Madhava, Vidyaranya, Sringeri, and Kulke

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Jun 27 02:14:25 UTC 2000

Srini Pichumani <srini_pichumani at MENTORG.COM> wrote:

>And seem to facilely construct a conspiracy theory around various regular
>activities of the Kanchi matha's acharyas and its adherents,   while
>you display acute sensitivity (cf.  your comments regarding Hacker and
>almost constructing a conspiracy theory about Vidyaranya)  and are ready to
>on statements such as "the Kanchi matha is currently more popular than the
>Sringeri matha",  which in itself is polemical according to you.

Srini, I'm surprised. This kind of statement is indeed polemical.
If I had made the opposite statement, wouldn't you be ready to
consider that polemical? If either statement were made by a
"market-survey" group, after some sort of poll, I would not react
to it, except to be amused.

If I say that the Kanchi matha is a relatively young institution,
the word "young" gets misinterpreted as "fake" and I am immediately
accused of being "vitriolic". On the other hand, if you notice, the
original statement that provoked my response did not talk of
popularity. The word used was "reputation," along with a statement
that Sringeri was a "non-entity" and that other institutions were
"almost defunct". My immediate questions are, "what sort of
reputation, and in whose eyes?" and "non-entity according to whom?"
and "defunct according to whom?" Pardon me, but all I have been
doing is to react to this sort of thing, that gets repeated in one
form or the other, ad nauseum, by those whose only desire is to
proclaim the supremacy of the Kanchi Matha. There has been a
directionality to this exchange, which you seem to blissfully

If you look into the archives of this list, almost exactly a year
ago, another gentleman, who no longer seems to be on this list,
put me on the spot by specifically addressing similar questions to
me. I do not take it upon myself to go about talking about this
issue, except when the context demands it. And in this thread
itself, my statement that the political role of Vidyaranya was
probably exaggerated by people involved in Vijayanagara
administration seems to have been ignored. I'm going to be rapped
on the knuckles by staunch Sringeri followers for even entertaining
such a thought.

Granted, I made a provocative statement about the Kanchi Matha
in response to Palaniappan, but I simply chose to say something
forcefully, in order to point out that what has been happening
in the recent past is not necessarily a good indicator of how
things might have been seven or eight centuries ago. Indian
society has changed in various irreversible ways since the 14th
century. And as for vitriol, it is not just the anti-Kanchi
publications of Varanasi Rajagopal Sharma that are guilty of it.
Some writings of Polakam Rama Sastri and Atreya Krishna Sastri
surpass Sharma's hatred of the Kanchi folks in their intensity
of animus against the Sringeri Matha. I haven't listed details
of those publications either. If you want to talk of animosity,
spread the blame equally, and look at T. M. P. Mahadevan's
curious phrase "the institution on the banks of the Tungabhadra",
which remains unnamed. Some things get stated explicitly, and
other things are stated between the lines. The difference is only
in the style of presentation.

As for conspiracy theories, I construct none. Read items 4a and
4b in my list of references. There is a constant refrain in the
books by Narayana Sastri, Lakshminarasimha Sastri and Nataraja
Aiyer. And that is, "the four matha theory has been propounded
simply in order to exclude and deny recognition to the Kanchi
Matha". All the arguments against the mAdhavIya Sankaravijaya by
these pundits revolve around this proposition. These arguments
are what Tapasyananda of the Ramakrishna Math dismisses as
"scurrilous" and as "bazaar gossip."

In other words, what has been happening is that a small group of
people have been postulating the existence of a vast conspiracy
theory against themselves, and have been very vocal in countering
this imagined conspiracy. This vociferousness, combined with the
fact that these books were written in English, has ensured that
those who have looked at Sankara's hagiography from neutral and
critical scholarly perspectives have got completely misled. This
is partly because they want to remain neutral in this inter-matha
dispute, and partly because those who study only the texts often
have no information about the social and cultural milieu of the
texts. If they have the information, they have no proper framework
to handle it. That job is left to the sociologists and
anthropologists of various stripes, who do field studies, but
study the textual evidence only superficially. Or there is
somebody like W. R. Antarkar, who has written many papers on the
Sankaravijaya literature, every one of which indicates that he
too buys into this conspiracy theory. All I have done is to point
out that no such conspriracy theory exists. What I find quite
strange is that my response itself gets interpreted in terms of
that which I deny! Rest assured, the conspiracy theory ball is
not in my court.

