Man’s life is made of
- Social life
- Professional life
- Religious life
All three are regulated by certain ethical guidelines. In today’s cosmopolitan world, each of it may have a different set of rules, but Indians in the past were governed by Dharmashaastras in all the spheres of life.
Dharmashastras are the moral, ethical, professional, and religious codes of conduct authored by Rishis of ancient India. Dharmashastras contains the civil and criminal codes. Manusmriti and Yaajnyavalkya Smritis were the most popular Smritis of the ancient period. Later on, many Smritis such as Narada, Vishnu, Yama, Devaala, etc. came to be written. The numerous Smritis never stand in conflict, but the changes found in them were the result of the regional and customary aspirations and were like amendments in the law to suit the different times and conditions.
Social Life :
The social lifestyle of the ancient Indians was closely interconnected with their professional life. It was a patriarchal society, with a joint family, headed by the eldest surviving male member as the overall in charge.
Professional Life :
Just as modern society has guilds and trade unions to protect the interests of people involved in similar professional, Ancient Culture Hindu too had a similar system. The system was called Varna, now misunderstood as caste. Varna was the profession ‘chosen’ usually by virtue of birth, but at times even by choice.
There were only four varnas namely :
Brahmana: The people dedicated to the dissemination or spread of knowledge.
Kshatriyas: People dedicated to upholding the territorial integrity and safety of individuals.
Vaishyas: People dedicated to the cause of economical sustenance and progress.
Shoodras: The class constituting the workforce.
Various Smritis have clearly defined the role and place of the varnas in the society and the basis of their classification. Lord Krishna emphatically states that the varnas are based on their intrinsic quality and their actions. (Guna and Karma) Unfortunately like any system, rot set in the Varna system too, giving rise to a mamothic caste system, which is considered as a major blot on Hinduism, which is otherwise a perfect order. But this was the result of man-made disorder and was not in the spirit of the Vedic Rishis.
A man’s personal life was divided into four stages called Aashramas, namely
Brahmacharya: The stage of celibacy wherein one gathers life skills and education and knowledge.
Grahastha: The stage of marital life wherein an individual economically progresses and supports his family and society.
Vanaprastha: The stage of partial retirement from responsibilities of his professional life.
Sanyaasa: The stage of complete renunciation from all worldly state of affairs, in which the only aim of the person is to attain God or Godliness.
In each stage, a Hindu’s life was well regulated by specific guidelines prescribed in the Dharmashastras.