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How to Change Law in Classical India Hermeneutics in the Service of the Legal Profession


· Patrick Olivelle University of Texas (Austin, United States of America)


07/26 | 15:30-15:50 UTC+2/CEST


In his celebrated book The Concept of Law, H.L.A. Hart posits three secondary rules in a legal system: recognition, change, and adjudication. In this paper, I look at the second category: the means provided within the Indian legal system by which laws, in this case dharma, can be changed. The category of recognition provides us with means of knowing what the laws are. In modern systems, this is done through the passage of laws in a duly constituted legislature. The ancient Indian system did not have a provision for a legislative body. Instead, law as dharma was to be discovered rather than enacted: it was thought to be found in the Veda (vedamūlatva concept) and, secondarily, in the texts known as smṛtis. Law is thus eternal and, in theory, immutable; it cannot be changed. But, in spite of the theory, society and culture do change and demand laws that reflect those changes. The hermeneutical tradition of India provided means by which such change, foreclosed de jure, could be enacted de facto. This paper will analyze several of these techniques, including the yuga theory, the dharma of smaller social and geographical units (jātidharma, śreṇidharma, deśadharma), and, quite interestingly, the opprobrium of the people (lokavidviṣṭa).