[Advaita-l] Qualities of vArthikam

Sundaresan, Vidyasankar (GE Infra, Water) vidyasankar.sundaresan at ge.com
Tue Jul 29 10:10:31 CDT 2008

A vArttika is, by definition, a sub-commentary on a primary commentary
on a source text.

A bhAshya is a primary commentary on a source text. A source text is an
independent text that does not presuppose another text, e.g. upanishad
or gItA. The only exception is a sUtra text, which may presuppose
multiple sources.

The word sUtra means thread. A sUtra text literally stitches together
various themes or topics from its source text(s). Or, it stitches
together a self-consistent progression of development of ideas and
context with respect to its subject matter.

The brahmasUtras do the first function, by bringing together the various
upanishads and smRti texts according to specific topics.

The nyAya sUtras, vaiSeshika sUtras, vyAkaraNa sUtras, yoga sUtras and
mImAMsA sUtras do the latter function, by developing their subject
matter in specific ways. Within this second group, the mImAMsA sUtras
presuppose the texts of the veda and the various rituals of the
karmakANDa. The other sUtras do not necessarily rely upon earlier source

sUtra-s are, by design, meant to be short and terse in structure. Each
sUtra packs a lot of potential meaning(s) and expansion of scope in the
hands of a skilled interpreter.

A bhAshya (especially one on a sUtra text) unravels the meaning of the
source text, whether it is an obvious surface explanation or a deeper
hidden meaning. One short sentence, with less than 10 words, may demand
many pages of explanation in a bhAshya. Sometimes, if a word or sentence
in the source text is capable of only one straightforward explanation,
an author of a bhAshya will write a very short explanation and move on
to the more difficult passages. This is often seen in SankarAcArya's

A vArttika, as said earlier, is a sub-commentary on a bhAshya. Its
purpose is to expand upon the explanation given in the bhAshya. It not
only highlights what is well said (sUktam = su + uktam) in the bhAshya,
but also provides explanation of what has been left unsaid (anuktam = an
+ uktam) and provides corrective explanations in case something has not
been said properly (duruktam = duH + uktam). sureSvara wrote vArttika-s
on SankarAcArya's bhAshya-s on two yajurveda upanishads.

There are other kinds of sub-commentaries too. A vRtti is a text that
further develops the thought of a source text or a commentary, without
going specifically into the sUktam-anuktam-duruktam focus of a vArttika.
A TIkA is meant to be a simple explanation of a bhAshya, something like
an "annotations" or a "digest" that we may be familiar with from our
student days. 


ps. With reference to another ongoing thread, obviously, the AcArya-s of
the advaita tradition did have a lot of use for words and their meaning,
even while explaining yato vAco nivartante and even while holding that
silence is the highest teaching.

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