Cārvāka (Sanskrit: चार्वाक), also known as Lokāyata, is a system of Indian philosophy that assumes various forms of philosophical skepticism and religious indifference.[1] It seems named after Cārvāka[2], the probable author of the Bārhaspatya-sūtras and probably a follower of Brihaspati, who founded the Lokāyata philosophy.

In overviews of Indian philosophy, Cārvāka is classified as a "faithless" (nāstika) system, the same classification as is given to Buddhism and Jainism.[3][4] It is characterized as a materialistic and atheistic school of thought. While this branch of Indian philosophy is not considered to be part of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy, some describe evidence of a materialistic movement within Hinduism.[5][6]


Name and origins

The name Lokāyata can be traced to Kautilya's Arthashastra, which refers to three ānvīkṣikīs (logical philosophies), Yoga, Samkhya and Lokayata. Lokayata here still refers to logical debate (disputatio, "criticism") in general and not to a materialist doctrine in particular. Similarly, Saddaniti and Buddhaghosa in the 5th century connect the "Lokayatas" with the Vitandas (sophists).

Only from about the 6th century is the term restricted to the school of the Lokyātikas. The name Cārvāka is first used in the 7th century by the philosopher Purandara, who refers to his fellow materialists as "the Cārvākas", and it is used by the 8th century philosophers Kamalaśīla and Haribhadra. Shankara, on the other hand, always uses Lokāyata, not Cārvāka.[7] The etymological meaning of the word Cārvāka is 'a person who is clever in speech and is extremely fond of wrangling (debate)'.

E. W. Hopkins, in his The Ethics of India (1924) assumes that Cārvāka philosophy is co-eval with Buddhism, mentioning "the old Cārvāka or materialist of the 6th century BC"; Rhys Davids assumes that lokayata in ca. 500 BC came to mean "skepticism" in general without yet being organized as a philosophical school, and that the name of a villain of the Mahabharata, Cārvāka, was attached to the position in order to disparage it. The earliest positive statement of skepticism is preserved from the epic period, in the Ramayana, Ayodhya kanda, chapter 108, where a brahmin Jabāli tries to persuade Rāma to accept the kingdom by using nāstika arguments. Rāma then refutes him in chapter 109.

O, the highly wise! Arrive at a conclusion, therefore, that there is nothing beyond this Universe. Give precedence to that which meets the eye and turn your back on what is beyond our knowledge. (2.108.17)

The Cārvāka school thus appears to have gradually grown out of generic skepticism in the Mauryan period, but its existence as an organized body cannot be ascertained for times predating the 6th century. The Barhaspatya sutras were likely also composed in Mauryan times, predating 150 BC, based on a reference in the Mahabhasya of Patanjali (7.3.45).[8]

Loss of original works

Chatterjee and Datta explain that our understanding of Cārvāka philosophy is fragmentary, based largely on criticism of the ideas by other schools, and that it is not a living tradition:

"Though materialism in some form or other has always been present in India, and occasional references are found in the Vedas, the Buddhistic literature, the Epics, as well as in the later philosophical works we do not find any systematic work on materialism, nor any organised school of followers as the other philosophical schools possess. But almost every work of the other schools states, for refutation, the materialistic views. Our knowledge of Indian materialism is chiefly based on these."[9]

Available evidence suggests that Cārvāka philosophy was set out in the Barhaspatya sutras, probably in Mauryan times. Neither this text nor any other original text of the Cārvāka school of philosophy has been preserved. Its principal works are known only from fragments cited by its Hindu and Buddhist opponents. Cārvāka philosophy appears to have died out some time in the 15th century.

Countering the argument that the Cārvākas opposed all that was good in the Vedic tradition, Dale Riepe says, "It may be said from the available material that Cārvākas hold truth, integrity, consistency, and freedom of thought in the highest esteem."[10]

Tattvopaplavasimha of Jayaraasi Bhatta

The Tattvopaplavasimha of Jayarashi Bhatta (ca. 8th century) is often cited as the only extant authentic Cārvāka text, but which also shows Madhyamaka influence. It is, in any case, among the most important documents for the study of the Cārvāka school.


The Cārvāka school of philosophy had a variety of atheistic, materialistic, and naturalistic beliefs.

No life after death

The Carvaka believed there was no afterlife, no life after death

Springing forth from these elements itself
solid knowledge is destroyed
when they are destroyed—
after death no intelligence remains.[11]


The Carvaka believed in a form of naturalism, that is that all things happen by nature, and come from nature (not from any deity or Supreme Being).

Fire is hot, water cold,
refreshingly cool is the breeze of morning;
By whom came this variety?
They were born of their own nature.[11]

Sensual indulgence