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The Concept of Dharma in Hinduism

  • The concept of dharma means "righteousness" is one of the most challenging in Indian philosophical thought.

  • This is a Sanskrit term, which means law and can be understood in various ways.

  • Dharma is one of the values of an individual.

  • As per the ancient Indian thought, it is dharma that sustains the universe and both the king as well as the people must adhere to it. Only the sages had the power to interpret this dharma or the Sacred Law.

  • The word Dharma could be interpreted into two aspects

  1. One is religious convictions and

  2. Second is a set of duties or a code of conduct.

  • Conduct of virtuous man who know Vedas, Shruti (Veda), traditions/customs, and satisfaction of one's conscience are other sources of dharma mentioned in texts.

  • Sruti (what was heard) and smriti (what was remembered) were regarded as Sanatana-dharma (eternal law)

  • There are multiple sources available to recall the concept of dharma across various religious texts in Hinduism.

  • The early Vedic period dates from around 1500 B.C. when the Aryans invaded India from the north-west and settled in the plains of Punjab.

  • The Rig- Veda, consisting of hymns in praise of the gods, might have been composed around 1200-1000 B.C. This is the period when the concept of Rta (cosmic order) was born.

  • Rta is both the law of righteousness and of cosmic equilibrium and combines in itself the notion of an integrated whole in which gods, men and nature participate.

  • Dharma is a social concept. Dharma functions along with Kama (Desire) and Artha (wealth) all together known as Trivarga (three-fold principles).

  • Later speculative thinkers came to hold in favour of moksha (liberation) or apavarga (a principle beyond the Trivarga) it was the threefold values of artha, kama, and dharma which governed the lives of the majority.

  • Hinduism, it believed that this meaning of life is four-fold:

  1. Dharma : Righteousness or one’s duty