Since then Dharma has played
a prominent part in the life of man and woman through all these ages. It meant law in a
broad sense. The shades of meaning implied by this term have changed from age to age.
In the Rig-Veda, wherever it occurs, it means "upholder" and
signifies religious ordinances. In the A.V. it denotes not the religious rites but the
merit acquired by the performance of such.
In the Brahmanas it refers to the whole range of religious duties. The
denotation and connotation of the term have further been determined in the Upanishads.
The Dharma of a Student, i.e., Brahmacharins, the Dharma of a
householder, the Dharma of a hermit and hence the entire life of a man was regulated by
Dharma. The later lawgivers widened its scope and made it to cover the whole range of the
obligations and duties of different castes.
The commentaries on the Smriti, which were still later productions
further, interpreted the term as being five-fold in character-Varna dharma,
Ashramas dharma, Varnasharama dharma, Naimittika dharma and Guna dharma.
Jaimini defines dharma as the summum bonum of life to be attained by a
man through the injunction of the Vedas ; hence the performance of Vedic rites will lead
one to heaven.
The Vaiseshika school adopts a Hedonistic view and avers that which
leads to happiness and beatitude is Marina. To propound laws for society various schools
sprang up, but they based their conclusions on Veda as the first and foremost authority.