Out of the six systems of Indian philosophy accepting the authority of the Vedas, the Pūrva Mīmāṁsā has devoted itself exclusively to the methods of correct interpretation of the Vedic texts. It divides the entire Veda into two parts: vidhi or injunction, and arthavāda or statements explaining or reiterating certain facts already known through other means.
Vidhi refers to supramundane affairs and has to be understood literally. In contrast to this arthavāda relates to matters of ordinary experience and hence carries with it no logical significance. Its main purpose is to make us do certain good things by praising them or reject bad ones by censuring them. Hence it should never be taken literally. For instance when it is stated that ‘the sacrificial post is the sun,’ it simply means that the post is bright like the sun and is intended to commend the sacrifice in the performance of which, the post is used.
Arthavāda is of three types: guṇa-vāda, anuvāda and bhūtārthavāda. When a statement is contradicted by another means of proof—as for instance, in the sentence already quoted, direct perception contradicts the post being the sun—it has to be interpreted by considering the statement as gauṇa or secondary, the primary sense conveyed being brightness. Such an arthavāda is called guṇavāda.
When the stated meaning has already been established by other means of know-ledge as in ‘Fire is an antidote of cold,’ wherein the fact stated is a matter of direct experience, the statement itself is to be considered as an anuvāda, a reitera-tion of a fact already established.
In bhūtārthavāda, an occurence which happened in the past (bhūta = past) is stated. Since it can neither be confirmed nor denied, it has to be accepted as it is. For instance, a statement such as ‘Indra raised his thunderbolt to strike at Vṛtra’ has got to be accepted at its face value since there is no way of proving or disproving it.
According to another classification, arthavāda is of four kinds: nindā (censure), stuti (eulogy), parakṛti (performance by another great person) and purākalpa (what happened in bygone ages).
The first is meant to prevent certain acts and the second to impel doing certain others. The third is also meant to praise certain acts and induce us to do them. The last demonstrates something that has been narrated by another as having taken place in the past.
See also PŪRVAMĪMĀṀSĀ-DARŚANA.