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Dharma: universal ordering principle from Vedic to modern times


Dr. Srinivasan Kalyanaraman


View all articles by Dr. Srinivasan Kalyanaraman

Dharma: universal ordering principle from Vedic to modern times


Dharma is not religion.

Religion is only a method of worship and is a word which came into use in the nineteenth century. The word is based on a Christian concept and rooted in a Christian background of affiliation.

Dharma is a very ancient word. Dharma is non-divisive, non-exclusive, and non-conclusive. Dharma is a quest for understanding cosmic order of the universe and consciousness order at a personal level.

Dharma unites. Religion and its obverse secular are divisive. Religion is a restrictive canvas related to modes of worship of a divinity called by a variety of names. Religion and its obverse secular is restrictive in relating to parts of society and parts of social conduct.

Dharma is all-encompassing and resolves conflicts. Religion and secular foment conflicts. Kerry Brown stated: (quote) “… the culture that we know now as Hindouisme and that the Indian ones call Sanatana Dharma - the Law Eternal - precedes this name by thousands of years. This is more than a religion, more than the theological direction in which the west understands religion. One can believe in all divinities or in no divinity and remain Hindu. This is a manner to living." (unquote) (Kerry Brown, The Essential Teachings of the hindouisme; loc. cit. Rama Jois, Dharmarajya or true government according to dharma

Arvind Sharma questions the use of the word ‘religion’ itself in the context of comparative studies of cultures. [quote] … what we are dealing with at the moment is not so much the Christian West as the secular West, and it is on account of this difference that for the organising category of “Christianity,” one now substitutes the word “religion… Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1916-2000) is well known for pointing out how the word “religion” became reified in the course of the intellectual evolution of the modern West.1 It is not as often recognised that he also connects this development with the rise of secularism… In place of the Christian religion we are now, in fact, operating with a Christian conception of religion… A subtle fact needs to be noted here—that Christianity and Islam first deny one salvation because one is not in them and then offer it to all who would join them. This is one kind of universalism. But according to the Hindu position salvation is yours as your are—and without having to become a Hindu. Thus it too offers universal salvation— without making itself the intermediary of it. So I ask you: Which of these two universalisms is more universal—the conditional one (“join us”) or the unconditional one? Now contrast this with two conceptions of rights—human rights and citizen’s right. Which of the two are more universal? You have citizen’s right if you are a citizen of a state, but even a stateless human being possesses human rights—merely by virtue of being a human being. This is the whole point in calling them universal. It is worth noting that up to a point in the deliberations at the U.N.O. the document which ultimately became the Universal Decollation of Human Rights was referred to as the International Declaration of Human Rights. The significance of ultimately designating them as universal rather than international should not be overlooked.1 The situation is analogous to the Indic position on religious salvation—that a human being has access to it not by virtue of belonging to this or that religion—but by the mere fact of being a human being. This, I submit to you, is also the dharmic position—the position of much of Asia and of the indigenous world. It is also the more universal of the two. It is therefore ironical that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not accord explicit recognition to this position. In advocating the dharmic position the Indic tradition is perhaps poised to make a crucial contribution to both contemporary religious discourse and contemporary human rights discourse.” [unquote] [Loc. Cit. Arvind Sharma, 2002, An Indic Contribution Towards an Understanding of the Word “Religion” and the Concept of Religious Freedom

Wilfred Cantwell Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1963)].

What is Dharma?

Dharma is a complex word. It has no equivalent in English. To understand dharma, we have to inquire into ancient texts of Bharat, that is India.

Dharma is an abiding identity of Hindu civilization right from Vedic to modern times.

Dharma is the greatest contribution of Hindu Ra_s.t.ra (‘Hindu Nation’) to the world of thought and to civilization. Dharma is the quintessence of the perceptions of r.s.i-s (‘seers’) of yore, who laid the early foundations of the Bha_ratam Janam (R.gveda), the Nation of Bha_rata.  

Dharma sets forth an ideal to strive for, an ideal for all humanity; dharma is a universal ethic, which evolved over time as an eternal satyam (truth) which should govern every human endeavour which should result in the good of all living entities, bhu_tahitam.  

The history of dharma, this human ideal is inexorably inter-twined with the story of civilization. 

It is the responsibility of every ra_s.t.ra to uphold and protect dharma. The responsibility of the Hindu ra_s.t.ra to uphold and protect dharma is a historic necessity. For several millennia, the Hindu ra_s.t.ra has been the trustee of dharma, this treasure of civilization. To forsake dharma, will be a deriliction of duty, an a-dharma, a pa_pam, a defiance of the r.ta, the natural, cosmic order, a repudiation of the r.n.a, the debt owed to the pitr.-s, the ancestors of the Hindu. 

There are many thematic accounts of Dharma and philosophical foundations of the traditions of Bha_rata, the Hindu Ra_s.t.ra or Hindu Nation.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who was widely believed to have been a non-religious and scientific type - an avowed agnostic - wrote in the introduction to a book ( Socialism in Indian Planning, written by a member of Parliament Srimannarayan Agarwal): " In India it is important for us to profit by modern technical processes and increase our production in agriculture and industry. But, in doing so, we must not forget that the essential objective to be aimed at is the quality of the individual and the concept of Dharma underlying it." [loc.cit. AV Srinivasan at ] Talk of devil quoting scriptures !

The first book of Tirukkural of Tiruvalluvar in Tamil is called aram, dharma’; the second is porul. ‘wealth’; and the thirs is inbam ‘joy’; the three-fold division is consistent with the purushartha trivarga: dharma artha ka_ma (duties, wealth, joy). Illaram means ‘householder’s dharma’ and is explained in 20 chapters of the first book on aram, ‘dharma’. A compound such as cid-dharma is interpreted as ‘transcendental nature’, so is ma_nava dharma ‘human nature’, giving the word dharma a comprehensive elucidation as ‘natural order’. Rishi Kanada in Vais’es’ika sutra notes a definition of dharma by its beneficial impact, focusing on discharge of one’s responsibility: "That which leads to the attainment of Abhyudaya (prosperity in this world) and Nihsreyasa (total cessation of pain and attainment of eternal bliss hereafter) is Dharma".

As the quest, veda, continued to unravel the ordering principles, the source of dharma is perceived in the first creation yajna by Prajapati; the rica notes, taani dharmani prathamani aasan (from that yajna arose the first ordering principles). Thus, dharma is an extraordinarily perceptive phenomenon which could perhaps explain the natural order and also the order of consciousness, from the macro to the micro levels. It is also an explanatory statement for many phenomena observed, for example, in polity related to rajadharma, in society related to samajadharma, in interpersonal relationships related to as’ramadharma. Closely associated with the term, dharman are satyam, ritam and vrata. An explanation of these profound terms in context are conditions precedent to an understanding of the ethos which have governed Hindu civilization for several millennia. Dharma could provide a universally acceptable foundation and framework for world peace, while resolving the faith-based conflicts which recur in many parts of the globe.

Dharma is sacred duty. The very performance of one’s duty makes it sacred. This is a metaphysical concept which has to be elaborated further, given the problems of bhasha pariccheda, of explaining the sanatana dharma idiom which evolved in the cultural domain of Bharatam, into English.

Dharma is inviolate, dharma is divine. As one attains the full potential of his aatman, one attains divinity. The very performance of one's responsibility makes the action, the motion, divine. Sacredness inheres in the responsibility. That is why, dharma is sacred.

