Wonder how democratic values were consolidated in ancient times? Look back to Vedas and scriptures

Dr Upendra Kumar Tripathi and Dr Anoop Kumar's "Vedic Tradition of Law & Legal System" provides a concise introduction to the concept of Veda, Dharma, perspectives of Bhagvad Geeta and other scriptures on constitutional and legal arrangements.

Jivesh Jha

  • Read Time 8 min.

The Vedas are the most authentic repository of knowledge to support mankind in every pursuit of life. The Vedic scriptures say that every individual possesses a soul. Therefore, every individual is entitled to respect, dignity, equality and fair treatment.

The concepts of equality, fraternity, dignity or positive discrimination were prevalent in the society during the early Vedic period. The references of it were found in scriptures, like Vedas, Upnishad, Yajnavalkya’s Smiritis, Manusmiriti, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Kautilya’s Arthasashtra and among others. Dharma was the essence of rule of law and pivotal on which universally accepted rights/facts revolved. The obedience of law and order was considered to be the sacred (fundamental) duty of every person. It’s high time for the academia and governments to make robust efforts to revive and uphold rich social values of the ancient times.

In this context, Dr Upendra Kumar Tripathi, Professor of Vedic Science at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and Dr Anoop Kumar, Assistant Professor of Law at BHU, have brought an edited book, Vedic Tradition of Law & Legal System which provides a concise introduction to the concept of Veda, Dharma, perspectives of Bhagvad Geeta and other scriptures, constitutional and legal arrangements relating to Vedic system.

Key issues and principles

The book brings together a collection of 35 chapters which provide a critical investigation into Veda’s key issues, principles, concepts, comparative frameworks, judicial decisions, recent trends in judicial review, global precedents and world’s constitutional as well as judicial position in protecting and promoting the Vedic views and tradition.

The book delves deep into the concept, doctrine and practices enshrined under Smiritis, Vedas and Hindu scriptures. It tries to find answers to why modern democracies are failing to uphold the social values of the past. The conceptual underpinnings are refreshing because they come through verses of Holy Scriptures which are meaningful in real life and they show vivid paths to foster a sustainable democracy.

A 35-page long “Introduction” to the book by the authors is like an icing on the cake. Dr Tripathi and Dr Kumar, whose recurring theme has been the search of Vedic tradition, provisions and practices of Holy Scriptures and recent legal and judicial trends in the world, provide an incisive and in-depth analysis of the authoritative texts, laws and Sanskrit verses.

In introduction, Professor Dr Upendra Kumar Tripathi and Dr Anoop Kumar argue that Vedas, as the source of law, provide foundation for the evolution of law. “Veda, Samhita, Brahmana and Upnisad primarily constitute the foundation of Vedic tradition of law. This knowledge database is utmost significant for the welfare of individuals in present day social order and state structure,” they write.

The laws for regulating Hindu society from time to time are codified in Smiritis. The Smiritis have laid down definite rules and laws to guide the individuals and communities in their daily conduct and to regulate their manner and custom.

The Manu Smiriti remains one of the finest embodiments of classical law and of fundamental importance in any study of law in Vedic tradition.  The book is divided into five parts with as many as 35 chapters written by different distinguished scholars. The first part of the book contains 15 chapters that relate to “Dimensions of Vedic Jurisprudence and Tradition.”

Views on legal system

In the first chapter, Justice BN Srikrishna, former judge of the Supreme Court of India, writes: “The most important and the earliest of the metrical Smiritis is the Manava Dharma Shastra or Code of Manu. It is closely connected with the Mahabharata, of which three volumes alone (III, XII, XVI) contain as many as 260 of its 2684 Shlokas.”

Justice Srikrishna further writes that Vedanta teaches us that all humans are one family. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948 states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. This fundamental human value is seen as Vednatic thought. Geeta, in Chapter-6, Verse 29, says all humans are equal, argues he.

He further argues that justice is identical with divine reason, with the divine nature and essence, which, being eternal and immutable, excludes all ideas of arbitrariness.

 Malbika Majumdar, a former Professor of Delhi University, unravels facets of Mimamsa jurisprudence. According to her, the idea of law continues to grow and the process never seems to be ending.

RP Rai and Kiran Rai in their chapter, entitled, “Influence of the Vedas on Hindu law and the Role of Uttar-Mimamsa” argue that the Vedas are the oldest religious texts still in use and the Hindu law is considered to be among the world’s oldest known system of jurisprudence.”

Kavitha Balakrishnan in her chapter “Legal Trajectories of Ancient India: Reflections in Smiritis” writes that each country develops legal system according to culture developed through ages. She highlights that sacred law (Dharma), evidence (Vyavahara), history (Charitra) and edicts of kings (Rajasasana) are the four legs of law.


In addition to this, there is a pressing need of re-designing the legal education programs to promote Indic values, write Gigimon VS and Adithya Anil Variath in their chapter.  Also, Harekrishna Satapathy’s chapter examines Vedic views of legal education.

Sapindar Kaur in “Diversity in Concept of Dharma and its Relationship with Indian and International Legal Thought” argues that diversity in Hinduism is there because it consists of sects, sub-sects, communities with varied traditions and inclusive of Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

Kartikey Singh Somvanshi in “Vedic Knowledge: A Symphony of Modern Era” discusses Vedic traditional texts and their utility in present legal structure. Durgesh Shukla has discussed laws and politico-economic principles given by Chanakya.

In “Tracing the Development of Dharma from Ancient to Modern Society,” Mozamil Ahmad writes: “Over time, Dharma has operated as a unifying force for the diverse evolving customs. The Sashtras like the religion of Hinduism are not Monolithic, the continuous interpretations and re-interpretations offer society to rediscover itself again and again. The continuous comparison of the sources of Dharma with the modern legal tradition merges to contribute towards a better society.”

