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By Swami Harshananda

Bhrama literally means ‘that which is unsteady,’ ‘error or illusion’.

According to the philosophical works, knowledge is of two kinds :

  1. Pramā or true knowledge
  2. Bhrama or false knowledge

Bhrama (also called ‘viparyaya’), sometimes described as ‘error’ or ‘illusion’, may be caused by the defects in the perceptive system, which includes the sense-organs, the mind, or certain external factors or even false logic.

When one moon is seen as two or the conch as yellow in color, the defect lies in the sense-organs. If one infers the existence of fire at a distance by mistaking the mist there for smoke, the error is caused by an external factor. If some ‘scriptures’ are accepted as ‘true and authoritative’ by a section of people, those opposed to them attribute the ‘error’ to ‘false logic.’

The oft-quoted examples for bhrama in the Vedāntic texts are :

  • Rajjusarpa-nyāya : Seeing a snake in a rope in insufficient light
  • Śukti-rajata-nyāya : Silver in nacre on a moonlit night
  • Jala-marīcikā-nyāya : Water in a mirage on a hot summer day
  • Sthāṇu- puruṣa-nyāya : A person in a stump of tree

A detailed analysis of some of these examples especially the śukti-rajata-nyāya—in order to determine the exact nature of the error is a special feature of these texts. The word ‘bhrama’ is sometimes used to denote a covered arcade or an enclosed place of religious retirement meant for mendicants, generally attached to a temple.


  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore