An Introduction to an English translation of Madhava-Vidyaranya's Sankara-dig-vijaya, known also as Samkshepa-sankara-vijaya, requires in the first place an explanation as to why it is undertaken. We are presenting this translation not because we consider it a proper biography in the modern sense, but because there is nothing better to offer on the life and achievements of Sri Sankara. Sri Sankaracharya is undoubtedly the most widely known of India's saintly philosophers, both within the country and outside, and there is a constant enquiry for an account of his life. It is not that there are no lives, or rather life-sketches of his, in English, written by modern scholars, but they are extremely unsatisfactory in giving any adequate idea of the great Acharya or of his wonderful personality-of how he was able to make that great impact on the conscience of India, which has remained unfaded to this day. Like a rivulet starting with great promise but soon getting lost in a swampy morass, these modern writings end in learned date discussions and textual criticisms, which give the reader a sense of learned ignorance, but certainly no idea of what Sankaracharya was like.
The trouble does not actually lie with these scholars or the accounts they have given of Sankara's life. It lies in the fact that there is absolute dearth of reliable materials to produce a biography of the modern type on Sankara, and the scholarly writer, if he is to produce a book of some respectable size, has no other alternative but to fill it with discussions of the various versions of the dates and of the incidents of Sankara's life that have come down to us through that series of literature known as Sankaravijayas, which vary very widely from one another in regard to most of these details. The generally undisputed features of Sankara's life seem to be the following: That he was born in Kaladi, Kerala, in a family of Nambudiri Brahmanas; that he left hearth and home as a boy to take to the life of a Sannyasin; that he was initiated into Sannyasa by Govindapada, the disciple of Gaudapada; that he wrote learned commentaries on the Vedantasutras and the ten principal Upanishads and the Gita; that he led a busy life traveling all over India refuting non-Vedic doctrines and establishing non-dualism as the true teaching of the Vedas; that he left four principal disciples to continue his mission; that he rid the various Indian cults of the influence of debased sectaries and infused into them the purity and idealism of Vedic thought; that he established centres of Advaitic learning in many places; and that he passed away at the early age of thirty-two at a place, the identity of which is yet to be established. When he was born; where he met his teacher; where he wrote his commentaries; what were the routes he took in his all-India journeys for preaching and teaching; who were all his opponents and where he met them; how and when he came across his disciples; what temples he visited or renovated; what Maths he founded or whether he founded any Math at all; where he passed away-all these are matters on which conflicting or widely differing views are expressed in the different traditional books concerned with him known as Sankara-viiayas.
In a situation like this, a modern writer on Sankara's life can consider himself to have discharged his duty well if he produces a volume of respectable size filled with condemnation of the old Sankara-vijayas-which, by the way, have given him the few facts he has got to write upon-for their 'fancifulness, unreliability, absence of chronological sense' and a host of other obvious short-comings, and indulge in learned discussions about the date and the evidence in favour of or against the disputed facts, and finally fill up the gap still left with expositions of Sankara's philosophy. In contrast to these are the traditional biographical writings on Sankara called Sankara-vijayas. All of them without an exception mix the natural with the supernatural; bring into the picture the deliberations held by super-human beings in the heavens; bring gods and dead sages into the affairs of men; report miraculous feats and occurrences; and come into conflict with one another in regard to many biographical details. Yet their very so-called fancifulness, the poetic approach of at least some of them, their mythological setting and descriptive details, have given some of them a fullness and impressiveness which are far more educative than the few bald details and the futile discussions on their obvious deficiencies that one comes across in the modern biographical writings on Sankara.
The contrast may be better illustrated by an analogy. Suppose a few bones of a rare species of animal that lived in bygone times are obtained. A very learned discussion about the evolutionary background and the probable biological features of the fossilized bones can be instituted by biologists and anthropologists. A clever artist, on the other hand, can try to reconstruct the probable appearance of that extinct species of animals in some plastic material, based on the clues from the bony structures recovered. Now, in spite of the great erudition behind the first way of approach, it is the reconstructed model, despite its obvious fancifulness and imaginative make-up, that can give some plausible idea to the common man about that rare animal to which the bones belonged. The flourishing of a few bones and the learned discussions on them will leave no impression on the minds of any but specialists in the field. The attempted historical biographies of Sankara are just like the rattling of the few bones of facts available along with abstruse discussions about them, while the Sankara-vijayas are like the reconstructed model of the animal which may be fanciful but impressive and meaningful to the animal which may be fanciful but impressive and meaningful to the ordinary man. If we approach the Sankara-vijayas without forgetting that mythological elements have entered into them, they would enable us to get a much more vivid and flesh-and-blood picture of Sankara than these learned discussion on dates and on the credibility of various texts and some of the details contained in them.
The word 'mythological' is not used here in any sense of disparagement. A highly poetic and mythological narration of the lives of individuals or events marks the measure of the tremendous impact that these individuals and events have made on the racial mind of a people in those ancient days when correct recording was not much in vogue, and impressive events easily took a mythological turn. They are living traditions that transmit a little of their original impact to the generations that have come latter, whereas pure historical productions are only like dead specimens and curios preserved in the corridors of Time's museum. The trouble comes only when mythological accounts are taken as meticulously factual and men begin to be dogmatic about the versions presented in them. In the mythological literary technique, facts are often inflated with the emotional overtones and with the artistic expressiveness that their impact has elicited from human consciousness, and we have therefore to seek their message in the total effect they produce and not through a cocksure attitude towards the happenings in space and time. If we approach the Sankara-vijaya in this spirit, we shall understand more about Sankara and his way of life than through the writings of professors who disparage them for their defective chronology, their fanciful descriptions and their confusing statement of facts. Such being the position, a translation of a Sankara-vijaya is the only way to give some idea of Sankara, his doings, his personality and the times in which he lived.
The translation given in this book is of Sankara-dig-vijaya or Samkshepa-Sankara-vijaya by Madhava-Vidyaranya. It is, however, To be remembered that this is only one of the following ten Sankara-vijayas listed on p. 32 of T.S. Narayana Sastri's The Age of Sankara: (1) Brihat-Sankara-vijaya of Chitsukhacharya; (2) Prachina-Sankara-vijaya of Anandagiri; (3) Sankara-vijaya of Vidya Sankara alias Sankarananda, otherwise known as Vyasa-chaliya-Sankara-vijaya; (4) Keraliya-Sankara-vijaya by Govindanatha, also known as Acharya-charita; (5) Sankarabhyudaya of Chudamani Dikshita; (6) Sankara-vijaya of Anantanandagiri (to be distinguished from Anandagiri) known also as Guru-vijaya or Acharya-vijaya; (7) Sankara-vijaya of Vallisahayakavi under the name Acharya-dig-vijaya; (8) Sankara-dig-vijaya-sara of Sadananda; (9) Sankara-vijaya-vilasa of Chidvilasa; and (10) Sankara-dig-vijaya or Samkshepa-Sankara-vijaya of Madhava-Vidyaranya. Of these, the first two, the Brihat-Sankara-vijaya and Prachina-Sankara-vijaya are supposed to be the products of the contem-poraries of Sankara, their authors being the Acharya's disciples. Nothing can be said of this claim, as the texts are not available anywhere at present. Sri T.S. Narayana Sastri, the author of The Age of Sankara, claims to have come across what he calls a 'mutilated copy' of the second section, called Sankaracharya-satpatha, of Chitsukha's work mentioned above. There is, however, no means to assess the authenticity of the claim on behalf of this mutilated copy, as it is not available anywhere.
