Category Archives: Indian Philosophy

Discussions, Debates and Arguments: Ancient India – Part Two

 Continued from Part One

 Vaada, Jalpa and Vitanda


Vaada is a debate between two persons of equal standing. The term Vaada by itself means a theory, doctrine or thesis. In the debate, the proponent who puts forward arguments in support of his doctrine (Vaada) is termed as Vadin. The opponent who refutes that theory through his counter-arguments is termed as Prati-vadin. Unlike in Samvada, there is no teacher-taught relationship here; nor is it a discourse. 

Ideally, both the parties to the Vaada should have mutual regard, respecting each other’s learning and status; and should participate with an open mind in order to explore various dimensions of the subject on hand; to examine it thoroughly by applying the accepted norms of logic and reasoning (Tarka), supported by passages from  texts of undisputed authority (Sabda Pramana). The principal aim of a wholesome Vaada is to resolve the conflict; and, to establish ‘what is true’. The proceedings of the Vaada should be characterized by politeness, courtesy and fair means of presenting the arguments. You might call it a healthy discussion. 

Vatsayana in his commentary Nyāya Bhāya, says that congenial debate (Anuloma Sambasha) takes place when the opponent is not wrathful or malicious; but , is learned , wise , eloquent and patient  ; is well versed in the art of persuasion ; and is gifted with sweet speech. 

As regards the benefits ( Sambasha prashamsa or prayojana )  of such peaceful and congenial debates  : If a learned person debates with another scholar, both versed in the same subject, it would increase the depth of their knowledge, clear misapprehensions, if any, and lead them to  find certain minor details which hitherto might have escaped their attention . Besides, it would heighten their zeal to study further; and bring happiness to both.   

But, in cases where two scholars hold contrary views, the Vadin and Prati-vadin will each try very hard to establish the doctrine which he believes is true; and to convince the other to accept its veracity through fair and effective presentation and arguments. At the same time, each is willing to understand and appreciate the arguments of the other; and accept any merit they might find in it. In case, one is in doubt or unable to respond  satisfactorily , one can take a break to re-group his position or to re-examine the issue to see whether he can refute the opponent’s argument more effectively or put up a sounder defense.

And, if one is convinced that the doctrine and the argument presented by the opponent is valid, he adopts it with grace.   And, at the end, one of the two might be proven wrong; or both could be right.  In any case, they accept the outcome of the debate, whatever be it; and, part their ways without rancor. 


The Buddhist text Milinda Panha (Questions of Milinda) dated between second and first century BCE is said to be a record of the conversations that took place between the Indo-Greek king Menander I Soter  (who is said to have ruled over the regions of Kabul and Punjab) and the Buddhist monk Nagasena. 

At the outset, Nagasena remarks that the debate they would be having would be one between two wise men; and it would not be a debate for the King.

Then, King Menander enquires as to the distinction between the two. 

Monk Nagasena explains:   

When scholars debate, your Majesty, there is summing up and unraveling of a theory, convincing and conceding; there is also defeat, and yet the scholars do not get angry at all.   

When the Kings debate, your Majesty, they state their thesis, and if anyone differs from them, they order him punished, saying ‘Inflict punishment upon him’. 

Thus, in a good debate there could be defeat or censure or clincher (Nigraha-sthana) but no animosity.

 [ Dr. Sangeetha Menon, in her scholarly article, though she writes about Savāda, she is actually referring to Vada:

(Sa)vāda, is meant to lead to transforming experiences, in the process of which attempts are made jointly to (i) ascertain what is true knowledge, (ii) to understand new ideas, and,  (iii) to understand the nature of the inquirer herself/himself.

(Sa) vāda plays a central role in understanding Indian philosophy as well as Indian psychology. It has references not only to logical and epistemological methods but also to states of mind which are important in the discussion about the primal nature of self. Hence, the discussions on metaphysical and ontological issues are always interrelated to understanding ethical, axiological, aesthetic and spiritual issues. There is a constant attempt to reconcile and integrate different experiences, and the existence of contradictions so as to generate worldviews based on an understanding of life with answers for fundamental questions about self-identity, nature of world, creation, purpose of life, nature of knowledge, value systems etc.

Apart from the content of the dialogue, the process of dialogue plays an important role in contributing to the well-being of the partners involved. It gives total and one-time attention to how world views are formed, how mental and physical discipline are significant to conceive an idea, how way of living is connected with the self-identity of the inquirer.

Being and Wellbeing In Upanishadic Literature  by Dr. Sangeetha Menon ]



Nyaya Sutra in its First Book enumerates the steps or the categories (padartha) of the methods (Vadopaya) for structuring the argument and for presentation of the subject under debate, while the rest of the four Books expand on these steps. The Vada-marga (the stages in the course of a debate) is classified under sixteen steps: 

1) Pramana (the means of knowledge); 2) Prameya (the object of right knowledge); 3)  Samsaya (creating doubt or misjudgment ); 4) Prayojana (purpose); 5) Drshtanta  ( familiar example); 6) Sidhanta ( established  tenet or principle); 7) Avayava ( an element of syllogism); 8) Tarka ( reasoned argument); 9) Niranaya (deduction or determination of the question);  10) Vada (discussion to defend or to arrive at the truth); 11) Jalpa (wrangling or dispute to secure a win ); 12) Vitanda (quibble or mere attack); 13) Hetvabhasa (fallacy, erratic  contrary , ill-timed challenges); 14) Chala (misleading or willfully misinterpreting the words); 15) Jati (futile objections founded on similarities or otherwise) and 16) Nigrahaslhana ( disagreement in principle or  no purpose in arguing further or the point nearing  defeat). 

These sixteen steps are meant to ascertain and establish ‘what is true’ (yathartha).The first four steps deal, mainly, with logic; while the latter seven perform the function of preventing and eliminating the errors. Among the first fou; Pramana with its four reliable means of obtaining knowledge is of cardinal importance [ Pratyaksha (perception), Anumana (inference), Upamana (comparison) and Sabda (reliable verbal testimony)].

As said earlier, these sixteen categories are discussed in detail in four sections of the Nyaya Sutra.  The Nyāya Sūtra (verse 1.1.2) declares that its goal is to study and describe the attainment of liberation from wrong knowledge, faults and sorrow, through the application of above sixteen categories of perfecting knowledge.


Nyaya Sutra (1.2.1) states that Vaada, the good or honest debate, is constituted by the following characteristics:

 1. Establishment of the thesis and refutation of the counter thesis should be based upon adequate evidence or means of knowledge (pramana) as well as upon proper reasoning (tarka). Pramana, the valid knowledge, is defined as the cognition of the objects as they actually are, free from misapprehension (tatha bhuta rtha jnanam hi pramanam uchyate); and, anything other than that is invalid A-pramana or Bhrama – the cognition of objects as they are not (atha bhuta rtha jnanam hi apramanam). Pramana stands both for the valid -knowledge, and for the instrument or the means by which such valid knowledge is obtained.

 2. The conclusion should not entail contradiction with analytical or ‘accepted doctrine’; 

3.  Each side should use the well-known five steps (syllogism) of the demonstration (Sthapana) explicitly.

 4.  They should clearly recognize a thesis to be defended and a counter thesis to be refuted. 


Nyaya Sutra (1.1.32 and 1.1.39) lays down a five-part syllogism for proper presentation of the elements of the arguments (Vaada).  It states that any valid argument must include the following five factors, as they help to establish the object of right knowledge. These five steps also combine in themselves the four means of cognition: viz., Pratyaksha (perception), Anumana (inference), Upamana (comparison) and Sabda (reliable verbal testimony):

1. Pratijna – the proposition or the enunciation of the object – that needs to be proved in the light of the approved texts (Sabda)

2. Hetu – the reason or evidence through the vehicle of inference (Anumana); it furnishes a means to prove the proposition;

3. Udaharana – the citation of examples (well recognized, universally acceptable and independently verifiable) that illustrates (Pratyaksha) the  common principle underlying the subject in question and the example  . It provides the supporting reason or evidence;

4. Upanaya – the application (validity of the example cited- Upamana) evidencing that present thesis is essentially similar to example cited.


5. Niranaya – the conclusion eliminates all plausible contrary conclusions against the proposition; and re-states the proposition or the thesis as proved and established beyond doubt – derived by bringing together all the four means of right knowledge (proposition, reason, example and application)


Pratijna is enunciation of the thesis that is sought to be proved – (e.g. Purusha is eternal). Sthapana is establishing the thesis through a process employing reason  (hetu), example (drstantha ) , application of the example( upanaya)  and  conclusion (nigamana) — (e.g. the statement – Purusha is eternal- has to be supported by valid reasoning (hetu)- because he is uncreated; by examples (drstantha) – just as the sky  (Akasha ) is uncreated and it is eternal ;  by showing similarity between the subject of the example and the subject of the thesis (Upanaya) – just as Akasha is uncreated a , so the Purusha is uncreated and eternal : finally establishing the thesis (Nigamana) –therefore Purusha is eternal.

Prativada is refuting the proposition or thesis put forth by the proponent. Thus when the proposition of the thesis Sthapana is Purusha is eternal, the   Prati-stapana, the counter proposition, would be Purusha is non-eternal; because it is perceivable by senses and the jug which is perceivable by senses is non-eternal; Purusha is like the jug; therefore Purusha is non-eternal


At the commencement of the Vaada, the Judge or the arbiter (Madhyastha) lays down rules of the Vaada. The disputants are required to honor those norms and regulations. They are also required to adhere to permissible devices; and not to breach certain agreed limits (Vada maryada). For instance; in the case of debates where the Vadin and Prati-vadin both belong to Vedic tradition it was not permissible to question the validity of the Vedas or the existence of  God and the Soul. And, any position taken during the course of Vaada should not contradict the Vedic injunctions.

In the case of the Vada where one belongs to Vedic tradition and the other to Non-Vedic traditions (say, Jaina or Bauddha) they had to abide by the rules and discipline specifically laid down by the Madyastha.

As mentioned earlier, according to Nyaya Sutra (1.2.1) Vaada comprises defense and attack (Sadhana and Upalambha). One’s own thesis is defended by means of genuine criteria of knowledge (Pramana) and the antithesis (opponent’s theory) is refuted by negative dialectics of Tarka (logic). But, when defense or attack is employed excessively, merely for the sake of scoring a win, then there is the risk of the debate degenerating into Jalpa.

It is said; Vaada and Jalpa are contrasting counterparts. In Vaada, the thesis is established by Pramana-s; and the anti-thesis is disproved by Tarka or different set of Pramana-s. Whereas in Jalpa, the main function is negation; the Pramana-s do not have much use here.  Jalpa tries to win the argument by resorting to quibbling, such as Chala, Jati and Nigrahasthana. None of these can establish the thesis directly, because their function is negation. But, indirectly , they help to disprove anti-thesis. Thus, Jalpa in general is the dialectical aid for Vada (Nyaya Sutra: 4.2.50-51

[It is said; at times, the Madhyastha might allow or overlook ‘Jalpa-like’ tactics ‘for safeguarding the interests of truth, ‘just as a fence of thorny hedges is used to protect the farms’.]

It is at this stage in the Vaada that the Madyastha might  intervene  to ensure that the participants, especially the one who is at the verge of defeat (Nigraha-sthana) do not resort to tricks such as quibbling (Chala) , false rejoinder (Jati)  etc. 

The Madyastha may even call off the Vada; and award to the candidate who in his view performed better. 

The Vada could be also treated as inconclusive (savyabhicara) and  brought to an end if there is no possibility of reaching a fair decision; or the very subject to be discussed is disputed (Viruddha); or when arguments stray away from the subject that is slated for discussion (prakarana-atita) ; or when the debate prolongs beyond a reasonable (Kalatita).

In this context, it is said the debate could be treated as concluded and one side declared defeated: a) When a proponent misunderstands his own premises and their implications; b) when the opponent cannot understand the proponent’s argument; c) when either party is confused and becomes helpless; d) when either is guilty of faulty reasoning or pseudo-reasoning (hetvabhasa); because, no one should be allowed to win using a pseudo-reason; or e) when one cannot reply within a reasonable time. 

When one party is silenced in the process, the thesis stays as proven.  Hence, in Vaada, there is no explicit ‘defeat’ as such. The sense of defeat (Nigraha-sthana) becomes apparent when there are contradictions in logical reasoning (hetvabhasa); and the debate falls silent.

And, at the end, one of the two might be proven wrong; or both could be right.  In any case, when one is convinced that the doctrine and the argument presented by the opponent are valid, he adopts it with grace. Ideally, whatever might be the outcome of a Vaada, it should be accepted; and, both – Vadin and Prati-vadin  should part their ways without rancor.

 [The most celebrated Vaada is said to be the one that took place between the young monk Sri Sankara and the distinguished Mimamsa scholar, householder, Mandana Misra.  Considering the young age of the opponent, Mandana Misra generously offered Sri Sankara the option to select the Madyastha (Judge) for the ensuing debate. Sri Sankara, who had great respect for the righteousness of Mandana Misra, chose his wife Bharathi Devi, a wise and learned person.  

During the course of the lengthy debate when Mandana Misra seemed to be nearing Nigrahasthana (clincher) Bharathi Devi raised questions about marital obligations.  Sri Sankara being a monk had, of course, no knowledge in such matters. He requested for and obtained a ‘break’ to study and to understand the issue. It is said; he returned after some time equipped with the newly acquired knowledge, renewed the Vaada and won it. Thereafter, Mandana Misra and Bharathi Devi accepted Sri Sankara as their teacher, with grace and respect.]





As per the classification made by Akshapada Gautama in his Nyaya Sutra (1.2.2), while Vaada is a ‘good’  or congenial debate ( anuloma sambasha or Sandhya sambasha), Jalpa along with Vitanda is treated as ‘bad’ or hostile  argument (Vigrahya sambasha).

Jalpa is described as debate between two rivals who are desperate to win, by fair or foul means. It is characterized as clever or tricky disputation and a quarrelsome verbal fight that is often noisy.

Unlike Vaada which is an honest debate aiming to ascertain ‘what is true’, Jalpa is an argument where each strives to impose his thesis on the other. The question of ascertaining the ‘truth’ does not arise here. Each party to the Jalap is already convinced that his thesis is true and perfect; while that of the opponent is false and totally wrong. Each is not prepared to understand and appreciate the rival argument; but, is over anxious to ensure the opponent is ‘defeated’ and is made to accept his thesis. Even while it   becomes apparent  that one might be on the verge of defeat , he will not accept the position;  instead , he will  try to  devise a strategy or  will take a ‘break’  to gather  some material or to  concoct  a fallacious argument  to evade defeat and , if possible, to prove the other wrong.

Both the Vadin and the Prati-vadin work hard to establish their thesis through direct and indirect proofs. In Jalpa, the Pramana-s, the means of valid knowledge do not have much role to play. The arguments in Jalpa relay more on negation or negative tactics, such as: discrediting the rival argument, misleading the opponent or willfully misinterpreting rival’s explanations. The main thrust of the arguments in Jalpa is not so much as to establish the thesis directly, as to disprove or refute the rival’s thesis, through circumvention.

The reason why Jalpa is labeled as tricky is that apart from traditional means of proving one’s thesis and for refuting the opponent’s thesis, the debater can use elusive and distracting devices such as: quibbling or hair-splitting (Chala); inappropriate rejoinders (Jati), and any kind of ruse that tries to outwit and disqualify the opponent (nigrahasthana),    circumvention, false generalization and showing the unfitness of the opponent to argue; without, however, establishing his own thesis.

Nyaya Sutra gives a fairly detailed treatment to the negative tactics of Jalpa. Nyaya Sutra (1.2.11-14; 5.1.1- 39; and 5.2.1-25) enumerates three kinds of quibbling (Chala); twenty-four kinds of inappropriate rejoinders (Jati); and twenty-two kinds of clinchers or censure-situations (Nigrahasthana).

It is said; such measures or tricks to outwit the opponent are allowed in Jalpa arguments, since the aim of the debate is to score a victory. However, those maneuvers are like double-edged swords; they cut both ways. Over-indulgence with such tactics is, therefore, rather dangerous.    One runs the risk of being censured, decaled unfit and treated as defeated, if the opponent catches him at his own game.


Quibbling (Chala) is basically an attempt to misinterpret the meaning of an expression (Vak-chala); or, improperly generalize its meaning (samanya-chala); or by conflation of an ordinary use of a word with its metaphorical use (upacara-chala), with a view to derange the argument.

For instance; when one says: the boy has a nava kambala (= new) blanket; the other would look horrified and exclaim:  why would a little boy need nava (=nine) blankets !

And, when one says: he is a hungry man (= purusha) , the other would generalize Man – Purusha as ‘ humans’ , and ask why are all the human beings hungry?

Similarly, term ‘mancha’ ordinarily means a cot; but, its metaphorical meaning could be platform or dais or the people sitting on it.

Improper rejoinder or futile rejoinder (Jati) is generally through falsifying the analogy given; and ridiculing it.

For instance; when one says: sound is impermanent because it is a product, such as a pot; the other would ignore the ‘impermanent’ property of the analogy (pot), but would pick up a totally un-related property of the analogy (say, the hollow space or emptiness in the pot) and say that a pot is filled with space (akasha) which is eternal, then how could you say that a pot is impermanent? And, further pot is not audible either.

Censures or the point at which the Jalpa could be force-closed (Nigrahasthana)  by pointing out that the opponent is arguing against his own thesis  ; or that he is willfully abstracting the debate; or to his inappropriate ways. 


There are also some statements that defend the Jalpa-way of arguments.

One reason adduced for allowing in the debate the diverse interpretations of the terms is said to be the flexibility that the Sanskrit language has, where compound-words can be split in ways to suit one’s argument; where words carry multiple meanings; and where varieties of contextual meanings can be read into with change in structure of phrases, sentences and context of topics.   

And, the other is that the ancient texts in Sutra format – terse, rigid and ambiguous – can be read and interpreted in any number of ways. Each interpretation can be supported by one or the other authoritative text. There is therefore, plenty of scope for legitimate disputation.

It is said; that Jalpa way of arguments is at times useful as a defensive measure to safeguard the real debate (Vada),just as the thorns and branches are used for the protection of the (tender) sprout of the seed’.

It is also said that Jalpa-tactics might come in handy to a novice or an inexperienced debater. If such a person, without adequate skills,   enters into a debate, he might not be able to come up with proper rejoinder at the right time to safeguard his thesis. In such a crisis, he may get away with such tricky debate. In any case, if the opponent is not quick witted, the (novice) debater may gain some time to think of the proper reason. Thus, he may even win the debate and the sprout of his knowledge would be protected.

However, this justification was not altogether acceptable.


The next question would be why would a debater resort to such tactics as quibbling and dishonest rejoinder?  Or why would anyone waste his time and effort in learning those tactics?

Bimal Krishna Matilal in his The Character of Logic in India explains:

‘ Uddyotakara, in the beginning of his commentary on chapter five of the Nyaya Sutra explains that it is always useful to learn about these bad tricks, for at least one should try to avoid them in one’s own debate and identify them in the opponent’s presentation in order to defeat him. Besides, when faced with sure defeat, one may use a trick, and if the opponent by chance is confused by the trick, the debater will at least have the satisfaction of creating a doubt instead of courting sure defeat.

This last point was, however, a very weak defense; and not convincing at all , as the Buddhist scholar Dharmakirti (c. 600-660) elaborately pointed out in his book on debate, Vada-nyaya.’


The crucial difference between Vada and Jalpa  appears to be that in the case of Vada the ‘truth’ is established by positive evidence; and, the invalid knowledge (A-pramana) masquerading as a good reason (that is, a hetvabhasa) is detected and eliminated. No one is really defeated and the truth is established.

In the case of Jalpa, it mainly depends on negation (which is non-committal) and on effective refutation of the proponent’s argument. There is no earnest effort to build positive irrefutable proof. And, the fear of defeat overhangs the whole proceedings.

 The scholarly opinion is that the rejection or refutation of a position may not always amount to the assertion of a counter-position. And, determination and establishment of truth depends upon positive evidence; and not merely on refutation.




In Akshapada’s Nyaya-Sutra (1.2.3), Vitanda is classified as a ’bad’ or hostile argument (Vigrahya sambasha) or wrangling. In terms of merit, it is rated inferior to Jalpa, which also employs such trickery as quibbling and illegitimate rejoinder. While Jalpa tries to argue for the success of its thesis by whatever means, Vitanda does not seriously attempt to put up any counter-thesis. That is because, its debater has no thesis of his own to put forward. In other words, the debater here tries to ensure his victory simply by refuting or demolishing the thesis put forward by the other side, by browbeating or misleading or ridiculing the opponent. The whole purpose its exercise seems to be to prove the opponent wrong and incompetent; and to humiliate him.  Vitanda is therefore termed as a destructive debate.

Vitanda is a ruthless debate, the major part of which is spent in denying the opponent’s views, in discrediting him or in quarrelling. Vaitandika, the one who adopts Vitanda style of argument, might at times pick up the opponent’s thesis (though he himself might not believe in it) and argue in its favor just to demonstrate that the opponent is not doing a ‘good job’; and rebuke him saying that his thesis might not be after all so bad, but he made it look worse by making a terrible mess of it.

Vaitandika makes it a point to disagree with the other, no matter what the other says. It is a way of saying: you are wrong, not because your statement by itself is wrong; but, it is wrong because you said it. He tries to effectively undermine the credibility of the opponent; and demonstrate to him that he is neither competent nor qualified to discuss the subtleties of the logic. Then he would shout:” go back and study for one more year at the feet of your teacher; you have done enough for today”.

What the Vaitandika says might be irrational or illogical; but, he tries to effectively silence the opponent. In such type of debates either ‘valid knowledge’ or ‘truth’ has no place.

In a Vitanda, where both the parties employ similar tactics, the debate would invariably get noisy and ugly. The Madhyastha or the Judge plays a crucial role in regulating a Vitanda. He has the hard and unenviable task of not merely controlling the two warring debaters and their noisy supporters, but also to rule on what is ‘Sadhu’ (permissible) or ‘A-sadhu’ (not permissible) and what is true (Sat) what is just a bluff (A-sat). And, when one debater repeatedly oversteps and breaches the accepted code of conduct, the Madyastha might have to disqualify him and award the debate to the other; or, he may even disqualify both the parties and scrap the event declaring it  null and void.


Vatsayana, the commentator of the Nyaya Sutra finds the Vitanda debate irrational and rather pointless. He observes that it is unfair that a debater is simply allowed to get away with irresponsible statements, particularly when he is neither putting forward a thesis nor is defending one. In fact, most of the times, he has no position of his own, but attacks rabidly whatever the other debater utters. This is a travesty and abuse of the platform.

According to Vatsayana, the format of Vitanda is totally wrong. Vatsayana insists, whatever might be the tactics adopted by Vaitandika, he must be forced to specify his stand. And, when the opponent states his thesis, the Vaitandika must be asked either to accept it or oppose it.  If he concedes, the debate is virtually over. And, if he argues against the thesis, he must argue logically, in which case he gives up his status of Vaitandika (refuter). And, if he does not choose either of the options then, his rationale should be questioned; or, the debate be brought to an end, if need be, by disqualifying him.

Vatsayana’s observations and recommendations are sound and healthy. But, sadly, they were hardly acted upon.


Sources and References:

A History of Indian Logic: Ancient, Mediaeval, and Modern Schools

By Mahamahopadyaya Satis Chandra Vidyabhusana

The Character of Logic in India Edited  by Bimal Krishna Matilal, Jonardon Ganeri, Heeraman Tiwari

The Nyâya Sûtras of Gotama by Nandalal Sinha

Hindu Philosophy  by Theos Bernard

Categories of Cognition and Proof – Shodhganga

A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1 By Surendranath Dasgupta

The Birth of Meaning in Hindu Thought  by  David B. Zilberman

History of Indian philosophy: The philosophy of the Veda and of …, Volume 1 By Erich Frauwallner


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Discussions, Debates and Arguments: Ancient India- Part One

Discussions, Debates    and Arguments:  SamvadaVaada –Jalpa and Vitanda

 Part One

 In the Indian traditions, including the Buddhist and Jain traditions, four formats of discussions, debates and arguments are described. These are named as:  Samvada, Vaada, Jalpa and Vitanda. The merit and esteem of each of these types of discussions is graded in terms of the honesty of their purpose, the quality of debate, the decorum and the mutual regard of the participants.

 Of these four forms of discussions, Samvada is regarded the noblest type of dialogue that takes place, in all earnestness, between an ardent seeker of truth and an enlightened teacher. Most of the ancient Indian texts are in this format.

While Samvada is a discourse or imparting of teaching, the other three – Vaada, Jalpa and Vitanda- are clever and structured (Tantrayukthi) debates and arguments between rivals.  

Let’s talk of  Nyaya ( well-organized logical ways of ascertaining the true nature of the objects and subjects of human knowledge ) and Samvada on one part; and, the debates/arguments on the other. 


Nyaya Sutra

As is well known, there was a long and a time-honored tradition in ancient India where philosophers and thinkers met to discuss metaphysical issues over which there were multiple views. There are detailed narrations of such discussions, debates and dialogues recorded in Chandogya Upanishad, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and Prashna Upanishad.

The other early texts such as Aitareya Brahmana , Kathopanishad  and others  use terms  like : tarka (reasoning) , Vada  (debate) ,  Yukti ( sustained  arguments) , Prameya (object of knowledge)  , Pramana ( proof), Nirnaya (ascertainment)  etc.  which later became the principal terminologies of the Nyaya School. It is also said that the idioms of inquiry (Anveshiki) dealing with the theory of reasons (Hetu-vidya or Hetu-shastra) were mentioned in Manu-samhita and Panini’s Astadhyayi.

Although intellectual debates were quite common during the Upanishad-times, and even later, there was perhaps no well laid out theory or an approved structure for conduct of various types of debates.   It is said; it was during the Sramana and the Buddhist period that debates became really very serious.

As Bimal Krishna Matilal observes (in The Character of Logic in India):

.. The intellectual climate in India was bristling with controversy and criticism. At the center of controversy were certain dominant religious and ethical issues. Nothing was too sacred for criticism. Such questions as: “Is there a soul different from body?”; “Is the world (loka) eternal?”; ”What is the meaning, goal, or purpose of life?”; and, “Is renunciation preferable to enjoyment?” etc. were of major concern.  While teachers and thinkers argued about such matters, there arose a gradual awareness of the characteristics or patterns of correct, acceptable and sound reasoning. There were    also concerns to evolve the norms to distinguish sound reasoning from pseudo-reasoning (hetvabhasa) which is unacceptable. 

The debates tended to get more passionate, animated and even noisy.  Gradually, the notions of ‘good’ and acceptable debates took shape as distinct from wrong and ugly arguments. That gave rise to the development of a branch of study dealing with theories of reasoning and logic (Hetu-vidya or Hetu shastra). It was perhaps around the fifth century BCE that manuals came to be written for conduct of proper and successful debates (Tarka vidya or Vada vidya). Such manuals included instructions and learning methods for the guidance of aspiring debaters. The earliest known text of that genre was Tantra-yukti (structured argument) compiled perhaps in the sixth-fifth century BCE to systemize debates conducted in learned councils (Parishad). 

Debates and arguments then came to be recognized both as art of logical reasoning (Tarka-vidya) and science of causes (Hetu-shastra) following the path of a well-disciplined method of inquiry (ânvikŝiki) testing scriptural knowledge by further scrutiny. 

The monks and priests belonging to various Schools and sects were imparted training in Tarka–vidya: the art and skills of conducting impressive successful debates and disputations (Sambasha or Vada vidhi) in learned assemblies (parishad). Apart from  methods of presenting arguments as per a logically structured format, the training modules included ways to stoutly defend ones thesis  by means of genuine criteria of knowledge (Pramana) and to attack the opponent’s thesis by means of indirect arguments (Tarka); estimating the strengths and weaknesses of arguments of either side; establishing one’s own points while setting aside those of the opponent. They were also trained for handling different types of challenges, such as: how to vanquish a person of blazing fame; how to behave with a senior opponent; how to handle an aggressive and troublesome opponent; and,  how to conduct oneself in prestigious Parishads  , to influence the flow of debate and to impress the judges and the onlookers  etc.

These types of debates and arguments came under the purview of Nyaya or Nyaya Shastra.


Nyaya, as a system,  is one among the six Darshanas (systems of Indian philosophy). It deals with well-organized logical ways of ascertaining the true nature of the objects and subjects of human knowledge (Pramana-Sastra).  Nyaya is also called Tarka-vidya (logic) and Vada-vidya or Vada’rtha (reasoned argument); and is included among the fourteen principal branches of learning. 

Nyaya is founded on the belief that knowledge is not self-revealing; man must make effort to gain correct knowledge and to abandon incorrect knowledge, through a systematic process. It asserts that the analytical way of Nyaya is the greatest protection to a young person whose intellect is still in the process of growth and is yet to attain equanimity. And, it is only by thorough examination of the modes and sources of correct knowledge that a thinking person can gain a clearer perspective of life. It asks each one to think for himself; and, not to tacitly accept beliefs handed down by the older generation. And, therefore, it instructs, the teachings that have come down to us through traditions must be critically examined before accepting them.

Vatsayana in his Nyāya Bhāya , Commentary on Nyaya Sutra (1.1.1) , asserts that the analytical investigation and examination (Anveshiki) of issues which bring clarity into the intellectual aspects of man’s life help him to attain freedom (moksha) from delusions and confusions in life. Nyaya which enables us to discern the true from the false is therefore regarded as Moksha-Sadhana the way to absolute freedom or liberation.


Nyaya, in particular, also denotes a method or a scheme of logic employed to prove or to disprove a proposition through proper evidence (pramana). The employment of a Nyaya would become necessary when the subject discussed was either vague or was disputed; and when the other methods of reasoning were ineffective.

The Nyaya School was essentially logistic in its orientation. It tried to examine the sources and contents of valid knowledge. It built a logical link between the subject, the knower (pramata); the means or method of obtaining knowledge (pramana) ; and the object , the knowable (prameya) . In addition, it put forth analogy (Upama) as the fourth method. Analogy, it said, comprehensively included in itself the other three methods.

[ Prof. Surendranath Dasgupta explains in A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1 (p.406):

Pramana in Sanskrit signifies the means and movement by which knowledge is acquired Pramata means the subject or the knower who cognizes, Prama –the result of pramana i.e., right knowledge, knowledge of reality or valid cognition, prameya–the object of knowledge and pramanya – the validity of knowledge acquired.  The verbal root ma of these terms derived with the prefix pra, means also to measure (apart from meaning to cognize.) Thus, what is to be measured is the prameya, and that by which to measure is pramana.]

[ In Sanskrit, the term Jnana stands for all kinds of knowledge – whether be it of truth or of falsehood. The term Prama, however, is used to designate only a true cognition (yatartha-jnana) as distinct from a false one (mithya-jnana). A Pramana is an active and a unique cause of Prama or knowledge. The Samkhya and Yoga Schools of Indian philosophy accept three means of cognition, Pramanas: Pratyakasha (direct perception) , Anumana (inference) and Sabda ( verbal testimony ). The Mimamsa School accepts six types of Pramanas: Pratyaksha, Anumana, Sabda, Upamana (analogy), Arthapatti (presumption) and Abhava (non-apprehension).  The same set of six Pramanas is also stated by Vedanta. There are, of course, variations among these Schools regarding the specific understang of each of the Pramans.

Within Vyakarana, Bhartrhari in his Maha-bhashya-tika accepts three Pramanas: Pratyasha (perception), Anumana (inference) and Agama or Sabda (scriptures). He argues that perception, at times, could be erranous because of weakness or improper functioning of sensory organs. Some even think, he says, that inference is superior to perception. But he asserts that Agama or Sabda which consists of the revealed (Sruti) or remembered (Smrti) scriptures is a strong Pramana; and, it is more dependable than inference.

According to Bhartrhari, it is not justifiable to replace scriptures (Sabda) with inference particularly in non- empirical matters. He also says that philosophical views (Vada) cannot be independent of the scriptures. He argues that inference alone, without the steadying influence of the scriptures is an inadequate means of valid knowledge. In his Vakyapadiya (1.34), it is said: ‘whatever is inferred with great effort through clever reasoning can easily be put aside  by a much more clever reasoning or argument’.

yatnenānumito+apy arthaḥ kuśalair anumātṛbhiḥ / abhiyuktatarair anyair anyathaivopapādyate -VP.1.34

The words of the Rishis convey super-sensory knowledge that cannot be set aside by inference. Thus, Bhartrhari asserts that Dharma or right conduct cannot be determined by reasoning alone, without the guidance of the scriptural traditions. Even the knowledge which the sages possess has the scriptures for its reference (Vakyapadiya: 1.30). Thus, tor true knowledge, the support of the scriptures (Sabda) is essential.

na jāgamād ṛte dharmas tarkeṇa vyavatiṣṭhate /  ṛṣīṇām api yaj jñānaṃ tad apy āgamapūrvakam – VP.1.30

 In this context, Bharthari says that the role of Vyakarana (Grammar) is very important,  as it helps  to safeguard the correct  transmission of the scriptural knowledge , and to assist the aspirant in realizing the the truth of the  revealed knowledge of  Sabda.]


The Sutra text attached to Nyaya School is the Nyaya Sutra ascribed to Akapāda Gautama (variously estimated between 6th-century BCE and 2nd-century CE). Nyaya Sutra treats mainly five subjects: Pramana (instruments or means of right knowledge); Prameya (the object of right knowledge); Vaada (debate or discussion); Avayava (the elements or steps of syllogism); and, Anya-matha-pariksha (review or examination of the doctrines of other Schools).

While discussing Vaada, Nyaya Sutra talks about sixteen padarthas  (topics or categories ) involved in the development of the debate (Vada marga);  the four reliable means of obtaining valid knowledge (pramāa) viz.:

Pratyaksha (perception), Anumana (inference), Upamana (comparison ) and Sabda (reliable testimony ); the five-part syllogism (Nyaya); the structure (vada vidhi); the ways of developing sound evidence (pramana); the logical reasoning (tarka) to support ones thesis which needs to be proved (Pratijna) and its object (nirnaya); the disciplined (anusasana) mode of presentation (vadopaya); and the exceptions (prthaka-prasthana), as also the limits or the ‘dos and don’ts’ (vada-maryada) of three formats of such debates.

Gautama’s text was followed by commentaries; the first of which being Nyāya Bhāya by Vātsyāyana (c. 450–500 CE). The commentary by Vatsayana was followed the ones by the Nyāya-vārttika of Uddyotakāra (c. 6th–7th century); Tātparya-tīkā by Vācaspati Miśra (9th century); Tātparya-pariśuddhi by Udayana (10th century); Nyāya-mañjarī by Jayanta (10th century); Nyaya-sara by Bhasarvajna (10th century); and Tatva-chintamani by Gangesa (12th  century). These commentaries further developed the Nyaya Sutra expanding upon Gautama’s work.

As per these texts, the debates and arguments are grouped under a broad head titled ‘Katha’. In Sanskrit, the term ‘Katha’, in general, translates as ‘to inform’, ‘to narrate’, ‘to address or to refer to somebody’. In the context of Nyaya Shatra, which provides the knowledge (Vako-Vakya or Vada-vidya) about the methods for presenting arguments as also the rules governing the debates, the term ‘Katha’ implies formal conversation (Sambasha) as in a debate. The conversation here is not in the casual manner as in day-to-day life. But, it is articulate, precise and well thought out utterances. Katha is described as ‘polemical conversation’, meaning that it is passionate and strongly worded , but a well balanced  argument against or in favor of somebody or something. That is why; the discussions (Vaada) are never simple. A Katha, in essence, is a reasoned and a well-structured philosophical discussion.

Vatsayana at the beginning of his commentary on Nyaya Sutra (1.2.1) mentions that Katha is classified into two kinds of debates (Dvi-vidha sambasha):  Vaada (the good-Sandhya sambasha) on one hand; and Jalpa and Vitanda (the bad- Vigrahya sambasha) on the other. Uddyotakara in his Nyāya Vārttika further explains that this threefold classification is according to the nature of the debate and  the status of the persons taking part in the debate.

The first variety ,  Vaada is an honest , peaceful  and congenial (sandhaya) debate that takes place between two persons of equal merit or standing, trying to explore the various dimensions of a subject with a view to ascertain and establish ‘what is true’.  The Vaada, at its best, is a candid friendly discussion (anuloma sambasha or sandhya sambasha) or debate in the spirit of: ’let’s sit-down and talk’.

The other two are hostile arguments (vigrhya sambasha) between rivals who desperately want to win. Thus, by implication, while the goal of a Vaada is establishment of truth or an accepted doctrine; and that of the other two hostile debates (Jalpa and Vitanda) is seeking victory.

Of the two types of hostile debates, Jalpa is described (in Nyaya Sutra 1.2.2) as a disputation or wrangling or a ’tricky’ debate between two rivals , where each is thoroughly convinced that he is absolutely right and the other (termed as the opponent – Prativadin) is hopelessly wrong. The first party to the debate is dogmatically committed to his own thesis, while the other party takes a rigid contrary position (Prati-paksha) on a given subject; and, sometimes at the cost of truth. Each is prepared to employ various deceptive or sophistic devices, such as quibbling (Chala); unreasonable (A-hetu) responses; shifting the reason or the topics ( Hetvantara or Arthantara); irrelevant rejoinders provoking the opponent to lose focus , to get perturbed and yet continue with the dispute (Jati) somehow; and , such other devices to outwit the opponent.

Unlike in Vaada, the purpose of Jalpa is not so much as to ascertain the truth, as to establish one’s own position or thesis, and to prove the opponent wrong; and, make him accept defeat. What is at stake here is the ‘prestige and honor’ of one’s School (Matha). And, therefore, each will try to win the debate by fair or foul means.   And, when one senses that he might be losing the argument (nigrahasthāna), he will try to invent every sort of face-saving device or ruse to wriggle out of a bad situation that is quickly turning worse. Jalpa, predictably, could be noisy and unpleasant.

And, Vitanda is the worst type of argument or squabbling descending to the level of quarrel and trickery. It is  described as a destructive type of argument; the sole aim of each party being not only to inflict defeat on the opponent but also to demolish and humiliate him . The Vaitandika , the debater who employs Vitanda, is basically a refuter; he relentlessly goes on refuting whatever  the proponent says. He has no thesis of his  own – either to put forward or to defend.  Sometimes he might pick up a thesis  just for argument’s sake, even though he may have no faith in the truth of his own argument. The aggressive Vaitandika goes on picking holes in the rival’s arguments  and destabilises his position , without any attempt to offer an alternate thesis. Both the participants in a Vitanda are prepared to resort to mean tactics in order to mislead, browbeat the opponent by fallacies (hetv-abhasa); by attacking the opponents statement by willful misrepresentation (Chala) ; ill-timed rejoinders (Atita-kala) and, make the opponent ‘bite the dust’. It is virtually akin to a ‘no-holds-barred’ sort of street fight. The ethereal values such as: truth, honesty, mutual respect and such others are conspicuously absent here.

It is said; in the case of Jalpa the contending parties have a position of their own, fight hard to defend it, and aim to make the rival accept it, by whatever means.  However, in the Vitanda, the disputant has neither a position of his own nor is he trying to defend any specific thesis.  He is merely trying to derange and humiliate the other party to the debate. Vatsayana in his Nyaya-sutra Bhashya calls one who resorts to Vitanda (Vaitandika) as self-destructive.

Even in the case of Jalpa and Vitanda, the disputants had to agree, beforehand, to certain rules, norms and devices, so that the defeat could be forced by the judge (Madyastha) on one or the other party.

A debate with the mere aim of win or humiliation of the other is looked down. Therefore, Jalpa and Vitanda are deemed contrary to the overall aim of the Nyaya Shastra which is oriented towards determination of the true nature of objects.

[The skills in waging debates and arguments (Vada-vidya) of the Jalpa and Vitanda might have been relevant during the medieval times when the inter–religious or intra-religious debates (Shastrartha) were held among the rival traditions (Sampradaya) or sects, each trying hard to prove the superiority of its Matha (thesis or sect) over the others. In the present context, such beliefs and arguments have become obsolete in India, though their techniques are very well preserved and practiced in Tibetan Buddhist debates.

Having said that , the syllogism, logical structure and methods of presenting reasoned arguments as described in the ancient texts  are still of great interest. Its methodology based on a system of logic is the same for us today in our lecture halls and programming desks as it was for the medieval scholars.]

 Let’s look at each of these types of discussions and arguments in a little more detail. 

lotus design


Samvada is a dialogue that takes between the teacher and the taught in all earnestness.  The one who approaches the teacher could be a disciple; student; friend (as in Krishna-Arjuna or Krishna-Uddhava) ; son ( as in Shiva-Skanda or Uddalaka-Swetaketu); or spouse (as in Shiva-Prvathi or Yajnavalkya-Maitreyi);   or anyone else seeking knowledge (as in Nachiketa -Yama or the six persons who approach Sage Pippalada in Prashna Upanishad). What characterizes the Samvada in such cases is the sincerity and eagerness of the learner; the humility in his/her approach; and the absolute trust in the teacher.  The wise teacher , in turn , gracefully imparts instructions out of enormous love for the ardent seeker of truth.

Samvada is thus a dialogue that teaches, imparts instructions or passes on knowledge. 

The bulk of the Upanishad teachings have come down to us in the form of Samvada, which took place in varieties of contexts. Apart from intimate sessions where an illumined teacher imparts instructions to an aspirant , there are instances of varied kind, say, as when : a wife is curious  to learn from her husband  the secrets of immortality; a teenage boy approaches Death itself to learn the truth of life and death; a king seeks instruction from an recluse sage who speaks from his experience ; Brahmans advanced in age and wisdom sit at the feet of a Kshatriya prince seeking instructions as also inspiration ; and , when sometimes the sages are women who are approached by kings .There are other sorts of dialogues , say, when Jabala is taught by bulls and birds (Ch. Up 4.4-9) , Upakosala by the sacred fires (Ch. Up. 4.10-15), and Baka is by a dog (Ch. Up 1.12). 

Nothing in the Upanishads is more vital than the relationship between a student and his guide. The teacher talks, out his experience, about his ideas of the nature of the world, of truth etc. or about particular array of phenomena visualized through mental images that stay etched in memory. 

An Upanishad-teacher ignites in the heart of the boy a spark that sets ablaze his desire to learn and to know the central principles which make sense of the world we live in. The guide inflames the sense of challenge, the urge to reach beyond the boy’s grasp and to know the unknown. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad calls upon :

‘You are what your deep, driving desire is; as your desire is, so is your will (sa yathā-kāmo bhavati tat-kratur-bhavati); as your will is, so is your deed (yat-kratur-bhavati tat-karma kurute) ; as your deed is, so is your destiny (yat-karma kurute tad-abhi-sapadyate”- (Brhu. Up. 4.4.5).

In the end, all achievement is fuelled by burning desire. 

The Bhagavad-Gita suggests that an ardent seeker of truth should approach a learned teacher in humility and seek instructions from him; question him repeatedly: 

Tad viddhi pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya I Upadeksyanti te jnanam jnaninas tattva-darsinah II (B G.; Ch.4; verse 34) 

The student questions the teacher not because he doubts (samshaya) the wisdom or the understanding of the teacher; nor is he / she questioning the authenticity of the teaching . The questions are asked with open mind and guileless heart; and, are meant to clear doubts, and to gain a flawless understanding of the teaching.

The teacher is neither annoyed nor does he discourage the student from asking questions.  On the other hand, he encourages the learner to examine, enquire and test the teaching handed down to him.  A true teacher, in a Samvada does not prescribe or proscribe. He lets the student the freedom to think, to ponder over and to find out for himself the answers to his questions. A student needs humility, persistence, and honesty of purpose to go further and to arrive at his own understanding. 

The Buddha, the best of the teachers, also adopted a similar approach. He insisted that his followers should not try borrowing ideas or experiences from him; but they should arrive at their own.  In the first sermon he delivered (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta ) in the Deer-park (Miga-daya) at Isipatana (Saranath), soon after attaining enlightenment, he asked his listeners:

O monks and wise men, do not accept my Dharma merely out of respect for me, but analyze and test it the way a goldsmith examines a pieces of gold by  burning , cutting and rubbing it on a touchstone.(please  see the note below)

A teaching would not be true, valid or trustworthy merely because it was uttered by an eminent person of great renown. It would be so only in case it is thoroughly tested, clearly understood and truthfully brought into one’s own experience.  

The Buddha guides the aspirant on the path that leads to right-understanding. But he disclaims any personal authority; and asks the follower to work it out himself. The follower when he succeeds in attaining the enlightenment will not become a second Buddha or a replica of the Buddha. In the final analysis, both the Buddha and his follower free themselves from the bonds of samsara; yet, each retains his individuality.


[ This often quoted analogy of testing a piece of gold  appears in many texts ; such as :  Jnanasara-samuccaya (31) a Sanskrit text of a later period (perhaps a translation of the Tibetan text – sTug-po bkod-pa’i mdo ) ; in  Nyāya-bindu-pūrvapakṣa-saṃkṣipti, a commentary on Dharmakīrti’s, Nyāyabindu (1.18–1.21) and also  in Śāntarakṣita’s Tattva-saṁgraha (verse 3588) .

It reads in Sanskrit as :

Tāpāc chedāc ca nikasat svarnam iva panditaih / Parikshya blikshavo grāhyam madvaco na tu gauravāt

However, the kalama Sutta appearing in Aṅguttara Nikaya (III.653) , which is a part of Tipitaka, merely lays down the principle of taking an objective view after a thorough examination (charter of free inquiry ):

“Come, O Kālāmas, Do not accept anything thinking that thus have we heard it from a long time (anussava). Do not accept anything thinking that it has thus been handed down through many generations (paramparā). Do not accept anything on account of rumours (itikirā). Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures (piṭaka-sampadāna). Do not accept anything by mere surmise (takka-hetu); nor upon an axiom (naya-hetu). Do not accept anything by mere inference (ākāra-parivitakka). Do not accept anything by merely upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over (diṭṭhi-nijjhān-akkh-antiyā). Do not accept anything by coming under another’s seems ability (bhabba-rūpatāya). Do not accept anything merely because the monk-teacher says so (samaṇo no garū). Do not accept anything thinking that the ascetic is respected by us (and therefore it is right to accept his word.)

“Kalamas, when you know for yourselves —these things are immoral, these things are blameworthy, these things are censured by the wise, these things when performed and undertaken, conduce to ruin and sorrow – then indeed you do  reject them.

“But Kalamas, when you know for yourselves –  these things are good; these things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise; these things when undertaken and observed, lead to well-being and happiness- enter upon and abide in them. ]



Continued in Part Two

..Vada, Jalpa and Vitanda

Sources and References:

A History of Indian Logic: Ancient, Mediaeval, and Modern Schools By Mahamahopadyaya Satis Chandra Vidyabhusana

The Character of Logic in IndiaEdited by Bimal Krishna Matilal, Jonardon Ganeri, Heeraman Tiwari

The Nyâya Sûtras of Gotama by Nandalal SinhaH

indu Philosophy by Theos Bernard

Categories of Cognition and Proof – Shodhganga

A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1 By  Prof.Surendranath Dasgupta

The Birth of Meaning in Hindu Thought by David B. Zilberman

History of Indian philosophy: The philosophy of the Veda and of …, Volume 1By Erich Frauwallner


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Materialism of the Charvaka and rationalism of the Buddha

A.  Intro

1.1. Rationalism is generally understood as that “where reason has precedence over other means of acquiring knowledge”. Materialism, in its simplest form, is the belief   that all that exists is physical; there is no higher reality independent of the physical world. The two concepts are in proximity; and, one could easily be mistaken for the other. The distinction between the two is delicate; and it also depends on what we mean by the term ‘material’. Let’s say; in case material is taken to signify anything that interacts with the observable world in a predictable way, allowing us to rationalize and predict its behavior, then, in such a case, photons (not considered ‘material’) are certainly a part of the material world. In the same vein; Science is the study of matter; yet science, in its normal mode, is only remotely material.

1.2. But, in case the scope of rationalism is restricted merely to what is directly experienced by human senses, then, it would no longer remain ‘rationalism’, because the essential element of reason is not present.    There appears to be a mistaken notion that denying everything that is not seen is’ rationalism’; and it is ‘scientific’. But, the scientific approach, as I understand, is, basically, free-thinking .It is not about taking a static position; but, is about giving a chance to reason and to shades of opinions. I, therefore, reckon, to equate science with the descriptions of a particular mode is fundamentally incorrect. It would do well not to lose sight of the uncomfortable fact that ‘…a scientific theory is one which can in principle be falsified’. Our Teacher summed it up well when he said, ‘clinging to ideas is an obstruction to right –understanding; the best of states for right- understanding is non-attachment; and let-go all attachments, even the attachment to ideas and concepts’ (Dhammapada).

1.3. Quite often we find that even rational knowledge cannot answer all the questions in every field of life and   in every sphere of human experience. In fact, critical questions on life cannot be solved through the rational knowledge that we possess. That might be because the knowledge we possess, in its present state, is rather inadequate to explain the integrated nature or the totality of a human individual in his world. Therefore, whenever a new challenge confronts us , springing forth from an unknown source, the ‘ scientific ‘ way of dealing with it would be to understand the structure or the style in which the new concepts are built,   by applying ‘scientific’ methods, as we know it . But, just disowning, altogether, the yet-unknown would surely lead us nowhere.

2.1. It is in that context that I tend to regard the life-sciences and innovative fields of research, such as Genopsych that Shri DMR Sekhar is attempting to explore, as the more enterprising frontiers of science and mankind. They strive to understand the manipulation of certain entities in order to understand the manipulation of certain others. Many of the properties they deal with are interrelated, each holding the key to the other; and, yet, it is   dreadfully difficult to bind them into any theory that makes sense . And at times the traditional view of science based on representative studies might just not work here.

B. Unorthodox   views in orthodox texts

3.1. The schools of rationalism as also of materialism are very ancient in the history of Indian thought.  In every age there have been sceptics, agnostics and atheists, though technically not labelled as such. A streak of atheism had always been there in Vedic texts as also in pre-Vedic traditions such as the Vratyas.

The sceptical or agnostic attitudes can be noticed even in the traditional texts. For instance, Rishi Dirghatamas exclaims in an agnostic vein: “What thing I truly am I know not clearly: mysterious, fettered” (Rig Veda: 8.89.3). Again , hymn 10.129 of Rig Veda speculates  whether the sun shining in the heavens was not a later development in the process of evolution; and  wonders whether the sun himself knows the genesis of the cosmos ( veda yadi vaa na veda)..!! Kathopanishad too doubts about the possibilities of future existence of man .Similarly, the passages in Kenopanishad have a ring of scepticism.

The other ancient traditions: Samkhya, Lokayata, Charvaka and Sramanas et al, all based in the Eastern part of India,   rejected the idea of a god; stated that universe was run by its natural laws and not by a god; viewed universe as a system (not an entity) propelled by conditioned causes and effects; rejected authority of texts; appealed only to ones experience; and, all of them aimed to remove human suffering. Among the Sramanas the wandering monks there were, according to Dr. Benimadhab Barua, famed debaters who were “clever, subtle, and experienced in projecting controversies, hair-splitters who ruthlessly splintered into pieces the arguments of their adversaries”.

The discussions on related subjects find place in traditional texts such as Upanishads, Mahabharata and other ancient texts. For instance, Svetasvatara Upanishad mentions about six types of heretical views. The better known among these are the two streams of explanations: One, the Yadrccha-vada (everything is by accident or chance) or Animitta-vada (there is no agent causing creation); and the other, Svabhava-vada (the world is run by its inherent nature or by its own natural laws).


3.2. The former (Yadrccha-vada), sports a rather dismissive view. It states; what we call creation came about by sheer accident or by chance (Yadrccha); there is neither reason nor rhyme in this world; it is all chaos. It is the chance that governs the world.   Whatever order you happen to see in the world is purely by chance.  Surely there is no design here; and, do not go looking for one. It is futile to craft other explanations;   or to search for a cause to the world – be it either natural or supernatural- because there is no cause as such (a-nimitta).


3.3. The latter, (the Svabhava-vada) too rules out the role of super-natural in the process of creation or in maintenance of the world order. It argues (in contrast to Yadrccha-vada) that the world in which we all live is not a lawless world; the order in the world is run by its own inherent laws. The world determines its own mode of origin, patterns of growth and maintenance according to its inherent laws. Svabhava-vada recognizes the need for governance of the world. But, at the same time, Svabhava-vada, just as the Yadrccha-vada, dismisses the need for an external agency or a supernatural being – a god or a creator –either to create, control or maintain the world. Both doctrines deny a soul that takes re-birth: ‘death is the end of all beings’.

3.4.  Of the two, Svabhava-vada is regarded more positive; and is believed to have derived its inspiration from the Samkhya ideology. It is interesting to see in the older texts, the orthodox (aastika*) and the heterodox (nastika*) existing side by side. Prof. Hiriyanna in his ‘Outline of Indian philosophy’ remarks “this alliance of a heretical doctrine with orthodoxy gave rise to a new stream of tradition in ancient India which can be described as neither quite orthodox nor as quite heterodox. The old heterodoxy, like the old orthodoxy, continued to develop on its own lines. That may be represented as the ‘extreme left/ while the new became a middling doctrine with leanings more towards orthodoxy than towards heterodoxy”.

3.5. The Svabhava-vada in turn inspired emergence of materialistic school of thought: Lokayata-darsana or Charvaka-darsana or Brahaspatya (of the followers of Brihaspathi, the teacher).   This school too is ancient; and its views are mentioned   in the older texts and in Mahabharata.

[** Note: some explanation about the terms astika and nastika appears necessary here.

In the ordinary sense, astika and nastika are translated into English as: theism and atheism.

In the older texts, astika does not mean theistic; nor does nastika mean atheistic. Panini (a grammarian of 5th century BCE) explains astika as term that denotes one who believes in the ‘other-world’ (asti paralokah). And, nastika, accordingly,is one who does not believe in the existence of the ‘other – world ‘.

The other explanations of the terms that were commonly meant in the ancient contexts were: astika is one who accepts the authority of Vedas; and, nastika is one who rejects the authority of Vedas.

And, interestingly, among the astika (who accepted Vedas) not all of them were theists. And, even in case they outwardly accepted a god, they did not assign, in their scheme of things, much importance to the concept of God .For instance; the Samkhya system does not involve a faith in existence of God. Yoga, which largely follows Samkhya theories, made room for a God, perhaps, to round-off its argument. As regards, the Nyaya and Vasheshika schools, the God in their system, do not create the Universe, its building-blocks (atoms) or the individual souls.  Yet, all these schools are classified under the orthodox astika systems (darshanas).

But, what is surprising is that Purva–Mimamsa championed by Jaimini (which is also grouped under the orthodox philosophical systems of Indian philosophy) gives much importance to conduct of Vedic rituals; but, somehow, side-steps the question of the existence of God.

The Advaita Vedanta of Sri Sankara does, of course, reject atheism; and, asserts that the whole of existence originated from the conscious, spiritual being called Ishvara. Yet, in the ultimate analysis, Ishvara is but a relative (qualified) concept as compared to Absolute Reality that is Brahman.

 ( David B. Zilberman (May 25, 1938 – July 25, 1977) an unusual sort of philosopher gifted with amazingly sharp analytical skills, who (sadly died very young) wrote not merely about Indian philosophies but also about ‘the methodology of how they are to be studied’, in his ‘The Birth of Meaning in Hindu Thought’ (page 4), said: It is a mistake to believe that typical Hindu philosophies are bound to what is called as ‘religion’ and ‘theology’ in the West. ..This must sound quite daring and contrary to the prevailing   opinion which considers Indian philosophy religious through and through. But, Indian speculative thought is not  strictly speaking a kind of religious philosophy , perhaps, not even a religious philosophy at all… I do not mean that Indian philosophers are for most not  religious at all – they certainly are. The point is, their philosophical work and their personal religious devotion  are not interlocked by necessity.)

It was the later schools of non – Advaita – Vedanta (Vaishnava, Shaiva, Shaktha and others) that strongly projected the theistic conception of a Supreme God who pervades, creates and protects, and who is the ultimate refuge of all souls. At the centre of these systems is a personal god who answers the devotees’ prayers. The heart of their faith is in devotion (bhakthi)and the sense of absolute surrender (prapatthi) to a personified god dearest to one’s heart (ishta-devata). It is this theistic system that dominates what is now called Hinduism as it is  practised today.]

 [ Dakshinaranjan Shastri, in his A Short History of Indian Materialism, Sensationalism and Hedonism, (Calcutta: Book-land Private LTD, 1930) writes that Indian materialism has passed through four logical stages of development.

In its first stage it was a mere tendency to oppose the established beliefs/faiths. It questioned the then accepted methods of cognition – immediate as well as inference. It denied the authority of the Vedas. In that period, its name was Barhaspatya.

In Its second stage, it was known as Svabhava-vada, which essentially was the recognition of perception as a source of knowledge; and, the acceptance of the theory that identified the body with the soul. In that stage, it took the form of a system of philosophy; however low was its position. The prominent materialist- philosophers of that stage were Ajita Kes’a-kambalin, Kambalas’vatara and Purana Kashyapa. In that stage, it came to be known as Lokayata.

Its third stage was marked by an extreme form of hedonism, which was due, perhaps, to the corrupted free- thought – social, religious and political. Gross sensual pleasure took precedence over philosophical contemplation.  At this stage it was called Charuvaka, which preached – ‘Eat, Drink and be Merry, for, to-morrow we may die’. This extreme form of licentiousness was appalling; and, the Charuvaka lost its acceptance among the general people. And that   led to sapping away the very vitality of this school. . The literature of this school is now entirely lost, except what has reached us through fragments quoted by the rival Schools.

From then on the Charuvaka form of materialism leaned towards moderation in its stand. It even began to accept inference and probability as the sources of true knowledge. Philosophers, like Purandara, were the advocates of this form of materialism.

In its fourth stage, the materialists aligned with the Buddhists and the Jains in opposing the  Vedas and Vedic practices.  They all shared the common designation Nastika- the  one who condemns the Vedas – Nastiko Veda-nindakah.]


C. The Charvaka

4.1. The School of Charvaka (those of sweet-talk) or Lokayata (those of the world) pre-dates the Buddha and Mahavira; and has a history of nearly about three thousand years. Thus, the various schools of materialism or rationalism which denied a surviving soul and refused to believe in its transmigration existed in ancient India even prior to the times of the Buddha. The Charvaka was prominent among the materialist schools of the sixth century BCE. The influence of this heterodox doctrine is seen in other spheres of Indian thought.

4.2. It has been argued  that Charvaka far from being anti-Vedic, were originally a  Brahmanical  school of thought, but one that denied life after death.  They denied ‘another world’ (para loka). In doing so, they came into conflict with the Buddhist, the Jainas and also, of course, with most other Brahmanical schools, all of which had accepted the belief in rebirth and karmic retribution; and, therefore in ‘another world’.  It was perhaps only the ritualistic Mimamsa School that dragged its feet. Sabara Bhashya, one of the earliest commentaries on the Mimamsa Sutra, ignores the issues concerning rebirth and karmic retribution altogether. It even avoids issues concerning heaven, presumably a place where sacrificers end up after death, by denying existence of such a place. In fact, Kumarila Bhatta, a commentator of the Sabara bhashya, who lived a few centuries later ( say 7-8th century) , complains that Mimamsa  was on its way to become indistinguishable from Lokayata.

4.3. Sabara’s Bhashya on Mimamsa Sutra   contains a lengthy   passage that is commonly known as Vrttikara-grantha, attributed to an unknown author referred to as Vrttikara. The view of the Vrttikara (identified as that of a Charvaka) , presented here as the opposing view (purva paksha) argues against the existence of a soul. It avers that use of the words such as: ‘self’ (atman), and ‘I’ (aham) does not in any manner prove existence of an enduring soul. Similarly, is the position with regard to statements such as:  ‘he knows ‘(janati)    or ‘I saw’. The Charvakas  did not only  denied  the existence of the soul,  they also denied life after death.

The texts

4.4. The texts of the Charvaka Darshana are lost to us. The doctrines and beliefs of that School have come down to us mainly in the form of references made in the texts of the rival schools for the purpose of rebuttal (as purva-paksha, meaning the stand of the opponent).The Sarva-darshanasamgraha, a   fourteen century text (written by Sri Madhava Acharya who became Sri Vidyaranya, the Acharya of Sri Sringeri Mutt, around 1331 AD ),  contains a chapter on Charvaka. But, it is brief and adds little to what could be gathered from other sources. The purpose of The Sarva-darfanasamgraha, was to review the sixteen philosophical systems that were current in the fourteenth century in the South of India, and to present them from the Vedanta point of view. And, therefore Prof Hiriyanna opines that “in all probability it exaggerates the weak points of the Charvaka doctrine; and might even misrepresent its tenets”.

4.5. The only surviving treatise of the Charvaka School is the Tattvopaplava-simha (‘The Upsetting of All Principles) by Jayarasi Bhatta (6th Century CE).But, its treatment of the subject is said to be rather disappointing.


5.1. The term pramana signifies the essential means of arriving at valid knowledge or prama; while the object known is described as prameya; and the knower as pramata. Broadly, the pramanas are three: pratyaksa (direct perception), anumana (inference) and sabda (verbal testimony). The value of the first two of these as pramanas is well recognized by most schools. But the third (tradition or verbal statements), is often treated with suspicion or disdain. The Vedanta of Sri Sankara   introduced insight or intuition as the additional means of cognition. He decaled that intuition, the ability to see the underlying reasons behind everything, is not opposed to intellect. Since then, the   Indian schools of thought are usually classified under three heads: (i) those that recognize only perception and inference, (ii) those that recognize intuition in addition, and (iii) those that substitute revelation for intuition.

5.2. Charvaka accepted the direct perception (pratyaksa-pramana) through the sense organs as the only means of valid knowledge; and as the only type of knowledge that could be verified by all others (prathyaksha – mevaikam pramanam; indriya-jnanamjnanam pratyaksham): “Regard only that which is an object of direct perception, and cast behind your back whatever is beyond the reach of your senses “

5.3. It, however, totally rejected verbal testimony, tradition or texts; calling it mere hearsay. Charvaka was severe on Vedas, and particularly on the Mimamsa, which it threw out with contempt and ridicule: “Veda is tainted by the three faults of untruth, self-contradiction, and tautology. Then again, the impostors who call themselves Vedic scholars are mutually destructive; as the authority of the jnana kanda is overthrown by those who maintain that of the karma-kanda, while those who maintain the authority of the jnana-kanda reject that of the karma-kanda; and lastly, the three Vedas themselves are only the incoherent rhapsodies of knaves, and to this effect runs the popular saying: these are but means of livelihood for those who have neither manliness nor sense.”

5.4. As regards inference (anumana), the Charvaka adopted a rather selective approach. It was prepared to exercise inference in matters that were in the realm of the physical world and that were already in the common knowledge. This type of inference was termed Utpanna pratiti (that which is experienced). For instance, in the case of smoke being the evidence of fire, the Charvaka pointed out that the properties of both factors are in common knowledge; everyone knows the relation (vyapti) that smoke (hetu) has with fire (sadhya); and therefore we have no difficulty in exercising anumana, inference, in such cases.

In other cases where the equation involved unknown quantities about which reliable prior knowledge did not exist, the Charvaka refused to accept inference as the means of valid knowledge. This type of inference was termed Utpadya pratiti (that which is yet to be experienced). For instance, when it came to discussion on the reality of issues such as the soul or the other worlds or the god , the Charvaka questioned whether anyone has had direct perception or experience of these; does anyone has reliable knowledge of the nature of these so that their reality could be verified objectively . In the absence of such reliable means of knowledge (pramana), the Charvaka said, we cannot accept either the soul or the god or even the other world as real. In other words, how could we establish a relation when the factors on either side of the equation happen to be unknown quantities? :” since in the case of such inference we would require another inference to establish it, and so on, and hence would arise the fallacy of an ad infinitum retrogression“.

The idea of a soul

6.1. Since the Charvaka admitted only the immediate evidence of the senses, it accepted only four elements (bhutas) – earth, water, fire, air; and denied the fifth the akasha, space .It also refused to accept the idea of a soul or an atman as a surviving entity, for the reason their existence cannot be perceived.

6.2. The Charvaka said there is no soul apart from the body (tam Jivam tam sariram), which is composed of the four elements (bhuta). The body is material; consciousness is a by-product of material (bhutebyah – chaitanyaha); and, consciousness is a property of the body. There is no evidence for any soul distinct from the body. The soul is not different from the body distinguished by the attribute of consciousness.


7.1. In an argument titled ‘ bhuta – caitanya – vada ’ the Charvaka argued that soul or consciousness is just a concoction of the physical elements of the body; and it perishes when the body withers away or when body is no longer supportive. They put forward the analogy of intoxication produced by the liquor .They said; liquor is produced by combination of various ingredients; but, each of which, by itself, does not possess the property of inducing intoxication. Even  the liquor , by it self , does not intoxicate ; they argued : one does not get intoxicated by pouring a jug of liquor over one’s head .  It is only when all those ingredients  that go to produce liquor  are mixed in a judicious proportion; and they  together  come  in contact with the relevant body cells,  it produces feelings of happiness, delusion or intoxication. Thus, consciousness, pleasure pain etc.. are mere body functions; a set of feelings; and is not part of body as such.

7.2. In addition, the Charvaka put forward the following arguments for not accepting consciousness as a part o f body:

(i). If consciousness is a property of the body, it should then be essential to it; and, in which case it should never be separate from the body. But, it is not always so; for, in a swoon or in a dreamless sleep the body is ‘un-conscious’.

(ii). In case consciousness is incidental or accidental, it indicates that another agency is at work producing consciousness; and it uses the body. And, therefore consciousness cannot be ascribed to the body.

(iii). Let’s say a person experiences a dream in which he was a tiger. On waking up he says ‘yes, I had a dream”; but, he does not continue to behave as if he were a tiger. The Charvaka argue that the person owns the dream, but not the dream-body (tiger). If the dream is a property of the body, then, one should be tiger in dream  as also in real life ,  after the dream. Consciousness, they argued, just as the dream, is a fantasy created by the body cells and is  related with the body-function. Body merely provides a stage for the play called dream. But, that play (consciousness) is not part of the body.

(iv). In case one argues that consciousness is truly a part of the body, they said, the outsiders who come into contact with that body should be able to experience its consciousness. The outsider sees the body complexion, size etc but remains ignorant of the other person’s person’s thoughts, feelings, dreams and memories .Charvaka gave the analogy of a philosopher’s experience of his toothache; and said that ache is perceived differently by the patient and by  the dentist who treats toothache. The two persons have different perceptions of the same ache or sensation. The argument elaborately suggests that consciousness is not a property of the physical body, but of something else which only finds its expression in the body. It is not ultimate or independent (Refer back to the analogy of liquor).

No need for a god

8.1. As said earlier, the Charvaka did not find the need for a God; and, said- savabhavam jagathah kaaranam aahu – the evolution is caused by natural laws (svabhava – inherent nature); and there is no need to look for a cause beyond nature (nimtta-tara-nirapeksha). The question they posed was why is it necessary to assume a super–natural cause, over and above the natural laws, merely to explain changes and modifications that take place in nature following their own accord? For instance, they pointed out that milk flows from the udders of the mother cow naturally (svabhavena eva) to nourish its infant; the grass, herbs, water etc in turn transform themselves into milk (nimitta antara nirapeksa )according to their own natural laws  and that of the cow (svabhavat eva) . Why do you bring in a god here? Neither God nor any other explanation is needed. Na parameshwara asti kaschith – Surely, there is no god.

8.2. They also denied the concept of god as the creator. They said; God as a creator is only an assumption; and a bad assumption.   They argued that if the creation came about because of the desire of the creator, he must then be wanting and inadequate in several aspects. “How could anyone be a god if his deficiencies are indeed  countless?”

8.3. It is said; that Brhaspathya or Charvaka adopted the svabhava-vada, perhaps at its later stage, to lend itself a metaphysical framework. Else, it would have been difficult for Charvaka to explain their stand on creation and governance of the world, in absence of a ‘god’.

Suffering in life

9.1. The Charvaka took an interesting position on pain or suffering in life. They admitted that pain is a fact of life. But, remarked “so be it; yes, there surely is pain; but, what is more important is, there is pleasure too in life; and that is what matters. Go after pleasure. And, in case that pursuit involves pain, takes that as a part of the process”.

9.2. They explained; there may be pain in life; but that is no good reason to deny ourselves the pleasure. Nobody casts away the grain because of the husk: “ The berries of paddy, rich with the finest white grains, What man, seeking his true interest, would fling away because covered with husk and dust…!!

9.3. The Charvaka did not try to secure freedom from pain; but strived to manage with it. It said; every man must make the best of a bad bargain and ‘enjoy himself as long as he lives- “While life is yours, live joyously; none can escape Death’s searching eye: When once this frame of ours they burn, how shall it ever again return?”

Pleasure in life

10.1. The elimination of human misery and the attainment of happiness was the declared goal of almost all the systems of Indian philosophy. All the ancient philosophers agreed that there was no happiness in the existing society torn by greed, egoism and cruelty. But, they heatedly argued and emphatically differed on the nature of happiness; and, on the means to attain it.

In the Charvaka scheme of things, the pleasure in itself and for itself is the only good thing in life (sukha-vada). Pleasure took precedence over every other priorities of life. “The wise man should squeeze the maximum pleasure out of life. He should not let go a present pleasure in the hope of a future gain”.

 The well-known verse attributed to Chárvákas is: ‘-

Yaváj jivam sukham jived runam krtva ghrtam pibet / bhasmibhutasya dehasya punar agamanam kutah? II

(While he is alive, let a man live happily; let him feed on ghee even if he has to borrow. How could  a body burnt to ashes ever come back?)

10.2. Furthermore, it rejected a utilitarian approach to pleasure.  The Charvaka seemed to suggest that an individual had no obligation to promote the welfare of society. Nothing is recognized by this school as a duty. And, anything done for sake of pleasure is justified.

10.3. The Charvaka, predictably, chose Artha and Kama (pursuit of pleasure and wealth) as the major goals. It said, Dharma would become significant only in case it is interpreted in context of the physical world. As regards Moksha, it remarked that death is the only liberation- Maranam eva moksha ha.

Other concepts

11.1. As the Charvaka dismissed belief in a supernatural or transcendental being; it also did away with everything that constitutes subject-matter of religion. Charvaka denied: existence of after-life, rebirth (na- punarjanmaha), liberation (na- moksha ha), heaven, hell, soul or gods or goddess. Because,  those are not amenable to sense perception.

11.2. Charvaka believed that the material Universe did exist.  World is matter (butatmakam jagath). The matter consisted of four elements: earth, water, energy and air. The creation of life is a specific process of nature and it evolved out of the composite composition of four elements. With death everything ends.

11.3. The Charvaka did not deny the difference between the dead and the living; and they recognized both the states as realities. A person lives, the same person dies: that is a perceived fact, and hence it is the only provable, fact.

“Hence it follows: There is no heaven, no final liberation, nor any soul in another world; there is no other hell than mundane pain produced by purely mundane causes, as thorn, etc; the fate does not exist; the only Supreme is the earthly monarch whose existence is proved by all the world’s eyesight; and the only Liberation is the dissolution of the body”.

Attack on Mimamsakas

12.1. The Materialism of the Charvaka stood out because of the theism of the Vedic religion and the moral teachings of the Buddha and Mahavira. But, it was basically anti-Vedic and opposing its scriptural authority. Charvaka were particularly ruthless against the Mimamsa School. They went after Mimamsa with vehemence. They ridiculed and lampooned almost every doctrine of the Mimamsakas: their epistemology, metaphysics, beliefs and way of life.

:- If a beast slain in the Jyotishtoma rite wills itself go to heaven, why then does not the sacrificer forthwith offer his own father?

:-If the Shraddha produces gratification to beings who are dead and are in other world, Then, in that case why do the travellers have to carry lunch – bags when the set out on long travel? Those at home can very well feed the distant travellers just in the way they feed their dead.

:-Whoever has heard that feeding one body would quench the hunger of another? All these ceremonies for the dead are   but   a means of livelihood that priests have set up here.

:-When once the body becomes ashes, how can it ever return again? If he who departs from the body goes to another world, how is it that he comes not back again, restless for love of his kindred?


:- All the obscene rites  for the queen commanded in the Aswarnedha, were invented by clowns s, and for all the various kinds of gifts to the priests.

12.2.   “Hence in kindness to the mass of living beings must fly for refuge to the doctrine of Charvaka”.

There were various schools of materialism in ancient India. They all shared certain beliefs; such as: the intense faith in this-worldliness; denial of  all religious and moral values; denial of any god or any supernatural power; denial of the independent existence of consciousness or soul and of a life after death.  They all vehemently opposed the theories of karma which assigned happiness or misery according to the merits or demerits acquired in previous births; the notion of moksa; and the transmigration of the soul. They strongly condemned Vedic scarifies and offerings. There was an intense desire to enjoy the pleasures of life.  They all seemed to be fired by a desire to free humans from the bonds of religious dogmas and superstitions.

All those Schools of materialism were opposed to everything traditionally regarded as virtuous .They insisted on developing their own notions of truth, virtue and integrity. The only test of truth, according to them, was direct perception; and, not by inference. One should be guided by one’s own direct experience, sense –perception, which is verifiable. They all rejected the authority of texts (sabda-pramana)

[Materialism in ancient South India

13.1. Smt. N. Vanamamalai in her scholarly essay ‘Materialist Thought in Early Tamil Literature’ published during Nov 1973  mentions that around the first century AD many schools of materialist philosophy thrived in South India; and they flourished alongside   the other un-orthodox religions: Buddhism and Jainism. It was only by about the sixth century after the Vedic religion came back strongly that all the three non-Vedic religions receded into background.

13.1. According to Smt. N. Vanamamalai, three distinct schools of materialism (a) Bhutavada, (b) Lokayata and (c) Sarvaka were practiced in South India around the first century. There were slight differences among the three schools.

The followers of the Bhutavada recognized all the five elements; whereas Lokayata and Sarvaka accepted   only the four. (They did not reckon akasha- space as an element.)

Bhutavada classified the five elements into two categories:  Bhutas (elements) with life – earth, water and air; and Bhutas (elements) without life- the other two elements.

This classification was not acceptable to  Lokayata who held the view that consciousness arises out of the combination of all elements ; and not by combination of earth and water alone .Perhaps the Lokayata believed that separation of the elements would not adequately explain the origin of life and of consciousness

13.2. The Bhutavadin in Manimekalai states that life has the attribute of consciousness and body is devoid of that attribute: life originates from living matter and body from lifeless matter.

13.3.   Smt. N. Vanamamalai quotes from the Buddhist epic Manimekalai (first century AD) passages discussing the Lokayata doctrine, presented as purva-paksha– the view of the opponent.

Manimekalai, the leading-lady of the epic, renounces the life of a courtesan and enters a Buddhist monastery. Her travels abroad are described in the epic. She meets teachers of various systems of philosophy then extant in South India, listening to expositions on Alavai Vadam (Mimamsa); Saivam; Brahma Vadam; Vaishanavam; Ajeevaka Nirkanta (Jainism) and Bhuta Vadam (Materialism- Lokayata).

While expounding the doctrine his school the narrator of the Bhuta-Vadam (Charvaka)  keeps insisting that she must rely only on direct perception (katchi or sakshi or pratyaksha). Manimekalai who is a Buddhist is rather amused. She teasingly asks the narrator a mischievous question, “Were you present when your parents conceived you? … How can you be sure they are your parents, other than by inference (anumana)? …Truth cannot be known without employing forms of reasoning though not based on direct observation. Therefore, do not view such conclusions with doubt.

You have to remember that Manimekalai was a Buddhist; and the poet of the epic was an ardent Buddhist. Buddhists rejected the ideas of materialism of whatever variety they might be. The conversation in question was perhaps just a demonstration of that attitude.]

Ajita Kesa-kambalin

14.1. The Samannaphala Sutta  (The fruit of the Homeless life) deals with the advantages of homeless life of a recluse as described by six heretic teachers Purana Kassapa,     Makkhali Gosala, Ajita Kesakambali, Pakudha  Kaccayana, Sanjaya Belatthiputta, and     Nigantha Natputta.). Each is recognized as being well-known (nata) and successful (yasassino)   founder of a sect (titthakara).Each was highly dissatisfied with the orthodox Vedic religion. But, the descriptions given by them could not satisfy the King Ajatasattu. He later approached the Buddha and all his doubts were cleared.

14.2. Among those six teachers was one ascetic named Ajita Kesa-kambalin. He was a materialist i.e.   a Charvaka  who preached Uccheda- vada (the doctrine of annihilation after death) or tam Jivam tam sariram (the doctrine of identity of the soul and body). He is said to have roamed about the countryside in a coat made of human hair–“’the worst of all garments, most uncomfortable, being cold in winter and warm in summer”. He held extreme radical views and expressed it sharply enough. He did not mince words; and, gave everyone a mouthful.

14.3. Ajita perhaps represented the extreme sect of the Charvaka School. The following is a summarized version of his teaching as described in the Samannaphala Sutta .

“There is no such thing, Oh King, as alms (dana) or sacrifice (huta) or offering. There is neither fruit nor result of good or evil deeds either in this world (idhaloka) or in the other world (paraloka). The ideas like generosity are the misguided notions of a Stupid person (dattu pannatti). He who speaks for them is confused; his words are empty cry of desperation (tesam tuccham musa vilapo ye keti attikavadam vadanti).

There are no obligations or duties towards anyone. There is neither father nor mother, nor beings springing into life without them.

Only the fools believe in a god and in life after death. If there is paradise somewhere, it surely is a fools-paradise. A bunch of clowns created what they called Vedas and mislead everyone into believing in it. It is a huge fraud on mankind. There is no such thing as sacrifice or offering; do not believe in that nonsense. The yajnas, the three Vedas etc are but means of livelihood for those who have neither manliness nor sense.

A human being is built of the four elements, and when he dies the earthly in him, returns and relapses to the earth, the fluid to the water, the heat to the fire, the windy to the air, and his faculties pass into space. The four, bearers of the bier take his dead body away to the burning ground. The talk of offerings, this talk of gifts is a doctrine of fools. It is an empty lie, mere idle talk. Fools and wise alike on the dissolution of the body are annihilated on death. There is no soul apart from the body attributes.”

14.4. He however seemed to have recognized the difference between the dead matter and the living cells. He said the faculties return to space (akasamm indriyani samkamanti). Ajita perhaps represented the branch of Charvaka which believed that the soul or life is pure air or breath, which is a form of matter.

To Sum up

15.1. The Charvaka School exhibited number of admirable features. It tried to be rational, clearheaded, bold and angry in putting down superstitions, meaningless rites-rituals, exploitation and intellectual dishonesty. It employed strong, forceful logic and language for bringing into fore a fairly thoroughgoing positivism. It stormed and shook the old world of dogmas, rites and sorcery; and caused serious re-thinking within the orthodox circles. It urged everyone to cleanup centuries of cobwebs that cluttered human mind; and to think free and to think bold. It shunned indulgence in excessive and needless speculative metaphysics that led nowhere. It brought the world of man’s experience into centre of life; and asserted that the world and the life in it are indeed very real; and it is not disgraceful to enjoy Worldly life. It assured there is pleasure in this life and an individual must deliberately exercise his freewill in securing pleasure.

At another level, the importance of Charvaka School is that it spurred many-sided philosophical activities in ancient India and lent scope for a great deal of liberty of thought as well as for freedom of expression.

15.2. The Charvaka School had its flipside too. It seemed to lack a sense of vision and an ideal to inspire the generations to come.

According to Charvaka, the pleasure in this life and that of the individual is the most important thing that one should care about. The Charvaka, I fear, took an extreme position; and lacked a sense of balance in the totality of life. Their anger and fury was directed almost entirely at the Mimamsa School and its questionable beliefs. It was rather too simplistic and ham-handed. That perhaps worked for a while; but thereafter the Charvaka lost the initial advantage of shock, as it failed to develop and refine its scheme. They did not seem capable of evolving a sustainable long-term vision that could guide not merely the pleasure seeking individuals and recluse but also the society at large.

15.3. The problem appeared to be that the Charvaka did not seem to care for collective happiness or for the common good. In their scheme of things, Individual‘s happiness was paramount; and all the rest was secondary. Therefore, in the world according to Charvaka, one’s pleasure and comfort took precedence over welfare of family and the community. It recognized neither duties nor obligations; and placed no responsibility on an individual who hurt others as he went after his pleasure. The school did not also suggest a sensible scheme for resolving the plausible conflict of interests as each went after his pleasure.

At another level, the Charvaka could not explain the process of human evolution, development and the unfolding chain of ever improving faculties and the genius of life to survive and adopt amidst the pressures and challenges of the ever changing environments.

It lent scope to the rival schools to argue, “Ok. Let’s concede that death is final and nothing remains afterwards. But, that does not mean that human life should be stripped of all values and sensibilities”. They cautioned against the danger of de-generating the society to a primitive level.

15.4. I wish, the Charvaka were a bit more rational, allowing some breathing-space to reason and give it a chance to flourish, rather than being ruthlessly self-centred materialists. Had their rationalism been more inclusive, taking a broader perspective of life, tempered    with justice, compassion and a genuine concern for the fellow beings, I reckon Charvaka School would have lasted longer.

Charvaka was locked into itself and did not look beyond. Had it been able to develop social consciousness or a social philosophy, Charvaka would have anticipated Marx in the old world.

[ Speaking of Materialism and Marx reminds me of M N Roy (1887 – 1954) the Indian revolutionary; internationally known political theorist and activist; and, the founder of the Communist parties in Mexico and India. During the later years of life, after parting ways with Communism, M N Roy developed his own theory of Materialism which differed from the Lokayata (Charvaka) and the Materialism of Marx.

At the outset, Roy is opposed not only to speculative philosophy but also to the identification of philosophy with theology and religion. According to Roy, “Faith in the supernatural does not permit the search for the causes of natural phenomena in nature itself. Therefore, rejection of orthodox religious ideas and theological dogmas is the pre-condition for philosophy.”

The Materialism that Roy adopts maintains that “the origin of everything that really exits is matter, that there does not exist anything but matter, all other appearances being transformation of matter, and these transformations are governed necessarily by laws inherent in nature.”

Thus, broadly speaking, Roy’s philosophy is in the tradition of Charvaka materialism.

However, there are some important differences between the two.

According to Roy, the greatest defect of classical materialism was that its cosmology did not seem to have any place for ethics. Roy strongly asserted that without the element of ethics, human spirit, thirsting for freedom, will spurn materialism. In Roy’ view materialist ethics is not only possible but materialist morality is the noblest form of morality. Roy links morality with human being’s innate rationality. Man is moral, according to Roy, because he is rational. In Roy’s ethics,  freedom, which he links with the struggle of existence is the highest value. Search for truth is a corollary to the quest for freedom.

In a similar manner, Roy’s materialism is sharply different from that of Marx. Roy recognizes the importance of ethics and gives a prominent place to it. According to Roy, Marxian materialism wrongly disowns the humanist tradition and thereby divorces materialism from ethics. Roy asserts the contention of Marx that “from the scientific point of view this appeal to morality and justice does not help us an inch farther” , was based upon a false notion of science.

According to Roy, “materialism must be dissociated from certain notions which have been rendered untenable by the latest discoveries of science.” Roy’s revision and restatement of materialism embraces both the basic tenets of materialism. He, however, revised the concept of matter as well as that of physical determinism. ]

D. The Buddha

16.1. There are some obvious similarities between the doctrine of the Charvaka and the teachings of the Buddha; and, there are many differences too. But the differences are significant than the similarities.

Both dismissed notions of a personal god, religion, rites, rituals, sacrifices, heaven and hell. Both rejected Vedas as being infallible; and refused to admit Vedas as an authority on all matters. Both did not agree with concept of a permanent soul (though for different reasons). Both did not recognize class distinctions within the society; and treated men and women as equals. Both did not indulge in or encourage needless metaphysical debates or theoretic curiosity. And, both strived to rid their concepts and ideas of the super-natural appendage.

16.2. As said earlier, the differences two are indeed more significant than similarities.


The Charvaka regard the body as matter without consciousness.

The Buddhist view the body as an ever changing configuration of five factors or five aggregates – (Pali : khandha; Skt. skandha).These relate to the physical form (rupa); the sensations or the feelings (vedana) the perception or recognition (sanna or sanjnya) of physical and mental objects;  and , the fourth factor – sankhara or samskara – impulses or mental formulations or fabrications  etc. And, lastly there is the faculty of vinnana or vijnana the awareness or consciousness, which encompasses mental events and what is generally called sub-conscious in the West. Consciousness is conditioned and arises out of interaction with the other factors (physical or mental) .The consciousness, according to Buddhism, is one of the body-aggregates and is interdependent with the mind-body (nama-rupa).

Sukha – Dukkha

The Charvaka placed the pursuit of pleasure (sukha) for its own sake as the prime objective or the raison d’être of human life. They viewed suffering as an uncomfortable fact of life and obstruction to pleasure. But, they did not mind dealing with suffering.

The Buddha did not, in fact, speak much about happiness. In his scheme of things happiness (sukha) is not the opposite of suffering (dukkha).Happiness was left un-defined; but was largely viewed as the absence of conflict, stress and craving. Happiness, it is said, is so delicate that mere contemplation of it would disturb it. Pursuit of happiness would bring along strife and sorrow.

But, he did recognize Dukkha, suffering and sorrow as the reality in life; and stressed that life as it is commonly led is marred by sorrow and suffering. Elimination of Dukkha was the prime objective of his teachings. All his words and deeds were centred on that objective. The Buddha in all his discourses dwelt on the reality of Dukkha and also pointed the way out of it. ‘Just this have I taught; I teach ill and the ending of ill”.

Elimination (nirodha) of suffering has the character of quiet (santi). Nirodha is explained as absence of rodha (flood) of suffering. It is cessation (attagama), detachment (virago) and freedom from craving (mutti).

Compassion and Ethics

The Charvaka brushed aside values such as morals in life, compassion for the fellow beings, common good and community welfare.

The Buddha is the very embodiment of compassion the loving kindness towards all beings. Dharmakirti (c. 600 -660 AD), a Buddhist philosopher, a pupil of Isvarasena and a teacher at Nalanda remarked that the greatness of the Buddha as a spiritual teacher lies not so much in his mastery or knowledge in various fields but in his having attained boundless compassion for all beings.

The Buddha did not stop at the intellectual edification. He was moved by compassion for his fellow beings and tried to show a method for eradication of sorrow. The Dhamma he preached was at once the theory and the practical way of conduct in life. In his first discourse, the Buddha talked about the importance Sila-Morality: right speech, right action, right livelihood; and asked his listeners “To cease from evil, to cleanse one’s mind, to do what is good”. He stressed; Mindfulness is essentially rooted in ethics and a wholesome mental state. The cultivation of the four sublime virtues of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic Joy, and equanimity should essentially be practiced with mindfulness.

The practice of these virtues would help development of a well-focused healthy human being. It would also ensure common good and help moving toward a harmonious strife-less society.

The Buddha was averse to all theoretic curiosity. ‘Philosophy purifies none,’ he said, ‘peace alone does. He did not speculate on things beyond the sphere of perception and reason. The Buddha taught what was necessary to overcome Dukkha; that was his prime concern.

Punabbhav-becoming again

Some appear rather disturbed with the fact that the Buddha accepted the notion of re-birth; and remark that it was not pragmatic. Well, that objection seems rooted in dogma (materialism) than in reason; without appreciating the line of reasoning that Sakyamuni adopted all through his teachings. Since his concept of what now is called ‘re-birth’ is supported by the reason he evolved, I would call it rational. Let’s briefly see the reason he arrived at this notion.

