Saturday, 19 May 2012

Carvaka Philosophy in Prabodhacandrodaya

Almost all of what we know today about Cārvāka/Lokāyata philosophy is from secondary sources – most of which are quoted by opponents of the philosophy in order to refute or even ridicule its arguments. Not surprisingly, there was a tendency in these works to caricature the philosophical stance of these ancient Indian materialists. Yet, these being the only sources on which we have to base to reconstruct the philosophy, they – despite being outright caricatures – are indispensable for anybody who wants to study Cārvāka/Lokāyata philosophy.

Krsna Misra’s  11th century allegorical drama, Prabodhacandrodya, is one such source. We reproduce those sections of the drama in which the character Cārvāka makes an appearance.

The earliest English translation of this work is Prabodhacandrodaya or Rise of the Moon of Intellect: A Spiritual Drama of J. Taylor. The present extract we publish here, however, is from the translation done by Dr Sita K Nambiar and published by Motilal Banarasidass in 1971. Dr Nambiar writes in the Preface to her translation that her "translation is based on the fairly reliable Sanskrit text published by Panduranga Javaji, Nirnayasagar Press, Bombay, 1935.  But at certain places the  text is defective and as a result it defied attempts for the correct translation. But such occasions are few and far between.  In general I have kept close to the original and tried to preserve the spirit of the text without violating the English expression".

Dr Sita K Nambiar was the Principal of Daulat Ram College of Delhi University. She was a scholar of the Deutsche Akademische Austausch Dienst and received her Ph.D from Bonn University in 1960.

In a future post, we will reproduce a part of the critical introduction written by Dr Nambiar for hertranslation. We are also planning to upload the translation of J. Taylor as soon as it becomes available to us.

(Then enters Grand Delusion pompously with his attendants)

Grand Delusion (महामोह ):            

(Smiling). The fools are without any check on them. 

“(The view) that there is a soul separate from the body, which on reaching the other world enjoys rewards, is (like) the hope to get tasty fruits from the big flower of a tree in the sky.” (16)

This world is deceived by the ignorant who accept the existence of what is the mere creation of their own imagination. For –

Them any talkative believers (āstikās) who jabber in vain that a thing which does not exist, exists, condemn the truth-speaking non-believers (nāstikās). Oh, consider from the point of reality.  When the body is destroyed, has any one seen a soul separate from it which acquired consciousness as result of transformation (due to certain combination). (17)

They deceive not only the world but also themselves. For –

If the bodies are alike in their different parts, the mouth, etc., how can there be a hierarchy of castes?  We do no accept any difference between a woman and wealth belonging (to us or) to somebody else.  Only those who are devoid of manliness consider whether an act should be done or not, whether it entails harm, whether to approach women at one’s pleasure and seize the wealth of others. (18).

(After thinking, proudly). By all means materialism alone is the science, in whose view, the only means of knowledge is perception. The elements are earth, water, fire, and air. Wealth and pleasure are the sole aims of man.  The elements move through original impulse.  There is no other world.  Emancipation is death.  This science was composed by Vācaspati who followed our view and has given it to the Materialist. This science is popularized in the world by him through his disciples and their disciples.

(Then enter the Materialist and his disciples)

Materialist (चार्वाक)

My child, know that knowledge consists only of statecraft.  The science of Agriculture and trade is included in this.  The three Vedas are incoherent talk of cheats.  There is no difference just because they postulate heaven.

See –

If sacrifices obtain (for one) heaven by the destruction of the sacrificial matter through the action of the officiating priest, the trees burnt by the forest fire will bear ample fruit? (19).

Moreover –

If it is assumed that an animal slain (in sacrifices) goes to heaven, why does not the sacrifice immolate his own father? (20)

And –

If srāddha (offering of rice balls to a dead person) produces gratification to being who are dead, then oil may rear the flame of an extinguished light. (21).

Disciple (शिष्य)

Venerable teacher, if the sole aim of man is to eat and drink then why do these ascetics renounce the worldly pleasure and afflict themselves with severe tortures caused by parāka (a sacrificial sword) sāntapana (a kind of rigid penance) and taking food once in three days (as an expiatory act)?


