The Mimansa Principles of Interpretation II
by Justice M. Katju
Cite as : (1994) 2 SCC (Jour) 1
This article is a sequel to the earlier one on the same subject.1
As discussed in the earlier article, there are six systems in classical Indian philosophy, and Purva Mimansa is one of them.2 In Western jurisprudence the principles of interpretation have been collected and discussed in books like Maxwell's Interpretation of Statutes and a few other books. In India, a whole system of philosophy was devoted to the principles of interpretation. Scores of books were written on the subject by a host of authors, and many of them are outstanding works of scholarship. However, some of them are untraceable, though they are seen referred to in other works. Thus, the Jaimini Sutras, which is regarded as the foremost work on the subject (written around 500 B.C.) itself refers to eight other earlier writers e.g. Badri, Badrayana, Labukayana, Aitisayan, etc.
The Mimansa system is ritualistic. Its entire emphasis is on performance of the Yagya for spiritual or worldly benefit. The central belief in the Mimansa system was that on the performance of a particular Yagya in accordance with the rules prescribed in the Brahmanas a potency or power called 'apurva' would be created resulting in the fulfilment of the object of the Yagya, either immediately or after an interval of time. Some Yagyas known as nitya yagyas such as darshapurnamasi, agnihotra, etc., and had to be performed as a religious duty regularly throughout one's life for spiritual benefits. The darshapurnamasi yagya had to be performed on every moonless3 and full moon day, while agnihotra had to be performed daily. Certain other yagyas known as kamya yagyas were conducted for some worldly benefits and were optional.4
These yagyas had to be performed in accordance with the prescribed rules failing which the apurva force would not arise.5
Since the rules in the Brahmanas according to which the yagyas had to be performed were often obscure, contradictory or ambiguous, principles of interpretation had to be evolved to explain them. Thus the Mimansa Principles of Interpretation arose out of practical difficulties in performing the yagyas. These principles were so rational and scientific that in spite of their originating in religious practices they gradually came to be used in other fields like Law, Philosophy etc. elevating them to the status of rules of universal application. Thus though the yagyas could be repudiated today as unscientific the Mimansa principles grown around yagya practices have come to stay as relevant and useful rules of interpretation.
As mentioned in the earlier article, the rules of performing the yagyas are mentioned in the Brahmanas e.g. Aitareya Brahmana (attached to the Rigveda), Taitareya Brahama (attached to the Black Yajurveda), Shatapatha Brahmana (attached to the White Yajurveda), Tandya Brahmana (attached to Sama Veda), Gopatha Brahmana (attached to the Atharwaveda), etc. The Mimansaks believed that the main part of the Shruti6 is the portion containing injunctions or vidhis. And the injunctions in the shrutis are mainly in the Brahmanas, and not in other parts.7 It was because of this that the Mimamsaks regarded the Brahmanas as the most import part of the Shruti, whereas the Vedants regarded the Upanishads as the most important part.
The language of the Brahmanas is pre-Panini Sanskrit. As is well known, the Sanskrit used in the Vedas is very different from classical (or Panini's) Sanskrit. When the Aryans came to India around 2000 B.C. they were speaking Vedic Sanskrit. However, with the passage of time, language changed. Sanskrit kept changing from about 2000 B.C. to 600 B.C. i.e. for about 1400 years. Around 600 B.C. Panini, who was the greatest grammarian the world has ever known, wrote his 'Ashtadhyayi' in which he fixed the rules of Sanskrit grammar. Thereafter no further changes in Sanskrit were permitted.
Obviously the Brahmanas written in Vedic Sanskrit, became difficult to understand later as the Sanskrit language had changed. This was one of the important reasons why principles of interpretation had to be evolved to determine the rules for yagya practices.
An additional reason for evolving principles of interpretation was the language of the Brahmanas being incoherent, contradictory, vague and rambling. For example there is the text: "He places besmeared pebbles of sandstone" . Then follow the words "Ghee is light" . In the first sentence it is not clear as to what are the pebbles to be besmeared. This difficulty is obviated by reading the first sentence along with the second sentence which indicates that the pebbles are to be besmeared with ghee. This reading is done by the utilisation of the Vakya principles of Mimansa discussed in the earlier article.
