Dhammasattha is the Pāli name of a genre of literature found in the Indianized kingdoms of Western Mainland Southeast Asia (modern Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Thailand, and Yunnan) principally written in Pali, Myanmar (Burmese), Mon, or Tai languages, or in a bilingual Pāli-vernacular nissaya style.
"Sattha" is the Pāli cognate of the Sanskrit term for instruction, learning, or treatise, "śāstra". Dhamma-sattha translates as "treatise on the law (dhamma)". The vernacular Myanmar (Burmese) term, transliterated as "dhammasāt" or "dhammasat" (pronounced in modern Myanmar (Burmese) as "dhammathat"), is historically derived from Sanskrit or Pāli. The Tai and Mon terms, typically romanized as "thammasāt" (Thai: ธรรมศาสตร์) or "dhammasāt", respectively, derive from Sanskrit.
Dhammasattha texts are historically related to the Hindu dharmaśāstra literature, although they are very significantly influenced by the local Pāli Buddhist traditions and literature of Theravāda Southeast Asia.
"Dhammasāt" (Burmese: ဓမ္မသတ်, also spelt Dhammathat) is first mentioned in Burma in a Burmese inscription from 13th century C.E. Bagan (Pagan), although it is likely that dhammasattha texts were transmitted there earlier. Certain dhammasatthas claim to have been compiled during the first millennium C.E. There are nine primary Burmese dhammathats, namely the Manu and Dhammavisala Dhammathats of the Pagan dynasty, the Waru Dhammathat (1270), Pasedha (1468), Dhammathat Kyaw (1581), and Pyanchi Dhammathats (1614) of the Taungoo dynasty, and the Myingun Dhammathat (1650) of the Konbaung dynasty.
There is an extensive tradition of dhammasattha exegesis, particularly in Myanmar (Burma). Hundreds of dhammasattha, commentaries, and related legal texts are extant in parabaik and palm leaf manuscript form.
Dhammasattha influenced a number of Southeast Asian societies prior to the colonial era in matters concerning marriage, theft, assault, slavery, debt, kingship, property, inheritance as well as other issues. In contemporary Burma (Myanmar), although colonial and post-colonial laws predominate, it remains acceptable practice to use dhammasat in law courts in certain areas of family and inheritance law.
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