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A Lokaayatika Mimamsaka (before 300 CE)

Version AA: June 4, 2001

Contents: I. Life and Age

II. Works

III. Philosophy of Bhartrmitra

1. Similarity with the Lokaayata doctrine

2. On the Utility of Upanishads

3. On the nature of the Auditory Sense (Srotra)

4. On the relationship of laksanaa to vaacyaartha

IV. The Legacy of Bhartrmitra



Revision Log etc.

I. Life and age

In his introduction to Sabara’s commentary on Jaimini’s Purva Mimamsa Sutras (henceforth ‘PMS’), Kumarila Bhatta states that he has endeavored to bring back the Mimamsa Sastra to the ‘aastika patha’ [Dvarikadasa Sastri 1978:5] or to the path of the Vedas, since it has been made a ‘Lokaayata Sastra’ by many older scholars-

“ For the most part Mimansa has, in this world, been made atheistic and this effort of mine is made to turn it to the theistic path.” Sutra 1.1.1, verse 10 [Jha 1983:2]

In his sub-commentary named ‘Nyayaratnakara’ on the above verse, Parthasarathi Misra clarifies that the reference is to Bhartrmitra [Dvarikadasa Sastri 1978:5]. Further, he refers to the work as a very ancient exposition (cirantana-vyaakhyaana) on Mimamsa, implying that Bhartrmitra was long anterior to Kumarila. Umbeka, the oldest commentator of the Slokavarttika, also confirms [Raja 1971:3] that Kumarila is referring to the views of ‘Bhartrmitra and others’ here.[1]

Parthasarathi Misra again attributes to Bhartrmitra, some views stated by Kumarila in verses 130-131 of the ‘sabdanityataa-adhikarana’ [Dvarikadasa Sastri 1978:540] and verses 14-15 of the ‘citraaksepa-parihaara’ section of the Slokavarttika (see more below).

At the beginning of the first chapter and the fourth chapter of his ‘Brahmasiddhi’, Mandana Misra criticizes certain views of older teachers on the utility of the Upanishads. Anandapurna Muni, the commentator of the Brahmasiddhi, states that the views criticized by Mandana Misra belong to Bhartrmitra. This indicates that Bhartrmitra had some definite views on Vedanta as well.

In the Atmasiddhi, Sri Yamunacharya (d. 1037 C.E.) says [Neevel 1977:167]-

“…Nevertheless, many persons have had their judgment corrupted by giving their credence to various writings of uneven quality that have correct and incorrect ideas interwoven through them like warp and woof, books such as those composed by Acarya Tanka, Bhartrprapanca, Bhartrmitra, Bhartrhari, Brahmadatta, Samkara, Srivatsanka, Bhaskara etc. Since persons who have been confused in this way do not understand things as they really are and have many erroneous conceptions, the undertaking of this work or discussion with the aim of establishing a (clear, comprehensive and definitive) understanding (pratipatti) of the (atman and paramatman) is proper.”

This passage is further proof that Bhartrmitra had authored some views or works on Vedanta in addition to his writings on Mimamsa, and Yamunacharya rejected these views.

Sesha, the commentator on the Madhava Vijaya of Narayana Bhatta, states that Madhavacharya refuted 21 commentaries on the Brahmasutras that were written by teachers before him [Dasgupta 1949:53]. In this list, the name of Bhartrmitra is missing. Is it because he was primarily considered a Mimamsaka by the time of Sesha? This conjecture does appear to be true, considering that the Nyayamanjari of Jayantabhatta refers to Bhartrmitra as a celebrated Mimamsaka [Bhattacharya 1978:443].

Sabara does not refer to the views of Bhartrmitra. This leads to the strong possibility that Bhartrmitra was posterior to Sabara. In the Slokavarttika, there is a clear indication that further corroborates the fact that Bhartrmitra succeeded Sabara. In verses 130b-132a of the sabdanityataa section, Kumarila criticizes the view of a ‘self-professed scholar’ [Dvarikadasa Sastri 1978:540] who imagines that he has discovered something new (see more below) with regard to the mechanism of ‘hearing’ of sabda. Parthasarathi Misra comments that this ‘self-professed scholar’ is none other than Bhartrmitra. Thereafter, in verses 132b-133a, Kumarila adds [Jha 1983:430; Dvarikadasa Sastri 1978:540.Translation slightly modified]-

“(The Bhashya too) has not mentioned the ‘Auditory Sense’ (Srotra) to be anything other then a modification (sanskaara) produced by the sounds (dhvanijanya sanskaara). Beyond this, what else have they found to be indicated by the word “Auditory Sense” (Srotra) (that they seek to improve upon the Bhashya)?”

It is apparent (and this is also clarified by Parthasarathi Misra in the Nyayaratnakara), that Kumarila is referring here to Sabara’s extensive comment on PMS 1.1.13. Under this sutra, Sabara has discussed the mechanism of ‘hearing’ in great detail, in order to demolish the prima-facie view that ‘Sabda’ is ephemeral, and not eternal as taught by the PMS of Jaimini. Sabara elaborates on the role of ‘akaasa’ (sky/space), of wind and orifice of the human ear etc., in hearing. Kumarila therefore, mocks at the pseudo-innovation that Bhartrmitra claims to have made in the Mimamsa view. He remarks sarcastically that Sabara’s explanation is quite detailed and the innovation of Bhartrmitra merely smacks of pedantry, and not of any real improvement upon Sabara’s exposition. Kumarila’s censure of Bhartrmitra’s pedantry will make sense only if we assume that Bhartrmitra followed Sabara.

In contrast to our conclusion above on the chronological relationship between Sabara and Bhartrmitra, Yudhisthira Mimamsaka [1984:392-393; 1977:33-35] proposes that Bhartrmitra and Bhartrhari both preceded Sabara. Such a view is unacceptable for a number of reasons, including the fact that he places Sabara before 600 BCE, something, which is historically unacceptable. [2]

The date of Bhartrmitra depends upon the date of Sabara and Kumarila. Unfortunately, there is considerable discrepancy between the various views on the dates of Sabara. The traditional view is that Sabara was a contemporary of King Vikramaditya, who ruled in the 1st century BCE. Whatever be the date of Sabara, it is clear that Bhartrmitra’s work on the Mimamsa has been designated as an ‘ancient exposition’ (cirantana-vyaakhyaana) by Parthasarathi and this indicates two things –

1. Bhartrmitra was long anterior to Kumarila

2. Since Sabara was anterior to Bhartrmitra, Sabara was also long anterior to Kumarila

Currently, many scholars place Kumarila around 650 CE and Sabara around 400 CE. This small gap of 250 years hardly leaves any scope for designating the post Sabara work of Bhartrmitra as an ‘ancient exposition’ and might be considered a indication in favor of the traditional view [3]. If we assume the traditional data of ~100 BCE for Sabara, he will be separated from Kumarila by 750 years. Under such an assumption, it would be relatively safe to place Bhartrmitra before 300 CE. I do want to emphasize however, that this date, as well as the current dates assigned by ‘scholarly consensus’ are little more than speculations.

II. Works

In his Nyayamanjari-Granthibhanga, Chakradharabhatta remarks [Bhattacharya 1974] that Bhartrmitra was the author of Tantra-suddhi and other prakarana texts. We may well surmise that Tantra Suddhi was a commentary on the Tantra Kanda of Mimamsa Sutras (Chap. 1-12). Bhatta Umbeka, the oldest commentator of the Slokavarttika of Kumarila Bhatta, however names the text of Bhartrmitra as Tattvasuddhi.

Parthasarathi Misra suggests that Bhartrmitra wrote a vyaakhyaana on Mimamsa Sastra [Dvarikadasa Sastri 1978:5]. This means that he did not really comment on the sutras but rather wrote a general explanation of the text. Further, he refers to the work as a very ancient work, implying that Bhartrmitra was long anterior to Kumarila.

In his Atmasiddhi, Yamunamuni enumerates Bhartrmitra as one of the expositors of Vedanta.

III. Philosophy of Bhartrmitra

1. Similarity with the Lokaayata Doctrine

As stated above, in his Slokavarttika, Kumarila states that he has attempted to wrest the Mimamsa Sastra from the followers of Lokaayata sect, and has tried to bring it back to the aastika fold. Commenting on this verse, Parthasarathi Misra states that Kumarila has alluded to Bhartrmitra and other scholars here. Umbeka Bhatta makes the same identification also in his commentary 'Slokavarttikavyakhya Tatparyatika' [Raja et al 1971:3]. It is clear that Bhartrmitra was a prominent, but not the only proponent of a particular school of Mimamsa, whose doctrines were similar in many ways to the tenets of Lokaayata School. I will refrain from going into a general discussion on the school of Charvaka/Lokaayata[4], focusing on what the followers of Purva Mimamsa have to say with regard to it, and the possible similarities between the views of Bhartrmitra and Lokaayatikas.

To start with Kumarila, let us consider what his own views were on the followers of the Lokaayata system. Kumarila puts the following bitter invective against the followers of the Lokaayata doctrine in the mouth of a Purvapakshin [Jha 1983:128-129, modified slightly] while commenting on PMS 1.3.3 –

“ If the mere fact of perceptible worldly motives being found for the actions laid down in the Smritis were to make them un-authoritative, then, inasmuch, as there is always a likelihood of some such motive being found, in connection with all that is laid down in the Veda, all the scriptures would have to be considered equally authoritative. For instance, such grounds of the alleged unauthoritativeness of the Smritis, as the presence of the motives of affection, aversion, vanity, recklessness, delusion, laziness, avarice, and the like, are capable of being attributed to all actions (Vedic as well as non-Vedic). So long as our own minds are pure and devoid of all wickedness, we can always admit the Smritis to have a sound basis (in the Veda); and it is only when our own minds become tainted that we begin to suspect their authoritative character.

What performance of Dharma is there, in which some sort of a perceptible selfish motive cannot be found, and which cannot be found to be contradictory to some other direct Vedic assertions? (The chances of contradiction are equally present in all injunctions, whether the action laid down be found to have a perceptible motive or not). And then again, the terribly ignorant atheists have no other business except finding some sort of a worldly motive for all actions, - even those that are not due to any apparent perceptible worldly motive. Even the actions laid down in the Veda are made by them to be due to certain worldly motives; and on the slightest pretext they explain one Vedic injunction to be contradictory to other Vedic texts. And under the circumstances, if the Mimamsakas once give an opportunity to the atheists, thus encouraged, the atheists would not leave the authority of any oath of Dharma safe. Their conduct is that of monkeys and Pisaachas, because these atheists do not trouble their objective until the Mimamsakas themselves give them an opportunity of attack. And when they have once been given an opportunity, by such persons as borrow their imaginary attacks upon the authority of the scriptures, who (i.e., which scripture) can hope to escape alive, if once fallen in the way of their (argumentative) path? For these reasons, it is not right for the Mimamsakas to help the accomplishment of the purposes of the atheists, who are bent upon the destruction of all Dharma.”

In this passage, the Purvapaksin is instigating the follower of Mimamsa Sastra to take up the gauntlet thrown by the follower of Lokaayata school, and defeat his contention that the Smritis and virtuous conduct established by tradition cannot be taken as authoritative sources of Dharma.

