Madhava, Vidyaranya, Sringeri, and Kulke

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri May 26 22:48:45 UTC 2000

My final posting on this thread.

> > Be that as it may, does the
> >  Sankaravijaya of Madhava claim that Sankara established four mathas in
> >  India, one of which was Sringeri?
>What I find in the translation is that Sankara built temples for Devi in
>Sringeri and  Kanchi.  After he ascended the throne of Omniscience, "he
>for Badari with some of his disciples, while deputing the others to
>Sringagiri and other places". This might lead to an interpretation that
>Sankara established the Sringeri maTha.

mAdhavIya Sankaravijaya (verses 12. 64-69) mentions a devI temple at
Sringeri, but this legend is also linked to that of the wife of maNDana
miSra. She is supposed to have been the referee at a debate between him and
Sankara. Scholars of Sakta traditions and scholars with subaltern/feminist
perspectives, take note. At the heart of a patriarchical, Brahminical
tradition lies a woman, who has subsequently been deified. This connection
between the SArada temple at Sringeri and maNDana miSra's wife is found in
every significant hagiographic text. As far as I can see, no one has drawn a
connection between this tradition and the importance of maNDana miSra as an
Advaitin, in early post-Sankaran times.

mAdhavIya does not say that Sankara established the devI temple at
Kanchipuram. Verses 15. 4-5 say that he reformed the Tantric mode of worship
that was prevalent at the Kamakshi temple there. Even the sthAnIka of the
Kamakshi temple, C. Kamakoti Sastri, in his "Kamakshi Ampal stala varalARu"
says that Sankara established Vedic worship in the temple that was then
under Buddhist control (pauttarkaLAl Akkiramikkap paTTirunta ampAL Alayattil
vaitIka muRaiyil pUcA-vitAnam tApittanar). Of course, what is "Vaidika" for
these accounts is "Srividya Tantrika" for modern scholars. Clearly, all this
only reflects the continued involvement of Smarta Brahmanas in the south
with Sakta traditions. Note also that "Buddhist" is often interchangeable
with "Tantric" in many cases.

Be that as it may, as far as this Sankaravijaya text is concerned, nowhere
does it say that Sankara established four mathas in India. Nowhere does it
explicitly say that he established the Sringeri matha either. It remains
satisfied with a generic statement (verse 16. 93) that Sankara sent his
disciples to "Rishyasringasrama and other places." Assuming that the
mAdhavIya Sankaravijaya is a 14th century text, there is thus zero literary
evidence for the contention that Vidyaranya initiated or propagated the
tradition of four mathas in the four regions of India, as a deliberate
political act. The mAdhavIya does not even mention Puri as a place that
Sankara visited, while Dwaraka is mentioned in a total of three verses (15.
73-75), and Badrinath in two verses (16. 93-94). And these references say
nothing about his establishing centers there. It seems more important for
this text that Sankara debated with Pancaratrins (Vaishnavas) at one place
and converted followers of dualistic Yoga at the other place. What sort of
political alliances with north Indian populations and institutions can we
read into this sparsity of references to widely acknowledged centers in the

If we are to discern historical facts from hagiographic texts and
traditions, we should begin by taking their contents seriously. At the very
least, without a comparative examination of other hagiographies, it seems
highly premature to come to the conclusion that Hacker makes about
Vidyaranya and Vijayanagara politics.

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