Vedas are the basic religious scriptures upon which the tradition of Indian-theism is based. These four Vedas i.e. Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda contains all the knowledge of this universe and they are well preserved in it. The Vedic sages, for the benediction of human beings condensed this vast expansion of learning into cryptic form. Their pupils who were of sharp intellect memorized them as soon as these words of great knowledge were pronounced by them (sages).
But in due course of time sue to gradual depreciation in the ability of memorizing, it became problematic to preserve these invaluable learning. To solve this problem the learned and knowledgeable persons devised means to preserve it by categorizing Vedas into six divisions which were known as ‘Vedanga’ (Vedas’ organ) and by writing it down in the form of numerous authentic volumes on diverse subjects.
This tradition resulted into the creation of numerous volumes of diverse subjects like Upanishad Philosophy, code of law, Auyurveda, Astrology, Dhanurveda (art of archery), Gandharvaveda, Aranyaka and Vedangas which were divided into six parts which are:
1) Shiksha- education. 2)Kalpa- rituals. 3) Vyaakaran- grammar.
4) Nirukta- exposition of the Vedas. 5) Jyotish- Astrology. 6) Chhanda- Meter or stanza.
In the Smritis (code of law), instructions have been given regarding religious cum moral behaviour of a man, in great details. These ‘Smritis’ have touched nearly every important aspects of human life like conduct, behaviour, education and his duty of seeking happiness inn the other world after his death by being virtuous.
The experienced sages of these Vedic knowledge have transformed the Vedic principles into most practical forms in the Smritis and which they thought must be the objective of the Smritis. Even the most learned man having the knowledge of Brahma, spiritualism and philosophy gets respect from people only when he practices what he preaches otherwise his tremendous knowledge is covered by the darkness of his bad conducts.
So it should be an endeavour of each man to make his life virtuous by following the teachings of these Smritis- the message of the Vedas.
SUBJECT DIVISION OF CODES OF CONDUCT
The learned men of religion have tried to categorize the scriptures of code of conduct mainly into three categories.
1. Codes of Conduct (Aaachaar Samhita)
2. Codes of behaviour (Vyavahara Samhita)
3.Codes of atonement (Praayaschita Samhita) Or Codes of punishment (Danda Samhita)
All these three aspects are very essential for a worthwhile existence of a man. If any of the aspect is absent then the all round development of a man not only gets blocked but also becomes impossible. Keeping this in mind the ancient sages of India preserved their memoirs, their conclusions in the form of code of conduct for the welfare of mankind stressing upon the importance of religion and salvation and his continuous endeavour in that direction.
CODES OF CONDUCT
The first demonstration made in the Smritis is related with the right conduct of a man. The spiritual development of a man depends upon the implementation of the sixteen rites, wherein he is required to maintain his life style pure virtuous since his birth till his death by keeping away from sinful activities.
Therefore for an achievement of bright future, ordinances have been made for different ceremonies and rites for different situations like conception, initiation into learning, sacred thread ceremony (yagyapavit), marriage etc which brings respectability to a man and which helps him to develop real humanity in him.
Although the education on the codes of conduct as directed in the Smritis had been originally categorized on the basis of the four castes i.e. Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra and similarly on the four stages of man’s life i.e. Brahmacharya (maintaining celibacy), Grihastha (a householder’s life), Vaanaprastha (going to the forest) and Sanyaas (renunciaton) but today in the Kaliyuga when the caste system has deteriorated to such an extent that there is a fear of it becoming extinct is not applicable.
The permission has been given in the ‘Smritis’ to each individual and community according to his tendency, capability and efficiency so that a man can develop physically, mentally, intellectually and the whole society moves forward on the path of virtuosity.The two of the most important duties of a Brahmin as described in the Smritis are a) Penance. b) Learning and acquiring knowledge.
A Brahmin by doing a penance liberates himself from all of his sins and by acquiring knowledge, he achieves the supreme status. The areas of activities where a Brahmin is supposed to function are learning, teaching and help in the performance of Yagya. (sacrificial fire) Similarly the Kshatriyas have been ordered to rule efficiently and protect his subjects. Vaishyas have been asked to accumulate the means and the commodities so as to earn money. The Shudras have been asked to be at the service of all the above mentioned castes. The reason for such a direction being given to Shudras are because Shudras are full of dark qualities and many faults are found in them connected with physical being and mental being.
For example sage Apasthamba has said –
AGYAANTIMIRAANDHASYA MADDYAPAANASTASYA CHA ||
RUDHIRAM TEN SHUDRAANNAM VIDHIMANTRA VIVARJITAM ||
MEANING - Since a Shudra is brought up in the environment of ignorance and darkness, always under the influence of intoxication, hence the food of a Shudra is worth abandoning in the same way as blood is abhorred.
CODES OF BEHAVIOUR :
The second subject which is ascertained in the Smritis is the code of behaviour. Man being a social being comes daily into contact with various people according to his requirements. In these processes of contacts, there are times when activities are not properly conducted either because of ignorance or because of selfishness. As a result of this difference of opinions develop in the society and the atmosphere gets vitiated.
