Tag Archives: Nyaya

The meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Two


Continued from Part One




A. Artha

As mentioned at the commencement of Part One – The most common Sanskrit term for ‘meaning’ is Artha.  Various expressions in English language, such as ‘sense’, ‘reference’, ‘denotation’, ‘connotation’, ‘designatum’ and ‘intention’, have been used to render that Sanskrit term. However, each of those English terms carries its own connotation; and, no single term adequately and comprehensively conveys the various shades of meanings associated with the idea of Artha.

Apart from ‘meaning’, there are at least twenty other connotations to the word Artha; such as : thing; object; purpose; target; extent; interest; property;  wealth; polity; privacy; referent; and so on.


The term Artha figures in Vedic texts too. But, there, it is used in the sense of: aim; purpose; objective; enterprise; or, work. Here, Artha does not explicitly denote ‘meaning’. But, that basic idea is carried into the later texts where the term ‘Vakya-artha’ generally stands for: ’ the purpose of the sentence or the action denoted by the sentence’.

Yaska, the etymologist of the very ancient India, derives the term Artha from two roots (chakarita): Artho’rtem and Aranastha va – (artho.arter.araṇastho.vā -1,18)  ‘ to go, to move towards, reach etc’ and Arna+shta ‘to stay apart ‘. The Artha is, thus, derived from roots conveying mutually opposite sense. It is said; Artha, according to this derivation, at once, denotes something that people are moving towards (Arteh) or something from which  they desire to move away (Aranastha).

Some other scholars point out that in Sanskrit, the term ‘Artha’ has no clear derivation from the verb. But, the term itself gives rise to another verb ‘Arthayate’, which means ‘to request, to beg; to strive or to obtain’.

In any event, Artha has been in use as an all-embracing term having a verity of hues and shades of meanings. Almost everything that is understood from a word on the basis of some kind of ‘significance’ is covered by ‘Artha’. It brings into its fold various other terms and expressions such as: ‘Tatparya’ (the true intent or gist); Abhi-praya (to intend or to approach); ‘Abhi-daha’ (to express or to denote); or,’Uddishya’ (to point out or to signify or to refer); ‘Vivaksa’ (intention or what one wishes to express); ‘Sakthi’ (power of expression); ‘Vakyartha’ (the import of the sentence); ‘Vachya’ and ‘Abhideya’ (both meaning : what is intended to be expressed); ’Padartha’ (the object of the expression); ‘Vishaya’ (subject matter);’Abidha’ (direct or literal meaning of a term) which is in contrast to lakshana the symbolic sign or metaphoric meaning; and, ‘Vyanjana’ (suggested meaning ) and so on .

But, in the common usage, Artha, basically, refers to the notion of ‘meaning’ in its widest sense. But, Artha is also used to denote an object or an object signified by a word.

The scope of the term Artha in Sanskrit is not limited to its linguistic sense or to what is usually understood by the word employed. It can be the meaning of the words, sentences and scriptures as well as of the non-linguistic signs and gestures. Its meaning ranges from a real object in the external world referred to by a word to a mere concept of an object which may or may not correspond to anything in the external world.

It could also mean Artha (money), the source of all Anartha (troubles); and Anartha could also be nonsense. Artha is one of the pursuits of life – wealth or well being. Artha could also signify economic power and polity. It is said that a virtuous person gives up Svartha (self-interest) for Parartha (for the sake of others). And, finally, Paramartha is the ultimate objective or the innermost truth.



The communication of meaning is the main function of words (Pada); and in that sense, Artha is used in various places. In numerous contexts, Artha denotes the aim, purpose, goal or the object of the spoken word (pada). But, at the same time, it also involves other meanings such as –‘the object’ and/or to signify a certain tangible ’object’, ‘purpose or goal’ which could be attained. It is said; Padāt (lit., from word) suggests that every word has the capability to represent a certain object or multiple objects or purposes.

Thus, Padartha (pada+artha) stands for the meaning of the word; for a tangible object (Vastumatra); as also for the meaning (padartha) that is intended to be signified by the word (Abhideya). It is difficult to find an exact English equivalent to Padartha; perhaps category could be its nearest term.

It is argued that each word (Pada) has countless objects; and therefore, Padartha too is countless. It is said; the whole range of Padartha-s could be categorized into two: Bhava-padartha and Abhava-padartha. For instance; the whole of universe is categorized into Sat (existent) and A-sat (nonexistent); Purusha and Prakrti as in Samkhya

Nyaya Darshana (metaphysics) recognizes and categorizes as many as sixteen Padartha-s, elements:

  1. Pramāa (valid means of knowledge);
  2. Prameya (objects of valid knowledge);
  3. Saśaya (doubt);
  4. Prayojana (objective or the aim);
  5. Dṛṣṭānta (instances or examples);
  6. Siddhānta (conclusion);
  7. Avayava (members or elements of syllogism);
  8. Tarka (hypothetical reasoning):
  9. Niraya (derivation or settlement);
  10. Vāda (discussion)
  11. Jalpa (wrangling);
  12. Vitaṇḍā (quibbling);
  13. Hetvābhāsa (fallacy);
  14. Chala (hair-splitting); 
  15. jāti (sophisticated refutation) ;and
  16. Nigrahasthāna (getting close to defeat).

