Introduction to Smritis – Dr. Gururaja Rao, KSOU

Contact Class for MA KSOU Final Year students in 2015 (and 2016) by Dr. Gururaja Rao

Sruthis and Smritis

स्मृतिः श्रुतिः हरेराज्ञा – is a famous saying from the Vaagdoola Smriti which states that the Smrutis and Shrutis are created by the command of Hari. श्रूयते अनेन इति श्रुतिः – That which is heard is Shruti. The Vedas are अपौरुषेय – not written by man.


The rishis saw the mantra and gave it to others. These rishis are called मन्त्रद्रष्टा and आर्ष. स्त्रीसूद्रब्रह्मबन्धूनां श्रुति गोचरा | There are restrictions and limitations on who can learn the Vedas. Stri means women, shudra means the lower class of civilized human society, and brahma-bandhu means persons who are born in the families of brahmanas but do not follow the rules and regulations carefully.

The importance of Swaras in Veda Paarayana

The Vedic texts are to be read in accordance with the Swaras. The other shlokas can be read in a plain manner or be sung to a tune. But as far as the Vedas is concerned, the Swaras i.e., the accents and the variations in the pitch are very important. While reciting Vedas, care has to be given to recite it as per the stated swara namely Udaatta, Anudaatta, Svarita and Pluta.  The effects could be detrimental if the paaraayana or recitation of the Vedic texts is done in the way any other text like the Smrutis or the shlokas or the modern literature. There are प्रत्यवाय-s or remedial actions suggested for atoning for that improper action of wrong way of recitation. In the shrutis, every akshara becomes the स्थान or the residing place of some deity. When even a single letter or अक्षर is pronounced in a wrong way, the sin of cutting the limbs of the specific deity associated with that akshara is incurred. For example, “आचार्याय प्रियं धनमाहृत्य प्रजातन्तुं मा व्यवच्छेत्सी:”, has to be chanted considering the udaattas and the anudaattas.

[ आचार्याय प्रियं धनमाहृत्य Offering to the Teacher whatever pleases him, प्रजातन्तुं मा व्यवच्छेत्सीः do not cut off the line of progeny  — तैतिरीयः ]

वाणी बाणो बभूव – There is a mythological story that Goddess Saraswati was cursed to be born in the earth. In the Brahma’s assembly, when a mistake was committed in chanting a Veda mantra, the guru Bruhaspati cursed Goddess Saraswati to be born as a human being. And hence she was born as Baana.


The Vedas were classified into Rig, Yajur, Saama and Atharva Vedas by Badaraayana who came to be known as Veda Vyaasa. Each Vedas has four parts namely Samhita, Brahmana, Aaranyaka and Upanishad.


Upanishad is the cream and essence of the Veda placed at the end of the Veda. It is called Vedanta as it is at the end and also since it has the antaranga i.e., the cream and essence of the Veda. The study of the Vedas is considered to be the duty of every person. As the ages passed by, since it was becoming difficult for the people to study the complete Vedas, the essence has been collated in the Upanishads.

If not the study of the Vedas, at least the knowledge of the Upanishads has to be present in every individual. There are 10 Upanishads that are considered to be important.


ज्ञानेनैव परं पदम् |

Since Upanishads are part of the Vedas, and there are restrictions on who can study the Vedas, the Rishis and Munis took out the essence of the Upanisads and created the Smrutis.  Vedic knowledge is importance to gain moksha. For those who are not permitted to study the Vedas, the extracts of the knowledge from the Vedas is made available in the Smritis. The information is provided considering the target audience and the custom of the then times, when it was written by the Rishis. स्मर्यते अनेन इति स्मृतिः | Smruti means “that which is remembered”. It recollects the important points of the Vedas and provides us in a concise manner.  One can attain moksha by following the practices ordained in the Smriti which results in cleansing of the body, senses and mind.

Important Smritis

There are 36 important Smritis. Yajnavalkya Smriti is one of the popular Smritis. Some of the important Smritis are: (1) Manu Smriti (2) Yajnavalkya Smriti (3) Narada Smriti (4) Parashara Smriti (5) Brihaspati Smriti and (6) Katyayana Smriti

Validity of the Smritis

Vedas contain विधि and निषेध – do’s and don’ts – ordained actions and prohibited actions. The Smritis are the commentaries by the Rishis on the Vedic injunctions. श्रुतिस्तु वेदो विज्ञेयो धर्मशास्त्रं तु वै स्मृतिः | Gautama refers to Smruti as the essence of Dharma. These scriptures explain how to practice Dharma, the importance of adhering to it, and the ill-effects of not following the principles of Dharma. While the Vedas are अपौरुषेय, the Smritis are written by Rishis. Vedas are  स्वतः सिद्धप्रमाण – these propositions are self-evident and they do not require any external proof for their correctness. Though Smritis are written by individuals, it is also accepted to be correct since it is based on the Vedas. आप्तवाक्यप्रमाण – It is considered to be correct because it is the words of those Rishis who are concerned with our welfare.  आप्तवाक्यं शब्दः। आप्तस्तु यथार्थवक्ता। The words of our well-wishers is to be taken as the truth as per Shabda Pramaana. Those who state the facts are considered to be our well-wishers. They do explain the Vedic ideals without any misinterpretations.

