Talk:Sources of Dharma

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

References to Dharma in different literatures (some of which are referred here) make it clear that the rules contained in the Dharmasutras and other works on Dharmaṣāstra have their roots in the most ancient Vedic tradition. The authors of the Dharmasutras were quite justified in looking up to the Vedas as a source of dharma. But Vedas do not profess to be a formal treatise on dharma. They contain only intermittent statements on the various aspects of dharma.

The references to Marriage ritual, significance of having a son, inheritance, Sacrificial and Penance Rites are all found in the Rig Veda but elaborated upon in smrtis.

Marriage Ritual

Ṛgveda[1] contains interesting hymns and verses that are used even today for marriage rituals. This showcases that in the remote Vedic age, the marriage rites resembled in essence of the Brahma form as described in the Dharmasutras and Manusmṛti.

There is a mention in the later literature regarding the tradition of giving money to marry a female in the ancient times. This system is called Asura marriage. It was a prevalent system in the Vedic age also. A passage of the Maitrayaṇiya Samhitā[2] is referred to in the Vaṣiṣṭhadharmasutra in this connection. There is a mention regarding Gandharva form of marriage that when a bride was ready, she herself used to select her groom.

Significance of Son

There was significance of aurasa son in Vedic times. Aurasa son is the son born through a man and legally wedded wife. The Taittiriya-samhitā[3] propounds the well-known theory of the three debts namely:

  1. Brahmacarya to sages
  2. Sacrifices to gods
  3. Progeny to pitṛs

It was believed that the progeny to pitṛs was preferably done only by the aurasa son. The story of Sunahashepa in the Aitareya-brāhmana[4] suggests that a son could be adopted even when he is an aurasa son. System of adoption of child born of other lineage was also prevalent during the ancient times. The Taittiriya-samhitā[5] tells the story of Atri who gave the only son in adoption to Aurva. The Kṣetraja son is the son begotten by niyoga[6] of the Dharmasutrās is often referred to in the earliest Vedic literature.

In the historic times, it was a practice that a maiden who did not have any brother had difficulty marrying. Such females who did not get married prayed to the God as Bhāga. They were believed to be praying for the betterment of the whole family.[7][8][9][10] This tradition, against marrying a brother-less maiden, can be explained by the belief prevalent that girl being an appointed daughter and a son born from such girl would be associated with maternal grandparents and not the paternal one's. This custom of putrika is an ancient tradition and is alluded in the Ṛgveda, according to Yakṣa.


The Taittiriya samhitā clearly specify that a father can distribute his wealth among his sons during his life time. Another passage of the Taittiriya Samhita differs on this point suggesting that only eldest son takes the whole of his father’s wealth. During Vedic ages, the daughters were excluded from the inheritance of father's property. The reference supporting this has been mentioned in a passage in the 'Taittiriya-samhitā'.

Sacrificial and Penance Rites

The Ṛgveda eulogizes the phases of student-hood. Śaṭapatha-brāhmana explains the duties of the Brahmacārin which includes not partaking of wine, offering samidh to fire every evening and many more. The Taitiriya Samhitā[11] relates how Indra assigned Yati to wolves and dogs and because of that Prajāpati prescribed him prāyascita[12]. The Śatapatha brāhmana designates the kings and the learned Brahmanas as the upholder and followers of the sacred ordinances. The Taittiriya samhitā indicates that a Śudra should not perform sacrifice. The Aitareya Brāhmana tells that when a king or other worthy guest comes, people offer a bull or a cow as a gift to them.

The Śaṭapatha-brāhmana speaks of Vedic study as Yajna and Taittiriya-araṇyaka enumerates the five yajnas. It is a very prominent feature of the Manusmṛti. The Ṛgveda eulogizes the gifts of a cow, horses, gold and clothes. Another passage of the Ṛgveda is relied upon by Sahārā on Jaimini[13] and by Viṣvarupa on Yajnavalkya as ordaining the maintenance of prāpas, the places where water is distributed to travelers. The Ṛgveda condemns the selfish man who only caters for himself.


  1. Ṛgveda X. 85
  2. Maitrayaṇiya Samhitā I 10 II
  3. Taittiriya Samhitā VI. 3. 10. 5
  4. Aitreya Brāhmana VII. 3
  5. Taittiriya Samhitā VII. 1.8. i
  6. The system of getting a son from one's own wife by another man with the consent of husband which was approved by Shastras.
  7. Ṛgveda I. 124-7
  8. Ṛgveda IV. 5. 5
  9. Atharvaveda I. 17. 1
  10. Nirukta III, 4-5
  11. Taitiriya Samhitā VI. 2. 8
  12. Prāyascita means penance
  13. Ṛgveda I. 3. 2