 For a detailed discussion on these elements – please click here



According to one interpretation, the word itself is also a part of the meaning it signifies. Such a concept of ‘meaning’ is not found in the western semantics. For instance; the Grammarian Patanjali says: ’when a word is pronounced, an Artha ‘object’ is understood. For example; ‘bring a bull’, ‘eat yogurt’ etc.  It is the Artha that is brought in; and it is also Artha that is eaten.

[Sabdeno-uccharitena-artha gamyate gam anya dadhya asana iti / Artha anyate Arthas cha Bhujyate]

Here, the term Artha stands for a tangible object which could be brought in or eaten; and, it is not just a notion. A similar connotation of Artha (as object) is also employed by Nyaya and Mimamsa schools. According to these Schools, the qualities, relations etc associated with the objects are as real as the objects themselves.

Bhartrhari also says that word is an indicator; even when a word expresses reality; it is not expressed in its own form. Often, what is expressed by a word is its properties rather than its form.

There are elaborate discussions on the issues closely related to the concept of understanding. It is argued; no matter whether the things are real or otherwise, people do have ideas and concepts of many things in life. In all such cases, it is essential that people understand those things and be aware of their meaning. Such meanings or the content of a person’s understanding are invariably derived from the language employed by each one.

That gives raise to arguments on questions such as: whether the meaning (Artha) of a word is derived from its function to signify (Vrtti); or through inference derived by the listener (Anumana) from the words he listned  ; or  through his presumption (Arthapatti) or imagination.

Grammarians assert that Artha (meaning) as cognized from a word is only a conceptual entity (bauddha-artha). The word might suggest a real object; but, its meaning is only what is projected by the mind (buddhi-prathibhasha) and how it is grasped.

Pundit Gadadharabhatta of the Navya (new) Nyaya School, in his Vyutpattivada, argues that a word is closely linked to the function associated with it. According to him, the term Artha stands for object or content of a verbal cognition (Sabda-bodha-vishaya) which results from understanding of a word (sabda-jnana) as derived from the significance of the function  (vrtti) pertaining to that word (pada-nists-vritti-jnana) – Vritya-pada-pratipadya evartha ity abhidayate.

[According to him:

:- If a word is understood through its primary function (shakthi or aphids-vrtti or mukhya -vrtti) then such derived primary meaning is called sakyarta or vachyartha or abhidheya.

:- If a word is understood on the basis of its secondary function (lakshana-vrtti or guna-vrtti) then such derived secondary meaning is called lakshyartha

:- If a word is understood on the basis of its suggestive function (vyanjana-vrtti) then such derived suggested meaning is called vyanjanartha or dhvani-artha.

:- And, if a word is understood on the basis of its intellectual significance (tatparya-artha) then such derived intended meaning is called tatparyartha.

However, Prof. M M  Deshpande adds a word of caution: Not all the Schools of Indian Philosophy  of Grammar accept the above classification  , although these seem to be the general explanations ]


Punyaraja, a commentator of Vakyapadiya of Bhartrhari, detailing the technical and non-technical aspects of the term Artha offers as many as eighteen explanations.

[ Artho asta-dashaad / tatra vastu-matram abhideyash  cha / abhidheyo api dvidha shastriya laukika cha /.. ]

According to Punyaraja, Artha stands for an external real object (Vastu-matra) as also for the meaning intended to be signified by a word (Abhideya). The latter – meaning in linguistic sense – could be technical (Shastriya) of special reference   or it could be the meaning as commonly grasped by people in a conversation (laukika). In either case, there are further differences. The meaning of a word might or might not be literary; and, it could also stand for an expression or a figure of speech (Abhideya). It could also be used to denote something that is not really intended (Nantariyaka) when something else is actually intended.

Bhartrhari also talks of two kinds of meanings – apoddhara-padartha and sthitha-lakshana-padartha.  The latter refers to the meaning as it is actually understood in a conversation. Its meaning is fixed; and, Grammarians cannot alter it abruptly. Bhartrhari also said: here, meaning does not leave the word. Meaning is comprehended by the word itself. The word is eternal and resides within us.

[There was much discussion in the olden days whether a word has a fixed meaning or a floating one. For instance; the Grammarian Patanjali asserted that a word is spoken; and when spoken it brings about the understanding of its meaning. The spoken word is the manifestation of the fixed (dhruva, kutastha) meaning of the word. And, the word (sabda) and its meaning (artha) and their inter-relations (sambandha) are eternal (nitya) – Siddhe sabda-artha-sambandhe–Patanjali Mbh.1.27]

The former, apoddhara-padartha mentioned by Bhartrhari, tries to bring out the abstract or hidden meaning that is extracted from the peculiar use of the word in a given context. In many cases, such abstracted meaning might not denote the actual (linguistic) meaning of the term as it is usually understood. But, such usage does not represent the real nature of the language. The apoddhara-padartha is of some relevance only in technical or theoretical (Shastriya) sense, serving a particular or special purpose. That again, depends on the context in which the term in question is employed.

[In many of these discussions, it is difficult to draw a clear distinction between the literal meaning and the concept it represents (Pratyaya).

In the Sanskrit texts, the terms such as ‘Sabda’ (word); ‘Artha’ (object); ‘Pratyaya’ (concept) are horribly mixed up and are used interchangeably.]


There is also a line of discussion on whether Artha is universal or the particular? The Grammarian Vyadi says that the words refer to Dravya (substance) , that is , the particular. Another Grammarian Vajapyayana on the other hand argues that words, including proper names, refer to Jati or class or universal.

Panini seems to leave the question open-ended.

But, Kumarilabhatta of the Mimamsa School argues when we utter a word we are at once referring to at least seven characteristics (Vastuni) associated with it. Let’s say when one utter ‘Bull’ (Gauh) , that expression  points to : Jati the whole class ; Vyakti – individual or particular; Sambandha– the relation between the two; Samudha– the collection of such elements; Linga-gender; Karaka- the relation that the term has with the verb (kriya-pada) or activity associated with it; and Samkhya– number , singular or plural.

With regard to the nature of the meaning of a word, Bhartrhari speaks in terms of its general or universal (jati) and its relative or specific (vyakti) connotations. Bhartrhari says that every word first of all means the class (jati) of that word. For instance; the word ‘cow’ initially refers to the general class of all that is in the form of cow. Later, it is implied to refer to its particular form (vyakti) . Thus, what is universal is then diversified into relative or a particular form.  Bhartrhari then extends his hypothesis to the field of philosophy- Advaita. He says; the universal (Brahman) appears as relative or specific limited. It is ultimately the Brahman (Sabdatattva) that is at the root of  all the words  and their  meaning (Artha) .


The Problem of Multiple Meanings

Generally, the notion of meaning is stratified into three or four types. The first is the primary meaning. If this is inappropriate in the given context, then one moves to a secondary meaning. Beyond this is the suggested meaning, which may or may not be the same as the meaning intended by the speaker. Specific conditions under which these different varieties are understood are discussed by the Schools of Grammar.

Bhartrhari points out   that a word can carry multiple meanings; and that the Grammarian should explain, in some way, how only one of those meanings is conveyed at a time or is apt in a given context.

According to him, the process of understanding the particular meaning of a word has three aspects: first, a word has an intrinsic power to convey one or more meanings (abhidha); second, it is the intention of the speaker which determines the particular meaning to be conveyed (abhisamdhana) in a given context; and third, the actual application (viniyoga) of the word and its utterance.

In the case of words carrying multiple meanings, the meaning which is in common usage (prasiddhi) is considered by Bhartrhari   as its primary meaning. The secondary meaning of a word normally requires a context for its understanding. Usually, the secondary meaning of a word is implied when the word is used for an object other than it normally denotes, as for example, the metaphorical use of the word.

Now, according to Indian Poetics, a word has three functions: it signifies or denotes (abhida); it indicates (lakshana); and it suggests (vyanjana).

The meaning that is comprehended immediately after the word is uttered is its primary meaning (mukhya-artha). The meaning thus conveyed and its relation to the next word and its own meaning is a mutual relation of the signifier and the signified (vachya-vachaka). The power that creates the relation among words is Abhida-vyapara, the power of denotation or sense. The suggestive power of the word is through Vyanjana-artha.

The meaning of a word or a sentence that is directly grasped in the usual manner is Vakyartha (denotation or literal sense); and, the power of the language which conveys such meaning is called Abidha-vritti (designating function). It is the principal function of the word .The primary sense Vakyartha is the natural (Svabhavokti) and is the easily comprehended sense of the word.

In certain cases where a particular word is not capable of conveying the desired sense, another power which modifies that word to produce the fitting or suitable meaning is called Lakshana-vritti (indicative function). Such secondary sense (lakshana) could even be called an unnatural meaning (Vakrokti) of the word.


There are certain other peculiar situations:

There is the complicated question of words having similar spelling; but having different pronunciations and conveying different meanings (homograph). Such words have been the concern of Grammarian from ancient times onwards.  Some argue such cases should, technically, be treated as different words with similar pronunciation and similar meaning. But, some Grammarians point out that there are, in fact, no true Homonyms. They do differ, at least slightly, either in the way they are pronounced or their usage or relevance.

 [If someone says saindhavam anaya, it might mean the ‘bringing of a horse’ or ‘bringing salt’. The exact meaning of the term saindhava is to be determined according to the intention of the speaker uttered in a given context,]

There is also the issue of Dyotya-artha  (co-signified) as when two entities are jointly referred by using the conjunctive term such as  ‘and’  or ‘or’ (cha; Va). It is said; the particles such as ‘and’, ‘or’ do not, by themselves, carry any sense if they are used independently. They acquire some context and significance only when they are able to combine (samuchchaya) two or more entities of the similar character or of dissimilar characters.


Artha in art

The concept of Artha also appears in the theories of Art-appreciation. There, the understanding of art is said to be through two distinctive processes – Sakshartha, the direct visual appreciation of the art-work; and, Paroksharta, delving into its inner or hidden meanings or realms (guhyeshu-varteshu). The one concerns the appreciation of the appealing form (rupa) of the art object (vastu); and, the other the enjoyment of the emotion or the essence (rasa) of its aesthetic principle (guna vishesha).  Artha, in the context of art, is, thus, essentially the objective and property of art-work; as also the proper, deep subjective aesthetic art-experience.

In the traditions of Indian art, the artist uses artistic forms and techniques to embody an idea, a vision; and, it is the cultured viewer with an  understanding  heart  (sah-hrudaya), the aesthete (rasika) that partakes that vision.

