The Dharmasastra ascribed to Yajnavalkya, commonly called Yajnavalkya Smrti, is a text on religious, civil, and criminal law and jurisprudence composed around the fourth or fifth century during the reign of the Guptas. It represents the culmination of a thousand-year-old legal tradition. Precision of thought and expression and technical legal terminology distinguish it from its predecessors, such as the early Dharmasutras and the treatise of Manu. Besides the quotidian life of people, the text illuminates major cultural innovations, such as the prominence given to documents in commercial and legal matters, the importance of ordeals in resolving disputes, and the growing importance of Yoga in religious practice.
The treatise became the most influential legal text in medieval India, and, as interpreted by the twelfth century commentator Vijnanesvara, came to be considered ‘the law of the land’ under British rule. In spite of its recognized importance for the ancient and medieval legal traditions, the Sanskrit text has never before been critically edited. This critical edition, along with the translation published in the Murty Classical Library of India, open to modern readers both the ‘golden age’ of the Guptas and a central text in the long and distinguished Indian legal tradition.