Madhava, Vidyaranya, Sringeri, and Kulke

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Sun May 14 19:26:54 UTC 2000

>Hacker continues:
>"If my description of the figure of VidyAraNya is correct, he
>might be considered in some sense a predecessor of Vivekananda.
>For he, too, has made of ZaGkara something quite different
>from what he was earlier, and that again for purposes of
>defence, this time against Christianity." (p.30)

And this is precisely where I find Hacker's arguments extremely faulty, with
all due respect to his other contributions. Halbfass's choice of title is
appropriate indeed. In this particular case, the element of confrontation in
Hacker's work has overwhelmed everything else. Borrowing a thought from
Hacker himself and extending it, he has wielded his pen like a sword,
slashing away at the tradition, viewing the pieces lying in disarray at his
feet with a triumphant smile, and leaving later generations with the task of
putting together a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces lost or transformed
beyond recognition.

Hacker's animus towards Vivekananda and other neo-Vedantins leads him to
think that Vidyaranya was an early predecessor of the brand of revivalist
Hinduism that developed in the 19th century. If however, as others have
argued, the medieval Indian did not see the invading forces from outside as
"Muslim", in the 19th century sense of the term, one should wonder in what
way Vidyaranya supposedly created a defence against Islam. As an Indian, it
seems to me that it is a peculiarly 19th-century European search for origins
that leads Hacker to reconstruct a mythical Sankara and a mythical
Vidyaranya. He then turns around and accuses this mythical Vidyaranya of
having said something about Sankara, that does not agree with his own
mythical Sankara. A straw-man argument at its best, but nobody seems to want
to question any of it. Most academic studies of Sankara and Advaita remain
wedded to one of two competing perspectives - an acceptance of or a reaction
to the neo-Vedantic ideologies. In the process, Sankara, the man, and
Advaita, the tradition, are not allowed to speak for themselves. Vidyaranya
suffers the same fate.

Textually, the following questions arise. Is the Madhava who wrote
Sarvadarsana Sangraha identical to Vidyaranya? Is the Madhava who wrote a
Sankaravijaya identical to Vidyaranya? Is the author of Sarvadarsana
Sangraha identical with the author of the Sankaravijaya? None of this is
really established. I have argued that the Sankaravijaya attribution to
Vidyaranya has not been disproved by the arguments hitherto offered, but I
can't say that it has been proved either. Be that as it may, does the
Sankaravijaya of Madhava claim that Sankara established four mathas in
India, one of which was Sringeri? If it turns out that this Sankaravijaya is
say, a 15th or 16th century text, what does that say about Vidyaranya,
Sankara and Vijayanagara? Does Vidyaranya really try to cast Sankara into
what he was not? What evidence is there for this? Does Vidyaranya, or his
frequent co-author, Bharati Tirtha, in their undisputed works, have anything
to say about Islam, or about constructing philosophical and political
defences against it? Go back to Hacker's paper - there is not an iota of
discussion of these issues.

With reference to Kulke, there is not a single Vijayanagara inscription
related to the Sringeri matha, which states that Sankara established that
institution. Now, if I want to claim something to which I have no traditonal
right, or if my claims are highly contested by other traditional
representatives, I will certainly take all the necessary efforts to generate
records in my favor. My political connections will certainly come in handy.
But if everybody already recognizes me as a rightful claimant, my motivation
to prepare new records vanishes. This seems to be the situation with
Sringeri and early Vijayanagara. The surprising thing then, is that there is
no inscription that explicitly says that Sankara established the Sringeri
matha. If this can lead to a conclusion that he did not, it can equally well
lead to the conclusion that this tradition was so widely accepted that it
did not need to be particularly put down in writing.

All the relevant Vijayanagara inscriptions name only Vidyasankara, Bharati
Tirtha and Vidyaranya. The affiliation of these people to the tradition of
Advaita Vedanta is taken for granted. Their polemics against Vedic Purva
Mimamsakas come for equal praise as compared to those against Jainas. How
did a tradition that Sankara established that matha arise then? Why not
allow for the possibility that this tradition could be of pre-Vijayanagara
origin? If as Kulke argues, legitimation of the new Vijayanagara state was
the issue, why assume that they needed to bring in Sankara as a new factor?
Why not conclude that it was the religious status of Vidyaranya and his
immediate predecessors, and their already well known and acknowledged
affiliation to the Sankaran tradition, that provided the necessary
legitimation of Vijayanagara? Between Hacker and Kulke, they almost
postulate a grand conspiracy theory, when things can be explained through
much simpler and straightforward reasons, based on local culture and
history. I don't say all this just because of my own familial affiliation to
the Sringeri tradition. It concerns me that the histories of many Indian
traditions get distorted in similar ways.

Get Your Private, Free E-mail from MSN Hotmail at

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list