When one searches for Dharma Shastra, books like manu smriti, and various other smriti comes, but when one searches for dharma sutras, baudhayana sutras and the likes come. What is the difference between them, and which are considered superior.


2 Answers 2


No, both are similar category scriptures with no difference.

For example, Gautama Dharma Sutras is also known as Gautama Dharma Shastra or Gautama Smriti.

In fact, the first chapter of the text ends with the line:

Iti Gautamiye dharmashastre prathamo-adhyayah ||

Here ends Gautama Dharma-Shastra's first chapter ||

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So, it is a Dharma Shastra or a Smriti.

And, in a similar way we can prove for the other scriptures.

In the Introduction of the book "Dharmasutras" the author Patrick Ollivelle points out that while Dharmasutras are primarily in Sutras the Dharmashastras are composed in Slokas (verses).

Although the earliest texts, such as the hymns of the Ri gveda, were composed in verse, the liturgical works (brahmana) of the middle vedic period were composed in prose. This practice was continued in the literature of the expert traditions; most ancient works falling within the Vedic Supplements are in prose. Probably because instruction in the expert traditions was carried out orally and the pedagogy of these schools was based on first memorizing the basic texts and then delving into their meaning with the aid of the teacher, the basic texts came to be composed in an aphoristic style known as sutra. A sutra is a sentence from which most non-essential elements have been removed

These Dharmasutras are said to be from the Kalpa Granthas. And, Kalpa is one of the six Vedangas (Vedic supplements).

Dharmashastras, on the other hand are entirely written in verses.

The Dharmasutras are part of the Vedic Supplements and are written primarily in the sutra style, even though verses are interspersed and the sutras are not as succinct as those of Panini. The Dharmasutras form part of the ‘ritual expositions’ known collectively as Kalpasutras that include three types of expositions: S´rautasutras dealing with vedic rituals, Grihyasutras dealing with domestic rituals, and Dharmasutras. What may be called the sutra period of the legal tradition ended around the beginning of the common era.

It gave way to the emerging literary genre of the simple verse called s´loka with four octo-syllabic feet. Most literature of this and succeeding periods, including the epics and the Puranas, were composed in this style. The legal texts composed in this style are commonly called Dharmasastras or simply Smrti, the earliest representative of which is the Manu Smrti (M). The influence of this new genre is already evident in Vasistha and the later sections (Books 3 and 4) of Baudhayana, which contain numerous verses.

So, this is the only difference between the two kinds of scriptures and this difference is of a technical nature.

  • 'Sutra' and 'Shastra' are not the same. Please refere to Panini Sutra or Brahma Sutra and their Bhashyas or commentaries.
    – user17294
    May 5, 2019 at 7:26
  • The difference that u are pointing to is technical .. the Dharmasutras are composed of Sutras whereas Dharshastras are entirely in Slokas .. but slokas are also found in the Dharmasutras.. IMO asker is worried about which kind of texts have more authority .. so my answer to that is they have same authority ..but Im updating the answer @commonman
    – Rickross
    May 5, 2019 at 8:43

If we see by name, both includes word "Dharma" i.e both texts are about Dharma. So, talking about content, both DharmaSutra and DharmaShastra constitutes nearly same topics. Now, the term "Sutra" in DharmaSutra gives indication of the nature of text.

sūtra सूत्र

Definition: n. a short sentence or aphoristic rule, and any work or manual consisting of strings of such rules hanging together like threads

Sutra texts are framed in sutra style which which usually states a rule or formula about specific topic and composed in a peculiarly cryptic, aphoristic language unlike other text which are found in the form of Shloka. Example: BrahmaSutra, Aapastamba Srauta Sutra, etc.

Term "Shastra" in DharmaShastra can broadly refer to any scripture and in that way every text aimed to preach Dharma can be called DharmaShastra. But usually it refers to Smriti texts precisely. Example: ManuSmriti, Yajnavalkya Smriti, etc.

