A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1940 | 232,512 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of teachers and pupils of the nimbarka school: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the first part in the series called the “the nimbarka school of philosophy”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 1 - Teachers and Pupils of the Nimbārka School

Nimbārka, Nimbāditya or Niyamānanda is said to have been a Telugu Brahmin who probably lived in Nimba or Nimbapura in the Bellary district. It is said in Harivyāsadeva’s commentary on Daśa-ślokī that his father’s name was Jagannātha and his mother’s name was Sarasvatī. But it is difficult to fix his exact date. Sir R. G. Bhandarkar, in his Vaiṣṇavism, Śaivism and Minor Religious Systems, thinks that he lived shortly after Rāmānuja.

The argument that he adduces is as follows: Harivyāsadeva is counted in the Guru-paramparā list as the thirty-second teacher in succession from Nimbārka, and Bhandarkar discovered a manuscript containing this list which was written in Sam vat 1806 or A.D. 1750 when Dāmodara Gosvāmī was living. Allowing fifteen years for the life of Dāmodara Gosvāmī we have A.D. 1765. Now the thirty-third successor from Madhva died in A.D. 1876 and Madhva died in A.D. 1276. Thus thirty-three successive teachers, on the Madhva line, occupied 600 years. Applying the same test and deducting 600 years from A.D. 1765, the date of the thirty-third successor, we have 1165 as the date of Nimbārka. This, therefore, ought to be regarded as the date of Nimbārka’s death and it means that he died sometime after Rāmānuja and might have been his junior contemporary.

Bhandarkar would thus put roughly eighteen years as the pontifical period for each teacher. But Pandit Kiśoradāsa says that in the lives of teachers written by Pandit Anantarām Devā-cārya the twelfth teacher from Nimbārka was born in Samvat 1112 or A.D. 1056, and applying the same test of eighteen years for each teacher we have A.D. 868 as the date of Nimbārka, in which case he is to be credited with having lived long before Rāmānuja. But from the internal examination of the writings of Nimbārka and Śrīnivāsa this would appear to be hardly credible. Again, in the Catalogue of Sanskrit Manuscripts in the Private Libraries of the North Western Provinces, Part 1, Benares, 1874 (or N.W.P. Catalogue, MS. No. 274), Madhva-mukha-mardana, deposited in the Madan Mohan Library, Benares, is attributed to Nimbārka. This manuscript is not procurable on loan and has not been available to the present writer. But if the account of the authors of the Catalogue is to be believed, Nimbārka is to be placed after Madhva.

One argument in support of this later date is to be found in the fact that Mādhava who lived in the fourteenth century did not make any reference in his Sarva-darśana-saṃgraha, to Nimbārka’s system, though he referred to all important systems of thought known at the time. If Nimbārka had lived before the fourteenth century there would have been at least some reference to him in the Sarva-darśana-saṃgraha, or by some of the writers of that time. Dr Rajendra Lai Mitra, however, thinks that since Nimbārka refers to the schools (sampradāya) of Śrī, Brahmā and Sanaka, he lived later than Rāmānuja, Madhva and even Vallabha. While there is no positive, definite evidence that Nimbārka lived after Vallabha, yet from the long list of teachers of his school it probably would not be correct to attribute a very recent date to him. Again, on the assumption that the Madhva-mukha-mardana was really written by him as testified in the N. W.P. Catalogue, one would be inclined to place him towards the latter quarter of the fourteenth or the beginning of the fifteenth century.

Considering the fact that there have been up till now about forty-three teachers from the time of Nimbārka, this would mean that the pontifical period of each teacher was on the average about ten to twelve years, which is not improbable. An internal analysis of Nimbārka’s philosophy shows its great indebtedness to Rāmānuja’s system and even the style of Nimbārka’s bhāṣya in many places shows that it was modelled upon the style of approach adopted by Rāmānuja in his bhāṣya. This is an additional corroboration of the fact that Nimbārka must have lived after Rāmānuja.

The works attributed to him are as follows:

  1. Vedānta-pārijāta-saurabha.
  2. Daśa-śloki.
  3. Kṛṣṇa-stava-rāja.
  4. Guru-paramparā.
  5. Madhva-mukha-mardana.
  6. Vedānta-tattva-bodha.
  7. Vedānta-siddhānta-pradīpa.
  8. Sva-dharmā-dhva-bodha.
  9. Śrī-kṛṣṇa-stava.

But excepting the first three works all the rest exist in MS. most of which are not procurable[1]. Of these the present writer could secure only the Sva-dharmā-dhva-bodha, which is deposited with the Bengal Asiatic Society. It is difficult to say whether this work was actually written by Nimbārka. In any case it must have been considerably manipulated by some later followers of the Nimbārka school, since it contains several verses interspersed, in which Nimbārka is regarded as an avatāra and salutations are offered to him. He is also spoken of in the third person, and views are expressed as being Nimbārka-matam which could not have come from the pen of Nimbārka. The book contains reference to the Kevala-bheda-vādī which must be a reference to the Madhva school. It is a curious piece of work, containing various topics, partly related and partly unrelated, in a very unmethodical style. It contains references to the various schools of asceticism and religion.

