Trivarga (त्रिवर्गः)

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Trivarga (Samskrit: त्रिवर्गः) refers to Dharma, Artha and Kama, the inseparable group of three ideals that forms the foundation for an ordered human society according to Bharatiya tattvajnana.[1] The Trivarga Siddhanta states that Dharma must control desires as well as the means of acquisition of wealth and deriving pleasure[2] thereby declaring the Supremacy of Dharma over

  • Artha - that refers to wealth and the desire for securing material pleasure and,
  • Kama - that includes every type of desire including the desire for securing wealth and all types of pleasure

This doctrine of Trivarga intends to strike a reasonable balance between the interests of the individual and public interest by which is meant the interests of all other individuals who constitute the society or Nation inclusive of the entire humanity. It is an invaluable and everlasting solution for all the problems of all human beings for all times to come and forms the sum and substance of the Bharatiya Philosophy of life.[1][2]

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

Vedic wisdom and the Bhagavad Gita that contains its essence, firmly indicate that the four Purusharthas when righteously observed are designed to fill every human existence with bliss. These Purusharthas are

  1. Dharma or Righteous Code of Conduct
  2. Artha that is, creation of wealth through righteous means
  3. Kama that refers to satisfaction of legitimate desires
  4. Moksha

Undoubtedly, the ultimate goal or ideal enshrined in the hearts of all was Moksha i.e. freedom from the bondage of the birth and death cycle and to secure union with the creator. And every individual was enjoined to strive for the same. However, the scriptures term the first three Purusharthas specifically, as Trivarga. For, Dharma, Artha and Kama are like the three legs of a stool. The absence of anyone of them would render life to be futile. While the idea of moksha, being philosophical in nature, is not included in the concept of Trivarga.

However, the legitimacy of both Artha and Kama depended on both conforming in entirety to Dharma. Every individual was asked to reject Artha (material wealth) and Kama (desires) if they were in conflict with Dharma. And when the Trivarga is balanced, it is known to enrich life, filling it with a sense of fulfillment.[1]

त्रिवर्गसिद्धान्तः ॥ Trivarga Siddhanta

Bharatiya tattvajnana considers ‘Kama’ and ‘Artha’, the means to fulfilment of desires, as valid human pursuits. But it considers ‘Lobha’ (greed) and ‘Moha’ (delusion) arising from unchecked desires as unethical because they incline to work against social interests. To restrain these two pursuits from becoming anti-social, Bharatiya tattvajnana presents a third vital human pursuit namely, 'Dharma'. It is Dharma that helps all people to have the opportunity of experiencing maximum sensual satisfaction by acquisition of wealth and other material objects through right actions. Sri Krishna also, in the Bhagavad Gita, endorses the validity of only that Kama which is unopposed to Dharma.[1] He says,

धर्माविरुद्धो भूतेषु कामोऽस्मि भरतर्षभ ॥७.११॥[3] dharmāviruddho bhūteṣu kāmo'smi bharatarṣabha ॥7.11॥

Meaning: I am that Kama (Sensual desire) in all beings, which is not opposed to Dharma.

Thus, the pursuit of satisfaction of desires and earning of money should be disciplined and regulated by an ethical sense, so that all persons in a society may get the opportunity to satisfy their urge for them.[1]

In fact, Manusmrti discusses the merits of pure materialism (Artha and Kama) as also of mere spiritualism (Dharma without Artha) and concludes that it is the combination of Dharma, Artha and Kama that 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.[2] It says,

धर्माथावुच्यते श्रेयः कामार्थो धर्म एव च । अर्थ एवेह वा श्रेयस्त्रिवर्ग इति तु स्थितिः ॥ २.२२४ ॥[4]

परित्यजेदर्थकामौ यौ स्यातां धर्मवर्जितौ । ४.१७६ ।[5]

dharmāthāvucyate śreyaḥ kāmārtho dharma eva ca । artha eveha vā śreyastrivarga iti tu sthitiḥ ॥ 2.224 ॥

parityajedarthakāmau yau syātāṁ dharmavarjitau । 4.176 ।


  • 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 people who declare Artha alone secures happiness. But the correct view is that Trivarga, the aggregate of Dharma, Artha and Kama secures welfare and happiness.
  • Wealth (artha) and desires (kama) which are contrary to Dharma (righteous code of conduct) should be rejected.

