About the Book
This volume is an attempt to bring to the notice of the learned readers about the specialities of the Kamarupa School of Dharmasastra. The aim of this book is to acquaint the reader in one place with the writers of Kaamrupa (mediaeval Assam) on Dharmasastra and their works. These works are still in manuscript form and scattered in different places in Assam particularly in family collections. A few of these works though hitherto published yet not available now. These manuscripts are written in Sanskrit but in old Assamese scripts, as such, these are not accessible to outside reader who is not acquainted with the scripts. So an attempt is made to collect and colate all available informations about the Dharmasastra works written or compiled in Assam during the mediaeval period (particularly from 11-12th Century A.D. to 18th-19th Century A.D.).
About the Author
Dr. Naliniranjan Sharma is M.A. (Sanskrit-veda) from Banaras Hindu University, Ph.D. (Sanskrit-Dharmasastra ) from Gauhati University. Formerly Lecturer in Pragjyotish College, Guwahati and Cotton College. Guwahati upto 1972. He joined the Sanskrit (Veda) Department of Gauhati University in 1972 as Lecturer. Since 1988 he is Reader in the same department. His fields of specialisation are Vedic Language and literature, Dharmasastra, particularly the Kamarupiya Smrti and Kavyasastra, He has contributed a number of articles in all these fields in various National Journals, Seminars and Conferences. He is associated with various organisations, like Asom Vaidika Samaja, Guwahati.
In Sanskrit literature the word dharma is used to mean something more than what is conveyed by its 'English rendering i.e. religion. One comes across with the word dharma in the Rgveda and other vedic literature. In the Rgveda the word dharma is used both as noun and adjective, and according to MM. P. V. Kane, the word dharma “occurs at least fifty-six times”. The intended meaning is not the same in all places of occurrence of the word in the Rgveda and other vedic literatures.
In the post-vedic literatures also the word dhanma is used to convey different shades of meanings. For instance, Jaimini begins his Mimamsa-sutra by the aphorism “athato dharma jijnasa”, meaning discussion on dharma, and next he defines dharma as “codana-laksano'rtho dharmah:” It is clear that what Jaimini means by the word dharma is the vedic rites. Kanada has used the word dharma to convey the sense what is meant as the character of categories (Padartha). Prasastapada named his commentary on Kanada-sutra Padarthadharma-samgraha. “That the word dharma in Kanada-sutra connotes something different from the conventional meaning is evident from the lampon by his opponant pointing to irrelevancy of his preamble to the text that followed.
In the puranas and other classical literatures the word dharma is generally used to convey the meaning of religious practices and social customs. Keeping in view the uses of the word and its connotation one may say that dharma meant individual behaviour of a person within the family and society to which he or she belongs, the ultimate goal 'of human being and the means and methods, including 'dos' and 'donts' for reaching that goal. The sense of sin and virtue also comes into that releam. Thus in its long journey from the age of Rgveda, the age of robust optimism and open society, to the late mediaeval period through hitherto unknown region, full with new beliefs and social values, the word dharma assumed added dimensions.
In the religious tradition in India, which has its origin in the srutis (the Vedas, the revealed scriptures) and smrti (what is remembered by human teachers) are the authority on dharma. To be precise, the Vedas are the only source and authority on dharma, and smrti is also given that status because those are the recollections by the well-versed in the Vedas, and thus smrti derives its strength from the Vedas. Manu puts smrti next to the Vedas in its authority to dharma and states that in the event of a contradictory views between the Vedas and smrti the former is to be accepted superior to the latter (Sruti smrtyorvirodhe tu srutireva gariyasi), In theistic view both sruti and smrti are the two commandments of God (Sruti-smrti mamaivajne.
Sruti means the Vedas and dharmasastra stands for smrti (Srutisu vedo vijneyo dharmasastrantu vai smrtih), “Smrti in the widest acceptance of the term includes the six vedangas, the sutras, both Srauta and Grhya, itihasa i.e, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, the Puranas and the nitisastras”.
