Mimamsa interpretation of Vedic Injunctions (Vidhi)

by Shreebas Debnath | 2018 | 68,763 words

This page relates ‘Application of Mimamsa Principles’ 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 10.4 - Application of Mīmāṃsā Principles

The principles of interpretation invented by the Mīmāṃsakas had been used by the authors of smṛti-texts and by the authors of digests. Modern judges of courts have also taken resort to them in giving the verdicts.

The Sārthakya Principle:

The sārthaka principle was used by Jaimini himself with regard to Vidhivannigadādhikaraṇa (a declaration appearing like a vidhi). There is a passage in the Veda which tells—“The Indian fig tree becomes the sacrificial post, it is strong, strong animals are available; therefore, a strong animal is to be had to match the strength of the sacrificial post.” The objector says: Here in this passage it is clearly indicated that there is a duty enjoined by the concluding part of the passage, if it is not so, the whole passage, as a declaration would be meaningless. Here the Mīmāṃsakas applied the sārthakya principle. The principle says: ‘Every word and sentence must have some meaning and purpose attached to it.’ This axiom is shortly expressed by the sentence: ‘śabdādhikyāt arthādhikyam’ (More words, more meaning). So, the Mīmāṃsakas say with regard to the above passage that there is no doubt that the passage has the appearance of a vidhi, but it is really a declaration extolling the virtue of a fig-tree, for, to consider it as a vidhi would be to make other vidhis useless and redundant.

Jīmūtavāhana, the author of the digest ‘Dāyabhāga’ utilized this sārthakya principle with regard to a widow’s right of succession. By using this principle he has avoided the assumption of tautology in interpretation of a concerned text.

He said,

“The meaning therefore is, ‘the wife shall obtain her husband’s entire share’ not ‘she shall obtain her own entire share’, for the direction that ‘she shall obtain’ would be impertinent in respect of her own complete share. Since the intention of the text is to declare a right of property, it ought not to be interpreted as declaring such right in regard to the person’s own share; for, that is known already from the enunciation of it as that person’s share, [and it need not therefore be declared]”.

In every sphere of our life we want to avoid the imputation of redundancy. Modern western writers on constitution of statutes give it a high place in their works, and there is a leading English case on this point viz., Reg. V. Bishop of Oxford which lays down:

“A statute ought to be so construed, that if it can be prevented, no clause, sentence or word shall be superfluous, void or insignificant.”

The Atideśa Principle: The principle of atideśa (transfer of one rule used in one case to another case) is widely utilized by the smṛti-writers. As, for example, the śrāddha (offering in funeral rites in honour of the departed relatives) ceremony done during the new moon is regarded as the prakṛti (model), while the other śrāddha ceremonies are considered as vikṛti (modification). In modern legislation when a general Act is expressly incorporated into a special one this corresponds to an atideśa by śruti. It should be mentioned that in working out such atideśa, certain adjustments are to be made.

This matter of adjustments has been indicated by Maxwell in his ‘Interpretation of Statutes’. He said,

“Where a general Act is incorporated into a special one, the provisions of the latter would prevail over any of the former with which they were incosistent. It may be added, also, that when an Act on one subject, such as highways, incorporates some of the provisions comprised in another relating to a different subject such as poor rates, it does not thereby incorporate the modifications of those provisions which are subsequently made in the latter.”[1]

The Ūha Principle:

The word ūha means reasoning or adaptation of a new word or change of a word according to the context. Jaimini’s Book IX discusses ūha in the sense of an adaptation from a model sacrifice to a modification.

The hymn prescribed for the use in the Āgneya sacrifice is:

agnaye juṣṭaṃ nirvapāmi

(I set apart the oblation in an agreeable form for the Fire).

While performing the Saurya sacrifice which is a modification of the Āgneya sacrifice, the sacrificer must substitute sūryāya for agnaye and he must read the hymn as ‘sūryāya juṣṭaṃ nirvapāmi ’.

If we look to the modern western works on interpretation, then we can have a rule therein “construction most agreeable to justice and reason” which would correspond to the ūha of the Sanskrit writers, Maxwell says:

“In determining either what was the general object of the Legislature, or the meaning of the language in any particular passage, it is obvious that the intention which appears to be most agreeable to convenience, reason, justice, and legal principles, should, in all cases open to doubt, be presumed to be the true one.”[2]

Yājñavalkya also said that the decision should not be based only on the śāstras. By an unreasonable judgement there is loss of dharma (righteousness).