The Buddha believed that nothing that we do disappears without leaving its result behind; and that the good or evil so resulting recoils upon the doer. The Buddha rationalized this belief and viewed it as an impersonal law working in according to its own inherent nature (svabhava) and by itself.

The other main feature of his belief was that everything is in a state of continuous flux (spandana). If things are not momentary, everyone and everything would be eternal. There is incessant change; but with continuity. ‘There is action, but there is no agent’. The world is a process (vritti)…“A continuing coming-to-be and passing away”.

The Buddha is regarded as the Master of Madhyama – Prathipada, the middle path. The Buddha’s concept of ceaseless movement of all things, of change with no underlying constancy is a middle path between two opposite views: One believing in Being and the other in Non-Being. According to the Buddha, the world is neither Being nor is it Non-Being, but it is the becoming. It is a continual change- to- be and passing away. He preferred a dynamic explanation to the static changeless position.

Each phase of experience, as it appears and disappears, is shaped into the next. That process of change with continuity ensures that every successive phase carries within it ‘all the potentials of its predecessors’. Hence, a man is not the same in any two moments’ and yet he is not quite different. The body which is the aggregate (skandas) of sensations, the thoughts, and the physical frame is thus    not only a collective, but also a   recollective unit.

The series of such births and deaths is ever current and is at every moment. What is called as ‘death’ is a mere extension of that process. Thus, transfer from one state to another takes place not merely at the end of this life but at every instant.

That process will carry on until the urge to perpetuate lasts; because, nothing that we do will disappear without leaving its result behind. The persisting momentum of one’s deeds, thoughts, urges and attachments causes another body to take shape. And, the being who is revived is not the same as the old one; he is not, on the other hand, different from the old one. This process carries on until the person in question has completely overcome his thirst, urge or craving to become.

That changeover is not transmigration or reincarnation, because there is no permanent entity. Buddhism does not also use the term re-birth. It prefers to call the process as punabbhava (Snkt.  Punarbhava), becoming again. It is just as the seed through a series of dynamic changes becomes a sprout. The seed is never inactive. The difference when the seed becomes a sprout is that instead of continuing as a seed its nature alters into that of a sprout. But one series is in as much in flux as another. Finally, as the sprout steps into the next series of changes the seed would already have died; yet the sprout would not have been there without the seed.

It is not merely when one lamp is lit from another that there is a transmission of light and heat. They are transmitted every moment; only in the former case a new series of flames is started.

References and sources:

Outlines of Indian philosophy   by Prof. M. Hlriyanna; Motilal Banarsidass; 1993.

The Sarva-darfanasamgraha ; Translated by ER Cowell; Turner & Co London; 1882.

Smt. N. Vanamamalai ‘Materialist Thought in Early Tamil Literature’ published during Nov 1973

Samannaphala Sutta 

RationalismMaterialism, Buddha, Lokayata, Charvaka ,Marx and Charvaka ,

Pictures are from Internet


Posted by on October 11, 2012 in Charvaka, Indian Philosophy


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Yama, the Dharma Raja

This article is about Yama the Dharma raja, the dispenser of justice, the guardian of the ancestors and the lord of death. Yama is one of the Loka-pala or Dikpala, the Regents of the directions. He presides over the South.

Before we return to Yama, let’s briefly talk about the Dikpalas.


1.1. Space the substratum of the cosmos is the abode, the source of all forms. The directions, the determinants of space, therefore, have a special significance. In the Indian traditions which include Buddhism and Jainism, the deities are connected with the directions which symbolically reveal and express their powers.

1.2. Orientation is an essential aspect of the yajna. Elaborate care is taken to ensure location of the yajna altar exactly along the East-West axis, the prachee. The East where the sun rises; West where the sun sets; the North and South towards which Sun’s path tilts during the cycle of seasons, were all of much significance to the Vedic people. That was because; those directions complimented the attributes associated with the gods invoked in the yajna.

2.1. Each direction is governed by a deity, a Dikpala. These Regents of the directions are deemed the protectors of the world, Loka-pala. They are the rulers of the spheres; and therefore are depicted with royal attributes.

2.2. Dikpalas are usually said to be eight in number; each governing a direction in space. In the Upanishads, the Dikpalas or Lokapalas are mentioned as four and at times as five; in the puranas and epics their number is eight; but, the Tantra traditions which adopt a three-dimensional view of the cosmos regard the Lokapalas as ten, by including zenith and nadir.

3.1. The orientation and architecture of the yajna vedi, the yajna altar, the towns, cities, the temples and buildings are all related to the division of the sphere that corresponds to the attributes of its deity. In the context of the yajna, the Southern gate is reckoned as the way of the ancestors the pitris; and, the offerings to the departed ancestors are always submitted facing South.

3.2. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad mentions Surya the Sun as the Regent of the East; Varuna of the West; Yama of the South; Soma of the North; and Agni in the zenith. But, the Chandogya Upanishad presents a slightly different arrangement of the Dikpalas. It is this spatial allocation of the Dikpalas that is commonly mentioned in the puranas, epics etc; and followed in the Tantra texts as also in astrology, architectures and Vastu. The classification is briefly:

Indra the king of Devas, the Lord of the heavens dwells in the East, which represents power and courage.

Dikpaka Indra Dikpala Yama

Yama the protector of the Law (Dharma raja), guardian of the ancestors and the king of the Dead dwells in the South, which represents justice and the care of the ancestors.

Varuna the protector of rta the cosmic law; guardian of rites; lord of destiny and the lord of water element dwells in the West, which represents knowledge.

Dikpala VarunaDikpala Kubera

And, Kubera the king of Yakshas and the lord of riches dwells in the North, which represents an upper position and wealth.


The Regents of the half-directions are mentioned as:

North-East is the region of Soma (the moon or the offering made to Agni); Ishana the purifier, an aspect of Shiva; and, Prithvi the Earth that nourishes all.

Dikpala Isana Dikpala Agni

South-East is the region of Agni the fire in all its forms and the yajna.


South-West is the region of   Surya the sun; or Nirtti the misery.

Dikpala nrtthi Dikpala Vayu

And, North-West is the region of Vayu or Marut the lord of winds, and of breath and life.

The two additional Regents mentioned in the Tantra are: Brahma representing knowledge at the zenith (Urdhva); and, Anantha, the endless or the boundless at the nadir (Patala), representing the potential powers of Vishnu.


3.3. The Dikpalas are the prominent Vedic deities. But, with the advent and rise of the puranic gods they have now receded to the background.

3.4. Before we discuss Yama   let me briefly mention of an interesting analysis made by Dr. Sukumari Bhattacharji in her classic ‘The Indian Theogony’ (Cambridge University Press, 1970) wherein she views the space as interplay of the benevolent , not so benevolent and the malevolent forces in nature. The point is that the universe is not all milk and honey, but is continual frictions, on gong challenges; strive for ascendency; as also the mutual tolerance and existence between  sets of forces opposing each other in varying degrees .

Shatapatha Brahmana (1:2:5:17) mentions the East is the region of gods, the North is the region of men; and South is the region of Pitris the departed ancestors. Indra the solar deity who represents light rules over only one quarter- the east, while the seven other quarters are ruled by the opposing deities. The west, diametrically opposite to east, is ruled by Varuna who somehow was included among the Adityas, the solar deities.

But, Varuna symbolizes the setting sun; and, thus is more closely associated with gods and powers of darkness than with those of light.

Agni who rules south –east is at once both beneficent and sinister. It is said; as Havya-vahana, the carrier of oblations to gods he is with the solar gods; but, as Kavya-vahana and Kavyad, the messenger of the Pitris, he is with the gods of darkness.

[Kavya-vahana or Kavyad is described as a fire invoked with Yama, as an offering to Pitris, on the New-moon day at the conclusion of the four-monthly offering.]

Similarly, Isana who rules north-east too has both divine and sinister bearings. He is the intermediary between gods and other powers.

Rudra who rules north is a Vedic god; but later he assumes darker hues and associations’.

And, Kubera is sub-divine, a Yaksha, with links to Rudra. Between Rudra and Varuna is Vayu who rules north-west; and, he too leans more towards the dark gods than towards the solar gods in the east.

In the South is Yama the Lord of Pitris and his followers, the Pitris. Yama too, like Rudra, is a Vedic god. But since the age of Brahmanas he is identified as the Lord of death and is almost a malevolent figure.

Finally, Between Yama and Varuna is the Nairratta kona the south west corner where the Nirriti and Nairrattas (monsters) rule.

It is even said; the Dikpalas are associated not merely with the directions but with the seasons as well. The spring, summer and rainy seasons belong to and represent the gods; while autumn, winter and dewy seasons belong to the Pitris. The fortnight during which the moon waxes is associated with gods; while the darker half of the month when the moon wanes is associated with Pitris. The day belongs to the gods and the night to the Pitris. The morning belongs to gods and the afternoon to the Pitris (SBII: 1:3:1).

As you see, Indra and Adityas, the solar deities, rule one quarter, while seven other quarters are ruled by forces that are either intermediary or in opposition the solar forces .What associates the gods of seven other quarters is the nature of death, decay and destruction. And, their distinct association with Pitris, the departed ancestors, binds the seven together; but, they do co exist with the solar gods. This complex interplay of light and shadow is a peculiar character of the Indian pantheon.

Yama the Dharma Raja


4.1. Yama is depicted as the sovereign of the infernal; the lord of death and the dispenser of justice; and the governor of eternal law that ensures rejuvenation of life and a sense of balance between the old and the new in all existence.  Yama , the son of Vivaswan  is Vaivaswata ; and, just as Sri Dakshinamurti , Yama is also associated with Udumbara ( fig tree).  He is the embodiment of righteousness, the Dharma;   and he is the king of justice, the Dharma raja. He judges the dead; but, he is amenable to pity and reason, as in the case of Savitri and Pramadvara* in the Mahabharata.

[ *


Pramadvara (pramadaam varaa, the best among the most beautiful) was the daughter of Menaka, the Apsara (celestial nymph) and Viswavasu, the king of Gandharvas. Since Pramadvara was abandoned by her parents, Rishi Sthulakesa raised the most delightful little girl with great care and love. Later in her life, just on the eve of her wedding with her beloved Ruru (son of hermit Pramati and damsel Ghritachi) Pramadvara  died suddenly , bitten by a snake. Ruru, the heartbroken bridegroom,  in deep sorrow and bewailing appeals to gods (Devas) to restore his Love Pramadvara  to life. Yama, the Dharmaraja, moved by pity and sympathizing with the plight of Ruru agrees to bring Pramadvara back to life; but, on condition that Ruru should  gift half of his remaining lifespan (Ayu) to her.  Ruru readily agrees to Yama’s rider with alacrity; Pramadvara comes back to life; and, immediately marries Ruru without losing time. The happy parents later beget a son Sunaka. And, his son   Saunaka, later,  as the chief of the Rshis,  performed a very long Yajna in the Naimisha forest (Naimisaranya). Saunaka is the one who heard the recitations of Mahabharata and   Srimad Bhagavata   from Suta and his son Ugrashravas. Saunaka, in turn, narrated these epics.  Saunaka is credited with monumental works, such as the Anukramanis ( a sort of Vedic Index) , Brhaddevata (which narrates  the legends of the Vedic gods ) and Rg Vidhana  (which explains each rk in the context  of the Srauta and Gruhya Sutras)]

At times, a distinction is made between Yama and Mrutyu. The both have a sort of working relationship. Mruthyu the death snatches the life on earth; and transfers it to Yama the lord of ancestors for dealing with it further.

Mrutyu the death, is the reality of life on the planet Earth (prithvi).The term Mrutyu is derived from the root mru which stands for earth (as in mrun the earth; mrutya the mortal being rooted to earth); and, Mrutyu literally is returning to the bowels of the earth.

Mrutyu is death personified; hymns are addressed to Mrutyu in Rig Veda (10.18) praying him not to harm children and men. The lifeless body is laid into earth the mother with the prayer –O mother Earth, oppress him not; be gracious unto him; shelter him kindly; cover him as mother covers her infant with her garment.

While the physical body returns to the elements, the subtle body is handed over by Mrutyu to Yama the lord of the ancestors. A prayer is submitted to Yama to prepare a dwelling place , in his world, for the dead one.


4.2. Three hymns (10, 14, and 35) in the tenth book of Rig Veda are addressed to Yama.

In the Rig Veda, Yama is a minor god; and he is benign like any of its gods. He is described as “the first of men that died, and the first that departed to the (celestial) world.” He was the one who found the way to the home which cannot be taken away: Yama is ‘a gatherer of men’; and as one who looks after the well-being of the dead, to whom he provides food and shelter. He is invoked along with the Pitris (the departed ones) and Angirasa, and invited reverentially to sit on the grass-seat (kusha) and taste the oblation (RV 10.14.4-5). 

Dr. Muir says:  “Yama is nowhere represented in the Rig-Veda as having anything to do with the punishment of the wicked. . So far as is yet known, the hymns of that Veda contain no prominent mention of any such penal retribution”

Atharva Veda (18.3.13) sings “Worship the son of Vivasvat, the gatherer of men with oblations, he who was the first of the mortals to die, he who first entered   this world”). It appears that Yama was initially a mortal but was the first to die and enter the ‘other world’ and gain the status of the gatherer of  people (departed souls) . He was eventually elevated to divine status and assigned a portion of the oblation at the Yajna.  Yama is thus the first ancestor and the king of ancestors (pitr raja; Preta-adipati ) as also the god of ceremonies, Sraddha deva. He is also the king of ghosts (preta raja).He is entitled to a full share of Soma offered to gods in the yajna.

4.3. The term Yama means one who restrains (yam to control) or one who binds. He binds, decides on the action of men . He controls (yacchati) all beings without distinction and restrains all beings.

4.4. Prayers are offered to Yama for longevity and deliverance from recurring deaths. As for the dead, he is requested to offer them proper food and shelter. Yama is also sought to grant release from asanaya (hunger). In the Grhya-sutras, many rituals are prescribed for worship of ancestors, offering them oblations with prayers to Yama for averting recurring deaths. In these passages Yama is revered as any other god whose abode is beyond death .a kindly god who is more revered than feared. He is god of the dead but not a god of death. He is the god of righteousness (Dharmaraja) and a restrainer (niyamaytir)

5.1. From Yajur Veda onwards, especially after the purusha-medha sacrifice, where oblations are prescribed for each aspect of Yama, his personality undergoes a radical change. From then on, the benevolent god of justice becomes the dreaded god of death. He gets associated with the destructive aspects of Shiva as Kaala, Antaka etc.

5.2. Yama the Dakshinadhipathi   the lord of the southern quarter is himself called death Mrityu, the end, the finisher Antaka, and one who takes away all lives Sarva-pranahara. He is the finisher kratanta; the equitable one samana; and, one who hands out punishments danda.  He is also Danda-dhara , one who wiellds the  fearous  weapon Danda He is also Pasi, the one who holds the noose . He is respected and feared because he ensures that his orders are executed ruthlessly : Danda sashana  or  Bhima-shasana .

Yama is kaala, both time and death; ‘the cook of the creatures ‘ripening them with time; ‘he who ever knows day and night and the seasons; and the good and evil works of man’ . As kala he is dark with red eyes and holding a staff.


Yama and family

6.1. Yama is the son of the resplendent Visvasvat; hence his last-name is Vaivasvata (Rig Veda 10.14.5). His mother is Sanjnya or Saranyu (meaning the cloud) the daughter of Tvastra Visvakarman the divine architect. Yama is the brother of Vaivasvata Manu the progenitor of this eon; and of Asvins the gods of health. Yama’s twin sister Yami loves him passionately. She is of the nature of night (yamini); and, it is said, the dark flowing river the Yamuna is named after Yami.

6.2. The Bhrigus and Varuna are his associates. Yama has close relations with Rudra, Soma, Kala, and Nirrti, and a closer one with Agni who conveys to him the dead.


6.3. Mahabharata mentions that Yama married the ten daughters of Daksha the progenitor. Elsewhere it is mentioned that Hema mala; Sushila and Vijaya are his three wives. At other places, Dhumorna (shroud of smoke that rises from the funeral pyre) and Sri (the fortune) are mentioned as his wives.

6.4. In the Rig-Veda, Amrta is Yama’s son, but in the Atharva Veda, Duḥsvapna (bad dream) is his son by Varunani.

Yama, his residence and his entourage


7.1. As regards his residence, it is said, Yama resides in his mansion Yamalaya at the South. His city is Samyamini (city of bondage). His abode in the city and its environment are described as pleasant and comfortable. His city has four gates and seven arches, as also two rivers the Pushpodaka (stream of flowers) and the Vivasvati (the roaring) that flow through the city.

7.2. Yama sits upon the Vichara-bhu the throne of deliberation, placed in the centre of the judgment hall named kaalaci (hall of destiny). The janitor at the entrance to the judgment hall is Vaidhyata (meaning the legal process).   Yama’s scribe and secretary is the ever efficient Chitra-gupta, person privy to many secrets.  His ministers are Chanda (wrath) and Mahachanda (terror). There is also the kala-purusha who keeps eternal vigil. Apart from demons, many sages and kings are also said to assemble in his court, to pay their respects. The messengers of death (yama duta) are his attendants and foot soldiers. They are dressed in black, have red eyes and bristling hair. Their legs, body and nose are like those of crows.

7.3. Two insatiable dogs having four-eyes and  wide nostrils accompany Yama. They are Syama (the black) and Sabala (the powerful) who were born to Surama (the swift) the dog of Indra, the king of gods. Yama’s dogs watch the path of the dead.  They guard the road to his abode, and which the departed are advised to hurry past . These dogs are said to wander about among men as his messengers, for summoning them to their master, who is described as ’ sending a bird as the herald of doom’.

7.4. Yama rides a chariot named Roga (sickness); and is followed by demons that are the different diseases.

Yama, his court

8.1. Of the two paths of the dead mentioned  in the  later Vedic doctrines of death and after-death, Devayana (the path of the gods) and Pitryana (the path of ancestors) , the latter is that of the humans and of spirits doomed to take rebirth. Such souls proceed through Soma, the moon, and eventually are judged by Yama.

8.2. As regards the procedures involved in procuring the dead and judging them, it is said; when it is time for a jiva to depart from its body the messengers of death secure it with a noose and drag it through barren territories without shade or water, on its way to Yama’s court. At the judgment hall the Dead one presents himself before Yama, all alone unaccompanied by friends or relatives; accompanied only by his past deeds. After the record-keeper Chitragupta reads out from his main record (agra – samdhani) the list and summary of the good and bad deeds committed by the dead one, the judgment is pronounced by Yama who appears gracious to the good-doer and fearful to the evildoer. The unfortunate dead ones condemned to naraka the hell, are made to pass through red-hot iron gates and wade through the stinking and boiling river the Vaitarini (abandonment) littered with filth, blood, hair and bones.


Yama iconography

9.1. Coming to Yama’s appearance, it is said, the virtuous and the sinners see him differently. To the virtuous , Yama looks like Vishnu “with charming smiling face, four arms, eyes like lotus in blossom; holding the conch, discus, mace and lotus; and riding Garuda”.

Yama 4

9.2. To the not-so-fortunate, Yama is of grim and fearful appearance. His body of dark or green complexion is huge and ill shaped with glowing red eyes. His eyes are deep wells, his lips are thin the color of smoke, his teeth and nails are long, and his breath from his wide nostrils is hurricane like. His reed-like hair is tied on the top over which sits a glittering crown. He has on his chest garlands made of weird beads; and yellow and red wild flowers. He rides a huge black buffalo named Ugra the terrible, wielding in his claw like hands a sword, mace or a long staff (danda) and a noose. He roars like the ocean of destruction.


10. Having said all that, Yama is otherwise regarded as Dharma Raja the lord of justice dedicated to maintain order and adherence to rule of law with a view to preserving the harmony in existence.

Yama is also associated with the legend of Markandeya the devote boy , an icon of innocence and absolute faith.

Markandeya is embracing a linga

Yama is respected as one of the wisest of the Devas and a very good teacher. He is also an adept in Atma-vidya, the knowledge of Self. In the Kaṭha Upaniṣad, as death personified, he holds a long discourse with the boy Nachiketas, whom he initiates into the mysteries of life, death, and immortality. Yama, explains to boy Nachiketa: “that knowing which, everything else becomes known?”

Yama nachiketa2

Yama in other traditions

200px-Yama_tibet  Buddhist Yama of Tibet

11. Lord Yama traveled to other traditions too. The Vedic yama is Yima Kshaeta in the Avesta of Zoroaster (the latter part of this name derived from the root kshimeans “to rule”. The name Yima Kshaeta,is thus  “Yima, the King”).  Yima, whose region is south, is the first mortal and a great king of men. In Buddhist lore, Yama is identified with Kama the desire and Mara the death. He judges the dead and presides over the Buddhist hells. The Buddhist Yama is also a part of the Chinese and Japanese mythologies. The legends of YamaorYima, the son of the Sun transformed in the Japanese mythology to Jimmu the first mortal as well as the first Emperor of Japan, born of the Sun-goddess.

Concept of Death

2.1. One of the meanings assigned to the term Yama is the ‘twin’, as in ‘yamala the twins’. The moment a being is born, death too is born along with him as his twin. Both travel the journey of life together, the death always shadowing his twin; that is only until death overtakes the twin. Thus, life and death are never apart, they are ever together. Of the two, death   is a certainty, while its twin comes with no guarantees. Death is also the only reality and the only experience one cannot escape.

12.2. In the Indian traditions, death is not a punishment but is a part of the sequence of life. Death is not the final end; but is a passage or a doorway to other possibilities that might exist thereafter. It is like getting into a new dress, discarding the old and worn out, and going about fresh business. And, as my mother used to put it, death is like” being shifted from one breast to other breast of the mother. The baby feels lost for a short instant, but not for long.”

12.3. If it is so why do Hindus and Buddhists have to fear death? It is explained, the fear is because of the horrid process of dying, the pain and the agony; and the physical suffering as also psychological trauma it involves. The fear or helplessness for not being in control of the time and circumstances of one’s death exacerbates the scare. The dying person is inundated with anxiety, fear and sorrow of parting forever from his attachments, his near and dear ones and all that he loved and valued during those years of his life. The experience of death is the helplessness, the grievous sense of loss and betrayal; and the sheer fright of ceasing to be and staring into the unknown. These fears and anxieties are universal.

