A Dharma Reader: Classical Indian Law.

Author:Trautmann, Thomas R.
Position::Book review

A Dharma Reader: Classical Indian Law. Translated and edited by PATRICK OLIVELLE. Historical Sourcebooks in Classical Indian Thought. New York: COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2017. Pp. xiv + 410. $80.

No one is better qualified to write a summa on Dharmasastra than Patrick Olivelle, whose many works include a critical edition and translation of Manu, translations of the Dharma sutras of Apastamba, Gautama, Baudhayana, and Vasistha, the smrti of Visnu, and the Arthasastra of Kautilya, and the editing of a volume of papers by many scholars on the range and semantic history of the concept of dharma, among other things.

This magisterial overview of Dharmasastra takes the form of a reader, owing to Sheldon Pollack, who solicited it for his new series of Historical Sourcebooks in Classical Indian Thought (the inaugural volume of which is his own contribution, a book on aesthetic theory, A Rasa Reader). The purpose of the series is to give comparativists and general readers, as well as advanced students and specialist scholars, access to the principal intellectual debates in the different disciplines, and to convey "the dynamism that marked classical thought." The focus upon theory and debate is especially welcome. Possibly non-specialist readers given assisted entree to the Indian theorists of earlier times through this series will find ancient concepts of present use, in fields such as literary criticism and law. Such a consummation depends upon the writing of books of the kind and caliber of this one.

The hoped-for readership of both specialists and non-specialists has consequences for the form and argument of the book. To begin with it is situated in the overlap between dharma and law, understood as indigenous and modern quasi-counterparts of one another, giving the book a dual focus. It is even made singular through the expression "dharma/law."

The consequences of writing at this particular intersection are made clear by the way in which Olivelle locates his book in relation to others. He frames it by using a well-known current work, that of H. L. A. Hart (The Concept of Law, 1994). Hart distinguished primary rules of law, which is to say the substance of law, the rules governing behavior and social life, from secondary rules, by which primary rules are recognized, changed, and adjudicated. Olivelle has chosen not to deal with primary law in Dharmasastra at all. Accordingly, as he explains, this sourcebook is not a history of Dharmasastra like...

To continue reading