Charavaka Philosophy: School of Materialism in Indian Philosophy

Rahul Yadav
7 min readNov 2, 2019

Materialism is a term most of us are aware of. The term generally is mentioned negatively where most often we hear claims such as, society has become too materialistic because we think that more and more people in the modern time pursue sensual pleasures, instead of spiritual pleasures. India as a society has traditionally been thought of as spiritual rather than materialistic, but this is not true. India has a very long tradition of materialistic philosophy, which dates back to the Vedic period. This philosophy is the Charavaka, also known as Lokayata philosophy or Brhaspatya philosophy. In this article let us learn more about it.

The founder of Charvaka philosophy as mentioned in the Vedas is Brihaspati, although there is no direct evidence of the existence of him. The primary literature of the charvakas was mentioned to be the Brihaspati sutra, which has long being lost. So everything that we know about Brihaspati sutra is through secondary literature, which talks about them. How did this philosophy got the name Charvaka is unclear, some speculate that char means to “chew” so Charavaka followers got their name as someone “who chews his own self or soul”. The name Lokayata means “popular amongst people” so scholars speculate that this philosophy got the name Lokayata for being popular amongst people. Brahaspatya is just the name given to the followers of Brihaspati.

The oldest recorded scholar on Charavaka philosophy is Ajita Kesakambali, who got his name kesakambali because he used to wear a garment made up of human hairs. He is believed to be the contemporary of Buddha and Mahavira and is thought to have laid down the final doctrines of the Charvakas. Nothing is left of his teachings as well and everything we know comes from secondary sources. Moreover, although Charavaka philosophy is blamed to be Materialistic and Hedonistic, Ajita Kesakamabali is mentioned to have lived an ascetic life. Therefore, we should be very careful in judging his philosophy.

No other philosophy has been vilified more than the Charavaka philosophy. There is mention of the Charvaka in both the Ramayana and the Mahabhaarata. In Ramayana, when Bharata goes to the forest to bring Rama back to Ayodhya, Jabali who is a Charavaka goes with him. Jabali argues with Rama and says that one is…

Rahul Yadav

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