Wednesday October 18, 2017

Sri Vidyaranya: The saint who saved Hindu religion

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Photo Credits: www.sringeri.net

By Nithin Sridhar

Guru Poornima special- Part 5

Vijayanagara Empire stood as a bulwark for 310 years (between 1336 CE and 1646 CE) against the Islamic invasion of South India.

The purpose of its foundation was to save South India from the conquest of Islamic rulers to save Hindu religion, culture and learning and help them to flourish, according to Dr. Krishnaswami Aiyangar, an Indian historian and academician.(1)

The inspiration and the driving force behind the establishment of Vijayanagara Empire by Harihara I and Bukkaraya was Sri Vidyaranya.

Therefore, the fifth installment of the Guru Poornima series is dedicated to Sri Vidyaranya.

Photo Credits: www.sringeri.net
Photo Credits: www.sringeri.net

 

His Life: No definite information is available about the date of his birth, but what is definitely known is that he was the 12th Shankaracharya of Sringeri Peetham(2) from 1380 CE to 1386 CE when he left his body, and his pre-monastic name was Madhava.

According the traditional account as accepted by Sringeri Peetham(3), he was born in present day Warangal, Andra Pradesh and was the elder brother of Sri BharatiTirtha who became the 11th Shankaracharya of Sringeri Peetham in 1333CE and occupied that position till his Samadhi (i.e. left his body) in 1380 CE.

The tradition holds that Sri Vidyaranya took Sannyasa (renunciation) in 1331 AD from Sri Vidya Tirtha, the 10th Shankaracharya of Sringeri. Therefore, according to the traditional account, both the brothers had the same Guru, but the younger brother took renunciation earlier and hence, he succeeded his Guru as 11th Shankaracharya, whereas Sri Vidyaranya became 12th Shankaracharya in 1380 CE.

But some scholars believe that Sri Vidyaranya was none other than Madhavacharya, the elder brother of Sayanacharya; both of whom were ministers in Vijayanagara court. According to this view, Madhavacharya served in the court of Harihara I, Bukkaraya and briefly under Harihara II, before he took Sannyasa in 1380 CE and occupied Sringeri Peetham under the monastic name Vidyaranya. The traditional view considers Madhavacharya, who was a minister in Vijayanagara court, and was the brother of Sayana as being different from Sri Vidyaranya.

Ruins of Vijayanagara. Photo Credit: http://www.karnatakatemplesyatra.kar.nic.in
Ruins of Vijayanagara. Photo Credit: http://www.karnatakatemplesyatra.kar.nic.in

 

Founding Vijayanagara Empire (4): The exact accounts of the origins of Vijayanagara Empire is of dispute. But it is largely agreed that Harihara I and Bukkaraya were either chief in Hoysala kingdom or were serving Kakatiya king in Warangal.

When the kingdoms were attacked by Muhammad bin Tughlaq, it is believed that they captured and converted Harihara I and Bukkaraya into Islam and sent them back as vassals. During that time, Sri Vidyaranya was staying at Matanga Hill and the brothers came there and met him. Under the guidance of Sri Vidyaranya, the brothers returned back to Hinduism and founded the Vijayanagara Empire.

Some consider that these conversions may not have taken place and that the brothers fled the Islamic invasion and took refuge in Sri Vidyaranya. Some accounts even mention that Sri Vidyaranya gave the brothers a large hidden treasure that the saint had discovered.

Irrespective of the accounts, what is clearly known is that Harihara I and Bukkaraya approached Sri Vidyaranya and it was under his inspiration and guidance that they decided to establish the mighty Vijayanagara Empire and managed to revive Hindu religion, culture, arts and crafts.

His Works and Legacy: Sri Vidyaranya has written a number of books on a variety of topics like Meemaamsa, Vedanta, music, Smriti etc. Some of his important works are:

  • Shankara Digvijaya: A biographical account of life of Adi Shankaracharya written in poetical form.
  • Parashara Madhaviya: A commentary on Parashara’s Smriti.
  • Sarvadarshana-Sangraha: A compendium of views of various Hindu schools like Nyaya, Yoga, Samkhya etc.
  • Panchadashi: A very important work on Advaita Vedanta.
  • Jaimini Nyayamala Vistara: A work on Meemaamsa.
  • Sangita Saara: A work on music.
He was one of the most important writers on Advaita in post-Shankara period. His contributions to Advaita like Panchadashi and Jivanmukti-viveka is considered one of the most authentic works on Advaita philosophy.

His works like Parashara Madhaviya,Kala Madhava and Smriti Sangraha are important contributions in the field of Dharma shastras (works on law, polity, duty etc.)