The Bādha Principle (the principle of Bar)

Jaimini has discussed the principle of bādha and āvāpa in the tenth chapter in his work. Primarily bādha means barring a thing owing to inconsistency. When a vikṛti (moulded sacrifice) is performed according to its prakṛti (standard sacrifice), some aṅgas (sub-ceremonies) of the prakṛti are omitted in the vikṛti. This is bādha. As for example, in the Rājasūyayāga, certain homas are prescribed. To perform these sub-ceremonies one must borrow details from the Darśapūrṇamāsayāga. A plain ground is prescribed for the altar in the Rājasūya. But in the Darśapūrṇamāsa the altar should be erected by digging with spade & c. Such an act would be out of place in constructing the altar for the homas in the Rājasūya. So, the direction regarding the erection of the altar in the Darśapūrṇamāsayāga sacrifice is barred in case of the Rājasūyayāga. This is the case of bādha by reason of express text.

Sometimes, this inconsistency arises incidentally. For example, in the Sādyaska sacrifice, there is no need of cutting the peg with which the animal is to be tied. But in the Agnīṣomīya sacrifice which is the prakṛti of the Sādyaska sacrifice, reciting of certain hymns is prescribed in connection with the cutting of the peg. This recital being out of place in the Sādyaska sacrifice is barred in carrying the atideśa process.

Similarly, though the Satrayāga is the vikṛti of Somayāga, yet the selection of ritvij is out of place in the Satrayāga and so omitted, though it is done in the Somayāga.

Śri Bhaṭṭa Saṃkara has classified this bādha into two groups, i.e. prāpta bādha and aprāpta bādha in his work ‘Mīmāṃsābālaprakāśa’.

He defines prāpta bādha as follows:

Prātpa bādha occurs where from atideśa (reference) of general śāstra and the like, a knowledge is engendered to the effect that a thing is inappropriate in all matters.”

For example, if there be two causal injunctions of which one precedes the other and clashes with another, the preceding injunction is barred by the following one (pūrvaṃ pareṇa bādhyate). That which is needed bars what is not needed (niṣprayojanaṃ saprayojanena bādhyate). That which slightly occurs is barred by that which amply occurs (alpaṃ bhūyasā). That which is in the nature of a part is barred by what is in the nature of the whole (aṅgaṃ pradhānena). That which serves a practical purpose, bars those which are of an ethical purpose, universal or casual (kāmyena nityasya naimittikasya). That which is directly taught bars, that which is obtainable by reference (atideśikenopadeśikasya).

The aprāta bādha is defined to be bādha in which the sense of inappropriateness of a particular text or of a particular proposition arises from its comparison with another particular text or proposition weightier than itself (yatra tu liṅgādau śrutikalpanāpratibandhāt jñānotpattir eva pratibādhyate asau apraptabādhaḥ iti).

Some examples are given below: A śrūti of a doubtful character is barred by a śrūti which is free from doubt (asandigdhaśrutibādhaḥ). A liṅga which is more cogent bars that which is less cogent (liṅgenāpi liṅgaṃ bādhyate). A śruti bars a smṛti - (śrutyā smṛtir bādhyate). A śruti bars an ācāra (śrutyā ācāraḥ bādhyate). An absolute smṛti without reference to any popular reason bars one that is based upon a popular reason (adṛṣṭārthasmṛtyā dṛṣṭārathā smṛtir bādhyate). That which serves a purpose immediately bars that which is of a remote service (ārādupakāritvaṃ sannipātitvena). If one can fill up an ellipsis by an expression which occurs in a passage, he should no go beyond it (anuṣaṅgenādhyāhāro bādhyate). From the smṛti point of view it is also said that an apūrvavidhi is barred by the niyamavidhi. Though the Veda acknowledges the supremacy of apūrvavidhi over all injunctions, yet in the smṛti law the dṛṣṭa (object of sense) is of greater importance than adṛṣṭa (supersensuous matter). So, an injunction of transcendental sanction has to yield to one of wordly sanction.

