majority in Hindu law

Patrick Olivelle jpo at UTS.CC.UTEXAS.EDU
Thu Apr 9 22:18:57 UTC 2009

This is a vexed question and you repeat the old view. Do take a look 
at the articles by Albrecht Wezler and Richard Lariviere in the 
volume I edited on Dharma published as a special issue of the Journal 
of Indian Philosophy, 2004, vol. 32: pp. 421-873.

Patrick Olivelle

>I am tempted to suggest that 'law' as Hindu customs, really functions
>irrespective of what the Sanskrit texts say. To what extent have the
>Sanskrit Dharmashastras any authority in actual life situations? Do
>Dharmashastras have any authority at all, or are they simply digests of
>ancient Brahmanical advice on many life-issues?
>Victor van Bijlert
>-----Oorspronkelijk bericht-----
>Van: Indology [mailto:INDOLOGY at] Namens Donald R. Davis, Jr.
>Verzonden: donderdag 9 april 2009 23:22
>Onderwerp: Re: majority in Hindu law
>As always, Ludo Rocher has an article on this issue, "The Status of
>Minors according to Classical Hindu Law," Recueils de la Societe Jean
>Bodin 35 (L'Enfant) (1975) 377-393.  So far as I know, the standard age
>for majority is sixteen, as attested in several texts.  Before that, the
>term used is baala; after sixteen one becomes vyavahaarajna (or some
>synonym).  The main legal issue, of course, is the capacity to make
>valid contracts, but minority also comes with restricted criminal
>liability and additional protections for the minors' property and person.
>Independence of the son in terms of residence or occupation is, to my
>knowledge, not a big issue for the Dharmasastra.  All bets are off when
>it comes to law in practice, however, as you suggest.  The ways in which
>regionalized communities accepted or rejected partitions of joint family
>property was staggeringly diverse.  Our knowledge of this diversity, as
>in so many areas of Indian law, is almost all recent and observed during
>Don Davis
>Dept of Languages & Cultures of Asia
>University of Wisconsin-Madison
>Allen W Thrasher wrote:
>>  George Cardona's citation of Patanjali on addressing a son who is
>independent of his father raises a question I was already meaning to raise
>>  "Patanjali remarks that someone whose father is still alive but is
>independent is addressed using a gotra term; such an offspring bears the
>technical name 'gotra' out of scorn, as when one addresses one who should be
>called (using a yuvan term) is addressed as gargya."
>>  I was meaning to get Kane from the stacks and check him first, but chance
>has brought it up.  Is there such a thing as an age of majority in Hindu
>law, an age at which a son may make decisions independent of his father?  I
>can't think of any such thing in law or narratives.  In the stories the sons
>who form romantic marriages usually have fathers already dead, unless
>they're sent off to a svayamvara like Rama.  May a son with a living father
>decide his own residence or occupation, or contract an otherwise suitable
>marriage if he is a long distance from his father?
>>  Of course, some modern regional property regimes allow a son to request
>(or demand?) his share of the family property from a living father.
>>  Gunther-Dietz Sontheimer's observation in "The joint Hindu family" that
>Hindu law has two principles in tension - the subordination of the son to
>the father and the identity of the son to the father - may be pertinent
>here.  The subjection of adult sons doesn't seem to have worked out to be as
>drastic as in Roman law.  I read an article on Punjab land law once that
>said that when a decision about land is to be made, all potential male
>shareholders are consulted, not only adults and youths but boys of seven and
>up, although the latter's opinion won't be considered a quasi-vote like that
>of the older males.
>>  Allen
>>  Allen W. Thrasher, Ph.D.
>>  Senior Reference Librarian
>>  Team Coordinator
>>  South Asia Team, Asian Division
>>  Library of Congress, Jefferson Building 150
>>  101 Independence Ave., S.E.
>>  Washington, DC 20540-4810
>  > tel. 202-707-3732; fax 202-707-1724; athr at
>>  The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Library of

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