Can this description of Lokaayata sect be applied to the views of Bhartrmitra? Commenting on Slokavarttika, Parthasarathi Misra says [Dvarikadasa Sastri 1978:5] that Bhartrmitra had introduced false doctrines (apasiddhaanta) like “there are no good and the bad fruits of the obligatory daily duties (nitya) and prohibited acts (nishiddha)” into the Mimamsa Sastra and had made it akin to the Lokaayata Sastra.[5]

Umbeka Bhatta clarifies even further [Raja 1971:3, translation mine] –

“(A doubt is raised-) ‘In order to comprehend the purport of the Vedas and to memorize the same, Bhartrmitra and others have written several tracts and texts like Tattvasuddhi etc., pertaining to each different topics. Hence, the composition of this text (Slokavarttika) is redundant.’ (To this, Umbeka replies) – ‘To counter such a possible objection, the author of the Varttika has composed the verse ‘praayena etc.’’ ( Mimamsa is the foremost of the all the aastika sastras, because it discusses the means of attaining all the goals of human existence. Such a true aastika system has been given a predominantly Lokaayata form. The true Smritis and true/virtuous conduct established by tradition is a source of Dharma, (but in this modified version of Mimamsa Sastra) the authority of these has been negated without any cogent reason. So also the good and bad results of the injunctions and prohibitions (by the Vedas) respectively are not considered/are rejected in this system. The sole difference admitted between such a school of Mimamsa and Lokaayata is that the former teaches the acts that are enjoined by the Vedas (while the latter does not). Otherwise, there is no difference (between Lokaayata and this version of Mimamsa Sastra). By such untruthful commentators, the progress of the Mimamsa Sastra on the path of truth has been hindered, and it has been set forth on the path of falsehood. To extricate the Mimamsa Sastra from this quagmire and to establish it back on the aastika path, an attempt has been made by me (Kumarila) through the composition of this Varttika text.”

Note that there is a slight difference in the views attributed to Bhartrmitra by the Umbeka and Parthasarathi Misra. According to the former, Bhartrmitra did not admit any fruit of the ‘vidhi’ whereas according to the latter, Bhartrmitra did not admit any fruit of the ‘nitya’ rites like the agnihotra. Desisting from doing prohibited actions (nishiddha-karma) and performance of one’s daily religious obligations (nityakarma) are discussed in or enjoined strongly by the Dharmashastras (sat-smrtis) and traditions established by the virtuous (sad-aacaara) and are often not discussed by the Sruti. Hence, a rejection of the nityakarma and pratishiddha-karmas automatically also implies a rejection of smritis and sadaacaara, on which these karmas are primarily founded. An understanding of this fact enables one to comprehend Umbeka’s description of Bhartrmitra’s views more completely.[6]

A related view of Bhartrmitra is found referred to in Parthasarathi Misra’s commentary on the Chitraaksepa-parihaara section of Kumarila’s Slokavarttika. The Chitraa-yaaga is a sacrifice, which grants cattle to the performer according to Vedic texts. Since cattle do not appear immediately after the sacrifice is over, heretic revilers of the Vedas question the very efficacy of the sacrifice. The Mimamsakas argue, in defense of the Veda, that the fruit of the sacrifice viz., the cattle, need not appear immediately after the sacrifice because the Vedic text enjoining this rite does not promise an immediate result. The fruit therefore, could result in a future life, or anytime in future as such. In the Mimamsa school of thought, the chronological disconnect between the performance of a sacrifice and its promised fruit is bridged with the help of an ‘unseen force’ called the ‘apuurva’ which ensures that the fruit accrues to the sacrificer in future, whenever the time is ripe [7]. In verses 14-15 of this section however, Kumarila refers to certain people who do not deny the efficacy of the Chitraa sacrifice in bestowing the fruit on the sacrificer, but insist that the fruit accrues in this very life, and not in some future life. Kumarila says [Jha 1983:378-379]-

“And those, who hold that the results of the Citra etc., must appear in this very life, will not be able to show any cause for the appearance of their results (cattle etc.) in favor of those who have never performed those sacrifices during their present lives. Verse 14

Because (according to these theorists) the affects of the Citra etc. (performed during some previous life) must have been exhausted in the course of that life; and portions of the (previous) enjoyment of Heaven cannot follow one to a new life.” Verse 15

Introducing verse 14, Parthasarathi Misra adds that Bhartrmitra etc. hold that the chitraa-yaaga bears fruit in this very life [Dvarikadasa Sastri 1978:483]. Udayavira Shastri [1970:219] informs that according to some traditional scholars of Mimamsa like Chinnasvami Shastri, Bhartrmitra did not accept ‘apuurva’. Perhaps, indications such as the one by Parthasarathi Misra here might have resulted in such a view about Bhartrmitra in the larger community of Mimamsakas. Apuurva is one of the fundamental tenets of the schools of Prabhakara and Kumarila (which derive from the commentary of Sabara) and its possible rejection by Bhartrmitra would not have endeared him to the followers of Mimamsa, all of whom owed allegiance to Sabara indirectly or directly.

Udayavira Shastri [1970:218-219] has drawn attention to some interesting passages in the manuscript of commentary of Harisvami on the Satapatha Brahmana. In these passages, Harisvami[8] has referred to the specific interpretations of a school of ritualists who were ‘taarkikas’ or rationalists. From these interpretations, it appears that they interpreted Vedic texts literally and rationally, rejecting all supernatural and metaphorical import. According to them, yajnas were pure injunctive actions enjoined by the Sruti, and had to be performed in the due manner and order that was prescribed in the texts, so as to keep the Vedic tradition alive in memory. Mundane meanings were ascribed to all the arthavaada (eulogistic) passages, and the promised fruits of rituals were denied or ignored. Such an attempt at the rationalization of the import of the Sruti is seen in the PMS 1.1 (tarkapaada) itself, but these taarkikas seemed to have carried the argument too far, and perilously close to the Lokaayata viewpoint. The view of these taarkikas seems close to the philosophy of Bhartrmitra, although the meager data available on him does not permit us to reach a firm conclusion in this regard.

Let us consider some verses attributed to the Lokaayata/Charvaka school that occur in the first chapter of Madhavacharya’s Sarva-darsana-sangraha [Chattopadhyaya 1990:247-257] and in the second chapter of the Sarva-siddhanta-sangraha, an apocryphal text attributed to Shankaracharya [Rangacarya 1983] –

“Whatever is arrived at by means of direct perception, that alone exists. That which is not perceived is non-existent, for the (very) reason that it is not perceived. And even those, who maintain the (real existence) adrishta (the unperceivable), do not say that what has not been perceived has been perceived.

