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Jurisprudence

Schools of Jurisprudence – Concept of Dharma

Indian jurisprudence is rich in essence because of the various sources of law it emerges from. It gets validity and recognition from various religious laws, local customs, and traditions. Dharma forms the main foundation of Indian jurisprudence. Due to its importance in Hindu traditions, Dharma played a big role in shaping Indian law. In order to understand how modern family and succession laws emerged, we need to know the concept of Dharma first.

Concept of Dharma

Concept of Dharma

In order to understand the concept of Dharma, we need to first know what that word means. Although there is no literal translation of “Dharma” in English, many people use it in different contexts. One of the most common meanings of Dharma is “duty”. Depending on other contexts and religious connotations, Dharma often assumes different meanings. For example, Buddhists refer to Dharma as a cosmic law, while Jains and Sikhs use it to mean religious paths.

According to Hindu jurisprudence, Dharma means duty in various contexts. This could mean either religious duties or even social, legal and spiritual duties. Some people also use the word to mean righteousness, which gives it a moralistic interpretation. In purely legal terms, some people refer to the concept of justice as Dharma.

Several ancient Hindu texts define Dharma and concepts like law, justice, and religion interchangeably. Therefore, there appears to be no distinction between Dharma and law in general. However, we must understand that Dharma has a religious and moralistic basis as well.

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Sources of Dharma

The earliest mention of “Dharma” occurs in Vedic texts like the Rig Veda to mean the foundation of the universe. These religious texts claimed that God created life using by inculcating principles of Dharma into all living creatures. Therefore, salvation (or “moksha”) is the eternal Dharma for humans according to Hinduism.

Later Hindu texts like the Upanishads greatly refined the concept of Dharma and made it more moralistic. Since this was the time period when nation-states started evolving, Dharma attained a legalistic meaning. Hindu legal codes like Manusmriti used Dharma to mean religious and legal duties of people. In other words, Dharma became a prescriptive concept as it described what people should or should not do. This interpretation of Dharma continued and its traces exist even in modern Hindu laws.

Even Hindu epics like Ramayan and Mahabharat refer to Dharma. They say that performing one’s Dharma is the ultimate aim of every individual. Since the main function of a king is to uphold Dharma, these texts often refer to historical figures as “Dharmaraja”.

Thus, we can see that Dharma as a concept emerged and was refined from many religious Hindu texts. Its meaning and scope expanded with time until it came to be associated with the ideals of law and justice. This is exactly how we understand Dharma today.

Nature of Dharma

Unlike other schools of jurisprudence, Hindu jurisprudence gives more emphasis to duties over rights. This is because Dharma, in its various connotations, prescribes the ultimate duties of every person. The nature of these duties might change from individual to individual, but it always remains a central theme. For example, a king’s Dharma is to uphold religious law, while that of a farmer is to provide sustenance.

Another feature of Dharma is that it greatly resembles natural law schools of jurisprudence. This is because ancient Indian jurisprudence believes that it is God who granted rights to people. Therefore, the ultimate source of all social, legal, political and spiritual rights is divinity.

Despite being a highly religious concept in nature, Dharma is multi-faceted. It contains laws and customs regulating a wide range of subjects. For example, texts like Manusmriti deal with religion, administration, economics, civil & criminal laws, marriage, succession, etc.

Solved Questions on Concept of Dharma

(a) The most common meaning of Dharma is __________.

(b) According to Hindu epics, the main function of a __________ is to uphold Dharma.

(c) The concept of Dharma greatly resembles the __________ school of jurisprudence.

Answers:          (a) duty          (b) king          (c) natural law

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