Category Archives: 5. Mimamsa

The Mimamsa Darsana

The Hindu tradition is composed of a number of darsanas, or philosophical systems (Padhi and Padhi 221). This should not surprise the keen observer of Hinduism as the religion itself encapsulates a variety of theological, ritual, and philosophical schools of thought and practice. Among the latter is found the Mimamsa darsana, the philosophical school of Vedic interpretation and apologetics. The Mimamsa philosophical system is also important for underscoring the ritualistic nature of the early Vedic literature and for its rigorous epistemological contributions to Hindu philosophy to bolster the truth contained in the Vedas.

The earliest exposition of the Mimamsa darsana is that of the Hindu writer Jaimini. His Mimamsa-Sutra contains over 2,500 aphorisms and is estimated to have been written in 200 CE (Padhi and Padhi 222). Scholars do not credit Jaimini with the creation of the Mimamsa system, but do recognize his systematic presentation of the oral traditions and interpretations of Mimamsa as foundational to the philosophical school of thought (Dasgupta 370). Jaimini’s Mimamsa-Sutra is divided into 12 chapters, 60 sections, and covers nearly 1000 topics. In this significant work Jaimini espouses the general rules (nyayas) with which to distinguish dharma, that is, action in accord with the cosmic order, from adharma, action that is not in proper accord with the cosmos (Padhi and Padhi 222). As such, the Mimamsa-Sutra elucidates the number of sacrifices and rituals that existed in the Hindu tradition at that time. Perhaps the greatest contribution of Jaimini’s work, and of the Mimamsa darsana more generally, is its epistemological contribution to the understanding of knowledge as to how it can be interpreted and derived from the Vedas, the holy scriptures of the Hindu tradition (Padhi and Padhi 222).

The oldest extant commentary on Jaimini’s Mimamsa-Sutra is the Sabarabhasya (Bronkhorst 1). This work was followed by other expositions contained in the Slokavartika in the eighth century and the Prakaranapancika in the ninth century (Clooney 51). A more succinct expression of Mimamsa’s philosophical position was put forward in the Manameyodaya, which was begun by Narayanabhattatiri around 1590 and finished by Narayanasudhi a century later (Clooney 51). The system of Mimamsa articulated by Jaimini and developed by the aforementioned commentaries is also known as Purva-Mimamsa. The name reflects Jaimini’s interpretation (mimamsa) of the earlier Vedic texts, more specifically, the ritually oriented Brahmanas (Padhi and Padhi 219). This distinguishes Purva-Mimamsa from the hegemonic Hindu philosophy of Vedanta, which is also known as Uttara-Mimamsa for its interpretive focus of the chronologically later Vedic texts, namely the Upanisads (Clooney 53). Although scholarship suggests that there exists a great deal of continuity between Purva and Uttara-Mimamsa [For further discussion on the continuity between Mimamsa and Vedanta see Bronkhorst (2007)], the two systems are often studied separately (Clooney 53). Consequently, Vedanta philosophy shall receive cursory treatment in the present discussion.

As previously stated, the primary aim of Jaimini’s Mimamsa-Sutra is to address those actions that are conducive to the realization of dharma (Arnold np). In doing so, the Mimamsa darsana shifts the ideological focus away from the principal Hindu concern of liberation (moksa) from the cycle of rebirth, and toward an orthopraxis, or correct performance, of the brahminic rituals of the Vedic texts. With the attainment of heaven (syarga) and success in the life hereafter hanging in the balance, it becomes essential for the Mimamsa philosopher to establish the orthodoxy of the Vedic ritualistic injunctions (Bronkhorst 1). Jaimini maintains that the characteristics (laksana) of dharma can only be known by means of Vedic injunctions (codana) and testimony (sabda) (Arnold np). As a result, the secondary focus of the Mimamsa darsana is to function as an apologetic school in defense of the Vedic scriptures. As such, the primary concern of subsequent Mimamsa theorists is to demonstrate the intrinsic validity (svatah pramanya) of the religious truth contained within the Vedas (Arnold np). Consequently, the Mimamsa system is heavy laden with discussions pertaining to semantics and grammar (Hiriyanna 299). In their simplest form, the Mimamsakas attempt to uncover the very principles according to which the Vedas were written so as to reveal the truths contained within them (Hiriyanna 298).

