Transliteration Key

A number of works titled Sankaravijaya, or Sankara digvijaya, are extant in India. These are typically known after the names of their authors, but are mostly hagiographic accounts of Sankara's life, with myth and legend interspersed with historical fact. The primary reason for this situation is that most of these texts were written many centuries after Sankara lived, so that these authors already regarded Sankara as a legendary figure. The following is a brief survey of these texts.

mAdhavIya Sankaravijaya - The mAdhavIya is probably the oldest available, and also the most authentic and widely known among the different Sankaravijayas today. It is certainly the most popular such text in the advaita tradition, and is also known as the sam.kshepa Sankarajaya. The popularity of this work derives from the fame of its author, mAdhava, who is usually identified with vidyAraNya, the 14th century maThAdhipati at Sringeri. Old manuscripts of this work are available from diverse places in India, and printed editions based on a comparison of various manuscripts are available from as early as 1863 CE. [1] Two commentaries have been written to the mAdhavIya, one titled DiNDimA, by dhanapati sUrI (composed in 1798 CE), and another titled advaitarAjyalakshmI by acyutarAya (composed in 1824 CE). There are a couple of good English translations of the mAdhavIya, one by swAmI tapasyAnanda of the Ramakrishna Math, [2] and another by K. Padmanabhan. [3] Contemporary accounts of Sankara's life follow this text in most details, e.g. birth in Kaladi, meeting with his guru on the banks of the river Narmada, writing of commentaries, debate with maNDana miSra, establishment of the SAradA temple at Sringeri, ascension of the sarvajnapITha in Kashmir and his last days in the Himalayas.

There has been some doubt in recent times about the date and authorship of the mAdhavIya Sankaravijaya, [4] including charges that it was reworked extensively in the 19th century CE. Almost all of this criticism is baseless. If the author of this work is not identical with vidyAraNya, the latest date that can be put to it is 1798 CE, the year in which the DiNDimA commentary was completed. Moreover, another author, sadAnanda, who wrote a Sankaravijaya sAra in 1783, informs us that his source is mAdhava's work. As such, the criticism that the mAdhavIya was written as late as the 19th century CE, or that portions of it were re-written recently, cannot be upheld. swAmI tapasyAnanda is correct in dismissing such criticism as nothing more than "bazaar gossip." [5] However, the earliest possible date of this work (14th century CE) is still several centuries later than Sankara's own date. Some modern historians who doubt that Sankara established any maThas at all, attribute the origin of the tradition of four AmnAya maThas to mAdhava. [6] However, it must be noted that the mAdhavIya Sankaravijaya gives only a general description of the establishment of maThas, at Sringeri and other places, but does not specifically mention the number four.

AnandagirIya Sankaravijaya - This work is not available today, although according to many secondary sources, it must have existed at one time. It is attributed to Anandagiri, the 13th century author of well-known TIkAs to SankarAcArya's bhAshyas. One 19th century author, who wrote a commentary to the mAdhavIya refers to Anandagiri's Sankaravijaya as bRhat Sankaravijaya in one place and as prAcIna Sankaravijaya in another place. It seems clear that this text was considered to be old (prAcIna) and huge (bRhat). However, as it is no longer extant, the quotations attributed to this text are not very trustworthy.

In recent times, there have been various claims about a bRhat Sankaravijaya of an author named citsukha, although no manuscripts of this work have ever been available. No secondary sources refer to this text either, unlike the case with Anandagiri's text. citsukha is claimed to have been a childhood friend of Sankara's, and his work is therefore claimed to be an authoritative eye-witness account. However, even the source for this story about citsukha remains unknown, as none of the other Sankaravijayas mention such a childhood friend who witnessed all of Sankara's life. All claims about the bRhat Sankaravijaya of citsukha seem extremely far-fetched, and within the living advaita tradition, there is great controversy over the very existence of this text. There is a more recent text, called bRhat Sankaravijaya, by one brahmAnanda sarasvatI, which seems to date from the 17th or 18th century.

Another prAcIna Sankaravijaya is also sometimes attributed to one mUkakavi. As with the bRhat Sankaravijaya of citsukha, nothing specific is known about this prAcIna Sankaravijaya either, as all attempts to trace source manuscripts have failed. Some quotations from a prAcIna Sankaravijaya are found in some very recent works, but the real source of these quotations remains unknown.

anantAnandagirIya Sankaravijaya - In my opinion, this work is very unreliable. To begin with, it is a very late text and all available versions seem extremely corrupt. The author of this text identifies himself as anantAnandagiri. Many scholars mistakenly identify this text with that of Anandagiri, the TIkAkAra, probably due to the misleading similarity of their names. Among these, H. H. Wilson thinks that the author is an unblusing liar, because he reports miracles and supernatural events associated with Sankara. However, he seems prepared to accept this text's description of Hindu religious cults. About forty out of the seventy-odd chapters in this work describe some 72 different religious cults and sects prevalent in India, which Wilson uses in his study. A. C. Burnell, however, thinks that the work is spurious and very modern, [7] written in the interests of southern maThas which had broken their ties with the Sringeri maTha. Be that as it may, a casual reading of this Sankaravijaya text is enough to convince the reader that its author cannot be identified with Anandagiri at all. anantAnandagiri appears to be a quite different author altogether. He quotes sections from the adhikaraNa ratnamAlA, a 14th-century work of vidyAraNya and bhAratI tIrtha, but attributes these quotations to Sankara. He also makes barely veiled references to rAmAnuja, the 11th-century teacher of viSishTAdvaita, and AnandatIrtha, the 13th-century teacher of dvaita. Both of them have been described as direct disciples of Sankara himself.

Moreover, most of the available manuscripts of this work are incomplete, and even these seem to have been heavily tampered with. Two separate accounts of Sankara's life may be found in different editions of this work. For example, the 19th century editions from Calcutta, [8] and all their source manuscripts, describe Sankara's birth at Cidambaram in Tamil Nadu, while the 1971 Madras edition [9] says that Sankara was born at Kaladi in Kerala. The earlier 19th century editions mention a maTha at Sringeri, and no maTha at Kancipuram. However, in the 1971 Madras edition, an ASrama has been mentioned near Sringeri, and a maTha at Kancipuram has been described in great detail. All editions mention that Sankara stayed at Sringeri for twelve years, and his last days are placed at Kancipuram, but this text is totally silent about any sarvajnapITha. It has been pointed out that the 1971 Madras edition is not true to the manuscripts that it lists as its sources. [10] T. M. P. Mahadevan's introduction to this edition also wrongly identifies this work with that of Anandagiri, the TIkAkAra, and claims that this must be the work that is called both bRhat and prAcIna. However, Mahadevan is silent about the bRhat text said to have been written by citsukha and the prAcIna text attributed to mUkakavi.

cidvilAsIya Sankaravijaya - This text is also known as the Sankaravijaya vilAsa, and was probably written between the 15th and 17th centuries. It is in the form of a dialogue between one cidvilAsa and his disciple, named vijnAnakanda. [11] This is one of the few texts that explicitly record the tradition that four maThas were established by Sankara, at Sringeri, Dvaraka, Puri and Badrinath. cidvilAsa devotes three entire chapters to the founding of the Sringeri maTha, and one chapter to a sarvajnapITha at Kancipuram. However, he does not say anything about the establishment of a fifth maTha at Kancipuram, [12] and Sankara's last days are placed near Badrinath in the Himalayas. Except for its variant tradition about the sarvajnapITha, this text also agrees with the mAdhavIya in most other details.

keralIya Sankaravijaya - This text is also called the SankarAcAryacarita and is attributed to one govindanAtha in all manuscripts. [13] This text conflates the variant traditions about the sarvajnapITha, and mentions both Kashmir and Kancipuram in the same verse. It is completely silent about the establishment of any maThas, and describes Sankara's last days at the vRshAcaleSvara temple in Trichur, Kerala. In this last detail, it differs from all other available oral traditions and Sankaravijaya texts. It dates from the 17th century.

