By Swami Harshananda
Religion has always considered dharma as a basic value which must cover all aspects of life, individual as well as social. One of the earliest classes of scriptures dealing with dharma is the dharmasutra literature.
The Dharmasutras of Gautama has been considered a quite ancient (600-400 A.C.) perhaps, the oldest dharmasutra work and authoritative. It has been held in high esteem by the later writers of dharmaśāstras.
There is reason to believe that the Dharmasutras of Gautama is an independent work and not a part of the Kalpasutras. The sage Gautama probably belonged to the Rāṇāyānīya school of the Sāmaveda. This work has a bhāṣya or commentary by Maskarin (A. D. 900) and another one called Mitāksarā by Haradatta (A. D. 1100).
The Gautama Dharmasutras is written entirely in prose and has 28 chapters. A brief summary of the contents can now be attempted:
- Sources of dharma
- Details of the upanayana sacrament
- The four āśramas
- Rules concerning marriage and the duties of a householder
- The pañcamahāyajñas or the five daily sacrifices
- The duties of the four varṇas
- Rājadharma or the duties and responsibilities of a king
- Crime and punishment
- Rules concerning law-suits
- Śrāddhas or obsequial ceremonies
- Rules regulating food and eating
- On women
- Sins and their expiations
- Partition of property and related matters
- Dharma was the foundational morality and ethics.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore