Mimamsa interpretation of Vedic Injunctions (Vidhi)

by Shreebas Debnath | 2018 | 68,763 words

This page relates ‘Methods of Interpretation’ of the study on the Mimamsa theory of interpretation of Vedic Injunctions (vidhi). The Mimamsakas (such as Jaimini, Shabara, etc.) and the Mimamsa philosophy emphasizes on the Karmakanda (the ritualistic aspect of the Veda). Accordingly to Mimamsa, a careful study of the Veda is necessary in order to properly understand dharma (religious and spiritual achievement—the ideal of human life).

Chapter 1.2 - Methods of Interpretation

To discuss any controversial issue regarding vedic sentence or word, the Mīmāṃsakas had invented some principles of interpretation. It is true that the definitions of the rules of interpretation or exegesis must have proceeded before their codification in the Mīmāṃsā Sūtra of Jaimini, but the details of this long process are unknown to us. According to A. Berriedale Keith, the author of ‘The Karma-Mīmāṃsā’, only it is certain that the Mīmāṃsā Sūtra presupposes a long history of discussion, that its aphorisms, which often assume, without expressing, general rules of interpretation, deal largely with difficulties affecting individual vedic texts, which had long been the subject of dispute. The subject of interpretation involves two clear questions.

(1) What is the meaning and purport of a vedic word, sentence or passage?

(2) Whether it makes an obligatory rule of any kind, or a quasi-obligatory rule or a non-oldigatory matter?

All kinds of principles and rules of interpretation are basically meant for helping the solution of the aforesaid questions.

Here it is to be noticed that the Mīmāṃsā process of establishing principles of interpretation is named as adhikaraṇa. adhikaraṇa means a complete theme of discussion. A adhikaraṇa consists of five things. Kumārila Bhaṭṭa in his Ślokavārtika explains this method as follows:

viṣayo viśayaś caiva pūrvapakṣas tathottaram |
nirṇayaś ceti pañcāṅgaṃ śāstre’dhikaraṇaṃ smṛtam ||”

It means that the text under consideration or the subject of investigation (viṣaya), the doubt concerning it (viśaya), the other side or prima facie view (pūrvapakṣa), the other side of answer (uttarapakṣa) and the conclusion (nirṇaya), all these constitute an adhikaraṇa. Some regard answer as the conclusion and accept purpose (prayojana) and relevancy or pertinence (saṃgati) as another two constituents of an adhikaraṇa.

Each adhikaraṇa takes a vedic sentence as its topic. For example, “svādhyāyodhyetavyah” (One’s own branch of veda should be studied.)—this sentence is a topic for discussion—in an adhikarana. Is consideration of the meaning of the Veda to be done or not, after reading the Veda—is the doubt here. It should not be done—this is the first side. The ground behind this opinion is that if consideration of the meaning of Veda is done after reading Veda, then ‘vedamadhītya snāyāt’ this smṛti-text becomes redundant or futile, because it means, ‘One should take his ceremonial bath after reading the Veda’. So, there is a need of long time for discussing or ascertaining the meaning of Veda between the recitation of the Veda with the understanding its meaning apparently and ascertaining its meaning deeply. The conclusion is that the Veda should be thoroughly discussed with a teacher who is well-versed in Veda after reading it. In the word ‘adhītya’ the suffix ‘lyap’ does not mean proximity. In the Pāṇinīan Sūtrasamānakartṛkayoḥ pūrvakāle’ this rule has been made that if one subject has two verbs in a sentence, then the preceding verb takes the suffix ‘ktvāc’ or ‘lyap’. So, the suffix ‘lyap’ means the state of being preceding. If the meaning of Veda is considered after reading it and then the ceremonial bath is taken then also the state of being preceding of reading of Veda is maintained. This is uttarapakṣa.

The purpose (prayojana) is the discussion of the meaning of Veda (dharma-jijñāsā). Lastly, the relevancy is here beginning of the Mīmāṃsā-śāstra (śāstrārāmbha-saṃgati). Relevancy is of many types like ‘śāstrasaṃgati’, ‘adhyāyasaṃgati’, ‘pādasaṃgati’, ‘āpekṣikīsaṃgati’, ‘pratyudāharaṇasaṃgati’, ‘prasaṃgasaṃgati’, ‘apavādasaṃgati’ etc. In each adhikaraṇa, the first three kinds of relevancy mentioned above and any other one type of relevancy can be found.

