In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mānava-Dharmaśāstra

  • Introduction
  • Research Tools
  • General Overviews of Dharmaśāstras
  • Overview of the Mānava-Dharmaśāstra
  • Editions
  • Translations

Hinduism Mānava-Dharmaśāstra
Patrick Olivelle
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0066


The Mānava-Dharmaśāstra (“Manu” for short) occupies a pivotal position in the long history of Dharmaśāstric textual production. Dharmaśāstras produced before Manu, in the last three centuries BCE, consisted of prose texts written in the sutra style with interspersed verses. Manu is the first to be written entirely in verse, a style that is followed by all later authors. Manu is also the first to integrate completely the Arthaśāstric material dealing with the duties of the king, warfare and foreign policy, and law and jurisprudence. These will remain central topics of later Dharmaśāstric discourse. Manu was also considered within the native tradition itself as the most authoritative text on dharma. Its preeminent position was clearly established by the 5th century CE and possibly as early as the 3rd. Sometime toward the middle of the first millennium, Bṛhaspati, one of Manu’s successors and himself a composer of a Dharmaśāstra, pays Manu the ultimate compliment: Manu is the authority, and any text contradicting Manu has no validity. Manu’s importance is also indicated by the number of important commentaries that were written on it; nine of them survive, written between the 8th and the 17th centuries. It is also one of the most cited texts in medieval legal digests (nibandha).

Research Tools

Unfortunately, for the study of Dharmaśāstra literature, there are only a few research tools available. Dharmakośa (Joshi 1937–2005) is the most significant tool available for research into Dharmaśāstras, citing fully all the texts from texts, commentaries, and medieval digests on any given topics. Parmeshwaranand 2003 and Valavalkar 1942 provide useful but limited surveys of topics and secondary literature, while Sternbach 1973 offers the most comprehensive bibliography available in print, while a more comprehensive online bibliography is the Cooperative Annotated Bibliography of Hindu Law and Dharmaśāstra.

  • Cooperative Annotated Bibliography of Hindu Law and Dharmaśāstra.

    A comprehensive online bibliography that is the result of a cooperative effort by scholars. Not every entry is annotated, although the “Find It” feature permits the reader to find every entry either online or in a library.

  • Joshi, Laxman Shastri, ed. Dharmakośa. 5 vols. Wai, India: Prājña Pāṭhaśālā Maṇḍala, 1937–2005.

    An exhaustive encyclopedia in twenty-two parts containing citations from all the principal texts, commentaries, and medieval legal digests on any given topic. The most important are Vol. 1 on legal procedure; Vol. 3 on rites of passage including marriage; Vol. 4 on the duties of a king; Vol. 5 on the duties of social classes and orders of life.

  • Parmeshwaranand, Swami. Encyclopaedic Dictionary of the Dharmaśāstra. 3 vols. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons, 2003.

    This dictionary contains major concepts and terms of the Dharmaśāstras arranged alphabetically. It contains useful and brief summaries of texts bearing on a particular topic, but its usefulness is diminished because it fails to give bibliographic references to the passages cited.

  • Sternbach, Ludwik. Bibliography on Dharma and Artha in Ancient and Mediaeval India. Wiesbaden, West Germany: Harrassowitz, 1973.

    This is the most detailed bibliography of all aspects of law, society, economy, and statecraft of ancient and medieval India. An indispensable resource for scholars in the area.

  • Valavalkar, P. “A Survey of Research in Indian Sociology in Relation to Hindu Dharmaśāstras.” In Progress of Indic Studies: 1917–1942. Edited by R. N. Dandekar, 333–374. Poona, India: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1942.

    An annotated and evaluative bibliography of secondary sociological works on ancient Indian society. The tone, however, is somewhat defensive, presenting an idealistic picture of ancient India.

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