Moving Beyond the Limits of Profit through Shubh Lābh

From kirana stores to home doors, to service sector units to large production houses, shubh lābh is all pervasive in the Indian economic process.
Keywords: Shubh Labh, Swastika, Trader, Indus Valley Civilisation, Silk Route, Vedic, Symbolism, Puranic, Literature.
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(Image courtesy Faience button seal (H99-3814/8756-01) with swastika motif found on the floor of Room 202 (Trench 43).

Five thousand years ago in Lothal, one of the southern most cities of Indus Valley civilisation a seal bearing the mark of a Swastika was impressed on bags of gems, micro gold beads and valuable ornaments on the coast of the Arabian Sea by a trader. Found in recent times in the modern Bhāl region of Gujarat, thousands of years later, the seal continues to tell the story of the flourishing business and trade of the Indian sub-continent, around which also revolved the silk route.

Clad in an Indian cotton shawl, the trader was probably sending away precious goods across the Arabian Sea to Egypt or Bahrain. The button seal, now rests in a museum and is one of the oldest (3700 BCE) surviving representations of the Indian swastika. In Vedic terminology, Swastika is nothing but a saṃdhi of the two Sanskrit terms swah and asti, with the former being derived from the root su meaning ‘well’ and asti ‘be it so’.

Swastika is entrenched in Indian practices recalled and enforced in times of genesis of something that is to be for good or prosperity. Over millennia of recorded Indian tradition, the swastika came to be associated with Shubh-lābh in the Indian mind. The philosophical significance being profound, its implications were brought to the knowledge of the average Indian through the narration that Shubh and Lābh are sons of Ganeṣa, born from his wives Riddhi and Siddhi, respectively.

The symbolism was an attempt to engender a culture of welfare among the people of a civilisation that continues to grow and flourish and harbour many lessons for modern management practices across the world. It tells the world that business and ethics have always been two sides of the same coin with the former being unable to exist on a long-term basis without the latter. In fact, recent definitions show that entities that just enter the market and operate for a few months or years in an economy are not businesses but just transactions under the entire macro-economic matrix.

Shubh means auspicious and lābh means gain, prosperity, success, fortune, protection and thereby total well-being. Shubh on the left and lābh on the right implies employing pure means to achieve pure ends or ethical means for ethical ends –loksaṃgraha. The underlying meaning is well expressed by the dictum – Sarve Santu Sukhinah, Sarve santu Niramaya. Sarve Bhadrani Pashyantu, Ma Kaschiddukhbhagbhavet– (Bṛhad Araṇyaka Upaniṣad)- implying ‘May all be happy, remain free from illness, see the auspicious and not suffer’.

From kirana stores to home doors, to service sector units to large production houses, shubh lābh is all pervasive in the Indian economic process. It captures not only the ethos of our work culture but on a closer reading explains the business cycle of an organisation or professional.  The swastika lies at the centre of a welfare economics encompassing both socialistic and capitalist initiative. They are pillars of a socially responsible sustainable business where all and stakeholders are cared for.

Vedic and Purānic literature explain the four bent arms of the swastika represent the four puruśārthas (human goals)- dharma, artha, kām and mokṣa. The first three together are the trivarga which govern worldly action. Interestingly, each quadrant signifies a stage of value creation. Trivarga in combination like the strands of a rope, suggests that professionalism lies in conducting business in a spirit of yajña or selflessness. In social distress, businesses suffer and if businesses are unstable, being driven by selfish goals, they are unsustainable and damage the socio-economic fabric.

