Thursday 17 July 2014

Mimansa Rules of Interpretation

Mimansa Rules of Interpretation
            This is the story of the discovery of the Mimansa Rules of Interpretation.
Rules of Interpretation are very important in law courts. When the British came to India they introduced the principles of interpretation of Maxwell, laid down in his classic treatise ‘Interpretation of Statutes’ and these principles are broadly still being followed in our law courts in India.
            However, our ancient thinkers had created a system of interpretation called the Mimansa Rules of Interpretation, which appears to have been totally suppressed by the British, evidently because they wanted to create an impression that Indians are a race of fools and savages with no worthwhile intellectual achievement to their credit.
            I, too, did not know about the existence of our native system, until I discovered K.L. Sarkar’s book ‘The Mimansa Rules of Interpretation’.
            Prof. Sarkar’s book was published in 1909 in the Tagore Law Lectures volumes.  Prof  Sarkar had delivered 13 lectures at Calcutta in 1905 in the Tagore Law Lecture series. Those lectures were collectively published in 1909, as a book entitled ‘The Mimansa Rules of Interpretation’. It is easily the best book in English on the subject (the original texts on Mimansa are all in Sanskrit). Surprisingly, no second edition of the book was ever brought out, and may perhaps never have been brought out, but for my meeting at Delhi with Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah (former Chief Justice of India) in December 1991, that is, shortly after I had been appointed a puisne Judge of the Allahabad High Court, and he was a puisne Judge of the Supreme Court.
            In this meeting, which was only a courtesy call on my part. Justice Venkatachaliah told me that while a Judge of Karnataka High Court he regularly visited a Sanskrit Scholar in Bangalore to learn the Mimansa Principles of Interpretation.
            Before this meeting I had never even heard that there was such a thing as the Mimansa Principles of Interpretation. Of course as a student of Philosophy at Allahabad University I had heard of a school of Philosophy called Purva Mimansa, (which is one of the shatadarshanas or  6 classical schools of Indian Philosophy) but my teachers had not taught me that there is a whole system of interpretation in this school (probably they, too, did not know about it).
            On returning to Allahabad after meeting Justice Venkatachaliah I read P.V. Kane’s monumental work ‘History of the Dharmashastras’, in which there is a discussion on the Mimansa Principles in Volume 5, Part II, Chapter XXX. Reference has been made there about K.L. Sarkar’s book, and hence I started searching for it. I visited library after library, but could not find the book. Ultimately with the permission of my friend late Prof.  A.K. Shukla (then dean of Law, Allahabad University) I visited the Allahabad University Law Library. With great difficulty I traced out a copy of Sarkar’s book. It was covered with dust and in a dilapidated condition.  Probably nobody had touched it for the last 70 or 80 years. I took this book home to read.
            This was sometime in the month of May or June when it becomes very hot in North India. I had to turn off the fan to read the book since the pages were so brittle and yellow that even the pressure of the breeze generated by the fan would make the pages crumble. The pages had to be turned very slowly, otherwise they would break. Sweating profusely, I read the book in this manner.
            On reading the book I realized I had come across a veritable treasure of knowledge lying unearthed which could be of profound use in judicial work. Principles of interpretation are very important in interpreting  statutes and till then I had known only Maxwell’s book on ‘Interpretation of Statutes’ and other books which are all based on Maxwell’s work, e.g. the books of Craies, Crawford, Sutherland, G.P. Singh, V.P. Sarathy, Jagdish Swarup, etc.
            On enquiries I learned that the greatest living exponent of Mimansa in India is Prof. Pattabhi Rama Shastry, a South Indian Scholar settled in Varanasi. He was then over 80 years of age. I took an appointment with him, and was about to travel to Varanasi for this purpose when I heard on T.V. that he had died. Fortunately his students, Dr. Mandan Mishra (now deceased) former Vice Chancellor of Banaras Sanskrit University, and Prof Vachaspati Upadhyaya,  former Vice Chancellor of Lal Bahadur Sanskrit University, New Delhi  (now also deceased) were alive and I contacted them.
