Dharma Shastra in Hinduism
Dharma Shastras are part of the Smriti tradition, the secular heritage as distinct from the revealed. Smritis deal with the practical application of eternal principles according to changing times, and varying social requirements. They are relative, not absolute. If Dharma is stability, Shastras are the method and technique of achieving stability in everyday life.
These Shastras are the works of individual sages laying down rules of conduct, law and order, social laws, relationships in families and the numerous samskaras rather than abstract ideas.
The most important among these is the Code of Manu, known as Manu Smriti.
Instead of poeticizing and philosophizing he codifies the law and deals with such matters as the upkeep of the individual security as the upkeep of the individual security and state e.g. correct performance of sacrifice, ritual, political administration and customs, property rights, position of women and the like.
Four (4) stages of Human Life in Hinduism
The life of an individual has been divided into four Ashram, or four stages.
Brahmacharya (bachelor and student life)
Period of acquiring spiritual and material knowledge and leading a life of discipline in Gurukula.
Striving to earn money and material wealth, bringing up one’s children looking after family and society, sustaining other ashramas and performing manifold religious duties.
This period is for retirement from worldly life and preparation for a life of renunciation.
The last and the most rigorous stage, of owning nothing and attached to nothing, and devoting oneself to supreme spiritual knowledge leading eventually to Moksha.
The Varna System is described in the Code of Manu as a division of society on the basis of birth. Very likely, however, it began as a specialization of occupation so that activities could be performed more efficiently. Since the root word ‘Varna’ literally means ‘colour’, there is a school of thought which suggests that originally the caste system was based on fair skinned Aryan rulers and dark skinned tribal’s and Dravidian subjects. Much of Manu’s Code was intended for the society of that period which had its grassroots in the fertile North Indian River valleys.
The key word here is ‘Smriti’ which is a reminder that Manu’s laws are not dogmatic and, therefore, should be interpreted flexibly. He praises women highly, and recommends a correspondingly elevated status for them in society. Manu declares that God resides at places through a systematically worked out division of labor, based on inclination and ability.
These Dharma Shastras are a veritable mine of significant information especially for students of religion and social history.