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Temporal Power – Authority In Hindu Philosophy

Adhikara is a polyvalent word generally referring to temporal power, authority or right. In grammar, adhikara is a governing rule under which a set of rules are enumerated. In philosophy, a section dealing with a particular topic is called adhikara. In the Nyaya system of philosophy (Nyayasutra of Gautam), it means commencement or beginning. It is defined as ability and power to lay down an injunction. In Vedanta, particularly in the commentaries of Upanishads, Gita and Brahmasutra, it means the same. Shankara uses the term in the sense of relevance, duty, authority, eligibility, and competence. Bhaskara and later Vedantins frequently use this word in the sense of ‘injunction laying down eligibility’. In Samkhya, it means context, relevant topic, discussion, occasion, and proximity, whereas in Yoga it means ability or power.

In legal treatises, adhikara means ownership, lordship, right, title, property, duty and so on. Besides these meanings, it means administrative rules. In Smritis, it generally means context, or relevant topic, discussion, occasion, and proximity. The meaning ‘position and rank’ is given in Arthashastra by Kautilya.

Generally, in Tantra literature, adhikara means ‘eligibility and competence’. In Mrigendra Tantra, it means rule, administration, administrative authority, jurisdiction, and so on. But in Kaula and Pratyabhijna literature, it means ‘injunction laying down eligibility.’

In the epics and Puranas, it means eligibility or competence, in addition to the thread ceremony, initiation ceremony, relation, reference and scope. In Ayurveda, it means ‘a section dealing with a particular topic,’

In classical Sanskrit literature, it means authority, rule, administration, administrative authority, and jurisdiction. In Hitopadesha, it means entitlement and right to inheritance. In the works of Kalidasa it has a number of meanings – in Malavikagnimitra, it means locus or place; in Shakuntalam, it means ‘office, charge, duty, authority, superintendence.’

In the works of Sanskrit poetics, it means ‘ability or power, context, relevant topic,’ and so on.

One of the ways in which the word is used is to deny that certain people have adhikara to perform certain rituals.

Persons delegated with the power to perform a particular activity are designated as adhikarapurusha in Raghuvamsha of Kalidasa. According to Meghaduta, a person negligent in his duties has to face the shapa (curse). A person who has no fault in the discharge of his duty is called adhikaraniraparadha. According to Mudrarakshasa by Vishakadatta, ‘if the authority is given to bad people, they shall destroy the whole of administration.’ It can thus be seen that there is no one meaning for adhikara and it has to be understood with reference to the context in which it occurs.