Antiquity of advaita vedanta (was : an open letter to all)

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Jun 21 21:53:28 CDT 2000

Sankaran Panchapagesan <panchap at ICSL.UCLA.EDU> wrote:

>Hi Nanda,
>> Regarding Anandagiri : Incase you're not aware, Anandagiri, is not a
>> "reliable" author according to some sources. Else Shankara would've
>> been a Tamil Brahmin and the matham at KAnchi would've been the
>> original matham.
>I thought I'd save Vidya some time and quote from his web page:

Thanks! But you see, I am simply biased, by definition. By quoting me, you
are opening yourself to an accusation of being subject to the same bias. So
let me clarify a little.

Seriously Nanda, your comment is sambandAsambandham illAda vettup pEcchu.
nirarthakaM, nirAkaraNIyaM ca. What is its connection with Advaita Vedanta,
Madhyamaka Buddhism and Gaudapada's Karikas? Please understand that not
everything in life is political.

It has been known for long that the prAcIna Sankaravijaya written by
Anandagiri has been lost. We find fragmentary verses here and there
attributed to it, but in the absence of corroboration, we can't rely on
them. Moreover, there is nothing much in those few quotations that are not
already known from other well-attested sources, so they are mostly
redundant. It is rather easy to show that the author of the available
Sankaravijaya text is not Anandagiri, the author of the TIkAs.

1. This Sankaravijaya text says, in the very first chapter,
"anantAnandagirir aham apratihatAjnasya bhagavataH SishyaH ..." Thereby he
claims to be a disciple of Sankara himself. Every once in a while, in his
list of disciples who travelled with Sankara, he includes the name
"anantAnandagiri." Now, in the TIkAs, Anandagiri gives his own guru's name
as SuddhAnanda, and never says that he is a direct disciple of Sankara.
Moreover, all the available manuscript colophons refer only to

2. Even the author's claim to being Sankara's direct disciple is false. In
chapters 11 and 47, he quotes from the adhikaraNaratnamAlA of Swami
Vidyaranya (14th century), and even worse, he attributes these quotations to
Sankara himself. Anandagiri was clearly a 13th century author, and
therefore, pre-Vidyaranya.

This shows how poorly acquainted the author was with the tradition. It also
shows that he has a severe credibility problem. How are we supposed to
equate the author of this Sankaravijaya with Anandagiri? That some people,
from H. H. Wilson onwards, have been making this mistake for more than a
century does not make a false thing true. If people keep thinking that this
text was written by Anandagiri, the author of the TIkAs, they reveal nothing
more than their own ignorance. I'm sorry, but I have to be harsh here.


3. Nanda quotes this text as saying that Sankara was born a Tamil Brahmin.
Has he read this text? In anantAnandagiri's story of the birth, Sankara was
born at Chidambaram, to a woman *three* years after her husband disappeared.
In case I need to clear up biological details for someone, the human
gestation period is nine months. The author is basically saying that Sankara
was an illegitimate child. Does Nanda really want to quote this text to
"prove" that Sankara was born a Tamil Brahmin, and not a Kerala Brahmin?

Sringeri Matha pundits and followers have NEVER accepted this text, simply
because of the above problem. The leaders of other institutions also do not
view this text as part of their own tradition. They all think it was written
by somebody interested only in insulting the Advaita tradition. That this
text has been available for so long is because there has never been a lack
of people interested in disparaging Advaita and Advaitins. Relying on this
text is like relying on the Dvaita school's maNimanjarI, which was written
solely to insult Sankara and his teaching, and which also says that Sankara
was born as an illegitimate child. If the response to this is going to be,
"so what if Sankara's birth was illegitimate, Advaita accepts all," I fold
my hands and give up. Advaita does resolve all dualities, including that of
legitimate vs. illegitimate, but we also have to question the motivations of
a text that dishes out insults in the disguise of glorification.

Polakam Rama Sastri clearly says, in his Tamil work on the Kanchi Matha
lineage, that the prAcIna Sankaravijaya of Anandagiri is not available
anywhere and that it seems to be forever lost. Thus, he too does not think
that Anandagiri is the author of the available Sankaravijaya of
anantAnandagiri. Polakam Rama Sastri was a very learned scholar. I disagree
with some of his statements, but I fail to understand why other Kanchi Matha
followers do not accept his clear statement about this particular issue. If
I point this out, I am labelled as being political, but the truth is that on
this issue, I have the support of traditional pundits across the board,
whether they are associated with Sringeri Matha or with Kanchi Matha or with
any other Matha. It is up to those who have started all the politics to stop
it. Till such time, I will continue to point out such textual problems,
however uncomfortable they may be to Nanda Chandran's or anybody else's

My guess is this. Some prankster, who knew fully well that the prAcIna
Sankaravijaya of Anandagiri was totally lost, deliberately decided to call
himself anantAnandagiri, to create this massive confusion, and then wrote
this text. There is the mark of deliberate lying in this text, from
beginning to end. As such, if you don't want to be seen as either totally
naive or totally devious, don't quote this text in support of anything.
Contrary to what Nanda thinks, the text is definitely later than the 14th
century, but it could have been put together even as late as the 19th
century, as the earliest available edition is from the year 1867. Whoever is
interested in finding a more definite date for this text is welcome to
investigate it in detail.

I hope everybody can see that this is not a Sringeri vs. Kanchi thing. It is
more than unfortunate; it is a total travesty of all that is proper, that
T. M. P. Mahadevan and N. Veezhinathan, modern academic scholars and also
followers of the Kanchi Matha, have been championing this text. God alone
knows what their reasoning is.

Veezhinathan's 1971 edition from U. of Madras carries the title,
"anantAnandagiri-praNItaM SrISankaravijayam". This title is apt; it is as it
should be. But that is where the aptness ends. In the introduction by T. M.
P. Mahadevan and preface by N. Veezhinathan, a very puzzling argument has
been made, equating this text with the prAcIna Sankaravijaya of Anandagiri.
I invite readers to see for themselves all the differences in readings
between the old 19th century edition under the Bibliotheca Indica series
(reprinted in 1982 by Biblio Verlag, Osnabruck) and Veezhinathan's more
recent edition. The old edition is wrongly attributed to Anandagiri, but
that is because of the old mistake in identification made by a few academic
scholars in the 19th century. The new edition has been attributed to
anantAnandagiri, but nevertheless, an equation has been made with
Anandagiri. Why should one simply perpetuate an old mistake, even after
realizing that it is a mistake? Age does not sanctify an error.

Mahadevan and Veezhinathan may not have realized it, but they have simply
contradicted Polakam Rama Sastri, who stands in the position of a vidyA-guru
to both of them, and without any justification for it. In my opinion, they
have also done a singular disservice to their own Acharyas at the Kanchi
Matha. You cannot pay external homage to a guru and then act in ways that
reflect negatively upon him. Can't anyone see this? But then, I am only
being highly prejudiced, right Nanda?


bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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