The same view is conveyed in the Mahabharata (Shanti Parva). It says,

धर्मार्थकामाः सममेव सेव्या यो ह्येकभक्तः स नरो जघन्यः। द्वयोस्तु दक्षं प्रवदन्ति मध्यं स उत्तमो योऽभिरतस्त्रिवर्गे ।।१२.१६५.४०[6]

dharmārthakāmāḥ samameva sevyā yo hyekabhaktaḥ sa naro jaghanyaḥ।

dvayostu dakṣaṁ pravadanti madhyaṁ sa uttamo yo'bhiratastrivarge।।12.165.40

Meaning: Trivarga namely, Dharma, Artha and Kama are inseparable. All the three should be enjoyed harmoniously, omitting one or two is to be detested. Kautiliya Arthashastra further states that in the inseparable unit of Dharma, Artha and Kama the one mentioned earlier is superior and reiterates that the Trivarga should be followed together.

समं वा त्रिवर्गं सेवेत । धर्मार्थकामानां युगपत्समवाये । पूर्वाः पूर्वा गरीयान् ॥[1]

samaṁ vā trivargaṁ seveta । dharmārthakāmānāṁ yugapatsamavāye । pūrvāḥ pūrvā garīyān ॥

Thus, the Trivarga doctrine strikes a harmonious balance between the interests of the individual and society. And is therefore, most beneficial for the welfare of the individual and society.[2]

शासकशासितधर्मः ॥ Dharma of the Rulers and the Ruled

Propounders of Dharma realised that fulfillment of human desires was essential to secure happiness but were of the opinion that unless the desires were regulated by Dharma, they would bring about undesirable results.[1][2]Therefore, the doctrine of Trivarga was evolved to secure happiness to all without discrimination and in an enduring manner. In fact, the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Manusmrti, Kautilya’s Arthashastra, Brhaspati Smrti, Somadeva’s Nitivakyamrta, Kamandaka's Nitisara all unanimously declare that the rule of Trivarga should be followed by both, the rulers and the ruled and that alone is a guarantee for peace and happiness of human beings. There was no difference between the ideals kept before the State by Raja Dharma and those enshrined in the hearts of individuals through the Shrutis and other works on Dharma. The ideals placed before the individual, for purposes of welfare and happiness of himself and all others in this World, were Dharma, Artha and Kama (Trivarga or the three Purusharthas). While, the ideals of Raja Dharma placed before the State were to assist and support the achievement by individuals of the threefold ideals (Trivarga). Thus, the doctrine of Trivarga is referred to as an enduring system of values that holds good in the social, political, domestic and international planes of human business. And thus, has been the guiding principle for both, the rulers and the ruled.[1]

राजनीत्याः आधारः ॥ Basis for Rajaniti

The view that Trivarga is the basic structure of the Bharatiya social and political system is unanimously expressed in all the important ancient works on polity incorporated as part of Raja Dharma in the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Manusmrti, Kautilya's Arthashastra, Kamandaka's Nitisara, Somadeva’s Nitivakyamrita etc. A careful study of these granthas shows that all of them lay down the fundamental duty of the State as 'ensuring both the rulers and the ruled acquire wealth (Artha) and fulfill their desires (Kama) without violating the rules of Dharma, which is the “Trivarga” doctrine'. Thus, Trivarga with Dharma as the controlling factor has been the most important element of the basic structure of Bharatiya Rajaniti from times immemorial.

In fact, the Barhaspatya Sutra declares that the goal of polity (Rajaniti) is the fulfillment of Dharma, Artha and Kama.

नीतेः फलं धर्मार्थकामावाप्तिः ॥ 2.43 ॥[citation needed] nīteḥ phalaṁ dharmārthakāmāvāptiḥ ॥ 2.43

And Kamandakiya Nitisara, after an elaborate discussion on the seven constituents of the State, concludes that it is the state that is administered with the assistance of wise ministers that secures the three goals (Trivarga) in an enduring manner.

गृहीतमेतत्रिपुणेन मन्त्रिणा त्रिवर्गनिष्पत्तिमुपैति शाश्वतीम् || 4.7 ||[citation needed]

gr̥hītametatripuṇena mantriṇā trivarganiṣpattimupaiti śāśvatīm || 4.7 ||

While Mahabharata calls Danda that is representative of Raja's regulatory powers as ‘Trivarga Rupa' since it protects Trivarga ie. Dharma, Artha and Kama (the law, lawful wealth and lawful desires of human beings).[1]

दण्डः संरक्षते धर्मं तथैवार्यं जनाधिप । कामं संरक्षते दण्डस्त्रिवर्गो दण्ड उच्यते ।।१२.१५.३[7]

daṇḍaḥ saṁrakṣate dharmaṁ tathaivāryaṁ janādhipa । kāmaṁ saṁrakṣate daṇḍastrivargo daṇḍa ucyate ।।12.15.3

Thus, the essence of Raja Dharma is that the Ruler must conform to rule of Trivarga.

