In the following article mathomathis would like to discuss on topic Yajnavalkya Smriti | Vyavahara Law. This is a continuation from the previous article which was Yajnavalkya Smriti | Indian Law | 101. Do read the previous article before continuing here. Among the three topics, Acara, Vyavahara and Prayascitta, discussed in Smriti texts, Vyavahara has relevance even today. Yajnavalkya is the earliest Smrti author, who dealt with the Vyavahara part separately with due importance. Thus in the legal history of India, Yajnavalkya Smriti has a paramount position and it stands next to Manu Smriti in antiquity, importance and authority. Though this work follows the same pattern as of Manu, its concise style and scientific arrangement of the topics helped it to acquire a dominant position among ancient Indian law books. P.V. Kane observes that this work deserves this position not only by its concise and clear statement of principles but also by its breadth of vision and its comparative impartiality towards the claims of both sexes and the different Varnas

Author and Date of YS

The name Yajnavalkya is famous in Vedic literature as a celebrated sage closely associated with the Vajasaneyi School of Shukla Yajurveda. The following statement in Satapatha Brahmana says that the Shukla yajurveda was promulgated by sage Yajnavalkya as received from the Sun.

Mathomathis - Yajnavalkya Smritis

An interesting story in this regard is described in Mahabharata, which is as follows: Yajnavalkya studied Yajurveda from his preceptor Vaisampayana. A rupture between the teacher and the student occurred and the latter vomited all that he has studied from the teacher. Later by worshiping the Sun God, Yajnavalkya received the revelation of the Sukla yajurveda and Satapatha Brahmana. In Brhadaranyakopanisad, sage Yajnavalkya appears as a great philosopher. In the fourth Brahmana of the second chapter of the Upanishad, he is depicted as explaining mysterious philosophic doctrines to his wife Mytreyi. In the third and fourth chapters, which are famous as Munikanda or Yajnavalkya kanda, he is described as giving instructions to Janaka regarding the definitions of Brahma. The orthodox view accepts that this famous sage referred to in Vedic literature and the author of YS are one and the same personality. The following verse in YS is taken as the proof by them:


Here the author introduces himself as the promulgator of the Aranyaka that he received from the Sun and also as an authority of YogaShastra. But P.V. Kane considers this verse as an interpolation to glorify YS as the work of a great and ancient sage, philosopher and Yogin. He also states: “From the style and the doctrines of the Smrti it is impossible to believe that it was the work of the same hand that gave to the world the Upanishad containing the boldest philosophical speculation couched in the simplest yet the most effective language.” W.L.S. Panshikar also states that it is impossible to accept the Yajnavalkya of the Vedic period as the author of the Smriti as the text itself proves a later compilation. The Mitaksara commentary of Vijiianesvara starts with the statement that the extant YS, which is in the form of a dialogue between Yajnavalkya and the sages, is an abridged form of the original work:

Mathomathis - Yajnavalkya Smritis

The period of this code cannot be fixed with any certainty. Its posterity to ManuSmriti and ArthaShastra is clear as it follows these two works in many places. The most ancient commentary on this treatise is the gloss of Visvarupa written in 9 century A.D. Several references in Visvarupa’s work make it clear that the commentator was separated from the author by many centuries. Considering all these factors P.V. Kane places this work somewhere between first century B.C. and third century A.D. But, another scholar in Smrti literature, Sir. Ramakrishna Gopala Bhandarkar, opines that the Ganapati worship described in YS appears to be of a later age with somewhat more developed or complicated form. He states: “Between the end of the fifth and the end of the eighth century, the Ganapati cult must have come into practice and the Smriti of Yajnavalkya must have been written not earlier than the sixth century A.D”

The Content and Arrangement of YS

The work is written in classical Anustubh metre. The number of verses varies according to different commentators. Visvarupa accepts 1003 verses in the text. But Apararka includes 1006 verses. According to Vijiianesvara and Mitramisra, the number is 1009. In Sulapani’s commentary there are 1010 verses. In the case of arrangement of verses also slight differences are seen in these commentaries. As regards the treatment of subject, YS follows the same pattern of Manu. But the methodological arrangement of topics avoiding repetition of same or similar provisions makes this work very brief, scientific and practical. Yajnavalkya views are far more modem and advanced than that of Manu. He goes beyond the discussions of the eighteen titles of law as stated in ManuSmriti. In order to fulfil the requirements of the changing society he has made adaptations and modifications in Manu’s pattern. In several matters like women’s right of inheritance and status of Sudras Yajfiavalkya’s views are more liberal and progressive than that of Manu. It is said that the society of Yajnavalkya’s age was highly influenced by the teachings of Buddha which was against all kinds of discrimination’s and inhuman treatments. The favorable attitude of Yajnavalkya towards women and the oppressed sections like Sudras might be the result of the impact of Buddhist ideals on the society.


The whole text is divided into three chapters named Acaradhyaya, Vyavahara Dhyaya and Prayascitta Dhyaya. Each Adhyaya is again divided into Prakaranas. The Acaradhyaya which contains 13 Prakaranas deals with Acaras or regulations relating to the performance of religious rites and ceremonies and the general duties of men according to their Varnas and Asramas.

