Hindu Law, also known as Dharmashastra, is a legal system deeply rooted in ancient Indian culture and traditions. It is based on Dharma principles, encompassing religious, moral, and ethical duties.
Nature of Hindu Law
The nature of Hindu Law can be understood through various aspects discussed below.
Dharma as the Supreme Authority
According to Hindu jurisprudence, the law is not simply a command of the sovereign but an adherence to the Supreme authority known as “Dharma.” Dharma is the guiding principle that governs the conduct and duties of individuals.
It provides a framework for individuals, kings and subjects to follow to achieve salvation. Hindu Law emphasises the importance of fulfilling one’s rights and duties in accordance with Dharma.
The Role of Brahmins in Legislation
Although Hindu Law does not embody the commands of a king, it acknowledges the influential role of the Brahmins in the legislative process. Historically, the Brahmins were considered the absolute rulers of the Hindu community and enjoyed supreme legislative power.
The people generally followed the commands imposed by the Brahmins. Thus, the Brahmins played a crucial role in shaping and interpreting Hindu Law.
Smritis and Sanskrit Commentaries
Hindu Law is primarily derived from the Smritis, ancient religious texts that provide guidelines for personal conduct, social norms, and legal principles.
The law, as expounded in the Sanskrit Commentaries and Digests, along with customary practices, forms the basis of Hindu Law. These texts are often supplemented and modified by evolved customs and traditions.
Continuity and Progression
Hindu Law is considered one of the oldest systems of law in the world, with a rich and unbroken lineage. It has continuously evolved and adapted to meet society’s changing needs and dynamics.
Hindu Law has shown remarkable resilience despite its ancient origins and remains relevant even in modern times. The Privy Council, in the case of Mookka Kone vs Amma Kutti, recognised that Hindu Law is not static or rigid but undergoes continuous progression while adhering to its core values.
Application by Courts
Hindu Law is administered by courts, which interpret and apply the principles of Hindu Law in legal disputes. Courts rely on the Smritis, Sanskrit Commentaries, Digests, and customary practices while adjudicating cases related to Hindu Law.
The courts ensure that the principles of Dharma are upheld, and justice is served in accordance with the nature and spirit of Hindu Law.
The Origin of Hindu Law
The origin of Hindu Law, also known as Dharmashastra, has been debated among scholars. Two main theories provide different perspectives on the origins of Hindu Law. Let’s explore these theories in detail.
Divine Origin Theory
According to the first theory, Hindu Law is believed to have a divine origin bestowed by the Almighty God. It is considered to have originated from the Vedas, regarded as God’s divine revelations. The Vedas are ancient scriptures that contain hymns, rituals, and philosophical teachings.
The law derived from the Vedas is considered independent of the state and is binding on both the king and the subjects with equal legal force. This theory highlights the divine nature of Hindu Law, which is often referred to as Apauruseya.
Customary Origin Theory
The second theory posits that Hindu Law is based on immemorial customs, religious texts, and scriptures that predate Brahmanism. It suggests that before the invasion of the Aryans, there existed customs and usages among the indigenous people, and some of these practices were incorporated into Hindu Law after the Aryans arrived.
The Aryans, who brought their own customs and practices, assimilated certain existing customs into their legal framework, leading to the formation of Hindu Law. It is important to note that some customs and practices, such as polyandry and incestuous marriage, were not recognised or accepted by the Aryans.
Evolution of Hindu Law
In ancient times, “law” was often synonymous with “Dharma” in Hindu society. Dharma encompassed religious, moral, and ethical duties, guiding individuals’ conduct. Over time, Hindu Law evolved to ensure that the social and moral life of Hindus continued with a diverse element of harmony. This evolution aimed to reconcile society’s changing needs while upholding Dharma’s fundamental values.
Henry Maine, a renowned jurist, aptly remarked that Hindu Law has the oldest pedigree among all known systems of jurisprudence. Hindu Law has shown remarkable resilience and adaptability despite its ancient origins, remaining relevant to this day. Its longevity can be attributed to the ability of Hindu Law to evolve with the changing times while preserving its core principles.
The nature of Hindu Law is deeply rooted in Dharma, which guides individuals in fulfilling their rights and duties. It is an ancient legal system that has continuously evolved to meet the changing needs of society.
The role of the Brahmins in legislation, the reliance on Smritis and Sanskrit Commentaries, and the application of Hindu Law by courts contribute to its unique nature. Despite its age, Hindu Law remains a significant and living legal system, reflecting the rich cultural heritage of India.
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