Why does Valmiki refer to Rama as 'ramo vigrahavaan dharmah'? (Rama is the embodiment of dharma). Because, as the prince who attained divinity, he embodied dharma by the performance of his responsibilities. That is why, Rama is the ideal to aspire for every student, every son, every husband, every ruler.

Rama was a prince who became an ideal ruler. Such an ideal ruler that there are hundreds of epigraphs of later-day rulers claiming to use Sri Ramachandra as a role model in the performance of rajadharma.

Within this all-enveloping framework, dharma as applied to governance, called rajadharma is explained as the facilitation of individuals of the samajam attaining the purushartha of dharma, artha and kaama without transgressing dharma, the ethical principles of conduct and inter-personal relationships. This is affirmed by Barhaspatya sutra, II-43-44: “The goal of rajaniti (polity) is the accomplishment of dharma, artha, kaama. Artha and kaama must be subject to the test of dharma. Dharma was supreme law of the state and rulers and subjects alike were subservient to this law. Dharma is the constitutional law of modern parlance, explaining the contours of the functions and responsibilities of the state, constraining the ruler by regulations which restrain the exercise of sovereignty by the ruler – a parallel to the paradigm of checks and balances enshrined in modern constitutions to prevent abuse of power while ensuring equal protection to the subjects without discrimination. "Just as the mother Earth gives an equal support to all the be living, a king must give support to all without no discrimination." (Manusmruti). "The king must furnish protection to associations following ordinances of the Veda (Naigamas) which protection should extend to all – those non-believers (paashandi) and to others as well." (Naradasmruti, Dharmakos’a, p. 870).

The absence of discrimination, provisions to check abuse of power and enjoining the state to promote the individual’s and samajam’s activities for the attainment of purushartha [achieving the goals of life -- of dharma (righteous conduct), of artha (economic well-being) and of kaama (mental well-being)] are the key facets of rajadharma. Such a rajadharma is beyond secular and is a sacred trust to be administered with diligence and commitment.

Such a rajadharma is exemplified by ramarajyam which is evoked by many rulers of Bharatam in many parts of the nation in their references to Sri Ramachandra as the ideal ruler whose example the rulers hoped to emulate in rendering social justice and in regulating the affairs of the state. Ramarajyam is a dharma polity, governed by a dharma constitution. This is the reason why Valmiki refers to Rama in eloquent terms: Ramo vigrahavan dharmah. (Rama is the very embodiment of dharma).

The two great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata and the Bhagavata Purana explain dharma in action, the application of the ‘ordering principles’ in specific real-life situations, in moments of creative tension such as when a proponent like Arjuna had to decide to fight against his own kith and kin, members of his own kula. This moment of decision results in the delineation of the Dharmakshetra (the domain of dharma) in that Song Celestial, Bhagavad Gita. An enduring metaphor of the Bhagavatam is samudramanthanam: deva and asura apparently in conflict work together to harness the resources of the ocean by churning the ocean together. This togetherness to achieve artha and kaama is a dharmic cooperative endeavour, an example of a samajam in harmony, pulling together for a common purpose – that purpose is loka hitam, ‘well-being of loka’. Loka hitam is the touchstone which determines the dharmic nature of positive action. Just as satyam is truth that is pleasing, dharma is action which is loka-hitaaya ‘for the well-being of the society’. How should such action be performed or such responsibility be discharged? Governed by ethical conduct, a social ethic which respects the responsibilities being discharged by everyone in society.

Dharma is sacred because it is the divine ordering principle. Dharma is the principle which recognizes the way things are or the nature of things or phenomena. In Thai language, the compound dharmacarth (dharma carati) means ‘nature’. Hence, the compound sva-dharma in the evolution of sanatana dharma in Bharatam, means ‘law and responsibility, according to one’s nature’.

Rigveda notes that ritam ‘occurrence of phenomena’ or ‘order’ is dharma. Atharva Veda notes: Prithivim dharman.a_ dhr.tam ‘the world is upheld by dharma’. Sanatana Dharma in bharatiya metaphysics (elaborated further in Buddha, Jaina, Khalsa pantha thought) is not a moral connotation. It is an inexorable organizing, creative principle which operates on the plane of the aatman and the cosmos.

Sanatana dharma is thus beyond a law regulating an individual’s action. It is the very _expression of the divine. Such adherence to the divine principle is the purusharta, the purpose of life.

Let us see how an Egyptian islamist understood dharma: “It [dharma] is, so to speak, the essential nature of a being, comprising the sum of its particular qualities or characteristics, and determining, by virtue of the tendencies or dispositions it implies, the manner in which this being will conduct itself, either in a general way or in relation to each particular circumstance. The same idea may be applied, not only to a single being, but also to an organized collectivity, to a species, to all the beings included in a cosmic cycle or state of existence, or even to the whole order of the Universe; it then, at one level or another, signifies conformity with the essential nature of beings...” [Rene Guenon (aka Sheikh 'Abd Al Wahid Yahya), Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines]

Such an elucidation can also explain why another name for Yama is Dharma. Yama is the organizer of death and he does this consonant with another divine principle of karma (of cause and effect).

Given the broad spectrum of phenomena explained as dharma, the cosmos and consciousness are best viewed as metaphysical systems. Thus, pot is the bearer of a property called ‘pot-existence’ (iha ghat.ah); dharmin is the property-bearer; dharma is the property. This is how dharma dravya in Jaina thought can be explained as six properties which explain the universe of dravya (substances – animate and inanimate) and dharmin as the subject.

Annam bahu kurvi_tha, tad vratam, says Taittiriya Upanishad (Bhr.guvalli). 'Ensure abundance of food all around. That is the vrata'. This can be explained as dharma, as one's responsibility to the samajam which defines the very existence, of being. The process of movement from being to becoming is vratam, performance. As one engages in annam bahu kurvi_tha, he is in motion from being to becoming.

This is the sacredness of dharma and explained with reference to ritam and vrata.

Bhishma explained to Yudhishthira: "It is very difficult to define the dharma. Dharma was explained as that which helps the elevation of the human. This is the reason, this that assures well-being is assuredly dharma. The learned rishis declared: this that supports is dharma." 

Like satyam, dharma was explained with reference to the beneficial effect it generates: well-being and progress of humanity. "Dharma is this that supports and that assures the progress and the well-being of all in this world and the eternal happiness in the other world. Dharma is promulgated in the form of orders (positive and negative: Vidhi and Nishedha)." This was the elucidaton of Madhvacharya in his commentary on Parasarasmruti. This rendering of the semantics of dharma explains why dharma covered all aspects of life for the well-being of the individual and also the samajam.

The Karna Parva, Ch. 59, verset 58, praises the dharma in the following terms:

The Dharma supports the corporation, The Dharma maintains the social order, The Dharma assures well-being and the progress of humanity, The Dharma is certainly this that fills these objectives." 

Jaimini, the author of the famous Purvamimamsa and uthara Mimamsa, explains that:

"The Dharma is this that is indicated in the Vedas as driving to the biggest good." 

Dharma protects those who protect it

Dharmo raksati raksitah is a remarkable statement by Manu; the roots for the meaning of the term have to be traced in the perceptions of the rishi-s from the days of the R.gveda.yato dharmah tato jayah (success goes hand in hand with righteousness) (MBh. 6.65.18)

dharma eva hato hanti dharmo raks.ati raks.itah 
tasma_ddharmo na hantavyo ma_ no dharmo hatovadhi_t (Manu 8.15)

Dharma protects those who protect it. Those who destroy Dharma get destroyed. Therefore, Dharma should not be destroyed so that we may not be destroyed as a consequence thereof.

