Written by Sri Swami Chandrashekarendra
There are a hundred thousand aspects to be considered in a man's life.
Rules cannot be laid down to determine each and every one of them.
That would be tantamount to making a legal enactment. Laws are indeed
necessary to keep a man bound to a system. Our sastras do contain many
do's and don'ts, many rules of conduct.
There is much talk today of freedom and democracy. In practice what do
we see? Freedom has come to mean the licence to do what one likes, to
indulge one's every whim. The strong and the rough are free to harass
the weak and the virtuous. Thus we recognise the need to keep people
bound to certain laws and rules. However the restrictions must not be
too many. There must be a restriction on restrictions, a limit set on
far individuals and the society can be kept under control. To choke a
with too many rules and regulations is to kill his spirit. He will break
and run away from it all.
That is the reason why our Sastras have not committed everything to
writing and enacted laws to embrace all activities. In many matters they
let people follow in the footsteps of their elders or great men.
me as a great man and respecting me for that reason, don't you, on your
own, do what I do-wear ashes, perform Pujas and observe fasts? In some
matters people are given the freedom to follow the tradition or go by
personal example of others or by local or family custom. Only thus will
they have faith and willingness to respect the rules prescribed with
regard to other matters.
Setting an example through one's life is the best way of making others
their duty or practice their dharma. The next best is to make them do
same on their own persuasion. The third course is compulsion in the form
of written rules. Nowadays there are written laws for anything and
everything. Anyone who has pen and paper writes whatever comes to his
mind and has it printed.
Hindu Dharmasastra has come under attack for ordering a man's life with
countless rules and regulating and not allowing him freedom to act on
own. But, actually, the sastras respect his freedom and allow him to act
on his own in many spheres. Were he given unbridled freedom he would
ruin himself and bring ruin upon the world also. The purpose of the code
of conduct formulated by our sastras is to keep him within certain
bounds. But this code does not cover all activities since the makers of
sastras thought that people should not be too tightly shackled by the
You may feel that with regard to some aspects of life there is an
of compulsion in the sastras, but you may not feel the same when you
follow the tradition, the local or family custom or the example of great
men. Indeed you will take pride in doing so. This fact is accepted, in
large-heartedness of its author, by the Vaidyanatha-Diksitiyam. Previous
works on Dharmasastra shared the same view. The Apastambasutra
authority widely followed. In its concluding part the great sage
Apastamba observes: "I have not dealt with all duties. There are so many
dharmas still to be learned. Know them from the fourth varna. "From this
it is clear that the usual criticism that men kept women suppressed or
that Brahmins kept non-Brahmins suppressed is not true. In a renowned
and widely accepted dharmasastra such as that of Apastamba women
and Sudras are authoritatively recognised to be knowledgeable in some
aspects of dharma.
Asvalayana and some other "original" authors of sutras say that the word
of women is to be respected in the matter of the arati in weddings and
application of paccai. The posts supporting the marriage pandal are
installed to the chanting if mantras. Even so, if the servant or worker
erecting the pandal has a story to tell about it or some tradition
connected with it, you must not ignore it. In this way everyone is
respected in the sastras and given what is called "democratic" freedom.
The dharmasastras include the samskaras and other rituals to be
performed by the fourth varna. That caste has not been ignored and its
duties and rituals are dealt with in the chapters on varnasrama, anhika
and sraddha in the Diksitiyam.
The dharmasastras have usually chapters on "acara" and "vyavahara".
The first denotes matters of custom and tradition that serve as a
discipline. The second means translating them in terms of outward rites