Friday 18 January 2013

A masterpiece of Indian jurisprudence

Even today, it is considered to be a masterpiece on Indian jurisprudence. Written more than ten centuries ago, it has stood the test of time rather the test of the law.
This book on jurisprudence is so comprehensive that but for minor changes, the laws in India relating to Hindu joint family, distribution of property, property rights, stree dhana (women property), and succession are still governed by it.
No wonder, eminent jurists and research scholars swear by the book. It does not mater to them that the book is not contemporary and that it was written at a time when there was no country called India.
This is the Mitakshara, a book on law written by Vignaneshwara, a Kannadiga. Though it was written down during the period of the Western Chalukyas of Kalyan (Basavakalyan), its tenets and rules are still being debated almost every day in courts not only in Karnataka but all over India.
An authority on Hindu Nyaya Shastra, Vignaneshwara is said to have based Mitakshara on the Yagnvalkya Smruthi. The book has today become the most authoritative tract for its simple and humanitarian interpretation of complex laws, including the Hindu code.
The Mitakshara law is still preserved in epigraphic form in Martur village, 22 km from Gulbarga. Stone inscriptions dating back to  1124 AD obtained from Kalingeshwara temple of Martur note that Vignaneshwara lived in the court of  the Chalukyan Emperor Vikramaditya (1076-1126 AD).
Acknowledged as the Bible for Indian jurisprudence, Mitakshara has now been widely acknowledged even in the West. It mainly  deals with property, inheritance, procedure and succession and it is still used as a standard reference for interpretation of Hindu law in India.
Vignaneshwara was born in the village of Martur. Soon after he wrote the legal treatise, it became the standard all over India except in Bengal and Assam where the Dayabhaga prevailed. The Mitakshara is a commentary on only one Smriti called Yajnavalkya Smriti, whereas Dayabhaga is a digest of all the Smritis.
Mitakshara was certainly not a law mandated by Parliament. In fact, in those days there was no Parliament and the law consisted of treatises of learned jurists. Mitakshara was accepted as an authoritative text on Hindu law due to its scholarship, logical analysis and the intellect of its author.
The bifurcation of  Mitakshara and Dayabhaga was due to two different interpretations given to a single word “sapinda”. Manu has written that when a man dies, his property goes to his nearest sapinda. The question is, therefore, what is the meaning of the word sapinda.
According to Dayabhaga, pinda means the rice balls which are offered in the Shraddha ceremony to one’s deceased ancestors. On the other hand, according to the Mitakshara the word pinda does not mean the rice balls offered at the Shraddha ceremony at all but it means the particles of the body of the deceased.
The term sapinda as used in the Smritis and by the commentators before Vijnaneshwara meant only those connected with the funeral obligations. Vijnaneshwara's definition of  sapinda as one connected by the particles of the same body was apparently unknown to any previous commentator. He cites no Smriti in support of his view, but only the Vedic texts on the theory of heredity which do not mention pinda or sapinda at all. 
Vignaneshwara abandoned the theory of connection through the rice-ball offering and accepted the theory of transmission of constituent particles.
When Emperor Vikramaditya read the treatise, he touched the feet of this man to salute him. The inscriptions on a stone plaque, dated 1124 AD, found at the Kalingeshwara Temple in Martur village, 18 kilometres from Gulbarga, say:
“Ariraya Mukuta Tadhita Charanan-enalu
 Negabdi Vikramankana Ratnokara
 Nichita Mukuta Tadhita,”
meaning “When Emperor Vikramaditya bent down to salute Vignaneshwara, the Emperor’s jewelled crown touched the feet of Vignaneshwara”.
This was the respect and regard that Vignaneshwara commanded during his time.
Till 1932, little was known about when and where Vignaneshwara lived, and where he wrote his Mitakshara. The credit of discovering the time and place of Vignaneshwara goes to Prof. P. B. Desai of  Dharwad.
In the journal, Prachina Karnataka: Hosa Belaku (Historical Karnataka: New Light), he wrote about a stone inscription at Kalingeshwara Temple at Martur, which discloses that Vignaneshwara was a Kannadiga and that he was born at Masemadu village in Bidar district.
Eminent Epigraphist Dr. Sitaram Jagirdar took out a paper impression of the Martur inscriptions and published its contents. He says that Martur was the place of work of Vignaneshwara and in recognition of his merit and contribution, the jurist was gifted lands and honoured by Emperor Vikramaditya.
Vignaneshwara’s earlier name was Kancha and he was the son of Somaraj and Bhagyavanithe. His wife’s name was Kethikabbe. Of his four sons, Beethiraja constructed the temples of Shiva and Mahadeva at Martur.
It is at the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Martur that Vignaneshwara wrote his treatise. The temple still exists.

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