[Advaita-l] Pranava adhikara (Was Re: Guru for Devi Puja)

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Mon Oct 22 23:36:47 CDT 2012

On Thu, 18 Oct 2012, Venkata sriram P wrote:

> I  would like to resolve certain issues here:
> First is praNava adhikAra :
> *********************************
> namOntaM shivamantraM vA vaiSNavaM vESyatE budhaiH
> yadvA samabhyasEt shUdrOtvArSakaM vidhipUrvakaM
> ie., 
> shudrAs can take up shiva panchakshari / vishnu mantra sans praNava 
> by suffixing the pada *namaH* ie., shivAya namaH or viSNavE namaH.  
> This can be suffixed with tAntrika praNava ie., *auM*. 

I've changed the subject line because this is a different although related 
matter.  It is of interest because this is a different issue than the run 
of the mill "modern vs traditional" or "orthodox vs new age" debates. 
Here we have a genuine difference in conceptions of Dharma.  As you will 
see, I have a definite opinion on the matter yet that does not mean I 
consider the other view to be "wrong" per se just not the one I follow. 
With that preamble out of the way...

It is an incontrovertible fact that the adhikara for the recitation of 
Vedas only belongs to traivarnika males who have undergone upanayana.  Now 
omkara is supposed to represent the essence of the Vedas.  Therefore it 
follows that recitation of omkara should also be restricted to those who 
have veda adhikara.  This view has a strong pedigree; apart from the 
sources Venkata Shriramji mentions, authoritative dharmashastras such as 
Dharmsindhu also say the same.  And it is not only Smartas who hold this 
view.  For instance, I have a copy of the Narayana Kavacha published by a 
Pushti Margi Vaishnava institution where the ashtakshari (OM namo 
nArAyaNAya) and dvadashakshari (OM namo bhagavate vAsudevAya) mantras, the 
prANava is replaced by hR^iM despite occuring as is in the text of the 
Bhagavata Purana itself.

But speaking of the itihasa-puranas, they are also said to be the essence 
of the Vedas and furthermore specifically for anadhikaris.  And as noted 
above, the omkara freely occurs in these texts.  So it would seem that 
they should be allowed to recite it.

The rejoinder to this is that the qualification for studying 
itihasa-puranas only extends to shravana ("listening") and not recitation 
or contemplation.  Bhaskara Mishra a near-contemporary of Shankaracharya 
states in the introduction to his commentary on the Bhagavadgita that 
anadhikaris should not even listen to the Gita or other philosophical 
portions but only the charitras ("stories") of the puranas.  Then they may 
be reborn as dvija and undergo upanayana, veda study etc.

However Shankaracharya clearly says:

yeShAM punaH pUrvakR^itasaMskAravashAdavidurasharmavyAdhaprabhR^itInAM 
GYAnotpattisteShAM na shakyate phalaprAptiH pratiSheddhuM 

"From those [Shudras] who have attained jnana due to the merit of their 
former sanskaras such as Vidura and Dharmavyadha, the fruit of jnana [i.e. 
moksha] cannot be denied because jnana is the sole cause of that 
[moksha.]"  (bhashya on BS 1.3.38)

Yet if they do not have Vedadhikara, how did Vidura or Dharmavyadha get 
that jnana in the first place?  Appealing to former lives only shunts the 
problem back.  Shankaracharyas answer is different:

shrAvayechchaturo varNAn iti chetihasapurANAdhigame 

"Statements in Smrti such as "He should teach it [the itihasa-puranas] 
to the four varnas" show that the four varnas have adhikara for it." 
(bhashya on BS 1.3.38)

Now it should be noted that:

1.  This comment takes place while the inelegibility of the non-dvija for 
Vedic study is being upheld.  So Shankaracharya clearly holds Veda 
adhikara and Purana adhikara to be two different things.

2. The quote from Smrti (specifically the Mahabharata) is a little bit 
ambiguous because shrAvayet literally means "cause to listen."  As noted 
above some think that the non-dvijas can only listen.  However 
Shankaracharya specifically says that it is possible for a  Shudra to 
become a jnani and jnana requires manana and nidhidhyasana as well as 

3. It therefore follows that non-dvija can also learn the philosophical 
sections of itihasa-purana such as the Gita not just the strictly 
mythological parts.  And if they should teach the symbolism and 
significance of the omkara, it follows that they can learn that too.

4. The Gita says in 8.13:

  OMityekakSharaM brahma

This  could be translated as "OM is the one letter Brahman" or "OM is the 
imperishable Brahman."  However you take it, it shows that for the 
Vedantins, the omkara is more than just the essence of the Vedas, it 
is Brahman itself.

For these reasons I do not object to non-dvijas using OM and mutatis 
mutandis other mantras and stotras found in the itihasa-puranas though 
like I won't criticize those who hold differently if that is their 

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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