त्रिवर्ग फल भोक्ता च राजा धर्मेण युज्यते । ४.३८.२३ ।[8] trivarga phala bhoktā ca rājā dharmeṇa yujyate । 4.38.23 ।

Kautilya also declares that a Raja must strive for the achievement of Trivarga. In fact, Acharya Somadeva in his Nitivakyamrita goes on to offer his salutations to the State for ensuring acquisition of wealth and fulfillment of desires without violating Dharma. This stresses on the important role played by the State in the enforcement of the Trivarga.

अथ धर्माय काम फलाय राज्याय नमः । atha dharmāya kāma phalāya rājyāya namaḥ ।

Thus, all the acharyas through their granthas warn that mere acquisition of Artha i.e. economic prosperity and fulfillment of desires disregarding dharma, is sure to result in disaster, such as moral degradation, rampant corruption and large scale commission of offences. Therefore, whatever be the system of government, it could become a good government provided those who exercise the power are good. It depended upon their quality. And hence, these qualities have been specified as part of Raja Dharma in conformity with the doctrine of Trivarga.[1]

कौटुम्बिकजीवनस्य आधारः ॥ Foundation of Family Life

Bharatiya social life was constructed on the firm foundation of the sanctity and inseparability of the husband and wife relationship laid down by the propounders of Dharma by means of the Vivaha Samskara. The object and purpose of Vivaha or marriage was declared in the Dharmashastras as the fulfillment of the threefold ideals of life, ie. Dharma, Artha and Kama. The sum and substance of these three goals was that the husband and the wife, remaining loyal to each other throughout their life, should restrain their desire (kama) for material pleasure, wealth and prosperity (Artha) by Dharma (righteous rules of conduct) and should share the happiness and misery and discharge their prescribed duties towards the family and society throughout their life.

The promise given by the bridegroom while undergoing the Vivaha Samskara highlights that the purpose of marriage was the fulfillment of Trivarga doctrine throughout their life as husband and wife. In fact, Vivaha was prescribed as a Samskara so as to impress upon the minds of the bride and bridegroom the sanctity and permanence of the marriage bond and also to make them to commit publicly, in the presence of relatives and guests, that they would fulfill the obligations of married life towards the society. Because, after marriage husband and wife enter the stage of family life or Grhasthashrama (Householder) during which it was the duty of every family to discharge its social obligation. The husband and wife were together required to observe a code of conduct and jointly discharge their social responsibilities. In particular, they were required to discharge together four pious obligations towards,

  1. the Supreme being
  2. Parents
  3. Teacher
  4. Humanity

This is indicated in the Adi Parva (Adhyaya 120.17-20) of the Mahabharata as follows,

ऋणैश्चतुर्भिः संयुक्ता जायन्ते मानवा भुवि | पितृदेवर्षिमनुजैर्देयं तेभ्यश्च धर्मतः ||

r̥ṇaiścaturbhiḥ saṁyuktā jāyante mānavā bhuvi | pitr̥devarṣimanujairdeyaṁ tebhyaśca dharmataḥ ||

Meaning: Every individual should discharge four pious obligations. They are Deva Rna (towards the Supreme Being), Pitru Rna (towards parents), Rishi Rna (towards teachers) and Manava Rna (towards humanity). In fact the method by which these four pious obligations are to be discharged are also indicated. It is said,

यज्ञैस्तु देवान् प्रीणाति स्वाध्यायतपसा मुनीन् | पुत्रैः श्राद्धैः पितृंश्चापि आनृशंस्येन मानवान् ||

yajñaistu devān prīṇāti svādhyāyatapasā munīn | putraiḥ śrāddhaiḥ pitr̥ṁścāpi ānr̥śaṁsyena mānavān ||

Meaning: One should discharge Pitru Rna by maintaining continuity of the family, Deva Rna by worship of the Supreme, Rishi Rna by the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge and Manava Rna by every type of social service.[2] This could be discharged by the husband and wife only by living together with mutual love and fidelity throughout their life. This is indeed the crux of Dampatya Dharma (the dharma of a husband and wife). And thus, Manusmriti declares that mutual friendship and fidelity is the highest Dharma to be observed by husband and wife, throughout their life. For, the family in which husband and wife have mutual affection and respect always secures happiness and prosperity.