It should be remembered with regard to bādha that if there is contradiction of two directions of equal strength, there is not bādha. It is called virodha. In that case the two directions can not be reconciled. One is at his liberty to accept one or the other text at his option. But when one of two conflicting things has a presumption in its favour, it bars the other which can claim no such presumption. This is the case of bādha. Here one thing supersedes the other. But where there is only an apparent contradiction, but in reality the grounds covered by the texts are different and are compatible with each other, there is neither virodha nor bādha.

It should also be mentioned that two varying smṛti texts are rarely in direct contradiction, for all smṛti texts on a given subject are supposed to be derived from and to conform to some one and the same missing śruti text. So, a direct contradiction between two smṛti texts can not be assumed. Therefore, the digest writers are bound to reconcile the varying smṛti texts somehow or other.

Tantratā, Prasaṅga and Āvāpa:

There are also some principles relating to the application of vidhi texts. These are tantratā, prasaṅga and āvāpa. The etymological meaning of tantrata is extension. The figure of speech from which the tantratā nyāya is taken is interesting. It is taken from the process of the weaver who, by pushing up the woof, touches all the warps. So, tantratā involves the principle of avoiding repetition of acts when a single act would serve the purpose. Prasaṅga denotes incidental. By this principle the performance of the major duty dispenses with the performance of the minor duties which are involved in it. As, when an offering presented for the principle yāgakrama is made, it incidentally serves the purpose of subordinate sacrifices in which the same offering is to be performed. When a repetition of the same act is prescribed with regard to more than one thing, to dispense with the repetition is tantratā.

Āvāpa is the reverse of tantratā. It is the repetition of a thing many times to make it useful to many cases. In fact, where repetition is necessary to serve a purpose, it is āvāpa; as in the case of husking of grains, which must be repeated until all the husks are completely removed. The tantratā can be explained by the following instance. When a man has failed to do several duties at their proper time, and the same penance is prescribed for the delay in each case, the penance need not be repeated, but once done absolves the man from the fault. Prasaṅga is the incidental effect of an act of which the chief purpose is different. For example, if a whole animal has been consecrated, its flesh for preparation of sacrificial food need not be separately consecrated.

Raghunandana has rightly said in his ‘Udvāhatatva’,

sakṛt kṛte kṛtaḥ śāstrārthaḥ

(An act enjoined by the śāstras need not be performed more than once).

This principle is also regarded as a maxim.

Illegality and Irregularity:

In modern law illegality and irregularity play an important role. There is a subtle distinction between these two matters. Illegality implies an act in violation of some rule the consequences of which violation is to make the act null and void. On the other hand, irregularity implies an act in violation of a rule the result of which violation does not make the act null and void. In case of illegality the rule violated is imperative. But in case of irregularity it is simply regulatory. The Mīmāṃsakas and Hindu lawyers also make the same distinction. Actually, no system of law can possibly avoid it. With regard to a sacrifice, certain aṅgas (essential parts) must be performed for the completion of the sacrifice. Otherwise, the sacrifice will be void. This is the case of illegality. But there are certain other matters which are merely matters of niyama (regulation), and the violation of them does not make the sacrifice completely void, but merely a little defective. ‘Perform the Agnihotra with curdled milk’ is an imperative rule. It can not be dispensed with. The violation of this imperative rule reminds us the illegality of modern law. But the direction ‘beat the wheat to unhusk it’ is a simple regulatory rule. If a sacrificer unhusks the wheat not by beating and if he does it by any other method, it will only make the apūrva (spiritual benefit) a little less, but it will not render the sacrifice void. In ‘Mitākṣarā ’ Vijñāneśvara has discussed some other examples of irregularity. He establishes that, if the precept that a brāhmaṇa should not make wealth by receiving a return for religious work, may not have been observed, yet that will not void the brāhmaṇa’s right to the wealth acquired by breach of the precept. In ‘Dāyabhāga’ Jīmūtavāhana establishes that though there is a direction to a man not to dispose of even his self-acquired property yet if any one violates the precept by alienation of the property, the violation of the precept does not make the alienation void. This is called the doctrine of factum valet. It is a case of irregularity as contradistinguished from illegality. It proves the minuteness of the power of thinking of the Hindu lawyers.