Dharma is eternal, imperishable. Manu says (Manu 4.239):

na_mutra hi saha_ya_rtham pita_ ma_ta ca tis.t.hatah 
na pputrada_ram na jn~a_tidharmostis.t.hati kevalah

When one departs from this world to the other world, neither father nor mother, neither son nor wife will accompany him. Only the Dharma practised by an individual follows him even after death.

Dharman, satya, r.ta

kim satyam? bhu_tahitam. What is truth? That which leads to well-being of all living beings. This is the question and answer provided by S’ankara. The same applies to Dharma. Satya, ‘the idea of morality’ is ‘verily planted in the heart’, says Katha Up. 3.9.23. S’ankara notes that while the idea of dharma may be in the breast of a human being, in reality it is activated only in relation to the specific social environment (nimitta-vis’es.a). Thus, the sense of right and wrong is a unique characteristic of a human being within sentient creation. (M. Hiriyanna, 1975, Indian Conception of Values, Mysore, Kavyalaya Publishers, p. 154).

A word often used in the R.veda is satya (truth), defined as that on which the universe rests, almost an elucidation of r.ta, the law, principle, or order of things. (RV 10.85.1). notes that r.ta is the eternal law and order of the universe (RV 10.190.1). The concepts of satya and r.ta are expanded in dharman, used in the R.gveda.  

satyenottabhita_ bhu_mih su_ryen.a_ttabhita_ dya_h 
r.tena_diya_s tis.t.hanti divi somo adhi s'ritah

RV 10.85.1 [r.s.i: su_rya_ s_vitri_ (r.s.ika_); devata_: soma] Earth is upheld by truth; heaven is upheld by the sun; the A_dityas are supported by sacrifice, Soma is supreme in heaven. [Truth: i.e., Brahman, the eternal soul]. 

r.tam ca satyam c_bhi_ddha_t tapaso dhy aja_yata 
tato ra_try aja_yata tatah samudra_ arn.avah

RV 10.190.1 [r.s.i: ma_dhucchandasa; devata_: bha_vavr.tta] Truth (of thought) and truthfulness (of speech) were born of arduous penance, thence was night generated, thence also the watery ocean. [Penance: an allusion to the penance of Brahma_ preceding creation; tatah = from that penance, or from him (Brahma_); watery ocean: samudra = firmament and ocean (arn.ava)]. 

Definition of Dharma (Section 79.7) declares thus:

dharmo vis'vasya jagatah pratis.t.ha_ 
loke dharmis.t.ha praja_ upasarpanti 
dharmen.a pa_pamapanudati 
dharme sarvam pratis.thitam 
tasma_ddharmam paramam vadanti

Dharma constitutes the foundation of all affairs in the world. People respect those who adhere to Dharma. Dharma insulates (man) against sinful thoughts. Everything in this world is founded on Dharma. Dharma, therefore, is considered supreme.

The supremacy of dharma is emphasized in

tadetat ks.atrasya ks.atram yaddharmah 
tasma_ddharma_tparam na_sti 
atho abali_ya_n bali_ya_msama_s'amsate dharmen.a 
yatha ra_ja_ evam

The law (Dharma) is the king of kings. No one is superior to Dharma. The Dharma aided by the power of the king enables the weak to prevail over the strong.

ta_dr.s'oyamanupras'no yatra dharmah sudurlabhah 
dus.karah pratisankhya_tum tatkena_tra vyavasyati 
prabhava_rtha_ya bhu_ta_na_m dharmapravanam kr.tam 
yah sya_tprabhavasamyuktah sa dharma iti nis'cayah (MBh. S'a_ntiparva 109.9-11)

It is most difficult to define Dharma. Dharma has beene xplained to be that which helps the upliftment of living beings. Therefore, that which ensures the welfare of living beings is surely Dharma. The learned r.s.i-s have declared that which sustains is dharma.

Jaimini, cited in Sabarabha_s.ya (pp. 4-7) states: sa hi ni s'reyasena samyunakti_ti pratija_ni_mahe tadabhidhi_yate (Dharma is that which is indicated by the Vedas as conducive to the highest good).

This is further emphasised in Karn.a Parva (ch. 69, verse 58):

dha_ran.a_d dharma ityua_hurdharmo dha_rayate praja_h 
yat sya_d dha_ran.asamyuktam sa dharma iti nis'cayah

Dharms sustains the society; Dharma maintains the social order; Dharma ensures well-being and progress of humanity; Dharms is surely that which fulfils these objectives.

In the context of the purus.a_rtha-s or pursuits of human beings, the supremacy of dharma is declared by Manu in emphatic terms (Manu 2.224 and 4.176):

dharma_rtha_vus.yate s'reyah ka_ma_rtho dharma eva ca 
artha eveha va_ s'reyastrivargam iti tu sthitih 
parityajedarthaka_mau yau sya_ta_ dharmavarjitau 
dharma ca_pyasukhodarka lokavikrus.t.ameva ya

To achieve welfare and happiness, some declare Dharma and Artha are good. Others declare that Artha and Ka_ma are better. Still others declare that Dharma is the best. There are also persons who declare Artha alone secures happiness. But the correct view is that the aggregate of Dharma, Artha and Ka_ma (Trivarga) secures welfare and happiness. However, discard the desire (ka_ma) and material wealth (artha) if contrary to Dharma; as also, any usage or custom or rules regarded as source of Dharma if at any time they were to lead to unhappiness or arous people's indignation.

Sources of Dharma

Manu Smr.ti explains the sources of dharma as follows:

vedokhilo dharmamu_lam smr.tis'i_le ca tadvida_m 
a_ca_ras'caiva sa_dhu_na_matmanastus.t.ireva ca (Manu 2.6)

The Veda is the first source of Dharma. The exposition by the Seers, handed down from generation to generation by memory, the virtuous conduct of those who are well-versed in the Veda, and lastly, what is agreeable to the good conscience, are the other sources.

Dharman is used in the R.gveda in the following, generally translated as nature of things or duties (to be performed): 

tri_n.i pada_ vi cakrame vis.n.ur gopa_ ada_bhyah

ato dharma_n.i dha_rayan

RV1.022.18 [r.s.i: medha_tithi; devata_: vis.n.u] Vis.n.u, the preserver, the uninjurable, stepped three steps, upholding thereby righteous acts. [gopa_, sarvasya jagato raks.akah: the preserver of all the worlds; the principal attribute of Vis.n.u].

s’akamayam dhu_mam a_ra_d apas’yam vis’u_vata_ para ena_rvaran.a pr.s’nim apacanta vi_ra_s ta_ni dharma_n.i prathama_ny a_san

RV1.164.43 [r.s.i: di_rghatama_ aucatthya: devata_: prathama_rddha s'akadhu_ma, dviti_ya_rddha soma] I beheld near (me) the smoke of burning cow-dung; and by that tall-pervading means (effect), discovered the cause (fire); the priests have the Soma ox, for such are their first duties. [The Soma ox: pr.s'nim apacanta: pr.s'ni = Soma; = the shedder or bestower of the reward of the sacrifice].

yajn~ena yajn~am ayajanta deva_s ta_ni dharma_n.i prathama_ny a_san

te ha na_kam mahima_nah sacanta yatra pu_rve sa_dhya_h santi deva_h

RV1.164.50 [r.s.i: di_rghatama_ aucatthya: devata_: sa_dhya] The uniform water passes upwards and downwards in the course of days; clouds give joy to the earth; fires rejoice the heaven.