Regarding the remaining Sankara-vijayas, while some of them might be lying in some obscure corners of manuscript libraries, there are only five of them available in printed form, and even most of them can be got only with considerable difficulty. These are Sankara-vijaya of Anantanandagiri (quite different from the now defunct Anandagiri's work with which it is confused even by scholars), Acharya-charita of Govindanatha, Sankara-vijaya of Vyasachala, Sankara-vijaya-vilasa of Chidvilasa, and Sankara-dig-vijaya of Madhava-Vidyaranaya.
We are taking up for translation the last of these, namely, Madhava-Vidyaranya's work, with the full awareness of its limitations, which may be listed as follows: it is not a biography but a biographical and philosophical poem, as the author himself calls it. These are many obviously mythological elements in it, like reports of conferences held in heavens, appearance of Devas and dead sages among men, traffic between men and gods, thundering miracles, and chronological absurdities which Prof. S.S. Suryanarayana condemns as 'indiscriminate bringing together of writers of very different centuries among those whom Sankara met and defeated.' But these unhistorical features, it shares with all other available Sankara-vijayas, including that of Anantanandagiri. Though Wilson and Monier Williams find Anantanandagiri's writing to be more authentic and 'less fanciful', it seems so only because, being a rather scrappy writing, more of the nature of a synopsis in modern Sanskrit prose, such fanciful features do not look highlighted in the way in which they do in a poetical and elaborate piece of literature like the work of Madhava-Vidyaranya, to which people will have to turn for the present to get some clear idea of Sankara and his doings. Ever since it was first printed in Ganapat Krishnaji Press in Bombay in the year 1863, it has continued to be a popular work on Sankara and it is still the only work on the basis of which ordinary people have managed to get some idea of the great Acharya, in spite of the severe uncharitable criticism directed against it by several scholars. But it has survived all these criticisms, and will be studied with interest for all time as a unique historical and philosophical poem in Sanskrit on one of the greatest spiritual luminaries of India.
The criticism of it is uncharitable because it is mainly born of prejudice, and it has extended beyond finding fault with the text, to the question of its authorship itself. The critics somehow want to disprove that this work is, as traditionally accepted, a writing of the great Madhava-Vidyaranya, the author of the Panchadasi, and a great name in the field of Indian philosophical and theological literature. For, if his authorship is accepted, the book will receive a high status, which some schools of thought do not like for reasons of their own. In fact, except in the eyes of a few such biased scholars, it has actually got that status at present, especially in the eyes of the followers of Sankaracharya in general; but this position is sought to be undermined by disputing its author-ship on all kinds of flimsy and far-fetched grounds. Besides the support of tradition, the colophon at the end of every chapter of the book mentions its author's name as Madhava, that being the pre-monastic name of Vidyaranya. Before he adopted Sannyasa under the monastic name of Vidyaranya. Before he adopted Sannyasa under the monastic name of Vidyaranya, he was known as Madhavacharya, and was the chief minister of the great Vijayanagara kingdom under its first three rulers. He was born in the year 1295 in a poor Brahmana family near Hampi in the region of the river Tungabhadra. His father's name was Mayana and mother's, Srimati. He had two brothers by name Sayana and Bhoganatha. Though brought up in poverty, all the brothers became versatile scholars in all branches of learning. Bhoganatha took to the Order of Sannyasa in early life. Sayana and Madhava were the authors of many works on religion and philosophy. The famous commentary of Rig Veda, though a work of Sayana, was probably a combined work of theirs, for it is said in its Introduction: "Kripalur-madha-vacaryah vedartham vaktum udyatah" and at the conclusion: "iti Sayanacarya viracite madhaviya" etc.
For relief from poverty, Madhavacharya is said to have performed austerities at the shrine of Devi Bhuvaneswari at Hampi, but the Devi revealed to him that in that life he was not destined to be rich himself, but he would be able to help others to become rich. This was an indication of the great part he was to play in the political life of his times. In his fortieth year he became associated with the founders of the Vijayanagara empire-Hari Hara I and his brother Bhukka I-who began the consolidation of that State by 1336. He served under three successive kings as chief minister and built up the greatness and prosperity of that kingdom until he retired in about 1380 to take to the life of Sannyasa at the age of 85. He became the head of the Sringeri Math for a few years and passed away at the age of 91 in the year 1386.