His biography of Adi Shankara is held in high esteem by traditional followers and scholars alike.

In his compendium of various daarshanas (world views), he gives a systematic analysis of various schools of Hindu world view and how each of them is connected to others, inspite of their differences.

Under his guidance, the commentaries on all the Vedas were undertaken and completed by Sayanacarya.

He got many temples built and renovated, and he re-started worship in many temples wherein worship had been suspended.

He was instrumental in building the infrastructure for Sringeri Peetham, which helped the peetham to sustain and spread its dharmic activities for many centuries.

Finally, he was instrumental in the building of Vijayanagara Empire, which resulted in the revival of Hindu religion and practices.

Footnotes:

  1. As quoted in Decisive Battles India Lost (326 B. C. to 1803 A. D.) by Jaywant Joglekar (2006).
  2. Sringeri Sharada Peetham in Karnataka is one of the four centers established by Adi Shankaracharya.
  3. The traditional account as accepted by Sringeri Sharada Peetham is briefly mentioned in their official website.
  4. Robert Sewell in his ‘A Forgotten Empire’, narrates many such accounts. Various historians have accepted various narratives.

Glossary:

1. Nyaya: A school of Hindu philosophy that deals with logic and worldview established through logic.

2.Samkhya: A school of Hindu philosophy that proposes a world model based on duality of Purusha and Prakriti.

3. Yoga: A school of Hindu philosophy that deals with practical application of Samkhya philosophy.

4. Advaita Vedanta: It is a Non-dual philosophy based on Upanishads.

 

More in this segment:

Guru Poornima Special- Part 1

Guru Poornima Special- Part 2

Guru Poornima Special- Part 3

Guru Poornima Special- Part 4

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President Pranab Mukherjee inaugurates Kempegowda Festival in Delhi, says Kempe Gowda was a “just and humane” ruler of Vijayanagara Empire

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President Pranab Mukherjee, Source- Wikimedia

New Delhi, April 15, 2017: President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday inaugurated the Kempegowda Festival here, and said Kempe Gowda was a “just and humane” ruler of the Vijayanagara empire.

The festival is organised by the Nadaprabhu Kempegowda Foundation, an official release said.

NewsGram brings to you latest new stories in India.

“His genius lay in the fact that he could visualise and implement planned urban development that stands out, as early as in the 16th century A.D. It is a testimony to the genius of Kempe Gowda that Bangalore, despite unprecedented challenges of population, traffic and environmental pollution, remains the Garden City even today,” the release quoted him as saying.

The President was glad to learn that the Nadaprabhu Kempegowda Foundation, founded on April 17 last year, is working towards popularising the legendary king and his works.

The President also extended his good wishes to the foundation and hoped that it would achieve its objectives, the release added. (IANS)

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Self-Realization alone leads to Moksha

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Photo: www.frequency.com

By Nithin Sridhar

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 12

Photo Credit: memyinnerthoughts.blogspot.com
Photo Credit: memyinnerthoughts.blogspot.com

God is central to all religious traditions. The conception of this God which is referred by the term ‘Brahman’ in Hinduism is very different from the conception of God in Semitic religions.

In the last two installments, the two questions: “Where is God?” and “How to define God?” were taken up. In this installment, let us look into another important question: “How to reach/realize God?”

It was pointed out before, that Brahman is both transcendent and immanent and He exists both beyond the universe as well as within the hearts of every creature. And attaining unity with this Brahman is termed as ‘Moksha’ or liberation.

Conventionally, Moksha is described as “liberation of an Individual from the cycle of birth and death.” So, transcending death and never returning back to this Karmic cycle is the hallmark of Moksha. It must be pointed out that death need not refer to only the discarding of the physical body. Death is the best metaphor to denote change. Through death, an individual moves from one body to another, from one life to another, and from one realm to another.

Therefore, transcending death truly means transcending these changes and attaining a state of eternal changeless existence. This eternal changeless existence is nothing but Brahman itself, which is described as changeless existence (Satyam), objectless awareness (Jnanam), and part-less Infinity (Anantham) by the Taittiriya Upanishad (2.1.1).

So, how does an individual who is endowed with a body and mind, which by its very nature is very limited in its existence and awareness, attain the supreme state? Svetashwatara Upanishad (3.8) says:

vedAhametaM puruShaM mahAntamAdityavarNaM tamasaH parastAt |

tamEva viditva atimrutyumeti nAnyaH panthA vidhyate ayanAya ||

Translation: I have realized this Great Being (mahAt puruShaM) who shines like the sun, and who is beyond darkness of ignorance (tamasaH). Only by realizing Him one can transcend death and there is no other path than this.

This mantra is very significant. It says that there is no other way to transcend death and attain Moksha other than ‘realization of Brahman.’ Therefore, one can attain Brahman, only by the realization of Brahman. In other words, Moksha does not involve going to any realms of existence, be it realm of Gods, or forefathers, or that of Hiranyagarbha.

It is stressed that, though Moksha is portrayed as the ultimate goal of life, it is not a goal in the sense of travelling to some place, or attaining some powers, or some high meditation state. Instead, it is saying, that Moksha is nothing but the realization of the true nature of Brahman (which is called as BrahmaJnana or Atma Jnana).

In the previous installments, we saw that Brahman stays in the Hrdaya (hearts) of all beings as their innermost Atman/Self. Hence, realization of Brahman is nothing but realization of Brahman in one’s own Atman. The Vedanta teachers call this “BrahmaAtmaAikyam” i.e. perceiving the unity and non-difference of Brahman and Atman, God and Innermost Self.

Therefore, we can refine our understandings of Moksha further and define it as “being established in one’s own Innermost Atman, which (being non-different from Brahman) is by very nature existence, awareness, infinite, and blissful (anandam).” And the only way to attain this Atman and become established in it is through Atma-Jnana, the realization of the innermost Self.

Photo Credit: krishnaunlimited.com
Photo Credit: krishnaunlimited.com

Adi Shankaracharya also stresses this point in his Vivekachoodamani. He says (verse 413): “Meditate on that Atman which is your Self, which is devoid of all limitations, which is verily existence, knowledge, and bliss Absolute and is non-dual. (By this) you will no longer be under the influence of birth and death.” Hence, Shankaracharya also asserts that it is only by realization of the Self through meditation on the Self, that one becomes free from the cycle of birth and death.

There is one issue that needs to be dealt with here. A question may arise, why do the scriptures say Moksha is possible only through the Knowledge/Realization of Self? How is knowledge connected to liberation from birth and death?

Hindu scriptures point out that, the very creation of the world has been accomplished by Brahman through his mysterious power of Maya. Using this Maya, Brahman who is Birthless, Changeless, and Limitless appears as taking birth, undergoing changes, and subjected to limitations. Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita (4.6) states that: “Though I am Birthless, Undecaying by nature, and the Lord of beings, (still) by subjugating My Prakriti, I take birth by means of My own Maya.” (Swami Gambirananda’s translation). The same has been expressed in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (2.5.19) that says: “Lord on account of Maya, appears as manifold.”

Therefore, the manifestation of the Universe and all its objects is not a real and permanent creation or transformation. Instead, it is only an apparent manifestation. Just as a mirage makes water appear where there is no water. Similarly, through Maya, one Infinite Brahman appears as multiple objects, each of them subjected to various limitations. It is for this reason, the Universe is described as product of Ignorance or Avidya. Here, the ignorance, refers to the ignorance of the true nature of Atman. An Individual identifies his self with his body, his possessions, and his mind. These false identifications arise because of the ignorance that his true Self, the Atman is beyond the limitations of the body and the mind.

As the ignorance is the root-cause of this world and the cycle of birth and death, the only way it is possible to transcend this karmic cycle is by realization of the true Atman, by which the ignorance is destroyed. It is for this reason the scriptures stress that only through the realization of Atman, that one can attain Moksha.

More in this segment:
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 1
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 2
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 3
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 4
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 5
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 6
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 7
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 8
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 9

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 10

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 11

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Adi Shankaracharya: The teacher who revived Sanatana Dharma

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By Nithin Sridhar

sankaracharya

Guru Poornima Special- Part 2

In half of a sloka I state what has been stated by millions of texts; Brahman alone is real and this jagat is mithyä, and the jiva is non-different from Brahman”- Adi Shankaracharya

When dharma declines and adharma arises, when truth and knowledge become overshadowed by ignorance and arrogance, when confusion and propaganda engulfs the society, during such a critical juncture, the Lord himself takes birth as a man, in keeping with his promise (Bhagavad Gita: 4.7) to infuse life into dharma and remove the darkness of ignorance and confusion.

One such incarnation (avataara) of the Lord, was Adi Shankaracharya– a teacher, scholar, poet, saint, philosopher, yogi, bhakta, tantrika, and a jivanmukta.

The second part of this Guru Poornima will be dedicated to this great Acharya.

His Life: Though there is a dispute regarding the dating of Adi Shankaracharya, he is largely accepted as having lived during late 8th century.