12.4. Acharya Vinoba Bhave in one of his talks explained, there is no way one can avoid death; it is inevitable. He said, one may not be able to control the happening of the event, but one can surely try framing ones approach to it. We came into this world without a choice, but can try leaving it on our terms. That might not succeed in all cases, but it can help influence our attitude to death.

Everyone dies, he said, there is nothing unique about it; but one can make his mark by trying to leave behind a better world than the one he inherited. One way of doing that is to work and live on the basis that death is just round the corner; that somehow seems to spur a person to do his best in his endowers. Acharya said, life is in a way a skilful preparation to face death with equanimity, without fear or anxiety.

Anayasena maranam, vina dainyena jivanam”,

A life without humiliation and death without pain was his prayer to Krishna.


Rehearse death; rehearse his freedom. A person who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave. He is beyond the reach of all political powers.

–  Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD). Letters from a Stoic

References and sources

The myths and Gods of India by Alain Danielou

Brahmiya Chitra Karma sastram by Dr. G Gnanananda for the line drawings of Yama.

Shilpii Shri Thippajappa (1780-1856)  For the drawing of the eight Dikpalas

Other pictures are from internet


Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Speculation, Yama


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Agni And Soma Interplay: Life Thrives On Life

1.1. The whole of universe is viewed as a perpetual yajna. At each moment of its existence one form or the other of its energies is being transformed into another form of energy; one form of life is transformed into another form of life; one form of life or its derivatives is consumed by another form of life. This ceaseless activity of transformation and devouring of the one by another seems to be the very nature of universe.

1.2. It is said, the universe has a triple aspect: the devourer, the devoured and their relationship, which is the yajna. It is through this relationship that the universe exists and endures; thus yajna is identified with Vishnu, the all pervading preserver. “The yajna is Vishnu” (‘yajno vai Vishnuhuh’: Taittereya Brahmana 2.1.83)

1.3. The texts mention that all of universe could be broadly classified into two factors anna (the food) and annada (the one who eats or consumes). Every creature is the devourer of another and the food of some other. “I am food, I am food, I am food; I am the eater, I am the eater, I am the eater….the first born “(Taittereya Upanishad: 3.10.06). Similar statements occur in other texts:”The whole world is verily the food and the eater of food “(Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: 1.4.6).

2.1. Existence involves devouring and being devoured. In other words, life thrives on life (jivo jeevasya jeevanam).The acts of devouring and being devoured are successive states of everything. The processes of life and death are entwined, each giving rise to the other.

2.2. In this process the ‘Agni-principle’ represents the ‘eater’, while the ‘Soma-principle’ represents the ’food’, which feeds the Agni. “All this universe of conscious and unconscious is made up of Agni (fire) and Soma (the offering)” (Mahabharata –Shanthi parva- 338.52). The process during which Agni the fire devours Soma the fuel is in the nature of yajna.

2.3. The evolving universe is propelled by the interaction between these two forces of nature. Agni represents the ‘metabolism ‘of the universe. It is the agent for causing change. Soma, which stands for all that nourishes, is the fuel that sustains Agni. The pair, Agni and Soma, each need the other; and the two in tandem create, sustain and recycle the substances in the universe, ensuring continuity and evolution of life. This is the yajna.

3.1. There are many forms of yajna whether cosmic or human. Every form of creation human or otherwise has the character of yajna.”Any action of man which may promote betterment of man has the nature of yajna” (yogatrayananda – Shiva ratri)

3.2. It is explained that existence implies action. One can hardly remain for a moment without breathing, thinking or dreaming. Something or other is happening all the while to keep the body and mind alive. Action can be neutral having no moral value; or it can be positive; or negative. Even inaction is a form of action. We, all the while, take part in the yajna of life   either as instruments or its feed. The main activity of one’s existence is to take part in the ongoing ritual, yajna.

Let’s come back to the interaction between Agni and Soma,  a little later.


4.1. Agni is one of the most important deities of the Rig Veda. He is one of the Regents of space (Dikpala). He rules over the South-East (Agneya) and is called the first or the forward light (puro jyotishu). Agni the son of the heavens (gagana atmaja) is pictured as a priestly sage, beneficial to gods and men. He is the friendly mediator between men and gods. It is through Agni that man communicates with gods and dwellers of celestial spheres.

4.2. Agni is the purifier of all; and, all that purifies is yajna (Chandogya Upanishad: 4.16.1). And, all that has been purified is worthy of being offered to gods; “He feeds gods through the mouths of Agni, the first among the gods “ (Aittareya Brahmana: 1.9.2).Agni is oblation eater Hutasa or Hutabhuj, the oblation carrier Havya vahana and the conveyer Vahi.

4.4. Agni had been controlled and domesticated and brought into the home, kept alive through careful tending; and is propitiated with offering. Agni is the friend and the center of household in the ritual sense or otherwise.   Agni is the protector of men and their homes; he presides over all sacraments. He is the witness to all the significant events and commitments that men and women make in their lives. Agni validates their life events on all solemn occasions.

 5.1. Agni is represented as all that burns and devours or digests. Agni is Vaisvanara the all pervader; the one who spreads, takes over and consumes. Agni is the Sun, heat, stomach, lust, passion and speech. Digestive acids are considered forms of Agni;   food is the offering. The fire of anger, the fire of lust, and all that destroys opens possibilities of other forms of yajna. War is one of the other forms of yajna –maarana homa. Human life and its efforts to exist amidst adversities; and to survive is an ongoing yajna.

5.2. The nature of the Agni is the nature of existence, as well as its source and symbol. At each moment some form of Agni is busy devouring some form of life, of fuel. Even the Sun, a form of Agni, burns devouring its own substance and puts out energy. All aspects of combustion, of digestion, of processing and of creation are forms of Agni.

5.3. The splendors or the shining quality in anything is a subtle form of Agni; he is the power of the inner as well the outer illumination, the power of knowledge as well as of perception. He is the Lord of knowledge. Understanding the science of fire in all its forms is the key to all knowledge.

 [ To take Agni as the name of the ritual fire only is to mistake the signifier for the signified. He is many things: a flame, a stream, a bird, a tree, a boat, a lion, a horse, a chariot, a craftsman, a thinker, a warrior, a sage and a knower, a seer and a will, often the seer-will (kavikratu), and he fulfills many functions: messenger, guest, priest of the call, bringer of the oblation, knower of all things born, friend and leader of the human people, fosterer, purifier, and none of these exhaust his reality, for he is said to have many names and to be manifold in his forms. But he is always connected with the truth , satyam, ritam, possessing the truth, ritavân.

Similarities between Sumerian Anki and Vedic Agni by Jean-Yves Lung [


6.1. Soma is personified as a deity and is one of the most important Vedic gods. All of the 114 hymns of the ninth book of the Rig Veda, known as the Soma Mandala, are addressed to Soma Pavamana(purified Soma). The hymns are in celebration of Soma represented as the most powerful god, healer of diseases, bestower of riches, and lord of all other gods. Soma is referred to in the Rig-Veda as the soul of the Yajna (atmayajnasya).

6.2. The oblation, the ritual offering in the yajna; that is, the food of the Agni is Soma. Every substance thrown into the sacramental fire is a form of Soma. At the same time, Soma is the elixir of life which stimulates fire and intoxicates the beings.

6.3. It mixes freely with water and is responsible for sweetness (madhurya) in food. And, as food it nourishes all forms of life.  It enters the herbs and supports beings with long and healthy life.  All the food, all the offering, all fuel, the cold, the moist, the moon, the sperm, and the wine etc in the universe are Soma.

7.1. Soma is a rather difficult concept. I am aware that Soma is variously described as the moon, themanas, the elixir, the drink, the creeper, the cold, the wet etc. A particular version even presents Soma as electrum (gold-silver metallic compound).  Here, I restrict myself; I prefer to treat Soma as a wonderful concept of the Vedic people employed to suggest an essential functionary that, in combination with Agni the fire of life, brings into existence any good object. It is that which provides reality or substance to the un-manifest (satyvataraya agnau suyate tasmat somah).

7.2. Soma the gentle devoured substance is the partner of Agni the fiery devouring spirit. Soma the substance of the universe is ‘food’.” Food is the principle of all, for, truly, the beings are born from food, when born they live by food; and when they are dead they themselves become food “. (Taittereya Upanishad 3.2)


Agni – Soma interplay


8.1. It is not possible to say whether food is more important than the eater; fuel more important than the fire; substance more important than action. Both fire and offering are important to one another. Both arise from the same root and both are the essential aspects of yajna, and of all life. Agni and Soma, each compliment the other wonderfully well; and that is the essence of all existence.

8.2. The life begins with yajna and ends in a yajna. Semen is Soma, yoni the yajna-vedi the altar and passion is the fire. Agni is the desire, the thirst, the intentional will; and Soma is that which aids to fructify that desire. They together bring forth a new life. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (6.4.3) classifies the act of procreation under ‘Vajpayee yajna’. The Agni- Soma pair participates in all creative processes.

At the end, man’s body is thrown into the funeral fire as his last offering.

9.1. It is the interplay between food and the eater, of Agni (fire) and Soma (the offering or fuel), which marks the yajna of all our lives. The nature of Agni is to spread and take over; and that of Soma is to contract, consolidate and vanish. Agni takes over; Soma is devoured. These aspects occur in every phase of human life.

9.2. Agni is the warm outward breath; Soma is the cool inward breath. Agni (fire) is life, Soma is activity; Agni is the enjoyer, Soma is that which is enjoyed. Soma is the food that feeds Agni, the hunger, in man’s belly. Soma and Agni together sustain and carry forward the life.

9.3. All substances that are hot, fiery, dry or parched are in the nature of Agni; Substances that are moist, cooling, soothing and nourishing are in the nature of Soma. Agni is red, Soma is the color of night (Chandogya Upanishad: 6.4).Anger, aggression is Agni; that which restrains is Soma. To grab, to take over is Agni; that which consolidates and preserves is Soma. Combustion is Agni; the fluidity in all aspects of life is Soma.

10. At times Agni becomes its own Soma, just as the Sun burns itself to radiate energy. When a substance has spread to its maximum size, it has to contract. Hence, Agni becomes Soma at each stage of its contraction. Soma falling into Agni itself is transformed into Agni. The acts of devouring and being devoured are successive stages of everything. The alternation of Agni and Soma provides the impetus for growth; for all beings which procreate, grow and perish in the yajna, the ritual of life.




11.1. It is likely that the Agni and Soma was initially a bi-polar, a two humor fire- water medical theory. But that relation blossomed into the classical three humor (tri-dosha) doctrine of Ayurveda. The interplay of Agni and Soma is of vital importance in Ayurveda both at the physical and the subtle levels, as also in the Yoga of Ayurveda.

11.2. According to Ayurveda, a person’s constitution, health and disease are a result of the balance/imbalance of three biological humors – vata, pitta and kapha. If the functions of these three humors were well balanced, then the individual would be in a healthy condition. An imbalance within or between them, would lead to various kinds of ailments. This is the tri-dosha-siddhanta. The primary purpose of Ayurveda   is to restore/ maintain proper balance of vata, pitta and kapha.

11.3. These three humours correspond to the active elements of air, fire and water, which in turn are regarded the aspects of the Vedic deities Indra, Agni and Soma. Indra is equated with vata which is in the nature of Vayu (air); Agni is equated with pitta which is fire, combustion and transformation at all levels; while Soma as fundamental liquid of life is equated with kapha the biological water humour. While Vata controls all the movements in the body, pitta takes care of chemical reactions and biosynthesis of various compounds within the body. Kapha, on the other hand, deals with balanced growth, development and functioning of the body.

Samanagni  is the state when the three doshasvatapitta and kapha are well balanced.

12.1. At the subtle level, Indra represents prana the life-force; Agni represents tejas the fire or the sharpness of mind or intellect; while Soma represents ojas the essential body fluids. It is said, whenvata is purified or refined it rises to prana, a higher state of life-force; when pitta is purified it enhances the intensity of perception; and, when kapha is purified the essential body fluids are harmonized, then the mind is transformed. This is the Yoga in Ayurveda; and, it relates to balancing the three humors in their subtle essence as pranatejas and ojas. That is achieved through use of various substances and methods including herbs, medicines, rituals, mantras and meditation.

12.2. Agni and Soma, thus, together are of vital importance; and play complimenting roles in all stages of human development and evolution.






(i) Rig Veda (4.58.3) describes Agni as:“A great god with four horns, three feet, two heads, and seven hands. He has the form of a Bull bound in places, whose bellowing descends among the mortals ‘.

(ii) Various Agama and Shilpa texts carry his iconographic descriptions. Among such texts, the Shilpa text Isvara samhita (Nrusimha kalpa: 7.14-20) contains an elaborate description of the Agni’s form.

 “Strongly built, with a large belly, Agni is red, with golden brown mustache and red matted hair. He is endowed with two heads sprouting from a single neck. He has four horns (representing four Vedas), two on each head. His each head has three eyes. His two heads together have seven tongues of golden hue (three in the right head and four in the left head) emitting seven colors of fires. Agni should be shown with seven hands, four on the right (holding the ladles sruk and sruva; as also a rosary and a sphere) and three on the left (holding a sphere (shakthi), a fan and a jug holding ghee).  He is dressed in smoke-colored garments, surrounded by flames; and his countenance is placid. He is seated on a ram; and has three feet representing the three ablutions in morning, midday and evening.With these three feet he stands in three worlds.  ”.

(iii) There are other descriptions of Agni with four arms. Agni is described as being red in color; having yellow eyes and two heads. He carries to gods the offerings of the yajna (havya vahana).   His four hands carry an ax, a torch, a fan and a ladle and sometimes a rosary and a flaming spear (shakthi). He is also described as tomara-dhara (one who wields the javelin); Abja-hasta (one with a lotus in hand); Sukasa (bright one) and Suchi (pure), He is the giver of wealth (dravino dasa).


Adorned with flames he is dressed in black. His standard is smoke (dhumaketu).He is accompanied by a ram and he sometimes rides it (chagaratha). At times he sits in a chariot drawn by seven red horses (Rohitashva), representing seven meters used in the hymns.. The seven winds are the wheels of his chariot and Vata the air is his charioteer. Agni has also seven tongues of fire (sapta jihva), each of which has a name.

(iv) Agni is commonly depicted as riding a ram or a chariot or in standing position (sthanaka) ever ready to receive the offerings submitted to him. He is not shown either as relaxing (sukhasana) or reclining (sayana).




(i) There is no specific iconographic representation of Soma. The stanzas addressed to Soma in thesoma-suktha of Rig Veda urge Soma to manifest; but do not refer to his form. The theme of the hymns addressed to Soma generally runs as: “Oh Soma, Pavamana, the overwhelming power in the battles, manifest thyself for the good of our cattle, our people, our horses and useful plants. Protect us from the miser whoever he may be, protect us even from his voice .Open a way for us, carry us beyond difficulties” (RV 10.13.4-10)

(ii) The iconography of Soma has got mixed up with that of Chandra the Moon, also addressed as Soma. The ancient text Vishnudharmottara (part three, ch.72, verses 1-8) mentions that “Soma should be given the form of the moon”. The text in its earlier passages (ch.68, verses 1-14) had described the form of Lord Chandra the master of the abode of the ancestors. It said:


“The Lord Moon (Chandra) should be made with lustrous white body because he is composed of the essence of water; with four hands, and white garments. He should be adorned with all ornaments. His two hands hold two white lotuses representing beauty and grace. His chariot with two wheels should have Ambara (horizon) as the charioteer and driven by ten horses representing ten directions; and they are named (from left to right of the Moon) Sarja, Trimanasa, Vrsa, Vadi, Nara, Vach, Saptadhatu, Hamsa, Vyoma and Mrga. The insignia in the left corner of the chariot should bear the mark of lion representing Dharma.

His twenty-eight wives called Nakshatra (stars) should be depicted bright and beautiful. The Moon should be depicted with luster (kanthi), enchanting beauty (shobha) and as the delight of the whole world.




References and sources:

The Myths and Gods of India  By Alain Danielou.
Most of the substance is from this book.
Pictures are from internet

Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Speculation


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Ganapathi, the lord of the ganas

1.1. Everything that our senses can perceive and our mind can apprehend can be expressed in terms of categories. These might include our desires, our treasures, and all that we care for or try to avoid.  Hence categories, the Ganas, could be considered inevitable to our existence. The texts mention, all that can be counted and comprehended is Gana.

[ It is said; such categorization or analytical  investigation and examination (Anveshiki) of issues which bring clarity into the intellectual aspects of man’s life help him to attain freedom (moksha) from delusions and confusions in life. The Arthasástra of Kautilya (Chapter II- Determination of the place of Anvikshaki) speaks of Anvikshaki – metaphysical speculation involving keen introspectionas being the most beneficial to the world – ‘leading to all kinds of knowledge, reliable means to accomplish all kinds of acts and receptacle of all kinds of virtues’.]

1.2. The term Gana means a collection of things or the horde. The fundamental principle of classification through which the relation between different orders of things; and between macro and micro forms of existence can be understood is called Ganesha the ruler over all categories.

2. Ganapathi the ruler of all categories is identified with Divinity in its perceptible manifestation. For the followers of the Ganapathya sect he is the Supreme Divinity. He is placed above the Trinity (Tri murti).

3. Ganapathi stands for one of the basic symbolisms in the Indian thought, the identity of the macrocosm and the microcosm; or, in religious terms, man is in the image of God. That relation can be best expressed in terms of number (gana). Hence, number is seen as the common element of all forms.

4. 1. Ganapathi’s elephant head over man’s body symbolizes unity of the small being (micro) and the Great Being (macro). The term Gaja that normally means elephant is at times taken to signify “the origin as also the goal” (ga = goal; ja =origin). The Gaja is thus a symbol of the stage where the “un-manifest ends “and where “existence begins”. The man part of Ganapathi image is the manifest principle; and the un-manifest is that which is above.

4.2. In the world of appearances where opposites do not often coexist, man cannot be “Gaja”; but it can happen symbolically. Ganapathi Upanishad states “thou art That (tat tvam asi) ”.The text says the living being is the visible form of That, the supreme essence. Human existence, according to that Upanishad, is the coordination of the absolute and the relative; of That and Thou. True knowledge is the realization of unity.

The image of Ganapathi is the symbol that constantly reminds us of this apparently impossible identity. One should bow to Ganesha before one begins anything.

5.1. The Ganesha principle (tattva) transcends intellect. Yet, as in the case of other Indian deities, Ganesha too is represented through various symbols; mantras the sound representations; yantras the graphic representations; and the murtis icons or images.

5.2. The monosyllable AUM uttered at the beginning of every rite is said to be the sound image or the mantra representing Ganapathi. Its import “Thou art That” is symbolized by the unity in Ganesha image of the small and the Big.

5.3. The Swastika is also said to be the graphic image of Ganesha. Its multiple arms all emanate from the common central point, Bindu. But, each arm is bent away and does not aim towards the centre. It is perhaps meant to suggest that we cannot reach the Bindu, the basic unity, directly through outward manifestations.

There is also a diagram called Ganesha yantra, used mainly for ritual worship.Ganapathi is regarded the synthesis of all the five elements. The earth element is represented by a square; the water by circle; fire by triangle; air by half-moon; and space by Bindu (point). It is said all these features can be found in the form of Ganapathi.

There is a close relation between Yoga and Tantra; and Ganapathi figures prominently in both the streams. It is said, his tusk is Om-kara; his belly the great space; the serpent around his belly the Kundalini enclosing all; his rat the Rajo-guna; which Ganapathi controls riding on it.

5.4. It is said, Ganesha is obese to suggest that all manifestation is contained in him; and he is not contained. His ears are like winnowing trays, throwing away the dust of the vice and virtue, retaining only the Reality that is beyond qualities. Ganesha has one tusk, the word One is said to be the symbol of illusion (maya) from which all duality springs forth. The broken tusk is the impeller of illusion. The goad (ankusha) in his hand is for taming ignorance, while the noose (pasha) is caution against bondage.

His ride, the mouse is essentially a stealer, one who takes away things to which people are attached .The greatest attachment one can have is “I-ness”. The ride works at the behest of its master, the remover of illusions.

6. Ganesha is the lord of wisdom; the patron of letters and of schools; he is the king of the elders (Jyesta raja); and he is the first among the greats and presides over the assembly of gods. He is Vinayaka,  the great leader. He is the lord (Vigneshwara) and the destroyer of obstacles. He is Gananatha the lord of all categories. He rules over the universal intellect (maha tattva) and the elements (tattva) derived from it.

 Siddhi the attainment and Ruddhi the prosperity are his consorts.

Ganapathi the ruler of all categories, I bow to you; you alone are the visible form of the principle. You are the creator; you alone are the sustainer; you alone are the destroyer; and you alone are unmistakably the Brahma, the essence of everything that exists, the true Self.

– Ganapathi Upanishad-

[Please also check Origins of Ganesha worship ]

The pictures are from internet

[ Note on significance 21 associated with Ganapathi

The association of number twenty-one with Ganapathi has many interpretations. The most common of such explanations is  that  twenty-one is the sum of five gross elements(bhuta) + five subtle existential  principles or vital airs (pancha prana) + 5 subtle organs of perception (jnanendriya) + 5 sense-organs of action (karmendriya) + mind; suggesting that Ganesha is the Lord presiding over all the elements of existence.

The other suggestions are from Tantra, as Ganesha is basically a Tantric deity. According to Tantra, Ganesha’s ‘true-name’ (nija –naama) that is the effective name by which he is invoked is the Bija ’Gam’; his other names being the popular ones by which the people of the world love to call him (laukika). The Tantra Schools rely on an ancient system of notation which assigns numerical value to each consonant of the Sanskrit alphabet , for the purposes of inscribing on and designing various yantras as also for offering interpretations on the structures of the chakras and other graphical presentations. Of those systems, the Katapayadi which took strong roots in Kerala is considered the most authentic.  That system is also in use in the South Indian classical music.

