshara school. This school is predominantly practised in the eastern parts of India, notably in Bengal, Assam, Orissa and parts of Bihar.

The term “Dayabhaga” comes from Sanskrit, where “Daya” means compassion and “Bhaga” means share. This school places more importance on an individual’s right to property compared to the Mitakshara school. In the Dayabhaga school, an individual has complete control over their property’s distribution. Sons and daughters do not inherently inherit their parent’s property; inheritance follows either the deceased’s will or rules of inheritance based on the closeness of the relation.

The Dayabhaga school is renowned for its commentary on the Manusmriti (Hindu law code), authored by Jimutavahana. This commentary, known as the Dayabhaga, serves as the primary legal source for this school.

Within the Dayabhaga school, several sub-schools have emerged over time, each with distinctive features and interpretations:

  • Bengal School: This traditional sub-school highlights the mother’s role in inheritance and treats her equally with the father. It recognises a son’s right to inherit all his father’s property and emphasises joint family property.
  • Mayukha School: Based on the Mayukha commentary on the Yajnavalkya Smriti, this sub-school emphasises the eldest son’s right to inherit all paternal property and acknowledges the father’s freedom to divide property as desired.
  • Vyavahara Matrika School: Drawing from the Vyavahara Matrika commentary, this sub-school stresses the role of written documents in determining inheritance. It acknowledges daughters’ and widows’ right to inherit property.
  • Dattaka Mimamsa School: Built on the Dattaka Mimamsa text on adoption, this sub-school highlights adoption’s significance in inheritance. It considers the adopted son’s rights equal to those of a natural-born son.
  • Nirnaya Sindhu School: This sub-school, influenced by the Nirnaya Sindhu commentary, emphasises customs in determining inheritance and validates the father’s right to divide property as desired.

These sub-schools within the Dayabhaga tradition offer diverse interpretations and features, shaping the laws of inheritance and succession in eastern India.

Difference Between Dayabhaga School and Mitakshara School

The legal landscape of Hindu inheritance and succession is significantly shaped by two prominent schools of thought: the Mitakshara and Dayabhaga Schools. 

Dayabhaga and Mitakshara schools, while originating from the same ancient texts, diverge in their interpretations, practices and implications on property rights, inheritance and family dynamics within the Hindu community.

Origins and Significance

The Dayabhaga school traces its roots to a text penned by Jimutavahana, while the Mitakshara school derives its name from a commentary written by Vijnaneswara on the Yajnavalkya Smriti. Both schools are crucial to the understanding of the Hindu law of succession and property rights and their influence extends across various regions of India.

Geographical Influence

While the Mitakshara school is predominantly followed in the northern and western parts of India, the Dayabhaga school finds its stronghold in the eastern regions, particularly Bengal, Assam, Orissa and parts of Bihar. This geographical divide has led to distinct legal frameworks and interpretations, reflecting the cultural and historical diversity of the Indian subcontinent.

Concept of Joint Family and Coparcenary

One of the key distinctions between the two schools lies in their treatment of joint family property and the concept of coparcenary. The Mitakshara school grants coparcenary rights to male descendants from a common ancestor, enabling them to share ancestral property. This principle of co-ownership extends during the father’s lifetime. In contrast, the Dayabhaga school asserts that sons gain ownership over their father’s property only after his death. This difference significantly influences the structure and management of family assets.

Partition and Inheritance

The concept of partition, wherein the family property is divided among heirs, also diverges between the two schools. In the Mitakshara system, partition entails numerically defining the shares of coparceners, ensuring equitable distribution. On the other hand, the Dayabhaga approach involves the physical separation of property into specific portions for each coparcener, emphasising a tangible division of assets. This dichotomy impacts inheritance planning and family relationships.

Rights of Women

The treatment of women’s rights in property ownership is another vital contrast between the schools. In the Mitakshara system, a wife has the right to share in any partition between her husband and sons, acknowledging her position in the family structure. In Dayabhaga, women’s rights differ as the father retains absolute ownership and therefore, women lack the same entitlements.

Sub-Schools and Interpretations

Within the broader framework of the Mitakshara and Dayabhaga schools, several sub-schools have emerged over time, each with unique features and interpretations. These sub-schools cater to the nuances of specific regions, reflecting the rich diversity of India’s legal landscape.

Impact on Hindu Society

The Dayabhaga and Mitakshara schools have far-reaching effects on Hindu society beyond legal technicalities. They influence family dynamics, property management and succession planning. The Mitakshara approach encourages cohesiveness within joint families but also brings challenges in property division. In contrast, Dayabhaga places greater emphasis on individual ownership, potentially promoting a more independent approach to property matters.

Continuing Relevance

In modern India, the impact of the Mitakshara and Dayabhaga schools continues to be felt. These schools have left an indelible mark on the inheritance laws and practices followed by Hindu families across the country. Changes in legislation, societal norms and legal reforms are consistently engaging with the nuances of these schools, seeking a balance between tradition and evolving needs.

The difference between Mitakshara and Dayabhaga Schools can be summarised as:

ParametersDayabhagaMitakshara
Joint Family SystemIncludes both male and female family membersFocuses on male members of the family
Right to PropertyChildren gain rights after father’s deathSons, grandsons and great-grandsons have rights by birth
PartitionInvolves physical separation and individual ownershipPartition is based on defined shares
Rights of WomenProvides stridhan and equal rights in husbands’ propertyWomen have limited rights and can’t demand partition
FeaturesConsidered a more liberal systemConsidered a more conservative system

Conclusion

The Dayabhaga and Mitakshara schools are two distinct branches of Hindu law that govern inheritance and succession practices in India. The Dayabhaga school, mainly followed in eastern regions like Bengal, Assam and Orissa, emphasises individual ownership and property rights. In this school, property inheritance is determined by the deceased’s will or rules based on the proximity of the relationship and sons inherit only after the father’s demise. 

Conversely, the Mitakshara school, prevalent in northern and western parts of India, emphasises joint family ownership. It recognises coparcenary, where sons have an equal share in ancestral property by birth and partition occurs through defined shares. The Mitakshara and Dayabhaga schools’ differences significantly impact property rights, inheritance patterns and family dynamics within the Hindu community, showcasing the diversity and complexity of Hindu legal traditions.


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