Jaimini is considered to be the founder of the Mimansa system though as mentioned earlier Jamini himself refers to 8 Acharyas on the topic earlier to him, and their views are mentioned in the 'Purva paksha' to his own views.
Jaimini's work is written in the sutra (string) form, which was the classical method used in those days to present a subject systematically. It is said that the sutrakaras aimed at expressing the complete idea in the minimum number of words, and if they could omit even a single stroke in a word they felt happy as if a son was born to them. Sometimes one sutra consists of just one word. For a student it is therefore absolutely essential to have a good translation (even if one knows Sanskrit) as well as a commentary on the Jaimini sutras.
There seem to be two reasons for the application of Mimansa principles to law : (1) the Mimansa Rules deal with the Brahmana portions of the shruti, i.e., the portion which laid down injunctions, and the law, too, being largely in the form of injunctions was attracted to them; (2) Mimansa is a practical subject, and the law, too, being practical was inclined to incorporate them. Our great commentators like Vijnaneshwara (author of the Mitakshara), Jimutvahana (author of the Dayabhaga), Nanda Pandit (author of Dattak Mimansa), Vachaspati, Neelkanth, etc., were all profound scholars of Mimansa, and they regularly used the Mimansa Principles when confronted with any difficulty regarding interpretation of the Smrities (which contained the law in those times). In fact, the generally accepted rule appeared to be that before entering the realm of law one had to first study the Mimansa Rules thoroughly. There are several illustrations of the application of the Mimansa principles in the works of our legal commentators8.
The Mimansa principles are highly rational and equitable. The Mimansaks were not too much obsessed with technicalities, and they aimed at finding the intention of the legal text and sought to breathe reason and equity into it to the extent possible. This is precisely what the modern method of interpretation strives to achieve.
Knowledge of the Mimansa principles enables one to infuse equity and the democratic spirit into the law in a manner unknown to western techniques of interpretation. An example of this is the decision in Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi v. State of U.P.9 In that case the facts were that the petitioner had been elected Chairman of a Town Area in U.P. He was removed by the Collector after giving him a hearing, and the Collector's order was confirmed by the State Government. But the State Government had not given an opportunity of hearing to the petitioner. The question before the court was whether the State Government, too, had to give an opportunity of hearing before it confirmed the order of the Collector. After a great deal of consideration the present writer answered it in the affirmative, utilising the anusunga principle of Mimansa.
The case involved interpretation of Section 7-A(1) of the U.P. Town Areas Act, which lays down that the Collector may remove a Chairman of a Town Area on certain grounds. There are two provisos to this provision :
"Provided firstly that before making an order removing the Chairman, he shall be allowed an opportunity to submit his explanation on the charges against him :
Provided secondly that no order for removal shall take effect unless it is confirmed by the State Government."
It is evident that while the first proviso specifically refers to an opportunity of hearing, there is no such reference in the second proviso. Hence it was urged on behalf of the respondent that the legislature never intended that the State Government must give an opportunity of hearing before confirming the Collector's order. If it was otherwise the provision would have specifically said so.
However, the Court held that the requirement of a hearing in the first proviso to Section 7-A(1) must be imported into the second proviso, and hence the State Government must also give an opportunity of hearing. This interpretation was resorted to by invoking the anusunga principle of Mimansa10 according to which an expression occurring in one clause is often meant also for a neighbouring clause. It is generally said that for economy of words that it is mentioned only in the former. Illustrations of the use of the anusunga principle in the Mitakshara and Dayabhaga have been discussed in paragraphs 34 to 36 of the judgment.11
The above interpretation to the second proviso to Section 7-A(1) makes the statute more democratic, inasmuch as an elected functionary was held not to be easily removed by an executive authority, particularly one who may be under local pressure.