In the Guru-paramparā list found in the Har-iguru-stava-mālā noted in Sir R. G. Bhandarkar’s Report of the Search for Sanskrit Manuscripts 1882-1883, we find that Hamsa, the unity of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, is regarded as the first teacher of the Nimbārka school. His pupil was Kumāra of the form of four vyūhas.

Kumāra’s pupil was Nārada, the teacher of prema-bhakti in the Tretā-yuga.

Nimbārka was the pupil of Nārada and the incarnation of the power (sudarśana) of Nārāyaṇa. He is supposed to have introduced the worship of Kṛṣṇa in Dvāpara-yuga. His pupil was Śrīnivāsa, who is supposed to be the incarnation of the conch-shell of Nārāyaṇa.

Śrīnivāsa’s pupil was Viśvācārya, whose pupil was Puruṣottama, who in turn had as his pupil Svarupācārya. These are all described as devotees.

Svarūpācārya’s pupil was Mādhavācārya, who had a pupil Balabhadrācārya, and his pupil was Padmācārya who is said to have been a great controversialist, who travelled over different parts of India defeating people in discussion.

Padmā-cārya’s pupil was Śyāmācārya, and his pupil was Gopālācārya, who is described as a great scholar of the Vedas and the Vedānta. He had as pupil Krpācārya, who taught Devācārya, who is described as a great controversialist.

Devācārya’s pupil was Sundara bhaṭṭa, and Sundara bhaṭṭa’s pupil was Padmanā Bhācārya.

His pupil was Upendra bhaṭṭa; the succession of pupils is in the following order:

  • Rāmacandra bhaṭṭa,
  • Kṛṣṇa bhaṭṭa,
  • Padmākara bhaṭṭa,
  • Śravaṇa bhaṭṭa,
  • Bhūri bhaṭṭa,
  • Madhva bhaṭṭa,
  • Śyāma bhaṭṭa,
  • Gopāla bhaṭṭa,
  • Valabhadra bhaṭṭa,
  • Gopīnātha bhaṭṭa (who is described as a great controversialist),
  • Keśava,
  • Gaṅgala bhaṭṭa,
  • Keśava Kāśmīrī,
  • Śrī bhaṭṭa
  • and Harivyāsadeva.

Up to Harivyāsadeva apparently all available lists of teachers agree with one another; but after him it seems that the school split into two and we have two different lists of teachers. Bhandarkar has fixed the date for Harivyāsadeva as the thirty-second teacher after Nimbārka. The date of Harivyāsadeva and his successor in one branch line, Dāmodara Gosvāmī, has been fixed as 1750-1755.

After Harivyāsadeva we have, according to some lists,

  • Paraśurāmadeva,
  • Harivamśadeva,
  • Nārāyaṇadeva,
  • Vrndāvanadeva
  • and Govindadeva.

According to another list we have Svabhūrāmadeva after Harivyāsadeva, and after him

  • Karmaharadeva,
  • Mathuradeva,
  • Śyāmadeva,
  • Sevadeva,
  • Naraharideva,
  • Dayārāmadeva,
  • Pūrṇadeva,
  • Maniṣīdeva,
  • Rādhā-kṛṣṇaśaraṇadeva,
  • Harideva
  • and Vrajabhūṣaṇasaraṇadeva who was living in 1924
  • and Santadāsa Vāvājī who died in 1935.

A study of the list of teachers gives fairly convincing proof that on the average the pontifical period of each teacher was about fourteen years. If Harivyāsadeva lived in 1750 and Śāntadāsa Vāvājī who was the thirteenth teacher from Harivyāsadeva died in 1935, the thirteen teachers occupied a period of 185 years. This would make the average pontifical period for each teacher about fourteen years. By backward calculation from Harivyāsadeva, putting a period of fourteen years for each teacher, we have for Nimbārka a date which would be roughly about the middle of the fourteenth century.

Nimbārka’s commentary of the Brahma-sūtras is called the Vedānta-pārijata-saurabha as has been already stated. A commentary on it, called the Vedānta-kaustubha, was written by his direct disciple Śrīnivāsa. Kesava-kāśmīrī bhaṭṭa, the disciple of Mukunda, wrote a commentary on the Vedānta-kaustubha, called the Vedānta-kaustubha-prabhā.

He also is said to have written

He also wrote a work called Krama-dīpikā, which was commented upon by Govinda Bhattācārya[2]. The Krama-dīpikā is a work of eight chapters dealing mainly with the ritualistic parts of the Nimbārka school of religion. This work deals very largely with various kinds of Mantras and meditations on them. Śrīnivāsa also wrote a work called Laghu-stava-raja-stotra in which he praises his own teacher Nimbārka. It has been commented upon by Puruṣottama Prasāda, and the commentary is called Guru-bhakti-mandākinī.