The four quadrants represented here, each have a single door through which prosperity or the selfish motives disrupting it may enter. In this sense it is both a negatively and positively prescriptive model. Purely in economic connotations here (as Indian thought is not uni-dimensional but encompasses multiple perspectives), these quadrants can be interpreted as below-

  1. Shubh is the resource base of any business—material as well as non-material. It refers to the fountain of Truth and Righteousness. It includes the ethical sourcing and employment of the factors of production- land, labour, capital and entrepreneurship.
  2. Lābh refers to the focus on earning profit or breaking even (in micro economic terms) with the aim of dharma that results in gain for all stakeholders. This also involves using the environment and ecological resources responsibly and avoiding wastages (the issue of carbon footprints is an ideal example).
  3. Sad-artha refers to artha earned through right means as sad means good or unvitiated. It lies between the capitalism (asad-artha) and lābh (socialism) quadrants. It is not socialism nor capitalism but means value creation for loksaṃgraha
  4. Asad-artha refers to the employment of profit for wrong means, unjust distribution of gains and unfair utilisation of the results of collective action. Once overtaken by personal ambition and greed, blinded by unguided indriyās or sense organs, the symphony between jn͂āna, bhakti and karma become a cacophony leading to anarchy within a system. An entrepreneur or entity that falls in this category much like Vijay Mallayas and Nirav Modis of today,is on a path of self-destruction. Satyam chief Ramalinga Raju spelt it out clearly on the day of the collapse of his company in his statement to the stock exchange saying that he was riding a tiger that was now ready to consume him. The tiger unfortunately was his own creation.

The very practice of writing shubh lābh and drawing the swastika is to bring value creation through fair means for equitable growth. If the principles laid within are not followed, the entire economic process collapses. It positively suggests employing ethical means at every stage and doing one’s dharmasvadharma and sādharaṇa dharma for welfare of the organic whole, which in turn allows one to practice and profess a certain economic action. Negatively it warns people not to open the door to greed- kām, krodha, lobha and moha -through the fourth quadrant.

Ignorance of its actual relevance caused by hundreds of years of one-sided and myopic Western narration of the Satiyā, forced the modern world to draw out rules such as corporate social responsibility (CSR), labour protection laws etc. in reaction to acts of selfishness and unethical practices. Most of these could have been averted by simply delving into such ancient Indian models that are holistic in their framework.

The Bhāgavat Mahā Purāṇa takes the story of the third quadrant further, in a bid to prevent one from falling in the last. It mentions how income must be distributed by an earning member or entity. The first portion must be taken out for performing dharma-oriented deeds such as public welfare and environmental protection (CSR). Secondly, a portion must be kept aside for unforeseen contingencies. Thirdly, a huge part must be reinvested towards the blossoming of the business and fourthly the livelihood of all engaged in the project must be suitably provided for. Final and residual amounts should be used for the well-being of family and relatives. Even the Mahābhārata suggests that the householder or breadwinner must eat last and so must a king after having taken care of his kingdom.

Contemplation and intuition of Shubh Lābh brings to the fore how many business challenges can be met and holistic development (or in modern terms development economics) can be achieved. The discussion here, is not an exhaustive one and does not represent all the ramifications of the model to resolve problems and prepare a roadmap for lokasaṃgraha. The universal implications it bears within itself are beyond the scope of this article and even for isolated human minds.


  3. Subramuniyaswami, Satguru Sivaya. Loving Ganeṣa. Himalayan Academy (USA: 2000).
  4. Garg, Ruchi and Saluja Deepika. A Business Paradigm for Corporate Shubh Labh- An Inquest Study. Jindal Journal of Business Research. Sage Publications (Sonepat: 2017).
  5. Shekhar, B K. Management Guru – Shri Ganesha: The Lord of Success. Diamond Pocket Books (Delhi: 2010).


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  • Highly researched article presenting essence of our culture in life, trade n business. Ethical approach to business takes us forward to serve ‘ Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam.

Gunjan Pradhan Sinha

Gunjan Pradhan Sinha is an academician, journalist and independent researcher. She is the author of the book Dharma in Governance and has published over 2000 articles as a columnist in leading Indian dailies such as The Indian Express, The Economic Times and The Financial Express. In the initial part of her career, she plunged into a career of journalism writing extensively on public policy issues spanning over 8 years. She taught Philosophy at St. Stephen’s College for over 8 years from where she graduated as well. She also taught at Lady Shri Ram College, Miranda House and Jindal Global University. Currently, she teaches business ethics at Bhavan's Usha Lakshmi institute of management.

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