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Re: Vidyaranya and Desikar

Date: Tue Apr 30 1996 - 20:30:50 PDT

Mani writes: 
*** I too once thought this, but upon further research,
*** it appears that Vidyaranya was not a court official of
*** the Vijayanagara kingdom, as he was a virakta and a
*** sannyasi who was the presiding acharya of the Sringeri
*** Sankara Matha.  While it may have been the case that
*** he suggested that Desikar go to the court for some financial 
*** assistance, Vidyaranya by no means resided in the court
*** or was an ``official'' in any sense of the word. [Part
*** of the confusion lies in the fact that the chief minister
*** of the Vijayanagara kingdom at the time was known as
*** Madhavacharya, which was the name of Vidyaranya before
*** he took sannyasa.]

Given that I had heard the same story associated with Desikar
(i.e. refusing Vidyaranya's suggestion), that I thought I would check
it out with some references. I find that Mani's dates don't add up.

First, let's consider the  "accepted" dates for Desikar.

Life of  Desikar: 1268-1369(71) (1369 appears the consensus, but have
                             seen references to 1371)

Now, regarding Madhava-Vidyaranya. Now what follows is from
Introduction to the Sankara Digvijaya printed by the RK Mutt. But here
are the dates as quoted from them.

Madhava (as Mani notes) was Sri Vidyaranya's pre-monastic name.

Dates: 1295-1380 (birth - Sanyashrama)
       1380-1386 (head of the Sringeri Math - parama pada)

The Muttadipathis of Sringeri Sankara Math during that period were:
Vidyathirtha: 1228-1333
Bharatikrishna Tirtha: 1333-1380
Vidyranya: 1380-1386

Based on this, Vidyaranya did not take Sanyashrama during  Deshikar
life time. In fact, according to the source mentioned above, in
Vidyranya's 40th year, he became associated iwth the Vijayanagara
empire and served as chief minister to three succesive kings.

It is therefore, highly conceivable that the story as narrated by Sri
Anbil Ramaswamy has some grains of truth. I am not sure if they were
"childhood" friends in that Desikar was elder to Sri Vidyaranya by
25 years. However, it is possible that they knew each other.

In S. Das Guptas "History of Indian Philosophy," it is mentioned
(vol 3., page 120), that  Vidyaranya quotes Desikar's
Tattva-mukta-kalapa in Sarva-darshana-sangraha. Thus, to say the
least, Vidyaranya was aware of Desikar's works. 

Perhaps there are other more recent datings that are more accurate
and differs substantially from the numbers above. Nevertheless, it
does not appear so outlandish (atleast to me) that the traditional
biographies related to this even may be true.

However, I would say that these discussions of dates, etc are totally
silly and meaningless. Does it really matter wheteher or not
Vidyaranaya  was Desikar's friend? or if the stories are "really"
true? After all, of what benefit is it to a bhakta when Mahabharata
and Ramayana really took place and who were its "true" authors?
Perhaps Max Muller and his fellow Indologists might,  but I hazarad a
guess that many of the indologists had very little spiritual need for
the dates.

Historical accuracy is important in the classroom, but is of
questionable use in a religious discourse. My grandmother would be far more
concerned and impressed at the fact that Ramanuja and his contempories
were persecuted by local kings, than by the knowledge that it was
Kuttolanga I, II, III ... or whatever.