It is said; an artistic creation  is not a mere inert object, but it is truly  rich in meaning (Artha). And, it is capable of evoking manifold emotions , transforming the aesthete. As for a connoisseur , it is not only a source of beauty; but is also an invitation to explore and enjoy the reason (Artha) of that beauty. Thus, Artha, understood in its wider sense as experience,  is the dynamic process of art-enjoyment  that bridges the art-object and the connoisseur.


Artha in Arthashastra

Artha sastra

In the Arthashastra ascribed to Kautilya, the term Artha means more than ‘wealth’ or ‘material well being’ that follows the Dharma. There are numerous interpretations of Artha in the context of Kautilya’s work.

Here, Artha is an all-embracing term having a verity of meanings. It includes many shades and hues of the term : material well-being of the people and the State (AS:15.1.1); economy and livelihood of the people ; economic efficiency of the State in all fields of activity including agriculture and commerce(AS:1.4.3) . It also includes Rajanithi; the ‘politics’; and the management of the State. Artha, here, is the art of governance in its widest sense.

But, all those varied meanings aim at a common goal; have faith in the same doctrine; and, their authority is equal or well balanced. The purpose of life was believed to be, four-fold, viz. the pursuit of prosperity, of pleasure and attainment of liberation (Artha, Kama, Moksha); all in accordance with the Dharma prescribed for each stage of life.

That is because; there is a fear that the immoderate pursuit of material advantage would lead to undesirable and ruinous excesses. And therefore, Artha must always be regulated by the superior aim of Dharma, or righteousness.


To start with, Artha is interpreted as sustenance, employment or livelihood (Vrtti) of earth-inhabitants. It also is said to refer to means of acquisition and protection of earth.

 [manuṣyāṇāṃ vṛttir arthaḥ, manuṣyavatī bhūmir ity arthaḥ //–KAZ15.1.01]

Artha is also taken to mean material well-being or wealth. It is one of the goals in human life. Here, it is with reference to the individual, his well being and his prosperity in life. That perhaps is the reason Artha, in the text, is taken as Vrtti or sustenance or occupation or means of livelihood of people (Manushyanam Vrtti).

It is said; such Vrtti was primarily related to the three-fold means of livelihood – agriculture; animal husbandry and trade – through which men generally earn a living.


Arthashatra is also concerned with the general well-being of the earth and its inhabitants. And, since the State is directly charged with the responsibility of acquiring, protecting and managing the territory and its subjects, the Arthashastra necessarily deals with statecraft, economy and defence of the land and its people.

In the older references, Arthashastra is described as the science of politics and administration. But, in the later times, it came to be referred to as DandaNitishastra or Rajaniti -shastra / Raja -dharma.

But Arthashastra is more comprehensive. It includes all those aspects and more.


In the concluding section of his work, Kautilya says ‘the source of livelihood of the people is wealth’. Here, the wealth of the nation is both the territory of the Sate and its inhabitants who follow a variety of occupations (AS: 15.1.1). The State or the Government has a crucial responsibility in ensuring the stability and the material wellbeing of the nation as a whole as also of its individual citizens. Therefore, an important aspect of Arthashastra is the ‘science of economics’, which includes starting of productive ventures, taxation, revenue collection and distribution, budgets and accounts.

The ruler’s responsibilities in the internal administration of the State are threefold: raksha, protection of the Sate from external aggression; Palana, maintenance of law and order within the State; and, Yogakshema, safeguarding the welfare of the people and their future generations – tasyāḥ pṛthivyā lābha.pālana.upāyaḥ śāstram artha.śāstram iti /.

Kautilya cautions that a judicious balance has to be maintained between the welfare and comfort of the people on one hand and augmenting the resources of the State on the other through taxes, levies , cess etc. The arrangement for ensuring this objective presupposes – maintenance of law and order and adequate, capable , transparent  administrative machinery.

It is also said that the statecraft, which maintains the general social order should take adequate measures to prevent anarchy.

Apart from ensuring collection of revenue there have also laws to avoid losses to the State and to prevent abuse of power and embezzlement by the employees of the State. These measures call for enforcement of laws (Dandanithi) by means of fines, punishments etc. The Tax payers as also the employees of the state machinery are subject to Dandanithi.

The king was believed to be responsible as much for the correct conduct (achara) of his subjects, and their performing the prescribed rites of expiation (prayaschitta) as for punishing them, when they violated the right of property or committed a crime. The achara and prayaschitta sections of the smrti cannot accordingly be put outside the “secular ” law.


Arthashatra prescribes how the ruler should protect his territory. This aspect of protection (Palana) covers principally, acquisition of territory, its defence, relationship with similar other/rival rulers (foreign-policy), and management of state-economy and administration of state machinery.

Since the safety of the State and its people from aggression by rival states or enemies is of great importance, the King will also have to know how to deal with other Kings using all the four methods (Sama, Dana, Bedha and Danda) ; that is,  by friendly negotiations; by strategies ; as also by war-like deterrents. Thus, to maintain an army and be in preparedness becomes an integral part of ‘science of economics’, the Arthashastra.



B.Tatparya or intention

Tatparya [lit. the about which; Tat (that) +Para (object of intension)] is described as the intention or the desire of the speaker (vak-turiccha); and also as the gist, the substance or the purport of the meaning intended to be conveyed by the speaker. The context plays a very important role in gathering the apt or the correct Tatparya of an utterance (sabdabodha) or a sentence in a text. The contextual factors become particularly relevant when interpreting words or sentences that are ambiguous or carry more than one meaning.

