The doctrine of trivarga

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Defining Trivarga

The Doctrine of Trivarga comprising of "DHARMA, ARTHA AND KAMA" is the sum and substance of the Bharatiya Philosophy of life, intended to strike a reasonable balance between the interests of the individual and the public interest which means the interests the of all other individuals who constitute the society or Nation concerned and includes all humanity. It declares the Supremacy of Dharma -over Artha (wealth) desire for securing material pleasure and Kama, (every type of desire incvJrlin8 the desire for securing wealth and every type of pleasure ). It is the invaluable and everlasting solution for all the problems of all human beings for all time to come, irrespective of their belonging or not belonging to any religion.

The propounders of Dharma did appreciate that the fulfillment of desires of human beings was essential but were of the opinion that unless the desires were regulated by law, they would bring about undesirable results. Therefore, all the propounders of Dharma were unanimous that for the existence of an orderly society and the peace and happiness of all, the desires (kama) for material enjoyment, and pleasures (Artha) should always conform to Dharma (Code of Right Conduct) and be never inconsistent with it.

"तस्माच्छास्त्रं प्रमाणं ते कार्याकार्यव्यवस्थितौ |

ज्ञात्वा शास्त्रविधानोक्तं कर्म कर्तुमिहार्हसि ||" (Gita 16-24)

Let the sastras be your authority in deciding what you should do and what you should desist from doing. Having understood what is ordained by the Sastras, you should act accordingly.

"धर्मार्थावुच्यते श्रेय: कामार्थौ धर्म एव च |

अर्थ एवेह वा श्रेयस्त्रिवर्ग इति तु स्थिति: ||

परित्यज्येदर्थकामौ यौ स्यातां धर्मवर्जितौ |" (Manu II 224 & IV 176)

To achieve welfare and happiness some declare Dharma and Artha are good. Others declare that Artha and Kama are better. Still others declare that Dharma is the best. There are also persons who declare Artha alone secures happiness.

But the correct view is that the aggregate of Dharma, Artha and Kama (Trivarga) secures welfare and happiness.

However, the desire (kama) and material wealth (Artha) must be rejected if contrary to Dharma. In this single verse Manu Smriti has considered the merits of pure materialism (Artha and Kama) and of mere adhyatmikism (Dharma without Artha) and concluded that it is the combination of Dharma, Artha and Kama which secures welfare and happiness with an overriding principle that desire (kama) and material wealth (artha) should be rejected if they are inconsistent with Dharma and calls this doctrine TRIVARGA. There can be no better rule or philosophy than Trivarga, for the welfare of the individual and society. It strikes a harmonious balance between the interests of the individual and society. The doctrine meant that Dharma must control the desire (kama) as well as the means of acquisition of wealth and deriving pleasure (Artha). Dharma therefore prescribed the rules of right conduct, observance of which was considered necessary for the welfare of the individual and society. In laying down Dharma, as seen earlier, its propounders took an integrated view of life.

Application of Dharma

Consequently, rules of right conduct covering almost every sphere of human activity such as adhyatmikity, rules regulating personal conduct of an individual, as a student, as a teacher, as a house-holder, as a husband, as a wife, as a son, as a hermit, as an ascetic, including rules regulating taking of food and the like were prescribed. Dharma therefore laid down a code of conduct covering every aspect of human behaviour, the observance of which was considered a must for the peace and happiness of individuals and society. The principles set out above are fundamental and have manifested themselves through various provisions meant to sustain the life of the individual and society. It is for this reason, all the works on Dharma declare with one voice that Dharma is that which sustains the world. Every act or conduct which was in disobedience to rules of Dharma was called Adharma and was declared to be injurious to society and the individual.

Observance of Dharma a must for peaceful co-existence

The necessity of scrupulous practice of Dharma is forcefully expressed by Manu :

"धर्म एव हतो हन्ति धर्मो रक्षति रक्षित: |

तस्माद्धर्मो न हन्तव्यो मा नो धर्मो हतोऽवधीत् ||" (Manu VI 11-15)

Dharma protects those who protect it. Those who destroy Dharma get destroyed. Therefore, Dharma should not be destroyed so that we may not be destroyed as a consequence thereof.

The principle laid down in this saying is of the utmost importance and significance. In the above very short saying, the entire concept of Rule of Law is incorporated.1 The meaning it conveys is that an orderly society would be in existence if everyone acts according to Dharma and thereby protect Dharma, and such an orderly society which would be an incarnation of Dharma, in turn, protects the rights of individuals. Rules of Dharma were meant to regulate the individual conduct, in such a way as to restrict the rights, liberty, interest and desires of an individual as regards all matters to the extent necessary in the interest of other individuals, i.e., society and at the same time making it obligatory for society to safeguard and protect an individual in all respects through its social and political institutions. Briefly put, Dharma regulated the mutual obligations of the individual and society. Therefore, it was stressed that protection of Dharma was in the interest of both the individual and society. Manu Smriti warns; Do not destroy Dharma, so that you may not be destroyed. A 'State of Dharma' was required to be always maintained for peaceful co-existence, happiness and prosperity.

It is needless to state that it is only when a substantial number of citizens of a nation are by and large of "Dharma / law abiding Nature" the Rule of law can be maintained. But, if the majority are not of a law abiding nature, the nation gets destroyed. This aspect is sought to be impressed on every student in lesson Eight, Chapter-II, Shikshavalli (On Education) of Taittiriya Upanishad in these words :

"युवा स्यात्साधु युवाऽध्यायक: |

अशिष्ठो द्रढिष्ठो बलिष्ठ ||

तस्येयं पृथिवी सर्वा वित्तस्य पूर्णा स्यात् |

स एको मानुष आनन्द: ||" (Taittiriya Upanishad-Ch.II -Lesson 8)

Happiness is this, youth should be of good character, learned, resolute and strong (morally and physically). Then only the earth will be full of prosperity and wealth. This is the measure of human happiness.

This lesson is highly enlightening. The real happiness and prosperity of any nation is directly proportional to the number of men of character it has produced, through proper education and environment. Today though on account of advancement of science many nations are affluent from the point of material prosperity, they are facing accute problems of greed and despair The crime rate among youth is increasing. There is lack of character. Short cuts and easy methods to secure maximum profit with minimum industry have become the order of the day. When we look to the state of our nation, in particular as also the world in general, the situation is alarming. The number of individuals who indulge in crimes, abusing modern scientific knowledge and equipments and inflicting injury and suffering on other fellow human beings is increasing directly in proportion to the advancement of science (Vijnana). This indicates that Vijnana (Science) minus Jnana (Knowledge) of Dharma results in the ever increasing of selfishness and greed. It is op account of this, immorality and corruption, violence and sexual immorality are spreading like cancer and are threatening the health of our nation and of humanity.

To this situation, the only remedy is the resurrectio of the "Doctrine of Trivarga" which constitutes the Philosophy of our country - a philosophy universally applicable.


  1. Jois, M. R. (). Dharma-The Global Ethic. :​Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan​.