- Dharma is a complex and multifaceted term in Hindu tradition. It can be translated as “religious law,” “right conduct,” “duty,” and “social order.” Its root, dhri, means “to hold up.”The social concept of dharma emerges from the VEDIC notion of RITA or “cosmic order.” In this worldview, dharma (the social order) is main-tained by dharma (right conduct and the fulfill-ment of duty and religious law). Social activity was traditionally very much circumscribed by tradition; following dharma meant doing what was required.Starting as early as the fourth century B.C.E., a voluminous literature in Sanskrit was created called DHARMASHASTRA (authoritative texts on dharma). These included the Dharmasutras (aphoristic texts). Dharma later became personified as a god in mythology and literature. His son was YUDHISHTHIRA, one of the five PANDAVAS in the MAHABHARATA story.In the Jain tradition, dharma refers to the complex of duties required of a Jain. Jains recog-nize 10 forms of dharma that monks are to follow (see JAINISM). The word dharma can be used in association with any religion or faith, such as the Zoroastrian dharma.Further reading: Wendy Doniger and Brian K. Smith, trans., The Laws of Manu (New York: Penguin Books, 1991); P. V. Kane, History of the Dharma Shastra, 5 vols. (Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1968); Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, J. Duncan, and M. Derrett, The Concept of Duty in South Asia (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1978).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.