You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : May 1996

Re: Re; Vidyaranya
Date: Wed May 01 1996 - 20:33:09 PDT

I see that this issue has built itself up on a lot of misunderstandings.

Let me clarify this the following way:

1. Was Vidyaranya involved in the foundation of the Vijaynagar empire? Yes.

2. In what capacity - guru or minister? Guru.

3. Is there a distinction between "guru" and "minister"? My opinion - yes.

4. Were Vidyaranya and Vedanta Desika contemporaries? Yes.

5. Were they friends? Can't say one way or the other.

6. Did Vidyaranya ask Vedanta Desika to go to Vijaynagar? SrIvaishNava tradition
 says so.

I trust these are the only questions that the majority of the members of this
list are bothered about. There are other details -

7. Was Vidyaranya's original name Madhava? Advaita tradition says so.

8. Was this Madhava the brother of Sayana who wrote the Veda bhAshyas? Advaita t
radition is ambivalent. On the one hand, works of Madhava, the brother of
Sayana are frequently attributed to Vidyaranya in many sources. On the other
hand, Vidyaranya and Bharati Tirtha are also said to have directed Sayana
and Madhava to write expository works, including the Veda Bhashyas and the
dharmasastra text pArASara-mAdhavIyam. To further complicate matters, the same
advaita works are attributed to both Bharati Tirtha and Vidyaranya, and some
are said to be joint compositions of the two. Example - pancadaSI, which is
ascribed to Bharati Tirtha in some manuscripts and Vidyaranya in others, and
jIvanmuktiviveka, which is almost always said to be a joint composition.
Also, sometimes Vidyaranya is said to have written the Vedabhashyas, although
all manuscripts, including the ones preserved at Sringeri, reputedly the
original one, credit Sayana with their composition. This is usually explained
within advaita circles as referring to the fact that the Vedabhashyas were
written under the guidance of Vidyaranya, by Sayana and Madhava. This
explanation, of course means that Madhava, brother of Sayana, is different
from Vidyaranya, the sannyasi.

9. Was Madhava, brother of Sayana, also the same as Madhava, the author of the
Sankara-digvijayam? Advaita tradition has become sharply divided on this
question in recent times. Two commentaries to this digvijayam exist, both of
which say that this is a work of Madhava, disciple of Vidyatirtha. They are
silent about whether Madhava, author of the digvijayam, is also the brother
of Sayana and/or identical to Vidyaranya, the Mathadhipati. As for the mathas
themselves, Sringeri says Madhava, author of Sankara-digvijaya may be the
same as Vidyaranya, but they don't say it with 100% certainty. Then of course, 
this Madhava becomes different from Madhava, brother of Sayana, to square off
with the explanation given to the previous question. Kanchi, on the other hand,
refuses to accept that the mAdhavIya Sankara-digvijayam even dates from the
14th century. According to them, this work was written by somebody partisan
to the Sringeri math, as late as the 18th century. Swami Tapasyananda touches
on this controversy in his footnotes, except that he refers to the Kanchi math
as the Kumbhakonam Math. It is well-known that the headquarters of this matham
were shifted to Kanchipuram from Kumbhakonam, only in the beginning of this
century. The maths at Puri, Dwaraka and Badrinath accept the Sringeri tradition.

That is all there is to it. Clearing out the various confusions in the 
traditional accounts does not require either the SrIvaishNavas or the smArtas
to give up part of their own traditions regarding the lives of their AcAryas. 
Vedanta Desikar's saintliness is well-known and attested to, even by the
smArtas. The only exception that I made in this connection was that it
was improbable that Vidyaranya was a minister or a court official at the 
Vijayanagar court, for reasons of conflict with other more reliable evidence
in the form of early Vijayanagara inscriptions. A quite authoritative history
of the Vijayanagar empire has been written by K. A. Nilakanta Sastry. Quite
simply, the dates arrived at, after much archeological and numismatic research
do not tally with the assumption that Vidyaranya took sannyasa in 1380. 

As for maThAdhipatis being away from their maThas for long periods of time,
it is not uncommon. They are supposed to be sannyasis with no permanent home,
so they keep travelling in their neighbourhoods, returning to headquarters
only to maintain continuity in the pAThaSAlas they run. Vidyaranya is supposed
to have been in Varanasi, when Bharati Tirtha passed away, and Harihara I 
sent an emissary to inform him of the news, and request him to come back to
the south to take charge of the matha's activities. All this does not
say anything one way or the other, about whether Vidyaranya, the sannyasi, was
a minister at the Vijaynagar court or not. It does not seem consistent to 
me. I don't think it is a title to be called a "minister" or even "chief
minister", when Vidyaranya was already saluted as the "pratishThApanAcArya". 
Just think about it. 


S. Vidyasankar