Madhava, Vidyaranya, Sringeri, and Kulke

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Fri Jun 2 13:02:19 EDT 2000

Many books and wedding invitations of 20th century seek the blessing of the
Kanchi Sankaracarya. Even an academic publication, "MM. Professor Kuppuswami
Sastri Birth-Centenary Commemoration Volume- Part II" of the Kuppuswami
Sastri Research Institute edited by S. S. Janaki (1985) praises Sankara, the
Kanchi maTha's Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati, Jayendra Sarasvati, and
Vijayendra Sarasvati. Is this simply a modern behavior? Is there any evidence
in the Tamil tradition showing that such praising of the leader of a maTha
one is affiliated with existed in the 13th century? Yes. The tiruviLaiyATal
purANam by nampi praises nampi's spiritual teacher vin2Ayakan2 who was in
turn a disciple of veNkATan2 of mALikai maTha of Chidambaram. Given this, the
absence of praise of any Sankarite jagadguru in paramArtta tarican2am, the
first advaita text in Tamil, is significant indeed.

A month ago, before I read Kulke's article, Tapasyananda's translation of
Madhaviya Sankaravijaya, and Tamil Ilakkiya Varalaru , I had accepted the
view of the proponents of the theory that Sankara established four maThas at
Sringeri, Puri, Dwaraka, and Badrinath and that the claim of Kanchi that it
was also founded by Sankara  had no validity. Now, it looks as if what Kanchi
did later was qualitatively not different from that done by Sringeri and
other maThas but only a few centuries earlier.

Madhaviya Sankaravijaya seems to have taken stories from different religious
traditions and woven them into a hagiography of Sankara. For instance, the
motif of Sankara asking for a bhiksha of debate seems to be modeled after the
Srivaishnavite parAzara bhaTTar asking for a bhiksha of debate from mAdhava,
the future naJjIyar. (Or do we have any Buddhist or Jain precursors for this
motif?) Similarly, Sankara's life of 32 years seems to be simply twice the
life span of 16 years of puranic Markandeya. . Given this nature of this
text, it looks as if we really do not have much reliable biographical
information about Sankara. I wonder how professional historians could base
any historical conclusions about Sankara from this text. Also, discounting
what Sankaravijaya says, is there any internal evidence in the advaita texts
showing that Suresvara, Padmapada, Hastamalaka, and Todaka were indeed
Sankara's direct disciples? Thanks in advance.

S. Palaniappan

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