Rta, Satya, Dharma: Introduction

This article is part 1 of 9 in the series Rta Satya Dharma

In the Hindu way of life we are guided by four purusharthas (पुरुषार्थ) –

  • dharma (धर्म) - righteousness, global ethic, moral principle
  • artha (अर्थ) - wealth, resources, means
  • kama (काम) - desire, love, attachment
  • moksha (मोक्ष) - liberation, release, bliss

All of them are important for humans to conduct their lives and carry on their work. The fascinating part is the order of their importance. It can be understood as follows. Think of the four purusharthas as four brothers who are all united and dharma as the eldest brother. If you ill-treat the elder brother and side with any of the other siblings, the result will only be disastrous. You can befriend the rest of the brothers but without the consent of the elder brother whatever you earn will be futile. You have to earn wealth (artha) and you need to have desire (kama) but the way of obtaining and sustaining has to be only by means of dharma.

Dharma sets such principles that are morally high and in the well-being of everyone involved. We often find ourselves at crossroads and each of the four in conflict with one another. But this is not the reality. This is just an illusion. An illusion created because of improper understanding of their inter-relationships and the inability to respect the four goals in the right order. One needs clear vision to clear out the haziness and achieve all four goals. Such a vision of dharma can be well-perceived when one sees using the understanding of rta (universal cosmic order) and satya (truth), which clear the way for dharma. As one gets the insights from rta, satya, and dharma, it's fairly easy to establish an equilibrium among these goals and maintain a civilized society.

In order to sustain a civilized society and culture, the values that govern and guide them become relevant. In the context of a nation such as India, to understand the premise on which it has been organized and managed, it is of paramount importance to recognize and comprehend the hidden order which has aided in its long journey. They are rta, satya, and dharma, which are intertwined.

Rta (ऋत) refers to the cosmic order which works as an invisible hand but manifests in the universe through the forms of creation, sustenance, and destruction. It governs the happenings through its laws and this can be realized by no one else but the human being. The power of free will and the quest of knowledge help human beings realize rta, which further transforms in thought, word, and action. Rta is in the nature of things.

Satya (सत्य) is truth. It is more commonly prevalent and recognized. Truth is the spoken form of what is real (we also call it as 'fact'). It defies all ambiguity and establishes certainty. It brings clarity to all perceptions and thoughts. It becomes uncontested and aligns with cosmic order.

Dharma should be ideally termed as 'global ethic.' Truth is made important to us by its ability to serve this global ethic. Dharma is again an elusive concept, for it is abstract. As per निरुक्त (semantic etymology), the word 'dharma' is derived from its root 'dhr' meaning 'to hold' or 'to support' or 'to bear.' If rta is cosmic order, dharma is the one that sustains the order. Dharma is a natural corollary. It is what is naturally right. It helps us establish harmony in life. It signifies the way life ought to be. It helps in the transformation of what is natural to ethical to the universal order.

Often, implicit things alone will not suffice to convey the right ways and put it in the right order or perspective. It operates at various levels from the microorganisms to the evolved highest manifestation of the universe. It paints the picture of the do-s and don’t-s, as well as the ideas and ideals that we should aspire for.

Satya and dharma serve as a framework for us to recognize rta. It is the relentless pursuit of humans to find rta and when that is realized, one experiences the unbound joy of becoming one with the universal cosmic order. The choices we make in our everyday life are largely influenced by what is our relative position on these three parameters with respect to the society at large. "I am the truth and proof of my own existence. Rta is the force working behind this. Dharma helps me operate it. If I move away from my purpose and from truth, I violate dharma but if I work in the way which is the natural truth then I adhere to dharma."

To be continued...

This is an Introduction to the English translation of a Kannada monograph titled 'ಋತ, ಸತ್ಯ, ಧರ್ಮ' by Dr. D V Gundappa. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.




Haricharan has been an entrepreneur and software marketer. He has a deep interest in Indian history, culture, and Carnatic music. In 2014, he translated D V Gundappa's classic 'Baligondu Nambike' into English as 'Faith for Life.'

Prekshaa Publications

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...