The identity of Madhava, the author of Sankara-dig-vijaya, with his Madhava-Vidyaranya is further established by the first verse of the text, wherein he pays obeisance to his teacher Vidyatirtha. Vidyatirtha was the head of Sringeri Sankara Math during 1228 to 1333. He was succeeded by Bharatikrishna Tirtha (133-1380), the immediate predecessor of Vidyaranya, who in turn succeeded him as the head (1380-1386) at a very advanced age, thus, thought not the immediate successor of Vidyatirtha, Madhava-Vidyaranya must have had his spiritual initiation from him in his pre-monastic life. The identity is further established by the poet Madhava's reference to his life in the royal court in the following touching introductory verses of his work: "By indulging in insincere praise of the goodness and magnanimity of kings, which are really non-esistent like the son of a barren woman or the horns of a hare, my poesy has become extremely impure. Now I shall render it pure and fragrant by applying to it the cool and fragrant sandal paste fallen from the body of the danseuse of the Acharya's holy fame and greatness, as she performs here dance on the great stage of the world."
Besides, the text is a masterpiece of literature and philosophy, which none but a great mind could have produced. But there are detractors of this great text who try to minimize its obvious literary worth by imputing plagiarism and literary piracy to its author, they claim that they have been able to show several verses that have entered into it from certain other Sankara-vijayas like Prachina-Sankara-vijaya and Vyasachala's Sankara-vijayas Though Prachina-Sankara-vijaya is nowhere available, T.S. Narayana Sastri claims to have in his possession some mutilated sections of it; but such unverifiable and exclusive claims on behalf of mutilated texts cannot be entertained by a critical and impartial student of these texts, since considerations other than the scholarly have entered into these criticisms, and manuscripts, too, have been heavily tampered with by Sanskrit Pandits. It can as well be that the other Vijayas have taken these from the work of Madhava. Next, even if such verses are there, and they are demonstrably present in regard to Vyasachala's work, the author can never be accused of plagiarism, because he acknowledges at the outset itself that his work is a collection of all the traditions about Sankaracharya and that in it all the important things contained in an extensive literature. Can be seen in a nutshell as an elephant's face in a mirror. It this not a general acknowledgement of dependence on earlier texts, and if quotations from then are found, where is the justification for accusing the author of plagiarism, unless the prejudice of such critics is accepted as sufficient reason?
Besides, it is forgotten by these critics that it is a literay technique of Vidyaranya, as seen from his other works also, to quote extensively from recognized authorities without specially mentioning their names, and that this feature of the present work goes only to establish the identity of its authorship with Vidyaranya. Comparing the text with Vyasachala's work, it is obvious that many verses are common to both the texts. The author of the present work, however, seems to imply Vyasachala as one of the recognized authorities on this theme in the 17th verse of the 1st chapter.
There is also the view that the author need not necessarily be Madhava-Vidyaranya but Madhavacharya, the son of the former's brother Sayana and the author of Sarvadarsana-Samgraha, a masterly philosophical text. To make this hypothesis even plausible, it has to be established that this Madhava was the disciple of Vidyatirtha, which the author of Sankara-dig-vijaya claims to be in the very first verse of the text.
The authorship of the book is questioned also from the point of view of style. Now views on style can be very subjective, and when one wants to dispute the authorship of any work, the easiest way is to adopt this line of criticism. In Sanskrit there are various types of style, and accomplished men of letters can vary the style according to the topic they deal with. According to the scholarly traditions of ancient India most of the philosophic, theological and even scientific subjects were expounded in metrical forms, but the styles employed for these have necessarily to be different from that for pure literary and poetical productions. Most of Vidyaranya's other works are on high philosophical and theological themes, and if he has used methods and styles in such works differing from that f a historical poem like Sankara-dig-vijaya, it is only what one should expect of a great thinker and writer. That the author of this work has poetic effect very much in view can be inferred from his description of himself as Nava-Kalidasa (offspring of the modern Kalidasa). So, difference in style, even if any, is not very relevant to the question of authorship, especially when the identity of the author is plainly mentioned in the book itself.
