Madhava, Vidyaranya, Sringeri, and Kulke

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue May 16 03:45:16 EDT 2000

Part II.

Robert Zydenbos <zydenbos at GMX.LI> wrote:

> > Hacker's animus towards Vivekananda and other neo-Vedantins leads him to
> > think that Vidyaranya was an early predecessor of the brand of
> > Hinduism that developed in the 19th century. [...]
> > In this particular case, the element of confrontation in
> > Hacker's work has overwhelmed everything else.
>looks rather speculative in a similar way: a conclusion which one may
>or may not accept. Yes, Hacker disliked Vivekananda, Radhakrishnan
>a.o.; but his description of Vidyaranya may be appropriate nevertheless.

I present my statement as a personal opinion, on a mailing list, which no
scholar is going to cite in a publication, not least because I am not a
professional in the field. On the other hand, what may have been tentative
or speculative with Hacker gains the status of a conclusion with Kulke, and
will end up being cited as having been proved beyond question, by others who
come later. My only aim is to provoke people to question some of this. My
other questions have to do with larger issues associated with how south
India viewed Islam and Muslims in the 13th-14th centuries, but I won't get
into that now.

>This is not quite clear. Does this mean: a pupil does not install his
>teacher? But this is what happened when, in that same part of the
>country, in the 12th century, Basava organised the Virasaiva community
>around the Anubhavama.n.tapa, where he installed his guru Allama on the

But Basava did not go further and claim that this was an institution that
had existed for many centuries before him. Also, note that in the earliest
Vijayanagara inscriptions, Vidyasankara does not seem to be a living person
at all. He is already a "devaru," for whom a temple is being built and
worship is being instituted. Bharati Tirtha and Vidyaranya, on the other
hand, are "SrIpAdaru"-s. Neither Hacker's postulate of the disciple setting
up the guru as the head of a matha, nor Kulke's postulate that the guru
himself was probably responsible, does proper justice to the Vijayanagara
epigraphical evidence. Finally, note that the nearby village of Simhagiri is
called Hale-Sringeri, or old-Sringeri. There are some clearly
pre-Vijayanagara records there, but these have generally been published only
in matha publications. I don't know if independent scholars have looked at
these and dated them more accurately.

>But that is still separated from Sankara by a few centuries! Are such
>inscriptions relevant in this matter? Furthermore, saluting Sankara
>does not mean that S. founded a ma.tha.

Perhaps not, but note that the said inscription is described as a "seal" of
Vidyasankara, in Epigraphica Carnatica. At the least, it shows that these
people were already present in the general area, and much before the
founding of Vijayanagara. And let's not forget that Madhva from Udipi, who
broke away from the Sankaran monastic tradition, was also pre-Vijayanagara.
There had to have been a substantial presence of the Sankaran tradition in
that part of the country, before someone could break away from it.

>We should bear in mind that Hacker and Kulke are not interested in
>defending any tradition; on the contrary, as modern scholars who are
>seeking a comprehensive understanding of what has happened in India,

I appreciate all this, but it seems to me that a comprehensive understanding
of things Indian should be based on a comprehensive examination of data. It
is not as if what I quote are newly discovered pieces of evidence that were
not available a few decades ago. Kulke, for example, ignores all the
literary evidence, both from philosophical works and from hagiographies of
Vidyaranya. Within the latter set of texts, there are again a few
conflicting claims, which also need to be evaluated. I myself champion
impartiality, notwithstanding respect for the tradition, for I think that
the tradition is strong enough to subject itself to an impartial
examination. All I want to point out is that other constructions can be put
on the situation, when you take a wider set of data into consideration. I am
not so much interested in "defending" or trying to "prove" that the
tradition is right, as I am in showing that the statements that have been
made about Vidyaranya or Vidyasankara are most probably wrong, and for good
critical reasons.

For example, take Kulke's view of the legitimation of Vijayanagara. It is
not clear to me why Sankara needs to be invoked for this. The Hoysalas were
Jainas, and later, Vaishnavas. Many other kings in the Karnataka region were
followers of Kalamukha, Virasaiva and other kinds of Saiva teachers. Why
should Sankara become important only in the 14th century, and not earlier?
To suggest that Vidyaranya invoked Sankara's name primarily for this purpose
does not seem legitimate at all.

>Jainas all across Karnataka have a tradition that Sringeri was a Jaina
>centre and that ;Saaradaadevii in Sringeri first was the yakshi
>Padmaavatii. Inscriptional evidence of a Jaina presence is older than

I've always been puzzled by this claim. It seems to me that it would have
been easier to Brahminize the Jaina Padmavati into a form of Sri/Lakshmi,
through an association with the lotus. The Sankaravijaya legend of Sankara's
composition of the Kanakadhara hymn to Lakshmi would have also come in
handy. Not to mention that there already was a Padmavati as a consort of
Vishnu in south India, as at Tirupati. Why Brahminize her as Sarada, a form
of Sarasvati, who is traditionally impoverished and at loggerheads with
Lakshmi?!! Iconographically also, it does not seem to make much sense.

