Sources of Hindu Law

According to Yajnavalkya there are fourteen (14) sources of law which consists of four (4) Vedas (which are Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samveda and Atharvaveda), six (6) Vedangas (which are Kalpa, Vyakarana, Chhanda, Shiksha, Jyotish and), Dharma Shastras, Nyaya, Puran and Mimansa.

The sources of law can be divided into the following two (2) heads-

  • Ancient Sources

The ancient sources of Hindu Law can be divided into following parts-

  • Shrutis

The word Shruti has been derived from the word “Shru” which means “to hear”. Shruti means “what has been heard”. Generally it is believed that Shrutis consists of the word of Gods which have come down to us through the sages and seers.

These Shrutis along with the Upanishads constitutes the complete codes of the spiritual learning which are helpful in the attainment of salvation. They are regarded as the oldest source of law.

  • Smritis

The term Shruti means “what has been remembered”. Shrutis are recollections of human mind put in a consolidated form. They are also known as Dharmshastras which constitutes the foundation of law. They are composite in nature and they blend moral, social, religious and legal duties.

  • Commentaries and Digests

After Manu, the development of Hindu Law spread out into different sources and gave rise to confusion and incongruities in law to some extent. It became necessary to modify the law so that the same could fulfil the needs of the society in a changed scenario.

The commentaries and digests which were written in the later period fulfilled this necessity. They also assured greater significance than the Smritis. Certain commentaries were prepared either at the behest of the King or under their patronage and hence they became much popular.

Beside Commentaries, Digests were also prepared which were a collection of all the available texts of law on certain points at one place and gave a concrete means to ascertain the law.

  • Customs

Custom means a uniform behaviour with a belief that it is compulsory to follow such code of conduct. In other words, custom means conduct which people fell mandatory to practice.

  • Modern Sources

The modern sources of Hindu Law can be divided into following parts-

  • Judicial Decisions

Judicial decisions given by the courts on various points have also developed as sources of law. All the important points of the Hindu Law can be found in the law reports. The decisions given by the Privy Council and the Supreme Court are binding on all the courts including High Courts.  The decisions by the Privy Council, the Supreme Court and the High Court constitute precedents which become an important source of law.

  • Legislations

Legislations are modern source of Hindu Law and have a huge importance in the evolution of modern Hindu Law. Legislations have the effect of reforming the laws and in certain respects have replaced the textual laws.

  • Justice, equity and good conscience

The strongest sources of the Hindu Law are the principles of Justice, equity and good conscience. The judges felt it necessary to adopt certain principles of fairness and justice in the cases where law became too complicated due to conflicting texts or judicial precedents in certain aspects of Hindu Law or complete absence of law.

Rules of Justice, equity and good conscience were made applicable in the administration of Hindu Law to the cases which were not governed by Smritis and the Commentaries.

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