Madhava, Vidyaranya, Sringeri, and Kulke

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Sat Jun 10 02:08:13 UTC 2000

>Many books and wedding invitations of 20th century seek the blessing of the
>Kanchi Sankaracarya. Even an academic publication, "MM. Professor
>Sastri Birth-Centenary Commemoration Volume- Part II" of the Kuppuswami
>Sastri Research Institute edited by S. S. Janaki (1985) praises Sankara,
>Kanchi maTha's Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati, Jayendra Sarasvati, and
>Vijayendra Sarasvati. Is this simply a modern behavior? Is there any
>in the Tamil tradition showing that such praising of the leader of a maTha
>one is affiliated with existed in the 13th century?

What is currently happening in the Tamil south is quite unprecedented in its
scope. Apparently, the blessings of the Kanchi Acharyas are absolutely
necessary for the sun to shine and the wind to blow, to wake up in the
morning and to go to sleep at night. All very nice no doubt, for
guru-bhakti, but this is traditionally only expected of close disciples, not
out of every living being. It is perhaps a uniquely Tamil sentimentality. I
wouldn't know, although I'm Tamil myself, as I grew up elsewhere. Or perhaps
it is the reaction of Tamil Brahmins and high caste non-Brahmins to DMK-ADMK
politics. Whatever be the motivations behind it, that you see this only in
contemporary times is itself an indication of the young age of the Kanchi

>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
>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
>did later was qualitatively not different from that done by Sringeri and
>other maThas but only a few centuries earlier.

1. One must distinguish between tradition and critical history. That Sankara
established four Mathas is widespread tradition. That he established a fifth
Matha is the Kanchi Matha's variant tradition, which has been and continues
to be fiercely contested by others within the larger tradition. When you are
into a critical historical study, tradition has to be questioned, no doubt,
but that does not mean that all variant traditions are equal. And I don't
see any need for one with critical historical concerns to find an "excuse"
for anybody in the tradition(s).

2. Either the tradition is right, albeit with not much independent external
evidence for it, or you can indeed hold 14th century personalities
responsible for initiating the Matha tradition. In the latter case, what
Vidyaranya/Vidyasankara did was to start on a clean slate, so to speak. And
surely, what they wrote on the clean slate was based upon their inherited
tradition, at least partly. What the Kanchi Matha has been doing for a
century and a half is an attempt to erase part of and to modify the rest of
the existing writing on the slate. There is a vast difference, in degree and
in kind. My statements are both literal and metaphorical. Sometimes it is as
simple as changing yA to yo, requiring only the addition of a little stroke,
in any Indian script. Wait for my Sankaravijaya paper for details. I won't
get into them here. If all this sounds polemical, it is because the Kanchi
matha itself was born in, has developed in, and has actively encouraged a
culture of polemic against pre-existing Mathas.

3. As for the mAdhavIya Sankaravijaya, does myth influence history or does
history influence myth? I suspect it is a two way street. Pre-existing myth
influences how people view themselves, and what people actually do
influences the myths that grow around them. One can certainly discern
historical features in hagiography, after taking into account all the poetic
metaphor and hyperbole. See Bruce Lincoln's comments on hagiography in
general. Indeed, what is remarkable about the mAdhavIya is the degree to
which it agrees with what can be inferred from internal evidence in the
texts of Sankara and his disciples/contemporaries.

>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.

They don't, really. They always qualify their references to it with a
statement that it is difficult to distinguish myth from history in this
text. But tell me, do we really know anything about any historical Indian
personality, without it being touched with vast amounts of myth, where
repeated patterns get played out in infinite variety? Even in this day and
age, you find people from Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to Rajiv Gandhi being
glorified in standard hagiographical patterns. Their ashes are interred in
"samAdhis", as if they were great religious leaders, not to mention that the
very use of the word samAdhi in this context (even for religious leaders) is
largely a modern development.

>Also, discounting
>what Sankaravijaya says, is there any internal evidence in the advaita
>showing that Suresvara, Padmapada, Hastamalaka, and Todaka were indeed
>Sankara's direct disciples? Thanks in advance.

Plenty. The only question that has been raised is about Hastamalaka, but
even there, the great degree of unanimity in different traditional accounts
has not been considered. You could extend the questioning still further, and
ask whether there was any person called Sankara in the first place. To
answer these questions, one has to go back to the texts.

ity alam, or as we say in Tamil - podum, podum,
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