The procedure laid down as above indicate the systematic way by which the Mīmāṃsakas proceeded to interpret any provision of Veda. Not only this procedure, but some elementary rules have also been expounded by the propounder of the Mīmāṃsā philosophy Jaimini. These rules help us to find out the real meaning of a provision including the clauses or words incorporated therein.

They are as follows:

I. The Sārthakya axiom:

Every word and sentence must have meaning and purpose. This axiom is shortly presented by the kārikā,”More words, more meaning.” (śabdādhikyād arthādhikyam)

II. The Lāghava axiom:

Where one rule or proposition would suffice, more must not be assumed. This principle has been exemplified by Mādhavācārya in the following verses—

vidhivākye padaiḥ sarvair apūrvaṃ prati pādyate |
pratyekam athavaikena sarvais tatpratipādanam ||
phalānvayitvāt sarveṣāṃ pradhānānvayalābhataḥ |
lāghavād ekabodhyatvaṃ taccheṣastu padāntaram ||”[1]

Here the question is whether by each term separately or by one term out of them, the apūrva sanction of a vidhi proposition is made out. The answer is “By investigating the relation of the fruit (apūrva sanction) it is found to belong to a single term which is the principle one to which the others are subordinate. This being the simpler construction, the apūrva appertains to one term, the rest forming its train.”[2]

III. The Arthaikatva axiom:

To a word or a sentence occurring at one and the same place a double or secondary meaning should not be attached or imagined. A word must have different meaning, if the word occurs in different places. It is also true to a clause. But it is totally improper to take a word used at one and the same place in different senses.

There is a well-known proposition regarding this principle—

sakṛd uccaritaḥ śabdaḥ sakṛd evārthaṃ gamayati.”

It means, ‘A word once uttered must have only one meaning.’

IV. The Guṇapradhāna axiom:

If a word or a sentence which, on the face of it, purorts to express a subordinate idea which contradicts to the principal idea, then the previous must be adjusted to the latter or altogether disregarded.

This is expressed by the maxim of:

“the great and the small fish.”

As the great fish eats the small one, so also the principal clause of a sentence becomes predominant over the contradictory subordinate clause of that sentence.

Jaimini says—

guṇamukhyavyatikrame tadarthatvān-mukhyena vedasaṃyogaḥ[3]

(When a guṇaśruti [auxiliary clause] clashes with a mukhyaśruti [mandatory clause], the latter is to prevail as Veda.)

V. The Sāmañjasya axiom:

Contradiction between words and sentences is not to be presumed where it is possible to reconcile them. By reconciliation the contradiction residing among them can be eradicated.

VI. The Vikapla axiom:

Where there are two contradictory options of equal strength, one can be adopted at one’s option. Though this Vikalpa has eight defects, yet it has been accepted because there is no other way in case of options.

Surendranath Dasgupta has mentioned three main principles of interpreting the vedic sentences.[4] These are—

(a) When some sentences are such that connectively they yield a meaning but not individually, then they should be taken together connectively as a whole.

(b) If the separate sentences can however yield meanings separately by themselves they should not be connected together.

(c) In the case of certain sentences which are incomplete, suitable words from the context of immediately preceding sentences are to be supplied.

These are Surendranath Dasgupta’s views regarding the principles of interpreting of vedic sentences.

There are some other specific rules called nyāyas or maxims for interpretation. Some of them will be explained in due places with suitable examples. All of these rules specially help us to understand the nature and application of vedic injunctions. All kinds of ambiguities and objections relating to injunctions can be solved by using these principles of interpretation. These principles or maxims have also been applied in modern court-cases by judges having knowledge of Mīmāṃsā philosophy or not. Indian commentators of different Smṛti-texts like Vijñāneśvara, Jīmūtavāhana etc. and some authors like Raghunandana, Sūlapāṇi etc. have also utilised these principles and maxims envisaged by the Mīmāṃsakas for ascertaining some theory and for reaching at some important social, economic and religious conclusions. Both secular and religious aspects of human life have been judged by these principles. Ancient and medieval Indian jurisprudence has directly utilised these principles.

Footnotes and references:




As translated by K. L. Sarkar in ‘Mimansa Rules of Interpretation’. Editor [Edited by] by Justice Markandey Katju, page, 79


Mimāṃsādarśanam -3/3/9


A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume I, page—404-405.

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