Preceptors of Advaita

by T. M. P. Mahadevan | 1968 | 179,170 words | ISBN-13: 9788185208510

The Advaita tradition traces its inspiration to God Himself — as Śrīman-Nārāyaṇa or as Sadā-Śiva. The supreme Lord revealed the wisdom of Advaita to Brahma, the Creator, who in turn imparted it to Vasiṣṭha....

40. Appayya Dīkṣita



Y. Mahalinga Sastri
M.A. B.L.

Among the three great Draviḍa āchāryas who expounded the Advaita philosophy, the earliest is known only by quotations from his lost commentaries. The second was Śrī Śaṅkara Bhagavatpāda himself. Śrīmad Appayya Dīkṣita was the third. He also forms another venerable trio along with Śrī Kaṇthāchārya and Haradattāchārya as an expositor of Śaivism. But the real mission of his life was the reconciliation of creeds, cults, and philosophies. He was a peace-maker who pleaded for harmony, tolerance and mutual goodwill and understanding. He was born in a very hot age of bigotry and vigorous proselytism. The fight was all about the Supreme God and the conception of Salvation. In actual life the warring sects were unified by an unquestioned allegiance to the śruti and the smṛti. The sectarian disputes did not stop with the growth of polemical literature. Persecution of one sect by another with political backing was not of rare occurrence. The lives of the great leaders of either Śaivism or Vaiṣṇavism during the ten centuries from the 6th to the 16th, afford ample evidences of stormy times, when either of the creeds had to endure great hardships from the fury of the rival which for the nonce got the upper hand as the oppressor. Though the greatest saints did not discriminate between Śiva and Viṣṇu and declared them identical, the adherents of the creeds were mostly cantankerous and mistook acrimony for devotion. Waves of conversions rose and fell. It was Vaiṣṇavism that was aggressive in its proselytising tendencies, being impatient for universal expansion. South India was seized with one such fervour when Rāmarāya was regent of Sadāśiva, the nominal ruler of the Vijayanagar empire. Rāmarāya was completely under the influence of Śrī Tātāchārya, the Rājaguru. During his times and during the times of the inheritors of the fragment of the empire after the battle of Talikota, mass conversions took place engineered by the Rājaguru under state patronage. Śrī Appayya Dīkṣita in his Nigrahāṣṭakam says that the leader of the Vaiṣṇavas had taken a resolute vow to stamp out Śaivism from the land. The Prapannāmṛtam, a work of one Anantāchārya, which purports to record the history of Vaiṣṇavism and the lives of the āchāryas, refers to Śrī Appayya Dīkṣita as living at Chidambaram, resplendent with fame and unassailable by controversialists, sectarian or philosophical, and proceeds to state that to refute his great works on Śivādvaita and Advaita Śrī Tātāchārya wrote a work called Pañchamatabhañjanam and Mahāchārya wrote a work called Chaṇḍamārutam and thus both of them defended the creed of Śrī Ramanuja against his attacks. This Pañchamatabhañjana Tātāchārya lived for about 75 years from 1508. He was not alive in 1585, for the ceremony of coronation of Venkatapati in 1585 was performed by his adopted son Lakṣmīkumāra Tātāchārya who was at that time only fourteen years old. The elder Tātāchārya wielded influence in the court as Rājaguru during the reigns of Sadāśiva (1542—1567), Tirumala (1567—1574), and Śrī Raṅga (1574-1585). Śrī Appayya Dīkṣita lived from 1520 to 1593 as will be shown below. He was younger to Tātāchārya by twelve years and outlived him by about ten years. Their lives ran together during the major part of the 16th century. During all the years of Śrī Tātāchārya’s supremacy Śrī Appayya Dīkṣita is not known to have had anything to do with the Vijayanagar Court. After 1585, when Venkatapati was reestablishing the glory of Vijayanagar and the younger Tātāchārya was the Rājaguru, Śrī Dīkṣita was invited to the court and was held in great honour, During the thirty years after the middle of the 16th century, when the controversies raged high, Śrī Appayya Dīkṣita enjoyed the patronage of Chinna Bomma Naik of Vellore, who soon after the battle of Talikota established himself as an independent monarch with considerably enhanced power and glory. Śrī Appayya Dīkṣita lived the longest period under the patronage of Chinna Bomma, as his own literary references show. Śrī Dīkṣita wrote not less than a dozen works on Śaivism during the period, of which the Śivārkamaṇi-dīpikā is his magnum opus, comparable in bulk and importance with his Parimala. Both are commentaries interpreting the Brahmasūtra of Vyāsa. Parimala aligns itself to the Advaitic interpretation and the Śivārkamaṇi-dīpikā expounds the Śivādvaita philosophy of Śrīkaṇṭhāchārya. On the completion of this monumental work Śrī Appayya Dīkṣita was bathed in gold by King Chinna Bomma. This significant event is referred to in the works of some contemporary poets and also in the Adayapalam inscription dated 1582 A.D. From the inscription we learn that Chinna Bomma made endowments for the maintenance of a college of 500 scholars who studied Śivārkamaṇi-dīpika under Śrī Dīkṣita himself thus equipping themselves for the Śaivite propaganda work which had been organised with a view to stemming the tide of Vaiṣṇavite attacks and encroachments. Śrī Appayya Dīkṣita was thus the guiding spirit of a great movement in which he banked upon the services of a large band of trained volunteers who could disseminate among the masses the philosophy and worship which gave supremacy to Śiva, in the face of Vaiṣnavite onslaughts against it. He threw himself heart and soul into the mission for several years together in the prime of his life often facing occasions of grave personal danger, with undaunted courage and faith He preached, organised and wrote incessantly, enlisted the cooperation of enlightened monarchs, undertook frequent travels and challenged his adversaries to stand their ground in open disputation. He brought to bear on his wide-spread activities his resourceful and versatile personality and tried his best to constitute an atmosphere of spiritual tolerance and goodwill in the place of the prevailing antipathies and narrow-mindedness. The Nigrahāṣṭaka is a thrilling piece of passionate poetry gushing out of his heart charged with desperate courage and faith, in an extremely critical situation of belligerency with his religious adversary.