If what is rarely seen here and there is taken to be the unperceivable, how can they (really) call it as unperceivable? How can that, which is always unseen, like the (ever unseen) horns of a hare, and other such things, be what is really existent?

In consequence of (the existence of) pleasure and pain, merit and demerit should not be here (in this connection) postulated by others. A man feels pleasure or pain by nature, and there is no other cause (for it).

A wise man should endeavor to enjoy the pleasures here in this world always.”

Several other verses attributed to Brhaspati and other teachers of the Lokaayatas are found quoted in literature. These revile the Vedas, reject the efficacy of Vedic rites like offerings to the manes and the agnihotra, reject the notion of hell and heaven, of rebirth, or the possibility that the Vedic rites can transport the oblations to the gods in heaven or to the manes. Bhartrmitra clearly did not go that far, for he accepted the commands implicit in Vedic statements But, he rejected the notion that Vedic rites could yield fruit in a future life and denied that obligatory duties like the agnihotra could bear any fruit. Nevertheless, this was sufficient to brand him as a follower of the heretical doctrines of the Lokaayata school.[9]

What factors could have lead to such a school of thought within Mimamsakas? We can only speculate. Perhaps, when Vedic ritualism came under heavy attack from the atheists in ancient times, the Vedic ritualists tried to adjust their philosophy to align it slightly with the tenets of the Lokaayatas and thus shield it from their attacks. As a result, some Mimamsakas rejected the efficacy of Vedic rituals in obtaining the desired fruit, and downplayed all those aspects of the Yajnas that were connected with arthavaada, with devatas, with the after-life (paraloka) and so on. Rather, they advocated a ‘rational’ interpretation of texts to shield them against the attacks of Lokaayatas, and advocated the performance of Vedic rituals in the prescribed manner only because they were enjoined by the Sruti, which was authoritative for them.

2. On the Utility of Upanishads

An additional reason why Bhartrmitra was reviled as a follower of Lokaayata School could be his dismissive attitude on the utility of the Upanishads – texts par excellence of Hindu spirituality. Right at the start of his Brahmasiddhi [Kuppuswami Shastri 1937:1], Mandana Misra quotes a set of two arguments that state that the Upanishads are useless. According to commentator Anandapurna Muni [Chandrasekharan 1963:7], these arguments are from Bhartrmitra’s work[10]. Mandana states the arguments as follows [Pandey 1974:367-369]-

“Is the existence of the Self established by any Pramana other than the Sruti of not? If the former, then the Sruti is merely explanatory and therefore not a Pramana. If the latter, then the Sruti is uninformative in as much as it does not throw the light upon the relation of the statement and its object. Thus in the latter case too, the Sruti is not a Pramana at all.”

Elaborating the second argument, Mandana quotes-

“ The meaning of the sentence is a special fact (padartha). If the fact referred to in a sentence is not known independently of that sentence, the meaning of that sentence cannot be grasped. Likewise, the Sruti which refers to Brahman is inexpressive if there is no knowledge of Brahman independent of the Sruti.”

Let us understand the second argument of Bhartrmitra first, and the relation it bears to the utility of Vedanta. The Vedantins argue (vide Brahmasutra 1.1.3) that since Brahman cannot be perceived or comprehended by our sense organs, the first two pramaanas (pratyaksa and anumaana) are of no use in Brahmajijnasa (= an enquiry into the nature of Brahman). Bhartrmitra argues that such a viewpoint is absurd. This is because the object of a sentence can be comprehended only if it is known beforehand from other sources of knowledge. For instance, if someone says- “Bring a peacock”, then the sentence will make sense to the listener only if he knows what a peacock is from some other source beforehand. But if Brahman cannot be known from any other means except Vedantas, then the Vedantas themselves become in-expressive, or worthless. This is because their statements on Brahman will not make any sense to the reader since he does not know Brahman beforehand from any other source (nor can he know Brahman from any other source). In such a scenario, the very nature of Brahman becomes non-knowable because all the three major pramaanas (pratyaksa, anumaana and sabda) are of no use in teaching about him.

The first argument can be explained as follows – The Vedantins state that the Vedantas/Upanishads or the jnankanda portions of the Veda aren’t really comprised of injunctions and prohibitions, as the karmakanda portions are. Rather, the Vedantas merely discuss the nature of Brahman. If the Vedantin admits that the Vedantas are not the only means of comprehending Brahman, and that Brahman can be known from other pramaanas like pratyaksa and anumaana as well, then what special purpose do the Vedantas serve? If we can know Brahman by pratyaksa and anumaana, the Vedantas, which come under the sabda-pramaana, become redundant.[11]

Mandana Misra summarizes the views of Bhartrmitra in a verse at the beginning of the 4th chapter of Brahmasiddhi as well [Pandey 1974:369]. The crux of the two arguments of Bhartrmitra is that whether the Vedantin considers the Sruti as the exclusive source of information on Brahman or not, he is in an uncomfortable position. In the first case, (wherein Brahman is said to be knowable only via the Vedantas), he renders the Vedantas in-expressive and useless. And in the latter case, he renders the Vedantas redundant or superfluous. In the first case, even the existence of Brahman cannot be established because pratyakasa and anumaana are denied as sources of knowledge on Brahman by the Vedantin and Bhartrmitra has negated the utility of the Vedantas in imparting the knowledge of Brahman.

