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Trivarga – Dharma – Artha – Kama

Trivarga is three conditions of a human life – dharma, artha and kama. Ancient sages like Yajnavalkya and lawgivers like Manu propounded the ideology that dharma (right conduct), artha (economic prosperity), kama (fulfillment of all desires, including sexual desires), and moksha (liberation of the soul from the cycle of life and death) are the four desirable objects and ideals that a human being should experience in life.

Hindu philosophy did not crystallize around the aims of the state but only around the society as a whole. Their attempt was to establish a harmonious relation between society and the individual, and the manner of that relationship was dictated by the desirable ends of the individual.

Of the four objects of life mentioned, the first three, namely dharma, artha, and kama, constitute trivarga. These were considered as the attainable ideals. Moksha was supposed to be the supreme ideal, which could be attained only by very few and hence remained a distant ideal.

Dharmasastra and Arthashastra advocate securing of these three. Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata (167.8) says – A wise man tries to secure all three, but if all three cannot be attained, he secures dharma and artha, or only dharma if he has a choice of only one among the three. Kama was considered to be the lowest of the objects and cherished by fools. Thus dharma found the price place in life as the only way to find emancipation from the cycle of birth and death.

Manusmriti glorifies dharma (spirituality and morality) as the principal matter (or goal) and treats artha (material well being) and kama (physical pleasure) as inferior and enjoins all to give up artha and kama that are opposed to dharma (Manusmriti iv.176). On the other hand, Kautilya emphatically states in Arthashastra (I.VII. 6 – 7), “Material well being alone is supreme.”