Upodghataprakarana: In which fourteen Vidyas, twenty expounders of Dharma and constitution of Parisad are explained
Brahmacariprakarana: Where the Samskaras up to marriage are described
Varnajati viveka prakarana
Grhastha dharma prakarana: Explains the duties of the householder
The duties of Snataka is the sixth prakarana
Bhaksyabhaksyaprakarana: Narrates the rules about the prohibited and allowed foods
Dravyasuddhiprakarana: Where matters concerning the purification of various materials are explained
The tenth prakarana gives an elaborate explanation of Sraddhas
The eleventh and twelfth Prakarana’s deal with propitiatory ceremonies of Vinayaka and the nine Grahas respectively
The last is Rajadharmaprakarana where the duties of the king are described.


The Vyavaharadhyaya which is divided into 25 Prakarana’s, is devoted for the discussion of eighteen points of dispute (Astadasavyavaharasthanani). According to Manu the eighteen topics of Vyavahara are:

Rnadana – Payment and recovery of debts
Niksepa – Deposits
Asvamivikraya – Sale without ownership
Sambhuyasamutthana – Joint undertakings ( Partnership)
Dattasyanapakarma – Resumption of gift
Vetanadana – Non-payment of wages
Samvidvyatikrama – Violation of convention of guilds and Corporations
Krayavikrayanusaya – Sale and purchase
Svamipalavivada – Dispute between master and servant
Simavivada – Boundary dispute
Vakparusya – Defamation
Dandaparusya – Assault
Steya -Theft
Sahasa – Offence by violence
StriSangrahana – Adultery
Stripumdharma – Duties of husband and wife
Vibhaga – Partition
Dyutasamahvaya – Betting and gambling

Yajnavalkya has made some alterations in dealing with these 18 topics. The first and second Prakaranas dealing with rules and regulations in general (Sadharanavyavaharamatrkaprakarana) and exceptional regulations (Asadharanavyavahara matrkaprakarana) respectively are an introduction to the topics. The third Prakarana is on laws relating to loans. The next five Prakaranas are related to deposits, witnesses, written documents, divine tests, divisions of property and inheritance respectively. Laws relating to disputes about boundaries and dispute between master and servant are discussed in the next two Prakaranas. Eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth Prakaranas deal with laws on sale of articles, gift and its acceptance and returning a thing purchased to a seller respectively. Laws regarding breach of contract and breach of established usage (Samvidvyatikrama) are dealt within the next two Prakaranas. The forthcoming nine Prakaranas deal respectively with topics relating to payment of wages, betting and gambling, defamation, assault, robbery, non delivery of articles sold, partnership, theft, adultery and seduction. The last Prakarana is Prakirnaprakarana where certain miscellaneous rules are seen codified.


The Prayascittadhyaya which mainly deals with various rites of atonement is divided into five Prakaranas namely


Regulations about Asauca or impurity are described in the first Prakarana. Apaddharmaprakarana deals with procedures not usually proper for a caste but allowable in times of exigency or calamity. The regulations relating to Vanaprastha or the third stage of life are described in the third Prakarana. The fourth deals with the duties of a Yati or one who has renounced the world. Several kinds of expiatory rites are elaborately seen discussed in the last Prakarana called Prayascitta.

This method of content arrangement in YS is much notable. In earlier Dharmasutras and in MS such a type of systematic and scientific arrangement of topics are not found. Especially regarding the Vyavaharadhyaya, Yajnavalkya has incorporated certain other heads in his text in accordance with various social and cultural changes that have emerged in the society after the age of Manu. It may be due to the same reason that the Vyavaharadhyaya of YS is very elaborate dividing it into 25 Prakaranas. The topic Stripumdharma (duties of husband and wife), which is included by Manu in the famous eighteen Vyavaharas, is dealt within Acaradhyaya by Yajnavalkya. By shifting the same from the purview of Vyavahara and including in Acara, it seems that, Yajnavalkya is giving more justification to this topic. He has divided the topic of Krayavikrayanusaya (sale and purchase) into two, Kritanusaya (repenting a purchase) and Vikriyasampradana (non-delivery after sale) and has introduced a new topic Abhyupetyasusrusa (breach of contract). Topics like law of evidence, laws relating to written documents and certain tests that are laid down for establishing the innocence of an accused are discussed elaborately in separate Prakaranas called Saksiprakarana, Lekhyaprakarana and Divyaprakarana respectively. Rules and laws that cannot be included under these Prakaranas are discussed separately in the Prakirnaprakarana. Vyavaharadhyaya of YS is the most important part of the text, especially in relation to later law codes of India. Most of the famous commentaries of YS like that of Vijiianesvara have become famous based on their interpretations of the Vyavaharadhyaya of YS. It is generally accepted that in many aspects like law of succession and inheritance right modem legal system of Hindu law in India are highly influenced by the Vyavaharadhyaya of YS and its famous commentaries

Commentaries on YS

In the history of ancient Indian jurisprudence, the period of Smritis starting from Manu can be considered as the era of codification of law. Several works were produced by eminent jurists and these texts covered almost all branches of law which the society was in need of that time. But in later ages, the ambiguity of content and presentation of these texts raised several problems in connection with the application of laws described in them. Moreover, in several matters, they were silent and on certain questions they contained conflicting provisions. So in order to fulfill the requirements of the changing society, skilful interpretations and adaptations were needed. Therefore scholars well versed in Mimamsa, the science of interpretation, using the aid or methodology of that system, wrote many commentaries and digests with necessary adaptations. Thus several commentaries were being written on YS also among which the most famous are the Balakrida of Visvarupx, Mitaksara of Vijnanesvara, Yajnavalkyadharmasastranibandha of Apararka, Dipakalika of Sulapani and Yajnavalkyasmrtitika or Viramitrodayavyakhya of Mitramisra.