How does this argument of Bhartrmitra fit in with his views on Mimamsa? If we refer to the previous section wherein I have discussed his proximity to certain views of the Lokaayata School, the relationship between his Mimamsa and Vedantic views will be clear. Bhartrmitra emphasizes that Dharma comprises of commands inherent in the Vedic statements only. Likewise, even in the sphere of jnanakanda, Bhartrhari apparently rejects the Vedantas if they are said to be devoid of commands (chodanaa). Bhartrmitra rejects the fruit of the nitya-karmas like the agnihotra rite, and also of prohibited acts probably because their result is not seen. He admits that the kaamya-karmas like the Chitraa sacrifice bear fruit. But again, he rejects the notion that the fruit could accrue in some future life. He holds that the fruit accrues in this life itself. In subscribing to such an opinion, Bhartrmitra is negating the importance of after-life, of things that are para-psychic, of the ideas and objects that defy rational explanations based on observable facts. For this reason, he has little patience with the Vedantins who speak of an object ‘Brahman’ that cannot be comprehended by rational means and is known only from the Vedantas. Bhartrmitra argues that this will render the Vedantas themselves meaningless and will make the existence of Brahman non-provable. He also argues that if other pramaanas are admitted to be useful in knowing Brahman, then again the Vedantas are rendered redundant or superfluous. This is because if something can be perceived directly or inferred from an observable fact, then what is the need to read scriptures to learn about that thing?

How can the Vedantas then, be made useful portions of the Vedas just like the karmakanda portions are? A possible solution is to admit the possibility that the Vedantas also have injunctions and commands[12]. However, even this possibility was apparently unacceptable to Bhartrmitra because the fruit of these Vedantic injunctions, namely communion with Brahman, could not necessarily be realized in this very life. Moreover, the object of Vedantic injunctions, if any, was supra-sensuous, unlike the object and the fruit of Vedic rites, which was very much visible and tangible. If our speculations here on the possible views of Bhartrmitra on Vedantic matters are correct, he might justifiably be called a crypto-Lokaayatika.

3. On the Nature of the Auditory Sense (srotra)

Bhartrmitra apparently had a peculiar view with regard srotra. Referring to this view, Kumarila Bhatta says, in verses 130-132 of the sabdanityataa-adhikarana [Dvarikadasa Sastri 1978:540] of the Slokavarttika-

“It is this modification (sanskaara)(of the auditory sense- srotra) as the means of the comprehension of sounds, that some people, thinking themselves to be learned (panditammya), hold to be the “auditory sense” (shrotra) itself. In reality, this is only a play upon words, but they feel elated in their minds in their own minds (at having discovered a new theory); whereas this pride is but false, because they have not discovered anything new.” [Jha 1983:430, modified]

Noteworthy is the fact that Kumarila is ridiculing the Mimamsaka who holds such an opinion as a ‘panditammanya’ or self-professed scholar. Parthasarathi Misra clarifies that Kumarila has alluded to the opinion of Bhartrmitra here, who holds that the auditory sense (srotra) is merely the modification/impression (sanskaara) produced by sound. Bhartrmitra considers it meaningless to consider the modification (sanskaara) and the sense organ (srotra) as two separate entities and states that the sanskaara itself is shrotra. An identical view is attributed to Bhartrmitra in the Nyayamanjari of Jayanta Bhatta [Narahari 1968], with the same sarcastic tone -

“yattu Bhartmitrastameva samskaram srotrindriyamabhupaiiti tadidamapurvakam kimapi pandityam.”

Significantly, even Jayanta Bhatta is mocking at ‘unprecedented learning’ of Bhartrmitra in this passage and considers it beneath his dignity to refute such a silly notion, although Kumarila does refute Bhartrmitra’s views in the verses following the ones that I have quoted above [13].

Jayanta Bhatta also quotes the precise reason adduced by Bhartrmitra for his idiosyncratic opinion [Bhattacharya 1978, modified] –

“The Mimamsakas do not subscribe to the view that that space/sky (akaasa) constitutes the organ of hearing (srotra). They hold that each person has a distinct organ of hearing, otherwise the distinct auditory perception of each person cannot be explained. In the opinion of Bhartrmitra, the auditory sense (srotra) is nothing but the modification/impression produced by wind (in the orifice of the ear). Therefore, the all-pervasive Sabda does not get modified since it remains confined within the well-defined boundary (of the ear orifice).”

Clearly, Jayanta Bhatta is indicating here that Bhartrmitra is a Mimamsaka[14] but his opinion is not the standard opinion of the Mimamsa School. According to Sabara (see his commentary on PMS 1.1.13) and Kumarila (in his sabdanityataa-adhikarana of the Slokavarttika) however, it is the akaasa that is the organ of hearing (srotra) and wind merely carries the sound to the orifice of the ear. Inside the orifice (karnasashkuli), the ‘sabda’ that is carried by the wind induces a modification/impression (sanskaara) in the portion of akaasa, resulting in hearing. Thus, Sabara and Kumarila accord the designation ‘srotra’ to the all pervading ‘akaasa’ but state that it is only the portion of akaasa within the ear orifice that receives the sabda via the wind and gets modified by it, that results in hearing. In contrast, Bhartrmitra does not designate akaasa itself as srotra (auditory sense) but rather calls the modification produced by the wind carrying the sound waves as srotra.

It is tempting here to explore the influence of the Lokaayata school on this peculiar view of Bhartrmitra. The denial of the role of ‘akaasa’ as the organ of hearing (srotra) by Bhartrmitra is a denial of the very existence of akaasa as an element. This is because traditionally, ‘sabda’ or sound is the only ‘guna’ or property [15] of the element akaasa, whereas the other elements have additional properties like odor etc. In other words, ‘sabda’ proves the existence of akaasa, or rather presumes its existence. Bhartrmitra makes the presumption of the existence of this element meaningless by assigning the role the auditory sense to ‘the modification arising from wind (pavana-janitah-sanskaarah)’. Interestingly, the followers of Brihaspati/Carvakas and the Lokaayatikas also deny the very existence of ‘akaasa’ and admit only the remaining four elements. The Brhaspati Sutra, the primordial text of the Lokaayata/Charavaka School commenced with the following two aphorisms (sutras) quoted by Gunaratna [16], the commentator of the Shadadarsanasamucchaya of the Jaina scholar Haribhadra Suri [Chattopadhyaya 1990:379] –

1. Athaato tattvam vyaakhyaasaamah (Now therefore we describe the true entities/elements)

2. Prithvi-aapa-tejo-vaayur iti tattvani (earth, water, fire and air – these are the elements)

The denial of akaasa by the materialists was perhaps owing to the fact that its existence could not be established by the means of pratyaksa pramaana and had to be inferred or learnt from the Vedic texts, whereas the other four elements were directly perceptible. In questioning the very basis of the existence of akaasa, Bhartrmitra seems to have veered close to the followers of Lokaayata School.