Śrī Dīkṣita thoroughly investigated the Vedas, Āgamas and the Purāṇas and brought together authoritative statements which dealt with Śiva’s supremacy in the trinity. He composed very charming works dealing with the glories of Śiva and his worship and wrote his own commentaries on them.

His Śikhaṛṇimālā and Śivatattvaviveka,
his Śivakarṇāmṛta,
his Rāmāyaṇa-tātparya-saṃgraha, Bhārata-tatparya-saṃgraha and Brahmatarkastava.
his Śivamahimakalikāstuti and Śivādvaitanirṇaya,
belonged to this category.

Śrī Dīkṣita relied to a large extent on the Purāṇic lore for supporting his conclusions conducing to the harmony of the sects and consolidation of a synthesis. He linked the Purāṇic teachings with the Upaniṣadic thought and proved them identical. He did all this without resorting to strained subtleties of argument and without displaying the heat of controversial temper, but in a spirit of calm and dispassionate search for truth. The Śivarahasya refers to Śrī Dīkṣita’s historic mission as the resuscitator of Śaivaśāstra when it shall become practically extinct on earth, in these words “śaivaśāstram tadā bhūmau luptam vistarayiṣyati”. It is no wonder that Śrī Dīkṣita is known as Śrīkaṇthamatapratiṣṭhāpanāchārya.

After writing all these works which are partial to Śiva, Śrī Appayya Dīkṣita declared with a ring of genuine regret that he was obliged by the circumstances of the times to plunge into prolonged sectarian controversies with the Vaiṣṇavas, while, left to himself, he would have been quite happy to have remained a steady exponent of Advaitic philosophy all through.

His verse uttered in this mood can thus be translated—

“whether it is Viṣṇu or Śiva who is the supreme deity spoken of by the Upaniṣads, etc., we are not very much worried about, because we are definitely committed to Advaitism. But it is impossible for one like me to keep quiet when men with perverted minds proclaim in abusive language their hatred toward Śiva—a hatred which consumes their hearts like a conflagration. To refute their offensive presumptions, I had to take up cudgels against them. But this does not in the least mean that I am not a devotee of Viṣṇu”.

