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Smriti Literature in Hinduism (Sanskrit: स्मृति, IAST: Smṛti) The smṛti texts are a body of Hindu texts usually attributed to an author, traditionally written down, in contrast to Śrutis (the Vedic literature) considered authorless, that were transmitted verbally across the generations and fixed.[1] Smriti is a derivative secondary work and is considered less authoritative than Sruti in Hinduism, except in the Mimamsa school of Hindu philosophy.[2][3][4] The authority of smriti accepted by orthodox schools is derived from that of shruti, on which it is based.[5][6]

The Smrti literature is a corpus of diverse varied texts.[2] This corpus includes, but is not limited to the six Vedāngas (the auxiliary sciences in the Vedas), the epics (the Mahābhārata and Rāmāyana), the Dharmasūtras and Dharmaśāstras (or Smritiśāstras), the Arthasaśāstras, the Purānas, the Kāvya or poetical literature, extensive Bhasyas (reviews and commentaries on Shrutis and non-Shruti texts), and numerous Nibandhas (digests) covering politics, ethics (Nitisastras),[7] culture, arts and society.[8][9]

Each Smriti text exists in many versions, with many different readings.[1] Smritis were considered fluid and freely rewritten by anyone in ancient and medieval Hindu tradition.[1][3]


Smrti is a Sanskrit word, from the root Smara (स्मर), which means "remembrance, reminiscence, thinking of or upon, calling to mind", or simply "memory".[7] The word is found in ancient Vedic literature, such as in section 7.13 of the Chandogya Upanishad. In later and modern scholarly usage, the term refers to tradition, memory, as well as a vast post-Vedic canon of "tradition that is remembered".[7][10] David Brick states that the original meaning of smriti was simply tradition, and not texts.[11]

Smriti is also a symbolic synonym for number 18, from the 18 scholars who are credited in Indian tradition for writing dharma-related smriti texts (most have been lost).[7] These 18 smritis are namely,

  1. Atri,
  2. Viṣṇu,
  3. Hārīta,
  4. Auśanasī,
  5. Āngirasa,
  6. Yama,
  7. Āpastamba,
  8. Samvartta,
  9. Kātyāyana,
  10. Bṛhaspati,
  11. Parāśara,
  12. Vyāsa,
  13. Śaṅkha,
  14. Likhita,[note 1]
  15. Dakṣa,
  16. Gautama,
  17. Śātātapa and
  18. Vaśiṣṭha.[12]

Yājñavalkya gives the list of total 20 by adding two more Smritis, namely, Yājñavalkyasmriti and Manusmriti.[13][14] Parāśara whose name appears in this list, enumerates also twenty authors, but instead of Samvartta, Bṛhaspati, and Vyāsa, he gives the names of Kaśyapa, Bhṛgu and Prachetas.

In linguistic traditions, Smrti is the name of a type of verse meter. In Hindu mythology,[15] Smriti is the name of the daughter of Dharma[16] and Medha.[17]

In scholarly literature, Smriti is also spelled as Smṛti.[18]


Smrtis represent the remembered, written tradition in Hinduism.[8] The Smrti literature is a vast corpus of derivative work. All Smriti texts are regarded to ultimately be rooted in or inspired by Shruti.[1]

The Smrti corpus includes, but is not limited to:[8][9]

  1. The six Vedāngas (grammar, meter, phonetics, etymology, astronomy and rituals),[8][19][20]
  2. The Itihasa (literally means "so indeed it was"), Epics (the Mahābhārata and Rāmāyana),[8][10]
  3. The texts on the four proper goals or aims of human life:[21]
    1. Dharma: These texts discuss dharma from various religious, social, duties, morals and personal ethics perspective. Each of six major schools of Hinduism has its own literature on dharma. Examples include Dharma-sutras (particularly by Gautama, Apastamba, Baudhayana and Vāsiṣṭha) and Dharma-sastras (particularly Manusmṛti, Yājñavalkya Smṛti, Nāradasmṛti and Viṣṇusmṛti). At the personal dharma level, this includes many chapters of Yogasutras.
    2. Artha: Artha-related texts discuss artha from individual, social and as a compendium of economic policies, politics and laws. For example, the Arthashastra of Chanakya, the Kamandakiya Nitisara,[22] Brihaspati Sutra,[23] and Sukra Niti.[24] Olivelle states that most Artha-related treatises from ancient India have been lost.[25]
    3. Kama: These discuss arts, emotions, love, erotics, relationships and other sciences in the pursuit of pleasure. The Kamasutra of Vātsyāyana is most well known. Others texts include Ratirahasya, Jayamangala, Smaradipika, Ratimanjari, Ratiratnapradipika, Ananga Ranga among others.[26]
    4. Moksha: These develop and debate the nature and process of liberation, freedom and spiritual release. Major treatises on the pursuit of moksa include the later Upanishads (early Upanishads are considered Sruti literature), Vivekachudamani, and the sastras on Yoga.
  4. The Purānas (literally, "of old"),[8][10]
  5. The Kāvya or poetical literature,[8]
  6. The extensive Bhasyas (reviews and commentaries on Shrutis and non-Shruti texts),[8]
  7. The sutras and shastras of the various schools of Hindu philosophy[27]
  8. The numerous Nibandhas (digests) covering politics, medicine (Charaka Samhita), ethics (Nitisastras),[7] culture, arts and society.[8]

