, a Sanskrit word meaning "investigation" (compare Greek ἱστορία), is the name of an astika ("orthodox") school of Hindu philosophy whose primary enquiry is into the nature of dharma based on close hermeneutics of the Vedas. Its core tenets are ritualism (orthopraxy), anti-asceticism and anti-mysticism. The central aim of the school is elucidation of the nature of dharma, understood as a set ritual obligations and prerogatives to be performed properly. The nature of dharma isn't accessible to reason or observation, and must be inferred from the authority of the revelation contained in the Vedas, which are considered eternal, authorless (apaurusheyatva), and infallible.

Mimamsa strongly concerned with textual exegesis, and consequently gave rise to the study of philology and the philosophy of language. Its notion of shabda "speech" as indivisible unity of sound and meaning (signifier and signified) is due to Bhartrhari (7th century).


Mimamsa is also known as ("prior" inquiry, also ), in contrast to ("posterior" inquiry, also ) is the opposing school of Vedanta. This division is based on the notion of a dichotomy of the Vedic texts into a , the department of the Veda treating of sacrificial rites (Samhitas and Brahmanas), and the dealing with the knowledge of Brahman (the Upanishads).


The school's origins lie in the scholarly traditions of the final centuries BCE, when the priestly ritualism of Vedic sacrifice was being marginalized by Buddhism and Vedanta. To counteract this challenge, several groups emerged dedicated to demonstrating the validity of the Vedic texts by rigid formulation of rules for their interpretation. The school gathers momentum in the Gupta period with Śābara, and reaches its apex in the 7th to 8th centuries with Kumārila Bhaṭṭa and Prabhākara.

The school for some time in the Early Middle Ages exerted near-dominant influence on learned Hindu thought, and is credited as a major force contributing to the decline of Buddhism in India, but it has fallen into decline in the High Middle Ages and today is all but eclipsed by Vedanta.

Mimamsa texts

The foundational text for the Mimamsa school is the Purva Mimamsa Sutras of Jaimini (ca. 3rd to 1st century BCE). A major commentary was composed by Śābara in ca. the 5th or 6th century CE. The school reaches its height with and (fl. ca. 700 CE). Both Kumarila Bhatta and Prabhākara (along with , whose work is no more extant) have written extensive commentaries on Śābara's Mimamsasutrabhāshyam. Kumārila Bhatta, Mandana Misra, Parthasarathi Misra, Sucharita Misra, Ramakrishna Bhatta, Madhava Subhodini, Sankara Bhatta, Krsnayajvan, Anantadeva, Gaga Bhatta, Ragavendra Tirtha, VijayIndhra Tirtha, Appayya Dikshitar, Paruthiyur Krishna Sastri, Mahomahapadyaya Sri Ramsubba Sastri, Sri Venkatsubba Sastri, Sri A. Chinnaswami Sastri, Sengalipuram Vaidhyanatha Dikshitar were some of the Mimamsa Scholars. The of Jaimini (c. 3rd century BCE) has summed up the general rules of for Vedic interpretation. The text has 12 chapters, of which the first chapter is of philosophical value. The commentaries on the by , , Hari and are no more extant. (c. 1st century BCE) is the first commentator of the , whose work is available to us. His is the basis of all later works of . (7th century CE), the founder of the first school of the commented on both the and its . His treatise consists of 3 parts, the , the and the . (8th century CE) was a follower of , who wrote Vidhiviveka and . There are several commentaries on the works of . wrote a (commentary) on the . wrote , also known as , a commentary on the . wrote (1300 CE), another commentary on the . He also wrote , an independent work on the and Tantraratna. ’s is a commentary on the . (8th century CE), the originator of the second school of the wrote his commentary on the . ’s (9th century CE) is a commentary on the . His is an independent work of this school and the is a brief explanation of the . ’s deals with the views of this school in details. The founder of the third school of the was , whose works have not reached us. (17th century CE) wrote an elementary work on the , known as or . of is based on the . ’s was an attempt to combine the views of the and the schools.

Dharma and atheism

Dharma as understood by Mimamsa can be loosely translated into English as "virtue", "morality" or "duty". The Mimamsa school traces the source of the knowledge of dharma neither to sense-experience nor inference, but to verbal cognition (i.e. knowledge of words and meanings). In this respect it is related to the Nyaya school.

The Mimamsa school held dharma to be equivalent to following the prescriptions of the Samhitas and their Brahmana commentaries relating the correct performance of Vedic rituals. Seen in this light, Mimamsa is essentially ritualist (orthopraxy), placing great weight on the performance of Karma or action as enjoined by the Vedas. In this sense, it is a counter-movement to the mysticism of Vedanta, rejecting or de-emphasizing moksha or salvation. To a certain extent, Mimamsa is atheist, placing all importance in proper practice as opposed to belief, rejecting a creator God as well as any scriptures on dharma outside of the Vedic tradition, yet accepting svarga or heaven awaiting the person who has acted righteously in his or her life. In its rejection of belief in a God, it is related to the nastika Cārvāka school.



  • Lars Göhler, Wort und Text bei : Studie zur mittelalterlichen indischen Sprachphilophie und Hermeneutik, Europäische Hochschulschriften. Reihe 20, Philosophie ; vol. 468, Lang (1995), ISBN 3-631-48821-1.

Further reading

  • Chatterjee, Satischandra; Datta, Dhirendramohan (1984). An Introduction to Indian Philosophy. Eighth Reprint Edition, Calcutta: University of Calcutta.
  • Müeller, Max (1899). Six Systems of Indian Philosophy; Samkhya and Yoga, Naya and Vaiseshika. Calcutta: Susil Gupta (India) Ltd.. Reprint edition; Originally published under the title of The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy.
  • Radhakrishnan, S.; Moore, CA (1967). A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy. Princeton.
  • R.A. Ramaswami Shastri, A Short History Of The Purva Mimamsa Shastra, Annamalai University Sanskrit Series No. 3 (1936).
  • Zimmer, Heinrich (1951). Philosophies of India. New York, New York: Princeton University Press. Bollingen Series XXVI; Edited by Joseph Campbell.

See also

External links

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