The ṛṣis (sages) of yore had recognized the innate human desire for enjoying the pleasures of life and had provided for it in the scheme of ‘puruṣārthas’ prescribed for human beings. The four ‘puruṣārthas’ (dharma, artha, kāma and mokṣa) or ends to be striven for in human life, have given ‘artha,’ acquisition of wealth and other objects of enjoyment, a very important place. However, this ‘artha’ should be within the perimeters permitted by ‘dharma’ or righteousness as defined by the holy scriptures and practised by sages.
The word ‘artha’ is commonly interpreted as ‘meaning,’ meaning of words, phrases and sentences. According to works on rhetoric, the ‘artha’ of a word can be of three types: vācyārtha (direct meaning), lakṣyārtha (implied meaning) and vyaṅgyārtha (alluded meaning).
The first is illustrated by the sentence ‘gām ānaya,’ (‘Bring the cow’); the second, by ‘kaliṅgaḥ sāhasikaḥ,’ (‘the Kaliṅga is adventurous’) where, though the word ‘Kaliṅga’ literally stands for the country, is interpreted by implication, to mean a citizen of that country. In the sentence ‘saśaṅkha-cakro hariḥ,’ (‘Hari is with śaṅkha and cakra’) though the word hariḥ has several meanings like Viṣṇu, Yama, Vāyu, lion and monkey, it is confined to Viṣṇu only, due to the allusion to śaṅkha (conch) and cakra (discus), which he alone holds. That is the example for the third type.
In epistemology, ‘artha’ stands for the objects apprehended by the sense-organs.
See also PURUṢĀRTHAS.