Author: Shashi S Sharma
ISBN/UPC (if available): 81-291-0808-9
This book makes a very significant contribution to the study of the Dharmasastras. The texts belonging to the Dharmasastric tradition-both Sutra and Smrti-have been studied and evaluated with deep sensitivity and critical acumen. The historical context in which the Sutras and Smrti works were compiled, and the role these works played in the socio-cultural life of the Hindus have been highlighted with great clarity.
The Dharmasastras have been regarded by the Hindus as a record of the moral, ethical and socio-political traditions of their large and widely spread-out community. They are viewed as temporal and historically grounded reflections on many important aspects of mankind’s social life. These works are a record of eclectic discussions held on the nature and value of dharma, the role of various human communities, the problems of inter-personal relationships, and the method of the state’s interaction with civil society.
However, many modern interpreters of the Dharmasastras have tried to portray these works as the Lawbooks of Hindus. These interpreters see these works as legal manuals intended to create and perpetuate a caste-based, hierarchized and oppressive social structure.
This book challenger these interpretive paradigms. The author has very cogently argued that dharma is not Law and the Dharmasastras, including the Manusmrti, are not the law books of the Hindus. The Dharmasastras do not sanction or create a caste system, and the ascription of negative value to these works is a much later product of a colonial experience.
The current work is a small effort to provide an alternative perspective on one of the pet themes of gentoo scholarship, namely the question of the law of Manu which gives birth to Manuvad seeking religious support from the Dharmasastras of the Hindus.
It would appear, however, that the reality is totally different from what is preached. The Dharmasastras did not create the caste system, nor did they establish a fixed principle for caste hierarchization and conflict. It is wrong to suggest that the dharmasastras are the Laws of the Hindus, and it would be unfair to give pre-eminence to texts like Manusmrti over other texts of the Hindu tradition, by privileging this work as the core-book of the Hindus.
Dharma as Universal Ideals
The Propounders of Dharma
Sources of Dharma
The Victims and the Victimisers
The Making of the Sudras
Jatis in the Dharmasastras
Dharma and Vyavahara
Castes, Census and the Colonial World