Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: February 2013

Ancient Hindu Criminal Law



Before starting the discussion of the real subject, a preliminary remark should be made about the term “law” used in the title of this paper. Western people have come to know the Mānava-Dharmaśāstra under such titles as Bühler's The Laws of Manu (cf. Loiseleur-Deslongchamps 1830 and Jolly 1882–83). For the same Western people, however, this word law has a very strictly circumscribed connotation: a law to them is a prescription passed and voted upon in the one or two existing legislative assemblies, approved by the head of the state, be he a king or a president, and to be adhered to by the people immediately after its official publication. It should be remembered, then, that in ancient India there was not such a separate concept as “law.” What is called “law” nowadays was merely a very small portion of the much more comprehensive doctrine of dharma. In view of this, the learned Dr. P.V. Kane has done well to entitle his voluminous work, of which the fourth volume has been recently published, History of Dharmaśāstra, adding in parentheses: “(ancient and medieval religious and civil law).” Nevertheless if we use the term “law,” it simply means that this article is concerned with that part of the Dharmaśāstra the contents of which correspond to the rules of conduct which in modern democracies are passed by the legislative assemblies.