Does aṭṭakaraṇa mean “judgement hall”?

In a number of places in the suttas, there’s reference to a king sitting in judgement. This occurs at SN 3.7, MN 89, and DN 14. In each case we have the term aṭṭakaraṇa, in locative, together with nisīdati, to sit. While there is a great confusion in readings (aṭṭa, attha, aḍḍa, probably others) clearly we’re dealing with a court procedure.

Cone and CPD give “hall of judgement” for the meaning of aṭṭakaraṇa, a reading followed by Ven Bodhi. (I can’t find the term in the PTS dict. Also, I have briefly checked a couple of Chinese parallels, but can’t find anything decisive.)

On the face of it, this is an odd meaning. Karaṇa means “action, doing”, and I can’t find anywhere else where it means a place. The sources don’t cite commentarial support, and in fact I can’t find a commentarial explanation. The commentary for DN 14 uses the term vinicchayaṭṭhāne, which clearly means “place of judgement”.

It seems to me more likely that aṭṭakaraṇa simply means “making judgement” aka “judging”, or more generally “carrying out a legal case, i.e. litigating” and the idiom aṭṭakaraṇe nisīdati means “sitting in judgement”. The CPD acknowledges both of these meanings, but Cone considers all the references as part of “judgement hall”.

Elsewhere aṭṭa+√kṛ clearly stands for “litigating”; at Bi Ss 1 we have Ussayavādikā nāma aḍḍakārikā vuccati.

This even seems to be required by the sutta contexts. In SN 3.7 King Pasenadi, sick of the corruption he sees in court, says:

‘alaṃ dāni me aḍḍakaraṇena, bhadramukho dāni aḍḍakaraṇena paññāyissatī’

Translated by Ven Bodhi as:

‘I’ve had enough now with the judgement hall! Now it is Good Face who will be known by his judgements!’

(Good Face is an familiar and affectionate term of address, perhaps “my dear”; he’s probably referring to his son.)

Notice how the Pali has two phrases using aṭṭakaraṇa in instrumental, but the translation gives one as “judgement hall” and the other as “judgements”. True, the two instrumental uses are grammatically distinct, but it seems odd to assign each a separate meaning. I would suggest:

‘Enough with passing judgement today. Now my dear will be known by his judgement.’

This interpretation is complicated by a passage we find at DN 17 and DN 26. Here, rather than the very grounded and realistic accounts of court life, we have the supernatural Wheel of the Emperor, which flies all over the kingdom, making all submit before it, before flying back to the palace, where it stands:

antepuradvāre attha­ka­ra­ṇapa­mukhe

Here the addition of pamukha suggests a physical place (“in front of”). But as you can see, the reading is uncertain, and attha is favored by the Mahasangiti. The meaning is unclear, as you can see by these two renderings by TW Rhys Davids:

DN 17: on the open terrace in front of the entrance to the inner apartments

DN 26: in front of the judgment hall at the entrance to the inner apartments

In both of these instances, Walshe has “as he was trying a case”. He notes that Rhys Davids omitted this phrase, but as we have seen, he does in fact include it, but translates differently.

One problem with all of these interpretations is that pamukha does not seem to be used in the Suttas in the sense “in front”. Rather, it means “chief, foremost”. Notably, it occurs repeatedly in these same suttas in exactly this sense: the “foremost” of foods, palaces, and so on. It would seem then to be similar to “High Court”. Rather conveniently, “court” also may mean a place or the people in the place, so we can have:

By the gate of the royal compound, at the High Court.

In any case, it seems unwise to base our interpretation on such an uncertain passage.


Bhante could it be that aṭṭakaraṇa is the person, the judge himself? aṭṭakaraṇa, in locative, together with nisīdati might be to “sit as a judge”. attha­ka­ra­ṇapa­mukhe might be “in front of the judge”. See entry for dharmādhikaraṇa in Monier Williams Sanskrit dictionary. You could also make an excursion in dharmasutra literature (P.V. Kane) for Sanskrit uses of this term. I don’t have time to do this but it could be worthwhile.


Interesting suggestion, thanks. I’m not sure what to make of it at this stage.

Just checking the Skt dicts, it seems curious that they have no parallel for either aṭṭakaraṇa or atthakaraṇa. Pali of course regularly uses adhikaraṇa in the sense of “legal proceedings”, and I can’t help wondering if there is not some confusion.

Dharmādhikaraṇa seems to mean both “judge” and “place of judgement”. We might compare with English “court”, which means the people in the trial, the judge, and the building.

