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....

53. Upaniṣadbrahmendra



V. Raghavan

M.A., PH.D.

An account of Upaniṣadbrahmendra in this Volume is appropriate in more ways than one. Apart from the fact that the Maṭha bearing his name has its own importance in Kāñchī, there have been close contacts between the Upaniṣadbrahmendra Maṭha and the Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha in the comparatively short period during which the former had come into existence.

Elsewhere,[1] more than once, the present writer has dwelt on the life and works of Upaniṣadbrahmendra. In his paper, on Upaniṣadbrahmendra in the Journal of the Music Academy, Madras,[2] in which, for the first time, a detailed account of this Sannyāsin-author has been given, the present writer has shown that our author was originally called Rāmachandrendra — a name found in the colophons of several of his works, as also in his commentary on the Bhagavadgitā — and that later he came to be called Upaniṣadbrahmendra by reason of his systematic and successful effort to write commentaries on the one hundred and eight Upaniṣads. It has also been shown in that paper that Upaniṣadbrahmendra flourished in the 18th century A.D. The cyclic year and its details mentioned by him at the end of his commentary on Muktopaniṣad work out to 1751 A.D. Another dated work of his is the Paramādvaitasiddhāntaparibhāṣā (1709 A.D.).

In civil life, he was named Śivarāma and was the son of Lakṣmī and Sadāśiva of Vādhūla Gotra, of Brahmapuram on the banks of the Pālār. He was born by the blessings of God Karinātha and Goddess Śivakāmasundarī enshrined at Kṛṣṇanagarī or Śāttancheri on the banks of the Pālār; he says that it is on the prompting of this Deity Lord Śivpkāmīsa that he composed the commentaries on the one hundred and eight Upaniṣads. In more than one place in his works, he mentions that the place of his stay in Kāñchīpura, which is on the way of Kailāsanātha temple, was called Agastyālaya or Agastyāśrama. As a Sannyāsin, he was the disciple of Vāsudevendra.

Upaniṣadbrahmendra was a bibliophile and all his writings, as also other works in Vedānta and Bhakti, were copied and preserved in his Maṭha. The present writer had occasion to examine first-hand in connection with his New Catalogus Catalogorum work a large number of Upaniṣadbrahmendra’s works which the present Swāmiji of the Maṭha, Śrī Iṣṭasiddhīndra, was kind enough to lend him. Manuscripts of Upaniṣadbrahmendra’s works are also found in the Madras Government Oriental Mss. Library, the Adyar Library, and the Oriental Library, Mysore; and many of them bear alternate and longer or shorter names and also the author’s own glosses. After a careful examination of all these, as also the mutual cross-references found in his own works, a complete list of his works has been compiled and presented elsewhere.[3] Some of these works have also been brought out in print by the Adyar Library.[4] On this occasion a brief analytical account may be given of his works and an appreciation of the contribution he made through his works and life.

It is proper to begin with the Upaniṣads the ultimate basis of the two other texts of authority in the Prasthānatraya and also of all further expositions in Vedānta and Bhakti. The most important and sustained work of Upaniṣadbrahmendra, which gave him this second name, is his commentaries on the one hundred and eight Upaniṣads. all of which have been published by the Adyar Library. The author says that Kṛṣṇasūri, Rāmānanda, Īśvara, Hari and Kṛṣṇadāsa prompted him to write the Upaniṣad-commentaries.[5] All his works giving the author’s name as Rāmachandrendra were written before the Upaniṣad-commentaries and this is borne out also by his mentioning some of them in the Upaniṣad-commentaries. On many of his earlier works thus written, he wrote glosses later, as Upaniṣadbrahmendra. His work in the field of Upaniṣads is valuable particularly in regard to the minor ones, on which we have no other commentaries.