Thus dharmasastra comprises of both spiritual and mundane aspects of life of society and it deals with religious and civil laws of the ancient and mediaeval time of India.
The emergence of dharmasastras can be traced to the social evolution in the Indian society caused by internal and external forces such as advanced use of means of livelihood and invasion from across the border.
Kamarupa was an independent country since epic age when it was known as pragjyotisa. It neither formed a part of the empire of Ashoka, Samudra Gupta, Akbar and Aurangzeb. Being in the eastern periphery and far away from the centre of the mainstream it developed its own socio-religious customs and ritualistic procedure without deviating from the basic principles and with in the broad framework of the Vedic culture.
That the Vedic culture was deep-rooted and the study of the Vedas was also carried on in the state strictly in accordance with the prescribed norms and approved procedure has been testified by the royal land grant inscriptions from the seventh century onward.
The date when dharmasastra was first composed or compiled and since when it was accepted as a class of socioreligious literature cannot be precisely stated. From a discussion in Nirukta by Yaska it appears that dharma-sastras were in existence prior to Nirukta. Some scholars are of opinion that the reference of dharmasastra in Nirukta is interpolation. Anyway, the works of Gautama, Baudhayana and Apastamba are definitely the works of sutra-age and may be pushed back to 3rd to 5th century B.C.
With the passage of time as the society evolves the ritualistic procedure of religious rites had undergone changes and rules for performing those rites had also to be modified for making them widely acceptable. Thus dharmasastra are the mirror on which changing face of society is reflected. Apart from this, people living within a geographical limit or under certain rulers develop new habit, belief and view of life. The seers with a view to accommodate the new ideas and ideals had to modify the dharmasastra and new works were composed incorporating new code of socio-religious conduct. Such changes may be noticed not only in religious practices but in civil laws also. The different rules of inheritance, the rules to exclude daughters from claiming daya (inheritance) was introduced, such instances in hundreds' may be cited.
From an analysis of the changes, it may be stated that such changes may be traced to time and place. The change of food habit is a classical example to show the change in social behaviours in respect of time and place also. The meateating habit of the Vedic age changed totally and completely to give place to vegetarian food. If it is good in respect of time, the fish-eating in the North-east India proves the change i~ food habit due to the influence of the people of the region who were numerically in majority. The compilers of Dharmasastras were working on a compromise formula. While prohibiting meat eating they made a concession for eating the meat of five species of animal (panca pahcanakha bhaksyah.). With the spread of Tantricism meat-eating became common food habit, however, restriction was imposed to prohibit indiscriminate meat eating. That the meat of only those animals and birds can be partaken which are offered and sacrificed to the Goddess.
Dharmasastra composed in the eastern region made provision for fish eating and offering fish in sraddhas etc. However, in their ingenuity they prohibited eating of certain varieties of fish of the same species, perhaps, to restrict the fish eating to the minimum.
The ancient Assam known by the name Pragjyotisa and Kamarupa included parts of Bangladesh, West Bengal and some portion of Bihar also. The land is mentioned by the name Pragjyotisa in the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and royal inscriptions, while the name Kamarupa occurs for the first time in the stone pillar inscription of Samudragupta in Allahabad, and Kalidasa's Raghuvamsa (Canto IV) and the classical literature of later date.
The object of this dissertation is to present a connected, account of the Dharmasastra literature of ancient Assam, i.e.; Kamarupa, which once covered the whole of Assam and some portions of Bengal and Bihar. The literature, that has been produced in Assam in the early and mediaeval periods bears marks of a rich cultural heritage. There were numerous Assamese scholars who wrote on different branches of study like Veda, Vyakarana, Kavya, Darsana, Dharmasastra and so on. Of all the works of those scholars those on Dharmasastra are most remarkable.
An attempt has been made here to furnish an account of the Dharmasastra works, compiled or written in this part. of India, and the writers of those works. Scholars like Vedacarya, Nilambaracarya, Damodaramisra, Pitambarasiddhantavagisabhattacarya and others are regarded as authoritative writers in this field and their precepts are sincerely followed. by the people of Assam.
