Hindu Pluralism

by Elaine M. Fisher | 2017 | 113,630 words

This thesis is called Hindu Pluralism: “Religion and the Public Sphere in Early Modern South India”.—Hinduism has historically exhibited a marked tendency toward pluralism—and plurality—a trend that did not reverse in the centuries before colonialism but, rather, accelerated through the development of precolonial Indic early modernity. Hindu plur...

Śrīvidyā and society in Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita’s Saubhāgyacandrātapa

Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita—poet, satirist, iconoclast, and one of early-modern India’s sharpest literary minds—is well-known and celebrated by connoisseurs of Sanskrit verse even today for his uniquely bold personality and incisive satirical wit.[1] Many Indian and Western scholars alike are well-acquainted with his mahākāvya s (epics), stotra s (hymns), śataka s (centuries), and other works, including his piercing Kaliviḍambana (A travesty of time), which lambastes with equal facility the many degenerate characters frequenting the royal courts of his day, from poets to priests and mantra-sorcerers. His views on literary theory are conservative in the extreme, calling for artists to rein in their obsessions with puns and linguistic feats and return to the straightforward beauty of the Sanskrit language. Given this picture, perhaps it is no wonder at all that few scholars in the Indian or Western academy are aware that this same Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita composed a rather different sort of work as well: a ritual manual for the Tantric worship of the goddess Lalitā Tripurasundarī: the Saubhāgyacandrātapa, or “The Moonlight of Auspiciousness.”[2]

To our knowledge, the Saubhāgyacandrātapa survives only in a single Granthascript palm-leaf manuscript, now housed at the Oriental Research Institute at the University of Kerala, Kariavattom. The manuscript itself is incomplete: only the first two chapters (pariccheda s) survive from a work that most likely comprised at least five chapters.[3] Although it is always a tragedy to lose access to a fragment of intellectual history, what does survive of this work provides a wealth of information concerning Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita’s authorship of the work, his canon of textual sources, and even allusions to the interactions and tensions between sectarian communities. The colophon included at the end of the first pariccheda includes the same formulas adopted regularly by the Dīkṣita family in self-description,[4] suggesting that the manuscript was transmitted within the family. Still more convincing is the internal evidence of citation: on matters of ritual procedure, Nīlakaṇṭha often acknowledges the authority of the Śivārcanacandrikā of Appayya,[5] whom he describes as “our grandfather” (asmatpitāmahacaraṇāḥ) or, somewhat eccentrically, with the proud but affectionate “Our Dīkṣita” (asmaddīkṣitaḥ). In addition, the Saubhāgyacandrātapa is referred to by name in yet another Śrīvidyā manual composed by his younger brother Atirātra Yajvan, whom we have already encountered as the featured playwright of Madurai’s Cittirai Festival.

This work, titled the Śrīpadārthadīpikā or Śrīpadārthavyavasthā, may now be entirely lost, but had been recovered before 1942 by P. P. S. Sastri, who managed to reproduce the following excerpt:

This is examined at great length by our venerable grandfather in the Śivānandalaharī, thus there is no need to expound it here.... The adjudication is described according to the Saubhāgyacandrātapa, a text difficult to fathom by numerous techniques of exegesis, written for the upliftment of students by our elder brother, the honorable Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita, the polymath capable of summarizing all systems of thought, an incarnation of our central deity.[6]

In fact, it would appear that the authorship of Śrīvidyā manuals became something of a family tradition in Nīlakaṇṭha’s generation, as he further discloses in his own paddhati that his elder brother, Āccān Dīkṣita, also authored such a text:

“This position was articulated by our venerable grandfather in the Śivārcanacandrikā, and our venerable elder brother accepted the very same position in the Saubhāgyapaddhati.”[7]

No trace has yet been located of this Saubhāgyapaddhati, but the combined evidence does call for a revision of the narrative put forth by the descendants of the Dīkṣitas,[8] which states that Nīlakaṇṭha himself acted independently, and somewhat eccentrically, in pursuing initiation under Gīrvāṇendra Sarasvatī. Rather, at least three of five brothers were intimately familiar with the Śrīvidyā system and composed interreferential treatises on the subject—far less a coincidence than what one would call a sectarian tradition.