He was born in Kaaladi, Kerala and Shivaguru and Aryaamba were his parents.

When he was eight years old, he took Sanyasa and went to the banks of Narmada, where he met his teacher Govindapada.

Govindapada instructed Shankara to write commentaries on various Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Brahmasutras,

Later, Shankara travelled far and wide and debated and discussed with a large number of scholars and practitioners. He convinced them regarding the authority and true import of the Veda and Vedanta.

He established four seats of learning (Amnaya Mutts) in four directions and made his four disciples, its head.

Finally, he went to Kashmir, where he managed to establish the supremacy of Advaita Vedanta and hence occupied the Sarvajna Peetham (The Seat of All-Knowing).

By this time, he was around 32 years old, and he went to Badrinath and discarded his physical body.

His Philosophy: Adi Shankaracharya propounded the supremacy of Vedas and upheld them as the only means to attain Moksha. He propounded the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta as explained in the Upanishads.

He summarized the teachings of the Upanishads in this half verse: “Brahmo Satyam Jagat Mithyam Jivo Brahmaiva Na paraha.” It means “Brahman is real and eternal, and the world is transient and unreal. The Individual Self is actually non-different from Absolute Self.”

Adi Shankaracharya explains that, the world is full of various names and forms which is ever changing. They are transient in nature. They have a birth and a death. Hence, they cannot be called as Satyam. Satyam is that which is true always, which exists always without birth or death.

Therefore, God or Brahman which is the substratum of the universe is alone real. The attainment of this knowledge is Moksha (Liberation).

His Works: A very long list of works dealing with a variety of subjects is traditionally accepted as being authored by Adi Shankaracharya.

He wrote extensive commentaries on Brahmasutras, ten Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita.

He wrote a commentary on Vishnu Sahasranaama, Lalita Trishati, and a section of Apasthamba Dharma Sutras.

He wrote a vivarana (explanation) on Veda Vyasa’s commentary on Patanjali Yoga Sutras.

He wrote many independent Vedantic works for the sake of students like Upadeshasahasri and Vivekachoodamani.

He wrote various stotras (hymns) and Bhakti literatures like Kanakadhara Stotram, and Bhaja Govindam, and tantric works like Soundaryalahari.

His Legacy: The life mission that Shankara took upon himself was to establish the supremacy of Vedas and to impart the teachings of the Upanishads and hence revive Sanatana Dharma.

He wrote his major commentaries to explain the true meanings of the scriptures. He wrote independent Vedanta works for imparting the Knowledge of Atman to those desirous of Liberation.

Through his works, he also gave instructions regarding daily life and how people must practice dharma. He wrote various bhakti literatures inducing devotion towards God among common people.

Therefore, he taught Jnana to those who desired liberation, Karma to those who were inclined to actions, and Bhakti to those who were devotional.

He travelled extensively to the four corners of India and taught the Upanishadic teachings to everyone. He established four centers (Amnaya peetham) in four directions to propagate Dharma and Vedanta to the future generations.

He codified the traditions of Sannyasins (renunciates) and established Dashanami order, thereby reviving the order of Sannyasins.

He visited various temples and established Sri-Chakra’s in them. He thus revived the practice of Devi worship among common people.

He popularized the practice of shanmatha (six modes) system of worship thus integrating the sects of Shaiva, Vaishnava, Shakta, Ganapatya, Soura and Kaumara.

By various such measures, Adi Shankaracharya accomplished to revive Sanatana Dharma and consolidate Hindu society in his short life of 32 years. He was truly a Jagadguru– a world teacher who imparted lessons to all people from learned scholars to lay men.

Glossary:

Brahman: God as both transcendent and immanent.

Jagat: objective universe.

Satya: permanent reality having absolute eternal existence.

Mithya: transient and unreal having apparent existence.

Dharma: duty, righteous actions.

Adharma: unrighteous actions, actions prohibited by scriptures.

Yogi: an accomplished practitioner of Patanjali yoga.

Bhakta: a devotee.

Jivanmukta: a person Liberated even when in body.

Advaita Vedanta: a school of philosophy that explains adheres to non-dual philosophy Upanishads.

Jnana: may refer to Atma-Jnana or Self Realization or to the path of vichara (Self enquiry).

Karma: refers to actions. It refers to practice of dharma and Karma Yoga.

Bhakti: refers to devotion.

Vedanta: It means “end of Vedas”. It refers to the teachings of Upanishads.

Sanyasa: renunciation

More in this segment:

Guru Poornima Special- Part 1