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PRABUDDHA BHARATAPrabuddha Bharata | August 2005  

 

 

 

 

 Glimpses of Holy Lives

 

 

 

Vidyaranya: The Forest of Wisdom

 

 

 

    The history of medieval India has traditionally been termed the Muslim period in Indian history. Not only did this period see the rise to power of Muslim kings and chieftains and the steady expansion of their political dominions, but it also saw the spread of Islam among the masses and the flowering of Islamic art, architecture, literature and popular culture. Among the few areas that provided a notable exception to this trend was the state of Vijayanagara in South India; and one name that is inextricably linked with its foundation is that of Madhavacharya or Vidyaranya.

 

    Madhavacharya was no ordinary political leader. In his History of Dharmasastra, P V Kane writes:

 

 

    Madhavacharya is the brightest star in the galaxy of dakshinatya authors on dharmashastra. His fame stands only second to that of the great Shankaracharya. He had a most versatile genius and either himself wrote or inspired his brother Sayana and others to write voluminous works on almost all branches of Sanskrit literature. As an erudite scholar, as a far-sighted statesman, as the bulwark of the Vijayanagara kingdom in the first days of its foundation, as a sannyasin given to peaceful contemplation and renunciation in old age, he led such a varied and useful life that even to this day his is a name to conjure with.

 

 

 

    Foundation of the Vijayanagara Empire

 

 

 

    Harihara and Bukka, the founders of the fourteenth-century Vijayanagara kingdom, belonged to a family of five brothers, all sons of Sangama, and were in the service of the Kakatiya king Prataparudra II of Warangal. When the latter was defeated by the forces of Muhammad bin Tughlaq in 1333 CE, the two brothers escaped to Kampili. In 1336 Kampili too fell to the Sultans forces and both Harihara and Bukka were taken to Delhi as captives. They managed to find favour with the Sultan by embracing Islam, and when the southern territories of the Sultanate rose in revolt they were deputed by the Sultan to subdue the mutineers. Back on the banks of the Tungabhadra they happened to meet Madhavacharya, and it was this meeting that changed the course of history in South India.

 

    Madhavacharya convinced the brothers to return to Hinduism and set up an independent kingdom. Readmission of apostates was not a common Hindu practice in those days. Madhavacharya had to convince his own guru, Vidyatirtha, the head of the Shankara Math at Sringeri, about the necessity of the reconversion for the sake of saving the Hindu dharma and thus secure his approval. Harihara further affirmed his faith by undertaking the rule of the new kingdom in the name of Sri Virupaksha, to whom all the land south of the Krishna River was supposed to belong. He also adopted the name of Sri Virupaksha as his insignia for authenticating all state documents, a practice that was kept up by his successors.

 

    The fledgling state was centred round the fort of Anegondi on the northern bank of the Tungabhadra. As the fort had been overrun twice recently, Vidyaranya advised Harihara to build a new capital on the opposite bank near the temple of Virupaksha, surrounded by the Hemakuta, Matanga and Malayavanta hills. This was to be the famous city of Vijayanagara or Vidyanagara (in honour of Vidyaranya). Its foundation coincided with the coronation of Harihara I on 18 April 1336. Vidyaranyas wisdom is also reflected in Hariharas efforts to build up a strong state free of internecine quarrels. Thus the vijayotsava, victory celebrations, in 1346, to mark the annexation of the Hoysala territory and extension of the empire from sea to sea was held at Sringeri in the presence of Sri Vidyatirtha, and attended by all the four brothers of Harihara, as well as the chief relatives and lieutenants of the king. The Vijayanagara kingdom was marked by active interaction with non-Indian states through ambassadors, the most remarkable being the embassy to the Ming ruler of China. The state also allowed its Muslim subjects freedom of religious expression, was sensitive to their sentiments, and allowed for their recruitment in the army.

 

 

 

    A Versatile Genius

 

 

 

    This remarkable rajarshi, who was to help bring into being this important state and set the tone for its sagacious policies, was himself born to Srimati and Mayan in very humble circumstances in 1295 CE. His younger brothers, Sayana and Bhoganatha, were to become important scholars in their own right - the former famous for his commentaries on the Vedas and the latter as a court poet. Madhava mentions Vidyatirtha, Bharatitirtha, and Srikantha as his teachers, of whom Vidyatirtha was his principal spiritual guru.

 

    The remarkable range of issues that Madhava-Vidyaranya brings his erudition and insight to bear upon is testimony to the versatility of his genius and the extensity of his concerns. His writings touch upon a whole range of socio-political, cultural and philosophic themes, all with a pragmatic concern. Parashara Madhaviya, his commentary on the Parashara Smriti, remained the most important compendium on social rules, religious customs, and law in South India, right into the modern times. His Kalanirnaya, is especially useful in timing ritual procedures. That Madhavacharya was himself a specialist in Vedic rituals is evidenced by Sayanacharya, who calls him maha kratunam aharta, the performer of great Vedic yajnas. The Jaiminiya Nyayamala Vistara, his treatise on the Purva Mimamsa school of Vedic exegesis, also endorses this fact. The yajnas of Madhavacharya were accompanied by generous donations, mahadana, which included tulapurushadana, the gift of precious metals equivalent to ones weight.

 

    The Madhaviya Dhatuvritti, a commentary on Paninis Dhatupatha, and Sangitasara reveal the sweep of Vidyaranyas interests. But he is most remembered for his expositions on Advaita Vedanta. His texts in this genre include the Vaiyasika Nyayamala Vistara, Vivarana Prameya Sangraha, Panchadashi, and Jivanmukti Viveka. Two other works that have been associated with his name (although this claim has been contested) include the Shankara Digvijaya and the Sarva Darshana Sangraha.

 

    For the last several years of his long life of ninety, Vidyaranyamuni himself presided as the Acharya at the Sringeri Math. It is not very clear when he had his sannyasa. But in guiding the course of the empire as minister to the first two Vijayanagara sovereigns, in setting the trend for the dharma of the people as the raja-kula-guru, and in leaving an indelible impression on the Indian philosophical tradition with his erudite writings, Vidyaranya had accomplished more than what anyone can hope to achieve in one life.

 

    The Indian tradition speaks of the four ashramas as four divisions of life, each with its specific duties. Vidyaranya excelled in all of these. Single-minded in his pursuit of learning, exceptionally skilled in his handling of state affairs, accurate in his disquisitions on the highest spiritual truths and, in the last years of his life, established in the highest ideals of renunciation, Vidyaranya could justly declare: The yogi who is satisfied with the nectar of knowledge and has thereby accomplished his tasks, has got nothing else to achieve; if he has any, then he is not a knower of Reality, even as Sayanacharya was saluting him for his mastery in worldly pursuits, for the respect he commanded from the highest in society, and for his emancipation of the masses through wise guidance.



International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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