4. On the relationship between Laksanaa and Vaacyaartha

A verse attributed to Bhartrmitra, describing the five fold relationship that ‘implication’ or Laksanaa bears to the vaacyaartha, has been quoted in the following texts [Bhattacharya 1976, 1981-82]-

1. Abhidha-Vrtti-Mattrka of Mukula Bhatta

2. Commentaries of Somesvara and Manikyacandra on Mammata Bhatta’s Kavya Prakasa

3. Locana of Abhinavagupta on Anandavardhana’s Dhvanyaloka

4. Sabda Vyapara Vicara of Mammata Bhatta

5. Commentaries of Sridhara, Gunaratna Ganin and Kamalakara Bhatta on Kavya Prakasa etc.

The verse states that the “implied meaning is (1) in proximity with, or (2) in conformity with, or (3) in relation of inherence with, or (4) in opposition to, the denoted meaning or finally, (5) it is in connection with the verb that goes with the denoted meaning.” [Pandey 1974:234].

It is impossible to determine if the author of this verse is identical with Bhartrmitra, the Mimamsaka. Pandey [ibid] has tried to explain the Vedantic significance of this verse. Although, in my opinion, the evidence of a solitary verse is too meager to draw any conclusions in this regard, I nevertheless quote what Pandey says on this matter-

“Bhartrmitra appears to have developed a philosophy of language which accepted only two functions of words – denotation (abhidhaa) and implication (lakshanaa). But what is more important in his philosophy of language than this is the fact that he interpreted the Vedic language in terms of the spoken language of the people and did not assign any sacredness and sacrosancity to the former.”

The possible relationship between this verse and his views referred to in the Brahmasiddhi, needs to be investigated further. [17]

IV. The Legacy of Bhartrmitra

In the preceding sections, I have covered all the references to Bhartrmitra’s views in the later works of Purva Mimamsa Sastra. In this section, we allude to the effect that Bhartrmitra might have had on the philosophy of the later Mimamsakas.

Mahamahopadhyaya Kuppuswami Shastri suggests that Bhartrmitra was the forerunner of Prabhakara school of Mimamsa. On the other hand, Mahamahopadhyaya Anantakrishna Shastri argues that if Bhartrmitra were the forerunner of Prabhakara, the latter would have written a sub-commentary on the former’s works, rather than on Sabarabhashya. Pandey [1974:230] takes the middle view and opines that Prabhakara commented on Sabarabhashya in the light of Bhartrmitra’s views. In my opinion, the available evidence is too scanty to warrant such speculations and conclusions. In fact, whatever we know of Bhartrmitra warrants against such conclusions. For instance, Bhartrmitra apparently rejected the utility of the Vedantas in toto, while Kumarila admitted it completely and Prabhakara accepted a subordinate role for these texts. All this discussion of course pre-supposes that Bhartrmitra was posterior to Sabara, an assumption with which I agree (see above) contrary to what the late great Pundit Yudhisthira Mimamsaka has concluded. [18]

Since Bhartrmitra was a follower of a particular school of Mimamsa, he certainly agreed with other Mimamsakas on some matters and disagreed with them on the rest. It is certain however that in the centuries following Kumarila, his views were rapidly discarded, as a result of which all the texts of Bhartrmitra were lost. Alternately, the works of Kumarila came to command so much prestige that they, in conjunction with Sabara’s commentary, eclipsed all the older (and even later) works on Mimamsa. In fact, Bhartrmitra’s opinions became so marginalized that later Mimamsakas do not even refer to his views. They were probably too unimportant to merit any refutation or even a cursory mention.

The name of his work on Mimamsa – Tattvasuddhi (or Tantrasuddhi) indicates that either he introduced several innovations into the Mimamsa Sastra with a view to ‘purify’ it of ‘polluting accretions/portions’ or alternately, he claimed to have fathomed the ‘pure’ (suddha) or the correct import of the Mimamsa Sastra. In introducing these changes or innovative interpretations, Bhartrmitra apparently compromised a lot with the Lokaayata doctrines, and rejected the authority of two major pillars of Dharma – Smrti and Traditional Virtues. He probably attempted to ‘rationalize’ the system of Vedic ritualism by denying or downplaying spiritual matters, and even went to the extent of questioning the declaration of the Upanishads that Brahman cannot be fathomed by the senses, the mind, by inference or any other sources of knowledge other than the sacred Scripture. It is easy to see that such ‘rationalists’ exist in modern times as well. These rationalists try to give mundane meanings to profoundly spiritual texts because they themselves lack a thorough understanding of Dharma or Brahman. They do not comprehend the distinction between the sacred and the profane, the spiritual and the mundane, the good and evil. Such conceited persons claim to preach the ‘pure doctrine’, and write ‘scholarly’ (but really pedantic) annotated translations and explanations of the Scriptures and claim to improve upon their teachings, when in reality they have not grasped the essence of these texts. Perhaps, this is how the orthodox Mimamsakas looked at Bhartrmitra.

And in fact, we see many such ‘scholars’ in amidst us these days.


[1] The Tatparyatika of Umbeka Bhatta on the Slokavarttika of Kumarila ends abruptly at the ‘Spotasiddhi’ section. Its printed edition [Raja 1971] is based on a solitary manuscript obtained from Kerala, and it is not known if the manuscript is incomplete or whether Umbeka did not comment beyond the Sphotasiddhi section. Umbeka followed Mandana Misra, and contrary to popular tradition, the two were different people. The Tatparyatika is the oldest known commentary on the Slokavarttika. Sucarita Misra, in his commentary on the Slokavarttika, does not name Bhartrmitra at verse Nevertheless he does mention that certain ‘cirantana’ (ancient) expositions of the Mimamsa Sutras had dragged the school into proximity of the Lokaayata doctrine.