It is said; in the case of metaphors or the figures-of- speech, the intended meaning (Tatparya) is gathered not by taking the literal meaning of each of its individual words but by grasping the overall intention of the expression in the given context (sabda-bodha).

The Mimamamsa and Nyaya Schools which take the sentence to be a sequence of words, relay on Tatparya to explain how the relevant meaning is obtained from a collection of words having mutual relation. Each word in a sentence carries its own meaning; but a string of unconnected isolated words cannot produce a unified meaning. Tatparya, broadly, is the underlying idea or the intention of a homogeneously  knit sentence,  in a particular context, that is required to be understood.

The Mimamsa lays down a framework for understanding the correct meaning of a sentence: denotation (Abhida) – purport (Tatparya) – indication (Lakshana), where by the power of denotation one comprehends the general idea of the sentence; by the power of purport one understands its special or apt sense; and, by the power of indication one grasps the suggested meaning (Dhvani) of the sentence.

According to The Encyclopaedia of Indian Philosophies, Volume 5: The Philosophy of the Grammarians edited by Harold G. Coward and  K. Kunjunni Raja ;  the meaning of a sentence can be considered from two standpoints: from that of the speaker and from that of the listener. The general approach of the West has been from the speaker’s point of view. The Indian approach has been mainly from the listener’s point of view.

In a normal speech situation there can be five different aspects of the meaning of an utterance: (1) what is in the mind of the speaker when he makes the utterance; (2) what the speaker wants the listener to understand; (3) what the utterance actually conveys ;(3) what the listener understands as the meaning of the utterance; and (5) what is in the mind of the listener on hearing the utterance.

In a perfect linguistic communication, all the five factors must correspond. But, due to various causes there are bound to be differences that might disturb a perfect communication.

Let’s say that when the speaker is uttering a lie, he clearly intends to misdirect the listener. Here, what is in the mind of the speaker is different from what is conveyed to the listener. Even otherwise, quite often what the listener understands as the meaning of the utterance might be different from what the speaker intends to convey. The problem could be caused either by the lack of expressive power of the speaker or the inability of the listener  to understand; or it could be both.

Here, what is in the mind of the speaker before he speaks and what is in the mind of the listener after he hears are both intangible. They cannot be objectively ascertained with certainty. It is only what is said explicitly that can be objectively   analyzed into components of syllables, words and sentences. It however does not mean that the other aspects or components of the entire body of communication are less important.


C. Shakthi (power of expression)

The power of word (sabda-shakthi) is that through which it expresses, indicates or suggests its intended meaning. The term Shakthi is also understood as the relation that exists between word (Sabda) and its meaning (Artha) – (sabda-artha-sambandha). This relation is considered to be permanent and stable.

The understanding of the relationship between word and its meaning is called vyutpatti. Salikanatha (Ca.8th century) ,  a Mimamsa philosopher  belonging to the Prabhakra School , in his Prakarana-pancika  lists  eight means for such comprehension of the meaning of the words. They are:

  • (i) grammar;
  • (ii) comparison;
  •  (iii) dictionary;
  •  (iv) words of a trustworthy person;
  •  (v) action;
  •  (vi) connotation of the sentence;
  • (vii) explanation;  and,
  •  (viii) proximity of a word, the meaning of which is already established.


Shakthi is the primary relationship between a word and its meaning. Unless the listener recognizes or remembers their continuing relationship he cannot understand the purport (Tatparya) of a statement. Shakthi is therefore described as a Vrtti, a function which binds the word and meaning together in order to bring out a particular intended  sense – (Vrtti-jnanadhina –pada-jnana-janya –smrti-vishaya)

It would have been ideal if every word had a single meaning; and every meaning had only one word. That would have helped to avoid plausible confusion and ambiguities. But, in all natural languages that are alive and growing, the words, often, do carry more than one meaning; and, a meaning can be put out in verity of words. Even the borders of the meanings are not always fixed. The meanings or various shades of meaning are context sensitive, depending on the context and usage.

There would be no problems if the meaning and intent of a sentence is direct and clear. But, if there are ambiguities, the direct–meaning of the sentence would become inconsistent with its true intent.  It is here that the power of Shakthi comes into play.

The term Shakthi is often used for Vrtti or the function. Grammarians recognize various types of such Vrtti-s. Among those, the main Vrtti-s employed to explain the various types of meaning conveyed by speech are: Abhidana; Lakshana ; Gauni ; Tatparya ; Vyanjana ; Bhavakatva; and Bhojakatva.

Of these Vrtti-s or Shakthi-s, Lakshana which has the power of suggestion is considered most important.  Three conditions for Lakshana are generally accepted by all schools. The first is the incompatibility or inconsistency of the primary meaning in the given context. Such inconsistency produced by the uncommon usage of the word will force a break in the flow of thought, compelling the listener to ponder over in his attempt to understand what the speaker meant; and,   why he has used the word in an irregular way. Such inconsistency can either be because of the impossibility or of the unsuitability of associating the normal meaning of the word to context at hand.

The second condition is some kind of relation that exists between the primary (normal) meaning of the term and its meaning actually intended in the context. This relation can be one of proximity with the contrary or one of similarity or of common quality. The latter type is called Gauni Lakshana which the Mimamsakas treat as an independent function called Gauni. According to Mimamsakas,  the real Lakshana is only of the first type, a relation of proximity with contrariety (oppositeness) .

