140 – Smritis

National Integration Through Thirukkural And Sanskrit


Religious scriptures regulating Sanathana Dharmam can be broadly classified into two:

  • Shruti  (the Vedic literature) which is considered authorless, and  transmitted verbally across generations and fixed.
  • Smriti is de-codification of Shruti usually attributed to an author. It is traditionally considered an interpretation of Vedic literature vis-à-vis the social order at that point in time. They express the  essence of a fact, principle, instruction or idea  in highly compact and precise statements. Smriti is a derivative secondary work and is considered less authoritative than Sruti.

Shrutis and Smritis are considered as Guidance Notes, which define the roles and responsibilities of every individual as well as the group and society, each belongs to.

The Smriti literature is a corpus of diverse varied texts  and includes

  • Six  Vedangas (grammar, meter, phonetics, etymology, astronomy and rituals)
  • Epics (the Ramayana and Mahabharata)
  • Dharmasastras (describing jurisprudence, rights and duties of individuals in their various stages of life and social ethics) and Arthasastras (governance and trade)
  • Puranas (narratives in simple language making them widely accessible to a mass audience)
  • Kavyas or poetical literature  (Ex: Raghuvamsa and Kumarasambhava)
  • Bhasyas (reviews and commentaries on Shrutis and non-Shruti texts)
  • Nibandhas (digests) covering politics, medicine, ethics, culture, arts and society

Smritis were considered fluid and freely rewritten by anyone in ancient and medieval Hindu tradition. Interpretations of Smritis have been both metaphorical and literal.

It is believed that the modern criminal, civil and family law  in India is largely based on Dharmasastras, particularly of Manusmriti, using Nyaya and Mimamsa theories which, is the oldest and the most widely studied Smriti.

Research into evolution of mankind and the social order is a continuous process and Smritis highlight the life style and the value systems of our ancestors. Since Smritis are more in the nature of commentaries of Vedas (Shrutis), large amounts of inconsistencies can be observed both between the various Smritis as well as within a Smriti. Historians attribute this to manipulation, mis-interpretation and distortion by political, social, religious and ideological groups with an objective to influence opinions at varied points of time.

Every  individual should evaluate their current life style and value systems against the principles and practices as set out in Smritis. The cardinal principle “facts and circumstances of any particular case determine what is good or bad” is emphasized throughout the Smritis. If the social order has changed, then interpretation of good and bad also undergoes a change.

In recent times, public debates are often dominated about the rationality, relevance and applicability of texts as set out in Smritis vis-à-vis the current social order. Perceived discrimination of rights on factors which are determined at birth, Caste and Gender, are the ones fiercely debated. Smritis themselves suggest that, principles and practices which regulate the social order of each period could become outdated in course of time and might be discontinued and new codes of conduct devised to regulate individual and societal values under the new social order.

Thiruvalluvar in his couplet 140 suggests that educated people are those who try to emulate the value systems of their ancestors and wherever required adapt themselves to the present social setup and not being overly fixated on texts which were defined for a different social order.

உலகத்தோடு ஒட்ட ஒழுகல் பலகற்றும் 
கல்லார் அறிவிலா தார்

Ulagath-thodu Otta Ozhugal Palakatrum
Kallaar Arivilaa dhaar

 பரிமேலழகர் உரை

உலகத்தோடு ஒட்ட ஒழுகல் கல்லார் – உலகத்தோடு பொருந்த ஒழுகுதலைக் கல்லாதார், பல கற்றும் அறிவிலாதார் – பல நூல்களையும் கற்றாராயினும் அறிவிலாதார். (உலகத்தோடு பொருந்த ஒழுகுதலாவது, உயர்ந்தோர் பலரும் ஒழுகிய ஆற்றான் ஒழுகுதல். அறநூல் சொல்லியவற்றுள் இக்காலத்திற்கு ஏலாதன ஒழிந்து, சொல்லாதனவற்றுள் ஏற்பன கொண்டு வருதலான் அவையும் அடங்க ‘உலகத்தோடு ஒட்ட’ என்றும் அக்கல்விக்குப் பயன் அறிவும், அறிவிற்குப் பயன் ஒழுக்கமும் ஆகலின், அவ்வொழுகுதலைக் கல்லாதார் ‘பல கற்றும் அறிவிலாதார்’ என்றும் கூறினார்.ஒழுகுதலைக் கற்றலாவது, அடிப்படுதல். இவை இரண்டு பாட்டானும், சொல்லானும், செயலானும் வரும் ஒழுக்கங்கள் எல்லாம் தொகுத்துக் கூறப்பட்டன.)

Sanskrit Translation by Shri S.N. Srirama Desikan

யே து நைவ ப்ரவர்தந்தே காலதே³ஸா²னுஸாரத​: |
அதீ⁴தேஷ்வபி ஸா²ஸ்த்ரேஷு ஜ்ஞானினோ ந ப⁴வந்தி தே ||