[2] In addition to his unacceptable chronology for Sabara, Kumarila and Shankaracharya etc., Mimamsaka bases his dating of Bhartrmitra on questionable interpretations of certain passages dealing with Purva Mimamsa in the works of Bhartrhari and Jayanta Bhatta. See note [18] below for an alternate interpretation, which de-links the views expressed in the quoted passages from those of Bhartrmitra.

[3] Devasthali [1948-49] argues for a date of ~100 BCE for Sabara on the basis of a certain usage of Sanskrit grammar by Sabara while dissolving the compound ‘dharmajijnaasaa’ in PMS 1.1.1. In support of the later date of Sabara, it is argued that under PMS 1.1.5, Sabara has criticized certain views that were prevalent in the Vijnanavaada and Sunyavaada circles of Buddhist philosophers. This argument is fallacious because, the Vijnanavaadin opponent of Sabara does not cite any Buddhist texts in support of his view. Instead, he quotes certain passages of the Satapatha Brahmana, a pre-Buddhist text of the Sukla-Yajurveda. The exposition of Sunyavaada by Sabara is too vague to warrant an association with parallel Buddhist views. In fact, this section, along with the adjacent ‘Niraalambanavaada’ section occurs in the ‘Vrttikaaragrantha’ portion of Sabara’s commentary, and is borrowed from the ancient Vrtti on the PMS by Upavarsha Acharya. Indian tradition is firm that Upavarsha lived even before Patanjali (~150 BCE). Guha [1921] shows that the views which were later prevalent in these circles of Buddhist scholars are actually mentioned in the Pali Tripitaka too. Hence a refutation of these views in certain Brahminical texts should not be used to date these texts after 300 CE, when these views merely gained prominence in certain Buddhist circles.

[4] For a discussion on the Charvaka/Lokayata doctrine, refer Chattopadhyaya [1990] and Dasgupta [1940:512-550]. Refer also the bibliography available at the URL http://www.dkagencies.com/Lokayata.htm

[5] The notion that nitya-karmas produce no fruit is however not peculiar to Bhartrmitra alone. An ancient, theistic commentator of Bhagavad-Gita quoted by Shankaracharya on verse 18.6 is also said to have subscribed to this notion. Elsewhere, under verse 4.18, Shankaracharya quotes an ancient commentary according to which, the nitya-karmas do not bear any fruit provided they are performed for the sake of Isvara, and therefore they might be considered as inaction (akarma).

[6] According to Sabara’s commentary on PMS 1.1.2 however, certain black magic and sorcery rites like the Syena-yaaga that are prescribed by Vedic texts (eg. Shadavinsa Brahmana) fall within the realm of adharma and must be avoided. For Sabara therefore, these acts would also fall within the realm of ‘nishiddha-karma’. However, there is a fundamental difference between Bhartrmitra’s and Sabara’s attitude towards the ‘nishiddha-karma’. Sabara holds that these adhaarmic acts can back-fire on the performer. In other words, these do bear fruit. On the other hand, Bhartrmitra states that these do not bear any fruit. Kumarila criticizes Sabara’s opinion very strongly and argues that rites such as the Syena-yaaga are also within the realm of Dharma since they are enjoined by the Vedic texts.

[7] The concept of apuurva is intimately related to another concept called ‘adrshta’. The terms are used almost interchangeably in the system of Kumarila Bhatta. Readers interested in the differences in the interpretation of these two words in the Sutras of Jaimini, in Sabara’s bhashya, in the Varttikas of Kumarila and in the Brhati of Prabhakara should refer Clooney [1990:221-253].

[8] The date of Harisvami is a subject of considerable controversy. According to available indications, Harisvami was a contemporary of Vikramaditya who ruled Ujjain in the first century BCE. This would rule out Bhartrmitra as a taarkika in all probability.

[9] Yudhisthira Mimamsaka [1977:30-32] and Udayavira Shastri [1970:213-222] opine that the charge of atheism has been laid unfairly at the door of Bhartrmitra by the followers of Kumarila Bhatta. They suggest that Bhartrmitra had merely intended to oppose certain contemporary practices like animal sacrifice in Vedic rituals which, were justified with the help of Smrti texts and tradition. Shastri even suggests that Bhartrmitra might have belonged to the Pancharatra Vaishnava sect. In my opinion, this suggestion is informed more by the two scholars’ allegiance to the Arya Samaj sect of Hinduism and is not warranted by the meager information available on Bhartrmitra. In fact, as I have shown later, Bhartrmitra even rejected the utility of the Upanishads per se, and therefore can justly be called as a pseudo-Mimamsaka who was influenced very deeply by the doctrines of the Lokaayata School. Nevertheless, in defense of the two scholars, it must be stated that the terms – aastika, naastika, lokaayata, sesvara, niriisvara etc. are used rather loosely in Indian literature. From one perspective, all Mimamsakas have been termed as ‘naastikas’, whereas from another perspective, the system of Kumarila Bhatta is called sesvara and that of Prabhakara Misra is called ‘niriisvara’. Since Bhatrmitra apparently accepted the authority of the Vedas as such, he should not be branded as a ‘naastika’ or ‘Lokaayatika’ completely, even though some of his views might have been similar to those of the followers of the Lokaayata School. For a discussion on the role of God, soul, rebirth etc. in the Mimamsa systems of Sabara, Kumarila and Prabhakara, the reader is referred to Jha [1964].

[10] Anandapurna Muni states that the subsequent section of Brahmasiddhi counters the views of the followers of the Mimamsaka Prabhakara.

[11] Interestingly, Bhagvad Datta [1976:218] refers to a passage in Skanda-Mahesvara’s commentary on Nirukta 3.13 which echoes similar views. He states that some Mimamsakas hold that Upanishads are the barren portion of the Vedas. This is because the Upanishads merely discuss Brahman who cannot be described in reality. Therefore, they are redundant and sacrificial rites alone are the true import of the Vedas. Datta estimates that Skanda-Maheshvara’s work was written around 687 AD.