A second major work of Upaniṣadbrahmendra in the Upaniṣadprasthāna is the collection-of one thousand and eight Mahā-vākyas from all the Upaniṣads — the Aṣṭottarasahasramahāvāk-yāvali — and expositions of these in a series of commentaries, the Prabhā, the Lochana, the Vivaraṇa, and the Kiraṇāvali. Even at the beginning of his commentary on the Upaniṣads, he has shown that the Mahavākyas are not just four, but many more.

In the Gītā-prasthāna he has given us a lucid gloss on the Bhagavadgītā closely following Śaṅkara’s Bhāṣya.

In the Sūtra-prasthāna , there is a short work of his in the form of an adhikaraṇa -index and a concordance of the Sūtras and topics, following Śaṅkara’s Bhāṣya. In this he correlates the four chapters and the four Pādas of each chapter, with aspects of the Pranava and phases of the Brahman, a favourite analysis of his which he uses for the songs too which he composed in sets according to this classification. Deriving his ideas from the Māndūkya and Gauḍapāda’s Kārikās, and from the Nādabindūpaniṣad, he equates the four chapters of the Sūtras thus:

Samanvaya Avirodha Sādhana Phala
Akāra Ukāra, Makāra
Sthūla (Virāṭ) Sūkṣma (Sūtra) Bīja Turya

The four Pādas of each chapter are equated with the further sub-divisions resulting from the admixture of the phases in the second principle of classification, Virāṭ-virāt, Virāṭ-sūtra, and so on. The colophon of I. i of his index of the Adhikaraṇas runs:

iti vairaje (?) prathamaḥ pādaḥ.

In the further colophons, we come across equations of other Pādas of the Sūtras with Nada, Bindu, Kalā, Kalātīta, Sami (?) , Sāntyatīta (?) , Unmanī, Purī (Vaikharī ?), Madhyamā, Paśyanā and Parā.

Upaniṣadbrahmendra’s work on the Brahma-sūtra should not be judged by the above concordance alone; at the end of this short work, he says that he wrote a commentary on the Sūtra, following Śaṅkara’s Bhāṣya of course, in 3500 granthas. The manuscript of this remains to be identified and studied; it may be in the form of a commentary on the saṅgraha of the Sūtra mentioned above; it is at its end that the author mentions the commentary.

brahmasūtra-brahmatāra-siddhānta-vivṛtiḥ kṛtā
pañchaśato’parilasat tṛsahasramitirbhavet.

The independent Vedāntic Prakaraṇas of the author may now be noticed. Over a dozen of these are known, and as in the case

of other works, here too the texts bear the author’s own commentaries. The Tattvampadārthaikyaśataka in one hundred Anuṣṭubhs, published in the Adyar Library Bulletint with an Introduction by the present writer, brings out the full implication of the great Mahāvākya , tat tvam asi, working out, step by step, the manifestation of the Brahman as the Saguṇa Brahman, the individual souls and the universe through Māyā, the three Guṇas, etc. The work may be studied on the background of the older texts, Pañchīkaraṇa, Vākyavṛtti, etc.

The other Prakaraṇas, with his own commentaries, are

  • Karmākarmaviveka with Naukā,
  • Tṛpāittattvaviveka,
  • Paramākṣaraviveka,
  • Paramādvaitasiddhāntaparibhāṣā,
  • Paramādvaitasudarśa-naviveka,
  • Bhedatamomārtāṇḍaśataka,
  • Liṅgabhaṅgamuktiśataka,
  • Sattāsāmānyaviveka and Vivṛti,
  • Svarūpadarśanasiddhāñjana,
  • Kaivalyāṣṭaka and Siddhāntaślokatraya.