3.3.1 [r.s.i: vis'va_mitra ga_thina; devata_: vais'va_nara agni] Intelligent (worshippers), offer to the powerful Vais'va_nara precious things at holy rites, that they may go (the way of the good), for the immortal Agni worships the gods; therefore, let no one violate eternal duties.

samidhyama_nah prathama_nu dharma_ sam aktubhir ajyate vis’vava_rah

s’ocis’kes’o ghr.tanirn.ik pa_vakah suyajn~o agnir yajatha_ya deva_n

RV3.017.1[r.s.i: kata vais'va_mitra; devata_: agni; chanda: tris.t.up] The righteous (Agni) when first kindled on the several (altars) the object of adoration by all, whose hair is flame, and who is cleansed with butter, the purifier, the worthy-worshipped, is sprinkled with oblations for the worship of the gods. [The righteous Agni: prathama_nudharma_: dharma is a synonym of agni; or, the construction may be anudharma, according to law or religion].

indra r.bhuma_n va_java_n matsveha no smin savane s’acya_ purus.t.uta

ima_ni tubhyam svasara_n.i yemire vrata_ deva_na_m’ ca dharmabhih

RV3.060.06 [r.s.i: vis'va_mitra ga_thina; devata_;5,6 r.bhugan.a and indra] Indra, the praised of many, associated with R.bhu, and with Va_ja, exult with S'aci, at this our sacrifice; these self-revolving (days) are devoted to you, as well as the ceremonies (addressed) to the gods, and the virtuous acts of man. [S'aci = karman, act, rite].

samidha_nah sahasrajid agne dharma_n.i pus.yasi

deva_na_m du_ta ukthyah

RV5.026.06 [r.s.i: vasu_yu a_treya; devata_: agni] Victor over thousands, you favour, when kindled our holy rites, the honoured messenger of the gods.

dharman.a_ mitra_varun.a_ vipas’cita_ vrata_ raks.ethe asurasya ma_yaya_

r.tena vis’vam bhuvanam vi ra_jathah su_ryam a_ dhattho divi citryam ratham

RV5.063.07 [r.s.i: arcana_na_ a_treya; devata_: mitra_varun.a] Discerning, sagacious, Mitra and Varun.a, by your office you protect pious rites, through the power of the emitter of showers; you illumine the whole world with water; you sustain the sun, the adorable chariot in the sky.

vratena stho dhruvaks.ema_ dharman.a_ ya_tayajjana_

ni barhis.i sadatam somapi_taye

RV5.072.02 [r.s.i: ba_huvr.kta a_treya; devata_: mitra_varun.a] Steady are you in your functions, whom men animate by (their) devotion; come and sit down upon the sacred grass to drink the Soma libation. 

bhagaste hastamagrihi_t savita_ hastamagrahi_t patni_ tvamasi dharman.a_ham gr.hapatistava

Bhaga has grasped your hand; Savita_ has grasped your hand; you are (my) spouse by ordinance (dharman), I your house-lord. [Ppp. Reads dha_ta_ for bhagas] Atharva Veda 14.1.51 [Marriage Ceremonies] cf. Va_jasneyi Sam.hita_ 10.29 

Dharma (interpreted sometimes as ‘custom’ or ‘law’) is used in:

r.tam satyam tapo ra_s.t.ram s’ramo dharmas’ca karma ca bhu_tam bhavis.yaducchis.t.e vi_ryam laks.mi_rbalam bale 

Righteousness, truth, penance, kingship, soil, and virtue (dharma) and deed (karman), being (bhu_ta), what will be, (is) in the remnant; heroism, fortune (laks.mi_), strength in strength. (Atharva Veda 11.7.17: Extolling the remnant – ucchis.t.a – of the offering) r.ta is explained by manasa yatha_rthasam.kalpanam, ‘right conception’; bale is elucidated as: balavati tasminn uchchis.t.e. Ppp has di_ks.a_ for ra_s.t.ram. 

ojas’ca tejas’ca sahas’ca balam ca va_k cendriyam ca s’ri_s’ca dharmas’ca

Both force, and brilliancy, and power, and strength, and speech, and sense (indriya), and fortune, and virtue (dharma)AV 12.5.7 [The bra_hman.a’s cow; brahmagavi_ su_kta; AV 12.5.5 starts: tam_dada_nasya brahmagavi_m jinato ks.atriyasya, ‘of the ks.atriya who takes to himself that bra_hman.a-cow, who scathes the bra_hman.a. When such an action occurs, there departs happiness (sunr.ta_, the heroism, the good luck and also force, brilliange, power etc. etc.] 

Iyam na_ri_ patilokam vr.n.a_na_ ni padyata upa tva_ martya pretam dharmam pura_n.amanupa_layanti_ tasyai praja_m ceha thehi

This woman, choosing her husband’s world, lies down (nipad) by ou that are departed, O mortal, continuing to keep (her) ancient duty (dharma); to her assign you here progeny and property. (AV 18.3.1 [pitr.megha su_kta]). Cf. TS; VS 15.6; VS 20.9; VS 30.6 


R.ta is cognate with r.tu. R.ta is the cyclical order of nature, a cosmic order which regulates the lives of the people and is celebrated through the process of yajn~a-s. The yajn~as are celebrated at the beginning of each r.tu, each ca_turma_sya, a four-month season in a year, dividing the year of 12 months into three seasons. R.tu is ‘season’ (RV 1.49.3; 84.18). is a priest who conducts the yajn~a. The seven priests enumerated in the R.gveda (RV 2.1.2) are: hotr., potr., nes.t.r., agni_dh, pras’a_str., adhvaryu, Brahman. They are collectively called sapta-hotr., a term which occurs frequently in the R.gveda. The term s’arad is a designation for a year; it denotes the harvest.; the other terms used to denote a year are: hima_ and sama_. AV 8.9.17 divides the year into two periods of six months which may be an indication of an older tradition. RV 1.164.2 (tri-na_bhi), RV 1.164.48 (tri_n.i nabhya_ni) may refer to three seasons. Cha_turma_sya_ni are four-monthly yajn~a-s performed at the beginning of the season (cf. S’Br. RV 10.90.6 refers to vasanta (spring), (summer) and s’arad (autumn). Other seasons may be referred to by the terms in the R.gveda: pra_-vr.s. (rainy season), hima_, hemanta (winter season). RV 5.14.4; 10.91.4 may also refer to three seasons: ga_vah (spring), a_pah (rains) and svar (= gharma, summer). A_pastamba S’rauta Su_tra (8.4.2) refers to the three seasons: r.ta, gharma and os.adhi. Hemanta is the last season according to the S’Br. ( Five seasons are mentioned in other texts (AV 8.2.22; 9.15; 13.1.18; TS;,2;; 3.1.2; 4.12.2; 6.10.1; 7.2.4;; MS 1.7.3; 3.4.8; 13.1; Ka_t.haka Sam.hita_ 4.14; 9.16; VS 10.10-14; S’Br.;; TBr.; 11.10.4; cf. RV 1.164.13): vasanta,, vars.a_, s’arad, hemanta-s’is’ira. Sometimes vars.a_-s’arad are combined into one season (S’Br. Dividing hemanta-s’is’ira into two seasons, six seasons are identified. (AV 6.55.2; 7.1.36; TS; 7.3; 2.6.1; MS 1.7.3; 3.11.12; KS 8.6; VS 21.23-38; S’Br.;;; TBr. 2.6.19; cf. RV 1.23.15). An intercalary month may also be reckoned as a season making the seasons seven. (RV. 6.61.2; 8.9.18; S’Br.;; 2.3.45; 3.1.19; 5.2.8; cf. AV 4.11.9; RV 1.164.1). 


