In Hinduism, stra pramam refers to the authority of the scriptures (?ruti, Vedas) with regard to pururtha, the objects of human pursuit, namely dharma (right conduct), artha (means of life), k?ma (pleasure) and mok?a (liberation). Together with sm?ti ("that which is remembered, tradition": Dharmastra, Hindu Epics, Puranas), ?c?ra (good custom), and ?tmatui ("what is pleasing to oneself"), it provides pramana (means of knowledge) and sources of dharma, as expressed in Classical Hindu law, philosophy, rituals and customs
Prama literally means "proof" and is also a concept and field of Indian philosophy. The concept is derived from the Sanskrit roots, pra (), a preposition meaning "outward" or "forth", and m? () which means "measurement". Pram? means "correct notion, true knowledge, basis, foundation, understand", with prama being a further nominalization of the word. Thus, the concept Prama implies that which is a "means of acquiring prama or certain, correct, true knowledge".
Shastra commonly refers to a treatise or text on a specific field of knowledge. In early Vedic literature, the word referred to any precept, rule, teaching, ritual instruction or direction. In late and post Vedic literature of Hinduism, Shastra referred to any treatise, book or instrument of teaching, any manual or compendium on any subject in any field of knowledge, including religious. It is often a suffix, added to the subject of the treatise, such as Yoga-Shastra, Nyaya-Shastra, Dharma-Shastra, Koka- or Kama-Shastra, Moksha-Shastra, Artha-Shastra, Alamkara-Shastra (rhetoric), Kavya-Shastra (poetics), Sangita-Shastra (music), Natya-Shastra (theatre & dance) and others.
With regard to s?stra pramam is refers to the authority to the Vedic scriptures, as expressed in Bhagavadgita chapter 16, verse 24, where Krishna commands Arjuna to follow the authority of the scriptures:
tasm?t stra? pramam te k?ry?k?rya vyavasthitau
jñ?tv? stravidh?noktam karma kartumih?rhasi
Therefore, let the (vedic) scriptures (stra?) be your authority (pramam) in determining what should be done and what should not be done.
Understand the scriptural injunctions and teachings, and then perform your actions in this world accordingly.[note 1]
veda? sm?ti? sad?c?ra? svasya ca priyam?tmana?
etaccaturvidha? pr?hu? s?ksh?ddharmasya laksha?am
Vedas, smritis, good (approved) tradition and what is agreeable to one's soul (conscience),
the wise have declared to be the four direct evidences of dharma.[note 2]
The explanation of that sloka has been given in the digest (nibandha), b?la nibandh?dar?a: there in dharma, vedas are the only chief pram?na. Smritis dissect (analyze) the essence of vedas only. Both of them support Sad?c?ra. ?tmasantui that is favourable to all these is (then) dharma pram?na. [note 3]
Shruti (Sanskrit: , IAST: ?ruti, IPA: [t?]) in Sanskrit means "that which is heard" and refers to the body of most authoritative, ancient religious texts comprising the central canon of Hinduism. They are the ultimate epistemic authority or m?la prama (or prathama prama). Manusmriti states that ?rutistu vedo vigneyah (Sanskrit ? ?:, lit. means "Know that Vedas are ?ruti"). Thus, it includes the four Vedas including its four types of embedded texts--the Samhitas, the Br?hma?as, the Ara?yakas and the Upani?ads. Bhagavad Gita is also referred as Gitopani?ad, thereby according it the status of Upanishad (i.e. ?ruti), eventhough it is originally part of sm?ti.
Smriti (Sanskrit: , IAST: Sm?ti) is considered as the penultimate epistemic authority or dvit?ya prama. Smriti literally means "that which is remembered" and it a body of Hindu texts usually attributed to an author, traditionally written down, in contrast to ?rutis (the Vedic literature) considered authorless, that were transmitted verbally across the generations and fixed. Smriti is a derivative secondary work and is considered less authoritative than Sruti in Hinduism, except in the Mimamsa school of Hindu philosophy. The authority of smriti accepted by orthodox schools, is derived from that of shruti, on which it is based.