The  Katapayadi, in a way, anticipated the hashing technique of Computer Science which derives a number from a non-numeric key for indexing into a table. For more on that, please check the following link; and, if possible, refer to the fourth section of a scholarly book: The Eastern mysteries, an encyclopedic guide to the sacred languages by David Allen Hulse.

According to Katapayadi, the Bija “Gam” has a numeric value of three (Ga =3; the Anusvara the dot and Anunasika  the dot within a crescent placed over the letter having no numeric value). Ganesha is thus associated with the number three , which sometimes is expressed as :2+1.

After having invoked Ganesha with his Bija Gam, the worshipper salutes his Lord with the chant: Ganapathaye namaha. The numerical value of that chant , according to Katapayadi  is twenty-one : ( ga =   3; Na=  5; pa =1;ta =6; ye=1; na=0; and mha =5).Please check the table  posted below.

Thus, it appears ,  is Ganesha’s  association  with numbers three and twenty-one.

This is , as I understand it; I could be wrong.]

Katapayadi Tables




Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Speculation


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Virabhadra, the auspicious hero

1.1. Virabhadra the auspicious hero raging like flaming fire is Shiva‘s ferocious instrument for destruction of ignorance, ritualism and dogma. Virabhadra, the Great Warrior,is the sublimation of Shiva’s impatience and anger; the embodiment of his resolute might; and is therefore regarded an aspect of Shiva in blazing mood burning down delusion and falsehood (samhara –murti).

1.2. It is said; Shiva represents pure-consciousness (jnana shakthi); Devi is the creative energy, the thought within his consciousness, the will to intend an act (itccha shakthi); and Virabhadra is the power of action (kriya-shakthi) the determined might to transform that will into an act. Virabhadra, the action-hero,    personifies implicit faith, absolute devotion and reverence as also the ruthless efficiency in carrying out the command of his creator.

1.3. Virabhadra also symbolizes the sharp incisive power of discrimination, potent in each of us, to sever  attachments to conceited values, misplaced faith and the routines that we all run through thoughtlessly. He points out to our adulation of that which should not be esteemed; and to our neglect of that which ought to be valued. Virabhadra’s message is to open our heart, to embrace everything that life has given us, without fear or prejudice. Virabhadra destroys in order to save.

Daksha – Shiva – Uma

2.1. The origin and the relevance of Virabhadra have to be appreciated in the context of the running feud between Daksha and Shiva spread over many eons, manvantara.   The two mighty personages represent two different realities, two divergent faiths, two separate streams of understanding and two opposed world orders.

2.2. Daksha meaning ‘able, competent, skilled ‘in performing rituals, is rooted in the propriety and the relevance of elaborate rituals; and in their techniques as prescribed in the scriptures. He is also a great believer in the organized  hierarchy of gods and the proper order of apportioning the oblation among various levels of gods. He is one of the Prajapatis and is sometimes regarded as their chief. He is charged with the responsibility of ensuring perpetuation of life on earth, as also the richness and dignity in life. He is a very prominent person of the established order; and, in fact, is at its very core. Daksha holding the office of Prajapathi was a lawgiver who formulated rules for conduct of behaviour in the society and norms for the orderly working of the society along the well respected traditional lines. The world order as envisaged by Daksha defined the precise role and conduct not merely of humans but of gods as well. He expected from all, reverence to his self and obedience to his law.  He would not tolerate subversive bunch of renegades who had scant regard for the social dignity and decorum. Daksha therefore represents the matter-of-fact logical mode of thinking, the way in which most of us would like to lead our lives.

2.3. Shiva, in contrast, was beyond the pale of normal society; and stood for everything that Daksha dreaded. Shiva was a Vratya, and the most distinguished among them, Ekavratya, an unorthodox hermit, who lived by his own rules, not always acceptable to traditional society. He refused to conform to the ways of the world.

3.1. Vratyas  were a community of dissenters, social rebels and ascetics living under a set of strange religious vows (Vrata). They totally rejected the Vedic rites and rituals. Vratyas followed their own cult-rules and practices; and did not care either for the rituals or for initiations (adhikshitah); and not at all for celibacy (Na hi brahmacharyam charanthi).They did not engage themselves in agriculture (Na krshim) or in trade (Na vanijyam).They behaved as if they were possessed (gandharva grithaha) or drunk or just mad. They roamed about the countryside and lived among the warriors, herdsmen and farmers. They were worshippers of Rudra, Isana or Mahadeva; and yet were regarded irreligious. In the words of Shri DSamapth, they were the ‘freethinkers who gave a very time and space based approach to the issues; and, were the initial social scientists with rationality as the anchor’.

3.2. Shiva, Rudra the wild one, like a true Vratya, wandered among cremation grounds with a rowdy bunch of renegades consuming intoxicants forbidden in polite society and slept amidst the warmth of burning funeral pyres. He sang and danced whenever and wherever he wanted to with little heed to decorum and protocol. Shiva refused to indulge in any social rule having pretentions of respect.  He had no home, no possessions, no family, no vocation; he was a drifter, ritually impure, unsuitable for married life.

4.1. Uma was the daughter of Himavat (Uma Haimavathi) by Menaka or Mena [In this version she is not related to Daksha]; she was desperately in love with Shiva but had a hard time persuading him to marry her. Shiva narrated all his disqualifications that failed to make him a dependable householder. Despite that, Uma followed Shiva wherever he went, over hills, across desolate plains and dense forests and through cremation grounds. Shiva at first ignored Uma. He barely acknowledged her.  Uma finally told her reluctant lover, “It is for the good of both of us.You are incomplete without me and I am incomplete without you. I do not ask for anything, but you. I accept you for what you are, not deterred by what you do not have…I would like to observe with you”. Shiva could no longer be without his loving consort.

5.1. Daksha Prajapathi’s intense dislike of Shiva was because the latter was a vagrant, a tramp who had neither commitments nor sense of values in life. Daksha called  Shiva – a Kapalin having neither father nor mother, impure , incorrigible and proud abolisher of rites and demolisher of barriers who roams about in dreadful cemeteries, attended by hosts of ghosts and sprites, like a madman, naked, with disheveled hair, wearing a garland of skulls and ornaments of bones of the dead, pretending to be Siva (auspicious), but in reality is   a- Siva (inauspicious), insane, leader of the insane Bhutas (spirits), the wicked hearted whose nature is essentially darkness.’Let this Bhava (Siva), lowest of the gods, never, at the worship of the gods, receive any portion along with the gods Indra, Upendra (Vishnu), and others’.

5.2. Uma’s perception of Shiva is of a different kind. It is non-judgmental absolute faith and intense love. There are no words to describe it otherwise. It obviously is unwise. But, that foolish wisdom is a precious gift of grace received in humility of mind and simplicity of heart; an un-bounded loving energy that transforms the world more effectively than the rhetoric. But, that rarely happens.

6.1. The Daksha – Shiva conflict is more along the traditional lines, It is between establishment and anti-establishment. It occurs in every generation and all the time. It is the conflict between normal learning and intuitional understanding; between the conventional point of view and the transcendental experience; and between the man of the world and the one who has cast off all concerns and obligations.

6.2. The Indian traditions, for some reason, have always regarded content-less intuitional understanding and recognition of ‘what Is’ as being far superior to belief systems or a schools of thought. Our ancients always asserted that the immediate experience ( sakshat aparoksha) which liberates is truly superior to  the  intellectual knowledge of scriptures, rites and rituals.  They explained it as the sort of experience that leads to the true understanding of the problems of being and becoming; that which aids to cross over all sorrows (shokasya param trayathi); and to realize one’s true identity. It is beyond the understanding of the intellect; it is experience (we shall return to this theme a little later).

6.3. The Daksha –Shiva conflict enacts the theme of limited formal learning giving place to expansive intuitional understanding. This theme manifests in life, in all ages, in various forms. The ego fears for its death, so it refuses to surrender to the heart. But, it eventually does give in.  The old sage Parashara wryly remarks “in every age Daksha and the rest are born and are again destroyed.”

6.4. The emergence of Virabhadra as Shiva’s instrument for destruction of Daksha’s small ’ego’ and for awakening of true understanding in him occurs when Daksha was born as the son of Prachetas and Marisha; and was designated as Prajapathi in age of Vaivasvata Manu.

Daksha yajna

7.1. The performance of the magnificent and most elaborate Brahaspathi – savana – yajna by Daksha Prajapathi must have been a highly significant event in the very ancient past. The Daksha story became a ground for fertile epic imagination. Countless versions of the event were described elaborately in various Puranas, epics and folk legends; each version, of course, bending the event to champion its own pet theme.

By all accounts, ‘Daksha’s sacrifice’ shook the old world and brought in a new world order. Shorn of prejudices and rhetoric, the legend indicates that Rudra-Shiva an unorthodox god stormed his way into the world of established order, secured there a prominent undisputed status among all gods and claimed a fair share of esteem and oblations that were due to him. It also amply demonstrates the futility and irrelevance of mere scriptural learning, rituals and sacrifices; and upholds the way of right-understanding as the means to liberation from all sorrows.

7.2. But the germ of the story seems to be in the Taittiriya Samhita(2.6.8) , where the gods, excluded Rudra from a sacrifice; and he pierced the sacrifice with an arrow; thereafter a ‘well offered yajna (svista)’ was submitted to Rudra. Gopatha Brahmana too carries a similar story where Prajapathi deprived Rudra of his share in the Yajna; then Rudra pierced the Yajna (prasitra) and gained his share. In these brief references, there is no mention of Daksha by name; and Rudra gains his share of the Yajna by force. There, of course, is no Virabhadra.

7.3. There is another reference to Shiva and Daksha in Ramayana. The King Janaka describes the great bow Shiva Dhanus as the one wielded by Shiva when he threatened to destroy Daksha’s Yajna    because Devas had not offered Shiva a portion of the oblations. In this version of the legend also there is no mention of Rudra commissioning Virabhadra, or anyone else, to destroy the sacrifice or put the gods to flight. He is simply said to wound the gods with his bow.

8.1. All these references indicate that Shiva ( it is not clear if he was the same as the Rudra of the Rig Veda) who perhaps was  at the periphery was determined to break into the world of Vedic rituals , to be recognized as one of the major gods and to secure a fair portion of the Yajna because of the esteem associated with it.

8.2. The later epic –poets strung together these references; and spun amazingly elaborate and divergent tales around Shiva – Daksha Prajapathi conflict. The various Puranas were structured, basically, in two levels. One, Daksha and Shiva were projected as two opposite poles in the society; Daksha representing the establishment and Shiva the anti – establishment and everything that Daksha hated.

Uma the Devi was the gracious link of love that connected the two opposing worlds.

The other was the determination of the Devas to continue to keep Shiva out of the Vedic fold and to refuse him recognition within its orthodox framework by denying him a share of the Yajna; and Shiva’s repeated, determined and forceful efforts to secure the esteem which he thought was due to him. He does eventually succeed not merely in gaining acceptance but also in becoming the premier god in the Vedic pantheon revered with fair share of the Yajna oblations. Along with that, the Pashupathas stood to gain some   recognition within the Vedic fold, though it was conceded very reluctantly.

8.3. In addition, two other minor themes run through the narrations: One is the element of Shiva –Vishnu rivalry; and the other is the efforts of the Shaktha cult to use the events at Daksha-yajna in order to relate the origins of its Shakthi peethas and to base its legends.

8.4. There is however a dichotomy in these narrations; and it is not adequately explained. The followers of Shiva, mainly the Pashupathas, did not seem to have faith or respect for the Vedic rituals and their efficacy. Yet, they fight very hard, even by violence, to secure their leader a fair share in the Yajna and to see him established in the hierarchy of the Devas. And, eventually they agreed to become a part of the very Yajna which they set out to destroy.

8.5. In any case, several Puranas together have  woven a very complicated  ( at times confusing ) maze of  stories  involving assumed traditional proprieties, their alleged breach, disputed claims, divided loyalties and prejudices for and against Shiva or Vishnu; and, an undecided stand on the efficacy of Vedic rituals.

Narrations in Vayu Purana

9.1. Of the several versions of the Daksha Yajna, the narrations in Vayu Purana, perhaps the oldest of the extant puranas and in Mahabharata are restrained and comparatively brief. They describe, in substance, the waste of food and drinks stored for the Yajna and the burning of the Yajna.  Here, Devi is presented, without a preamble, as Parvathi or Uma daughter of Himavat (Uma Haimavathi) by Menaka or Mena .In this version she is not related to Daksha; she does not also visit the Yajna; and she does not die (out of grief at the insult directed at her husband).There are no references in these versions to the previous conflicts or the enmity that existed between Daksha and Shiva. Here, Shiva’s anger is directed not so much against Daksha as against the unfair arrangement devised by the Devas to deprive him of a share of the Yajna. He wills Yajna to be disrupted; but he does not command Virabhadra to kill Daksha. Shiva left to himself, perhaps, would have accepted the position as it were but for Devi who felt slighted and did not want to see her husband belittled by other gods.

9.2. Here, Uma is terribly unhappy that her husband is not invited to a great Yajna where all other gods participate joyously. And she anxiously enquires why he does not proceed to the Yajna; what holds him back? Mahadeva replied ‘This is the contrivance that in all sacrifices no portion should be assigned to me’. Devi is filled with ‘deep sorrow and trembling’ and is hardly able to restrain as her husband ‘of unsurpassable splendour, glory and power’ is excluded from share of oblations. Then, after prodding from Parvathi, Shiva says “O queen of the gods, behold whom I shall create for the purpose of claiming my share of the oblation in the yajna”.

10.1. He then creates Virabhadra from his mouth .In these versions; there is no beheading of either the Yajna who assumed the form of a deer or of Daksha. There is also no mention of beating up and mutilating various gods and sages assembled at the Yajna. Daksha at the end realizes his folly and submits to Shiva who pardons and grants him salvation. Yajna is concluded successfully. All ends well.

Lets us briefly go over the narrations as provided in Vayu Purana  and Mahabharata- Book 12: Santi Parva: Mokshadharma Parva.[ The following is extracted from  Prof.Wilson’s   translation of Vayu-Purana ] We can later have a brief look at the variations of the legend  as depicted in other Puranas.


10.2. “ Having spoken thus to his beloved the mighty Mahadeva created out of his mouth a most magnificent and frightening being glowing like the fire of fate (kaala-agni); a divine being with thousand heads , thousand eyes , thousand feet , thousand arms , wielding a thousand clubs, thousand shafts ; holding the shankha , chakra, mace, bearing a blazing bow and battle axe; fierce and terrible shining with dreadful splendour; decorated with crescent moon; clothed in tiger skin; dripping with blood; having a capacious stomach and a vast mouth armed with sharp protruding formidable tusks; his tongue was lightening; his hands brandished thunderbolt; flames streamed from his hair; a necklace of pearls wound around his neck; a garland of flames descended from his breast; radiant with lustre he glowed brilliantly like the final-fire of destruction that consumes all existence.

Four tremendous tusks projected from his wide mouth extending from ear to ear; he was of vast bulk, vast strength a mighty war god and destroyer of universe and like a vast fig-tree in spread, shining like a hundred moons at once; fierce as the fire of love; sharp white teeth and mighty fierceness , vigour, activity and courage; glowing like a thousand fiery suns at the end of the world; like a thousand undimmed moons; in bulk like Himadri , Kailasa and Meru or Mandara with all its gleaming herbs ; bright as the sun at the end of ages; of irresistible power; beautiful aspects; irascible with lowered eyes and a countenance of burning sun; clothed in the hide of elephant and lion and girdle of snakes; wearing a turban on the head, moon in his brows.

10.3. Sometimes savage; sometimes benign; having a chaplet of flowers on his head; anointed with various fragrant perfumes adorned with variety of ornaments and many designs of jewels; wearing a heavy garland of karnikara flowers and rolling his eyes in rage.

Sometimes he danced wildly , sometimes he sang out aloud, sometimes he wept out uncontrollably; sometimes he spoke gently sweetly , meditated intensely; he was endowed with faculties of wisdom, dispassion , power, penance, truth, endurance , fortitude and self-knowledge.

10.4. Virabhadra of Rudra-manohara –rupa, of terrifying and the same time heart-warming form, born of Shiva’s potent mouth (Va.p.30.122) was thus like Purusha of Rig Veda of immense strength and splendour, a great being with a huge body the size of any mountain, ablaze and adorned with crescent moon.

10.5. His monstrous exterior disguised his true nature of vibrancy – full of wisdom, detachment, sovereignty, asceticism, truth, patientince, fortitude, lordship and self knowledge (Va.p.30.125-136).He greatly resembled Shiva whose emanation he was.

11.1. The mighty Virabhadra knelt down upon the ground in respect and raising his hands on to his head in reverence addressed Mahadeva “Sovereign of gods, Command me! What is it you desire me to do?” Mahadeva charged Virabhadra to “destroy the yajna of Daksha”

11.2. Then the powerful Virabhadra having heard of the pleasure of his Lord bowed down his head to the feet of his Master and jumping out like a lion loosed from shackles he rushed to despoil the Yajna of Daksha. The wrath of Devi took the form of the fearful Rudrakali. She accompanied Virabhadra with all her train to witness the destruction.

2.1. Virabhadra then created from the pores of his skin powerful demigods the Ganas the attenders on Rudra, of equal valour and strength, who poured out in hundreds and thousands. Then, a loud and confused clamour filled the air and heavens with dread. The mountains tottered , the earth shook, the winds roared wildly, the depths of the oceans were disturbed; the fires lost their radiance and the sun grew pale; the panels of the firmaments shone not; neither did the stars give light; Rishis  ceased their hymns; and gods and demons alike were muted; thick darkness enveloped the sky like blankets.

12.2. Virabhadra and his Ganas set out in chariots drawn by ten thousand lions. Among his bodyguards were Sixty-four groups of Yoginis, Shakhini, Dakhini, along with Bhutas, Pramathas (churn spirits) guhyaka (guardian of hidden treasures), Bhiravas, kshetrapalas and other types of spirits and fiends.

13.1. In the meantime, Dadhichi, one of the sages assembled at the Yajna is distressed when he learns that Rudra had not been invited. He queries Daksha, “Why do you not offer homage to the god who is the lord of life?” and remarks “The man who worships what ought not to be worshipped or pays not reverence where reverence is due , is guilty, most assuredly , of heinous sin”. To which, Daksha laughs and replies “I have already many Rudras present, armed with tridents, wearing braided hair, and existing in eleven forms. I recognize no other Mahadeva”. Dadhichi offended by Daksha’s reply walks out of the Yajna warning it would not be completed.

Destruction of the Yajna

14.1. Then the gloom emerged fearful and numerous hideous forms, shouting aloud frightening battle cries instantly broke and overturned the sacrificial altar and danced amidst the oblations. Running wildly hither and thither like hurricanes they tossed about the implements and vessels of the yajna. The piles of the wood and the beverages stocked for the Devas like little mountains; the rivers of milk; the banks of curds and butter; the sands of honey, buttermilk and sugar; the mounds of condiments and spices of every flavor; the undulating knolls of flesh and other vandals ; the mounds of celestial liquor , pastes and confections which had been prepared; these the spirits of wrath devoured with glee . Then falling upon the assembled Devas the vast and furious Rudras mocked and insulted the nymphs and quickly put an end to the Yajna.

14.2. His sacrifice being destroyed, Daksha overcome with terror and utterly broken in spirit fell upon the ground. The multitude of the assembled Devas in disarray cried out helplessly “O Rudras have pity on us thy servants; o lord dismiss thy anger”. They all pleaded “Declare who you are. Which Deva are you”.

Virabhadra shouted back “I am not a Deva or an Aditya; nor I come here for enjoyment; nor am I curious to see the various Devas. Know you all that I am here to destroy the despicable Yajna of Daksha; I am Virabhadra springing forth from the wrath of Rudra; Bhadra kali who sprang from the anger of Devi is sent here with her multitudes of spirits to destroy the yajna. Take refuge you all Devas and Rishis at the feet of Rudra the lord of Uma; f or better is the anger of Rudra than the blessing of the Devas (ymram Icrodho ‘pi devasya vara-danam na chanyatah)”.

14.3. Suppressing his vital airs – prana and apana- and taking a position of meditation, Daksha tried fixing his thoughts .Then god of gods, Mahadeva appeared out of the sacrificial altar resplendent as thousand suns , smiled upon him and said “Daksha your Yajna has been destroyed through the sacred knowledge. I am well pleased with you. What shall I do for you?”

14.4. Then Daksha frightened, distressed and alarmed fell on his four , his eyes suffused with tears and hands raised over his brows in reverence and submission pleaded with the mighty Lord ” If you are pleased with me , have mercy on me , confer me this boon, this is the blessing I beseech of you, all these provisions that have been prepared with much effort and time , which now have been eaten , drunken and destroyed by hosts may not have been prepared in vain”. “So be it” said the merciful lord. Whereupon the relieved Daksha fell upon the feet of Mahadeva and burst into hymns,  celebrating one thousand and eight names of the lord.”

…and thereafter

15.1. The story, though it highlights vandalism and destruction, it is, in essence, the glorification of Shiva as the Supreme Lord. He destroyed the sacrifice from which the Devas had excluded him; and having destroyed it he made it the whole again and won his share. After the destruction of the Yajna the Devas lost their creative power. It is said; the Devas did not fully understand Mahadeva the great god, ferocious and kind at the same time; ruthless at one time, kind and benevolent at another; a demon and an ascetic. That is the pristine nature of Shiva.

15.2. As the Devas praised Shiva they all Pashus were relieved of their bonds and Shiva became their Lord Pashupathi. He gave back to each god his of creative power and understanding (Varaha Purana 21.78-82;33,25-28; and Mbh .10.18.22-23) . The gods recognized Shiva as the lord of the knowledge that liberates – Pashupathi.

15.1. In substance, the event was primarily a solemn Vedic event to which all important persons of that age were invited. Daksha who performed the yajna appeared a follower of Vishnu; and obviously there were many others who were not. A participant, perhaps a follower of the Pashpatha School which dominated the mountain areas, points out the lapse in not inviting Shiva and suggests that could be rectified by more equitable representation. Daksha annoyed at that, spurns the suggestion. But eventually Daksha learns his lesson the hard way; and submits to the strength of the Pahupathas .It was the triumph of Pashpatha; but then thereafter they seemed to soften their stern stand.