R.n.a means, in the metaphorical sense, in the R.gveda, ‘debt’. (RV 2.27.4). Debt is often contracted at dicing. (RV 10.34.10; AV 6.119.1). Paying off a debt was swam-ni_ (RV 8.47.17 = AV 6.46.3). There is also an allusion to contracting debt without intention of payment (AV 6.119.1). Non-payment of a debt may result in the dicer becoming a slave (RV 10.34). RV 10.34.4 may refer to the binding (to a post, dru-pada) and taking away of a debtor. RV 1.169.7 may also refer to a similar binding of a debtor. AV may also refer to debt with an allusion to binding to a post as a punishment, as a pressure put on the debtor to pay up the debt. Three hymns of AV (AV 6.117-119) are interpreted in Kaus’ika Su_tra (xlvi. 36-40) may refer to the occasion of the payment of a debt after the creditor’s decease. 

The concept of r.n.a is expanded to a pious obligations towards (1) deva; (2) pitr.; (3) r.s.i; and (4) ma_nava.

The Great Epic (A_diparva Ch. 120, 17-20) explains:

r.n.aais'caturbhih samyukta_ ja_yante ma_nava_ bhudi 
pitr.deva_r.s.imanujairdeyam tebhyas'r dharmatah 
yajn~aistu deva_n pri_n.a_ti sva_dhya_yatapasa_ muni_n 
putraih s'raddhaih pitr.s'ca_i a_nr.s'amsyena ma_nava_n

Every individual should discharge four pious obligations. They are devar.n.a (debt to god), pitr.r.n.a (debt to ancestors), (debt to teachers and seers) and manavar.n.a (debt to humanity). A person should discharge pitr.r.n.a by maintaining continuity of the family; devar.n.a by worship; by the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge; and ma_navar.n.a by every type of social service.

Since the individual is the foundation for a harmonious society, the obligations are to be discharged during various stages of a person's life and are referred to as a_s'rama-dharma (a_s'rama further classified as related to acquisition of knowledge as a student, discharging family responsibilities as a householder and devoting oneself to social service and ultimately renunciation of temporal desires -- brahmacarya_s'rama-, gr.hasta_s'rama-, va_naprastha_s'rama- and sanya_s'a_s'rama-dharma. Samska_ra-s a(trans. sacraments) re prescribed for each stage of life.

Jaina metaphysical categories: Dharma and Adharma

In the Jaina thought, dharma and adharma are defined as the principle of motion and principle of rest; this is a unique characterization in Jaina metaphysics. The two phenomena are said to pervade the whole of loka-a_ka_s’a; they are subtle; movement is associated with either a ji_va or pudgala (being sakriya dravyas); the movement is dependent upon the presence of dharma. Dharma dravya makes movement possible; an analogy is provided by fish swimming, while swimming is impossible without the presence of water. Adharma dravya enables a moving object, living or non-living to come to rest. The analogy is of a bird coming to a stop by ceasing to beat its wings; this is contingent upon the bird ceasing to fly perching on a tree branch or on the ground. The two principles, dharma and adharma account for the definite structure of the world. So, too, ka_la is a dravya. [cf. S.K. Chatterji et al. (eds.), 1937, The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol. I, Calcutta, Ramakrishna Mission, p. 425]. 

Ten duties (dharma_h) are prescribed for the Jaina monks: ks.ama_ (khama_, endurance), ma_rdavam (maddavam, humility), a_rjavam (ajjavam, uprightness), s'aucam (s'oyam, desirelessness), satyam (saccam, truth), samyamah (samjame, self-discipline), tapah (tave, penance), tya_gah (ciya_ge, renunciation), a_imcanyam (a_kimcaniya_, possessionlessness), brahmacaryam (bambham, chastity).

"Now as regards the precise character of dharma. Broadly speaking, there are three views. According to some Mi_ma_msakas, we have to understand by dharma an action. But action being transient, it cannot by itself account for the result, whose attainment is often put off to a later day. So it is believed that, before it is completed, the act produces an appropriate effect, called apu_rva, which abides in the self of the agent until its reqard is reaped by him. Dharma, then, in this view, yields its fruit through the intermediary of apu_rva. According to some others, like the followers of the Nya_ya-vais'es.ika, it is this apu_rva and not the action, that is designated by dharma. It thus becomes here a quality characterising the self. Finally, according to theistic doctrines, dharma is neither an action nor a quality; it is rather the grace (prasa_da) of God, the consequence of our meritorious deeds, that is so called, and explains the conferment of the reward. But, however its exact character may be explained., the noteworthy point about dharma is that it is conceived as instrumental to the attainment of some good or the avoidance of some evil. S'abara, for example, defines it as 'what conduces to good'. (s'reyaskara eva dharmah -- 1.1.2)." . (M. Hiriyanna, 1975, Indian Conception of Values, Mysore, Kavyalaya Publishers, pp. 159-160).

Buddha Dhamma

In the Buddhist thought: anussava itiha-itiha-parampara_-pit.aka-sampada_ dhamma – a system of moral discipline which is based upon customs, usages, or traditions handed down from time immemorial. (Majjhima-nika_ya, I.520). In broad terms, dhamma may have meant phenomena. Buddhist thought recognized the dhamma as applied to the upa_saka (layperson), pabbajita (wanderer), and the arhat (enlightened). Dhamm as an ideal already accepted by many people and as it applied to the upa_saka (layperson) was elaborated, about 250 BCE, in As'oka's Rock Edict Nos.1,3,7,9 and 11, 12, Pillar Edict, No. 2 and 3 1, In the 13th Edict, As'oka also notes, in an address to his sons and grandsons that he himself found pleasure in conquests by the Dhamma and not in conquests by the sword. On monuments of the third century BCE, there is a reference to a donor described with the epithet, dhamma-kathika; the term is explained as, 'preacher of the system', dhamma signifying the philosophical and ethical doctrine as distinct from the Vinaya, the Rules of the Order. (T.W. Rhys Davids, 1902, Buddhist India, repr. Delhi, Munshiram Manoharlal, p. 167; Edict citations, pp. 295-297).

Sa_ma_nya Dharma, the ethic

The moral edicts echo the statement of Manu:

ahimsa_ satyamasteyam s'aucamindriyanigrahah 
etam sa_ma_sikam dharma ca_turvarn.yebravi_nmanuh (Manu 10.63)

Non-violence, truthfulness, not acquiring illegitimate wealth, purity and control of senses are, in brief, the common dharma for all the varn.a-s.

adharmen.aaidhate ta_vat tato bhadra_n.i pas'ati tatah sapatna_n jayati samu_lastu vinas'yati (those who indulge in adharma attain immediate success and secure fulfilment of their desires. They overpower their opponents. But ultimately their ruin down in the roots is certain).

