Schools of Hindu Law: A brief note

Introduction

Hindu law, deeply rooted in religious texts and traditions, governs the personal and familial aspects of Hindus in India. While codification has provided a uniform framework, the uncodified areas still retain the influence of historical schools of thought. The two primary schools, Mitakshara and Dayabhaga, reflect diverse interpretations of ancient texts and are significant in understanding the evolution of Hindu jurisprudence.

Emergence of Schools of Hindu Law

The emergence of these schools is attributed to the era of Commentaries and Digests, where scholars interpreted the Smritis, leading to regional adaptations. These interpretations were sometimes accepted in one region and rejected in another, resulting in the development of distinct schools with unique doctrines.

Main Schools of Hindu Law

Mitakshara School

Named after Vijnaneshwara’s commentary on the Yajnavalkya Smriti, the Mitakshara school prevails across India, except in Bengal and Assam. It is a comprehensive legal framework, encompassing all titles of Hindu law. The school further divides into sub-schools like Benares, Mithila, Maharashtra, and Dravida, each slightly differing based on local customs and traditions.

Dayabhaga School

Originating from Jimutavahana’s Dayabhaga, this school is primarily followed in Bengal and Assam. Unlike Mitakshara, it focuses on specific issues like partition and inheritance, offering a more progressive interpretation of Hindu law compared to the conservative Mitakshara school.

Comparison of Mitakshara and Dayabhaga Schools

Law of Succession

The two schools fundamentally differ in their approach to inheritance:

  • Mitakshara School: Follows the principle of propinquity, where inheritance is based on the nearness of blood. This principle, however, is limited by excluding females and preferring agnates over cognates, leading to a male-centric inheritance system.

  • Dayabhaga School: Bases its law of succession on the principle of religious efficacy, where rights are linked to spiritual benefits conferred through rituals like pindadana. This principle allows for a more inclusive approach, often favoring cognates and balancing gender differences in inheritance rights.

Joint Family Property

In the Mitakshara school, the doctrine of a son’s right by birth grants male descendants an inherent interest in joint family property. This leads to a coparcenary system where property is shared among male members. Conversely, the Dayabhaga school does not recognize this birthright, focusing on individual property rights, which allows for more flexibility in property division and inheritance.

Impact of Modern Hindu Law

The Hindu Succession Act of 1956 introduced a uniform law of succession, bridging the gap between the Mitakshara and Dayabhaga schools. This legislation aimed to ensure gender equality and standardize inheritance laws across India, diminishing the relevance of traditional school-based distinctions in many aspects.

Migration and Change of Religion

Migration and conversion impact the applicability of a particular school of Hindu law. Changing religion may alter personal laws and succession rights, affecting how property and familial relations are governed.

Conclusion

The schools of Hindu law, particularly Mitakshara and Dayabhaga, represent historical interpretations that shaped regional legal practices. Despite modern codification, these schools continue to influence uncodified areas, reflecting the rich diversity and adaptability of Hindu legal traditions.

Reference –

Dr. Paras Diwan – Modern Hindu Law

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