[12] Among the Vedantins who admitted the presence of injunctions in the Upanishads, we can include Brahmadatta, Vakyakara Brahmanandin, Dramidacharya (all pre-Shankaracharya) and Ramanuja and his followers. The Advaitins reject the notion that Brahman can be known via scriptural injunctions.

[13] Jayanta Bhatta does not fail to point out that Kumarila, a Mimamsaka himself, has demolished this idiosyncratic opinion of Bhartrmitra [Bhattacharya 1978:470]

[14] Chakradhara clarifies the above reference as: “tathaa ca Bhaartrmitreti. Bhaartrmitraakhyas tantrasuddhyaadi-prakaranakrt mimaamsakah ‘karnasaskulyam pavana janitah samskaarah srotram ityaha. tadanyayavyatirekaanuvidhayitvaat sabdagrahanasya.” [Bhattacharya 1974]. The passage means that according to Bhartrmitra, srotra was nothing but the modification (sanskaara) produced by the wind in the orifice of the ear, and not ‘akaasa’ as held by other Mimamsakas.

[15] See, for instance, Manusmrti 1.75

[16] Gunaratna actually attributes these sutras to a ‘Vacaspati’ although several other sources like the text ‘Tattvopaplava-simha’ ascribe it to Brhaspati. For a collection of and discussion on all the extant sutras of Brhaspati or other authors of the Lokayata/Charavaka system, refer Joshi [1987]

[17] Some other views of Bhartrmitra might be discussed in texts like the Vidhiviveka of Mandana Misra (with Vacaspati Misra’s commentary Nyayakanika on it), Tattvabindu of Vacaspati Misra, Bhavanaviveka of Mandana Misra (with Umbeka’s commentary on it). I propose to examine these texts in future.

[18] Yudhisthira Mimamsaka [1984:392-393] draws our attention to some passages dealing with Mimamsa in the Mahabhashyadipika of Bhartrhari. The first passage reads:

The word ‘dharmaprayojana’ (Mahabhashya 1.8.5-6) = the means/agents of Dharma refer to the tenets of the Mimamsa darshana. (According to Mimamsa darshana) dharma is indeed eternal and it is merely manifested via (vedic rites such as) Agnihotra etc. Instigated thus (by the rites), Dharma becomes the bestower of fruit, just as the master is instigated into service through his servants.

The passage means that just as the master gets his work done via his servants, and the accomplished task actually belongs to the master (not to the servants), likewise Dharma is an independent, eternal entity that merely manifests and becomes a giver of fruit via the Vedic rites. Yudhisthira Mimamsaka then quotes a similar view in Bhartrhari’s autocommentary on Karika 145 of Brahmakanda –

“(Certain Mimamsakas say that-) There is no visible (in this life) or invisible fruit of completed karma as such and Vedic rites are merely a manifestation of Dharma.”

He links this view with Bhartrmitra, and opines [1984:392-393] that it is identical to the view attributed to him by Parthasarathi Misra under Slokavarttika However, this need not be so. The statement of Parthasarathi (and Umbeka) merely indicates that Bhartrmitra rejected the notion that the nityakarmas and nishiddha karmas had any fruit at all, and under the Chitraaksepa-parihaara section, we do learn that Bhartrmitra accepted the fruit of kaamya-karmas. albeit in this very life (contrary to the standard Mimamsa notion that the fruit can accrue in a future life as well). In addition, whereas the Mimamsaka in the passage of the Mahabhashyadipika acknowledges the fruit of Dharma manifested as a nityakarma such as Agnihotra, Bhartrmitra does not acknowledge the fruit of the nityakarmas at all.

In his Nyayamanjari, Jayanta Bhatta also quotes two definitions of Dharma given by Mimamsakas [Yudhisthira Mimamsaka 1984:393] –

“The ‘Apurva’ generated from the performance of Yajnas and other karmas is termed as Dharma according to the older Mimamsakas (vrddha-mimaamsakaa). According to the followers of Sabara however, Yaaga etc. karmas themselves (are Dharma).”

Yudhisthira Mimamsaka distinguishes this definition attributed to Sabara in the Nyayamanjari with the definition of Dharma stated in the Mahabhashya Dipika of Bhartrhari. In support of his view, he cites from Sabara’s commentary under PMS 1.1.2 –

“He who performs Yajnas is called ‘dhaarmika’. Whatever act is done by a person, by the same does he get known.” (therefore, he is called the ‘dhaarmika’ because he performs dharma in the form of yajna)

In my opinion, distinguishing between ‘Yajna itself is Dharma’ and ‘Dharma is eternal and manifests as Agnihotra etc.’ is needless hair-splitting because under PMS 1.1.4, Sabara uses the word ‘agnihotraadilaksanasya dharmasya’ which implies that Dharma is indicated (or ‘manifested’) by Agnihotra etc.

After distinguishing between the definitions of Dharma according to ‘older Mimamsakas’, Sabara and Bhartrhari (as stated in the Mahabhashya Dipika and in his auto-commentary on Brahmakanda 145), Yudhisthira Mimamsaka concludes that Bhartrhari, must be older than these ‘older Mimamsakas’ as well. In my opinion, this is faulty reasoning. Bronkhorst [1994:384-385] also disagrees with his conclusion that Bhartrhari preceded Sabara and points out that some other passages of the Mahabhashya Dipika do seem to show an awareness of Sabara’s definition of Dharma. Consequently, Bhartrmitra was posterior to Sabara in my opinion. The chronological order then is: Sabara, Bhartrmitra, Bhartrhari, Kumarila, Mandana, Umbeka, Parthasarathi Misra.


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Vidyasankar Sundaresan and Nanda Chandran reviewed the essay and offered several corrections and suggestions. Professor Vasudha Narayanan read the draft in its initial stages.

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Version AA: 04 June 01. Webpage set up

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