Recently an instance where the Mimansa principles could have been of much use has come to notice. Under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 only the Designated Courts are empowered to grant bail. And Section. 9 provides that Designated Judge means the judge nominated by the Govt. after consulting the Chief Justice. Though the U.P. Government nominated District Judges to be Designated Judges there had been no District Judges and hence no Designated Judges in several Districts as selection had not been made. Several persons had therefore been languishing in jail for more than a year without even an opportunity to apply for bail. Mimansa Rule of Substitution for Jateshti nyaya was commended to solve this problem. By invoking this rule the High Court could rule that the seniormost Additional District Judge could grant bail in the absence of the District Judge.
The rule of substitution, like other Mimansa principles, arose out of the practical difficulties in performing the yagya. There were occasions when the material which was prescribed for use in the sacrifice was lost or not available in the locality. On such occasions it was laid down that any material of the same genus might be used. Thus Jamini 6:3:27 states :
(i.e. Anything of the same class can be used if the original is not available).
Then again, Jaimini 6:3:39 states :
(i.e. When there is a conflict between the object and the material, the object is to prevail, because in the absence of the material the substitute is used, the material being subordinate to the object).
Thus, the Jateshti maxim (the maxim for the substitution of the Putika plant for the Soma plant) lays down that where a thing is enjoined for a certain purpose, in its absence another thing of the same genus which serves that purpose may be substituted.
Now there is no such rule of substitution in the western principles of interpretation, and hence if we follow the western principle, there could be no solution of the problem.
It can be shown how Mimansa principles can be a powerful tool in the hands of the Judge in moulding the law to make it more rational, equitable and democratic. Use of Mimansa Principles gives a flexibility which Western principles of interpretation totally lack. Knowledge of the great achievements of our ancestors will inspire us and give us the confidence and strength to solve our present problems.
Some people argue against the use of Mimansa Principles. It is said that for a hundred years we have been using Maxwell's principles, and so it would be against the settled convention to use Mimansa principles. To this, it may be argued, it is nowhere provided in our Constitution or any other law that only western principles of interpretation should be used. In fact Mimansa principles were used by our jurists for 2000 years. We can use any kind of principles of interpretation which can help us resolve a legal difficulty or make the statute more equitable or rational. After all, principles of interpretation are Substantive Laws but constitute a methodology of tool for solving questions on interpretation. Indeed we need invoke Western rules of interpretation as usual wherever they are applicable. It should equally be possible for us to invoke Mimansa Rules of Interpretation whenever they are found appropriate and useful.
- See (1993) 2 SCC Jour 16
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- N.B. The six systems are : Nyaya, Vaisheshik, Sankhya, Yoga, Purva Mimansa and Uttar Mimansa. By Mimansa we refer to Purva Mimansa. There is another Mimansa called Uttar Mimansa (also known as Vedanta), but this is a purely philosophical system having no bearing on the topic of interpretation. A basic difference between the two is that while Purva Mimansa regards the world to be real, Vedanta regards the world to be unreal (Maya) in the ultimate analysis
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- The word 'darsha' means amavasya, i.e. moonless day
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- Examples of such yagyas are Putra Kameshti for getting children, Vrishti Kameshti for getting rains, Aswamedha for conquest, Vajpeya for rejuvenation
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- In nitya yagyas certain non-essential rules could be omitted or modified, but in Kamya Yagyas even the minutest rule had to be complied with
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- Shruti consists of (1) the Veda proper (i.e. Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, and Atharwaveda), (2) Brahmanas, (3) Aranyaks, and (4) Upanishads
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- Strictly speaking, Veda is defined as Samhita plus Brahmanas , but I have called Samhita (or Mantra) as Veda proper i.e. Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharwaveda. In the broadest sense the entire Shruti is regarded as Veda and it is in this sense that Shankaracharya has used the word 'Veda'
The Veda proper (called Samhita or Mantra), as well as the Aranyaks and Upanishads hardly contain any injunctions. The Samhita portion of the Shruti consists mainly of hymns or invocations to various gods e.g. Indra, Agni, Soma, Surya, the Maruts, the Ashwinis, etc., while the Aranyaks and Upanishads are philosophical treatises
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- See discussions in K.L. Srivastava 'Mimansa Rules of Interpretations', Chapters 8 and 9
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- AIR 1992 All 351
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- See Jaimini 2-1-48
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- Supra n. 9
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