The Smrti literature is a corpus of diverse varied texts. This corpus includes, but is not limited to the six Ved?ngas (the auxiliary sciences in the Vedas), the epics (the Mah?bh?rata and R?m?yana), the Dharmas?tras and Dharmastras (or Smritistras), the Arthasastras, the Pur?nas, the K?vya or poetical literature, extensive Bhasyas (reviews and commentaries on Shrutis and non-Shruti texts), and numerous Nibandhas (digests) covering politics, ethics (Nitisastras), culture, arts and society.
The authors of 18 smritis are namely, Atri, Viu, H?r?ta, Au?anas?, ?ngirasa, Yama, ?pastamba, Samvartta, K?ty?yana, B?haspati, Parara, Vy?sa, ?a?kha, Likhita, Dak?a,[note 8] Gautama, t?tapa and Va?iha. Y?jñavalkya gives the list of total 20 by adding two more Smritis, namely, Y?jñavalkya and Manu.[note 9] Parara whose name appears in this list, enumerates also twenty authors, but instead of Samvartta, B?haspati, and Vy?sa, he gives the names of Ka?yapa, Bh?gu and Prachetas.
yat adam hi vede?u tat draavya? sm?tau kila
ubh?bhy yat adastu tat pure?u pa?hyate
Whenever there is no reference in vedas then sm?tis are to be referred.
In case references are absent in the both, then puras are to be consulted.[note 11]
Vy?sasm?ti (verse 1.5) state that
?rutism?tipurokta dharmayogy?stu netare
The sayings of Vedas, sm?tis and puranas are deemed to be dharma and not others.[note 12]
?c?ra (Sanskrit: ?), also sich?ra or sad?chara, is a concept used in the context of Classical Hindu law that refers to the customary laws or community norms of a particular social group. These community norms are delineated and put into practice by people who have earned the respect of those within each individual group, such as a community leader or elder. Although in Dharmastra the ideal person who defines the ?c?ra of a particular place is dictated as one who knows the Vedas or is "learned", in actual practice this role is often deferred to group leaders along with Vedic scholars. ?c?ra is theologically important in classical Hindu law because it is considered, along with the Vedas (?ruti), and Smriti (traditional texts such as the Dharmastra literature), to be one of the sources of dharma. Particular regional ?c?ra is believed to be canonized in Dharmastra texts; however scholars differ on the source for the actual accounts found within these texts.
The Anusana-parva of the Mahabharatastates:
dharma? jijñ?sam?n?n prama? prathama? ?ruti?
dvit?ya? dharmastra? tu t?t?yo lokasangraha?
Those who have the 'desire to know dharma' (dharma jijñ?sa), the first prama is ?ruti.
The second prama are the dharmastras (i.e. the dharma part of sm?ti). The third reference is as per the custom of the people.[note 13]
To Parara[note 14], Manu, Y?jñavalkya, Va?iha and Baudhayana, the virtuous conduct of ?ias (virtous learned men) and practice of good men, Sad?chara is the antepenultimate epistemic authority or t?t?ya prama after ?rutis and Sm?tis. Va?ihasm?ti verse 1.4 quotes, tadalabhe ?ich?rah pramam, i.e. only if the relevant references are absent in those both, then ?ia ?ch?ra can be considered as Antepenultimate prama. According to the sage Va?iha, ?ruti and Sm?ti are more important sources than others. The Padma Purana also prescribes as similar view.[note 15]
While citing ?igama[note 16] (lit. that which has come down from ?ias) as the antepenultimate authority after Vedas and smirtis by Baudhayana in his smriti (verse 1.5), the ?ias are defined thus:-Sistas (indeed are those) who are free from envy (vigatamatsar), free from pride (nirahank?r), contented with a store of grain sufficient for ten days (kumbh?dh?ny), free from covetousness (alolup), and free from hypocrisy (damba), arrogance (darpa), greed (lobha), perplexity (confusion) and anger (krodha).
If the practices of good men (Sad?ch?ra) are not in conflict with what is taught in the veda and sm?ti, such practices can be regarded as authoritative in matters relating to dharma, but when there is the least thing repugnant to the teaching of the Veda, then, as there would be a conflict of authorities, the practices cannot be regarded as any authority at all.