>First off,  your comment regarding the Kanchi acharyas comment about what
>wear,   how to behave,  etc.  These are portions of regular speeches

I have no objections to these things, save to point out that if
someone disagrees with them or questions these statements, it is
not necessarily out of being involved in the inter-matha polemic.
Personally, I fail to see how things like wearing a green sari
on a particular day, or on what side a married woman should pierce
her nose, have anything much to do with sanAtana dharma, and in
an all-India sense. Still, my statement in this regard is not
about the content of the thing being criticized. It may be that
what is being criticized is really inconsequential in the long
run. However, my comment is about the perception that some people
are infallible and should never be criticized. It is about the
perception that he who dares criticize these said people does so
only out of political animosity, and that there is no intrinsic
validity to his criticism.

But then, you seem to share this perception, so no matter what
I say or how I say it, you will probably continue to think that I
am way out of line, or that I am being vitriolic. Any intensity
of sentiment you detect on my part is really not vitriol or
animosity; it is a huge sigh of disappointment over the way
certain things have been done and continue to be done.

That somebody has a wide-ranging knowledge of things does not
make him infallible. That other scholars, eminent in their own
right, have been impressed by the said wide-ranging knowledge
again does not make him infallible. And it is not the little
21st century pipsqueak named Vidyasankar who is saying this. It
is because we recognize human fallibility that our tradition goes
to great lengths to uphold the apaurusheyatva of the Vedas. Along
with that, of course, came the recognition that many things in
the Vedas are not to be taken literally, and should be interpreted
metaphorically or allegorically. Nowadays, this gets replaced by
a belief in the infallibility of certain individuals. Along with
this comes the attitude that everything this supposedly infallible
person says is literally true. I don't subscribe to that kind of
belief about anybody, including myself. If anybody is willing to
prove to me that I am wrong about something, I will listen
carefully. But if the only response is going to be that I am out
of line or that I am being irreverent, that is what I am; and yes,
I will reap the fruits of the karma involved in the process. So be

>There is also a good amount of psychological naivete on your part when it
>to analyzing the actions of various people,  high and mighty or otherwise,
>are adherents of the Kanchi matha or who are close followers of the late
>Chandrasekharendra Saraswati.

Again, my statements do not pertain so much to Sri
Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, as to those who consider themselves
his followers. And what you see as psychological naivete has been
described as political acuity by someone else, in a private email.
I don't care either way. I just state my opinion, but I have no
illusions that this will influence the behavior of people in any
way. yadyadAcarati SreshThas tattadevetaro janaH, sa yat pramANaM
kurute lokas tad anuvartate. At the same time, sadRSaM ceshTate
svasyAH prakRteH jnAnavAn api. Therefore, I hold the leaders of
the country (including those appointed as judges) to a higher

Notwithstanding what the common man in India may or may not
consider to be simply pious (or even pompous) behavior on the part
of our former President, Sri R. Venkataraman, these things do set
a skewed precedent. The President of India is not a private
individual so long as he holds office. His words and actions have
public consequences. The personality of Sri Chandrasekharendra
Saraswati is immaterial to this comment of mine.

When every two-bit reporter in the United States writes, "Hindu
India controls about two-thirds of the Muslim majority state of
Kashmir. The rest is under the control of Muslim Pakistan." don't
you feel like saying "nOr mui rA"? Don't you feel glad when some
enthusiastic NRI writes a letter to the editor, pointing out that
India is a secular democratic republic, and therefore inherently
different from Muslim Pakistan? If you feel these things, then
you should also realize that the patterns of behavior set by
Indian heads of state and government contribute to this sort of
international perception.

As for internal perceptions within India, if a President who
just happens to be a Roman Catholic constantly refers to the Pope
in every one of his public speeches, I'm sure it is not going to
be appreciated. If a Muslim President (we've had two of them,
plus one acting President, and surely there will be more in the
future) constantly refers to some Ayatollah or Imam, that wouldn't
be appreciated either. This says nothing against the Pope or the
Ayatollah or the Kanchi Acharyas, whoever they may be at that
point in time. It is all about standards of behavior in public
life, in a multicultural, multireligious country that is a
fledgling democracy, and that is frequently rocked by
inter-religious strife. The responsibility of Presidents and
Prime Ministers, especially those who wear the secular tag on
their sleeves, is that much greater. But all this enters into an
area that is not covered by this list's goals, which is why I did
not post my comments on this list, putting up a separate web-page
instead. So, I'll say no more.

Best regards,
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