Puruṣārtha (meaning “goal of a man” or “aim of a person”) is a term normally used in the plural to define three spheres of activity that encapsulate most areas of cultural activity. They are treated as options to which particular individuals can give weightings according to how they might wish to lead their life, either at specific times or throughout their life—or as in the case of the Pandavas (Mahābhārata 12, 10–18), use them to justify particular activities. As a plurality they are combined into a group called either trivarga (having three parts) or caturvarga (having four parts), and each can be broken down into their individual components: kāma (sensuality/desire), artha (wealth/power) and dharma (normative order/merit), with mokṣa (liberation) being added as a fourth in an all-encompassing scheme called caturvarga (having four parts). These translations can be problematic, as each of the individual words can be translated differently according to context. What I have suggested is a set of translations defining a kind of family resemblance underlying most of the meanings of these words. But the reality is that each word carries much weight in the Hindu context. Much more scholarly work has been done on individual components of the trivarga/caturvarga than on the respective conglomerates. In part this is because each of them developed as individual concepts, producing a large body of descriptive literature after 100 ce. Very little explicit literature in Sanskrit on the trivarga as a collective exists, and what does exist has been scarcely studied or even edited.
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