No reference seems available to suggest definitively that earlier generations of the family were involved in any form of Śākta ritual practice; and yet in his devotional hymn to the goddess Mīnākṣī, the Ānandasāgarastava, Nīlakaṇṭha provides us with an intriguing but ambiguous biographical anecdote concerning his granduncle:

It was Appayya Dīkṣita himself who first offered to you his very self, dedicating to you his entire family.
Who are you, great goddess, to overlook me, your ancestral servant? And who am I to fail to worship you, my family deity?[9]

Here, Nīlakaṇṭha appears to offer a plaintive reminder to Mīnākṣī, the resident goddess of Madurai, that Appayya Dīkṣita had brought the family into a contractual relationship of sorts with her, their kuladevatā (family deity). While Appayya himself is silent on the issue, Nīlakaṇṭha appears to endorse the veracity of this event; and in fact Nīlakaṇṭha’s descendants today continue to revere Mīnākṣī as their kuladevatā.[10] On the other hand, the deity addressed in the Ānandasāgarastava is not Mīnākṣī as such but rather the local goddess understood as a manifestation of the transregional goddess Lalitā Tripurasundarī, the deity of the Śrīvidyā tradition, a fact that Nīlakaṇṭha reveals to the careful reader by embedding her traditional visualization in the hymn, rather than that of Mīnākṣī. Specifically, Nīlakaṇṭha describes the deity as holding in her four hands the noose, goad, sugarcane bow, and arrows, and describes her row of teeth as consisting of the vidyā (vidyātmanaḥ)—in other words, each tooth corresponds to a syllable of the Śrīvidyā mantra.[11]

Although publicly Appayya was the devout Śaiva par excellence, was he secretly a worshipper of the goddess? Sadly, we have no evidence to confirm or refute Nīlakaṇṭha’s audacious claim beyond a reasonable doubt. And yet the theological proclivities Nīlakaṇṭha did inherit from his granduncle inflect his Śrīvidyā-centric writings with a flavor unattested elsewhere in the textual history of Śrīvidyā. Specifically, the Saubhāgyacandrātapa undertakes the project of bridging the gap between the Śrīvidyā textual canon and the orthodox Śaiva perspectives of the Sanskritic Śaiva Siddhānta tradition, a school of thought far removed from Śrīvidyā’s earlier ritual and philosophical influences. As the Śrīvidyā exegetical tradition grew to maturity in Kashmir between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, its earliest engagement with philosophically rigorous models of ontology and cosmology took place in the context of the Śākta-Śaiva traditions of the Kashmiri renaissance.[12] As a result, early Śrīvidyā shows the marked influence of a number of nondual Śākta-Śaiva Tantric traditions—the Trika and Pratyabhijñā schools in particular—popular in Kashmir at the time. It was only significantly later that Śrīvidyā came to play a foundational role in the Smārta religious culture of the Tamil South. Today Śrīvidyā in south India is practiced primarily in accordance with the writings of Bhāskararāya, resident scholar at the eighteenthcentury Maratha court of Tanjavur, who eschewed engagement with traditional Śaiva schools of thought in favor of a more modernizing, Vedicizing agenda.[13] The interstitial period, to which Nīlakaṇṭha belongs, is largely uncharted territory.

What we discover in Nīlakaṇṭha’s work is a deliberate alliance between Śrīvidyā Śāktism and south Indian Śaiva Siddhānta. At first glance, this alliance of disparate perspectives may seem implausible. Originally a pan-Indian tradition of the Śaiva Mantramārga dating back as early as the fifth century of the Common Era,[14] Śaiva Siddhānta maintained a staunchly dualist cosmology for the majority of its history,[15] showing only minor or negligible engagement with Śākta-centric theologies. Beginning in the mid-seventh century, Śaiva Siddhānta had become the royal cult of the south Indian Pallava and Cōḻa dynasties, providing the liturgy and protocol for nearly all major Śaiva temples in the region. By the early second millennium, the Sanskrit-based Śaiva Siddhānta became the dominant Śaiva sect in the Tamil region, alongside of which developed a distinctively Tamil Śaiva Siddhānta school with its own lineage and Tamil language scriptures. And from Nīlakaṇṭha’s vantage point in the mid-seventeenth century, south Indian Śaiva Siddhānta had undergone yet another phase change over the previous century, in which the orthodox currents of Śaiva Siddhānta had increasingly accommodated nondualist influences. Examples of such hybrid works include the Śaivaparibhāṣā of Śivāgrayogin and, of course, the numerous Śaiva works of Appayya Dīkṣita, who inherited the doctrinal stance he calls “Śivādvaita” from the Sanskritic Vīraśaivas of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in the vicinity of Srisailam in northern Andhra Pradesh.[16]