In place of taking the poet's description of his work as a production of a Nava-Kalidasa in the proper light, these hostile critics have in a facile manner concluded that the name of the author must be Nava-Kalidasa, though such a conclusion is against all internal evidence. No one has heard of the name of such a Sanskrit poet. They also safely forget the highly metaphysical doctrines couched in cryptic but very attractive style in the discussions of Sankara with Mandana, the upholder of Purvamimamsa doctrine, and with Bhatta Bhaskara, the exponent of the Bhedabheda philosophy. These discussions have drawn the unstinted praise of an independent critic like Telang. If Nava-Kalidasa, who forged this book and imposed it on Vidyaranya, was a mere poet and an unknown poet at that an explanation has to be given for the impressive metaphysical wisdom, the dialectical skill, and the Vedantic technique of exposition displayed in these chapters. The genius of the author of Panchadasi is clearly reflected in them. In philosophical profundity, in literary excellence and in non-partisan outlook, it is far superior to all other Sankara-Vijayas. In the light of all this internal evidence, the disparaging criticism of this text, questioning its authorship itself, can be attributed only to the prejudice of the critics.
Acceptance of Vidyaranya's authorship does not, however, in any way mean the denial of the my mythical elements and the fanciful contemporaneity of various Indian philosophers found in it. These features if shares with all the other Sankara-vijayas. Chronology and historicity did not receive much attention from even the greatest of Indian writers in those days.
Sri Sankaracharya is one of the greatest luminaries who has enriched the spiritual and philosophical heritage of India. Through his subtle philosophical treatises and sublime devotional hymns, he has deeply touched the hearts of millions of people, both the intellectual classes and the simple masses. He transformed diabolical practices that had crept in the name of religion into purer and more elevating forms, thereby restoring the Vedic religion to its pristine glory.
While his stupendous works have made an unshakable impression on the Indian psyche, his biographical detail have been shrouded in mysteries and controversies. Among myriad versions of biographical works, Madhava-Vidyaranya' Sankara-dig-vijaya has, however, gained popular acceptance.
Swami Tapasyananda, who was a scholar-monk of the Ramakrishna Order and the translator of this work, has given a scholarly and impartial presentation, in his Introduction, of the challenges associated with portraying Sri Sankaracharya's biography. And has asserted that 'Madhava's Sankara-dig vijaya has one outstanding superiority over all other availabl literature of that kind... as a profound and penetrating: exposition of some of the moot points in Advaita metaphysics, dressed in a poetical style that is as attractive to literary men as to philosophers, it can be described as a unique philosophical and historical poem.'
Such being the importance of the text and the translation, we are happy to bring out this new edition with a new wrapper design and a modified layout, with minor corrections and changes in the text, supplemented with an index.
For easy readability, we have chosen appropriate font style and size, breaking long passages into smaller ones, and changing footnotes as endnotes.
To facilitate accurate pronunciation, we have provided, wherever necessary, diacritical marks to names, places and Sanskrit words. The titles and Sanskrit words have been italicised.
We have embellished the book with recent photographs (taken from the web) of some of the places mentioned in the text which are associated with Sri Sankaracharya or his disciples. We are grateful to the administrator of Sarada Peetam, Sringeri, for providing and granting us permission to publish two photographs-Sri Sankaracharya's idol in his birthplace and Sri Saradamba's idol in the nearby shrine.
We are grateful to Sri K. S. Subramanian and Sri Alok Paul for proofreading the text.
May the blessings of the Lord be on all those who prepared this edition and on those who read and derive inspiration from it.
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