The fact that litigation in classical Hindu law “rests on four feet” (catuṣpād) is well known. The texts enumerating and defining the four elements have been discussed repeatedly in recent scholarly literature. Most of these writings center on the fact that, among dharma, vyavahāra, caritra, and rājaśĀsana, each latter one bādhate “checks, prevents, sets aside,” the preceding one(s). This leads to various —conflicting— theories on the relative role of the four “feet,” and, especially, to efforts at explaining the obvious, but unexpected, importance given custom and royal decrees.
This article does not intend to deal with the relations between dharma, vyavahāra, caritra, and rājaśĀsana. It will concentrate on caritra, and, more specifically, on one term which has been used —once(!)— in connection with it: pustakaraṇa.
The term caritra has been defined by most texts in which the “four feet” of vyavahāra have been enumerated. One of the simplest definitions appears in a verse attributed to Vyāsa (DhK 1.235):
deśasthitiḥ pūrvakṛtā caritraṃ samudāhṛtam.
Elsewhere in a stanza attributed to Bṛhaspati (9.6; DhK 1.99), deśasthiti occurs again, but as one of two types of caritra, the other one being based on anumāna:
anumānena nirṇītam caritram iti kathyate;
deśasthityā dvitīyaṃ tu śĀstravidbhir udāhṛtam.
Jolly (2.23) translates:
When a sentence is passed according to the inference (to be drawn from circumstantial evidence), it is termed (a decision based on) custom. When it is passed according to local usages, it is termed another sort (of a decision based on custom) by the learned in the law.