Characteristics of the Smriti Authors

गुरोक्तमपि न ग्राह्यं यदनर्थे अर्थकल्पनम् | Even the words of the Guru, should not be taken if it states adharma as dharma. बालादपि सुकादपि युक्तियुक्तं वचो ग्राह्यम् | Even if it is a young boy or a parrot, if the spoken words contain pertinent information, it should be accepted.  वक्त्रानुकूल्य, श्रोतानुकूल्य and प्रसङ्गानुकूल्य are the three aspects that should be present for us to accept the words of the preceptor. वक्त्रानुकूल्य is the state of mind of the speaker. He has to be in the right state of mind. श्रोतानुकूल्य – The listener has to be in the right state of mind to grasp what is being said. प्रसङ्गानुकूल्य – The context in which it was stated has to be understood properly. When these three aspects are conducive – namely the disposition of speaker, the disposition of the listener and a conducive atmosphere, whatever is being said has to be taken as आप्त वाक्यम् – the well-wisher’s advice that ought to be followed. The person giving advice should have इन्द्रियसुद्धिः | His sense organs should be functioning properly. Only when there are able to see and hear clearly and understand our situation, they will be able to guide us properly. The Rishis who authored the Smritis have all the required qualifications that their works are to be taken with the same respect given to the Vedas.  They have provided these invaluable instructions for the benefit of their disciples. The Smritikaaras had the intention to lead their disciples in the right path and elevate them to higher levels, as the disciples sought their refuge in them. The Rishis possessed the हित-बुद्धिः – a concern for others.

The content of the Smritis are in the form of advice of a guru to his disciples. So these are considered as शाषण – the rules that need to be adhered to. In the three types of classification of the scriptures as Prabhu Sammita (stated with an authority), Mitra Sammita (stated in a friendly manner) and Kaantaa Sammita (stated in a loving way), these Smritis come under Prabhu Sammita. These are like the orders of the master that need to be obeyed, failing which there would be punishment. So, whether one likes to follow it or not, the injunctions stated in the Smritis are carried out due to the fear of the punishment.  भयादस्याग्निस्तपति भयात् तपति सूर्य:। भयादिन्द्रश्च वायुश्चमृत्युर्धावति पञ्चम: इति |  Things are happening in a specific order in the world because of the fear of the consequences. The way the message is conveyed differs between the Prabhu Sammita, Mitra sammita and the Kaantaa sammit. Smritis being Prabha Sammita, the message is given in an authoritative tone.

There are many topics that have been repeatedly covered in many Smritis. Even though unnecessary repetition is considered as a fault, when the matter of consideration is important, it is acceptable to repeat it over and over again. Thus we notice that in the Smritis some of the most important aspects being mentioned repeatedly. The repetition could occur across the different Smritis or within a specific Smriti itself the point could have been reiterated multiple times.  One such aspect which has gained the prominence among the subjects dealt with in the Smritis is Varnaashramadharma. The duties to be carried out by the people belonging to different Varnaas are the Varna Dharma. The duties to be carried out by the people considering their present phase of life are the Ashrama Dharma. Sri Krishna mentions in the Gita – B.G. 4.13 – “चातुर्वर्ण्यं मया सृष्टं गुणकर्मविभागशः”. The Varna is determined based on the predominant quality namely Sattva, Rajas or Tamas; and the nature of work undertaken by the person for his livelihood. But in the present world, the caste is based on the father’s caste.

The Smritis talk about Pancha Maha Yagna – the five important rituals that need to be performed. They are Brahma Yagna, Pitru Yagna, Deva Yagna or Gnana Yagna, Maanusha Yagna or Bhojana Yagna, Bhoota Yagna or Bhootadayaa Yagna. While discussing about these important duties, the Smritis have their own interpretations. They are not consistent in the name, the description or the number of these Yagnas. But Brahma Yagna, Pitru Yagna and the Gnana Yagna are usually found in all the interpretations.