Other minor texts - The kUshmANDa Sankaravijaya of purushottama bhAratI describes the establishment of a SAradA temple at a place called Pammapura, and is rather unique in describing Sankara and his four disciples as incarnations of the five Pandavas, who are in turn described as partial incarnations of Siva! A 17th century author named rAjacUDAmaNi dIkshita wrote a short hagiographical poem named SankarAbhyudaya. Among more recent works (late 18th century and after), sadAnanda's Sankaravijaya sAra and nIlakaNTha's SankaramandAra saurabha follow the details given in the mAdhavIya. Both authors explicitly mention their source in their introductory chapters. nIlakaNTha also wrote another poem named SankarAbhyudaya, which is one of the few works to give the 788 CE date for Sankara's birth. Another SankarAbhyudaya is attributed to one tirumala dIkshita. This and a work known as vyAsAcalIya Sankaravijaya are of extremely doubtful authenticity, as they reproduce a large number of verses from the mAdhavIya Sankaravijaya. The bhagavatpAdAbhyudaya of mahAkavi lakshmaNa sUrin is an early 20th century work, which recounts all the traditional details of Sankara's life.


  1. Editions of the mAdhavIya include the following:
    • Ganpat Krishnaji's Press, Bombay 1863.
      LC Call No.: Microfiche 93/61065 (P),
    • Anandasrama Sanskrit Series, No. 22, Pune, 1891,
    • Sringeri Matha, Sringeri, 1956,
    • Sri Sravananatha Jnanamandiram, (with a Hindi translation and notes by Baldev Upadhyaya), Haridvar, 2nd ed., 1967,
    • Vani Vilas Press, Srirangam, 1972.

  2. Swami Tapasyananda, The Sankara-dig-vijaya of Madhava-Vidyaranya, Ramakrishna Mission, Madras, 1st ed., 1978 , 2nd ed., 1983.
    LC Call No.: PK3798.M168 S2613 1978

  3. K. Padmanabhan, Srimad Sankara digvijayam, by Vidyaranya, Madras, 1985.
    LC Call No.: B133.S5 M32 1985

  4. (a) T. S. Narayana Sastri, The Age of Sankara, Madras, 1910.
    (b) A. Nataraja Iyer and Lakshminarasimha Sastry, The Traditional Age of Sri Sankaracharya and the Maths, Madras, 1962.
    LC Call No.: B133.S5 N324 1962

  5. Footnote no. 1, p. xi, in reference no. 2 above.

  6. Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund, A History of India, Routledge, New York, 1990.
    LC Call No.: DS436 .K8513 1990

  7. See H. H. Wilson, A Sketch of the Religious Sects of the Hindus, Cosmo Publications, New Delhi, 1977, p. 14 (a reprint of an earlier 1861 edition); and A. C. Burnell, A classified index to the Sanskrit mss. in the palace at Tanjore, Trubner, London, 1880, p. 96.

  8. (a) Jayanarayana Tarkapanchanana and Nabadwipa Chandra Goswami (ed.), The Sankara-vijaya; or, The life and polemics of Sankara Acharya, Bibliotheca Indica nos. 46, 137, and 138, Calcutta, 1868. Reprinted in Biblio Verlag, Osnabruch, 1982. (LC Call No.: B133.S5A6 1982)
    (b) Jibananda Vidyasagara Bhattacharya (ed.), Sankaravijaya, Sarasudhanidhi Press, Calcutta, 1881. (LC Call No.: B133.S5A5 1881)

  9. N. Veezhinathan (ed.), Anantanandagiripranitam Srisankaravijayam, Madras, 1971, with an introduction by Dr. T. M. P. Mahadevan.
    LC Call No.: B133.S5 A65 1971

  10. N. S. Dakshinamurti, A review of Anantanandagiripranitam Srisankaravijayam, (the 1971 Madras edition - reference no. 9 above), Bangalore, 1981.

  11. cidvilAsa's Sankaravijaya vilAsa has been published by W. R. Antarkar, in Bharatiya Vidya (Journal of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, India), Vol. XXXIII, nos. 1-4, 1973, pp. 1-92.

  12. Readers interested in the number of maThas established by Sankara - please take note. cidvilAsa clearly does not describe a maTha at the place where Sankara ascended the sarvajnapITha.

  13. This text has been published by W. R. Antarkar, in Bharatiya Vidya, Vol. LII, nos. 1-4, 1992, pp. 57-140.


Last updated on May 5, 1999.

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