[Advaita-l] A Brief Introduction to pUrva mImAmsA - 6 (Mantras)

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at yahoo.com
Wed Oct 12 11:48:57 CDT 2005

The previous posting on pUrva mImAmsA (PM) categorized the words of
the Vedas into four classes and discussed the first two
(vidhi/nishhedha and arthavAda). This posting will consider the third
class of Vedic words, viz. mantras, in the conclusion to the second
pAda of the first adhyAya of Jaimini's pUrva mImAmsA sUtras (JPMS).

Unlike vidhis (commands) such as "One ought to perform agnihotra,"
which provide the directive for action, or arthavAdas (statements
praising action) such as "One who performs the ashvamedha will
conquer the earth", mantras are mostly descriptive of an action while
it is being performed, or hymns that praise a deity. The meanings of
many mantras is abstruse, and the pUrvapakshin argues that mantras do
not possess meanings at all.

PM holds that mantras do possess meanings, and that the meaning of a
mantra points to the following:

(1) Description of the procedure while it is being performed that
serves as a reminder (or)
(2) The Deity that is worshipped by the mantra (or) 
(3) In case of the mantra making no apparent sense, the mantra still
does possess meaning, but the meaning happens to be unknown to us at

The function of a mantra when chanted at a yaGYa (Vedic sacrifice) is
for the sake of the transcendental result that follows from the
yaGYa, but knowledge of the meanings of mantras is not required for
the performance of yaGYas. For this reason, most teachers of the
Vedas do not necessarily teach the meanings of Vedic mantras to their


(Not all of the sUtras are enumerated, so as to keep this brief)

JPMS 1.2.31

tat.h artha shaastraat.h .
"Because of scriptural directions in connection with those


The pUrvapakshin raises a number of objections as to why mantras
don't possess meaning. Here are the objections:

First pUrvapaksha: We have the text "devasyatvetyArabhya gAyatreNa
chhandasaa aadade ... iti chaturbhirabhrimaadatte," where a set of
mantras are laid down for pronunciation at the time of picking up the
abhri (spade). The meaning of the mantras themselves signify the act
of picking up the abhri. If the mantras were really significant, why
is it that we have two separate statements:
1) The injunction, "The abhri should be picked up by these mantras."
2) The mantras themselves signify that "the abhri is picked up."
One of the statements would be rendered redundant. Therefore, mantras
have no meaning. They are only intended to be recited as so many
words, irrespective of any sense that might be conveyed by them."


This is the most cogent argument against the use of mantras. It was
already mentioned that the means of knowing dharma are vidhis
(injunctions). But it now seems that dharma can be known not only
from vidhis, but also from mantras. What then is the difference
between vidhis and mantras if both are descriptive of action? The
answer is given in the refutation of the above objection in verse 41

JPMS 1.2.32

vaakya niyamaat.h .
"Because the order of sentences (in the mantras) is irrevocably

Second pUrvapaksha: The mantra "agnimUrdhaa divaH..." whose meaning
would remain unchanged if it were changed to "mUrdhA agniH divaH...".
But the order of words composing the mantra is fixed, therefore
mantras are not intended to have any meaning.

JPMS 1.2.34

avidyamaana vachanaat.h .
"Because of the mention of non-existent entities."

Third pUrvapaksha: The mantra "chatvAri shR^inga trayosya pAdAH", 
which means, "It has four horns and three feet". We know no animal
that can fit this description, hence the mantra has no meaning.

JPMS 1.2.37

svAdhyAyavat.h avachanaat.h .
"Because there is no mention (of the meaning), as there is of the
verbal text."

Fourth pUrvapaksha: We find all teachers exhorting their students to
learn carefully the mantras, but mention nothing regarding their
meaning. This indicates that the teachers know that mantras are not
intended to have any meaning.

JPMS 1.2.38

aviGYeyaat.h .
"Because it is unintelligible."

Fifth pUrvapaksha: The words of some mantras simply do not have any
meaning, such as, "shR^iNyeva jarbhaariiturphaarI". This proves that
mantras have no meaning.

JPMS 1.2.40

avishishhTaH tu vAkyArthaH .
"But there is no difference in the signification of sentences (of the
Veda and those in ordinary parlance)."

The siddhAnta or conclusion is that the Veda mantras are intended to
have a definite meaning. Mantras are statements, and there is every
reason to suppose that these statements convey definite meanings. As
in the case of ordinary language parlance, the Veda mantras too have
meanings for individual words that combine to give the meaning of a
statement. When the mantras are recited at a sacrifice, although the
component words do have meaning, the meaning of the entire (statement
of the) mantra serves no purpose other than indicating the deity of
the sacrifice.

JPMS 1.2.41

guNArthena punaH shrutiH . 
"The repetition serves the purpose of qualification."

First siddhAnta: Answering the objection in sUtra 31, the words
"chaturbhirabhrimaadatte" qualifies that the number of mantras to be
recited are four in number, which is not given in the original


The definition of a mantra that distinguishes it from a vidhi is [1]:

prayogam samaveta artha anushhThaanaM smArakAH mantrAH .
"[Those statements] that remind one of the instructions associated
with a procedure (while it is being performed) are called Mantras."