To prevent this from happening the creators of Smritis have directed the kings, administrators to bring those corrupt people back to the path of virtuosity by punishing them for their crimes.According to sage Yagyavalkya, the chief deity of the king is look after the welfare and the safety of his subjects and to take appropriate measures in that regard. For this to happen he must ensure that his subjects follow the path of virtuosity and punish those wicked people who cause hindrances and obstructions in the path of virtuous people by tormenting them.
And then this can happen only when the king is religious, fearless, alert, treats all as equal and keeps courtiers having such qualities too.The subjects are like children to a king, so it is his duty to look after their welfare just like a father looks after the welfare of his sons.
CODE OF ATONEMENT :
The third chief subject which is ascertained in the Smritis or codes of conduct in codes of atonement. It is natural for a man to commit mistakes knowingly or unknowingly for which he feels sorry later on. To undo his sins and to attain peace of mind he wants to perform some virtuous activities. The third chapter of the Smritis deals with such virtuous activities by the performance of which a man alone can atone for his sinful activities. The different forms of sinful activities and their methods of atonement are elaborated in detail in this chapter for example sin committed by lust, by anger, by ignorance and by greed.
Since the initial phase of the civilization there have been provisions for royal punishment for sins and crimes committed in society. But such ‘mental crimes’ of which others are ignorant and only the commiter has knowledge, the Smritis have approved of mental atonement as the means to be free from his guilt consciousness. A sinner whose conscience does not allow him to rest in peace and who is always fearful of divine punishment for his sins makes his life a hell.
Many Smritis have considered charity and Dakshina (giving alms) as the means for the atonement of his sins. But for the personification of penance, Sage Atri and Sage Baudhyan have considered ‘Pranayam’ and the chanting of various mantras as the only means for the atonement of sins.
Smritis have bestowed upon the Brahmins the right to make judgements regarding religion and virtuosity. It has also burdened them with the severe rules of atonement in case of their committing a sin.The rules of atonement are not that severe for a person belonging to other castes. For example a Kshatriya has to atone half as compared to a Brahmin, a Vaishya has to atone one third as compared to a Brahmin and a Shudra has to atone for only one fourth as compared to a Brahmin.
EVOLUTION OF SMRITIS :
The origin and development of Smritis blossomed after the Vedas and Vedangas. Smritis which were created after the Vedic literature contain some serious topics as well as many preaching in simple language. As a result of this simple language common people have been able to gain knowledge about their rights and duties.
It is said that a phase came after the Vedic period which could be called the Smriti period because during that period the society was governed by the rules contained in the Smritis. During that period many Smritis were created apart from the main Smritis, keeping in mind the prevalent social and environmental conditions in which there is found great diversities in the rules although the basic principles remained the same.
THE NAMES OF SMRITIS :
Since the Smritis normally contain the preaching and commands of great ancient sages therefore they are aptly named after them. According to sage Yagyavalkya the following names of twenty sages have been given in his Smriti and they are also considered as the most prominent creators of the Smritis.
1) Manu 2) Atri 3) Vishnu 4) Haarit 5) Yagyavalkya 6) Ushanaa 7) Angira 8) Yama
9) Aapasthamba 10) Samvarta 11) Kaatyaayan 12) Vrihaspati 13) Paraashar
14) Vyaasa 15) Shankh16) Likhit 17) Daksha 18) Gautam
19) Shaataatap 20) Vashishtha.
It is only the Smritis which teach us as to which religious activity is essential in a particular situation? Or which activity is of secondary importance? Or which activity is worth abandoning?It also determines how far a man can go in search of sensual pleasure and how important is purity and sanctity in our life. A clear demarcation in the above-mentioned things, though appears harsh and strict yet it helps in building a religious and virtuous society by creating an atmosphere of similarity, equality and tranquility.
Apart from the basic religious overtones the Smritis also contain preaching on good manners. The golden period of Indian history was when the conduct of the people followed the preaching of the Smritis. During that time, India because of her supreme civilization and culture was famous and was respected by the whole world. So we Indians must try to follow the preaching of the Smritis so that our past glory is brought back.
Apart from the above mentioned twenty Smritis, there is also a mention of other Smritis in the scriptures. Recently an organization by the name of ‘Guru-Mandal’ of Calcutt had published the names of ten Smritis, they are 1) Markandeya 2) Sangakshi 3) Baudhyan 4) Laghwashwalayan 5) Kapil 6) Baghul 7) Vsihwamitra 8) Shandilya 9) Kanva 10) Bharadwaja all of which are famous for their goodness and glory.
In this way, the Smritis which remind us about the Vedas are established supremely and are important historically, socially, culturally and have literary importance. It contains the ancient history of the world which is very beneficial for the human kind. The Aryan civilization has been glorified in it.
The Smritis are created normally in ‘Anushtup’ metre (slokam of 32 letters) but some Smritis are also written in prose. Keeping in mind the weak memory of a man its language has been kept simple and natural.