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Nyāya is one of the prominent branches of learning in the Indian knowledge system. It primarily deals with logic and it is one of the most widely applied subjects across the Vedic, Tantric, Bauddha and Jaina traditions. It is considered to be one of the five ‘Vidyā sthānas’ or abodes of learning, one of the six canonical schools of philosophy[1] and also a sub limb[2] in the body of Vedic learning.

Nyāya deals with the structure of knowing, learning and debating. Thus as a subject, it is component to all the schools of formal knowledge in some form. To different degrees, many principles of Nyāya are agreed upon by all schools, such as ascertaining the knowable, validating sources of learning, ascertaining validity of an argument, setting terms of debate and determining the outcome of a debate. Nyāya is not prevalent as an independent school of philosophy at present, but its influence can be seen in the most extant traditions. Nyāya plays a prominent role in many areas like jurisprudence.


Indian theory of knowledge can be described into two metaphors. The first one is of a tree whose root is the Veda and various areas of learning are denoted as the trunk, branches and leaves. The other metaphor is of a human body, whose limbs[3] and sub-limbs[4] are various areas of learning. Darśanas enunciate the worldviews and outlines the philosophy of life that results in fulfillment and happiness.

Nyāya is the discipline of logic, which provides methods for inquiry into the nature of world and knowledge, means of learning and validation. It systematizes knowledge into the knowable means and methods for knowing and procedures for ascertaining and validating knowledge. The founder of the Nyāya system was Gautama[5] who is frequently referred to in the literature as Akṣapāda which means eye-footed and Dīrghatapas which means long-penance. Before Gautama, the principles of the nyāya existed as an unsorted body of philosophical thoughts in different types of literature. Gautama formulated these generally accepted principles of time and gave some elaborations wherever needed. His primary work is called ‘Nyāya Sutram’ or ‘Nyāya Darśnam’ where he introduced the philosophy of Nyāya.

Prāchīna Nyāya and Navya Nyāya

Nyāya Darśnam as a philosophy can be divided into two sections according to time and content. They are:

  • Prāchīna Nyāya - A collection of five books which are called ‘Pancha Granthī’ are considered to be the authentic source of ‘Prāchīna Nyāya’. These were a series of commentary on the previous work, which complemented and elaborated the priors work. They are:
  1. Nyāya Sutram of Gotama
  2. Nyāya Bhashyam of Vātsāyana
  3. Nyāya Vārtikam of Udyōtakāra
  4. Tātparya Tīkā of Vāchaspati Miśrā
  5. Tātparya Tīkā Pariśudhi of Udayanāchārya.
  • Navya Nyāya - Gangēśōpādhyāya’s ‘Tatvachintāmaṇi is considered to be the first work which began the new era in ‘Nyāya philosophy’. By this time the concepts which were previously dealt with separately in ‘Nyāya’ and ‘Vaiṣeṣka’ philosophies came together. This system was later termed as ‘Navya Nyāya’ or ‘Tarka Śāstram’. ‘Dīdhiti’ of Raghunātha Śrōmaṇi is considered to be the best commentary on ‘Tatvachintāmaṇi’. ‘Dīdhiti’ had the famous three commentaries ‘Māthurī’, ‘Jāgadīśī’ and ‘Gādādharī’ on it.

Hence we can conclude that ‘Prāchīna Nyāya’ dealt with all the original concepts which an ‘Āstika Darśana’ needs whereas ‘Navya Nyāya’ mainly dealt with only the topics which are useful in debate.

Nyāya as a Darśana

Nyāya is considered to be the one amongst the six canonical Indian philosophies along with Vaiśeśika, Sānkhya, Yoga, Mimāmsā and Vedānta. On inquiring about the difference between a normal book and a Darśana, one knows the characteristics of a Darśana. Every Darśana is expected to present its view on the world[6] and suggest a permanent solution for the problem faced by all.

