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As I discuss in this question, by far the most popular school of Hindu philosophy is the Vedanta school, which bases its tenets on the doctrines laid out in the Brahma Sutras, a work by the sage Vyasa that summarizes and systematizes the philosophical teachings of the Upanishads. (You can read the Brahma Sutras here.) But the Vedanta school didn't always have the dominant position in Hindu philosophy; before the time of Adi Shankaracharya the dominant school of Hindu philosophy was the Purva Mimamsa school, which I discuss here. In contrast to the Vedanta school which is devoted to analyzing the Jnana Kanda of the Vedas, i.e. the Upanishads, Purva Mimamsa focuses on analyzing the Karma Kanda of the Vedas, i.e. the Samhitas and Brahmanas.

Now as I discuss in this answer, Purva Mimamsa was borderline agnostic/atheist on the existence of the gods. So in this excerpt from Jaimini's Purva Mimamsa Sutras, the defining text of the Purva Mimamsa school, Jaimini discusses the question whether Yagnas (fire-rituals) are just for our benefit or whether they're done for the sake of the gods. The Purvapakshin or opponent argues that Yagnas are done for the sake of the gods, because the gods consume the offerings made in Yagnas. Jaimini responds that that would only be possible if the gods had material bodies, and we have no evidence that that is the case. So then the Purvapakshin cites verse 1 of Rig Veda Book 10 Hymn 47 to show that Indra has a right hand:

jaghṛbhmā te dakṣiṇamindra hastaṃ vasūyavo vasupatevasūnām |
vidmā hi tvā ghopatiṃ śūra ghonāmasmabhyaṃcitraṃ vṛṣaṇaṃ rayiṃ dāḥ ||

Thy right hand have we grasped in ours, O Indra, longing for treasure, Treasure-Lord of treasures!
Because we know thee, Hero, Lord of cattle: vouchsafe us mighty and resplendent riches.

Here is how Jaimini responds:

As regards the indicative text (adduced by the Purvapakshin) — 'Jaghṛbhmā te dakṣiṇam indra hastaṃ' (speaking of the 'right hand' of Indra), — it does not mean what it has been taken to mean — that 'Indra has got a right hand'; what it means is that 'we have taken hold of what is Indra's right hand': hence the sentence does not afford the notion that Indra has hands. "If that is not so, then no such assertion is possible that 'we have taken hold of the hand': because this assertion clearly implies the existence of the hand, - the hand exists, which we have taken hold of ."—This is not possible: even though Indra may have a hand, yet the assertion that 'we to have taken hold of the hand' does not pertain to a perceptible fact; to this extent, the assertion is certainly an impossible one : under the circumstances, the assertion can only be taken either as an absurd statement or as a merely eulogistic declaration:—And this explanation is equally possible in our view also.

It might be argued that "the assertion has been made by a person who actually took hold of Indra’s hand ''.—Our answer to that is that no such idea can be entertained; as that would imply that the Veda (as represented by the text in question) has had a beginning in time.—Nor can the text be taken as asserting that 'Someone took hold of Indra’s hands: as there can be no authority for such an assertion.—"From this text itself we deduce by implication that there was a person who took hold of the hand."—That cannot be right; because it is possible for untrue assertions also to be made: as in the case of such ordinary assertions as 'Ten pomegranates', 'Six cakes ', and so forth.

I understand most of Jaimini's argument, except for the part in bold. My question is, what is Jaimini's basis for rejecting the notion that someone held Indra's hand?

The Purvapakshin asserts that someone took hold of Indra's hand, and Jaimini responds that that's a baseless assertion. Then the Purvapakshin says that it's being deduced by implication from the Vedic verse, to which Jaimini's responds "it is possible for untrue assertions to be made." What does that mean? Is he saying that it's possible for the Vedas to make untrue assertions? I highly doubt that, given the Purva Mimamsa school's view that the Vedas consist of eternal truths. Or is he just reiterating his claim that the Purvapakshin's assertion is baseless? But the Purvapakshin just provided a basis, namely implication from the Vedic verse! Also, what are the "Ten pomegranates" and "Six cakes" referring to? Are they supposed to refer to statements in the Vedas, or statements by ordinary people or what?

By the way, as I said above the vast majority of Hindus today belong to the Vedanta school. So it's worth noting the Vedanta school does accept the notion that the gods have material bodies; see this section of Adi Shankaracharya's Brahma Sutras Bhashya and this section of Ramanujacharya's Sri Bhashya. And for those of us who are mainstream Hindus, the Rig Veda verse that's being discussed is actually about the sage Saptagu Angirasa holding Indra's hand to make him remember who he really was; see my question here for the details of the story.

In any case, are there any other Purva Mimamsa works, for instance Kumarila Bhatta's Tuptika commentary on the Purva Mimamsa Sutras, which shed light on Jaimini's reasoning here?

  • Hm. I partially agree with the Purvapakshin and partially with Jaimini. Though storywise Saptagu caught his hand - it could just be a metaphor which Brhaspati (or whoever Saptagu is) used similar to how we use 'caught red-handed'. So it can be literal though it is not necessarily so. – Surya May 1 '16 at 5:32
  • Vedanta school believes that gods have material bodies. Does Vedanta school also believes that yagnas are done for sake of gods? – Aks Jun 20 '17 at 12:59
  • @Aks Yes, the Vedanta school does believe that Yagnas are offerings to the gods, although of course the purpose for which a human does a Yagna may be to benefit himself. Whereas the Purva Mimamsa school thought that the only purpose of a Yagna is to benefit the person performing it. – Keshav Srinivasan Jun 20 '17 at 14:58

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