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Re: Vidyaranya

vidya_at_cco.caltech.edu
Date: Wed May 01 1996 - 18:29:29 PDT

skaushik wrote:

> What specifically do the Muttam records show? Do they have dates? I am
> aware, though not that well, that Muttam records (I am not sure if it
> is the Kanchi Kamakoti peetam where this applies) have a probelm of
> omissions and duplications (due to names that repeat commonly). What
> reliability is there in these dates?

I do not know specific details from the Sr.ngeri maTha records. However,
I do know that they have specific dates in their records for the period 
following the 14th century. These dates are highly reliable, because they
have been compared with records relating to the mahArAjAs of vijayanagar, 
the nAyakas of kelADi and ikkeri, and then the rAjAs of Mysore. The maTha
itself has in its possession records written in some plant dye on cloth,
which is preserved by coating the cloth with a thin coat of melted beeswax.
These are called kaDitas, and there are additional kaDitas of the Sr.ngeri
maTha in the Govt. Oriental Manuscripts Library (GOML) Madras, and in the 
Mysore palace collection. As for the Kanchi peetham's records and their
reliability, it is too controversial, and I don't want to get into that now. 

> What *incontrovertible* proof is there that Madhava's brother, Sayana,
> was not a "dutta"? Perhaps he was indeed Vidyaranya's brother, but his gotra
> was different, owing to being a given away. After all, so little is

The incontrovertible proof against this is found in the verse describing 
Sayana, Madhava and Bhoganatha as sons of SrImatI and mAyaNa of the Angirasa
gotra. This is found in the vedabhAshya manuscripts. As such, the gotra
information is too specific to be lightly discarded. I should think that if
there is any gotra information about any author in any Indian text, that
should be taken fairly seriously, more so than other hagiographical glories
of the author. 

> But let me ask the following question. Suppose that Vidyaranya was on
> the dharma-simhasana. Why would it be impossible for him to have
> agreed to assist/advising the king inthe capacity of a minister? After

Agreed to assist/advise, yes. As a minister, no. There are other examples in
Indian history, like Sivaji and Ramadas, Vyasaraya and Krishnadevaraya, and 
so on. 

> all, sages of the Vedic times, were men of the state (e.g. Vasistha).
> Would this not solve all the problems?

Maybe, but note that vedic r.shis were not sannyAsIs. Vasishtha was a
married man. Also, his involvement with the state was not in the capacity
of a minister, but as the guru/purohita of the Ikshvaku dynasty. The 
minister, during Dasaratha's time, was not Vasishtha, but Sumantra. 

I am not denying that Vidyaranya was involved in an advisory capacity in
the foundation of the Vijayanagar empire. After all, his involvement is 
acknowledged by the title "karNATaka simhAsana pratishThApanAcArya", that
has been subsequently applied to his successors at Sr.ngeri also. What
I doubt is that his involvement extended to the level of daily administration
and other kinds of duties that a minister is supposed to do. Also, there is
no doubt that Vidyaranya and Vedanta Desika were contemporaries. It is also
quite possible that Vidyaranya suggested to Vedanta Desika to seek patronage 
at the court. But for this, we only have tradition to go by. In many instances,
that is all we have, agreed. But with our modern "scientific mind" it is
sometimes satisfying if tradition is also corroborated by independent sources
of information. After all, the tradition in question deals with historical
personalities, who lived at a time from which we have fairly reliable historical
records. 

> I do see why the dates are of concern to those who are followers of
> Sringeri Peetam. One could raises qurestions about the character of
> the muttadhipatis who were formerly men of the world. However, I see
> no such problem or need for concern, as perhaps you do.

No, there is no concern about the maThAdhipati having formerly been a man
of the world. After all, every sannyAsI was a man of the world before he
took to sannyAsa. No, my interest in this issue is quite simple. There are
many legends associated with vidyAtIrtha, bhAratI tIrtha and vidyAraNya, some
of which originate from Sr.ngeri, and others which seem to originate elsewhere.
Given my interest in advaita and advaitins, I just like to separate plausible
fact from what is purely legendary. Not that it serves any spiritual purpose,
but this is only to clarify historical details. 

> Frankly, the writing of a senior acharya, whose words are
> relatively faithfully preserved are in, some senses stronger than any
> information such as gotra because the latter is not so important and
> can be easily forgotten or mistaken.

It is not my intention to say that this AcArya is right, that one is wrong
at all, however senior or junior they may be. But I assume that all the 
AcAryas in question know all the relevant details fairly well. 

> One here is faced with a dilemma. On one hand, we have Sri
> Vaishnanva hagiography indicating the link between Vedanta Desika and
> Vidyaranya. I have read this in more than one location, so I a believe
> that it is a relatively prevalent legend. There is a perfectly feasible
> corraboration of this. However, you are suggesting that the Sri
> Vaishanavas (at least Vadagalais) discard key elements of their
> acharyas life.

Not at all. In most of our traditions, we have nothing more than hagiography
to rely upon. I have never denied the contemporaneity of Vidyaranya and 
Vedanta Desika. 

> Agreeable, not all legends are true. I cannot establish that all thje
> legends of Ramanuja and Vedanta Desika are true, beyond a reasonable
> doubt. It is finally a matter of faith as to what we believe and to
> what strength we believe them. But I believe that you must, with equal
> fairness, consider the same for legends associated with Sankara
> Muttams.

Of course. The controversy over the credentials of the Kanchi matham is
obviously not possible without there being some doubt about the legends
of the Sankara mathams. This controversy has also forced both followers of
the Sringeri and the Kanchi mathams to look at their own legends critically. 
However, I do not agree that belief in the legends of the maThams is a 
matter of faith. Frankly, when I am told that so and so AcArya is a jIvanmukta,
I don't accept it without examining the life of that AcArya carefully. This
might just be conceit or pride on my part. I can accept a devotee's stories
of personal spiritual benefit obtained in a conversation with an AcArya. The
moment universal claims are made, I step back and put my critical thinking
cap on. To me, acceptance of the legends specific to one maTha or the other
seems more like willing suspension of disbelief, rather than positive belief
or faith. Faith in the guru is fine, but I don't agree that it has to translate
into faith in the legends of the maTham he is associated with. The legends are
peripheral detail, the truth value of which is inconsequential, in terms of
calling oneself a disciple of a guru. I therefore draw a distinction between
being a follower of a maTham, which is nothing more than some sort of loose
accreditation, and being a disciple of an AcArya who happens to be a
maThAdhipati, which is much more intensely personal. 

As for the value of the legends of various maThams in increasing the 
controversies or solving the questions of historical dates of various 
personalities, please see http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~vidya/advaita/
dating-Sankara.html. The last paragraph and especially the last sentence
illustrate my attitudes towards the stories associated with the various
Sankara maThams. 

S. Vidyasankar