The structure of Smriti texts[edit]

The Smrti texts structurally branched, over time, from so-called the "limbs of the Vedas", or auxiliary sciences for perfecting grammar and pronunciation (part of Vedāngas).[28] For example, the attempt to perfect the art of rituals led to the science of Kalpa, which branched into three Kalpa-sūtras: Srauta-sūtras, Grhya-sūtras, and Dharma-sūtras (estimated to have been composed between 600-200 BCE).[29] The Srauta-sutras became texts describing the perfect performance of public ceremonies (solemn community yajnas), the Grhya-sutras described perfect performance of home ceremonies and domestic rites of passage, and Dharma-sutras described jurisprudence, rights and duties of individuals in four Ashrama stages of life, and social ethics.[28] The Dharma-sūtras themselves became the foundations for a large canon of texts, and branched off as numerous Dharma-sastra texts.[28]

Jan Gonda states that the initial stages of Smriti texts structurally developed in the form of a new prose genre named Sūtras, that is "aphorism, highly compact precise expression that captured the essence of a fact, principle, instruction or idea".[30] This brevity in expression, states Gonda, was likely necessitated by the fact that writing technology had not developed yet or was not in vogue, in order to store a growing mass of knowledge, and all sorts of knowledge was transferred from one generation to the next through the process of memorization, verbal recitation and listening in the 1st millennium BCE. Compressed content allowed more essential, densely structured knowledge to be memorized and verbally transferred to the next generation in ancient India.[30]

Role of Smriti in Hindu Law[edit]

Smrtis contribute to exposition of the Hindu Dharma but are considered less authoritative than Śrutis (the Vedic corpus that includes early Upanishads).[31]

Earliest Smriti on Hindu Law: Dharma-sūtras[edit]

The root texts of ancient Hindu jurisprudence and law are the Dharma-sūtras. These express that Shruti, Smriti and Acara are sources of jurisprudence and law.[32] The precedence of these sources is declared in the opening verses of each of the known, surviving Dharma-sūtras. For example,[32]

The source of Dharma is the Veda, as well as the tradition [Smriti], and practice of those who know the Veda. – Gautama Dharma-sūtra 1.1-1.2

The Dharma is taught in each Veda, in accordance with which we will explain it. What is given in the tradition [Smriti] is the second, and the conventions of cultured people are the third. – Baudhayana Dharma-sūtra 1.1.1-1.1.4

The Dharma is set forth in the vedas and the Traditional Texts [Smriti]. When these do not address an issue, the practice of cultured people becomes authoritative. – Vāsiṣṭha Dharma-sūtra 1.4-1.5

— Translated by Donald Davis, The Spirit of Hindu Law[32]

Later Smriti on Hindu Law: Dharma-smriti[edit]

The Smritis, such as Manusmriti, Naradasmriti, Yajnavalkya Smrti and Parashara Smriti, expanded this definition, as follows,

वेदोऽखिलो धर्ममूलं स्मृतिशीले च तद्विदाम् । आचारश्चैव साधूनामात्मनस्तुष्टिरेव च ॥

Translation 1: The whole Veda is the (first) source of the sacred law, next the tradition and the virtuous conduct of those who know the (Veda further), also the customs of holy men, and (finally) self-satisfaction (Atmanastushti).[33]
Translation 2: The root of the religion is the entire Veda, and (then) the tradition and customs of those who know (the Veda), and the conduct of virtuous people, and what is satisfactory to oneself.[34]

— Manusmriti 2.6

वेदः स्मृतिः सदाचारः स्वस्य च प्रियमात्मनः । एतच्चतुर्विधं प्राहुः साक्षाद् धर्मस्य लक्षणम् ॥

Translation 1: The Veda, the sacred tradition, the customs of virtuous men, and one's own pleasure, they declare to be the fourfold means of defining the sacred law.[33]
Translation 2: The Veda, tradition, the conduct of good people, and what is pleasing to oneself – they say that is four fold mark of religion.[34]

— Manusmriti 2.12

The Yajnavalkya Smriti includes four Vedas, six Vedangas, Purana, Nyaya, Mimamsa and other sastras, in addition to the ethical conduct of the wise, as sources of knowledge and through which sacred law can be known. It explains the scope of the Dharma as follows,

