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Śruti (Sanskrit: śrúti, "hearing, listening") is a term that describes the sacred texts comprising the central canon of Hinduism and is one of the three main sources of dharma and therefore is also influential within Hindu Law. These sacred works span the entire history of Hinduism, beginning with some of the earliest known Hindu texts and ending in the early modern period with the later Upanishads. Śruti is often cited as akin to the Vedas; however, it also contains various supplementary commentaries on them. This literature differs from other sources of Hindu Law, particularly smṛti or “remembered text”, because of the purely divine origin of śruti. This belief of divinity is particularly prominent within the Mimamsa tradition. The initial literature is traditionally believed to be a direct revelation of the “cosmic sound of truth” heard by ancient Rishis who then translated what was heard into something understandable by humans.
Distinction between Śruti and Smṛti
In order to best understand śruti, the contrast between śruti and smṛti must be understood. Śruti denotes a category of texts that are not of human origin. Because of their lack of authorship, they were traditionally transmitted orally by Brahmans and learned people which was thought to preserve the tradition's purity. Both śruti and smṛti represent categories of texts that are used to establish the rule of law within the Hindu tradition. However, they each reflect a different kind of relationship that can be had with this material. Śruti is solely of divine origin and contains no specific concepts of law. Because of the divine origin, it is preserved as a whole, instead of verse by verse. With śruti, the desire is more towards recitation and preservation of its divine attributes and not necessarily towards understanding and interpreting the oral tradition like that found in smṛti.
For more information on the textual nature of Śruti see main article for Veda
Pre-eminent in śruti literature are the four Vedas:
- Rig-Veda (hymns recited by the hotar)
- Yajur-Veda (hymns recited by the adhvaryu)
- Sama-Veda (hymns recited by the udgatr)
- Atharva-Veda (a collection of ancient spells and charms)
The liturgical core of each of the Vedas are supplemented by commentaries on each text which all belong to the śruti cannon:
The literature of the shakhas, or schools, further amplified the material associated with each of the four core traditions.
Particular sections of the Bhagavata purana relating to the catur sloki and the concept of svayam bhagavan are considered Śruti by some Vaishnava Vedantists, as is the Mahabharata (an Itihasa, or History) or at least the chapter within the Mahabharata known as the Bhagavad Gita.
Role in Hindu Law
The idea of śruti established a set group of people who were granted access to the information contained in the Vedas. Because of its divine nature and methods of transmittance, śruti literature, Vedas, was reserved solely for the twice-born or upper three castes. This necessitated interpretations by those granted access in order to provide the proper teaching and practical rules for those unable to approach the literature, including Sudra, women, and those outside of the caste system. As these interpretations began to be practiced as law, the concept of Acara, or regional customary laws developed by a person who reads and interprets the Vedas, began to be understood. This, in conjunction with Smrti texts that provide further human interpretation of Śruti, developed the information hierarchy that Hindus looked toward to dictate the proper conduct of their lives.
The specific information regarding such proper conduct was not found directly in the Vedas because they do not contain explicit codes or rules that would be found in a legal system. However, because of the Vedas’ divine and unadulterated form, a rule that claims connection to this literature is given more merit even if it does not cite a specific passage. In this sense, Śruti exists as a source for all Hindu Law without dictating any specifics.
Max Muller in an 1865 lecture stated
"In no country, I believe, has the theory of revelation been so minutely elaborated as in India. The name for revelation in Sanskrit is Sruti, which means hearing; and this title distinguished the Vedic hymns and, at a later time, the Brahmanas also, from all other works, which however sacred and authoritative to the Hindu mind, are admitted to have been composed by human authors. The Laws of Manu, for instance, are not revelation; they are not Sruti, but only Smriti, which means recollection of tradition. If these laws or any other work of authority can be proved on any point to be at variance with a single passage of the Veda, their authority is at once overruled. According to the orthodox views of Indian theologians, not a single line of the Veda was the work of human authors. The whole Veda is in some way or the other the work of the Deity; and even those who saw it were not supposed to be ordinary mortals, but beings raised above the level of common humanity, and less liable therefore to error in the reception of revealed truth. The views entertained by the orthodox theologians of India are far more minute and elaborate than those of the most extreme advocates of verbal inspiration in Europe. The human element, called paurusheyatva in Sanskrit, is driven out of every corner or hiding place, and as the Veda is held to have existed in the mind of the Deity before the beginning of time..."
- Coburn, Thomas B. 1984. pp. 439
- Flood, Gavin. pp. 39.
- Clooney, Francis X. 1987. pp. 660
- Jho, Chakradhar. 1986. pp. 59
- Coburn, Thomas B. 1984. pp. 439
- Coburn, Thomas B. 1984. pp. 448
- Coburn, Thomas B. 1984. pp. 449
- Flood, Gavin. 1997. pp. 39
- Gupta, Ravi M. 2007.
- Coburn, Thomas B. 1984. pp. 440
- Coburn, Thomas B. 1984. pp. 440
- Joh, Chakradhar. 1987. p. 58
- Coburn, Thomas B. 1984. pp. 488
- Muller, Max. 1865. pp. 17-18
- Coburn, Thomas, B. Scripture" in India: Towards a Typology of the Word in Hindu Life Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 52, No. 3 (Sep., 1984),
- Clooney, Francis X. Why the Veda Has No Author: Language as Ritual in Early Mīmāṃsā and Post-Modern TheologyJournal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Winter, 1987).
- Jho, Chakradhar. 1987. History and Sources of Law in Ancient India Ashish Publishing House.
- Flood, Gavin. 1997. An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge U.P.
- Muller, Max. 1867. Chips from a German Workshop. “Lecture on the Vedas or the Sacred Books of the Brahmans, Delivered at Leeds, 1865”. Oxford University Press
- Gupta, Ravi M. 2007. Caitanya Vaisnava Vedanta of Jiva Gosvami.