Perhaps underlying my unease is that I have my doubts whether royal courts in the Buddha’s day would be large and complex enough to warrant a specialized “court room”. I suspect that there was basically one throne room where royal business, including hearing legal cases, would be carried out. Having said which, there’s no reason such a space should not be referred to as a “hall of judgment”.


The conflation of the readings (aḍḍa and adhi) seems to have been known to the commentaries… Sp.Pāci.IV,906︰Ettha ca aḍḍoti vohārikavinicchayo vuccati,yaṁ pabbajitā “adhikaraṇan”tipi vadanti…

If “adhikaraṇa” can mean a place in Sanskrit, it shows that the commentarial reading of “judgement hall” for DN14 at least isn’t wildly implausible (but it doesn’t show that it’s a good reading, either…). The additional Sanskritic meaning of “judge” is unhelpful.

As for something much more helpful…I did a quick web search for 金輪寶 and found that "大樓炭經(西晉法立、法炬共譯 CBETA T01 No.23) offers one explanation of what is going in in DN26 in particular. I don’t know if you saw this?

The [insert name of treasure] appears when the wheel-turning monarch is sitting in court with all the officials. —> maybe the translator might had a text similar to antepuradvāre attha­ka­ra­ṇapa­mukhe available and read pamukha/pramukha as “[guild] heads”???


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Interesting, thanks.

No i did not, so thanks.

I have some further (belated) comments about Chinese parallels for DN 26. DA 6 states that the wheel stops in the sky above the palace gate 金輪寶在宮門上虛空中 住. At first glance, this isn’t very helpful. But I wanted to back-translate it into Sanskrit to see if maybe someone just misheard in the oral recitation process. I had some luck!

I think 上虛空 in DA6 translates for adi-ākāśa (the “above space”). Applying sandhi rules, this becomes adyākāśa. Adyakasha is in fact, a word in Sanskrit and modern Hindi, which means “chairperson” or president. I don’t know the age of this word but I suspect that what the translators of DA6 (mis)heard was an oral text that indicated that the wheel-turning monarch was sitting as president of the court. But they didn’t know what an Adyakasha was, so they gave it as “above space”.

Therefore, evidence from a reconstructed Sanskrit or Prakit original for DA6 suggests that the role of judge or superintendent may be indicated.

I looked at the other identified parallels and most of them actually omit any kind of proper translation for adhikarana although SA 1231 gives 3 meanings for adhikarana i.e. 波斯匿王於正殿上自觀察王事 (於正殿= in the judgement hall) (上自 from above where adhikarana= doing from “above”) 觀察王事 (attending to the business of kingship). I think the translator might have been a bit unsure and wanted to cover all bases?

Hope that helps in some small way.


That does help, thanks. I’ll review this when I come to the relevant DN passages.

I found out the age of the word adhyakṣa as well (it is from dharmaśāstra):ṣa

I just checked this, but it is a different word. Adhyakṣa is from adhi-akṣa, literally “overseer”. It’s unlikely to have been confused with adhyākāśa, which is, in any case, merely hypothesized. Sorry!


Yes that was a bit wild sorry.

But back in reality I noticed something that I didn’t notice previously about aḍḍakaraṇe nisinnassa…etc in MN89 [parallel at MA213] which is given as 我坐都坐時…a “都坐” is actually a 政事堂 i.e. a hall for the business of government administration.

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A further note on this. In MN 89 we have King Pasenadi saying:

Tassa mayhaṃ, bhante, aḍḍakaraṇe nisinnassa antarantarā kathaṃ opātenti.
Yet when I’m sitting in judgement they keep on interrupting.

The idiom antarantarā kathaṃ opātenti is found in a number of places. It occurs in conjunction with a term, not for the place, but for the ongoing speech:

  • AN 5.112: bhaṇamānassa antarantarā kathaṃ opāteti
  • AN 6.60: abhidhammakathaṃ kathentānaṃ antarantarā kathaṃ opāteti
  • MN 92: Yadā cāhaṃ, bho, samaṇena gotamena saddhiṃ manteyyaṃ, mā me bhonto antarantarā kathaṃ opātetha.
  • MN 95: So vuddhānaṃ vuddhānaṃ brāhmaṇānaṃ bhagavatā saddhiṃ mantayamānānaṃ antarantarā kathaṃ opāteti.

This, I think, lends strong support for the idea that addakarana means “judgement”.


Adhikarana in sinhala means court.