Rites, proper conduct, Dama (self-restraint), Ahimsa (non-violence), charity, self-study, work, realisation of Atman (Self, Soul) through Yoga – all these are Dharma.[35][36]

— Yajnavalkya Smriti 1.8

Levinson states that the role of Shruti and Smriti in Hindu law is as a source of guidance, and its tradition cultivates the principle that "the facts and circumstances of any particular case determine what is good or bad".[37] The later Hindu texts include fourfold sources of Dharma, states Levinson, which include Atmanastushti (satisfaction of one's conscience), Sadacara (local norms of virtuous individuals), Smriti and Sruti.[37]

Bhasya on Dharma-smriti[edit]

Medhatithi's philosophical analysis of and commentary on criminal, civil and family law in Dharmasastras, particularly of Manusmriti, using Nyaya and Mimamsa theories, is the oldest and the most widely studied tertiary Smriti.[38][39][40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty (1988), Textual Sources for the Study of Hinduism, Manchester University Press, ISBN 0-7190-1867-6, pages 2-3
  2. ^ a b James Lochtefeld (2002), "Smrti", The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Vol. 2: N–Z, Rosen Publishing, ISBN 978-0823931798, page 656-657
  3. ^ a b Sheldon Pollock (2011), Boundaries, Dynamics and Construction of Traditions in South Asia (Editor: Federico Squarcini), Anthem, ISBN 978-0857284303, pages 41-58
  4. ^ Harold G. Coward; Ronald Neufeldt; Eva K. Neumaier-Dargyay (1988). Readings in Eastern Religions. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-88920-955-8.; Quote: "smriti is classified as being based on (and therefore less authoritative than) the directly revealed, shruti, literature.";
    Anantanand Rambachan (1991). Accomplishing the Accomplished. University of Hawaii Press. p. 50. ISBN 978-0-8248-1358-1.;
    Ronald Inden; Jonathan S. Walters; et al. (2000). Querying the Medieval: Texts and the History of Practices in South Asia. Oxford University Press. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-19-512430-9.
  5. ^ René Guénon (2009). The Essential Ren' Gu'non: Metaphysics, Tradition, and the Crisis of Modernity. World Wisdom, Inc. pp. 164–. ISBN 978-1-933316-57-4.
  6. ^ Pollock, Sheldon (2012). "The Revelation of Tradition: śruti, smrti, and the Sanskrit Discourse of Power". In Squarcini, Federico (ed.). Boundaries, Dynamics And Construction Of Traditions In South Asia. London: Anthem Press. pp. 41–62. doi:10.7135/upo9781843313977.003. ISBN 978-1-84331-397-7.
  7. ^ a b c d e smRti Monier-Williams' Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon, Germany
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Purushottama Bilimoria (2011), The idea of Hindu law, Journal of Oriental Society of Australia, Vol. 43, pages 103-130
  9. ^ a b Roy Perrett (1998), Hindu Ethics: A Philosophical Study, University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 978-0824820855, pages 16-18
  10. ^ a b c Gerald Larson (1993), The Trimūrti of Smṛti in classical Indian thought, Philosophy East and West, Vol. 43, No. 3, pages 373-388
  11. ^ Brick, David. 2006. pp. 295-301
  12. ^ "Aṣṭādaśasmṛtayaḥ". Kṣemarāja Śrīkṛṣṇadāsa. Veṅkaṭeśvara Steam Press, Mumbai. 1910.
  13. ^ "The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Miscellany". Wm. H. Allen & Company. Parbury, Allen & Co. 1828. p. 156.
  14. ^ "Tattwabodhini Sabha and the Bengal Renaissance". Amiyakumar Sen. Publication Section, Sadharan Brahmo Samajo. 1979. p. 291.
  15. ^ Manmatha Nath Dutt, A Prose English Translation of Srimadbhagavatam, p. RA3-PA5, at Google Books
  16. ^ literally morality, ethics, law, duty, right living
  17. ^ literally, prudence
  18. ^ Janet Gyatso (1992). In the Mirror of Memory: Reflections on Mindfulness and Remembrance in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism. SUNY Press. p. 67. ISBN 978-0-7914-1077-6.
  19. ^ Stephanie Witzel and Michael Witzel (2003), Vedic Hinduism, in The Study of Hinduism (Editor: A Sharma), ISBN 978-1570034497, page 80
  20. ^ M Winternitz, History of Indian Literature, Volume 1-3, Motilal Barnarsidass, Delhi, Reprinted in 2010, ISBN 978-8120802643
  21. ^ Tadeusz Skorupski (1988), Review: Manu Swajambhuwa, Manusmryti, Czyli Traktat o Zacności; Watsjajana Mallanga, Kamasutra, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland (New Series), Volume 120, Issue 1, pages 208-209
  22. ^ Kamandakiya Niti Sara MN Dutt (Translator)
  23. ^ Brihaspati Sutra - Politics and Government Sanskrit Original with English translation by FW Thomas (1921)
  24. ^ Sukra Niti Bk Sarkar (Translator); Chapter 1 verse 43 onwards - Rules of State and Duties of Rulers; Chapter 1 verse 424 onwards - Guidelines on infrastructure for economy; Chapter 1 verse 550 onwards - Guidelines on treasury management, law and military; Chapter 2 - Functions of state officials, etc
  25. ^ Patrick Olivelle (2011), Language, Texts, and Society: Explorations in Ancient Indian Culture and Religion, Anthem Press, ISBN 978-0857284310, page 174
  26. ^ Alan Soble (2005), Sex from Plato to Paglia, ISBN 978-0313334245, page 493
  27. ^ Karl Potter (2009), The Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Vol. 1: Bibliography, and Vols. 2-8, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120803084; Preview - the site includes Smriti literature of Hinduism, also Buddhism and Jainism
  28. ^ a b c Gavin Flood (1996), An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521438780, pages 53-56
  29. ^ John E. Mitchiner (2000), Traditions of the Seven Rsis, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120813243, page xviii
  30. ^ a b Jan Gonda (1977), The Ritual Sutras, in A History of Indian Literature: Veda and Upanishads, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 978-3447018234, pages 466-474
  31. ^ James Lochtefeld (2002), "Smrti", The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Vol. 2: N–Z, Rosen Publishing. ISBN 9780823931798, pages 656 and 461
  32. ^ a b c Donald Davis (2010), The Spirit of Hindu Law, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521877046, page 27
  33. ^ a b The Laws of Manu 2.6 with footnotes George Bühler (Translator), The Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 25, Oxford University Press
  34. ^ a b Brian Smith and Wendy Doniger (1992), The Laws of Manu, Penguin, ISBN 978-0140445404, pages 17-18
  35. ^ Yajnavalkya Smriti, Srisa Chandra Vidyarnava (Translator), The Sacred Books of the East, Vol 21, page 15;
    Srirama Ramanujachari, Yajñavalkya Smṛti, Dharma Teachings of Yajñavalkya, Srimantham Math, Madras
  36. ^ Sanskrit: Yajnavalkya Smriti page 27;
    Transliteration: Yajnavalkya-Smrti Chapter 1, Thesaurus Indogermanischer Text und Sprachmaterialien, Germany; Quote: "Ijya Acāra Dama Ahimsa Dāna Svādhyāya Karmanam, Ayam tu Paramo Dharma yad Yogena Atman Darshanam"
  37. ^ a b David Levinson (2002), Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment, Volume 1, SAGE Publications, ISBN 978-0761922582, page 829
  38. ^ Donald Davis (2010), The Spirit of Hindu Law, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521877046, pages 27-29
  39. ^ Donald Davis (2006), A realist view of Hindu law, Ratio Juris, Vol. 19, Issue 3, pages 287-313
  40. ^ Medhatithi - History of Dharmasastra PV Kane;
    Also see: G JHA (1920), Manu Smrti with Bhasya of Medhatithi, 5 vols, University of Calcutta Press