According to Nyāya, the biggest problem is suffering[7] and it prescribes a theory for liberation from it. To establish its theory, it has to define certain terms and change the perception of the seeker. In this process, a detailed discussion on the means of knowledge,[8] which distinguishes the truth from false becomes a critical inquiry, argumentation etc.

According to Indian literature, there are four puruśārthas or motives for men:

  1. Dharma
  2. Artha
  3. Kāma
  4. Mokṣa

The fourth puruśārtha is considered to be eternal, hence superior. Generally, every Darśana deals with the eternal truth and the way to attain it. Goutama describes that the liberation from suffering is the highest goal of life. According to him, the world is a chain of consequences starting with illusion, which eventually ends with suffering. It has to be broken in order to attain liberation from suffering.

According to the text, misapprehension/illusion[9] leads to distorted views[10] that leads to activity[11], which in turn leads to rebirth[12]. This whole cycle ultimately leads to suffering duhkha. To break this chain Goutama prescribes an antidote to each member.

Duḥkha- janma-pravṛtti-dōṣa-mithyājñānānāṃ uttarōttarāpāyē tadanantarāpāyādapavargaḥ[13]

Tattvajñāna or the true knowledge eradicates mithyājñāna or misapprehension. As illusion is the root cause of all activity like dōṣa, pāpaṃ, puṇyaṃ, eradication of illusion will eradicate all of them. When there is no dōṣa there is no pravṛtti or cause of birth. When there is no pravṛtti there is no janma or birth. When there is no birth there will be no duḥkha or sorrow. So according to nyāya sūtraṃ, tattvajñāna of the sixteen elements[14] would successively eliminate sorrow.

Elements of Nyāya

The elements of Nyāya include identification of the right knowledge,[15] validation, verifying explanations, methods to establish an argument and means to identify a valid argument from invalid. The term nyāya in Sanskrit signifies detailing the subject with an analytical investigation of it through the process of logical reasoning. It can be explained in the following verse:

‘नीयते प्राप्यते विवक्षितार्थसिद्धिः अनेन इति न्यायः’
Nīyatē prāpyatē vivakṣitārthasiḍih anēna iti 'nyāyah'

Vatsyāyana, the classic commentator on the Nyāya-Sūtra, defines it as a critical examination of the objects of knowledge by the means of logical proof. Nyāya is also called as 'Tarka-vidyā'[16] or 'Vāda-vidya'[17].


As Nyāya is a traditional philosophy there are some unique concepts introduced to understand the world in a very logical way. Even though Goutama divided everything into sixteen, but a special focus was there on the means, structure and debate of the knowledge i.e pramāṇaṃ and vādaḥ. According to this philosophy, the world should be understood in its true form to liberate an individual from suffering. To know the true sense of anything, one needs to understand the process of knowing the accurate knowledge and its types. Thus epistemology or the study of pramāṇa got a prominent place in the Nyāya sutras. In fact, in the list of the sixteen elements stated in Nyāya sutram, 'pramāṇa' stands first.

Nyāya is also widely known as Vāda Śāstra. When one understands some principals, at one point of time, one may encounter difference of opinion. When the difference is very fundamental, there arises the need for a debate. As one wants to seek the truth one must know the structure of the debate. Thus Nyāya elaborated the structure of debate and also its types.


Nyāya is also accounted as 'Pramāṇa Śāstra. 'Prāma' means true knowledge and the means to it is called 'Pramāṇam'. According to Nyāya Darśanam, Mokṣa is nothing but total liberation from the suffering. Suffering has an indirect, but invariable connection with illusion. The direct destroyer of illusion is the true knowledge. So for attaining the prescribed path for mokṣa, one needs to know how correct knowledge can be acquired, what is its structure, in what circumstance one cannot acquire it and how to critically inquire and validate knowledge.

