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....

55. Kṛṣṇamiśra



U. Venkatakrishna Rao


hiraṇmayena pātreṇa satyasyāpihitam mukham
tattvam pūṣannapāvṛṇu satyadharmāya dṛṣṭaye.

Poets are fond of using a dramatic and allegorical style. The Purāṇic churning of the Milky Ocean is to be understood thus: God Viṣṇu is the Milky Ocean and the various gems churned out stand for His Manifold virtues. Inquiry about the nature of God is the churning; the Vedas and the Brahmasūtra can be referred to as the churning rod and the rope. The pūrva-pakṣins, holding the prima facie view, are the asuras, and siddhāntins are the devas establishing the final decisive view. The amṛta or nectar churned out is the salvation or mokṣa which makes us overcome the cycle of births and deaths. The drama Prabodha-chandrodaya is a similar allegorical representation of the Advaita doctrine taught by Śaṅkara Bhagavatpāda. Tradition records that the holy Paramahaṃsa, the author Kṛṣṇamiśra who flourished in the latter part of the 11th century A.D. found the traditional method of teaching the Prasthāna-trayī, the Gītā, the Brahmasūtra and the Upaniṣads ineffective when he had to teach a dullard and hit upon this dramatic mode of the allegory of a war between virtue and vice, ultimately ending in the triumph of Prabodha Chandra or the ‘Moonlight of Knowledge’.

Poets all the world over are fond of such allegorical representations. Dante in the Divine Comedy suggests that a leopard may stand for lust, a lion for pride, and she-wolf for avarice, and leads his readers into an imaginary paradise. John Bunyan allegorically characterises man’s progress in this world as Pilgrim’s progress and introduces persons named Worldly-wise, Prudence, Superstition, Faith, etc.[2] Purandaradāsa the famous mystic saint of Karnāṭaka of about the 16th century compares man to sleeping pilgrim round whose head hovers the God of death. (The same idea comes here in iv, 26, as we shall see later). The saintly author of the Śaṅkalpa-sūryodaya, Vedānta Deśika, interprets the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa as a myth representing the human soul in the torm of Sītā, imprisoned in the Aśoka Vana in Laṅkā by a Rākṣasa with ten heads standing for the five karmendṛyas and as many jñānendṛyas, being later united with its Lord Rāma through the help of the Vedāntic Teacher Hanumān.

darpodagra-daśendṛyānana-manonaktañcharādhiṣṭhite dehesmin bhavasindhunā paṛgate kaṣṭām daśāmāsthitaḥ,
adhyatve hanumatsamena guruṇā prakhyāpitārthaḥ pumān laṅkāruddha videharājatanayānyāyena lālapyate.

(i, 72).

The story of the drama spread over six acts can be summarised thus: Kāma and Rati converse in the Viṣkambha or introductory scene and depart. Īśvara begets through Avidyā a son named Manas. He later marries Pravṛtti and Nivṛtti, the first wife becomes the mother of Mahāmoha, while Viveka is born of the latter. The first act ends informing that Mahāmoha and Viveka were inimical to each other, the first with his retinue trying hard to fasten man to worldly moorings, while the latter did his best to switch him on to God. The second act shows us Mahāmoha ruling over his retinue in Vārāṇasī. Chārvāka, one of his spies, comes and reports that Kali’s efforts have succeeded in weaning people away from Vedic studies, but there persists the fear that Viṣṇu - bhakti might some day make her efforts vain; Kāma, Krodha and others are accordingly ordered to nip Viṣṇu-bhakti’s efforts in the bud. Report also arrives (through Mada and Māna) that Vairāgya (Renunciation) has already succeeded in alienating Dharma from Kāma (Lust) but Śānti and her mother Śraddhā are trying to effect an alliance between Viveka and Upaniṣad-devī Mahāmoha accordingly orders Kāma to capture Dharma on the one side while Krodha and Lobha (Greed) should conquer Śānti (Peace) and drag Śraddhā into the camp of the heterodox systems of philosophy.

The third act, starts with the search by Śānti of her mother Śāttvika Śraddhā; she finds Tāmasa (Demoniac) Śraddhā with the Kāpālika. These are Mahāmoha’s servants. From their conversation Śānti learns that Ś āttvika Śraddhā has been forced to take refuge along with Viṣṇu-bhakti in the hearts of the saintly seers. The Kāpālika evidently under instructions from Mahāmoha sends his Mahā Bhairavī Vidyā to capture Śraddhā and Dharma. The next act opens with an introductory conversation between Śraddhā and Maitrī (Friendship). Bhairavī, we are informed, had captured Dharma but Viṣṇu-bhakti succeeds in rescuing her and Śraddhā has now arranged to send her on to Viveka. This latter king prepares for war, sending Vastu Vichāra to ṅght against Kāma, Kṣamā against Krodha, and Santoṣa against Lobha. He himself leads his army for a final assault and encamps in the temple of Adi Keśava at Kāsī.

