Madhava, Vidyaranya, Sringeri, and Kulke

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue May 16 07:38:13 UTC 2000

I've split my response into two parts, for reasons of length.

Robert Zydenbos <zydenbos at GMX.LI> wrote:

> > >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

Ah, but Hacker never goes on to specify what would be implied by the other
possibility, namely, in case his description is not correct. I doubt if he
seriously considered this possibility at all; and for the following reason.

Hacker's comments about Vidyaranya are part of a broader discussion of the
authenticity of texts attributed to Sankara. He accepts only texts
attributed to Sankara Bhagavat/Bhagavatpada/Bhagavatpujyapada, and not those
attributed to Sankaracharya, on the grounds that the latter group of texts
were probably composed by titular Sankaracharyas.

Now, on Hacker's showing, Vidyaranya was the first titular Sankaracharya, so
to speak. It follows that according to his thinking, all these other texts,
attributed only to Sankaracharya, should be dated to a post-14th century
period. This is easily disproved, when we see that pre-Vidyaranya authors
have quoted from some of them, or have written commentaries to others.
Surely, Hacker should have been aware of this, as most of his criteria for
authenticity are based on features that are identifiably post-Sankaran, and
absent in the works that are most probably authentic. As far as this subset
of texts is concerned,

1. they are attested in pre-Vidyaranya times, and
2. they are attributed to Sankaracharya, a probable reference to a
   holder of the title.

Therefore, it follows that either there were titular Sankaracharyas before
Vidyaranya, or all these pre-Vidyaranya texts are authentic. The latter
possibility can be rejected for good reasons. I daresay the issue of
authenticity needs to be revisited, but not all of these texts can be said
to be authentic. Therefore, we are left with the conclusion that there were
titular Sankaracharyas before the 14th century. Titular Sankaracharyas imply
monastic institution(s), with associated disciple lineages. Thus, even if
there is no inscriptional or literary evidence available for any mathas in a
pre-Vijayanagara period, we have to allow for a possibility that such
institutions were probably functioning before the 14th century. It also
stands to reason that many of these institutions, if not all, would have
been in southern India.

Of these pre-Vidyaranya titular Sankaracharyas, either some or all of them
were at Sringeri, or they were at other places. Here comes the interesting
part. If there were titular Sankaracharyas elsewhere, surely they would have
had their own disciple lineages that would have continued into the 14th
century, notwithstanding the invasion by Malik Kafur. The devastation of
south India was nowhere as complete as assumed. The older rulers and armies
regrouped quickly and offered good resistance to the ruler of Delhi.

Under this scenario, not even the eminence or the political connections of
Vidyaranya would have allowed him to get away with creating a fiction about
the institution at Sringeri. It would have been challenged in one way or the
other. Witness how in recent times, neither the respect generally accorded
to Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati of Kanchipuram, nor the political influence
of the Kanchi matha, has succeeded in stopping the century old controversy
over its origins. We Brahmins have been a very fractious lot, constantly
asserting the superiority of specific sub-groups and institutions over other
similar Brahminical groups. There is no evidence of anything of the kind
from the 14th century. All the claims put forth by other institutions, such
as the Kudali matha, or the Amani matha, have to do with succession issues
in a late, post-Vidyaranya period.

As far as Hacker is concerned, what this means is that he should have
checked his premises. Either his reconstruction of Vidyaranya's role is
faulty, or his criteria of manuscript colophons is faulty. I think he was on
the right track with the manuscript evidence. But it seems to me that he
just did not consider an alternative possibility for what might have been
happening in the Advaita tradition, during Vidyaranya's times.

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