Patent and Latent Ambiguity:

The topic of patent and latent ambiguity of modern law can also be found in the Mīmāṃsā Śāstra. When a passage is either self-contradictory or uncertain of meaning on the face to it, it is a case of patent ambiguity. But when a passage would only be unmeaning, if it be applied to a certain thing, but not, if it be applied to another, then it is a case of latent ambiguity. Though these terms are usually used with reference to private documents, yet passages in statutes may also happen to be in either of the two categories. The passages are discarded in the case of patent ambiguity. But in the case of latent ambiguity, extrinsic evidence or circumstances are to be resorted to, to ascertain the intention of the passage. This is the law according to modern jurisprudence.

In the Mīmāṃsā Śāstra, a patent conflict is a case of pratiṣedha (simultaneous injunction and prohibition) resulting in option, as in the case of the texts:

atirātre ṣoḍaśinaṃ gṛhṇāti

(He should use the ṣoḍaśin vessel in the dead of night)


nātirātre ṣoḍaśinaṃ gṛhṇāti

(He should not use the ṣoḍaśin vessel in the dead of night).

In case of the latent ambiguity no word or sentence is taken as self-contradictory or absolutely uncertain of meaning. Sometimes the Mīmāṃsakas virtually take the liberty of even correcting the language by means of the liṅga, vākya or prakaraṇa principle. They give a meaning to such apparently incoherent expressions as “the vegetables performed sacrifice for a session.” Here the ‘kaimutika nyāya’ (the maxim of what after) is applied. This nyāya means that when the more difficult of the two propositions is proved, the simpler one is to be taken as proved i.e. it is needless to say that the simpler proposition must be true. With regard to the above expression, the Mīmāṃsakas say that man should certainly perform sacrifices as even the vegetables did once upon a time. This is a case of latent ambiguity.

The Principle of Anuṣaṅga:

There is an important principle in the Mīmāṃsā system of philosophy regarding the addition of new words in a sentence. It is the principle of anuṣaṅga which comes under the rule cases omissus (adhyāhāra). The anuṣaṅga principle (or elliptical extension) states that an expression occurring in one clause is often meant also for a neighbouring clause, and it is only for economy that it is only mentioned in the former. This principle has a further sub-categorization. If a clause which occurs in a subsequent sentence is to be read into a previous sentence, it is a case of tadapakarṣa, but when it is vice-versa it is called tadutkarṣa.

The anuṣaṅga principle was used by Jīmūtvāhana in his Dāyabhāga. Jīmūtvāhana found that there is a text of Manu which declares:

“Of a woman married according to the brāhma, daiva, ārṣa, gāndharva and prājāpatya form, the property shall go to the husband if she dies without issue. But her property, given to her on her marriage in the form called āsura, rākṣasa and paiśāca, on her death without issue, shall become the property of her parents.”

In the second sentence the word ‘property’ is qualified by the words ‘given to her on her marriage’. But in the first sentence that word is not qualified by such qualification. By using the anuṣaṅga principle, Jīmūtavāhana said that the clause ‘given to her on her marriage’ should also be inserted in the first sentence after the word ‘property’.

Similarly, for the interpretation of the kārikā, “saṃsṛṣṭinas tu saṃsṛṣtī...”[3] of the ‘Vyavahārādhyāya’ of Yājñavalkyasaṃhitā, one has to borrow the clause ‘svaryātasya hyaputrasya’ (of one dying without having a son) from the kārikā starting with ‘eṣām abhāve pūrvasya’.[4]

Otherwise, he will not get the proper meaning intended by the author Yājñavalkya. This is also a case of anuṣaṅga. In the Paninian grammar this technique is called anuvṛtti. It is used there extensively. Actually, Paninian grammar is based on this principle. For example, the word ‘kārake’ of the formula ‘kārake[5] is to be inserted to those formulas which give the definitions of different kārakas. However, a little change is to be made to have the proper meaning of those formulas. The word ‘kārake’ is to be changed into ‘kārakam’. So, after the insertion of the word ‘kārake’ into the formula ‘kartur īpsitatamaṃ karma[6] it will mean the kāraka which is mostly desired to get by the agent by his action, will get the nomenclature ‘karman’ i.e. ‘karmakāraka’. If the insertion is not done, then the ‘karman’ can not be regarded as ‘kāraka’. ‘Kāraka’ means the relation between the term expressing the verb of a sentence and the other terms of that sentence. This anuṣaṅga principle was also used in the case ‘Dr. Rajbir Singh Dalal v. Chaudhari Devi Lal University, Sirsa & Anr.’[7] by Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice Markandey Katju of the Supreme Court of India.