            I was very keen that a second edition of K.L. Sarkar’s book be published, as the existing copies were all in a dilapidated condition. I contacted many persons in this connection, but my efforts were all in vain. I remember contacting a Professor of Sanskrit of Mithila University to whom I said “Sir, you are from Mithila, the land of Raja Janak, the great philosopher king, and of Vachaspati  Mishra, one of the greatest scholars India has produced. Please get a second edition of K.L. Sarkar’s book published”. He gave a positive response, but did nothing. 
            In the meantime I started using the Mimansa Principles in some judgments and I also wrote articles and gave speeches to revive and propagate the use of Mimansa Principles.
            In this connection I wish to express my gratitude to Dr. Ram Shanker Dwivedi, Senior Advocate of Allahabad High Court and former lecturer in Sanskrit in Allahabad University, who was of great help and guidance to me. Dr. Dwivedi is now over 90 years of age and holds a Ph.D in Sanskrit. My own knowledge of Sanskrit is fragmentary, and hence I regularly consulted Dr. Dwivedi for guidance.
            My efforts in getting a second edition of Sarkar’s book published were ultimately successful when Modern Law Publication, Allahabad agreed to publish it. The problem, however, remained of getting a good copy of Sarkar’s book. In the dilapidated copy I had obtained from the Allahabad University Law Library about 60 pages were in such a bad condition that they were hardly legible. Dr. Dwivedi contacted Dr. Goparaju Rama, Principal, Ganganath Jha Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, Allahabad who procured a good copy from India Office Library, London after great effort.
            I, therefore, wish to acknowledge the help and kindness of all those involved in bringing out the second edition of this book Justice Venkatachaliah, Dr. Ram Shanker Dwivedi, Dr. Goparaju Rama, Prof. K.T. Pandurangi (Vice Chancellor of Purna Prajna Vidyapeeth, Bangalore), late Prof. A.K. Shukla and several others including the publishers.
            I finally wish to bow down with reverence before the spirit of our great ancestors, the giants who created and developed the Mimansa system --- Jaimini, Shabar, Kumarila Bhatta, Prabhakar, Parthasrthy Mishra, Shalignath, Shree Bhat Shankar, Apadeva, Madhavacharya, Vachaspati Mishra, Laugakshi Bhaskar, and scores (if not hundreds) of others who contributed in this field. (It is a pity that most Indians have not even heard of them). Reference must also  be made to Dr. Ganganath Jha, former Vice-chancellor of  Allahabad University who made a great contribution by translating many of the Mimansa texts e.g. Shabarbhashya, Shlokavartika, Tantravartika, etc. (which are all in Sanskrit) into English, which were published in the Gaekward Oriental series.
            A fourth edition of Prof. Sarkar’s book has now been published which includes judgments I delivered in the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court using the Mimansa Principles.
            My earnest hope and wish is that with the publication of the new edition the use of the Mimansa principles of interpretation will begin in our law Courts. If that happens, I will have the satisfaction that my efforts were not in vain.


  1. I would love to read it. Thanks

  2. Great invaluable effort but I really doubt if there are still people who can still understand the depth of such works and implement them not sparing judges. The developing generation of lawyers who would invariably turn into judges should benefit from such works. While reading this, what crops in my mind is, would all those judgments of the past based on other schools of interpretations have been better if this wonderful work was applied? Perhaps, could opine more after reading the grand work. Thanks for bringing to light not just such treasures but the very act of sharing the news of such effort.

  3. Sincerely hope your efforts don't go in vain.

  4. Perhaps you could have given the link or copy pasted a judgement of yours that was based on this principle of interpretation. V.Jagannathan, Chennai

  5. Mahamahopadhyaya Sir Dr. Ganganatha Jha also compiled in 2 volumes a work called "Hindu Law in its Sources". Another great collection of Mimamsa principles by Mahadeva Vedantin (17th c.) called Mimamsanyayasangraha, edited and translated by James Benson, has recently been published (2010). I am also about to embark upon a similar project.