The world is filled with a variety of elements, where some are known by the sense organs, some are only inferable and some are only known by the words. For example, a color can only be seen, happiness of others can only be felt and heaven can only be known by the scriptures. So to understand the nature of the word, Goutama accepted four valid means, four types of pramāṇa, to obtain the correct knowledge. They are:

  • Perception - Pratyakṣa : It can be divided into six according to the number of the senses. The cognition resulted because of the relation between an object and a sense organ. This phenomena is called as perception/ pratyakṣa. The relation which is very essential for perception is of two kinds.
  1. Direct perception - Seeing a table and knowing that 'there is a table' is an example of direct relation.
  2. Indirect perception - Seeing a perfume bottle and knowing that 'it has aroma', without opening its lid, is an example of indirect relation.
  • Inference - Anumāna : It is a means of knowledge, where the sensed object is known by reasoning. On seeing the smoke coming out from a mountain one could infer that the mountain has fire. In the process of inferring, it is essential to know the invariable relation between the object and the reason i.e., the relation between fire and smoke is very essential. Generally, a debate takes place where the subject is not proved or accepted by both the parties. It has to be proved by good reasoning. So the Nyāya scholars like, vācaspati miśrā[18] gave a prominent position for inference in their literature according to its importance in a debate.
  • Comparison - Upamāna : An analogical cognition is a cognition of the relationship between a word and its meaning. When a word is known and not the meaning, the knowledge of similarity helps to establish a relationship. To explain in detail, when a person does not know the meaning of the word 'gavaya'[19]

Step 1: He knows from a forester that "Gavaya is similar to cow".

Step 2: He goes to the forest and sees an animal similar to cow and remembers the sentence of the forester.

Step 3: Then an analogical cognition or upamitiḥ arises such as "This[20] is the referent of the word gavaya.

  • Source for verbal cognition - Śabda : It is nothing but a meaningful word. It delivers a meaning according to its relation. This relation is direct/śaktiḥ and indirect/lakṣaṇā. A word possessing a valid relation could be a means of knowledge.


Vāda means debate and Śāstra means a traditional treatise. A treatise which deals with debate in detail is Vāda Śāstra. The methodology of debate followed by all the Indian traditions is originated in Nyāya. Goutama has given utmost importance to introduce and elaborate the 'art of debate' in his work. Out of sixteen elements which are described in his Nyāya sutram[21], around seven elements are directly related to debate.

A debate is an exchange of verbal statements between at least two opponents. It is done to achieve different results like establishing the truth, winning an opponent, misleading an opponent etc. As per the Nyāya tradition, components which are useful in a debate are hypothetical reasoning/tarkaḥ [22], discussion/vādaḥ [23], polemic/jalpaḥ[24], cavil/vitaṇḍā[25], casuistry/chalaṃ, futile rejoinder/jāti and clinchers/nigraha sthānaṃ. All these topics are discussed categorically.


In a debate, presenting your argument in a systematic way is very important. It should precisely establish an argument without any flaw and redundancy. For this Nyāyasutra introduces a syllogism which consists of five components:

  1. ‘Pratigyā’ / Pratijyā : It is the proposition or the statement that is going to be inferred or statement of the thesis. Ex: ‘पर्वतो वह्निमान्’[26] Mountain is on fire. Here smoke is only seen not the fire, but writer wants to prove the fire which is not seen.
  2. ‘Hētu’/ Hētu : It is the statement consisting the ground of the inference. Ex: ‘धूमात्’[27] It denotes the action because of smoke.
  3. ‘Udāharaṇa’/ Udāharaṇam : The sentence of example which demonstrates the invariable relationship between the reason and the claim to be inferred or the statement setting forth an illustration is called as an Udāharaṇa. Ex: ‘यो यो धूमवान् सः वह्निमान ्, यथा महानसः’[28] Whichever place consists of smoke also consists of fire. Because fire is the reason behind the smoke[29], it also signifies the kitchen in the older times.
  4. ‘Upanaya’ / Upanaya: It is the statement showing that the subject of the inference has the ground of the inference which is invariably related to the thing that is sought to be established. Ex: ‘तथा चायम्’[30] Such is this mountain.
  5. ‘Nigamanam’/ Nigamana: It is the conclusion or the sentence which confirms the claim or the statement that the subject of the inference has the thing that is sought to be established as it has the ground of the inference. Ex: ‘तस्मात् तथा’[31] Therefore this mountain possesses fire.