15.2.  In one of the Versions of the event, Nandisvara, an ardent follower of Mahadeva very strongly condemns Vedic rituals as also those who believe in it : ” let him, from a desire of vulgar pleasures, practice the round of ceremonies, with an understanding degraded by Vedic prescriptions. Forgetting the nature of soul, with a mind which contemplates other things, let Daksha continue to exist in this world of  ceremonial ignorance. Let the enemies of Rudra whose minds are disturbed by the flowery words of the Veda, become deluded! Let those Brahmans, eating all sorts of food, professing knowledge and practicing austerities and ceremonies merely for subsistence, delighting in riches and in corporeal and sensual enjoyments, wander about as beggars! “

15.3. The sage Bhrigu  spokesperson of the orthodox who were present at the sacrifice launched a counter attack and cursed the Pashupathas : ‘Let those who practice the rites of Bhava (Mahadeva)  having lost their purity, deluded in understanding, wearing matted hair, and ashes and bones, let them undergo the initiation of Shiva, in which spirituous liquor is the deity ”. The Pashupathas that Bhrigu described might be the forerunner of the Naga Sadhus of all weird appearances who throng the Kumbha Mela.

6.1. As if to justify Brighu’s curse, the Pashupathas and various schools of Avadhutas emerged strongly after the Daksha –yajna episode. And, despite their heretical stand they gained acceptance within the Vedic traditions as the essence of the most sublime spiritual wisdom. For instance, the classical texts Avadhuta –GitaAstavakra -Gita and similar other texts celebrate the glory of one who has no use for social etiquette, not bound by any dharma, never knows any mantra in Vedic meter or any ritual; and having renounced all, he moves about naked, roams the earth freely like a child, like an intoxicated or like one possessed; perceives the Absolute, the All, within himself.

These extreme schools decried scriptural learning: There are no divine scriptures, no imperative religious practices; there are no gods, no classes or races of men, No stages of life, no superior or inferior; there’s nothing but Brahman, the supreme Reality. He is the embodiment of detachment and spiritual wisdom.

[ It is said; Pashupathas should be viewed as distinct from Kapalikas who practice extreme forms of Tantra. The Pashupathas are said to be inspired by wisdom and shun hideous ritual-practices.]

16.2. Shakthas who along with Pashupathas perhaps had strong presence in the mountain regions emerged stronger after the Daksha-yajna. The Daksha-Yajna  lore provided them a base for building their  legends and temple -chains of Shakthi Pithas .These legends grew rapidly ; and the Pithas associated with Devi’s organs and ornaments  soon grew from four to one hundred and eight. The lists of Shakthi Pithas varied from text to text and from region to region. And, eventually, Shakthas too moved into the inner circle of the tradition through various forms of Tantra and Sri Vidya; and laid claim in the Vedic rituals. Later, the cults of Shiva and Devi drew close to each other ; and their merger was symbolized by Shiva-Shakthi, Ardha-narishwara formed by two halves- one each of Shiva and Devi . On a metaphysical level it was the union of the active and passive principles in the universe.

Karaikkal Ammaiyar

17.1. A branch of the Pashupatha cult spread to the South India in its moderate form. It came to be celebrated as the sublime and mysterious Siddha tradition of South. The Siddha is one who has attained flawless identity with reality.

17.2. I cannot resist mentioning here the  remarkable Karaikkal Ammaiyar (sixth century) the forerunner of the Siddha tradition  in the South  and who  in the prime of her youth abandoned the respectable life of a traditional dutiful wife  and chose to embrace  extreme asceticism of unswerving devotion to Shiva in his terrible Bhairava form.

This amazing woman was born as Punitavathi into an affluent trading family in the coastal town of Karaikkal, Tamil Nadu. She had to give-up her home, hearth and husband because of rupture in her domestic life. Punitavathi rejected the social and domestic world of conventions and obligations. She then took shelter in the cremation ground as one of Shiva’s Gana, an adoring ghoulish attendant. Punitavathi beseeched Shiva to divest her of the burden of her flesh asking only that she watch him dance into eternity. It is said; a miracle occurred:  In place of the young woman stood an emaciated hag. She even began to look like an emaciated frightening attendant of Bhirava haunting the cremation ground. Known from henceforth as Mother of Karaikkal (Karaikkal Ammaiyar) she came to regard the cremation ground as the truly beautiful place of liberation and the ideal abode to dwell in peace with the Lord of Universe. From then on she wrote poetry in praise of Shiva.

The ground is damp with liquid marrow–
Skeletal ghouls with sunken eyes
jostle and elbow–
looking furtively around them
extinguishing the fires
with gleeful hearts
they eat half-burned corpses–
There, in that menacing forest
holding fire in his hand
dances our beautiful lord.

(Vidya Dehejia, Antal and Her Path of Love:  Poems of a Woman Saint from South India, 1990)

Seated Saint Karaikkal Ammaiyar Chola period, 12th century;Metropolitan Museum of Art

This image portrays her not as a fearsome figure but as a once-beautiful woman who has lost her flesh. Her calm, smiling face expresses her inner peace while she blissfully plays her cymbals and sings to the glory of Shiva.

17.3. Ammaiyar in her poetry asserts that to know Shiva, ones state in life or ones gender is irrelevant; but one should truly transcend the limitations of ordinary human awareness and should give up a life rooted in conventions, attachments and rituals.  She does not talk of temples, worship, rituals etc; and she criticizes those who vainly attempt to know Shiva through hallow rituals.

Liberation from cycle of rebirth and to attain the nature of Shiva is the aim of Shaiva-siddantha. Ammaiyar exhorts devotees to meditate in intense devotion   on Shiva the ultimate truth and the only means to salvation.

17.4. Through her powerful poetry, Karaikkal Ammaiyar proclaims that the horrific cremation ground is indeed the cosmos; and the terrifying form of Shiva performing his dance of destruction is really the most sublime and blissful expression  of the Lord. She makes the terrible look beautiful. Ammiyar asks one to go  beyond terror and revulsion associated with the dreadful cremation ground ;  to regard it  as the theater of Shiva’s dance of life and death ;  and as  the sacred grove of liberation from this world. It is where one overcomes fear of death and the fear of losing attachments.   She explains cremation ground as the state of one’s mind, as the space in ones heart where the ego and ignorance are burnt to ashes over which Shiva dances in delight the dance of destruction. She urges the seeker to revere Shiva as the beautiful embodiment of the rhythm of life, as the destroyer of our illusions, as the conqueror of death, as pure consciousness and the ultimate sovereign of the universe.

In the cemetery where you hear crackling noises
And the white pearls fall out of the tall bamboo,
The ghouls with frizzy hair and drooping bodies,
Shouting with wide-open mouths,
Come together and feast on the corpses.
In the big, threatening cremation ground,
When The Lord dances,
The Daughter of the Mountain watches Him,
In astonishment.
 (Tiruvalankattu mutta tirupatikam, 2.8)


17.5. Kariakkal Ammaiyar’s poetry is filled with vivid images of Shiva as the heroic god whose grace rescues his devotees from sorrows of the world. Bones are a central liberation motif in Karaikkal Ammaiyar’s poetry. Shiva adorns himself with a garland of bones he finds in the cremation ground.

Ghouls with flaming mouths and rolling, fiery eyes,

Going around, doing the tunankai dance,
Running and dancing in the terrifying forest,
Draw out a burning corpse from the fire and eat the flesh

17.6. Karaikkal Ammaiyar’s extreme asceticism (Pashupatha) portrays the state where the seekers strived, in body and spirit, to be Shiva the terrible Bhairava residing   in the cremation ground. Ammaiyar’s way of life and her teachings represent the early phase of Tamil Shaiva tradition before it transformed into a temple-based orthodoxy. It is said; because of its extreme views, Karaikkal Ammaiyar’s poetry is not normally sung in Shiva temples today along with the devotional hymns of the Tevaram poets.

Think of our Lord all the time

One who shines like a leaping golden flame;
With complexion of setting sun and of a smoldering fire.
Think of Our Father with the gleaming throat,
Who wanders around with the strong ghouls
His lotus-like body smeared with ash and garlanded with
Snakes and bones of others.
Happily Dances at night in the fire
With the kalal jangling and the anklets tinkling
His body cool with Ganga on his head,
A moonbeam in his long matted hair
A radiant flame in his beautiful hand
 His streaming hair flying in all eight directions.
All those who do not understand that he is the real Truth,
Have seen only his ghoul form.
But those who take refuge in him with wisdom
Will not be born here in this world in a body with bones.

[For more on Karaikkal Ammiaiyar, please read The Anatomy of Devotion: The Life and Poetry of Karaikkal Ammaiyar   by Professor Elaine Craddock; Department of Religion and Philosophy; Southwestern University, TX]


The other Versions of Daksha Yajna legend


18.1. As mentioned earlier, the legend as narrated in Vayu Purana is simpler and more restrained. The story however gets complicated and more violent in other Puranas.  For instance, in Kurma Purana, Sati is described as the daughter of Daksha prajapathi who is unhappy with Shiva his son-in-law because Daksha thought Shiva did not offer him the respect he deserved. And when Sati his daughter visits him next, Daksha abuses Shiva and turns Sati out of his house. Sati in deep sorrow and anguish gives up her life. Shiva on hearing the horrible news curses Daksha. Shiva then did penance and obtained Sati again reborn as Parvathi daughter of Parvatha-raja. She also undertook penance to obtain Shiva as her husband. It is in her next birth that the much talked about Yajna takes place. The Linga, Matsya, Skanda, Padma and Bhagavatha puranas mention of disputes between the daughter and her father in greater detail and say that Sati put an end to herself out of devotion and love to her husband.

It is only in Kasi kanda, a long poem, forming a part of the Skanda Purana that Sati throws herself into fire. This could be an improvement over Vayu purana and other versions.

18.2. The exploits of Virabhadra and his Ganas are more particularly described in the Linga, Skanda and Bhagavata puranas. Here, on hearing of the death of Sati, Shiva enraged produced out his wrath a terrible form of Virabhadra and asked him to destroy Daksha’s Yajna. Bhagavata Purana adds a more picturesque creation of Virabhadra (4.5.3).Shiva pulls out locks of matted hair and strikes against the mountain rocks. However, In Kurma purana it is the Devi who requests Shiva to create Virabhadra. According to Mahabharata, Virabhadra was born out of Shiva’s brow (Mbh.12.274.36-38)

18.3. The destruction and violence are particularly described in these texts.  Indra is knocked down and trampled upon; Yama has his shaft broken ; Saraswathi and Maitra have their noses cutoff ; Mitra or Bhaga has his eyes pulled out; Pusan has his teeth thrust down his throat ;Chandra is pummeled; Agni’s hands are cut off ;Bhrigu loses his beard ;the Brahmanas are pelted with stone; Prajapathi is beaten up; and all Devas and semi Devas run through the swords, struck with trident or pierced with arrows.

Harivamsa mentions that the Ganas made a hideous clamour and others furiously shouted, when Yajna began to fly up to heavens in the shape of a deer; and Virabhadra cut of its head which then settled in the heavens as the star Mriga-shira.

Shiva Purana mentions that Virabhadra pulled out Daksha who was hiding behind the altar, cut off his head and threw it into the sacrificial fire pit, the last sacrificial offering (Sp.2.2.37-61).Another version mentions that Virabhadra gave the severed head to Mahakali who played with it. Later, it is said, at Shiva’s instructions the gods put the head of the sacrificial goat on the decapitated body of Daksha. Shiva glanced at the goat head and Daksha came alive, as if waking from a deep sleep.

In another version Daksha’s sacrifice was destroyed by Shiva himself; and he danced the dance of death in the evening (Ns.4.234)

18.4. The Vayu Purana does not mention of the conflict between Shiva and Vishnu or the fight of Vishnu with Virabhadra .In the Linga purana , Vishnu’s head is severed and his head is thrown into the sky. The Kurma purana is less irreverent towards Vishnu; it mentions about Vishnu’s conflict with Virabhadra but Brahma intervenes and separates the contestants. The Kasi Kanda of the Skanda Purana describes Vishnu as defeated and at the mercy of Virabhadra .But Virabhadra is directed from heavens not to destroy Vishnu .

According to Hari Vamsa , a fight ensued between Vishnu and Shiva during which Vishnu grasped Shiva’s throat and caused black rings marks (suggesting it was not by poision he consumed after the churning of the ocean).

18.5. In every version of the legend a  reconciliation takes place between Daksha and Shiva at the end. Daksha free from malice invites Shiva to preside over the Yajna and sings his praise. But each Purana bends the Daksha Yajna legend to suit its own pet theme and to further its cause.

Virabhadra Iconography

19.1. Virabhadra is described as great warrior and one the trusted generals of Shiva. He is also the protector of sages. The puranas attribute to Virabhadra number of exploits against demons and the benevolent acts performed for protection of the holy ones. As an auspicious god, Virabhadra is worshipped greatly in Karnataka, Andhra and Maharashtra regions where numbers of temples are dedicated to Virabhadra.

19.2. The images of Virabhadra appear in the temples of ninth and tenth centuries   sculpted in the deva koshta (niches) figures of gods on the temple walls. In the earlier period they appear as four armed images. And later they expand into eight armed or  ten armed images of Virabhadra holding khadga, shula, parashu, dhamaru, bow and arrow etc .

19.3. The cult of Virabhadra – the ferocious and formidable aspect of Shiva- was popular among the warriors of the Vijaynagar period. Virabhadra was the mascot, the war- cry and the inspiration of the armies and fighting forces of Vijaynagar.The Virabhadra temples proliferated in the Vijayanagar region mainly in Karnataka, Andhra and southern parts of Maharashtra.

20.1. The awe-inspiring form of Virabhadra is described in various Puranas narrating the tale of Daksha Yajna. His description narrated in Vayu Purana is highly picturesque (as can be seen from the earlier paragraphs).The Shilpa – texts too provide the iconographic features of Virabhadra. But, these relate to worship-worthy images installed in temples. Let’s briefly see a couple of such details.

20.2. The Silpasangraha mentions three varieties of Vlrabhadra (viz. sattva, tamasa and rajasa) with two, four or eight arms. All are dark in color and fierce looking. The Seated figures of Vlrabhadra are called Yoga-Vlra, his standing figures, Bhoga- Vlra and those in a walking posture, Vlra-Vira.

In the first, Vlrabhadra holds a sword and shield and is seated  in sukhasana with one leg folded on the pedestal and the other hanging down.

In the second posture he exhibits the bow and arrow, sword and khetaka. On the leg is worn the anklet of heroes. The head is adorned with a crown, in the middle of which is represented a linga. A garland of skulls-munda mala –  decorates the neck. On the right side is the image of Daksha with folded arms.

In the Vira- Vlra figures, Vlrabhadra holds the trident (shula), sword (khadga), arrow (bana) and the deer (mriga) on the right side and the skull (kapala), shield (khetaka), bow (dhanus) and the goad (gadha) on the left.

In the form of Shiva as Dakshinamurti ,Bhikshatanamurti or Virabhadra , he is depicted as a wandering mandicant.

In his Digambara Form, his body is adorned with many snakes  ( bhujanga-gana-bhushana ) and his third eye is awesome. His eye brows are knit in anger and his hair is spread out  like flames ( Jvala-kesa ). His body is smeared with the and he carries a Gada ( Club ) and Trishula ( Trident ).

In Sapta-Matrka Panels, Virabhadra is in the right end and Ganapathi is in the left end flanking the Seven Mother Goddesses in between.

Avarana krama for Maha prasada Vidya described in the Krama Tantra (a tantra of the Shaiva School) mentions in its tenth avarana (enclosure) various forms of Virabhadra: Chaturbhuja Virabhadra; Ashtabhuja Virabhadra; Dashabhuja Virabhadra; Rana Virabhadra; Shodashabhuja Virabhadra; Dwatrimshadbhuja Virabhadra; Aghora Virabhadra

20.3. The Pancharatragama describes Vlrabhadra as dark in color, having three eyes and holding in- his four arms a sword, arrow, bow and club.He wears a garland of skulls and has sandals on his feet. A yellow garment is tied round his loins.

20.4. Karanagama  describes Virabhadra as one who redeems our Sins, relieves all our sufferings, and mentions  that the image of Virabhadra-murti should have four arms, three eyes, head covered with unruly mass of hair (jata-bhara) emitting flashes of lightening and fire, side tusks, wearing garlands of skulls, bells and scorpions. His face should be red blazing like fire, with an angry and fearsome countenance.His neck is blue.  A snake should form his yajnopavitha .He should be  adorned with beautiful anklets, heavy footwear. He should be dressed in tight shorts – a sort of knickers. His four hands should carry a broad sword (khadga), shield (khetaka), the bow (dhanus) and arrows (bana).

20.5. Sritattvanidhi,an amazing iconographic treatise of the 19th century commissioned by the then Maharaja of Mysore Sri Krisharaja Wodeyar III (1794 – 1868) mentions that Virabhadra-murti should have four arms, three eyes, terrifying face with fierce side tusks.He should hold in his right hands a broadsword (khadga) and an arrow (bana); and in his left a bow (dhanus) and a mace (gadha).He should be adorned with garlands of skulls, costumes of a warrior and thick footwear. On to the  left of Virabhadra a figure of Bhadra Kali should be depicted. And, on his right a figure of Daksha with a goat-head with horns should be standing with folded hands (anjali –mudra).

20.6. Virabhadra is also depicted with ten arms ; three of the five arms on the right holding an arrow (bana), axe (parashu) and sword (khadga) .In his hands on the left he holds a mace (musala), a bow (dhanus),a lasso (pasha) , a shield (khetaka) and another long sword.The Shilparatna describes him as having eight hands and riding on vetala  (a demon) surrounded by his ganas (nija gana sahita).His complexion is white and is fearsome.   His disheveled hair is flying like wild fire; and he is clad in tiger skin. He stamps on Daksha symbolizing suppression of dogma and ignorance.

Dhyana-Shloka of Virabhadra

21. In the Dhyana shlokas of Virabhadra is virtually the Shiva. He is described as having white complexion, holding a mriga (deer), veena etc and adorned with snakes.

 Following are some of such Dhyana slokas.

21.1. Svethangam Sesha Bhushangam Khadga Veena dharam Subham /
Drutakrishnamrigam veeram Shaardhoolajidhavasam //
Arthonmeelita Netram dham Trinetramcha Jadataram /
Suganthi Pushpamalam Sri Veerabhadram Namamyaham //

I worship the White complexioned Virabhadra, with half closed eyes along with the third eye in his forehead, his matted hair locked as Jatamakuta. He is   adorned with snake- ornaments, tiger skin and garlands of fragrant flowers; holding  an  antelope.

21.2. Shannetram Trimugam Bheemam Kalamegha Samaprabham /
Udharsijvalanam Neelaghatram Shatbhahu Shobinam //
Banapatrasi Soolekshu Chapa Khadga dharam Subham /
Bhoothapretadhi Dhamanm dushtarati vinasanam /
Meru vasam Mahesam tam Veerabhadram Namamyaham //

I worship the Black complexioned Virabhadra in a Fierce form with three faces, six eyes, his hair-locks flaming as fire. His six arms hold Banapatra (arrow-case), sword, trishula, bow, arrow; and he blesses all who worship him. He tames and controls Bhutas and Pretas (demons and goblins), and destroys the evil and dwells forever in the Hill of Meru.

21.3  Chaturbhujam trinetram cha Jatamakuta manditham /
Saravabharana samyuktham swethavarnam vrushadvjam //
Soolam cha abhaya Hastham cha dakshinedhu karatvayam
Gadha varadha hastham cha Vama parshvey karathvayam //
Swetha Padmasanasoonam Vatavriksha Samasritam /
Veerabhadram Ithikyadam Brahmi roopam dhadha shrnu //

(Dhyana-Shloka  in Amsumadbeda-agama)

I worship the White complexioned Lord Virabhadra with four arms, three eyes, Jatamakutam, adorned with ornaments  , sporting a flag carrying a nandi image .In his right he holds  Trisula and gestures  Abhaya mudra ; and in his left he has a gadha and gestures Varadha mudra. He is sitting under the vata Tree, on a White Lotus seat…

21.4. Marakata Manineelam Kinginee Jalamaalam /
Prakasita Mugameesam Bhanu Soma-Aagni Netram ://
Hariharamasikedatraya Kradhandakra Hastham /
Vidhudharam ahi Bhusham Veerbhadram Namami : //

I worship Lord Veerabhadra, of Blue-Black complexion, in a fierce looking form of Shiva with the Sun, Moon and Agni as three eyes representing the Vibhuti of both Shiva and Vishnu,  wearing the crescent Moon in his hair , Serpent garlands , ornaments  of bells, and holding the sword, shield and club.

21.5. Akasha-Virabhadra Mantra :-

Kalarudra Rushihi /Jagadhee Chandaha /Veerabhadra Devata / Vam Beejam / Hoom Shakthihi /

21.6. Mula Mantra:

O Namo Veerabhadraya Vairi Vamsha Nivinasaya Sarvaloka Bayankaraya Beema Veshaya Hoom Phat Vijaya Vijaya Hreem Hoom Phat Svaha ׀


I bow down to Lord Virabhadra who is as fierce as Yama at the end of Kalpa

and whose terrible laughter causes the worlds to tremble,

for destroying my fears in crossing the terrible ocean of sorrows

— Amogha Sadashiva kavacha


References and sources

The original Daksha saga by Klaus Klostermaier

The Presence of Siva  By Stella Kramrisch

Genealogy of the South-Indian gods: a manual of the mythology and religion … By Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg,

The Horse-sacrifice of the Prajapati Daksha Kisari Mohan Ganguli  Book 12: Santi Parva: Mokshadharma Parva: Section CCLXXXIV.The Mahabharata  translated by

The Anatomy of Devotion: The Life and Poetry of Karaikkal Ammaiyar

Professor Elaine Craddock; Department of Religion and PhilosophySouthwestern University, TX

All images are from internet 



Posted by on September 29, 2012 in Iconography, Indian Philosophy


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