Journal of Indian Philosophy

, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 419–430 | Cite as

Commentators on the Cārvākasūtra: A Critical Survey

  • Ramkrishna Bhattacharya


In spite of the fact that the mūla-text of the Cārvākasūtra is lost, we have some 30 fragments of the commentaries written by no fewer than four commentators, namely, Kambalāśvatara, Purandara, Aviddhakarṇa, and Udbhaṭa. The existence of other commentators too has been suggested, of whom only one name is mentioned: Bhāvivikta. Unfortunately no extract from his work is quoted anywhere. The position of the Cārvākas was nearer the Buddhists (who admitted both perception and inference) than any other philosophical system. But in order to brand the Cārvākas as pramāṇaikavādins they were made to appear as one with Bhartṛhari. Even though the commentators of the Cārvākasūtra had some differences among themselves concerning the interpretation of some aphorisms, they seem to have been unanimous in regard to the number of pramāṇas to be admitted. It was perception and inference based on perception. Only in this sense they were pramāṇaikavādins. Unlike other systems of philosophy, the Cārvāka/Lokāyata did not accord equal value to perception and inference. Inference, they said, must be grounded on perception first, so it was of secondary kind (gauṇa). From the available evidence it is clear that the commentators were unanimous in one point, namely, primacy of perception which includes admittance of such laukika inference as is preceded and hence can be tested by repeated observations. In this respect both Aviddkarṇa and Udbhaṭa were in agreement with Purandara. Bhaṭṭodbhaṭa or Udbhaṭabhaṭṭa was known as a commentator who differed from the traditional Cārvākas and broke new grounds in explaining some of the aphorisms. His commentary is creative in its own way but at the same time unreliable in reconstructing the original Cārvāka position. Udbhaṭa seems to have digressed from the original, monist materialist position by taking a dualist position concerning the body-consciousness relation. Moreover, he seems to verge on the idealist side in his explication of an aphorism. In this sense he was a reformist or revisionist. Aviddhakarṇa, like Udbhaṭa, attempted to interpret the Cārvāka aphorisms from the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika point of view, perhaps without being converted to the Cārvāka. Since it is not possible at the present state of our knowledge to determine whether they were Cārvākas converted to Nyāya or Naiyāyikas converted to Lokāyata, the suggestion that they simply adopted the Cārvāka position while writing their commentaries without being converted to the Cārvāka, may be taken as a third alternative. In spite of the meagre material available, it is evident that (1) not unlike the other systems, there is a lack of uniformity in the commentary tradition of the Cārvākasūtra, (2) not all commentators were committed monistic materialists; at least one, namely, Udbhaṭa, was a dualist, and (3) in course of time Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika terminology, such as gamya, gamaka, etc., quite foreign to the traditional Cārvāka, has been introduced into the Cārvāka system.


Cārvāka Commentary Inference Lokāyata Nyāya-vaiśeṣika terminology Perception Pramāṇa 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Pavlov InstituteKolkataIndia

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