It was this emergent nondualist Śaiva Siddhānta climate that fostered Nīlakaṇṭha’s Śrīvidyā-Siddhānta synthesis, a model for the thoroughgoing compatibility he perceived between the “Vaidika” orthodoxy of the Śaiva Siddhānta and its esoteric counterpart, Śrīvidyā. Nowhere does Nīlakaṇṭha acknowledge the authority of any particular Saiddhāntika lineage or preceptor, and in fact he refers only sparingly to the works of known human authors, aside from those of Gīrvāṇendra Sarasvatī and his granduncle Appayya, preferring to engage directly with a wide range of Śaiva and Śākta scriptures. However, his knowledge of the Āgamas,[17] classical Saiddhāntika scripture, is encyclopedic, as citations are sprinkled liberally throughout the Saubhāgyacandrātapa, as well as in his Śivatattvarahasya, an erudite commentary on the popular Śivāṣṭottarasahasranāmastotra (The thousand and eight names of Śiva) clearly intended for an educated but exoteric audience. Nevertheless, that Nīlakaṇṭha viewed Śrīvidyā and Saiddhāntika orthodoxy as intertwined is made explicit in the Śivatattvarahasya as well. For instance, on one occasion he maintains that a form of Śiva prevalent in Śrīvidyā, Kāmeśvara, is in fact a “highly esoteric” (atirahasya) manifestation of the Saiddhāntika Maheśvara—an ontologically subordinate, qualified (saguṇa) form of Śiva—whose visualization can only be learned directly from the mouth of one’s initiatory preceptor.[18]

As eccentric and creative as Nīlakaṇṭha’s synthesis may seem to an outside observer, Nīlakaṇṭha himself goes to great lengths to demonstrate not only that his views are entirely orthodox and grounded in the Vedas but also that the esoteric teachings of Śrīvidyā are no less than the entire purport (tātparya) of the Vedic corpus. Take, for instance, the structure of Nīlakaṇṭha’s first chapter (pariccheda), a conceptual introduction to the ritual material treated thereafter. He begins from a foundation agreeable to members of any Vaidika sect, stating that the highest aim of human existence is liberation from the cycle of rebirth, and that the means to achieving this is to be found in the scriptures, primarily the Upaniṣads.

Nīlakaṇṭha adduces a number of Upaniṣadic passages and, with some creative exegesis and grammatical maneuvering, arrives at the desired conclusion:[19]

“Thus, that the knowledge of Śiva, qualified by Cicchakti as so described, is the means of achieving liberation is ascertained to be the purport of all scriptures, having come forth from the same mouth.”[20]

Here, Nīlakaṇṭha’s strategy is at once eminently traditional (the idea of the tātparya, or “purport,” being a mainstay of the Mīmāṃsā tradition of Vedic hermeneutics) and iconoclastic, in that he manages to superimpose on the authority of the Vedas an entire cosmological system foreign to their original context. “Citśakti,” as Nīlakaṇṭha refers to her here, is a conceptual model of the female divinity as the “power of consciousness,” herself the means by which her consort Śiva acts in the world and, in fact, the material cause of the world itself; this concept is best known from the Pratyabhijñā school of Kashmiri Śaivism, later fundamental to much of Śrīvidyā thought as well.

As Nīlakaṇṭha himself puts it,

“Thus so far has been established: that Śiva is not a material cause, and that Śakti is the material cause of the universe, consists of consciousness, and is nondifferent from Śiva.”[21]

In essence, tracing the core cosmological and soteriological precepts of his lineage of practice to the secure foundations of the Vedas, Nīlakaṇṭha sets the tone for his approach to problems of ritual legitimacy as well. Never deviating from the orthodoxy of Vaidika culture or from the precepts of Śrīvidyā practice, his adjudication of socially sensitive issues is at once entirely “Smārta” and entirely “Tāntrika.” To do any less would be to fall short of the demands of scripture, “because,” as he tells us, “the Tantras themselves explicitly teach a combination of the Vaidika and Tāntrika systems.”[22]

This being the case, if one accepts that the knowledge of Śiva qualified by Cicchakti is conducive to liberation, then how exactly does one go about achieving such knowledge? First, Nīlakaṇṭha replies, we must understand what does not work: the method typically recommended by Advaita Vedānta—that is, the study and contemplation of Upaniṣadic teachings. The alternative he reaches for, however, is more subtle than it appears at first glance. What is called for is the path of devotion, or bhakti—but with a twist that sets Nīlakaṇṭha’s argument distinctly apart from what the word bhakti typically calls to mind: bhakti, he tells us, is a synonym of upāsanā, the esoteric ritual worship of a particular deity.