Arnold astutely observes that the philosophical project of the Mimamsakas to prove the intrinsic validity of Vedic language using the Vedas themselves seems counterintuitive from the perspective of Western philosophy. Francis Clooney, however, argues that this is not surprising given the epistemological position of Mimamsa. Clooney clarifies that Mimamsa regards truth as right knowledge (prama), which may be known by way of pramanas (hereafter, means of right knowing) (Clooney 45). Jaimini himself conceded three pramanas: perception, inference, and verbal testimony. However, he contended that the word (sabda) of the Vedas alone is the only infallible means of knowledge (Padhi and Padhi 225-245). As such, Mimamsa theorists maintain that the ritual words of the Vedas are firmly intertwined with the ritual realities they endorse (Clooney 52). This is derived from Jaimini’s proposition that one should appeal to as few unseen realities as possible, a notion not all that unlike Occam’s Razor in Western philosophy. Consequently, religious truth is best understood in terms of what is observable, that is, the language and ritual directives of the Vedas. From this it naturally follows that the orthopraxis of said rituals serve as positive affirmation of truth in and among the community of believers (Clooney 51-52).

Although continuity exists between Mimamsa and the other Hindu darsanas, it does depart rather significantly from the Vaiseshika, Nyaya, Samkhya, and Yoga schools of philosophical thought (Padhi and Padhi 221). Mimamsa is set apart primarily by its emphasis on the sole authority of the Vedic scriptures as the epistemological source of eternal truth. In order to preserve the eternal status of the Vedas, Mimamsa largely does away with the Hindu doctrines of creation and dissolution as well as rejects the notion of deities external to the Vedas, resulting in a deification of the holy scriptures themselves (Padhi and Padhi 249). Francis Clooney recognizes that appeals to gods would move the authority of the Vedas to a source external to and higher than the scriptures. As such, Mimamsa apologists refute the existence of any such deities so as not to displace the sole authority of Vedic scriptures (Clooney 51).

The Mimamsa darsana is but one of many attempts to articulate truth and the nature of the cosmos in the Hindu tradition. Its epistemological insight grants the scholar a privileged view of truth as it relates to the sacred Vedic literature revered by Hindus. Understanding Mimamsa’s emphasis and exposition of orthopraxy is essential to understanding the complex nature of brahminic rituals in Hinduism. Although Vedanta in all its continuity has taken over the mainstream of Hindu philosophical thought, a comprehensive understanding of Mimamsa is essential to understand the complex interaction of truth and ritual in the Hindu tradition, as it has been both understood and practiced throughout history and as such practices evolve today.


References and Further Recommended Reading

Arnold, D. (2001) “Of Intrinsic Validity: A Study on the Relevance of Purva Mimamsa.” Philosophy East & West, 51 (1), 26.

Bronkhorst. Johannes (2007) Mimamsa and Vedanta: Interaction and Continuity. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

Clooney, Francis X. (2001) “From Truth to Religious Truth in Hindu Philosophical Theology.” In Religious Truth: A Volume in the Comparative Religious Ideas Project, edited by Robert Cummings Neville, 43-63. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Dasgupta, S.N. (1973) A History of Indian Philosophy. Vol. I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hiriyanna, M. (1983) Outlines of Indian Philosophy. Bombay: Blackie & Son.

Moghe, S. G. (1984) Studies in the Purva Mimamsa. New Delhi: Ajanta Publications.

Padhi, Bibhu and Padhi, Minakshi (2005) Indian Philosophy and Religion: A Reader’s Guide. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.

Prasad, H. (1994) “The context principle of meaning in Prabhakara Mimamsa.” Philosophy East & West, 44 (2), 317.


Related Topics for Further Investigation



Hindu Epistemology

Nyaya School of logic

Vedanta philosophy

Vedic literature


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Article written by Nikolas Miller (February 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.