Incidentally, there is inscriptional evidence from the Vishnu-Janardana
temple at Sringeri, from the 10th century, predating the Jaina evidence
cited by Kulke. I don't doubt the presence of all these competing traditions
throughout the Karnataka countryside. But what about the mutual competition
between Jaina and Virasaiva claims about having been at Sringeri?

>that of the presence of a Sankarite ma.tha. We know that the Sankarite
>tradition has internal contradictions (Sringeri-Kanchi; the
>;Sa:nkaravijayas give conflicting views about Sankara). It is suspect
>that there are no ancient records of a ma.tha founded there by Sankara.

How about a reconstruction that postulates only that the character of the
Advaita monastic tradition changed in the 14th century? The recent schism
created by the rise of the Dvaita school would have been at least as
important a factor as the invasion by the Khilji army and the consequent
founding of Vijayanagara. It may be that in the 9th-12th centuries, the
monks confined themselves to forest hermitages, and only slowly came to
associate themselves with big temples and monasteries. This would parallel
the old Vedic traditions of the AraNyakas, as also the Buddhist distinction
between the "forest-monks" and the "town-monks". That would explain why
there are absolutely no ancient records indicating that Sankara established
*any* mathas at all, anywhere in India. Still, without disciple lineages and
hermitages devoted to his works, how did the Sankaran tradition even survive
through the centuries?

>We have reports that Jaina temples and sites all over Karnataka have
>been brahminised or saivised (e.g., the notorious Ellamma temple at
>Saundatti once was a Padmaavatii shrine). The brahminical opposition to
>Jainism at Sringeri was so strong that among the depictions of the
>da;saavataaras on the Vidyasankara temple the place where one would
>expect the Buddha has been filled with Gomma.te;svara.

I don't get this. Why is substitution of Gommatesvara for Buddha as part of
the Dasavataras a sign of opposition? Because of the ninth avatara being
described as one that purposely misleads people? Anyway, Brahminical
opposition to Jainism is not a sudden thing that cropped up along with the
founding of Vijayanagara. It had to have a history behind it. I speculate
along similar, if not identical, lines as yours, regarding what might have
happened in say, the 12th or the 13th centuries.

>We should not forget that Vijayanagara was not a Sankarite empire.
>Vyaasatiirtha, a yati of the Maadhva tradition, later similarly held a
>politically very highly influencial position in Vijayanagara, and the
>Maadhvas and Sankarites did not exactly see eye to eye.

Exactly. Although you could argue that this shift came only with the change
in dynasties. Vyasatirtha was influential during a later period of
Vijayanagara history, under the third dynasty. But even with the first
dynasty, there is frequent mention of a Saiva (Virasaiva?) teacher called
Kriyasakti, sometimes in the same records that also mention Vidyaranya. It
seems to me that over the centuries, Vidyaranya has come to be credited with
a greater political influence than what he really wielded. Perhaps Smartas
involved with Vijayanagara administration exaggerated the role played by
Vidyaranya. It may simply be that Harihara and Bukka endowed a pre-existing
Sankaran institution at Sringeri, as part of their wider policy of patronage
of religious institutions throughout south India.

As for Puri, I remember that Kulke cites Jorgen Lutt's work, where it has
been shown that the earliest reliable records date from Maratha times. Again
it is not clear what sort of strategic alliances with other parts of India
can be ascribed to Vidyaranya and the Vijayanagara rulers. We do know that
more often than not, Vijayanagara emperors and the Gajapatis of Orissa were
fighting each other for control of the Krishna and Godavari deltas.

>As for Saiva influences in the development of the Sankara legend (V.
>Iyer): the Virasaivas claim that one of their holy persons,
>Re.nukaacaarya (who is, I believe, associated with the Rambhapuri
>ma.tha, not far from Sringeri) gifted the Candramaulii;svara linga to
>Sringeri (which, in the view of some, means that Sringeri acknowledged
>the 'superiority' of Rambhapuri). In the case of Sringeri,
>Rambhapuri-Sringeri relations may have had something to do with the
>saiv-isation of the Sankarite tradition, which is syncretistic in any
>case (L. Renou goes so far as to say that 'orthodox' Hinduism is not
>orthodox, but 'eclectic').

The Saivization of the Sankaran tradition is a complex issue, on which my
thoughts would run into pages, so I will not get into that here. As for a
Chandramoulisvara linga at Sringeri, the above is not just a Virasaiva
claim. Sringeri's own Guruvamsakavya, probably an 18th century text, itself
says that Renukacharya/Revana-siddha gave a Sivalinga to one of the Sringeri
mathadhipatis. The poet does not seem to have seen this as an indication of
Sringeri recognizing Rambhapuri as superior. Perhaps he meant to indicate
the opposite.

Even in later times, the Virasaiva Nayaka rulers of Ikkeri/Bednur were
patrons of the Sringeri matha. Interestingly, these Nayakas were also the
sole supporters of the last few "emperors" of Vijayanagara, at a time when
the Mysore Wodeyars and the Telugu Nayakas in Madurai and Tanjavur were all
breaking away. The controversy between Sringeri and Kanchi seems to have
more to do with this period of post-Vijayanagara history than with anything
from an earlier time. There is some textual evidence for this in the Sankara

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