Madhava, Vidyaranya, Sringeri, and Kulke

Robert Zydenbos zydenbos at GMX.LI
Mon May 15 20:19:45 UTC 2000

Though I basically share Vidyasankar Sundaresan's respect for
traditions, I do want to make a few general remarks in defence of
Hermann Kulke and the late Paul Hacker.

Am Sun, 14 May 2000 schrieb Vidyasankar Sundaresan:

>  Hacker does
> not hedge his statements, or even use words like "probably" or
> "seems like"  or "may be". He simply claims, "Er (= Vidyaranya)
> schuf Fiktionen." [...]

We should not read too much into what is a common style of presenting
one's opinions. In fairness we should also look at the quote, provided
by Venkatraman Iyer:

> >Hacker continues:
> >"If my description of the figure of VidyAraNya is correct, he
> >might be considered in some sense a predecessor of Vivekananda.

which looks likes a very explicitly tentative presentation of his
findings (both concerning Vidyaara.nya and the Vivekananda
parallellism). At the same time, VS's 

> 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. [...]


> 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.

> He thinks Vidyaranya used
> his political connections to install Vidyasankara, his guru, as the head of
> a newly established matha, and pretended that the monastery was an old one.
> Kulke simply modifies this a bit, and thinks Vidyasankara himself was
> probably more responsible than Vidyaranya. Anyone who has a little bit of
> familiarity with the workings of guru-shishya lineages should know that this
> is not how things work.

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

> Both Hacker and Kulke have also ignored other available evidence. There are
> pre-Vijayanagara inscriptions available from the vicinity of Sringeri, that
> mention Vidyasankara. For example, Antonio Rigopoulos's 1998 book on
> Dattatreya (SUNY press) describes a seal from the early 13th century found
> in Shimoga, that also salutes Gaudapada, Govinda and Sankara.

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.


> 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.

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,
they seek explanations and solutions to questions that have not been
asked earlier and that arise when we see traditions contradict each
other or contradict information that is not traditional at all. When
one impartially tries to make sense of conflicting traditions and data,
one necessarily devalues at least some traditionally held beliefs;
depending upon one's own point of view, this could look like

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
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.
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.

(Now comes a bit of my own speculating.) What could have happened is
this: some time before Vidyasankara there was a Sankarite presence at
Sringeri, and in the course of time this somehow grew into a ma.tha. We
know that all ma.thas love beautiful histories for themselves, and the
one at Sringeri could have become hochstilisiert, or made into,
something founded by Sankara himself. If this was not Vidyaranya's
invention, this could have occurred sufficiently long before Vidyaranya
that the idea found general 'acceptance' by his time and nobody was
interested in challenging it (cf. Sundaresan's "local culture and
history"). Something similar may have happened elsewhere (as I
remember, Kulke had first wondered about Puri and then wanted to look
at the other Sankarite ma.thas) and at a time when Vidyaranya and
Vijayanagara wanted to develop a geopolitical strategy, they made use
of the legendary materials that already existed: because of parallel
legends / traditions elsewhere in India, they sought to forge links
with like-minded persons in the north, and the Sankarite construction
served that purpose and not so much a justification of Vijayanagara -
or perhaps also served a justification of Vidyaranya's political role?
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.

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').


Dr. Robert J. Zydenbos
Institut fuer Indologie und Tamilistik,
Universitaet zu Koeln
E-mail: zydenbos at

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