Sources of Hindu law


Hindu law is composed of different texts and scriptures; the development of Hindu law was both natural and, at times, aided by laws implemented during the British period. There are two types of Hindu legal sources: ancient and modern.

Ancient sources include religious texts such as shrutis and smritis, as well as several Upanishads, which were also part of Hindu law.

Shruti as a source of law

Shruti is derived from the word “shur” which means “to hear.” Shrutis are regarded as the primary source of Hindu law. Shruti is also known as Veda. According to Hindu law, there are four Vedas: the Rigveda, the Samveda, the Yajurveda, and the Atharveda. The brahmins used to read out to the public what was written in the Vedas. Because brahmins were seen to be learned people, anything they said was of extreme significance and was regarded to be the law of the nation, shrutis include what the brahmins wrote and uttered. Brahmins also explain the tasks that an individual must follow and how to carry them out. The substance of these responsibilities may be found in the Upanishads.

Smriti as a source of law

Smriti is derived from the Sanskrit word “smri” which meaning “to remember.” Smrtis are those sections of shrutis that the sages neglected to explain in their original form and so wrote down in the language that they were familiar with; hence, shrutis are considered the foundation of smritis. Smritis are classified into two types: Dharmasastras and Dharmasutras. Dharmasastras include laws governing Hindu moral behaviour, whereas Dharmasutras contain rules governing governance, caste, interpersonal relationships, economic concerns, eating habits, and so on. There are so many smritis that it is impossible to list them all, but two of the most well-known are the Yajnavalkya smriti and the Manusmriti. Manusmriti is also said to be Manu’s first legal book.

Digests and Commentaries

The digests and commentaries made by various authors of Hindu law are the third most significant source of law. Commentaries typically remark on the smritis, and their time span ranges from the 7th century until 1800 AD. The basis of numerous schools of Hindu law was also built through commentaries. The digests comprise the most significant features of all the smritis, as well as discussions about their reconciliation and contradictions. Various digests and commentaries on the two most prominent smritis, manusmriti and yajnavalkya smriti, have been produced by various writers.


Customs are the most significant and oldest type of lawmaking; they refer to the traditions, practises, and activities that people have followed for centuries and have been recognised as law over time. The premise of treating customs as a key source of law is that individuals obey conventions, and if such practises are not damaging to society, the state has no trouble recognising them. In order for a custom to become legislation, it must meet certain criteria, including being legitimate, continuing, being followed by a substantial number of people, and not being discriminatory or contrary to public policy.

Indian law has recognized 3 types of custom namely:

  • Local customsThese are customs that are common in a certain geographic location.
  • Class customsThese are the customs that are common amongst a specific class.
  • Family customsThese are the customs that all members of the family must follow.


It has been observed that Hindu law has been criticised for its rigidity, patriarchal nature, and lack of a highly contemporary social vision. There are other areas where Hindu law needs to be improved. For example, the irretrievable breakdown hypothesis as a sufficient cause for divorce is still not recognised under the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, and even the Supreme Court has voiced worry about this.


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