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Was Vedanta Desika a disciple of a Kanchi Sankaracharya?

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_alum.calberkeley.org)
Date: Wed Sep 19 2001 - 11:10:00 PDT

Dear Friends,

While I was surfing the Net recently, I came across an odd
article on the Web site of the Kanchi Kamakoti Matha. The 
page purports to be a history of the peetha, but I noticed
several glaring factual errors, including the date of 
Adi Sankaracharya himself (they are off by nearly 1000 years). 
This aside, what really surprised me was the following paragraph:

  The 51st preceptor, Sri Vidyateertha (1247 - 1297 A.D) was 
  an erudite scholar. Saayana, commentator of the Vedas, 
  Madhavacharya (Vidyaranya after becoming an ascetic), 
  Bharati Krishna Teertha (of Sringeri Math), Vedanta Desika 
                                              ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
  and Sankarananda of Kanchi Sankara Math were prominent among 
  Vidya Teeertha's disciples.

(see http://www.kamakoti.org/peeth/aboutpeetham.html)

The strange thing is that the undisputed records of the
*Sringeri* matha in Karnataka have Vidyatirtha as its
presiding acharya, making it highly unlikely that this
Swami was resident in Kanchi during Desika's youth,
which is when the Advaita Swami was alive. Purely out of 
geographical considerations this should rule out any
possibility that Desika would have learnt from this Advaita 
scholar.

Even otherwise, it is unlikely Sri Desika would have ever
have been a disciple in any real sense of Sri Vidyatirtha
or any other Advaita sannyasi.  Desika never mentions 
an association with such a person, and I do not know of
any third-party record which documents a teacher-student
relationship between the two.  Desika writes very clearly
that he learnt everything from his maternal uncle 
Sri Atreya Ramanujacharya.  Sri Desika also felt strongly 
about certain issues of achara and anushthaana (conduct
and practice) which in all likelihood would preclude
his learning from an Advaita sannyasi.

With all this in mind, I wrote a polite note to the
authors of the Kanchi Kamakoti Web site in the hope
that they would correct this error:

  Date: August 21, 2001 
  From: Mani Varadarajan

  Dear Sirs,
  
  On one of your web pages it has been written that
  Sri Vedanta Desika, the great scholar of the 14th
  century, was a disciple of one Vidyateertha Swami,
  who is said to have adorned the Kanchi Peetham.
  
  This has no historical evidence and could not be
  further from the truth. Sri Vedanta Desika was a devout
  follower of Bhagavad Ramanuja and had no need to
  study anything at the feet of an Advaita sannyasi.
  In fact, Sri Desika criticizes the achara and anushthaana
  of the ekadandi Advaiti sannyasis as being against the
  smritis (see the Satadushani of Swami Desika).  This should
  make it clear that Sri Desika would not have studied
  shastras with an Advaita pandita.
  
  Please make this correction as soon as possible as it
  spreads misinformation among unassuming visitors.
  
  Thanking you,
  ramanuja dasa,
  Mani

  -0-0-0-

I did not receive a reply for over a month so I had forgotten
I had sent this email. To my surprise, this morning I received
a caustic reply to my request which I have appended below.  
I know that the current Kanchi Kamakoti matha and acharyas are 
no friends of the Vaishnava community -- indeed, even the most 
softspoken of Sri Vaishnava acharyas speak with sadness about how
some of the higher-ups in the matha abuse Perumaal Himself -- but
this sort of reply to my note was really unexpected:
  
  From: KANCHI MUTT <skmkanci@md3.vsnl.net.in>
  To: mani@alum.calberkeley.org, venkatesh@kamakoti.org
  Cc: nsubra@vsnl.com
  Subject: Re: Feedback from kamakoti.org, from Ramanuja Dasan Mani 
    Varadarajan
  Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2001 12:57:11 +0500
  
