Kumārila Bhaṭṭa

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For the Anglo-Indian military term, see Batta
Kumārila Bhaṭṭa
Born est. 700 AD
Assam, India
Died Assam, India

Kumārila Bhaṭṭa (fl. roughly 700) was a Brahmin philosopher and Mīmāṃsā scholar from Assam.[1] He is famous for many of his seminal theses on Mimamsa, such as Mimamsaslokavarttika. Bhaṭṭa was a staunch believer in the supreme validity of Vedic injunction, a great champion of Pūrva-Mīmāṃsā and a confirmed ritualist.[2] The Varttika is mainly written as a subcommentary of Sabara's commentary on Jaimini's Purva Mimamsa Sutras. His philosophy is classified by some scholars as existential realism.[3]

Scholars differ as regards Kumārila Bhaṭṭa's views on a personal God. For example, Manikka Vachakar believed that Bhaṭṭa promoted a personal God[4] (saguna brahman), which conflicts with the Mīmāṃsā school. In his Varttika, Kumārila Bhaṭṭa goes to great lengths to argue against the theory of a creator God[5] and held that the actions enjoined in the Veda had definite results without an external interference.

Bhaṭṭa is also credited with the logical formulation of the Mimamsic belief that the Vedas are unauthored (apauruṣeyā). In particular his defence against medieval Buddhist positions on Vedic rituals is noteworthy. Some believe that this contributed to the decline of Buddhism in India[6] because his lifetime coincides with the period in which Buddhism began to decline.[2] Indeed, his dialectical success against Buddhists is confirmed by Buddhist historian Taranatha, who reports that Bhaṭṭa defeated disciples of Buddhapalkita, Bhavya, Dharmadasa, Dignaga and others.[7] His work strongly influenced other schools of Indian philosophy,[8] with the exception that while Mimamsa considers the Upanishads to be subservient to the Vedas, the Vedanta school does not think so.

Linguistics views

Kumārila Bhaṭṭa and his followers in the Mīmāṃsā tradition known as Bhāṭṭas argued for a strongly Compositional view of semantics (called abhihitānvaya). In this view, the meaning of a sentence was understood only after understanding first the meanings of individual words. Words were independent, complete objects, a view that is close to the Fodorian view of language. He also used several Tamil words in his poems, including one of the earliest mention of the name Dravida in North Indian sources.[9]

This view was debated over some seven or eight centuries by the followers of Prabhākara school within Mīmāṃsā, who argued that words do not directly designate meaning; any meaning that arises is because it is connected with other words (anvitābhidhāna, anvita = connected; abhidhāna = denotation). This view was influenced by the holistic arguments of Bhartṛhari's sphoṭa theory.

Essentially the prābhākaras argued that sentence meanings are grasped directly, from perceptual and contextual cues, skipping the stage of grasping singly the individual word meanings,[10] similar to the modern view of linguistic underspecification, which relates to the Dynamic Turn in Semantics, that also opposes purely compositional approaches to sentence meaning.

Criticism of Buddhism

With the aim to prove the superiority of Vedic scripture, Kumārila Bhaṭṭa presented several novel arguments:

1. "Buddhist (or Jain) scripture could not be correct because it had several grammatical lapses." He specifically takes the Buddhist verse: ime samkhada dhamma sambhavanti sakarana akarana vinassanti (These phenomena arise when the cause is present and perish when the cause is absent). Thus he presents his argument:[11]

The scriptures of Buddhists and Jains are composed in overwhelmingly incorrect (asadhu) language, words of the Magadha or Dakshinatya languages, or even their dialects (tadopabhramsa). Therefore false compositions (asannibandhana), they cannot possibly be true knowledge (shastra) ... By contrast, the very form itself (the well-assembled language) of the Veda proves its authority to be independent and absolute.

This argument of Bhaṭṭa relies heavily on his idea that the meanings of each individual word should be complete for the sentence to have a meaning. It may be noted, that the Pali Canon was intentionally recorded in local dialects and not in languages germane only to the scholarly.[citation needed]

2. Every extant school held some scripture to be correct. To show that the Veda was the only correct scripture, Bhaṭṭa ingeniously said that "the absence of an author would safeguard the Veda against all reproach" (apaurusheya).[12] There was "no way to prove any of the contents of Buddhist scriptures directly as wrong in spirit...", unless one challenges the legitimacy and eternal nature of the scripture itself. It is well known that the Pali Canon was composed after the Buddha's parinirvana. Further, even if they were the Buddha's words, they were not eternal or unauthored like the Vedas.

3. The Sautrantika Buddhist school believed that the universe was momentary (kshanika). Bhaṭṭa said that this was absurd, given that the universe does not disappear every moment. No matter how small one would define the duration of a moment, one could divide the moment into infinitely further parts. Bhaṭṭa argues: "if the universe is does not exist between moments, then in which of these moments does it exist?" Because a moment could be infinitesimally small, Bhaṭṭa argued that the Buddhist was claiming that the universe was non-existent.

4. The Determination of perception (pratyaksha pariccheda).[13]

Some scholars believe, Bhaṭṭa's understanding of Buddhist philosophy was far greater than that of any other non-Buddhist philosopher of his time.[14]

Legendary life

According to legend, Bhaṭṭa went to study Buddhism at Nalanda (the largest 4th century university in the world), with the aim of refuting Buddhist doctrine in favour of Vedic religion. He was expelled from the university when he protested against his teacher (Dharmakirti) ridiculing the Vedic rituals. Legend has it that even though he was thrown off of the university's tower, he survived with an eye injury. (Modern Mimamsa scholars and followers of Vedanta believe that this was because he imposed a condition on the infallibility of the Vedas thus encouraging the Hindu belief that one should not even doubt the infallibility of the Vedas.)