The ethical code is emphasised in the Great Epic (S'a_ntiparva 6-8):

akrodhah satyavacanam samvibha_gah ks.ama_ tatha_ 
prajanah sves.u da_res.u s'aucamadroha eva ca navaite sa_rvavarn.ika_h

Truthfulness, to be free from anger, sharing wealth with others, forgiveness, procreation of children from one's wife alone, purity, absence of enmity, straightforwardness and maintaining persons dependent on oneself are the nine rules of the Dharma of persons belonging to all the varn.a-s.


Exposure of children. Ka_t.haka Sam.hita_ (27.9) [cf. TS; S’a_n:kha_yana S’rauta Su_tra 15.17.12; Nirukta 3.4] may refer to an exposure of children or getting rid of a daughter on her marriage, or just laying the child aside, while a boy was lifted up. 

Exposure of the aged. R.gveda (8.51.2) and AV (18.2.34) refer to ud-hita_h (exposed persons). The latter passage may be a reference to bodies being exposed after death to elements (a practice followed by the Parsi_s). The RV passage refers to some who may have been cast out. The RV reference to Cyavana (RV 1.116.10; 117.13; 118.6; 5.74.5; 7.68.6; 71.5; 10.39.4) as an old decrepit man, whom the As’vins restored to youth and strength may be cited as an example of exposure of the aged. 

Prostitution. R.gveda refers to the putting away of an illegitimate child (RV 2.29.1); brotherless girls were often reduced to becoming prostitutes (RV 1.124.7; 4.5.5; AV 1.17.1). The terms pum.s’cali_ (AV 15.2) and maha_nagni_ (Av 14.1.36; 20.136.5; AiBr. 1.27) may mean ‘harlot’. Other references to prostitution are: RV 8.17.7; RV 1.167.4 (may be a reference to polyandry). VS (30.6) refers to kuma_ri_-putra (son of a maiden); RV (4.19.9; 30.16, 19; 2.13.12; 15.17) refers to agru_ (son of an unmarried girl), exposed and attacked by animals. VS (30.5) uses the expressions ati_tvari_, vijarjara_; TBr. ( uses the epithets atis.hadvari_ (apashadvari_) which may indicate prostitution as a profession.

Adultery. TS (, MS (3.4.7) forbid connection with another man’s wife during certain rites. Varun.a-pragha_sas (MS 1.10.11; S’Br. has a wife naming her lover or lovers; this may have been a means to banish the evil brought on a family by a wife’s fall. Br.hada_ran.yaka (10.61.5-7) prescribes a mantra to expiate relations with the wife of a s’rotriya (theological bra_hman.a).

Incest. RV (RV 10.10) refers in disapproval, to Yama and Yami_ and the marriage of brother andsister. Possibly a similar situation is alluded to in RV 10.162.5. RV 10.61.5-7 refers to the marriage of Praja_pati and his daughter, which is explained in the (AiBr. 2.33; S’Br.; cf. AV 8.6.7).

Social responsibility and the glory of sacrifice is exquisitely highlighted in the Hitopades'a:

tyajedekam kulasya_rthe gra_masya_rthe kulam tyajet 
gra_mam janapadasya_rthe a_tma_rthe pr.thivi_m tyajet

Sacrifice (or subordinate) individual interest to that of the family; sacrifice family interest to that of the village; sacrifice the interest of the village to that of the nation; renounce all worldly interest if you want your soul to rest in peace.

Vyavaha_ra Dharma, the criminal and civil law

The law of two broad categories: criminal law and civil law are elaborated.

Crime and punishment: king administer’s criminal justice 

In Cha_ndogya (5.11.5), As’vapati provides a list of sinners. The list includes a drinker of intoxicating liquor, a thief, and one who does not maintain a sacrificial fire. R.gveda (1.191.5; 6.27.3; 7.55.3; 8.29.6) denotes a thief or robber as a taskara. The same term is used in other texts. (AV 4.3.2; 19.49.7; 50.5; VS 11.77.78; 12.62; 16.21; Nirukta 3.14). Another term, stena, is a synonym mentioned along with taskara. (V 8.55.3; AV 19.47.7; 50.5; VS 11.79; 16.21). AV (19.50.5) refer to these terms as connoting cattle and horse thieves. ChU (5.10.9) lists sins equal in wickedness: stealing gold, drinking spirits, defiling a Guru’s bed and the murder of a Brahmin. 

ChUp (6.16) mentions the ordeal of the red-hot axe in an accusation of theft. When a theft was taken red-handed, the punishment could be death (Gautama DhS 13.43; A_p DhS In other cases, theft was punished with binding to posts. (AV 19.47.9; 50.1). Pan~cavims’a Br. (14.6.6) refers to divya (ordeal). It is likely that RV 3.53.22 also refers to this ordeal. 

TS (, KS (27.9; 31.7), Kapis.t.hala Sam.hita_ (12.7), MS (4.1.9), TBr. (, Tar (2.7.8; 8.3), Br.U (4.1.22), Nirukta (6.27), Kaus.i_taki_ U (3.1), AV (6.112.3; 113.2) refer to the slaying of an embryo (bhru_n.a) as a crime. Slaying of a Brahmin is a crime. (TS;;; KS 31.7; TBr.; Tar. 1.38; S’Br.; Nirukta 6.27). Vasis.t.ha Dharma Su_tra (20.23) interprets bhu_n.a as Brahmin. 

Treachery is a crime punishable by death. (Pan~cavims’a Br. 14.6.8, story of Kutsa). 

Slaying of a vi_ra (man) is a crime. In R.gveda, vi_ra connotes a (strong and heroic) man (RV 1.18.4; 114.8; 4.29.2; 5.20.4; 61.5); so too in AV (2.26.4; 3.5.8). The word also denotes ‘male offspring,’ (RV 2.32.4; 3.4.9; 36.10; 7.34.20; TS 

Pan~cavims’a Br. lists eight vi_ras of the king (19.1.4) – perhaps public officers in the administration of the country: 1. king’s brother, 2. his son, 3. purohita, 4. mahis.i_, 5. su_ta, 6. gra_man.i, 7. ks.attr., 8. sam.grahi_tr. A variant list occurs while defining ratnin, the people of the royal court in whose houses the ratna-havis, a yajn~a was performed during ra_jasu_ya (royal consecration). TS ( and TBr. ( list the ratnins: 1. purohita, 2. ra_janya, 3. mahis.i_ (first wife of the king), 4. va_va_ta (favourite wife of the king), 5. parivr.kti_ (discarded wife), 6. sena_ni_ (commander of the army), 7. su_ta (charioteer), 8. gra_man.i_ (village headman), 9. ks.attr. (chamberlain), 10. sam.grahi_tr. (charioteer or treasurer), 11. bha_gadugha (collector of taxes or divider of food), 12. aks.a_va_pa (superintendent of dicing or thrower of dice). S’Br. ( provides a variant list: sena_ni_, purohita, mahhis.i_, su_ta, gra_man.i_, ks.attr., sam.grahi_tr., bha_gadugha, aks.a_vapa, go-nikartana (slayer of cows or huntsman) and pa_la_gala (courier). The discarded wife is to stay at home when an offering to Nirr.ti is made. MS (2.6.5; 4.3.8) provides a variant list: purohita, ra_jan, mahis.i_, parivr.kti_, sena_ni_, sam.grahi_tr., ks.attr., su_ta, vais’yagra_man.i_, bha_gadugha, taks.a-rathaka_rau (carpenter and chariot-maker), aks.a_va_pa, and go-vikarta. KS (15.4) substitutes go-vyacha for go-vikarta, and omits taks.a-rathaka_rau.  