अन्योन्यस्याव्यभिचारो भवेदामरणान्तिकः । एष धर्मः समासेन ज्ञेयः स्त्रीपुंसयोः परः । । ९.१०१ । ।[9]

संतुष्टो भार्यया भर्ता भर्त्रा भार्या तथैव च । यस्मिन्नेव कुले नित्यं कल्याणं तत्र वै ध्रुवम् । । ३.६० । ।[10]

anyonyasyāvyabhicāro bhavedāmaraṇāntikaḥ । eṣa dharmaḥ samāsena jñeyaḥ strīpuṁsayoḥ paraḥ । । 9.101 । ।

saṁtuṣṭo bhāryayā bhartā bhartrā bhāryā tathaiva ca । yasminneva kule nityaṁ kalyāṇaṁ tatra vai dhruvam । । 3.60 । ।

Also, observance of this directive throughout life by the wedded couple is not only conducive to happiness and harmony in family life, but also essential for national or social life. Therefore, Vivaha (marriage), founded on the doctrine of Trivarga, was one of the most important of the several ‘samskaras’ (sacraments) prescribed by Dharmashastras to be performed during the lifetime of an individual. It was regarded as the foundation of family life. So much so, that the great importance attached to family life, as constituting the social edifice, and as a basic unit on which the strength of a nation depends, has been recognized by the United Nations as part of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the General Assembly. And therefore, it entitles the natural and fundamental group unit of society ie. the family to protection by society and State. This is a clear recognition of the efficacy and necessity of the Dampatya Dharma evolved in this land from the most ancient times based on the doctrine of Trivarga as the foundation of social life.[1]

मानवीयाधिकाराणाम् आधारः ॥ Basis of Human Rights

Vedas including the Upanishads (Shruti) were the primordial source of ‘Dharma’ which is a compendious term for all the human rights and duties, the observance of which was regarded as essential for securing peace and happiness to individuals as well as the society. The duty to conform to Dharma in acquisition of wealth and fulfillment of desires, has been the injunction of Trivarga to all, which was intended to protect the basic human rights of all. In fact, Bharatiya values regarding human rights evolved on the basis of Trivarga perhaps have the oldest ancestry. And the fundamental rights recognised by the Indian Constitution that intend to protect the dignity of the individual and create conditions in which every human being can develop his personality to the fullest extent represent the basic values cherished by the people of Bharata since Vedic times.

कर्तव्याधारिताः अधिकाराः ॥ Duty based Rights

The unique method, evolved by the great thinkers who moulded the civilization and culture of Bharata, was to secure the rights of every individual by creating a corresponding duty in other individuals. Because they considered that the sense of right always emanates from selfishness whereas the sense of duty always generates selflessness. Therefore, every kind of right that became a value in Bharatiya culture was based on the duty of every individual towards other individuals. For example, the following duties were all created to protect basic human rights viz.

  • duty of parents towards their children and the duty of children to maintain their parents in old age
  • duty of teachers towards their students and duty of students towards their teachers
  • duty of every individual in a family towards other individuals in the family and other members of the concerned human society
  • duty of the State towards citizens and duty of the citizens towards the State

In fact, creation of a duty in one individual necessarily resulted in the creation of right in other individual and the protection of such right. Therefore, instead of making right as the foundation of social life and establishing a right based society, the ancient philosophers of Bharata preferred to establish a duty-based society where the right given to an individual is the right to perform his duty.[1]

The rights that evolved as part of the duty-based Bharatiya value system, recognised and bestowed on every individual, are as follows:

  • Right to Happiness

It is the natural desire of all human beings to be happy at every stage and in every aspect of life. Therefore, happiness has been recognised as a right in the Bharatiya culture since ancient times. In fact, “right to happiness” is a compendious expression that includes every kind of specific human right, the fulfillment of which intends to secure happiness. And the doctrine of Trivarga with Dharma as controlling factor was evolved to secure this right to happiness for all without any exception. Thus, this is the most important and comprehensive human right. And the declaration of this Right as a basic human right is rather, a mark of distinction of Bharatiya values of human rights.[1]

  • Right to Equality

Right to equality (Samanata) is perhaps the most valuable right, without which happiness is impossible. The Vedas which constitute the primordial source of Dharma declared the charter of equality. Rigveda declared that all are brothers, that no one is inferior or superior. Similarly, the verse in Atharvanaveda declared that all have equal right over natural resources and all were equally important as spokes in a wheel. This declaration of equality found incorporated in the Rigveda, the most ancient of the Vedas, and also in the Atharvanaveda from times immemorial is very much similar to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights made in 1948. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to note that right to equality was made a part of “Dharma” long before even the State came to be established.[1]

  • Right to Education

Bharatiya civilisation recognises education as one of the pious obligations of the human society. It is by way of creating the pious obligation of Rishi Rna, that emphasizes on acquisition and dissemination of knowledge, that the human right to education of every individual was sought to be created and protected. This has been discharged by Rishis in ancient Bharata by establishing Gurukulas. And the State used to support, respect and honour the Rishis who discharged such an important pious obligation.