Kumārila Bhaṭṭa left Nalanda after that and settled down in Prayag (modern day Allahabad). Bhaṭṭa visited many kingdoms and regionalities to debate with the Buddhist pundits. It was tradition at that time that whoever wins a debate in the King's court, their philosophy and ideology would be accepted by the King and by the subjects. To prevent the further downfall of Vedic Sanskruti, Kumārila Bhaṭṭa had defeated many Buddhist pundits and saved the country from Buddhist supremacy. It so happened that the jealous Buddhist scholars, who were unable to defeat Bhaṭṭa in debates, challenged him to a stunt. They said, "If your Vedas are the Truth, then nothing will happen to you when you fall from the top of a mountain." Kumārila Bhaṭṭa had utter conviction and faith in the Vedas and Shrutis and readily accepted this challenge. He proclaimed, "If the Vedas are the Ultimate Truth nothing will happen to me" and jumped from the mountain. In doing so, there was not a scratch on his body. However, he did lose an eye. This was because he uttered "IF", which signifies that a person who believes the Vedas to be the ultimate would not utter "If", and instead would say "The Vedas are the Ultimate Truth and nothing will happen to me." However, the Buddhist monks wanted Bhaṭṭa to leave and they proclaimed he had lost.

Kumārila Bhaṭṭa was devastated and could not bear the defeat. It was not that someone had defeated him, he was more angry that "I have failed to protect my own Mother Sanskruti". He decided to take samadhi by burning himself on a pile of peanut shells, which is said to be the most torturous death. This character study can be found in the works of Pandurang Shastri Athavale.

One medieval work on the life of Sankara (considered most accurate) claims that Sankara challenged Bhaṭṭa to a debate on his deathbed.[15] Kumārila Bhaṭṭa could not debate Sankara and instead directed him to argue with his student Mandana Misra in Mahiṣmati. He said:

"You will find a home at whose gates there are a number of caged parrots discussing abstract topics like — 'Do the Vedas have self-validity or do they depend on some external authority for their validity? Are karmas capable of yielding their fruits directly, or do they require the intervention of God to do so? Is the world eternal, or is it a mere appearance?' Where you find the caged parrots discussing such abstruse philosophical problems, you will know that you have reached Maṇḍana's place."

Another work on Sankara's life however claims that Sankara implored Bhaṭṭa not to commit suicide. Another contradictory legend however says that Bhaṭṭa continued to live on with two wives several students, one of whom was Prabhākara. According to this legend, Bhaṭṭa died in Varanasi at the age of 80.


  • Shlokavartika ("Exposition on the Verses", commentary on Shabara's Commentary on Jaimini's Mimamsa Sutras, Bk. 1, Ch. 1) [2]
  • Tantravartika ("Exposition on the Sacred Sciences", commentary on Shabara's Commentary on Jaimini's Mimamsa Sutras, Bk. 1, Ch. 2–4 and Bks. 2–3) [3]
  • Tuptika ("Full Exposition"commentary on Shabara's Commentary on Jaimini's Mimamsa Sutras, Bks. 4–9) [4]
  • Kataoka, Kei, Kumarila on Truth, Omniscience and Killing. Part 1: A Critical Edition of Mimamasa-Slokavarttika ad 1.1.2 (Codanasutra). Part 2: An Annotated Translation of Mimamsa-Slokavarttika ad 1.1.2 (Codanasutra) (Wien, 2011) (Sitzungsberichte der philosophisch-historischen Klasse, 814; Beiträge zur Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens, 68).


  1. Scholar's origin caught in the web Times of India – 7 July 2011
  2. 2.0 2.1 Sharma, p. 5-6.
  3. Bhatt, p. 6.
  4. A History of Indian Philosophy By Surendranath Dasgupta. p. 156.
  5. Bales, p. 198.
  6. Sheridan, p. 198-201
  7. Arnold, p. 4.
  8. Bhatt, p. 3.
  9. [1]
  10. Matilal, p. 108.
  11. Pollock, p. 55.
  12. Jha, p. 31.
  13. Taber, p??
  14. Rani, p??
  15. 'Madhaviya Sankara Digvijayam' by medieval Vijayanagara biographer Madhava, Sringeri Sharada Press


  • Arnold, Daniel Anderson. Buddhists, Brahmins, and Belief: Epistemology in South Asian Philosophy of religion. Columbia University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-231-13281-7.
  • Bales, Eugene (1987). A ready reference to philosophy East and West. University Press of America.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Bhatt, Govardhan P. The Basic Ways of Knowing: An In-depth Study of Kumārila's Contribution to Indian Epistemology. Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass, 1989. ISBN 81-208-0580-1.
  • Kumarila Bhatta, Translated by Ganganatha Jha (1985). Slokavarttika. The Asiatic Society, Calcutta.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Bimal Krishna Matilal (1990). The word and the world: India's contribution to the study of language. Oxford.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Vijaya Rani (1982). Buddhist philosophy as presented in Mimamsa Sloka Varttika. 1st Ed. Parimal Publications, Delhi ASIN B0006ECAEO.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sheldon Pollock (2006). The language of the Gods in the world of men – Sanskrit, culture and power in premodern India. University of California Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sharma, Peri Sarveswara (1980). Anthology of Kumārilabhaṭṭa's Works. Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sheridan, Daniel P. "Kumarila Bhatta", in Great Thinkers of the Eastern World, ed. Ian McGready, New York: Harper Collins, 1995. ISBN 0-06-270085-5
  • Translated and commentary by John Taber (January 2005). A Hindu critique of Buddhist Epistemology. Routledge ISBN 978-0-415-33602-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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