VS (30.13) and TBr. ( refer to vaira-hatya_ (manslaughter). Tart. (10.40) refers to vi_ra-hatya_ (murder of a man) as a crime; vi_ra-han (man-slayer) is mentioned in: TS (;; KS (31.7); Kapis.t.hala Sam.hita) (37.7); MS (4.1.9); TBr. (; VS (30.5); PBr. (12.6.8; 16.1,12). R.gveda (2.32.4) prescribes a compensation for killing: a hundred (cows) – s’ata-da_ya – i.e. one whose compensation is a hundred. Yajurveda Sam.hita_ (11.1) also refers to s’ata-da_ya. AitBr. (7.15.7) refers to the compensation of a hundred (cows) for S’unahs’epa. KS (31.7), VS (30.5) refer to the slaying of a man (vi_ra) as a crime. Vasis.t.ha Dharma Su_tra (3.15-18) elaborates on cases of justiciable homicide. Vaira and Vaira-deya refer to the money to be paid for killing a man as a compensation to his relatives. (Pan~cavim.s’a Br. 16.1.12; TS; KS 9.2; Kapis.t.hala Sam.hita_ 8.5; MS 1.7.5). RV 5.61.8 uses the term vaira-deya. (cf. KS 23.8; A_pastambha Su_tra ( and Baudha_yana Su_tra (,2) refer to vaira-deya and prescribe the scale of 1,000 cows for a ks.atriya, 100 for a vais’ya, 10 for a s’u_dra; and in each case, a bull is also to be paid as compensation. Killing of a bra_hman.a is too heinous for a compensation. The compensation is for the purpose of vaira-ya_tana (requital of enmity) or vaira-nirya_tana (expiation). Baudha_yana indicates that the compensation is to be paid to the king. A_pastamba Su_tra ( prescribes the same scale for women. 

The heir is a da_ya_da (S’Br.; Nirukta 3.4; AV, a receiver of inheritance. Da_ya means a reward of exertion (s’rama) in the R.gveda (RV 10.114.10); the word is semantically expanded, in later times, to mean, ‘inheritance’ – division among the sons of a father’s property either during the latter’s lifetime or after his death. Taittiri_ya Sam.hita_ ( refers to Manu’s division of his property. One son Na_bha_nedis.t.ha was excluded, the exclusion was compensated by the son obtaining cattle (pas’avah), a clear indication that cattle was the foundation of wealth. Aitareya Bra_hman.a (5.14) elaborates that the division was made by Manu’s sons, during his lifetime, while leaving their aged father to Na_bhanedis.t.ha. Jaimini_ya Bra_hman.a (3.156) notes that four sons divided the inheritance while their old father, Abhiprata_rin, was still alive. Taittiri_ya Sam.hita_ ( notes that the elder son was usually preferred, in the method of division of land as property. Pan~cavims’a Bra_hman.a (31.2) indicates tha tduring the father’s life-time, another son, other than the eldest son, might be preferred. S’Br. (16.4.4) and Nirukta ( excliuded women from partition or inheritance. The detailed procedures and rules of inheritance are stipulated in the Su_tras (Acf. Jolly, Recht und Sitte, 80 et seq.) 

The system of the vaira (compensation) which is to be paid to the king (as stipulated in the Su_tra-s) may be interpreted as an indication that criminal justice moved into the jurisdiction of royal power from the hands of the people who were wronged. S’Br. notes that the king wields the dan.d.a, i.e. punishment. 

Equality before law

The concept is traced to the R.gveda and Atharvaveda.

ajyes.t.ha_so akanis.t.ha_sa ete sam bha_rataro va_vr.dhuh saubhaga_ya

RV 5.60.5 No one is superior or inferior. All are brothers. All should strive for the interest of all and should progress collectively.

sama_ni_ prapa_ saha tonnabha_gah 
sama_ne yovate saha vo yunajmi 
ara_h na_bhimiva_bhitah

AV Samjn~a_na su_kta: All have equal rights to articles of food and water. The yoke of the chariot of life is placed equally on the shoulders of all. All should live together in harmony supporting one another like the spokes of a wheel of the chariot connecting its rim and the hub.

The king himself is not above the law when a crime is committed by the king. Vr.s’a ja_na (descendant of Jana) was a purohita who was with his king Tryarun.a. The purohita saw a boy killed by the chariot driven fast by the king. The purohita reproached the king and recalled the by to life. (PBr. 13.3.12). Br.haddevata_ (5.23) refers to Bha_llavi Bra_hman.a which also narrates this story. Iks.va_kus are reported to have decided that the action of the king was sinful, and required expiation. (Sieg, Die Sagenstoffe des R.gveda, 66,67). Ka_t.haka Sam.hita_ (27.4) notes that a ra_janya is adhyaks.a when a su’u_dra is punished (han); this indicates that the judicial duties related to criminal justice were administered by king’s assessors. 

The ideal of ra_jadharma is explained in the Great Epic (S'a_ntiparva, verse 3 (1), Ch. 90: dharma_ya ra_ja_ bhavati na ka_makarana_ya tu (the proper function of the king is to rule according to Dharma (the law) and not to enjoy the luxuries of life).

This is elucidated further by Manu:

(9.31): yatha_ sarva_n.i bhu_ta_ni dhara_ dha_rayate samam tatha sarva_n.i bhu_ta_ni vibhratah pa_rthiva vratam (Just as the mother earth gives equal support to all the living beings, a king should give support to all without any discrimination).

Na_rada Smr.ti clarifies (cf. Dharmakos'a p.870):'ren.i_pu_gavra_tagan.a_dis.u samraks.etsamayam ra_ja_ durge janapade tatha_ (The king should afford protection to compacts of associations of believers of Veda -- naigamas -- as also of disbelievers in Veda -- and of others).

Civil Law 

R.gveda uses the terms urvara_ and ks.etra. (urvara_: RV 1.127.6; 4.41.6; 5.33.5; 6.25.4; 10.30.3; 142.3; AV 10.6.33; 10.8; 14.2.14; ks.etra: RV 10.33.6; 3.31.15; 5.60.7). 

Urvara_ is a pieces of ploughland. Fertile fields (apnasvati_: RV 1.127.6) and waste fields (a_rtana_: RV 1.127.6) are referred to. The fields are cultivated using irrigation. (RV 7.49.2; AV 1.6.4; 19.2.2). Use of manure on fields is alluded to. (AV; 19.31.3). urvara_-sa_, urvara_-jit, are epithets [like ks.etra-sa_ in RV 4.38.1] meaning ‘winning fields’ (RV 6.20.1; 2.22.1; 4.38.1). RV 4.41.6 refers to fields in the same connection as children, indicating acquisition of fields by conquest or transfers. urvara_-pati is lord of fields used of a god (RV 8.21.3). It is noted that ploughland was bounded by grass land (khila, khilya) (Pischel, Vedische Studien, 2, 204-207). 

ks.etra is cultivated land (RV 1.100.18; 9.85.4; 91.6), is carefully measured off (RV 1.110.5); is carefully marked (AV 4.18.5; 5.31.4; 10.1.18; 11.1.22; TS; ChUp. 7.24.2) and also refers to a place in general (RV 5.2.3; 45.9; 6.47.20). ks.etra-jes.a is acquisition of land (RV 1.33.15); ks.etra_-sa_ is gaining land (RV 4.38.1); ks.etram-jaya is conquering cultivated land (MS 2.2.11). ks.etrasya pati is lord of the field (RV 4.37.1,2; 7.35.10; 10.66.13; AV 2.8.5); ks.etrasya patni_ is mistress of the field (AV 2.12.1); ks.etra_n.a_m patih is lord of fields (VS 16.18). Conquest of fields is referred to as ks.etra_n.i sam.ji (TS; KS 5.2; MS 4.12.3). 