Viṣṇu-bhakti and Śānti come up on the stage in the next act at Chakratīrtha, and Śraddhā, who has been fishing secretly for information about enemy, submits her report. Viveka has been victorious and Mahāmoha has gone into hiding somewhere. From incoherent reports, the depressed Śrī Manas, worried about the deaths of his nearest relatives, is about to commit suicide, when Vaiyāsikī Sarasvatī succeeds in consoling him. Fortunately at this juncture, Vairāgya, Viṣṇu-bhakti, and Maitri arrive with reassuring reports, and Mind is somehow consoled and stilled.

The last act reveals Śānti attending on Upaniṣad Devi, while Śraddhā is doing everything possible to reassure Viveka. Upaniṣad Devi explains how she was tortured in the Buddhist Vihāras till a stroke of goodluck made her enter into Gītā Aśrama. She assures Puruṣa that he is Parameśvara and embraces Him. Prabodha is born and the shackles binding Puruṣa are snapped. Viṣṇu-bhakti pronounces final benediction.

The very fact that the imitations of this type of composition are unnecessarily too long containing ten acts and overweighted with philosophical discussions is enough to make us realize the novelty of the type introduced into dramatic literature. The intelligent dramatist kept to his limitations with a dua sense of restraint, introduced humorous scenes here and there to keep up the interest of the audience, limiting philosophical episodes to the barest possible minimum. The author seems to have had experience of the army camps and studied political intrigues from the point of view of Kauṭilya’s Arthaśāstra also. The introduction informs us that the author’s patron Gopāla reinstated Kīrtivarma and installed him on his throne, even after the latter was overthrown by the Chedi King Karṇa. This Śāntarasa-dominaied drama was then enacted at the time of the reinstallation of this Kīrtivarma. But history does not furnish us with more definite information about this Gopāla, but the fact remains that the dramatist had intimate knowledge of the theatre, and what is more important trom our point of view, of directing military operations also like Kauṭilya of olden days. Though Bharata in his Nāṭya-śāstra had posited only eight rasas, Ānandavardhana and Abhinavagupta tried hard to install Śānta on its pedestal and Kalhaṇa in his Rāja-taraṅgiṇī (I, 23) had slightly earlier declared:

kṣaṇabhangini jantūnām sphurite parichintite,
mūrdhābhiṣekaḥ śāntasya rasasyātra vichāryatām.

Others tried to introduce Vātsalya and Bhakti rasas; but Kṛṣṇamiśra succeeded in effecting a harmonious alliance of bhakti (which plays an important role in his drama) with Śānta along the lines indicated in the Bhāgavatapurāṇa.

Even the number of the acts in this drama is six representing perhaps the number of the Vedāṅgas, the auxiliaries to the Vedic study. It deserves to be noted that the first three acts describing the nāstika or the heterodox darśanas like the Chārvāka, Jaina and Bauddha are purposely left unnamed in the colophons at the end of the respective acts (perhaps true to their name nāstika); while the last three (initiated by the conversation of Maitrī and Śraddhā) are respectively named Viveka, Uddyoga or preparations set up by Viveka (Discrimination), Vairāgya Prādurbhāva or birth of Renunciation and Jīvanmukti or Redemption even when living—‘liberañon-in-life’. This is nothing but saying that Vairāgya and Viveka are the two wings required by the bird, Jīva, to soar into philosophical realms and reach jīvan-mukti. Again if Tāmasika Śraddhā plays a more important role in the first acts, Sāttvikī Śraddhā looms large in the Gītā Śloka (vii, 14):

daivī hyeṣā guṇamayī mama māyā duratyayā,
māmeva ye prapadyante māyāmetām taranti te.

God’s māyā is no doubt very difficult to get over; but to one who succeeds in winning His Grace, the hurdles of māyā may be got over. The Bhāgavata-purāṇa (XI, vi, 46) teaches us a trick to hoodwink māyā by using only the Lord’s Prasādam:

tvayopabhuktasraggandhavāso’laṅkāra charchitāḥ,
uchchhiṣṭa bhojino dāsāstava māyām jayemahi.

This fact becomes clear to us when we read this conversation between Śraddhā and Śānti in the beginning of the last act:

śraddhā—evametat, yathātmānam anusandhatte,
tato deva eva svārāṭ cha saṃrāṭ cha bhavati,
śāntiḥ—atha devasya māyāyām kīdṛśo’nugrahaḥ ?
śraddhā—nanu nigraḥ iti vaktavye katham
anugraha iti śakyate vaktum;
devo’pi sarvānarthabījamiyam māyā
sarvathā nigrāhyeti manyate.