Moreover, the human right to education is also aimed at securing happiness. Therefore, education should not be confined to literacy. Rather, its aim should be all-round development of personality ie. intellectual, mental, moral and physical so as to make an individual an asset to the human society. This aspect is highlighted in the chapter of education, Shikshavalli (Lesson eight) in the Taittiriyopanishad. It adds further more that the real happiness and prosperity of any Nation is directly proportional to the number of such kind of people it has produced, through proper education which secures all round development and personality of all its individuals.[1]

  • Right to protection

Manusmrti declares that the highest duty of a Raja is to protect his people. Thus, the right to protection of the people was sought to be secured by creating duties of the Rulers as part of Raja Dharma, the Constitutional Law of Ancient Bharata, that applied to all the Rulers who might be ruling in any part of the territory of Bharata. Kamandaka Nitisara also gives paramount importance to the duty of the Rajas to afford full protection against injustice to individual irrespective of whoever the person may be, who inflicted injury or was attempting to inflict injury.[2]This shows that law is supreme. And the Raja was duty-bound to give full protection to his people. There were also certain specific provisions like the duty to restore stolen property or to pay its value that throw considerable light on the importance given to the human right to protection.[1]

  • Right to practice any Religion

The Indian Constitution confers the fundamental right to all to practice any religion of their choice. In the ancient times, this basic human right was sought to be protected by incorporating a specific rule in Raja Dharma to the effect that the State was under a duty to protect every religion without discrimination. The Narada Smrti states that the Raja is required to give equal protection not only to believers in the Supreme Being or Vedas, but also disbelievers. That is the width of freedom of thought, belief and faith recognised as the basic human right in Bharata, as part of Raja Dharma which is secularism par excellence.[1]

  • Right to Social Security

All individuals do not possess the capacity or resources to lead a happy life. Many individuals suffer from abject poverty, want of education or earning capacity, physical or mental deformity, disease, old age, loss of earning member of the family etc. But all such individuals have the basic human right to happiness. This right is sought to be protected by creating duty in individuals on whom they depend as also on the State.

The Mahabharata verse which declared rules of “Dharma” included in itself saṁvibhāga (sharing wealth with others) and bhr̥tyabharaṇa (the duty of an individual to maintain his dependents). Thus, instead of throwing the entire burden of social security on the exchequer (royal or national treasury), it is delineated to be borne by the earning member of a family. This duty, rooted in the two basic values of life namely selflessness and sacrifice, is perhaps is the best form of social security recognised and provided as a human right in Bharatiya civilization and culture.[1]

मानवीयाधिकाराणां रक्षणम् ॥ Protection of human rights

Human rights were regarded as sacrosanct in this land, since times immemorial. This is evidenced by the fact that even during and after winning wars, certain human rights were required to be respected and protected. These were enumerated in the form of rules of warfare and rules regarding the treatment and protection of the conquered people. In fact, protection of human rights was envisaged even when a person was apprehended by public servants for offences alleged to have been committed by him or even after conviction and sentenced to undergo imprisonment through right to humane treatment while in custody and in prison. And laying down of such humane rules is, indeed, a mark of the development and respect for human rights in the Bharatiya Parampara.

Thus, the various dimensions of the Trivarga Siddhanta discussed herein reiterates that restoration of the doctrine of trivarga alone is the panacea for all social and political maladies with which a Nation gets afflicted.[1]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 M.Rama Jois (2004), Trivarga, Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Justice Mandagadde Rama Jois (1997), Dharma: The Global Ethic, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.
  3. Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 7.
  4. Manusmrti, Chapter 2.
  5. Manusmrti, Chapter 4.
  6. Mahabharata, Shanti Parva, Adhyaya 165
  7. Mahabharata, Shanti Parva, Adhyaya 15
  8. Ramayana, Kishkindha Kanda, Sarga 38
  9. Manusmrti, Adhyaya 9
  10. Manusmrti, Adhyaya 3