These fools who are deceived by the Vedas composed by cheats are contented with the sweetmeats of hopes.  See,

Where is the embrace of the long-eyed ones, the embrace pressing the shoulders with one’s arms and which is pleasing because of the prominent breasts compressed and where is begging, fasting, penance, exposure to the  burning heat of the sun which emaciate the body of these fools (22).


Revered sir, these ascetics say that worldly pleasure is to be given up because it is mingled with miseries.


(Laughing) This is the expression of foolishness of these human animals.

It is the reasoning of fools that the pleasure which arises in men from contact with sensible objects is to be relinquished as they are accompanied by pain.  What man seeking his true interest would fling away the berries of paddy, rich with finest white grains, because they are covered with husks and dust? (23).

Grand Delusion: 

Well, It is after a long time, my ears are gratified by words which are authoritative (Looking with joy). Oh! It is my dear friend Materialist.


(Looking) This is king Delusion. (Going near). May the king be victorious!  I, Materialist salute you.

Grand Delusion: 

Welcome Materialist, be seated here.


(sits) Kali prostrates before you.

Grand Delusion: 

Ah! Kali, unimpaired blessing be upon you!


By your grace all is good. He has accompanied everything (ordered by you) and wishes to (worship at) your feet.  For –

After receiving the great command (from you) and having accomplished it by destroying the enemies he is now happy and delighted and with his great joy in countenance feels blessed and prostrates himself at the lotus feet of the Lord. (24).

Grand Delusion: 

And what has that Kali achieved?


Lord, he caused the virtuous forsake the path shown by the Vedas and act according to their own wish.  It is the glory of my Lord neither mine nor Kali’s for this achievement. (25).

The people of the north and west have forsaken the three Vedas, what to speak of tranquility and self-restraint.  In other places too the three Vedas are there just as the means of livelihood.  The Acārya (Brhaspati) has said:

“The oblations in the fire, the three Vedas, the carrying of three sticks tied together, and smearing oneself with ashes are the means of livelihood of those who are devoid of intelligence and manliness. (26).

There in Kuruksetra and other places my Lord need no fear the birth of Knowledge or Spiritual Awakening even in a dream”

Grand Delusion: 

Well done.  That great holy place is rendered useless.


My Lord.  There is something more to be reported.

Grand Delusion: 

What is it?


There is a Yogini of great power called Devotion to Visnu.  Though her popularity is lessened by Kali, we cannot even look at those who are blessed by her.  Therefore, my Lord, you have to be on your guard against her.

Grand Delusion: 

(In fear to himself). Oh! It is difficult to destroy here whose great power is well known and who is my natural enemy.  Well. (to himself).  Sometimes drastic action has to be taken.  (Loudly)  Then my dear, do not have any doubts.  Where can she appear when Concupiscence and Anger are her enemies?


Even then one who desires victory should not remain unguarded even where the enemy is weak.

For –

Even a weak enemy may prove to be a fierce one in the end and inflict a mortal would like a small thorn that afflicts the foot. (27).

Grand Delusion: 

(Looking behind the curtain)  Who is there?

(Enter the gatekeeper)

Gatekeeper (दौवारिक)

Victory to my Lord.  Let my Lord command.

Grand Delusion: 

Oh! ‘Companion of the wicked’, Go and direct Concupiscence, Anger, Greed, Arrogance, Spite and other that they should be on guard and kill the Yogini – Devotion to Visnu.


As your Lord commands.


(A man enters with a letter)

Man: I come from Utkala.  There near the ocean there is a temple of God call Purusottama. I have been sent to the king by my masters, Arrogance, Deceit and Conceit.  (Looking) This is Varanasi.  This is the place of the king.  I shall enter (Entering).   Here the master is talking something with  Materialist.  I shall go near him (Going near)  Victory to my Lord.  Look at this letter which needs attention.

(Gives the letter)

Grand Delusion: 

(Taking the letter)  Where do you come from?


I have come from Purusottama.

Grand Delusion: 

(To himself)  Must be something very serious. (Aloud) Materialist go.  Be alert while doing whatever is required.


As you command.


Post a comment


Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More