The context is the Praveśaka or the introductory scene which clearly informs us that Śraddhā has dragged Manas away into temptations like Madhumatī—which would ensure him firmly into the net of Saṃsāra—and switched him on to Tattvabodha or Appreciation of Right Truth. This will naturally lead him on to Svārājyasiddhi or Realisation of His own Infinite innate Bliss. The way in which Upaniṣad Devi enters into the Gītā Āśrama in the Daṇḍaka Forest where she finds shelter reminds one of the famous Kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛta sloka:

agre dīrghataro’yamarjunataruḥ tasyāgrato vartanī sā ghoṣam samupaiti tatparisare deśe kalindātmajā,
tasyāstīratamālakāntisalile chakram gavām chārayan(?) gopaḥ krīḍhati, darśayiṣyati sakhe panthānam

This Upaniṣad Devī succeeds in making the Puruṣa realise that he is the Parameśvara Himself.

asau tvadanyo na sanātanaḥ pumān bhavānna devāt puruṣottamāt paraḥ,
sa eva bhinnaḥ tvadanādimāyayā dvidheva biṃbam salile vivasvataḥ.

Viveka readily confirms this identification which man as a Doubting Thomas finds hard to believe with the help of the Mahā-Vākya— tat tvam asi.

esho’smīti vivichya neti padataśchittena sārdham kṛte
tattvānām vilaye chidātmani parijñāte tvamarthe punaḥ,
śrutvā tattvamasīti bādhitabhavadhyānam tadātmaprabham
śāntam jyotiranantamantaruditānandaḥ samudyotate.

It deserves to be noted that this dramatist has characterised knowledge as the Moon while his imitator Vedānta Deśika identifies it with the Sun. Both are substantially correct in their own way almost exactly like the characterisation of the Lord as sūryakoṭipratīkāśa and chandrakoṭisuśītala. If the one regards the Lord as the Light of all lights, he has got to compare Him either with the moon or with the sun as these are the two luminaries providing us with light in this world. The former seems to have felt that the sun would be unapproachable because of his dazzling light and preferred to compare him with the moon, while the latter seems to have thought that the moon could not be found during the day-time and what is more important, derives its light from the sun. The Upaniṣads had already declared that the five sources of light in the world, viz., Sun, Moon, Stars, Lightning, and Fire all derive their light only from the Great Power-House, God.

na tatra sūryo bhāti na chandratārakam nemā vidyuto bhānti kuto’yam agniḥ,
tameva bhāntam anubhati sarvam tasya bhāsā sarvam idam vibhāti.
(Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad,
vi, 14)

It is quite natural that the latter three are obviously not so effulgent as the former two, which alone have been singled out by these two great dramatists. Vedānta Deśika preferred the Sun and styled his drama Saṅkalpa-sūryodaya.

To continue our main argument, it must be noted that the dramatist Kṛṣṇamiśra has taken judicious care to balance the serious element of Śānta with lighter humorous episodes like the conversation between Kāma and Rati, Kāpālikas, etc. The episodes invented by his fertile imagination like Jñātimātsarya or hatred of uterine brothers, ministers, spies, ambassadors, preparations for war on both sides, siege and survival of the single hero who hides himself desperately to save himself—all these easily remind us of the Bhārata war in which Duryodhana hides himself in the Vaiśampāyana lake. One of the characters, Dambha grandiloquently declares that when he was about to leave Brahmā’s assembly, the latter washed his thigh with cowdung and humbly requested him to sit thereon.

Even the bare list of a few imitations of this ingenious drama serves to focus light on the originality of this fertile brain.

  • Saṅkalpasūryodaya (Viśiṣtiādvaitic),
  • Ubhayagrāsarāhūdaya (Dvaitic),
  • Anumiti-paṛṇaya,
  • Ānanda-chandrodaya,
  • Kumuda-chandra,
  • Kṣemachandra-prabodha,
  • Jīvanmukti-kalyāṇa,
  • Chaitanya-chandrodaya (Gauḍīya Vedānta),
  • Prabodhodaya,
  • Vidyā-paṛṇayana

—these (some among them unpublished in the various libraries here and there) deserve mention.

It is difficult to guess whether this dramatist originated this new type of drama particularly because Aśvaghoṣa, the Buddhist poet who flourished under Kaniṣka (about 78 A. D.) is credited with a drama in which the best disciple śāriputra listens to the master's teachings to be finally converted. We cannot make any definite surmise as only fragments of the drama which is supposed to have contained nine acts are found. Even if it is argued that Aśvaghoṣa must have been the innovator, no drama of this type is found tor nearly a thousand years and Kṛṣṇamiśra in 1090 A. D. should receive the entire credit for inaugurating a new type the originality of which proved infectious among all sections of Vedāntic schools.