  Sri. Mani,
  	Your email was placed at the divine feet of the Acharyas.
  	At the outset it be noted that there is no hard and fast rules such as
  that Vaishnava Scholars should not study under an Advaita Preceptor. Nor is
  it anywhere stated or observed that an Advaiata Scholar should not study
  under Vaishnavite Preceptor.
  	Please note that the very propounder and first preceptor of the Vaishnava
  faith, Sri Ramanujacharya, studied under a famous Advaita Preceptor known
  as Yagav Prakasa at Kancheepuram. To give examples regarding that even
  Advaita Acharayas have had preceptors belonging to Vaishava sampradayam, I
  would like to give you some examples.
  	There lived one reputed Vaishnava Scholar by name Koti Kannika Danam Sri
  Rajagopala Tathachariar in Kumbakonam. His ancestors had intimate
  connection with the Sankar Mutt, Kancheepuram. Sri Rajagopala Tathachariar
  was adept in Srautam and Vaishnava Agamas. When the 68th Acharya, PujyaSri
  Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi Swamigal had learnt the intricacies of the
  Agamas and Divya Prapandam also from Sri Rajagopala Tathachariar (1908-1910
  A.D)
  	In the first half of the last century, many youngsters of Advaita
  Sampradaya studied Kavyas under Mahamahopadyaya R.V.Krishnamachariar,
  Professor of Sanskrit in the Government College, Kumbakonam. Further it may
  be noted that the above said Sri Krishnamachariar has edited and published
  small portions from the manuscripts of a biography of Sri Adi Sankara,
  known as 'Sankarabhyudayam'. The parts of this biography appeared in prints
  in the Sahradya Journal published by Vani Vilas press at Srirengam, near
  Trichi.
  	The above examples clearly show that your attacking the preceptor- student
  relationship between Srividya Teertha and Sri Vedanta Desika is totally a
  bit of ignorance and rigid bigotary.
  
  Regarding Satadushani: At first it must be noted that the works with the
  title Stadoshani- there are only 66 doshas have been dealt with. Perhaps
  the work was written in the late years of Sri Desikar who might have made
  wrong calculations.
  
  The late Mahamhopadyaya Sri N.S. Ananthakrishna Sastrigal, formerly,
  Professor of Calcutta University had written answering and condomning the
  doshas enumeragted by Sri Vedanta Desika. Sri Sastrigal's work is known as
  'Satabhooshani'.
  
  About 50 years ago, the 'Statabhushani' written by Mahamahopadyaya
  Ananthakrishna Sastrigal was released at a special function at Vishnu
  Kanchi, a function having been attended by a good number of Vaishnava
  Scholars and large number of Advaitis.
  
  In fine, your discriminatory observations are only likely to kindle
  differences amongst the different sampradayas or only aiming at unity and
  protecting the one common vedic religion of our country.
  
  Regards,
  R.Seshadri
  Srimatam
  

Aside from several glaring historical errors in the reply,
please observe the absolute lack of respect for Sri Desika. 
Mr. Seshadri even makes the ad hominem argument that a 
feeble-minded, aged Desika miscounted the number of vaadas 
out of in his own work and therefore mistitled the Satadushani! 

I am not denying the fact that the Advaita tradition has an
illustrious tradition of its own. However, as I am sure you will
all agree, praise of this tradition should not come at the
expense of historical accuracy and at the expense of respect for 
other acharyas' and other sampradaya's opinions. In fact, I
suspect that the real reason for the paragraph is to make a
veiled insult at Swami Desika and Vaishnavas in general.

I also object to the accusation that disputing historical 
facts seeds dissension in "one vedic community". Certainly
we all need to protect the sanatana dharma together, despite
differences in tradition and interpretation. However, our
common defense and enjoyment of the Vedic tradition should
never come in the way of intellectual honesty and fidelity
to the path of the great acharyas who preceded us. Being
part of the greater Vedic community does not mean that we 
should obliterate valid and logically derived distinctions
in doctrine and practice.


It is clear from the Kanchi Kamakoti matha's reply that the 
propagation of this misinformation comes from the very top.
My reason for writing to you all is this. If any of you has 
connections with the Kanchi matha, please go visit the acharyas 
and ask them what documentation they have for this account.  
Please also request them, if they cannot verify this, to remove what
is clearly a historical and sAmpradAyika inaccuracy 

In the mean time, I urge all of you who are interested in this
issue to send *respectful* email to skmkanci@md3.vsnl.net.in, the 
address of the Kanchi Kamakoti Web master, requesting them to
remove this paragraph pending historical verification.

With regards,
adiyen ramanuja dasan,
Mani

  
  
  

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