The third condition is either acceptance by common usage or a special purpose intended for introducing the Lakshana. All faded metaphors (nirudha lakshana) fall into the former category; and , the metaphorical usages , especially by the poets , fall into the latter.

[Panini, however, did not accept Lakshana as a separate function in language. He did not consider the incompatibility etc on which the Lakshana was based by the Grammarians as quite relevant from the point of view of Grammar. The sentences such as: ‘he is an ass’ and ‘He is a boy ‘are both grammatically correct. His Grammar accounts for some of the popular examples of Lakshana; like ‘the village on the river’  (gangayam ghosah) by considering proximity as one of the meanings of the locative case.  Similarly, Panini does not mention or provide for the condition of yogyata or consistency, which is considered by the later Grammarians as essential for unity of sentence. The expression Agnina sinchati (He sprinkles with fire) is grammatically correct, though from the semantic point of view it may not be quite proper, because sprinkling can be done only with liquid and not with fire.]


In the next part let’s look at the discussions on the relationship  between the word (sabda) and meaning (Artha)  are carried out by the Scholars of Indian Poetics (Kavya-shastra).



Continued in Part Three




 Sources and References

  1. The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5; edited by Harold G. Coward, Karl H. Potter, K. Kunjunni Raja
  2. Tatparya and its role in verbal understanding by Raghunath Ghosh; University of North Bengal
  3. The Birth of Meaning in Hindu Thought by David B. Zilberman
  4. The Meaning of Nouns: Semantic Theory in Classical and Medieval India by M.M. Deshpande
  5. Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: Index edited by Edward Craig
  6. Hermeneutical Essays on Vedāntic Topics by John Geeverghese Arapura
  7. the Emergence of Semantics in Four Linguistic Traditions: Hebrew, Sanskrit…edited by Wout Jac. Van Bekkum
  8. 8 A Comparative History of World Philosophy: From the Upanishads to Kant by Ben-Ami Scharfstein
  1. Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Soundby Guy L. Beck
  2. Indian Philosophy: A Very ShortIntroduction by Sue Hamilton
  3. Culture and Consciousness: Literature Regainedby William S. Haney
  4. The Sphota Theory of Language: A Philosophical Analysisby Harold G. Coward
  5. Bhartr̥hari, Philosopher and Grammarian: Proceedings of the First International conference on Bharthari held at Pune in 1992 edited by Saroja Bhate, Johannes Bronkhorst
  6. Being and Meaning: Reality and Language in Bharthari and Heideggerby Sebastian Alackapally
  7. Bharthari, the Grammarianby Mulakaluri Srimannarayana Murti
  8. Word and Sentence, Two Perspectives: Bhartrhari and Wittgensteinedited by Sibajiban Bhattacharyya
  9. Kautilya’s Arthashastra by RP Kangale

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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 . It was said: Vade Vade jayate tattvabodhah – Truth emerges out of debates – 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.

duḥkha-janma-pravṛttidoṣa-mithyājñānānām uttarottarāpāye tadanantarā pāyāt apavargaḥ (1.1.2: )


Nyaya Sutra (1.2.1) – (vāda-lakṣaṇam) 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.

(pramāṇa-tarka-sādhanopālambhaḥ siddhāntāviruddhaḥ pañcāvayavopapannaḥ pakṣapratipakṣaparigrahaḥ vādaḥ 1.21 )


Nyaya Sutra (1.1.32- avayava-uddeśasūtram; and 1.1.39- nigamana-lakṣaṇam) 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)

 ( pratijñā-hetū-udāharaṇa-upanaya-nigaman āni avayavāḥ -1.1.32)

 ( hetvapadeśāt pratijñāyāḥ punarvacanam nigamanam- 1.1.39)

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.  

Shankarar in argument with Mandanamisrar's wife

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.] 



Please click here for a writing about Vada-vidhi (method of argumentation), a treatise about the methods to mould flawless logic, ascribed to the celebrated Buddhist scholar Vasubandhu (4th to 5th century CE). Vāda-vidhi is the only work of Vasubandhu on logic which has survived. Vasubandhu contributed to Buddhist logic and is held to have been the origin of formal logic in the Indian tradition. His text paved the way for the later Buddhist scholars like Dignaga and Dharmakirti, in the field of logic.

Vasubandhu’s methods for distinguishing fallacious arguments from valid ones rely heavily on his theory of cognition.

He describes a number of logical fallacies, which he classifies into three types: reversed, incorrect or unreal, and contradictory. He then moves on from the trivial examples to complex ones. Vasubandhu’s formal system of argumentation is simple and practical, and especially well-suited for the quick back-and-forth of the verbal debates that were very much in vogue in Vasubandhu’s day. He had a reputation for being an experienced, ferocious debater, with a sharp mind.

His ideas on cognition are quite interesting. The underlying principle in Vasubandhu’s treatise on logic is an unstated premise seemed to be that the objects in the argument structure have no independent existence. Instead, they only come into existence provisionally, when cognized. He further breaks down our process of cognition into direct perception, such as perceptions of pleasure, pain, sound, or sight, and inferred perception, such as the perception of a mountain as fire-possessing when it is observed to be smoke-possessing.

According to him : Knowledge through inference can be specified as an observation coming when the means-of-evidence is directly observed, and the invariable concomitance between it and what can be inferred is remembered. One does not occur unless something else is directly known. Otherwise there is no inference.