Śrī Dīkṣita’s impartiality is borne out by many facts. He was a great admirer of Śrī Vedānta Deśika. He wrote a commentary on the Yādavābhyudaya —the only commentary so far known and published. He is said to have written a commentary on Pudukāsahasra also. His hymn in praise of Varadarāja is well known. In the Kuvalayānanda he invokes the blessings of Mukunda at the commencement of the work. When Rāmarāya at the instance of Doddāchārya restored the worship of Govindarāja in the Chidambaram temple of Naṭarāja, Śrī Dīkṣita welcomed with all his heart the event and wrote his Hari-hara-stuti in commemoration of it. The verses, by the alternating epithets definitely manipulated, suggest Hari-hara-abheda. In his Ratnatrayaparīkṣā, he conceded Brahmatva to Viṣṇu also along with Īśvara and Ambikā, while it is well known that the other sects place Śiva only in the jīvakoti. In this work, he supports his stand by ample quotations from the Purāṇas—the Kūrmapurāṇa being not the least of them. His Viṣṇu-Gaurī synthesis was not an ingenious invention of his. He claims for it the undoubted authority of antiquity and the sanction of all the sacred lore.

Even in philosophical speculations he did not think that the rival interpretations were entirely in the wrong, for he declares—

na sūtrāṇāmarthāntaramapi bhavadvaryamuchitam.

—(who can prevent different interpretations when the Sūtras are capable of yielding different meanings).

Such was his tolerance in religious beliefs and such his ardent desire for the reconciliation of philosophic thoughts. He wrote the Chaturmatasāra to elucidate the philosophical thought respectively of the four prominent schools of interpreters of the Vyāsa-sūtras. The Nayamañjarī deals with Advaita; the Nayamaṇimālā with Śrīkaṇṭhamata, the Nayamayūkhamālikā with Rāmānuja’s philosophy and the Nyāyamuktāvalī with Madhva’s philosophy. His remarkable catholicity of outlook and thoroughness of method, his impartiality and absence of prejudice, his unerring sense of values and not the least of all, his earnest search for the truth, shorn of all bias or petty-fogging, are all evident in these writings—so much so, the Vaiṣṇavas have adopted the Nayamayūkhamālikā as a manual for their reverent study, and the Mādhvas, the Nyāyamuktāvalī. From the heights of his philosophic enlightenment, Śrī Dīkṣita saw in the different methods of approach elements lending themselves to a reconciliation and not to mutual exclusiveness and hostility.

After he had done his best to settle the sectarian disputes, Śrī Appayya Dīkṣita turned to writing works for the elucidation and uplift of Advaita philosophy. His greatest and most memorable work in this line is the Parimala, commentary on the Kalpataru of Amalānanda. Kalpataru is itself a commentary on Vāchaspati-miśra’s Bhāmatī . Bhāmatī is a gloss on the Bhāṣya of Śrī Śaṅkara. These four commentaries along with the original Brahmasūtra constitute the Vedānta Pañchagranthi, a formidable fortress of Advaita philosophy. Śrī Dīkṣita was induced to write this commentary by Śrī Nṛsiṃhāśrama an esteemed elderly contemporary, himself an author of several works on Advaita. This celebrated work earned for Śrī Dīkṣita the title of Advaitasthāparvāchārya. His Nyāyarakṣāmaṇi and Siddhāntaleśasaṃgraha are very popular Vedāntic texts studied by students of Vedānta invariably. He enshrines in them rare concepts and comments in Advaita which he had learnt from his revered father.

Śrī Dīkṣita’s name and fame can rest for ever on any one of his works, but his writings are innumerable. He had been described as the author of one hundred and four works— Chaturadhika-śataprabandhakartā. Though many of his writings have not been recovered, the more important of them have been preserved to us and the majority of the survivors have been brought out in print, in grantha, Nāgari and Telugu characters.

