Age of epics and Dharm shastra

Age of epics and Dharm shastra

Age of epics

The Epic age in India is named so because some of the greatest epics came into being during this time. The epic period is estimated to be roughly from 1000 to 600 B.C. The ancient Indian society is described in a very vivid manner in these three epics. The two famous Indian epics that were created during this time were the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

The Mahabharata is a foundation of the religion that is thriving today. We get a clear picture of the kind of life people led during that point of time. According to the evidences found in the epics, the society was basically rural in nature.

People remained prepared for any attacks or external aggressions by keeping weapons with them. The rulers were not chosen but were hereditary. The main economic activity was agriculture and small scale industries like arts, handicrafts, pottery, etc. thrived.

The epics tell us about the way the society was ruled at that time. The King basically filled his treasure vault with the taxes collected from people. He was the highest authority who had the power to punish and pardon.

The priests were given the task of performing the religious rituals and sacrifices to make sure that no evil forces hampered the kingdom. With time, the priests began to gain power and also started to influence the king. The king listened to them because the priests were highly learned people who were supposed to be the voice of Gods.

The warriors were trained in using weapons and were supposed to be the protectors of the palaces. Though caste system was there, it was not too rigid. A warrior or an out caste could become a priest if he was adopted by one.

The most respected and feared of all were the Dravidians who could not be questioned and were unaffected by the society. The most popular recreational activity was gambling. Horse racing, hunting, gambling, etc. were all introduced during the Epic Age in India.

The idea is that a gardener waters the plants daily, weeds them, adds nourishment in the form of manure, and guards them carefully. As a result he is rewarded with flower and fruits year after year. On the other hand, a charcoal-burner cuts down the tree and burns the wood, thereby getting only one supply of charcoal. Similarly if a king overtaxes his people, he may gain temporarily, but will ruin agriculture, trade, and commerce.

By fostering their growth, he will benefit permanently. Bhisma says to Yudhisthira that a king’s income (vetana, lit. salary) is derived from bali-sastha, that is one- sixth of the crops as revenue, sulka (various taxes) and fines realised from offenders (12.72.10). We have already dealt with bali and are not here concerned with the fines. It is, however, necessary to discuss the nature and incidence of sulka.

In this connection Bhisma says that a man who daily attends to his cow enjoys her milk; similarly a king who looks after his subjects gains his objects (12.72.17) and then adds- ‘O king, be like a gardener, and not like a charcoal-burner, and thus you would be able to enjoy your kingdom for a long time.’ (12.72.20)

The principle of taxation was based what may be called the theory of gradualness. As Bhisma said to Yudhisthira (12.89.5.-13). ‘O king, one should drink the state (i.e. collect taxes) [as imperceptibly] as a leech [sucks the blood], or as a tigress, which carries her child without biting or letting it fall.

Age of Dharma shastra

Dharma-shastra, (“Righteousness Science”) ancient Indian body of jurisprudence that is the basis, subject to legislative modification, of the family law of Hindus living in territories both within and outside India (e.g., Pakistan, Malaysia, East Africa). Dharma-shastra is primarily concerned not with legal administration, though courts and their procedures are dealt with comprehensively, but with the right course of conduct in every dilemma. Some basic principles of Dharma-shastra are known to most Hindus brought up in a traditional environment. Those include the propositions that duties are more significant than rights, that women are under perpetual guardianship of their closest male relatives, and that the king (i.e., the state) must protect the subjects from all harm, moral as well as material.

The Dharma-shastra literature, written in Sanskrit, exceeds 5,000 titles. It can be divided into three categories: (1) sutras (terse maxims), (2) smritis (shorter or longer treatises in stanzas), and (3) nibandhas (digests of smriti verses from various quarters) and vrittis (commentaries upon individual continuous smritis). The nibandhas and vrittis, juridical works intended for legal advisers, exhibit considerable skill in harmonizing divergent sutras and smritis.

The techniques of Dharma-shastra are mainly to state the ancient text, maxim, or stanza; to explain its meaning, where obscure; and to reconcile divergent traditions, if necessary by use of the traditional science of interpretation (Mimamsa). Where possible, Dharma-shastra permits custom to be enforced, if it can be ascertained and if its terms do not conflict with the principles of Brahmans(members of the priestly class). However, Dharma-shastra provides only the basic principles of the law. The actual administration of law, the equivalent of case law, was historically carried out by local councils of elders called Panchayats.

Ancient Hindu jurisprudence was introduced to Western scholars by Sir William Jones, an 18th-century British Orientalist and jurist. Many who followed him—e.g., Sir Henry Maine (1822–88)—believed Dharma-shastra was a kind of priestcraft, intended to keep the lower castes, the Shudras and Dalits (formerly untouchables), under the control of the higher castes. The close study of Dharma-shastra sources by German and Italian scholars, principally Johann Georg Bühler, Julius Jolly, and Giuseppe Mazzarella, showed its psychological and sociological potential. British administrators then attempted to use Dharma-shastra in actual legal adjudications, as Hindus had not historically done.

Dharma-shastra is equal in age to Jewish law (or older, if its roots do indeed go back to the Vedas, the earliest scriptures of Hinduism) and has greater continuity and longevity than Roman law. The British colonial administration in India affected the system of Hindu law by applying the traditional rules in a hard-and-fast way and by introducing the concept of precedent. Rapid social change, following foreign rule, required many adjustments to India’s body of Hindu law. There was, for example, no provision in the Dharma-shastra for the development of judicial divorce or for the allotting of equal shares to daughters along with sons in their fathers’ estate at his death. Instead of inventing new texts, legislators altered the system of Indian law that was administered in the courts, first piecemeal and later, in 1955–56, comprehensively. Gradually, as judges lost familiarity with Sanskrit, the ancient texts began to be replaced with contemporary, cosmopolitan juridical and social concepts.


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