In the 12th chapter, Paragati Bajpai shares instances which suggest that Dharma is the source of law. “Dharma and law are interwoven even in present time and cannot be separated.” In the succeeding chapter, Paranjul Dalela and Shirish Parashar have also discussed Dharma as source of law from a different perspective.

Sruti Badu discusses the juristic personality of idols in India in 14th chapter. In the 15th chapter, Mitsu Parikh and Ankitashri Tripathi discuss the verses of Bhagvad Geeta as the source of law. “Prosperity has bred greed and corruption. Reminding oneself of our magnificent past and enriching scriptures and knowledge of their essence can bring back the balance we need to develop into thoughtful beings and evolve,” they write.

Live and let live  

The second part of the book hosts eight chapters that delve into the study of constitutional provisions and environmental concerns from the lens of Vedic tradition. In the 16th chapter, Amar Pal Singh and Shivani Chauhan discuss the fundamental duties. “The whole idea is determinable on the basis of Dharma which involves both moral and legal duties to be discharged without any exception,” they write. They cite a Sanskrit verse which says there are only two conclusions of all 18 Puranas and the commentaries of Vyas: Welfare of others is virtuous and teasing others is sin.

“We should nurture and raise a generation that would sacrifice one (person) for the sake of the family; give up a family for the sake of a town; sacrifice a town for the benefit of the nation; and also leave the earth for the benefit of the soul.”

Professor VS Mishra, who teaches Law at Banaras Hindu University, discusses constitutionalism and rule of law. The judiciary has created a congenial environment for sustaining democracy and the rule of law through transformative constitutionalism, he argues.

In the 18th chapter, the book devotes a good deal of sections to explaining the land administration. In the 19th chapter, Pavithra R shades light on Mimamsa rules. The chapter argues that Mimamsa rules could help to resolve conflicts, as they serve as tools to address the problems of contemporary days.

Pragyan Deep Agarwal and Sunny Khatri present a description on Hindu temples and argue that temples are the backbone of Vedic culture.

Nitish Rai Parwani in his chapter discusses the state and nation. He argues that a nation is more stable than a state, for a nation can survive even without sovereignty.

Saurav De explores Vedic literature to explain different dimensions of environmental protection. He explains how Vedas embody verses in protection of the natural environment. Nistha Tiwari too explains environmentalism through the lens of Vedic tradition.      

The third part of the book embraces four chapters which give a perspective on criminal law under Vedic tradition. In the 24th chapter, Akhilendra Kumar Pandey, a professor of law at BHU, discusses the laws given by Manu, Yajnavalkya and other scholars. He argues that punishment should ideally be uniform. He believes that the doctrine of guilty mind, deterrence as one of the justifications, uniformity and individualization of punishment were very much present in old Indian traditions.

Rajasi Guharoy, Assistant Professor of Law at Adamas University, Kolkata, discusses the instances that suggest that the basic principles of law remain the same as it was during the Vedic period. Indrajeet Dey, an advocate at Calcutta High Court, discusses about Vedic tradition and sentencing policy. In modern world, where there is a debate about introduction of castration as form of punishment for offenders of sexual violence, the Mahabharata and Bhagwat Purana have dealt with such issues already, he argues.

“There is a need for spiritual education amongst the persons running the system as well as the convicts who are seeking to correct themselves,” says Professor Guharoy.

The 27th chapter of the book written by Vishnu Pandey discusses the concept and forms of punishment in Vedic tradition. He discusses the theories laid down under the writings of Manu, Yajnavalkya, Kautilya, Katyayana, among others. 

 The fourth part of the book includes three chapters on family laws in Vedic tradition. The Vedic views of inheritance, marriage, gifts to married daughters, Mitakshara and Dayabhag schools, rights of women and children under Vedic as well as modern legal system have been discussed in this part. In this section, Brajkisore Swain, Saugata Talukdar and Aradhna Nair have contributed their insightful chapters.

Under the fifth part, the book presents views on commercial law from the perspective of Vedic tradition. Mayank Paratap in his chapter argues that some of the living examples of basic principles of contract law can be seen in Hindu scriptures. Uniformly, all Smiritis lay down that a person is competent to contract only after he attains the age of 16 years. Kautilya in Arthasashtra states that forced or fraudulent transactions shall be null and void. Contract without free consent is also considered invalid by the Smiritis. “Only a significant difference between modern law and Dharmasastra is that if the former is considered with only conduct of the human beings, the latter dealt with both conduct and character.”

The concluding part of the book carries five chapters which provide lucid views on taxing system, patenting and intellectual property rights from the Vedic perspective.

The editors Dr Kumar and Dr Tripathi in Introduction write: “The book presents perceptions of different authors on the various facets of Vedic tradition of law and legal system. A common concern visible in this book is that the legal tradition of Bharatvarsh should be explored in comparison with contemporary legal regimes.”

Reason to read

If there is one reason to read Dr Tripathi and Dr Kumar’s timely exposition it is their endeavors to give conceptual clarities on the Vedic science and its impact on modern legislations, and its role in upholding fundamental freedoms, rule of law and constitutionalism since ages. They do not only discuss Vedic philosophy from an Indian perspective but also devote a good deal of section for international precedents. Their book should be a mandatory reading for lawyers, judicial officers, adjudicators, journalists covering Vedic and legal affairs, teachers and students of various streams, including that of social sciences and law.

Jivesh Jha, formerly a Lecturer of Law at Kathmandu University School of Law, is currently a Judicial Officer at Dhanusha District Court, Janakpurdham.

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