From what has been said already in connection with his concordance of the Brahma-sūtra and its Adhikaraṇas, it would be clear that our author had a fancy for correlations and equations of the different phases of Brahman, of spiritual pursuit and indeed of the texts of Vedānta with the phases of Praṇava. On the path of Sādhana, he was a worshipper of Praṇava and Nāda, which as we shall see below, led him to music. Tāra (Praṇava) and its four aspects figure all over his commentaries and Prakaraṇas. A certain number of works of his is especially devoted to this approach:

  • Antaḥpraṇavavivṛti,
  • Bāhyapraṇavavivaraṇa,
  • Brahmasāraṣoḍaśabhūmikā,
  • Brahmapraṇavārthaprakāśaṣoḍaśabhūmikā,
  • Brahmapraṇavadīpikā,
  • Virāṭpraṇavavivṛti,

exposition of Praṇava and its phases as signifying sṛṣṭi, sthiti and saṃhāra, and a series of devotional formulae related to the phases of Praṇava which will be mentioned in a further section.

The tradition of combining Bhakti towards forms of Saguṇa Brahman, with Advaita has had a long history. Many Advaitic writers have not only composed appealing Stotras but also written treatises on the doctrine of devotion and the efficacy of reciting and adoring the Lord’s Name (Nāman). Upaniṣadbrahmendra’s other works, to be dealt with now, belong to this field of Bhakti, Nāmasiddhānta and music compositions on his Iṣṭadevatā. Bhaktisvarūpaviveka is on the general doctrine of Bhakti. The Bhāgavatasaṃgrahastuti summarises the stories of the twelve Skandhas of the Śrīmad Bhāgavatapurāṇa in the form of a Stotra, comparable to the Nārāyaṇīya. Another devotional work of his is the Śivamānasapūjā.

Upaniṣadbrahmendra’s Iṣṭadevatā was Rāma. In Rāma-Bhakti literature, he takes a conspicuous place. He wrote a commentary on the Adhyātmarāmāyaṇa, a treatise on Rāma’s worship called Rāmārchanachidvidyāchandrikā, a Rāmārchana embodying the meaning of the Upaniṣadic Mahāvākyas and a hymn Rāmachandradayāṣṭaka.

On the Lord’s Name as Saviour (Tāraka) and its recital, he wrote the Nāmārthaviveka or Upeyanāmaviveka (text and commentary) in which, besides dealing with all the doctrines of this school, Upaniṣadbrahmendra enunciated the idea that the name Rāma is composed of the vital syllables of both the Nārāyaṇa aṣṭākṣarī mantra (RĀ) and the Śiva Pañchākṣari mantra (MA). The present writer has recently edited this work, with a critical Introduction, in the Adyar Library Bulletin.

A sequel of this is the practice of Bhajana, singing songs in praise of the Lord and also formulae describing the Lord in a string of epithets and expressing devotion to the Lord, Nāmāvalis and Divyanāmasamkīrtanas. What Upaniṣadbrahmendra did in this line could be classified into three groups. While all of the compositions in this category are on Rāma, one set comprises longer poetic pieces to be rendered in elaborate music and following the model of the Gītagovinda of Jayadeva and the Kṛṣṇalīlā-taraṅginī of Nārāyaṇatīrtha, viz. the Rāmāṣṭapadī and the Rāmataraṅga with Rāmataraṅgaślokas and Rāmataraṅgachandrodaya.[6] Another comprises a number of Rāmagītas giving expression to his ideas on the phases of Brahman-Sūtra, Bīja , Turya , etc. The third set is represented by the Nāmāvalis which are found under the names Nārāyaṇatāranāmāvali, Praṇavanāmāvali , Vyāvahārikapraṇavanāmāvali, and so on. The largest corpus of our author’s compositions in this group is the Divyanāmasamkīrtana consisting of vocatives addressed to Rāma both as Supreme Brahman and as Saguṇa Brahman. A complete Index of this mass of Upaniṣadbrahmendra’s Divyanāmasamkīrtanas, with mention of the Rāgas used, is given by the present writer in his paper on our author in the Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, already referred to. In these, as also in his Upeyanāmaviveka , he says that devotion to Rāma must be done in Advaitabhāvanā , with the contemplation of one’s self being identical with the Supreme Being:

svānanyadhiyā tannāmasmṛtiḥ syāt;
rāmo’ham ahameva rāma iti bhāvayet.

