Charwak Darshan; The most vilified philosophy

Sharad Bedekar

Charwaks were accused of being thoughtless and self-indulgent and to support this allegation an oft repeated but distorted saying of the Charwaks was -‘eat ghee even if you have to incur debt’ as quoted in the ‘Sarvadarshan Sangraha’ – a book in which all philosophies are brought together. But the original Charwak saying was – ‘Live happily as long as you are alive; incur debt if necessary, but eat Ghee (to maintain health); for (this is the only life) once (your) body is burnt, where is it going to come back again?’

Some scholars maintain that the distorted stanza is extrapolated in the name of Charwaks; but Dr Salunkhye, in his book, named ‘Astik Shiromani Charwak’ -meaning ‘ Charwak- the most superior theist’ takes a contrary position which is worth being taken notice of. He says, even taking for granted that this stanza belongs to the Charwaks, a mere cursory glance reveals the following details.

  • Even if Charwaks told us to incur debt if necessary, they did not tell us not to repay it. (for they certainly knew that repaying it is necessary to live a happy life.)
  • They did not ask us to borrow money at any exorbitant rate of interest. Here it is worth mentioning that the ‘Manusmriti’ stipulates discriminating and unjust rates of interest as 2, 3, 4, and 5 percent from Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras respectively.
  • Charwaks wanted us to drink ghee not Somaras, Madira or liquor.
  • They told us to drink ghee so that we may not waste it burning in the Yadnyas.
  • They told us to borrow money to buy ghee and not to pilfer and steal it defraying others. (As opposed to this our religious scriptures are replete with mandates, rules, etc. coaxing Brahmins to defray others, if necessary, to obtain their ‘Dakshina’ or funds for performing Yadnyas.)

Instead of accepting the apparent literal meaning of the Shlokas written in the ‘Sootra’ style, we should read between the lines for their real meaning. The above Charwak Shlok will then reveal , ‘ Borrow money if necessary, but make sure that you use it for farming, husbandry, rearing animals or trade and industry, and ensure that you earn enough to be able to drink ghee and remain healthy. Isn’t this the most wise and useful advice for everybody? Nothing can be better than this for a common man!

Prof. Sadashiv Athavale in his book ‘Charwak – History and philosophy’ (Pradnya Pathashala Mandal, Vai) tried to figure out what the highly developed ‘Charwak Darshan’ of the 14-15 century could have said. In his opinion it would be as follows:

  1. Atma, Supreme God, Cycle of Death and rebirth, Karmaphalasiddhant, etc.: The living body of the human being itself is Atma. There is no separate entity ‘Atma’ that can exist before birth or after the death of a human being. The world and the living beings are born out of natural impulse. There is no need for worshiping a supreme god since no such entity exists. It is not possible for a human body to be born again once it is burnt to ashes. The Karmaphalasiddhant that tells us that the Atma is reborn in order to reap the fruit of his deeds of the earlier births is a false doctrine. Discard the doctrine of Fatalism that tells you that your woes and joys are caused by your deeds of the earlier births and believe in your own efforts to enhance your self esteem. Women are equal to men and in no way inferior to them. Conjugal fidelity or chastity is in reality not a value. It is a weapon of the malicious men for attacking women’s
  2. The Universe made up of elements, Yadnya, The other world, Religion, Emancipation, etc.: This universe, the human body and the vitality between them are born out of natural combining of the elements. The Yadnya has several defects like violence, amorous dalliance, etc. moreover it is a sheer waste of food. So do not perform Yadnyas. There is no heaven, hell or the other world. The shrewd priests ask you to perform rituals for getting sweet fruit, ask you to do so for their own material and economic benefits. Thus the Charwaks denied the religion they advocated, Yadnya and other rituals. They refuted Moksha. For them death is Moksha – emancipation. Freedom for them is of greatest value in life.
  3. Validity, king’s rule, Chaturvarnya, etc.: Seeing is believing. Somebody’s word and book including even the Veds are not necessarily valid. Inference is not evidence. However for practical purposes, logical inferences based on direct observation can be considered valid. Charwaks accepted king’s authority for its undoubted utility. They also supported the human values -justice and morality whole heartedly. They maintained that all human beings of all colours are equal and denied Chaturvarnya, caste discrimination and purity of race and all such ideas of superiority and inferiority that are unscientific.
  4. Hedonism: Charwaks advocated hedonism. They said that man should work hard either in agriculture, trade or service and earn and be happy. He need not seek pleasure in promiscuity and should restrain himself from excesses. So they told that one should adhere to Charwak philosophy for the benefit of the masses. However their hedonism was deliberately distorted and they were accused as reckless pleasure seekers.

Charwak Darshan, the most logical and rational philosophy, unparalleled in all Indian Philosophies was also the most ridiculed by other philosophies including the Jain and Bauddha that refuted god, because they could not counter Charwaks’ arguments convincingly enough. The Jains and the Bauddhas both had denied the Veds, Yadnya, Supreme god and Brahma; and yet they did accept Atma and rebirth in some form or other. Instead of Moksha they believed in Kaivalya and Nirvan; created their own rituals, ways of worshiping and prayers; but not the steadfast Charwaks. They did not compromise their principles in any way. However the Charwak philosophy of ‘seeing is believing’ could not strike a sympathetic chord in the minds of common people, probably because they were very few or because they could not offer proper programmes advocating their philosophy. The priestly class with their interest vested in keeping people preoccupied with worshiping the almighty god and his unparalleled exploits hated Charwaks and their philosophy and must have successfully wiped them out from the Indian philosophical arena.

Once the field was cleared of the logical and scientific Charwak thought, we reversed our course and for the next thousand years, instead of searching for the natural laws in scientific ways, we were preoccupied with Bahjan-Keertan, mysteries of Puran, prayers and rituals and hoarding Punya (merit) thereby. Generations spent their lives in building the stock of Punnya, disregarding even the defence of our country for we expected the god to protect our temples and our country from the Muslim invasions. From the 13th to the 18th century- almost for five century-the Muslim aggressors from abroad could rule over us with ease.

After the end of the Maratha rule established by Shivaji Maharaj, the British ousted the Muslims and ruled over us for nearly hundred and fifty years. It was a boon, in a way; for the British were quite progressive and helped us join the main stream of progress eventually, in the revolutionary changes made by computer and telecommunication technology. Today we feel proud that ISRO could send a satellite to Mars. Otherwise while the world is progressing by leaps and bounds in scientific research and technology and various other fields, enriching human life, we would have been throwing rice and burning ghee in the Yadnyas and indulging in appeasing our 33 crore gods and goddesses. Today India is self dependent and is capable of choosing her own direction and course of action.

Translated by Ms Suman Oak