These five members are called ‘Panchāvayava ’. In a formal debate, an argument with all these five members is considered to be complete. So using these five techniques to prove the merit of their cause can be called as ‘Nyāya’. Since ‘Nyāya’ have a predominant place in ‘Gōtama’s’ work it is called ‘Nyāya Darśanam’ or ‘Nyāya Sūtram’.

In general, an exchange of dialogue is called kathā[32]. When it is used in a systematic way to know the truth its called vādaḥ. When the arguer has no desire to establish his position, but his only interest is to distract the opposition its called vitaṇḍā. When the only intention is to win its called jalpaḥ. Generally, one tends to commit flaws while presenting an argument. But to establish the correct principles/ sidhāntaḥ one must be aware of them. To identify the flaws of others and not to commit any is also important. Nyāya explains types of flaws in the hētvābhāsāḥ section. Hence to equip us with the potentiality in argumentation and to find flaws in others argumentation, Gotama took a very prominent portion of his book Nyāya sutram.

Nyāya in Life

Today we may not find many people getting trained in the traditional Nyāya system. We may find seekers following vēdāntaḥ, but not find people seeking the eternal truth as prescribed in the nyāya sūtraṃ. But we always find the traditional Nyāya concepts in the Indian/ Bharath culture. These concepts got absorbed by the culture and regional languages according to their merits. Some of the concepts got adapted by the different traditional systems like sāmkhyā, vēdāntaḥ, mīmāmsā etc. Knowingly or unknowingly who ever claimed to be logical they followed some principles of Nyāya.

For logical comparative techniques we have live demonstration of logic in life. 'Pradhāna malla nibarhana', 'pangvandha nyāya'.. by showing upamāna they are establishing a logic. Regardless of sutras being framed, Nyāya was always in our life. Conceptually whoever claimed to be logical followed some principals of nyāya. Panchavayava system got used to Nyāya a long time ago. 'Vitānda vāda' is used by the everyone, one who knows it's definition and one who do not. This shows the impact of the Nyāya system. a structured thinking concept, in the life of common people.


  1. It means Darśana.
  2. It means Upaṅga in hindi.
  3. It means aṅga.
  4. It means upānga.
  5. He is also called as Gotama.
  6. It is called as saṅsāra.
  7. It means duhkha.
  8. It is called as epistemology.
  9. It is called as ajnāna.
  10. It is called as doṣa.
  11. It is called as karma.
  12. It is called as janma.
  13. 1.1.2 Nyāya sutram
  14. Goutama divides the world into sixteen elements.
  15. It is known as pramā.
  16. It means science of reasoning.
  17. It means science of argument.
  18. pratyakṣa parikalitaṃ apyarthaṃ anumānēna bubhutsantē tarkarasikāḥ, Means that one who enjoy logic, tries to infer everything even it can be known by sense organs
  19. It means wild cow.
  20. Here this refers to the animal.
  21. 1.1.1
  22. Tarkaḥ is a method of attaining correct knowledge about an uncertain thing by showing faults in all the contrary ideas.
  23. Vādaḥ is a sincere dialogue in which one adopts the truth in the end.
  24. Jalpaḥ is a verbal interaction done only to be victorious, it is not for the truth.
  25. Vitaṇḍā is a type of debate where the arguer has no desire to establish his position, but his only interest is to distract the opposition.
  26. Parvatō vanhimān
  27. Dhūmāt
  28. Yō Yō Dhūmavān Sa Vanhimān, Yathā Mahānasah
  29. Fire and smoke are having a cause-effect relationship.
  30. Tathā chāyam
  31. Tasmāt tathā
  32. Pūrvōttara vākya samdarbhaḥ: exchange of dialogues

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