As observed earlier, the style in the drama is not heavy and is interspersed here and there with humorous ideas. The last act is pure philosophy with Upaniṣadic quotations and a few of them have been already quoted in connection with the explanation of the philosophy connected with fat tvam asi. The famous Vedic hymn dvā suparṇā sayujā sakhāyā comparing the Jīvātmā (individual soul) and Paramātmā, the Divine soul, to two birds perched on the same tree, the former eating the fruits of the tree and singing while the latter shines without partaking of the fruits is slightly paraphrased in VI, 20, by removing the irregularities of Vedic grammar thus:

dvau tau suparṇau sayujau sakhāyau samānavṛkṣam pariṣasvajāte
ekastayoḥ pippalamatti pakvam anyastvanaśnan abhichākaśīti,

The following śloka

yasmadviśvamudeti yatra ramate yasmin punarlīyate bhāsā yasya jagadvibhāti sahajānandojjvalarn yanmalah
śāntam śāśvatam akṛyam yamapunarbhavāya bhūteśvaram dvaitadhvāntam apāsya yānti kṛtinaḥ prastaumi tam
(vi, 14).

is, as anybody can see for himself, fully soaked in Upaniṣadic style and ideas. Similarly the ślokas uttered by Sarasvatī in the previous act like

na kati pitaro dārāḥ putrāḥ (v, 27),


tvat saṅgāt śāśvato’pi praṇayajaladharo’paplutaḥ (V, 33)

represent echoes of philosophic thought and are very easily understandable. Perhaps the fourth act is the best in regard to style as the ślokas are lyrical, rivalling easily those of the moralist Bhartṛhari. Ślokas like

vipulapulināḥ kalloliniyo nitāntapatajjharī-masṛṇitaśilāḥ śailāḥ stāndradruma vanabhūmayaḥ
yadi śamagiro vailyāsikyo budhaiścha samāgamaḥ kva piśitavasāmayyo nāryaḥ tathā kva cha manmathaḥ
(iv, 12)


chandraśchandanam indudhavalā rātrīḥ

easily remind us of Bhartṛhari’s Nītiśataka.

Ślokas like

phalam svechchhālabhyam prativanamakhadam kṣitiruhām
(VI, 19),

dhanam tāvallabdham kathamapi tathāpyasya niyato vyayo vā nāśo vā tava sati viyogostyabhayathī
anutpādaḥ śreyān kimu kathaya pathyo’tha vilayaḥ vināśo labdhasya vyathuyatitarām na tvanudayaḥ
(IV, 22)

mṛtyurnṛtyati mūrdhni śasvaduragi ghorā jarārūpiṇī tvāmeṣā grasate parigrahamayaiḥ gṛdraiḥ jagadyrasyate
dhūtvā bodhajalaiḥ abodhabahulam tallobhajanyam rajaḥ santoṣāmṛtasāgarāmbhasi manaṅmagnaḥ sukham
(iv, 26)

remind one easily of Bhartṛhari’s santoṣa eva puruṣasya param nidhānam. The climax of Devotion is reached when we read the Bhagavaddaṇḍaka at the end of Act IV starting with

jaya jaya bhagavan amamchayachakra chūḍāmaṇiśreṇi nīrā-jitopānta pādadvayāṃbhoja. . . . . .
bhaktasya lokasya saṃsāramohachchhidam dehi bodhodayam deva tubhyam namaḥ

is sufficiently exhilarating though it might not reach the sublimity of the Śyāmalādaṇḍaka. It is certainly briefer and equally musical and appropriate in the context.

The Advaitic Māyā, anirvachanīya or inexplicable as it should be, does not deprive man of his capacity to be ethical nor does it stand in the way of human culture and progress. Dr Radhakrishnan is sometimes criticised as having toned down the implications of Māyā but he seems to have had his cue for this from Kṛṣṇamiśra who has clearly exhibited its (Māyā’s) ability to combine the most heterogeneous dements into an individuality, unique and unsurpassed in the annals of philosophy. If the Buddhists had erred by postulating a nihilistic view by declaring the world to be a mere phantom or asat as a khapuṣpa, and drove us all into despair, Śrī Śaṅkara (as interpreted by Kṛṣṇamiśra) toned that view that there is no reason for us to despair since the world has certainly a relative significance and subsists to all intents and purposes only in order to enable us to attain something higher and more real and what is more important also beyond evil. Kṛṣṇamiśra tries to show that error and evil in our struggle for existence can be overcome and we can be led on to higher and higher ideals of existence in our spiritual ladder as explained in the Bhāgavata-purāṇa,

Footnotes and references:


A study of his Prabodhachandrodaya.


English poets like Chaucer personified the seven deadly sins, virtue, love, etc., symbolising the forces helping man or ensnaring him as he makes his pilgrim’s progress in this world.

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