Special mention must be made of Śrī Dīkṣita’s contribution to the growth of the Mīmāṃsā Śāstra. Khaṇḍadeva the founder of the modern school of Mīmāṃsā wrote his Kaustubha a few decades after the life of Śrī Appayya Dīkṣita. He reverentially refers to Śrī Dīkṣita as Mīmāṃsakamūrdhanya, the most authoritative among the writers on Mīmāṃsā. The Vidhirasāyana and the Kuvalayānanda take us to the last patron of Śrī Appayya Dīkṣita, Venkaṭapati-devarāya of Penukonda who ascended the throne of the Vijayanagar empire in 1585. Śrī Dīkṣita wrote both these works at the instance of Venkaṭapati whom he refers to in highly eulogical terms. In the Vidhirasāyana Śrī Dīkṣita clearly indicates that his life’s work has been done and nothing more remains for him to be desired and that still he kept contact with courts of kings not for any benefit for himself, but for promoting the interests of others deserving his help. The chief among those whom he introduced to Venkaṭapati for patronage was Śrī Bhaṭṭoji Dīkṣita. Bhaṭṭoji, the author of Siddhāntakaumudī, came to the south to study Vedānta and Mīmāṃsā under Śrī Dīkṣita whose immortal works had already spread his fame in the north.

A very interesting story is told about the first meeting of Bhaṭṭoji with Śrī Dīkṣita. Śrī Dīkṣita was in musty clothes, looked very poor, and lived in an unostentatious house in his village. Bhaṭṭoji could not believe that he was the far famed Appayya Dīkṣita before whom mighty monarchs bowed, who was the teacher of thousands of pupils and an author of a hundred works. But when the conversation proceeded he found that he was before the great man who was not, only the unrivalled master of all the Śāstras but the maker of new pathways in all the Śāstras. This anecdote shows that Śrī Appayya Dīkṣita remained practically poor in the midst of competing royal patronage. Bhaṭṭoji remained for some years in the south. He wrote Tattvakaustubha at the instance of Venkatapati and as a commemoration of his discipleship under Śrī Appayya Dīkṣita.

There was no branch of knowledge including literary criticism and lexicon to which Śrī Dīkṣita did not make valuable contributions. His Kuvalayānanda and Chitramīmāṃsā are the favourite texts of the students of Alaṃkāra Śāsra. Not less than fifty of his works are current, and it is a good fortune that almost all of his magnificent writings are not only in print but are ardently studied even today by pandits aspiring for eminence.

Śrī Dīkṣita was not only a great śāstraic scholar, but also a poet of a very high order. His poetic style is elegant and charming, and his mastery of the verse form is wonderful. His expression is simple, natural and flowing. Great mystic efficacy is attached to his Durgā-chandra-kalā-stuti and Ādityastavaratna. His Varada-rājastava scintillates with gems of Alaṃkāras and his gloss over it deserves to be classed as Alaṃkāraśāstra. There is an interesting story about his Ātmārpaṇastuti. It bears the alternative name of Unmattapañchāśat, which means, “Fifty verses composed during a state of madness”. It is said that Śrī Dīkṣita wanted to make self-examination of his sincerity and depth of devotion to God. He contrived to enter into an inebriate state by drinking a cup of the dhattūra juice, after instructing his disciples to observe his behaviour and write down his utterances under the influence of intoxication. His utterances took the form of a devotional outpouring in which he made self-surrender to God Almighty, describing his woes as one subject to the ills of mundane life and praying for the final release from the bonds of Saṃsāra.

His Apīta-kuchāmbā-stava is hallowed by a tradition. It relieved him of a fever which he caught during a tour to Tiruvaṇṇamalai. The Hariharastuti has a historical significance as already stated. The Śivamahimakalikāstuti incorporates Mīmāṃsānyāyas in a string of devotional verses. Mannargudi Raju Sastrigal has provided it with an erudite commentary explaining the Mīmāṃsānyāyas. The Mānasollāsa is a caution addressed in dejection and despair to one’s own mind importuning it to make the best use of the birth as human being for the realisation of the true goal of life. His Mārgabandhustotra is a popular prayer for safety during journeys as his Ādityastavaratna is for health.

Śrī Dīkṣita spent his last days at Chidambaram. Living at some suburban village, he came every day for Naṭarāja’s darśana. He was running his seventy third year when he left the mortal coil. A story is current handed over by tradition among the Dīkṣitas of the temple of Naṭarāja, that one day Śrī Appayya Dīkṣita was seen to pass over the Pañchākṣara steps rather unusually and to the wonder of the spectators, to vanish into the image of Śrī Naṭarāja; and lo! the news was soon abroad that Śrī Dīkṣita had passed away at his residence. Śrī Dīkṣita’s birth was due to the grace of Naṭarāja; and he, when leaving the earth, became one with Naṭarāja.

