Personal Laws in the Hindu Era


During the ancient times, there was no question of state neutrality or intervention in matters of religion in India.In Hindu India the general public enjoyed complete independence in the matters concerning their personal laws. The leaders of the society were Hindu sages and they relied upon the Vedas and other religious scriptures in matters concerning personal laws. The Hindu sages by relying upon the religious scriptures laid down norms to govern the society. These rules governed not only the religious ceremonies and rites of a Hindu but acted as a code of ethics and morality and governed the religious social intercourse and even matters of politics and government.There were universal laws which were laid down by the religious leaders of the society. Civil laws and religious and social rules were not differentiated from each other. During this period the society was based on ‗Dharma‘.There was no clear line of demarcation between law and religion. Initially, society was an organizational unit, but in the latter part of the Hindu India, especially in the Smriti period, state began to take shape. It consisted of Saptangas and the king was the head of it. The king and his subjects both were subjected to the rule of law formulated and enunciated by the sages. The king had very little power to make laws and he was bound to rule in accordance with the Dharma. The king was required to take a vow at his coronation that he would respect the laws and he would not change them as per his wishes.

Thus it is clear that Dharma was the governing rule in Hindu India. The king was bound to do justice according to the Dharmashastra and the well-established customs. Shastras (i.e., religious texts) on one hand provided various rules for guidance regarding what should be done or what should not be done. On the other hand, the Shastras themselves, again and again, declared that customs must be enforced when they either overrule or supplement the rules in the religious texts. Therefore Privy Council, in Collector of Madura v. Mootoo Ramalinga, held that, ―Under the Hindu system of law, clear proof of usage will outweigh the written text of the law. The conspicuous feature of the Hindu law was that it governed its entire Hindu community on a uniform conviction that law and religion have a common source of its growth.In the absence of other communities, any dispute in matters of personal laws did not receive any attention. Thus, with slight difference of opinions about personal laws in the small Hindu communities ‘ uniformity of law was a general rule than an exception. Thus, the clear existence of personal lawcan be found in ancient India. Thus the laws were regarded by the Hindus as an integral part of their religion .

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