The difference between a vidhi and a mantra is that the former is an
command of the form "One should do this", whereas the latter is of
the form "This action is [being] done", and hence reminds one of
actions associated with the performance of a yaGYa. The difference is
therefore in grammatical syntax.

For example, the commonly recited mantra while cleansing one's hands
during a kriyA is, "apa upaspR^ishya" ("water is touched").

JPMS 1.2.44

aviruddhaM param.h .
"The assumption is incompatible."

Second siddhAnta: The objection in sUtra 32 does not take into
account the fact that recitation of mantras is not only for
understanding the meanings of the words of the mantra, but also for
achieving a transcendental result during the recital of the mantra
(at a yaGYa). For the sake of the result (of the yaGYa), the order of
the words of the mantra does matter.


There is more to the transcendental result that follows from the
recital of mantras during a yaGYa. This was discussed before on this
list [1,2]:

The mImAMsA-paribhAShA states:

mantrANAM adhyayanavidhinA kR^itsna-svAdhyAyasya 
phalavadarthajnAnArthatvameva, na tu adR^iShTArthatvam.h |

By the injunction on the studying one's own Veda completely, the
(Vedic) mantras have the purpose of (revealing) knowledge of useful
things only. They are not for obtaining an unseen (transcendental)

The mImAMsA position on mantras and their meanings is further
clarified in the mImAMsA nyAya prakAsha:

tatra ye mantrA yatra paThitAsteShAM tatra yadyarthaprakAshanaM
prayojanaM saMbhavati tadA tatraiva viniyogaH | yeShAM tu na
saMbhavati teShAM yatra saMbhavati tatrotkarShaH | yathA
pUShAnumantraNamantrANAM ityuktam.h | yeShAM kvApi na saMbhavati
taduchchAraNasya tu agatyAdR^iShTArthatvam.h | sarvathApi tu teShAM
nAnarthakyaM iti |

If the mantras express meaning (remind us of something related to the
sacrifice) such that the meaning can be useful at the point where the
mantras are recited, then the mantras find application right at that
point (in the text where they are recited). However, when the mantras
cannot (be used in this way), then they (the mantras) are to be
transferred to the point where they can (be used in this way). This
is as per the explanation of the pUShan anumantras (after recitation
mantras). When the mantras cannot (be applicable in this way) at any
place, then their recitation is for a transcendental result as there
is no other resort, but in no case can they (the mantras) be without

JPMS 1.2.46

abhidhaane arthavAdaH . 
"Being significant, the mantra is regarded as an arthavAda."

Third siddhAnta: The mantra in question in sUtra 34 has a definite
meaning - that of figuratively praising the sun. The four horns of
the sun are the four quarters of the day, the three feet are the
three seasons, and so on.


The mantra being referred to above is from the MahAnArAyaNa
upanishhad 12.10, also R^igveda 4.58.3:

chatvAri shR^ingA trayo asya pAdA dveshIrshhe sapta hastAso asya .
tridhA baddho vR^ishhabho roravIti maho devo martyAM Avivesha ..

"It possesses four horns, three feet, two heads and seven hands. This
Bull connected in a threefold manner, eloquently declares the
Supreme. The Self-luminous Deity has entered the mortals everywhere."

This is evidently a verse that should be interpreted figuratively.
KumArila has interpreted the mantra as praising the sun. However, the
mantra is considered by different AchAryas as praising different
deities. shAyaNa takes it as a reference to the syllable OM, BhaTTa
BhAskara sees it as a reference to the yaGYa, and Patanjali as
referring to flexions of speech [3].

JPMS 1.2.48

vidyA avachanaM asaMyogaat.h .
"The non-mention of studying [the meanings of mantras] is due to
non-connection [with performance of sacrifices]."

Fourth siddhAnta: The answer to sUtra 37 is that the knowledge of
meanings of mantras does not have any direct bearing upon performance
of sacrifices (i.e. chanting of mantras at a sacrifice without
understanding their meaning is acceptable), so the teachers do not
necessarily teach the meanings of mantras to their students.

JPMS 1.2.49

sataH param.h aviGYAnam.h .
"Moreover, there is ignorance [of the meanings of mantras]."

Fifth siddhAnta: In reply to sUtra 38, we admit that we do not know
the meanings of some mantras, but that does not prove that the mantra
has no meaning. This only shows our ignorance of the meanings of the


We have covered the basic elements of dharma as expounded by the
Vedas, which are vidhis/nishhedhas, arthavAdas and mantras. The next
posting will discuss the role of smR^itis concerning knowledge of



[1] Posting on Feb 20,2005 -
I got the quoted verse from discussions with some mImAmsA scholars.
But the above link also provides a similar verse.

[2] Posting on Mar 14,2005 -

[3] Posting on Mar 3, 2005 -

Ramakrishna Math edition of the Mahanarayanopanisad by Swami
Vimalananda, published in Madras, 1957.

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