S’Br. refers to a ks.atriya, who with the consent of the people, gives a settlement to a man, i.e., assigns to him a particular ks.etra for his own, probably measured out and recorded as in RV 1.110.5. These references indicate that the concept of separate holdings, perhaps individual ownership in land, is as old as the R.gveda. This is confirmed by Apa_la_ referring to her father’s field (urvara_) on the same level as his head of hair as a personal possession (RV 8.91.5). ChUp. (7.24.2) includes fields and houses (a_yatana_ni) as examples of wealth. 

Taittiri_ya Sam.hita_ (; 3.2; 3.9.2), Maitra_yan.i_ Sam.hita_ (2.1.9; 2.3; 4.2.7) refer to gra_ma-ka_ma (desirous of a village); this may be a reference to the desire of people to obtain from the king a grant of royal prerogatives over villages, perhaps in fiscal matters. While a ks.atriya possesses, with the consent of the clan, the right to apportion land (S’Br., the grand of villages to landlords is a common practice in the days after the later sam.hita_s. 

The recognized modes of transfer of chattels are da_na (gift) and kraya (barter or sale). The Su_tras (Gautama Dharma Su_tra 10.36 et seq.) have rules for the disposal of lost property (given to the kind).

Va_jasneyi Sam.hita_ (30) and Taittiri_ya Br. (3.4) refer to fixed allowances paid to technical workers of the village. 


1. No animal may be slaughtered for sacrifice.

2. Tribal feasts in high places are not to be celebrated.

3. Docility to parents is good.

4. Liberality to friends, acquaintances and relatives, and to brahmins and recluses is good.

5. Not to injure living beings is good.

6. Economy in expenditure, and avoiding disputes, is good.

7. Self-mastery, 8. Purity of heart, 9. Gratitude, 10. Fidelity: are always possible and excellent even for the man who is too poor to be able to give largely.

11. People perform rites or ceremonies for luck on occasion of sickness, weddings, childbirth, or on starting on a journey -- corrupt and worthless ceremonies. Now there is a lucky ceremony that may be performed -- not worthless like those, but full of fruit, -- the lucky ceremony of the Dhamma. And therein is included right conduct towards slaves and servants, honour towards teachers, self-restraint towards living things, liberality to brahmins and recluses. These things, and others such as these, are the lucky ceremony according to the Dhamma. Therefore should one -- whether father or son or brother or master -- interfere and say: "So is right. Thus should the ceremony be done to lasting profit. People say liberality is good. But no gift, no aid is so good as giving to others the gift of the Dhamma, as aiding others to gain the Dhamma."

12. Toleration. Honour should be paid to all, laymen and recluses alike, belonging to other sects. No one should disparage other sects to exalt his own. Self-restraint in words is the right thing. And let a man seek rather after the growth in his own sect of the essence of the matter.

13. The Dhamma is good. But what is the Dhamma? The having but little, in one's own mind, of the Intoxications; doing many benefits to others; compassion; liberality; truth; purity.

14. Man sees but his good deeds, saying: "This good act have I done." Man sees not all his evil deeds, saying: "Thus had not have I done, that act is corruption." Such self-examination is hard. Yet must a man watch over himself, saying: "Such and such acts lead to corruption, -- such as brutality, cruelty, anger, and pride. I will zealously see to it that I slander not out of envy. That will be to my advantage in the world, to my advantage, verily, in the world to come."


Dharma is an ordering principle which is independent of one’s faith or methods of worship or what is understood by the term ‘religion’, thus providing for total freedom in the path chosen or ethical norms employed, in an eternal journey from being to becoming. Hence, it is truly universal, sanatana dharma, the ordering principle eternal. Since it is an ordering principle, the word is applied across many facets of life, for example to rajadharma as an ordering principle for governance, svadharma as an ordering principle of one’s spiritual quest or life in society or as’ramadharma denoting responsibilities associated with one’s station in life’s progress from childhood, through studentship, marital life and to old age. Dharma is elaborated with the use of terms such as satyam, rita, rinam, vrata to defining ethical responsibility performed in relation to social and natural phenomena. Dharma can be the defining paradigm for a world as a family, vasudhaiva kutumbakam. Aano bhadraah kratavo yantu vis’vatah. Let noble thoughts flow to us from all sides. These thoughts from Vedic times are as relevant today as they have been over millennia of pilgrims’ progress and exemplified by the progress and abiding continuum of Hindu civilization, Jaina ariya dhamma and Bauddha dhamma. In such an ordering, dharma-dhamma becomes a veritable celebration of freedom, freedom in moving from being to becoming.

 Another perspective on Dharma by Dr. A. V. Srinivasan to whom i reported as a consultant to  Pratt and Whitney, East Hartford


"The most central and core concept of Hindu philosophy is known as Dharma. All the other principles and values flow from this beautiful fountain of Dharma. The word Dharma is formed from the root dhr and literally means to hold, sustain and maintain a thing in its being. There is no accurate translation of the word into English but we may have a glimpse of its vast scope by translating Dharma as right action, right conduct, virtue, moral law etc. Every form of life, every group of people has its Dharma, which is the law of its being. Dharma or virtue is conformity with the truth of things; adharma or vice is opposition to it.

Further discussion of this concept must be based on the perceived need to have Dharma as a basis upon which to live a meaningful life. Here we must acknowledge two realities. One is the inevitability of evil and injustice in our world and the other is the need to obtain victory over evil. Victory in this context is general and includes what we all do our utmost to gain: victory to our side, of our plans, projects, ideas or interests. The concept of Dharma need not necessarily be tied to the belief that goodness will always triumph in the end. However if victory were to be on the side of Dharma in any final analysis, then we need to develop a better feel for this concept.

Additional definitions of Dharma include "any matter enjoined by the Vedas with a view to attain any useful purpose", "belief in the conservation of moral values", " a mode of life or a code of conduct which regulate a man's work and activities as a member of society and as an individual to bring about his gradual development and enable him to reach what was deemed to be the goal of human existence", "that which holds a thing together, makes it what it is, prevents it from breaking up and changing into something else ..., its fundamental attribute, its essential nature, the law of its being ...", "the code of life based on Vedas, the due observance of which leads to happiness here and hereafter", that scheme or code of laws which bind together human beings in the bonds of mutual rights and duties, of causes-and-consequences of actions arising out of their temperamental characters, in relation to each other and society etc. (For a detailed discussion of these definitions and related discussion see " On the Meaning of the Mahabharata" by V.S. Sukthankar, The Asiatic Society of Bombay, 1957, pp 79-83)."

For more on Dharma and related topics please visit Dr. Srinivasan's website


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