  1. Brick, David. “Transforming Tradition into Texts: The Early Development of Smrti.” ‘‘Journal of Indian Philosophy’’ 34.3 (2006): 287–302.
  2. Davis, Jr. Donald R. Forthcoming. The Spirit of Hindu Law.
  3. Filliozat, Pierre-Sylvain (2004), "Ancient Sanskrit Mathematics: An Oral Tradition and a Written Literature", in Chemla, Karine; Cohen, Robert S.; Renn, Jürgen; et al. (eds.), History of Science, History of Text (Boston Series in the Philosophy of Science), Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, 254 pages, pp. 137-157, pp. 360–375, doi:10.1007/1-4020-2321-9_7, ISBN 9781402023200
  4. Lingat, Robert. 1973. The Classical Law of India. Trans. J. Duncan M. Derrett. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  5. Rocher, Ludo. “Hindu Conceptions of Law.” ‘‘Hastings Law Journal’’ 29.6 (1978): 1284–1305.
  6. Staal, Frits (1986), The Fidelity of Oral Tradition and the Origins of Science, Mededelingen der Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie von Wetenschappen, Afd. Letterkunde, NS 49, 8. Amsterdam: North Holland Publishing Company, 40 pages


  1. ^ Śaṅkha, Likhita are brothers, and wrote each a smriti separately, and another jointly, and the three now considered as only one work.

External links[edit]