The question in this appeal was whether the appellant fulfilled the requisite academic qualification for appointment to the post of Reader in Public Administration in Chaudhari Devi Lal University, Sirsa. The appellant was selected by an interview of an expert committee and he joined on 4.4.2005. Respondent No. 2 of this case, Dr. Raj Kumar Siwach filed a writ petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court being CWP No. 6642/ 2005 in which he alleged that Dr. Rajbir Singh Dalal did not possess the requisite qualification for the post of Reader in Public Administration as the appellant was M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science and not in Public Administration.

The High Court by the impugned judgement dated 21.9.2006 allowed the writ petition and set aside the selection and appointment of the appellant. The High Court gave its attention to the phrase ‘appropriate subjects’ of the sentence of the Regulation 2 of the UGC Regulations. It also relied on the decision of the Supreme Court in Dr. Bhanu Prasad Panda v. Chancellor, Sambalpur University, (2001) 8SCC 532, in which the apex Court observed that the subjects of Public Administration and Political Science are distinct and separate and a person possessing the academic qualification in the disciple of Political Science could not be appointed in the disciple of Public Administration.

Actually, the prase ‘in the relevant subject’ was used in the qualification of the Lecturer post of the UGC Regulation. But this phrase was not used in the qualification of the Reader post. The judges of the Supreme Court gave this judgement that the words ‘in the relevant subject’ has to be read into the qualification for the post of Reader also. Otherwise, it will lead to a strange situation as that would mean that a person who has an M.A. degree in Music or History, is qualified to be appointed as Reader in Political Science. So, it is a matter of anuṣaṅga.

The Justice Katju also said that a concession was made by the Supreme Court with regard to the decision in ‘Dr. Bhanu Prasad Panda v. Chancellor, Sambalpur University’ case. Hence, the judgement can not be regarded as a precedent. No reasoning has also been given in that case as to why it had been held that Political Science and Public Administration are distinct and separate subjects. If any decision of a court lays down some principle of law supported by reasons, then it becomes precedent. Mere resemblance does not cause precedentness.

The UGC also wrote a letter dated 5.3.1992 to the Registrar M.D. University, Rohtak stating that the above mentioned two subjects are inter-changeable and inter-related, and a candidate who possesses Master’s degree in Public Administration is eligible as Lecturer in Political Science and vice-versa. Actually, Political Science is the mother subject and Public Administration is the offshoot of the same. In deciding Dr. Bhanu Prasad Panda’s case, the Supreme Court did not have the benefit of the views of the University and the University Grants Commission and the conclusion was made on the basis of a personal understanding of Public Administration and Political Science. So, the two cases are distinguished from each other. Both can not be compared. They are based on different circumstances.

So, the omission of the phrase ‘in the relevant subject’ in the UGC Regulation regarding the post of a Reader was not unintentional. It was done only for economy (lāghava).

Therefore, the two Justices of the Supreme Court dismissed the writ petition filed in the High Court and upheld the appointment of the appellant in Public Administration.

With these illustrations of few principles envisaged by the Mīmāṃsakas, it is proved that these principles of interpretion were used in the ancient times and these are being used in the jurisprudence by the jurists even today. It is our great pride that our forefathers had invented these principles and they had propagated them through philosophy, grammar, law etc. It is also our great shame that we, the scholars of this modern age, are forgetting these helpful principles because of unfamiliarity with these principles of interpretation. We must acquire the knowledge of these principles to lead our life in a logical and convenient way. The logical attitude of the Mīmāṃsakas must be acquired and applied in all branches of modern knowledge for the advancement of learning. In the performance of any programme, the methodology of interpretation of the Mīmāṃsakas must be applied to make it more precise and effective. If we acquire this kind of attitude, we shall be able to show our due respect to this ancient system of Indian philosophy.

Footnotes and references:


Maxwell’s ‘Interpretation of Statutes’ 3rd Edition, p. 254.


Maxwell’s ‘Interpretation of Statutes’ 3rd Edition, p. 264.


Yājñavalkyasaṃhita, 2/138.


Yājñavalkyasaṃhita, 2/136.


Ibid, 1.4.59.


Civil Appeal No. 4908 of 2008. (Date: Aug. 6, 2008)

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