The next important topic that is consistently covered in all the Smritis is the three debts or ऋणत्रयम् | They are पितृ-ऋण, देव-ऋण and गुरु-ऋण | The Smritis elaborate on these types of debts, how they are to be repaid, what is the parihaara – remedy in the event of not fulfilling the debts. It is told that as long as we live there is no way to repay the debt towards one’s parents. In Kashyapa Smriti  काश्यपस्मृतिः, condensing the information that is present in the other smritis say this – देवपितृमनुष्यभूतब्रह्मयज्ञानुपसेवमानः | According to him, Smritis mainly deals with – the types of the yagnas; the way to do upaseva of these Yagna to the god, parents, human beings, other beings and towards knowledge; the benefits of doing them; the conclusion – प्रत्याम्नाय; and the remedial action for the sin of non-adherence – प्रायश्चित्त. He summaries the contents of the Smritis in this way.

The Smritis also deal with the duals or Dvandvas which are extremely important like the two eyes in our body. They are सत्य and धर्म or सत्य and निष्ठ. One has to adhere to the Truth not just whenever it is convenient to one self. Truth has to be adhered to at all times until death. Everyone should be honest and have the fear of suffering the consequence of committing any sin.  So न्याय and दण्ड are also important.

There is a rule that Yagna has to be performed. It is also important to get it done by others too. Hence Smritis talk about यजन and याजन | Important is given also to अध्ययन and अध्यापन i.e., studying and teaching. The Smritis elaborate about the Panch-Maha-Yagnas namely Deva Yagna (worship of Devas), Pitr Yagna (worship of one’s forefathers), Manushya Yagna (worship of fellow humans), Bhuta Yagna (worship of other beings), and Brahma Yagna (worship of knowledge).

The smritis talk about दान-परिग्रह – giving and receiving charity. The charity has to be done to the right person, at the right time, and in the right place. The contribution has to be worthy of being given – द्र्व्यशुद्धिः, the act of giving should be done in the right manner – क्रियाशुद्धिः, it has to be done with the right attitude – भावशुद्धिः. The same applies to receiving an offering. One has to be careful while receiving contributions. The giver could get the punya from the receiver and pass on his paapa to him.

In the Katopanishad, the story begins with the scene of doing charity. When Nachiketas finds his father donating useless cows, he questions his father and gets to know that his father’s intention is to give away all of his possessions.

स होवाच पितरम् – तात कस्मै मां दास्यसि – इति। द्वितीयं तृतीयं। तं होवाच – मृत्यवे त्वा ददामि – इति ॥

He said, “To whom will you give me, father?” At first the father ignored his son but Nachiketas persisted, asking a second and third time, “To whom will you give me, father? To whom will you give me?” “To Death I give you!” said the father in anger.

द्र्व्यशुद्धिः, क्रियाशुद्धिः, and भावशुद्धिः are essential in Dhaana. Even in acceptance, care has to be taken to find out the intention behind the charity.

अवश्यं अनुभोक्तव्यं कृतं कर्म शुभाशुभम् | Whether it is the good fortune or the bad fortune, it has to be experienced. The karmas are classified as Sanchita Karmas (accumulated works), Prarabdha Karmas (ripe or fructuous actions) and Kriyamana or Agami Karmas (current works). In Dasar’s poem, it is stated that the difference in Ayus, Arogya and Aishwarya are due to the three kinds of faults performed.

The actions to be undertaken are stated as Dharma. The different types of Dharma are सामान्यधर्म, विशेषधर्म, आपद्धर्म, नित्यकर्म and नैमित्तिककर्म. Samaanya is the general duties. Vishesha dharma are the specific personal duties which differs from person to person. Nitya karma are the Daily Obligatory Duties like Sandhya-vandanam. Naimittika karma  are the Occasional Obligatory duties like the Shraddha done for forefathers. There is also one more called Kaamya karma काम्यकर्म which are rituals performed with a specific objective.

Aapad Dharma is the actions that can be performed in case of a distress. The Smritis deal with this in detail. We use this term to justify our actions.  पट्टने पादमाचारं पथि शूद्रवदाचरेत् – we might say this to justify that we can do only one quarter of the rituals being in the city.  The Smritis clarify which situation can be considered as Aapad – or distress.

When carrying out any of the actions, these dharmas and karmas, the person should always keep in mind that the ultimate goal is the Moksha Dharma. All the actions done now should lead us towards this highest goal.

This is an overview of the Smritis. The other information that should be learnt is about the authors of each of the 37 Smritis, the number of chapters, the number of shlokas, and the main subject matter of discussion.

Usually the Smritis are in Gadya or Prose form. There are a few which are in Padya or Poetry form set to specific chandas. There are also Smritis which are in Champu style – i.e., a combination of Gadya and Padya.  The importance of Yagnavalkya Smriti among the scriptures has to be known.

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