First of all let's discuss which texts DharmaSutra and DharmaShastra refer to are:

As we know that there are two main parts of Vedas: 1) Samita/Mantra, collection of hymns and 2) Brahmanas which is explanation and expansion of Samhitas for ritual and sacrifices.

  • Kalpa is one of the six Vedangas (called "limbs of Vedas"), which are group of six auxiliary disciplines traditionally associated with the study and understanding of the Vedas.
  • The main object of Kalpasutras is to explain the procedure of the rites enjoined in the Vedas/Brahmanas. It deals with Vedic sacrifices, household ceremonies and customary law.
  • Kalpa (Kalpa Sutras) includes Srauta Sutras, Shulba Sutras, Grihya Sutras and Dharma Sutras. So, Dharma Sutras are part of Kalpa which is one of the Vedanga. Though there is also an another consideration for classifying Kalpa Sutra in Srauta (revealed) sutra and Smarta (not-revealed) sutra in which DharmaSutras are classified as Smarta Sutras (or later works than Srauta Sutras)

  • Dharmasutras are closely connected with the Grhyasutras in their contents. The Grhyasutras give a detailed description about the sacred domestic fire, the regular morning and evening oblations, sacrifices on new and fiill moon, annual sacrifices, various sacraments like vivaha, pumsavana, jatakarman , upanayana etc., rules for studentship, list of holidays, sraddha offerings and the like. The Dharmasutras also describe some of the subjects noted above, like, marriage, upanayana and some other sacraments, rules for Brahmacarya and snatakas, rules for sraddha rites and the like. All the subjects treated in the Dharmasutras as a whole, may be included into three broad categories, viz. Varriadharma, Asramadharma and Naimittikadharma.

DharmaShastra, on other hand refers to Smriti texts like Manusmriti, Yajnavalkya Smriti etc. as mentioned in Manusmriti (2.10) itself:

श्रुतिस्तु वेदो विज्ञेयो धर्मशास्त्रं तु वै स्मृतिः ।
But by Sruti (revelation) is meant the Veda, and by Smriti (tradition) the Institutes of the sacred law

According to the source/reference mentioned below:

👉 Sometimes the word Dharmasastra is used to denote the Dharmasutra also, e.g. the Gautamadharmasutra is mentioned as Dharmasastra in the introductory verse of Haradatta ’ s commentary. 37 According to S.C Banerji “while all Dharmasutras are DharmaSastras, all Dharmasastras are not Dharmasutras." 👈

Some key differences between Dharma Sutras and Dharma Shastras:

  1. The Dharmasutras are composed in aphoristic language, i.e. in Sutra style whereas the Smrtis are composed in verse

  2. The language of the Dharmasutras is more archaic than the Smrtis.

  3. The older Dharma-sutras do not claim any divine origin while the Smrtis like Manusmrti, Yajhavalkyasmfti etc., are ascribed to gods like Brahma

  4. The Smrtis like Yajnavalkyasmfti and others arrange their contents into three principal heads, viz. acara, vyavahara and prayascitta but in the Dharmasutras, it is not seen

  5. Most of the Dharmasutras are either parts of the Kalpasutra or show deep resemblance with the Grhyasutras, while the Smrtis do not have such resemblance

  6. The Dharmasutras belong to certain Vedic schools to which they are studied, but this tradition is not seen in the Smrtis.

Major Dharma Sutra texts are as follows:

  • Gautama Dharmasutra
  • Baudhayana Dharmasutra
  • Aapastamba Dharmasutra
  • Vashishtha Dharmasutra
  • Vishnu Dharmasutra

For DharmaShastras, Visit list of 18 major Smritis. Also note that many part of Ramayana and Mahabharata includes the preaching similar to that of Smritis. So, some texts (e.g. PrasthanaBheda of Madhusudana Saraswati) consider those are part of DharmaShastras.

Source/reference: Chapter 1 History of The DharmaShastras from Shodhganga - A reservoir of Indian Theses. For more detailed study, read Dharmasutras - their nature and characteristics.

Note: Brahmanas is source of most of Kalpa Sutras (including DharmaSutras); DharmaSutras are source of most of DharmaShastras.

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