At his Agastyeśvara Āśrama, he had put up a flag, as it were, inviting everybody to step in, participate in the great Satra of devotional singing of the songs and Nāmāvalis composed by him, which was going on incessantly there, and appease their spiritual hunger. Of this Muktisatra established by him, he says in the beginning of Rāmataraṅga:

pratiṣṭhitam muktisatram dhvajasthāpanapūrvakam
madīyasiddhasaṃkalpam jñātvā ye bhūsurādayaḥ
niraṅkuśāste kurvantu mattaraṅgādikīrtanam
ahanyahani satrānnabhuktitastṛptireṣyati
sakṛnmatsatrabhuktyā tu saṃtṛptirjāyate sadā
(or sadī) .

With all this activity, Upaniṣadbrahmendra proved quite an inspiration in his time to the votaries of the twin paths of devotion and music. In fact tradition current in the world of Karnatic music says that during his visit to and stay in Kāñchī, the great composer Muttusvāmi Dīkṣita (A. D. 1776-1835), who wrote his songs in Sanskrit, was asked by Upaniṣadbrahmendra to set the tunes to the latter’s Rāmāṣṭapad. The manuscripts of the songs of Tyāgarāja (A. D. 1767-1847), the other great Karnatic composer, and other literary materials that belonged to him, which are preserved now in the Sauraṣtra Sabha, Madurai, contain the Śrīmukha or call sent by Upaniṣadbrahmendra to Tyāgarāja, asking the latter to visit Kāñchī. The influence of Upaniṣadbrahmendra and his ideas and even expression on Tyāgarāja, who also adored Rāma with music, is clear, and this has been already pointed out by the present writer in his Introductory thesis in the Spiritual Heritage of Tyāgarāja[7] and his critical Introduction to the Upeyamāmaviveka.

There are some more songs[8] of Upaniṣadbrahmendra which show that he went on pilgrimage to the Coḻa-maṇḍala and sang on the deities at Chidambaram, Tiruvayyāru (Tyāgarāja’s place) and Śrīvāñchyam.

Upaniṣadbrahmendra was thus ceaselessly active. He is one of the most prolific writers in the recent history of Advaita and Bhakti. An authentic exponent of Śaṅkara’s Advaita, he yet introduced several minor ideas and correlations; and this he worked out on the basis of what were already found in the earlier authen-tic literature, but they became a special characteristic of his writings. With his piety and spiritual exercises, he combined a practical outlook which explains not only the collection of manuscripts in his Maṭha, but also the care taken by him to mention at the end of each work of his its extent in terms of the number of granthas. Many of his works still remain to be studied and a connected account of his ideas will form a useful piece of research.

Footnotes and references:


The Tattvasaṅgraha—Rāmāyana of Rāmabrahmānanda, Annals of Oriental Research, University of Madras, Vol. X, Pt. 1.


Vol. XXVII, 1956, pp. 113-150; XXVIII, 1957, pp. 151-2.


New Catalogus Catalogorum, University of Madras, Vol. n, pp. 364-7.


His commentaries on the Upaniṣads in different collections, 1920, 1921, 1929, 1935-6, 1950, 1953: on the Bhagavadgītā , 1941; Brahmasūtrabhāsya-siddhāntasamgraha, (A. L. Bulletin, XIII, ii-iii); Karmākarmaviveka (Ibid., xxv, pp. 436-46); Tattvapadārthaikaśataka (Ibid., xxi, pp. 145-160); Upeya-nāmaviveka (Ibid., XXIX, pp. 203-58).


Sāmānya Vedānta Upaniṣads, Adyar edn., p. 377, end of his commentary on the Muktopaniṣad.


On all these contributions of Upaniṣadbrahmendra to music, see the present writer’s paper Upaniṣad Brahma Yogin, His Life and Works in the Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, XXVII, pp. 113-150; XXVIII, pp. 151-2.


Second revised edn., R. K. Math, Mylapore, 1966.


Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, XXVIII, pp. 151-2.

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