Madhava, Vidyaranya, Sringeri, and Kulke

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon May 22 08:22:24 UTC 2000

Robert Zydenbos wrote:

>>But Basava did not go further and claim that this was an institution that
>>had existed for many centuries before him. Also, note that in the earliest
>>Vijayanagara inscriptions, Vidyasankara does not seem to be a living
>>person at all. He is already a "devaru," for whom a temple is being built
>>and worship is being instituted.
>I do not think that his being referred to as "devaru" necessarily >means
>that he was no longer among the living. Allama / Allamaprabhu >was also
>referred to as "Prabhudevaru" very early, if I remember >correctly.

Yes, I've considered that, but is a temple built for a living person?
Usually, people wait till an ascetic passes away before building monuments
in his name. The Vidyasankara temple is basically a grand structure for what
would usually be an unostentatious shrine over the burial place of an
ascetic. It is not a temple for the God Siva.

Also, the inscription mentioning Vidyasankara (cited by Rigopoulos) is dated
to 1235 CE. This is still 110 years before the year 1346. All the more
reason to think that "devaru" in the 14th century inscription refers to
someone in the past, if only a very recent past.

>We also need to look at what that "legitimation" signifies. Is it a
> >legitimation of Vijayanagara as just another big empire, or as a >bulwark
>of pre-Mughal traditions and values that also wants to push >back the
>influence of Delhi? I think only the second possibility >would favour the
>Sankarite imagery. The other prominent religious >traditions, like the
>Maadhva and Virasaiva (also politically >influential in Vijayanagara) would
>at the time have been less useful >in appealing to northern India, where,
>on the other hand, the >Sankarite tradition had already spread.

Who should we hold responsible for this appropriation of the Sankarite
imagery? Is it that Vidyaranya claims a Sankarite legacy for a matha that
had "really nothing to do with Sankara" (Kulke's words) or is it that the
Vijayanagara rulers associated themselves with Vidyaranya's well-known
Sankarite legacy, in order to appeal to northern India? And who were they
appealing to?

>To give a possible latter-day parallel: the USSR and USA were allies >until
>the end of World War II, when other concerns became more >prominent. The
>idea of the "four mathas founded by Sankara" might >have been part of an
>attempt at creating a geopolitical solidarity >which failed or was too weak
>or shortlived to be politically >effective at the time but was maintained
>in religious circles.

The Vedanta tradition, and Advaita in particular, has a great penchant for
the number four. If the brahmasUtras have 4 adhyAyas, with 4 padas each,
often only the commentaries on the first 4 sUtras are studied, under the
name catuH-sUtrI. And corresponding to the 4 Vedas, they talk of the
mahAvAkya-catushTaya. These are found in some texts that have come to be
called Upanishads (Sukarahasya, AmnAya etc), so now one has to talk of
dating these texts. Vasudevasrama, an author of a saMnyAsa manual, extends
this imagery, by listing four sets of mahAvAkya-catushTayas. Sankara is said
to have had 4 disciples. Excluding the Hastamalakiya Slokas, we have proper
Advaita texts by three of these disciples. I don't think we need to wait
till the political compulsions of the 14th century for the birth of a
politically motivated tradition of 4 mathas established by Sankara, that
became religiously significant afterwards. It rather seems like a political
spin has been put upon a tradition that was primarily limited to Advaita
ascetic circles. And it seems to me that interpreting this tradition in a
geopolitical manner is more a 19th century development than a 14th century
one. How much power and significance would a vision of a politically united
India have had in the Vijayanagara period? Was there even such a political
vision at the time?

>I get the impression that at least part of this discussion hinges on >the
>question when something is / becomes a "matha". As Sudalaimuthu
> >Palaniappan also asked: must lineages have mathas?
>Similarly, the rulers of Vijayanagara could have lent their support
> >towards establishing a Sankarite matha at Sringeri, on the basis of >an
>earlier, more humble settlement.

A more fundamental question - what is a matha? Is a humble settlement any
less a matha than a grand institution with big temples and buildings?
Circumstances may have transformed a humble settlement into a big
institution, but does that indicate the prAg-abhAva of the humble
institution? Even today, the temples may be big, and public audiences may
take place in palatial buildings, but the living quarters of the saMnyAsins
are small huts in the interior of the forest. And take the issue of a matha
"becoming extinct" and being "revived". The related problems revolve totally
around the disciple lineage and its continuation. That is how three
different people can claim the Sankaracharya title in Badrinath today, while
spending most of their time in Allahabad or Jabalpur or Hardwar, instead of
Badrinath. And that is how a matha based in Mulabagal in Karnataka could
claim the Dwaraka lineage earlier this century. The primary issue is one of
authenticity of the lineage. How this authenticity is determined is the
crucial issue. The actual location of the matha and its properties becomes
quite secondary.

>it looks as if a not entirely warranted jump is made from "probable
> >reference" to "therefore... titular Sankaracharyas". Is every
> >Sankaracharya a titular head of a matha? (Cf. all the Nagarjunas >among
>the Buddhists.)

Well, if we rule out the possibility of someone being called a Sankaracharya
merely by virtue of his position, there has to be some other explanation.
Perhaps some significant person was considered a second/third/fourth Sankara
or maybe a reincarnation of Sankara, for whatever reason(s), thereby
becoming a honorific Sankaracharya. Given the number of such texts, wouldn't
that only make it more likely that there would be a much greater number of
divergent traditions and institutions that claim a Sankaran legacy than what
we seem to have unambiguous evidence for?

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