An article by
Sri Swami Sivananda, the founder of Divine Life Society
Next in importance to the Sruti are the Smritis
or secondary scriptures. These are the ancient sacred law-codes of the Hindus
dealing with the Sanatana-Varnashrama-Dharma. They supplement and explain
the ritualistic injunctions called Vidhis in the Vedas. The Smritis or
Dharma Sastras are founded on the Sruti. The Smritis are based on the teachings
of the Vedas. The Smriti stands next in authority to the Sruti. It explains and
develops Dharma. It lays down the laws which regulate Hindu national, social,
family and individual obligations.
The works which are expressly called Smritis
are the law books, Dharma Sastras. Smriti, in a broader sense, covers all Hindu
Sastras save the Vedas.
The laws for regulating Hindu society from time
to time are codified in the Smritis. The Smritis have laid down definite rules
and laws to guide the individuals and communities in their daily conduct and to
regulate their manners and customs. The Smritis have given detailed
instructions, according to the conditions of the time, to all classes of men
regarding their duties in life.
The Hindu learns how he has to spend his whole
life from these Smritis. The duties of Varnasrama and all ceremonies are clearly
given in these books. The Smritis prescribe certain acts and prohibit some
others for a Hindu, according to his birth and stage of life. The object of the
Smritis is to purify the heart of man and take him gradually to the supreme
abode of immortality and make him perfect and free.
These Smritis have varied from time to time.
The injunctions and prohibitions of the Smritis are related to the particular
social surroundings. As these surroundings and essential conditions of the Hindu
society changed from time to time, new Smritis had to be compiled by the
sages of different ages and different parts of India.
From time to time, a great law-giver would take
his birth. He would codify the existing laws and remove those which had become
obsolete. He would make some alterations, adaptations, readjustments, additions
and subtractions, to suit the needs of the time and see that the way of living
of the people would be in accordance with the teachings of the Veda. Of such
law-givers, Manu, Yajnavalkya and Parasara are the most celebrated persons.
Hindu society is founded on, and governed by, the laws made by these three great
sages. The Smritis are named after them. We have Manu Smriti or Manava
Dharma-Sastra (the Laws of Manu or the Institutes of Manu), Yajnavalkya Smriti
and Parasara Smriti. Manu is the greatest law-giver of the race. He is the
oldest law-giver as well. The Yajnavalkya Smriti is next in importance to it.
Manu Smriti and Yajnavalkya Smriti are universally accepted at the present time
as authoritative works all over India. Yajnavalkya Smriti is chiefly consulted
in all matters of Hindu Law. Even the Government of India is applying some of
There are eighteen main Smritis or Dharma
Sastras. The most important are those of Manu, Yajnavalkya and Parasara. The
other fifteen are those of Vishnu, Daksha, Samvarta, Vyasa, Harita, Satatapa,
Vasishtha, Yama, Apastamba, Gautama, Devala, Sankha-Likhita, Usana, Atri and
The laws of Manu are intended for the Satya
Yuga; those of Yajnavalkya are for the Treta Yuga; those of Sankha and Likhita
are for the Dvapara Yuga; and those of Parasara are for the Kali Yuga.
The laws and rules which are based entirely
upon our social positions, time and clime, must change with the changes in
society and changing conditions of time and clime. Then only the progress of the
Hindu society can be ensured.
Need For a New
It is not possible to follow some of the laws
of Manu at the present time. We can follow their spirit and not the letter.
Society is advancing. When it advances, it outgrows certain laws which were
valid and helpful at a particular stage of its growth. Many new things which
were not thought out by the old law-givers have come into existence now. It is
no use insisting people to follow now those old laws which have become obsolete.
Our present society has considerably changed. A
new Smriti to suit the requirements of this age is very necessary. Another sage
will place before the Hindus of our days a new suitable code of laws. Time is
ripe for a new Smriti. Cordial greetings to this sage.
The Shruti and
The Sruti and the Smriti are the two
authoritative sources of Hinduism. Sruti literally means what is heard,
and Smriti means what is remembered. Sruti is revelation and Smriti is
tradition. Upanishad is a Sruti. Bhagavad Gita is a Smriti.
Sruti is direct experience. Great Rishis heard
the eternal truths of religion and left a record of them for the benefit of
posterity. These records constitute the Vedas. Hence, Sruti is primary
authority. Smriti is a recollection of that experience. Dharma Sastras also are
books written by sages, but they are not the final authority. If there is
anything in a Smriti which contradicts the Sruti, the Smriti is to be rejected.
The Inner Voice
He who is endowed with a pure heart through
protracted Tapas, Japa, Kirtan, meditation and service of Guru and who has a
very clear conscience, can be guided by the inner voice in matters of Dharma or
duty or moral action. The inner voice that proceeds from a clean heart filled
with Sattva is, indeed, the voice of God or Soul or Antaryamin or Inner Ruler.
This voice is more than Smriti. It is Smriti of Smritis. Purify your heart and
train yourself to hear this inner voice. Keep your ear in tune with the