Atmatusti is usually translated into English as being "what is pleasing to oneself." The first three sources of law are rooted in the vedas, whereas atmatusti is not. It is because of this that atmatusti, as a fourth source (i.e. caturtha prama), is not recognized by most scholars due to the lack of legitimacy. Only Manu and Y?jñavalkya refer to atmatusti as the fourth source of dharma within the Hindu Law tradition. Textual accounts of Manu's and Yajnavalkya's placement of atmatusti as a fourth source of dharma can be found in The Law Code of Manu 2.6 and The Law Code of Yajnavalkya 1.7. Also, atmatusti does not share the same authority as sruti, smriti, and acara. Atmatusti differs significantly from the other three sources of dharma in that it is not based on an "authority exterior to man"; in other words, an individual is able to create their own authority for any issue not covered under sruti, smriti, and acara.
?tmatui is also known as H?day?nujña (free will) is mentioned also by Manu, Y?jñavalkya and Vishnu distinctly mention this as a or source of moral and religion knowledge. Y?jñavalkya goes further step adding good intent (samyaksa?kalpa) as additional fifth source of Dharma:
?ruti? sm?ti? sad?c?ra? svasya ca priyam ?tmana?
samyaksa?kalpaja? k?mo dharmam?la? ida? sm?tam
The source of dharma is declared to be fivefold: 1) ?ruti?; 2) sm?ti?; sad?c?ra? (right conduct); svasya ca priyam ?tmana? (one's own benefit) and
5) desire born of purposeful intention (samyaksa?kalpaja? k?ma?).[note 17]
Conflict between different epistemic sources, generally termed as virodha. When there is an instance of conflict between the smriti and the ?ruti, the ?ruti shall prevail.[note 18] Similarly, Whenever there is conflict between different epistemic sources in general, then as per ?pastamba, it is advised to refer more preceding epistemic sources as they hold more authority. In ?pastambasm?ti, it is mentioned as
?rutism?tipure?u viruddhe?u parasparam
p?rva? p?rva? bal?yam sy?diti ny?yavido vidu?
Whenever there is mutual conflict between vedas, sm?tis and puras, then the ones well-versed in ny?ya suggest that
more preceding epistemic source holds higher weightage (than the later epistemic one)[note 19]
Vedavyasa also holds a similar view in his vy?sasm?ti, verse 1.4
?ruti sm?ti purm virodho yatra dri?yate tatra ?rotam pramstu tayordhvyadhe sm?tirvar?
In cases where conflicts are apparent among veda, smriti and Purana, Veda is the valid authority; and where remaining two (Smriti and Purana) are in conflict, Smriti is the valid authority[note 20]
The Prasthanatrayi (Sanskrit, IAST: Prasth?natray?) are the three canonical texts of Hindu theology having epistemic authority, especially of the Vedanta schools, namely the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita. Prasthanatrayi can viewed as subset of Hindu epistemic sources. Vedanta is also known as Uttara M?ms? is one of the six (?stika) schools of Hindu philosophy. These six schools are traditionally referred as shad-dar?anas as they give their own points of view on the Hindu scriptures. Ved?nta school is based on Brahma S?tras (Sanskrit: ) of B?dar?yana. Adi Sankara who propagated Advaita has established the concept of Prasthanatrayi, the epistemic references based on stra pramam in Hinduism. Along with Brahma sutras, upanishads are considered from Vedas and Bhagavad gita is chosen from Mahabharata, which is Itihasa (i.e. part of smriti). The same has been accepted by all other acharyas of other vedanta schools such as Ramanuja, Madhwa, etc.
stra pramam has been used by social reformers for 19th century from Bengal such as Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. He was the most prominent campaigner for widow remarriage and was supported in this by many wise and elite gentlemen of the society and the first signatory on his application to the then Governor General was Shri Kasinath Dutta, belonging to the Hatkhola Dutta lineage. He petitioned in legislative council and was responsible for Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act, 1856. In the same century, Similar effort from south India was carried by social reformers such as Kandukuri Veeresalingam pantulu[note 21] and Gurazada Apparao to eradicate social evils.
Baba Saheb Ambedkar has criticized the rigidity of stra pramam in Hinduism in his work Annihilation of Caste by attacking especially on Manusmriti. In order to prevent child marriages among Hindus, The Child Marriage Restraint Act was passed in 1929. stra pramam was considered by Hindu pandits appointed by the age of consent committee to fix the age of marriage of girl child and then it was fixed to be 14 later by Sarda Act.