abhi/abhIh - Interesting Word/s in Sanskrit - an Analysis [Long]

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at cco.caltech.edu
Thu Apr 10 12:52:22 UTC 1997

On Thu, 10 Apr 1997, Shikaripura Harihareswara wrote:


> " abhinava-shankara:   According to the annals of Heads of 
> the Sanctuary (Matha) in Kanchi-kamakoti, it seems that 
> there were four  Shankaras after the Acharya Sri Shankara.
> Among these, Sri KripA-shankara is the ninth. Sri Ujjwala-shnakara
> is the fifteenth. Sri MUka-shanakara is the twnty-fifth.
> The thirty-eigth Head is this Swamiji 'abhinava-shankara'.

The only problem I have with this account is this. Adi Sankara lived from
788-820 AD ("offical" date.) Research on internal evidence of his works
suggests that he might have lived closer to 700 AD. Even if we assume
that Adi Sankara died as early as 650 AD, the time interval upto 841 AD is
less than two hundred years. Don't you think that is a very short period
of time to account for thirty-eight successors to a Sankaracharya title?
If this account were true, there is just five years or so available for
each successor. Does this sound reasonable? 

It is also incredible that all four later incarnations became the heads of
the disputed Kanchi matha. I hope you are aware that the succession of the
Kanchi matha is very controversial, and that it is highly probable, if not
certain, that the Kanchi matha was not established by Adi Sankara at all.
The general advaita tradition only names four mathas - Sringeri, Puri,
Dwaraka and Badrinath - as having been established by Adi Sankara. The ten
daSanAmI orders also affiliate themselves only with these four. Whatever
be the history or the truth behind this tradition, the currently very
famous Kanchi matha is conspicuous by its absence. The earliest evidence
about this matha dates to the early 19th century. Therefore, it would take
a highly credulous reader to accept this story of "abhinava-Sankara"

> He is the son of Sri Chidambara Vishvajit. 

The Sankara vijayam of Anantanandagiri says that it is Adi Sankara who is
the son of Chidambaram Visvajit. This text gives absolutely no indication
that this birth was the fifth in a row of incarnations. I don't understand
how another "abhinava-Sankara" can be said to be the son of Chidambaram
Visvajit. Unless, of course, the first and the so-called fifth 
incarnations were so alike, that even their fathers had identical names!

> As he traveled round the country several times like the
> original preceptor (Acharya Shankara),  and vigorously propagated
> the ideals of Advaita and rejuvinated it, he was nick-named as
> 'abhinava-shankara'. He has another nick-name 'dhIra-shankara'
> because of his fierce debating character, a terror to his opponent
> in debate (prativAdi-bhayanakara). According to a book
> 'shakarEndu-vilAsa' by Sri vAkpati bhatta, his fame had spread 
> even to other countries abroad like China, Turkey and Persia.

And yet, these countries know almost nothing of advaita vedaanta, no? 

Not all hagiography can be accepted as truth or as tradition. Has this
vAkpati bhaTTa composed any other works? Is the Sankarendu-vilAsa
available anywhere in India? My bet is that the work doesn't even exist,
except as a quotation in Kanchi matha publications. 

> He was the head of the kAma-kOti pITha for 52 years and attained
> nirvANa on AShADa shukla pratipat day of siddhArthi samvatsara
> of kali era 3941".

Now, 52 of the 200 years between Adi and abhinava Sankara have been
accounted for. This leaves less than 150 years to accomodate the
intervening 36 heads of the Kanchi matha. Less than four years for each.
If we take into account that the Kanchi matha's account says that
Suresvara, Sankara's immediate disciple, lived for a very long time, there
is just no time left to fit in the other 35. Of course, none of these
absurdities arise if the entire account given by the Kanchi matha is

What really bothers me about the Kanchi matha's account is that extremely
precise information (down to the tithi, nakshatra, paksha, mAsa and
samvatsara) is given for the birth, ascension and death of each one of its
successors to the Sankaracharya title. Such information is generally not
known for most Indian personalities. And sannyAsins are not supposed to
care for their pUrvASrama lives very much. There is a very real
probability that although the Kanchi matha's list is very precise, it is
precisely wrong. 

> I have quoted above extracts from the article by 'H.G'
> (= Prof. G Hanumanthachar, President, Sub-Committe on Philosophy
> (tattva-shAstra), Kannada Encyclopedia, Mysore, India). 
> Taking a difference of 3101 years between kali & common era,
> his probable date would be  'died circa 840AD'.

The story of "abhinava-Sankara" can only make sense if Adi Sankara can be
shown to have lived around the 5th century BC, which is the date given by
the Kanchi matha. However, this date conflicts with internal evidence from
Sankara's works. Of more importance to the living advaita tradition, this
date also conflicts with the widely established tradition. As you may
be aware, the Sringeri record places Adi Sankara in the time of
Vikramaditya, who has been identified as a Chalukya king, who ruled
between 650 and 680 AD. And in general, the Sringeri records are more
extensive and have proved to be more reliable than those of any other
matha. B. Lewis Rice (editor of Epigraphica Carnatica), Hayavadana Rao
(Mysore Gazetteer) and A. K. Shastry have studied these records in some
detail. Much earlier, Abbe Dubois had raised some objections to the
records of the Sringeri matha, but these have since been fully countered. 

As an aside, if they want to maintain some academic standards, Indian
editors of Indian language encyclopedias should be more critical about the 
information they include, don't you think? 

> -Sincerely,
> Harihareswara
> PS: Is the book 'Sri rudra-bhAShya' you have quoted available?
> Where can I get a copy of it, please? Thanks!

The University of California library system has copies in its general
reserves and in the southern campus (UCLA, UCI) reserves. I'm sure you can
get it through an interlibrary loan request. 

S. Vidyasankar

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