The last words of Śrī Dīkṣita are remembered in the form of a verse.

“I am happy to die at Chidambaram which is a most holy place. My sons are learned and cultured. They have done some scholarly work. I am full of years and have no desires to be fulfilled. My only wish is to reach the lotus feet of Śiva.”

Immediately the vision of the ruddy light of the raised foot of Naṭarāja dancing in the golden hall rose before his mental eye and while he described the wonder with gushing joy in a half verse his eyes closed. His sons completed the unfinished verse declaring that the great soul reached the final beatitude at the conclusion of the teeming darkness of the night of Saṃsāra infested with frightful nightmares.

Śrī Dīkṣita was held in high esteem and reverential awe even by his religious adversaries. There are contemporary references to him in the writings and utterances of Śrī Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita, Chinna Appayya Dīkṣita, Samarapuṅgava Dīkṣita, Guru Rāma Kavi, Bālakavi, Rājanātha Ḍiṇḍima Sārvabhaumakavi and others, and in the Adayapalam inscription. He was regarded even in his times as an Avatārapuruṣa. Legends grew around his life and they are preserved in Śrī Śivānandayati’s Dīkṣitendra-vijayam, a Champu Kāvya written in the later half of the 19th century.

Mannargudi Raju Sastrigal’s Chatuśślokī-vyākhyā has preserved a quotation from a lost biography of Śrī Dīkṣita, giving the clue to his date. It is a tag of a verse and runs thus:

vikrame bhūtalam prāpya
vijaye svargamāyayuḥ.

Vikrama to Vijaya in the 16th century is 1520 A.D. to 1593 A.D. That Śrī Dīkṣita lived full 72 years is clearly declared by Śrī Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita.

dvāsapatatiṃ prāpya samāḥ prabandhān
śataṃ vyadhād appayya dikṣitendrāḥ.

If we take his royal patrons chronologically they cover the same period of the 16th century A.D. His first patron(?) Chinna Timma was the Viceroy of the Vijayanagara Empire in the south having sway over Tanjore, Madura, and Travancore, with his head-quarters at Trichinopoly, till about 1550. Śrī Dīkṣita according to his own statement wrote the commentary on the Yādavābhyudaya at Chinna Timma’s instance. The second patron of his, Chinna Bomma, ruled at Vellore from about 1549 to about 1578. He is mentioned by Śrī Dīkṣita in more than one of his writings. The third and the last patron of his was Veṅkaṭapati of Pennugonda who began to rule from 1585. Śrī Dīkṣita refers to Venkaṭapati in his Vidhirasāyana and Kuvalayānanda. The Adayapalam inscription of 1582 refers to him as an author of a hundred works. Of his contemporary religious adversaries Tātāchārya lived from 1508 to about 1583. Vijayīndra Bhikṣu entered Samādhi in 1595 after a long life. His first patron was Chevvappa of Tanjore and the last patron(?) Veṅkaṭapati of Pennugonda. Vijayīndra wrote one hundred and four works to rival Śrī Appayya Dīkṣita’s one hundred and four works. He should have been an younger contemporary of Śrī Dīkṣita. Vijayīndra was one of the greatest religious personalities of the age. It is said that he and Śrī Appayya Dīkṣita were intimate friends in spite of their academic rivalries, Śrī Vādirāja a co-pupil of Vijayīndra and head of one of the Udipi mutts who lived from 1480 to 1600 also wrote works defending Dvaita against the attack of Śrī Appayya Dīkṣita.

Bhaṭṭoji the disciple of Śeṣa Kṛṣṇa was a very much younger contemporary and disciple of Śrī Dīkṣita. The story about Śrī Dīkṣita meeting poet Jagannātha at Banares is untrue and unhistorical. Jagannātha came a century after Śrī Dīkṣita.

Śrī Śivānanda unconsciously gives us a clue to the true date of Śrī Dīkṣita. He says that Śrī Kṛṣṇadevarāya and Āchārya Dīkṣita died in the same year 1529 and that when his grandfather died Śrī Dīkṣita was nine years old. He was evidently quoting these dates from a lost biography or a tradition based upon it, but the historical significance of the date escaped his notice.

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