A number of Digests and Nibandhas on Dharmasastra were compiled by a good number of scholars during the last 700 years. Digests and Nibandhas compiled since 13th-14th century upto the 19th century can be found in different places: of Assam. Traditionally it is believed that Sraddhabhasya, Kalakaumudi, Smrtiratnakara, Smrtisagara, Smrtisagarasara, Gangajala, Makhapradipa, Sraddhakaumudi, Pretakaumudi, Dayakaumudi and a good number of other such works were written in ancient Assam, i.e., Kamarupa, Most of the treatises are found in manuscript form and written in old Assamese script.
Though the opinions of scholars like Bhavadeva, Halayudha, Aniruddhabhatta, Jumutavahana etc. of Bengal and Vacaspatimisra, Laksmanopadhyaya, Sridattopadhyaya etc. of Mithila are honoured and followed in Assam yet there are differences of opinion of the authors of Digests of Kamarupa with the authors of Bengal and Mithila. Some of the Scholars of Kamarupa tried to refute the opinions of the neo-smarta protagonists of Bengal, particularly Raghunandanabhattacarya. But, that is not the only thing that projects the Dharmasastra tradition of Assam, because, apart from refuting the views of other established authorities, the scholars of Assam could build up independent system covering the usual aspects of Dharmasastra so as to suit the local social traditions.
There are some peculiar customs prevailing in Assam which are traditionally recognised by the people as authoritative. In support of such practices Kamarupiyanibandhakaras had to find out and quote dicta from ancient scriptures as well as to abandon some dicta which had been considered to be against the prevailing customs. This is how an independent system grew up, References to and quotations from Kamarupiyanibandha can be found in the works on Dharmasastra written by some of the Smrtikaras of other parts of India, specially those of Bengal and Mithila. Very little research has so far been done by modern scholars about the works on Dharmasastra, specially the Digests and Nibandhas, compiled or written in ancient Assam, i.e., Kamarupa, during last 700 years and about the authors of those treatises.
Pandit Ramanatha Gosvami, Vidyalamkara, Pandit Taranatha Smrtitirtha, Pandit Gopalacandra Bhagavati Tarkasmrtitirtha, Pandit Raghunatha Siromani and a few other traditional scholars were, however, pioneers in this field of study. They edited and published a limited number of Nibandhas compiled in Kamarupa. The interest they have evinced was perhaps due to the fact that Bangiya Samskrta Siksa Parisat and the Assam Sanskrit Board prescribed works also on Kamarupasmrti in their respective courses of study. Amongst the modern scholars, Professor Ghanakanta Sarma, wrote some research articles on this subject and got them published in different journals. Dr. Biswanarayan Shastri has also done some works on this line. Till now Acharya Manoranjan Shastri has however, made the largest and best contributions to this area of study with a good number of learned articles on several authors and their works. He had collected a large number of manuscripts (about 1600) with the help of Late• Bhagavan Chandra Goswami, then a professor in the N albari . Sanskrit College. The manuscripts were preserved in the library of the Kamarupa Samskrta Sanjivani Sabha at Nalbari Acharya Shastri prepared a Descriptive Catalogue of some of the manuscripts of that large collection. The Catalogue, however, remains to be published as yet.
A four page Brief note on Dharmasastra works and writers from Kamarupa (i.e., Assam) is appended to the. History of Dharmasastra (Vol. I, Part IT), the magnum opus of MM P. V. Kane. But a complete and co-ordinated of' the works on Dharmasastra written in Kamarupa and of the• authors of those works remained to be prepared.
An attempt is, therefore, made here to prepare a comprehensive and systematic account of the treatises on Dharmasastra compiled in ancient Assam, i.e., Kamarupa during the mediaeval period and of the authors of those works.
With these prefatory words, I now humbly present this work for its assessment by the authorities, because, as Kalidasa observes:
“a paritosad vidusam na sadhu manye prayogavijnanam”.
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