Beach 2: First Steps in the Ascent to the Divine
Wave 5: Ancient Scriptures of Hinduism
Drop 2. smRti
Besides the Sruti, which is the primary source of authority for everything in Hinduism, there is a secondary set of scriptures collectively called the smRti - the word meaning 'that which is remembered and transmitted'. The smRtis contain all the rules and regulations for the individual in relation to the family, society, the ancestors and the gods, compiled and collected by great sages of the past. Almost all the daily practices in Hinduism can be traced to these secondary scriptures. But whenever any doubt arises as to the credentials of a rite, rule, stipulation, or concept, it is the voice of the vedas (Sruti) that prevails. The smrtis may change from time to time, from place to place, but Sruti is eternally valid.
The smRtis have their immediate authority in the kalpas, which are one of the six limbs of the vedas. See the Scriptures chart.The kalpas which are written in the form of aphorisms (sUtras) present an orderly and consolidated list of duties to be performed by people in their various stations of life, at various times of the day, according to their varNa.
See varNa system
All aspects of human activity are dealt with in these sUtras.
The gRhya-sUtras describe domestic rites.
The Srauta-sUtras are concerned with the big sacrifices for which there are elaborate catalogues of mantras in the vedas.
The dharma-sUtras of (Apastamba, Gautama and others) describe the personal and social duties of people.
Eighteen great sages have by their insight of the vedas grasped the intentions of the vedas and given us compilations in verse form (i.e., Sloka form). This is how each smRti has been born. Each smRti is known by the sage who compiled it. Examples are:
Manu smRti, Yajnavalkya smRti, Parasara smRti, etc.
In my experience of exposition of the Ramayana, I find the following question (by an NRI) and the reply (given by me then and reproduced below from the book 'Hinduism for the next generation'), will perhaps shake up some ultra-modern young minds. Since it leans heavily on Manu smRti and brings out very well the hold that the smRtis have on believers in sanAtana dharma, I refer to it here.
QUESTION: Why does Hinduism extol the action of Rama in implicitly obeying his father and step-mother to go to the forest? How do we tell this to modern children who are not able to appreciate the logic behind this?
For the Answer, please go to 'Why father's word is law?'
Because of the abundance of smRtis, and all of them are man-made, differences that may exist between them need to be reconciled. These have been done from time to time according to the age in which we live in. The people in Maharashtra follow the 'dharma sindhu' by Kasi Nath Upadhyaya. In South India the book 'Vaidyanatha dIkshitIyam' written by Vaidyanatha Dikshidar is followed. These two people have boldly reconciled all the contradictions in the various smRtis. And finally they always say: Wherever there appears to be an unresolved contradiction, follow the tradition of elders in your family. It is this culture of importance to family tradition that is at the root of the universal respect given to age and to elders in the Hindu milieu.
Also see Crisis of intellect in a dogmatic pursuit of religion.