Vasubandhu points out, we can never be absolutely certain about anything, because we can only make inferences based upon our perceptions, which can be misleading, and memory, which is unreliable. He goes on to give examples of problems with cognition, such as a false cognition-of-silver arising from looking at mother-of-pearl, and cognition of objects that do not exist, such as a luminous circle that is perceived when a torch is hurled in an arc.

This method makes the example and counter-example so vital to the argument. Any thesis can be disproved by showing that the proposed invariable concomitance is not, in fact, invariable.

 The last part of Vāda-vidhi is devoted to methods that can be used to distinguish logical fallacies from valid arguments.

For more , please read, ]



As per the classification made by Akshapada Gautama in his Nyaya Sutra (1.2.2- jalpa-lakṣaṇam), 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.

 (yathoktopapannaḥ chala-jāti-nigrahasthāna-sādhanopālambhaḥ jalpaḥ -1.2.2)

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).

 (jāti-lakṣaṇam —  sādharmyavaidharmyābhyām pratyavasthānaṃ jātiḥ -1.2.18)

(nigrahasthāna-lakṣaṇamn – vipratipattiḥ apratipattiḥ ca nigrahasthānam-1.2.19)

 (nigrahasthānabahutva-sūtram — tadvikalpāt jātinigrahasthānabahutvam-1.2.20)

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.

(chala-lakṣaṇam —  vacana-vighātaḥ artha-vikalpopapattyā chalam – 1.2.10)

(chala-bheda-uddeśa-sūtram – – tat trividham – vākchalam sāmānyacchalam upacāracchalam ca iti- 1.2.11)

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? and, all at the same time?

Similarly, term ‘mancha’ ordinarily means a cot; but, its metaphorical meaning could be platform or dais or the people sitting on it. The opponent would wonder ‘why on earth , would the couple choose to sleep on a public platform , while many persons are already seated on it ?’.

There are many other similar words, such as:  Mantapa which normally is understood as an open-hall; but, its etymological meaning could be ‘one who drinks scum of boiled rice (Ganji)’. And, the term Kushala is generally used to denote an expert or a highly skilled person (pravina); but, its etymology analysis would lead to one who is ‘good at cutting grass (kush). And, similarly, Ashva-gandha is literally ‘smell of the horse; but in common usage it refers to a medicinal herb.

A mischievous quibbler would deliberately twist the meaning of such words; take them out of the context; and, try to distract and confuse the his rival 

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’.

The other reason is that it would be in the interest of an aspiring debater to be familiar with divisive tactics; and, also the ways and means of deflecting them.

It is also said that Jalpa-tactics might come in handy to a novice or an inexperienced debater, as a ploy . 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, which does not allow the opponent to establish his  argument . In terms of merit; it is the worst; 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 of its exercise seems to be to prove the opponent wrong and incompetent; and to confuse and humiliate him.  Vitanda is therefore termed as a destructive debate.

(vitaṇḍā-lakṣaṇam — saḥ pratipakṣa-sthāpanā-hīnaḥ vitaṇḍā- 1.2.3 )

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).

[Please click here for The Nyaya Sutras of Gotama; Translated by Mahamahopadhyaya Satish Chandra Vidyabhushan; Published by The Panini Office, Bhuvaneshvari Ashram, Bahadurganj, Allahabad – 1913 ]

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.

(vāda-lakṣaṇam : pramāṇa-tarka-sādhanopālambhaḥ siddhāntā-viruddhaḥ pañcā-vayavopapannaḥ pakṣa-pratipakṣa-parigrahaḥ vādaḥ – 1.2.1)

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.

(padārtha-uddeśa-sūtram:pramāṇa-prameya-saṃśaya-prayojana-dṛṣṭānta-siddhāntāvayava-tarka-nirṇaya-vāda-jalpa-vitaṇḍāhetvābhāsa-cchala-jāti-nigrahasthānānāmtattvajñānāt niḥśreyasādhigamaḥ- 1.1.1 )

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.

(jalpa-lakṣaṇam :  yathoktopapannaḥ chalajātinigrahasthānasādhanopālambhaḥ jalpaḥ-1.2.2)

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.

(vitaṇḍā-lakṣaṇam : saḥ pratipakṣa-sthāpanā-hīnaḥ vitaṇḍā -1.2.3)

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.]

vada samvada

 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 parent (as Sage Kapila teaching his mother);  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 , with full of grace , imparts instructions out of enormous love for the ardent seeker of truth.

kapila teaching his motherUhdava  Krishna.JPGUddalaka Swetaketu -samvadaSatyakama

(siddhānta-sūtra : jñāna-grahaṇā-abhyāsas tad-vidyaiśca saha saṃvādaḥ- 4.2.47

vidhya-artha-vādā-anuvāda-vacanaviniyogāt ; vidhiḥ vidhāyakaḥ; stutiḥ nindā parakṛtiḥ purākalpaḥ iti arthavādaḥ ;na anuvādapunaruktayoḥ viśeṣaḥ, śabdābhyāsopapatteḥ ; śīghrataragamanopadeśavat abhyāsāt na aviśeṣaḥ; mantrāyurvedaprāmāṇyavat ca tatprāmāṇyam, āpta-prāmāṇyāt (2.1.63-69)

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).

sa yathākāmo bhavati tat-kratur bhavati | yat-kratur bhavati tat karma kurute | yat karma kurute tad abhi-saṃpadyate || BrhUp_4,4.5 |

In the end, all achievement is fueled 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

All images are taken from Internet


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Nyaya: a scheme of logic in Vedanta,

Nyaya is a method or a scheme of logic employed to prove or to disprove a proposition. Several types of Nyaya are employed in the texts of the Vedanta. The employment of a Nyaya becomes necessary when the subject discussed is either vague or is disputed; and when the other methods of reasoning are ineffective.