The work Vedānta-siddhānta-pradīpa attributed to Nimbārka seems to be a spurious work so far as can be judged from the colophon of the work and from the summary of the contents given in R. L. Mitra’s Notices of Sanskrit Manuscripts (MS. No. 2826). It appears that the book is devoted to the elucidation of the doctrine of monistic Vedānta of the school of Śaṅkara.

Nimbārka’s Daśa-ślokī, called also Siddhānta-ratna, had at least three commentaries:

  1. Vedānta-ratna-mañjuṣā, by Puruṣottama Prasāda;
  2. Laghu-māñjuṣā, the author of which is unknown;
  3. and a commentary by Harivyāsa muni.

Puruṣottama Prasāda wrote a work called Vedānta-ratna-mañjuṣā as a commentary on the Daśa-ślokī of Nimbārka, and also Guru-bhakti-mandākinī commentary as already mentioned.

He wrote also a commentary on the Śrī-kṛṣṇa-stava of Nimbārka in twenty chapters called Śruty-anta-sura-druma, and also Stotra-trayī[3]. The discussions contained in the commentary are more or less of the same nature as those found in Para-pakṣa-giri-vajra, which has been already described in a separate section. The polemic therein is mainly directed against Śaṅkara vedānta. Puruṣottama also strongly criticizes Rāmānuja’s view in which the impure cit and acit are regarded as parts of Brahman possessed of the highest and noblest qualities, and suggests the impossibility of this.

According to the Nimbārka school the individual selves are different from Brahman. Their identity is only in the remote sense inasmuch as the individual selves cannot have any separate existence apart from God. Puruṣottama also criticizes the dualists, the Madhvas. The dualistic texts have as much force as the identity texts, and therefore on the strength of the identity texts we have to admit that the world exists in Brahman, and on the strength of the duality texts we have to admit that the world is different from Brahman. The real meaning of the view that God is the material cause of the world is that though everything springs from Him, yet the nature of God remains the same in spite of all His productions. The energy of God exists in God and though He produces everything by the diverse kinds of manifestations of His energies, He remains unchanged in His Self[4].

Puruṣottama makes reference to Devācārya’s Siddhanta-jāhnavī, and therefore lived after him. According to Pandit Kiśoradāsa’s introduction to Śruty-anta-sura-druma, he was born in 1623 and was the son of Nārāyaṇa Śarmā. The present writer is unable to substantiate this view. According to Pandit Kiśoradāsa he was a pupil of Dharmadevācārya.[5] Devācārya wrote a commentary on the Brahma-sūtras called the Siddhānta-jāhnavī, on which Sundara bhaṭṭa wrote a commentary called the Siddhānta-setukā.

Footnotes and references:


Vedānta-tattva-bodha exists in the Oudh Catalogue, 1877, 42 and vm. 24, compiled by Pandit Deviprasad.

Vedānta-siddhānta-pradīpa and Sva-dharmā-dhva-bodha occur in the Notices of Sanskrit Manuscripts, by R. L. Mitra, Nos. 2826 and 1216, and the Guru-paramparā in the Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Private Libraries of the N.W.P., Parts I-x, Allahabad, 1877-86.


This Keśava Kāśmīrl bhaṭṭa seems to be a very different person from the Keśava Kāśmīrī who is said to have had a discussion with Caitanya as described in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta.


The Śṛī-kṛṣṇa-stava had another commentary on it called Śruti-siddhānta-mañjarī, the writer of which is unknown.


yathā ca bhūmes tathā-bhūta-śakti-matyā oṣadhīnāṃ janma-mātraṃ tathā sarva-kāryo-tpādanā-rha-lakṣaṇā-cintyānnanta-sarva-śakter akṣara-padārthād brahmaṇo viśvam sambhavati’ti; yadā sva-svā-bhāvikā-lpā-dhika-sātiśaya-śaktimo-dbhyo’ cetanebhyas tat-tac-chaktya-nusāreṇa sva-sva-kārya-bhāvā-pattavapi apra-cyuta-sva-rūpatvaṃ pratyakṣa-pramāṇa-siddhaṃ, tarfiy acintya-sarvā-cintya-viśzākhya-kāryo-tpādanā-rha-śaktimato bhagavata ukta-rītyā jagad-bhāvā-puttavapya-pracyuta-sva-rūpatvarti kim aśakyam iti.. . . śakti-vikṣepa-saṃ-haraṇasya pariṇāma-śabda-vācyatvā-bhiprāyeṇa kvacit pariṇāmo-ktiḥ. sva-rūpa-pariṇāmā-bhāvaś ca pārvam eva nirūpitaḥ; śakteḥ śakti-matopṛthak-siddhatvāt.
, pp. 73—74.)


Pandit Kiśoradāsa contradicts himself in his introduction to Vedānta-mañjuṣā and it seems that the dates he gives are of a more or less fanciful character. Pandit Kiśoradāsa further says that Devācārya lived in A.D. 1055. This would place Nimbārka prior even to Rāmānuja, which seems very improbable.

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