Nyaya is an illustration, model or a metaphor. It formulates in a nutshell an entire argument. It epitomizes a whole viewpoint. The merit of a Nyaya is that it is derived from common experiences in daily-life. It is therefore easier to relate to the Nyaya and its purport. The popular ancient readers such as PanchatantraHithopadeshaataka tales and Jain fables are treasure houses of Nyayas.

While the analogy or illustration is important (as in Rajju-sarpa, Sukthi- Rajatha or Rekha-gavaya-nyaya etc.); the more important than that is the validity of the argument, its methodological precision and its import. The more popular Nyayas in Vedanta are Adhyaropa Apavada and Prasajya-Prathisedha.

For instance, the Adhyaropa-Apavada attempts to prove its theory of transformation (Vivarta) in the phenomenal world. It effectively draws upon the Rajju-sarpa illustration. The rope’s appearance as a snake is not a mere Illusion. It involves a psychological process of transformation and projection while the physical object remains unaltered. The snake seems to emerge out of the coil of rope, in semi darkness; and dissolves into it when light is brought in.

The snake, in reality, was never present. The rope as a physical reality was ever present; even while the snake appeared in its place. Nevertheless, the snake could not have appeared in the absence of a physical foundation. It is therefore not a total illusion (alika).The snake-status is a superimposition or an assumption (Adhyaropa); and its subsequent annulment is withdrawal (Apavada).

The models equivalent to the above are the Sukthi-Rajatha, Shell and Silver analogy, the Akashanilima-Nyaya (blue sky) and the Stambha-Nara-Nyaya (Man in the post). The mother-of-pearl is mistaken for pure silver, the attribute -less sky appears blue, and the stump of wood is mistaken for a man at night. The unreal status is superimposed on the actual and is later withdrawn. The knowledge of the world is an appearance of Brahman, just as the man in the stump is only an appearance of the stump, and the silver in nacre an appearance of nacre.

There are a number of other Nyayas employed as metaphors, models and analogies to illustrate certain points of view. The following are a few of them.

There is a Nyaya called Rekha-gavaya-nyaya. An urban person had not seen a wild Bison. A forester draws a picture of the Bison (gavaya) and the townsman takes the very drawing for the animal .When on a later occasion, he visits the forest and sees the real animal, it dawns on him that the drawing and the animal are two different things.

Similarly, in Aksharajnana-nyaya the teacher marks on the paper with ink and asks the child to recognize in them alphabets and numbers. The child learns to recognize those forms and later, in a way, learns to de-code the symbols to understand and recognize the things and values they stand for.

These two Nyayas are employed to explain that scriptures describe the Absolute as the creator of the phenomenal world and attribute several traits like “truth”, ”knowledge”, ”bliss” and “infinity” etc. to the Absolute which is without any attributes. The seeker later learns and realizes the true nature of the Brahman.

The Samudrataranga-Nyaya illustrates that the countless waves rolling in the vast ocean are one and the same and are not separate from each other or from the great ocean. All are one, in reality. The difference is only apparent. The innumerable Jivas , though apparently perceived to be separate from one another are , in reality , one .

Oornanabhi-Nyaya, just as the spider brings forth the thread from its mouth to weave its web and withdraws it again into its mouth; this world is projected forth by Brahman and then again withdrawn by Brahman. The world is nothing but the Being of Brahman. And, Brahman alone is reality.

Ghatakasha-Nyaya, this is the analogy of space in a pot which is the same as the space pervading the universe (Mahakasha). When the pot is broken, the apparent distinction vanishes. Similarly, when the body and mind are broken, the embodied jiva becomes one with the Brahman.

Arundathi Nyaya is derived from the practice of showing the Arundathi star to the new bride. As the star is very faint and not easy to sight she is gradually led from the nearby brighter stars step by step to the Aundathi star. This underlines the principle of leading from gross to the subtle, from general to the particular and from known to the unknown.

For more on Nyayas please visit . 

The models employ something that is already familiar in order to explain certain concepts that are at once abstract and real. Let me mention that these analogies are not perfect. They have their limitations and are brittle at times; and if pressed too hard they might crumble .There cannot be a perfect analogy; and argument is not evidence. Its purpose is to illustrate. The models attempt to represent something that which cannot be perceived. Nyaya is the finger and not the moon. Therefore, there is always an element of inadequacy. One has to strive to extract from the model what is called “a positive analogy”. The notion of transformation (Vivarta) is thus what one could call a logical construction.

Nonetheless, the value of these Nyayas consists in that they facilitate a passage from the observable to the actual and from the factual to the theoretical .Sri Shankara’s merit is in the consistent interpretations he provides to an axiomatic system that the Upanishads provided. And in doing so he contributed significantly to the Indian theory -formation.


Indebted to Prof.SRK Rao

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Posted by on September 6, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Nyaya


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