As a result, devotional sentiment alone does not suffice but must be accompanied by the ritual techniques prescribed by the Āgamas—that is, the scriptures of particular sectarian traditions—which Nīlakaṇṭha declares unambiguously to be equally as authoritative as the Vedas on matters of ritual procedure:

The word devotion signifies a form of votive worship that is synonymous with “internal worship” [upāsanā] in so far as it evokes a particular mode of being—the words upāsanā, meditation, and contemplation [nididhyāsana] being synonyms. One who is intent on that achieves liberation in a single lifetime. Such is revealed by the exemplified statement. Nevertheless, ritual practice, although not revealed in scripture, is established to be a necessary component of upāsanā on the maxim “How much more?”[23] ...

One might argue, given the revelation of the Āgamas as nonauthoritative: how can one learn from them the procedure of worship? No—this statement does not mean that the general class of Āgamas is nonauthoritative,... because, since it is adjudicated in the Mahābhārata itself that the Āgamas of the Pāśupatas, etcetera, are authoritative,[24] they are also equivalent to the Vedas in matters associated with modes of offering that are dependent on Vaidika worship. But, those [texts] among them that teach left-handed practice opposed to the Vedas are nonauthoritative.[25]

In essence, Nīlakaṇṭha has subsumed the entire soteriological function of nididhyāsana—and with it, the entire injunctive apparatus of Vedānta—under the umbrella of Śrīvidyā ritual worship, or upāsanā. The very term upāsanā, in Nīlakaṇṭha’s creative exegesis, provides a particularly apt locus for the fusing of key concepts in Advaita Vedānta and Śrīvidyā. Etymologically translating as “service,” the concept of upāsanā has a rich history in the theology of Advaita Vedānta; the term is often equated specifically with nididhyāsana not simply as “repeated concentration” but as a ritualized series of dhāraṇā s, or meditative procedures, intended to facilitate direct awareness of the absolute brahman. These dhāraṇā s are traditionally known in the corpus of Advaita Vedānta philosophy as the Brahmavidyās, which modern commentators have enumerated in a fixed list of thirty-two.[26] While the compound brahmavidyā in the singular may translate literally as “the knowledge of brahman,” the plural form generally alludes to an esoteric meditative regimen rarely discussed in its full systematicity. Among early modern Smārta-Śaivas, the most popular of the Brahmavidyās was unquestionably the Daharākāśavidyā,[27] the meditation on brahman in the cave of the heart, to which Appayya himself accorded pride of place in the Śivādvaita of Śrīkaṇṭha.

Nīlakaṇṭha, for his part, reveals his acquaintance with the Brahmavidyās through an allusion in his hymn of lament, the Śāntivilāsa:

From boyhood, that skill that I amassed having established myself
In the Brahmavidyās through obedience to the feet my guru,
Now has somehow been transformed into a means for entertaining
Kings who listen nightly to my stories as a means of falling asleep.[28]

It is unfortunate, though not surprising, that Nīlakaṇṭha never fully elaborates on his understanding of the Brahmavidyās of Advaita Vedānta. He does return to the subject, however, at regular intervals throughout his second pariccheda, to emphasize that certain ritual preparations, such as applying the Śaiva tilaka, the tripuṇḍra, and smearing the body with ash, must regularly be done as a subsidiary component of Brahmavidyā practice. The only vidyā referred to by name, unsurprisingly, is the Daharavidyā, frequently favored by the Śivādvaita philosophical tradition in particular,[29] even before the work of Nīlakaṇṭha’s granduncle Appayya.

By equating their practice, however—under the term nididhyāsana—with upāsanā, Nīlakaṇṭha’s claim evokes a double entendre that rhetorically equates Advaita Vedānta with Śrīvidyā itself. Some care should be taken to distinguish between the term upāsana in the neuter,[30] employed by Śaṅkarācārya to denote meditative practice ancillary and subordinate to the realization of brahmajñāna, and the feminine upāsanā that Nīlakaṇṭha invokes. In south India Śrīvidyā, upāsanā is not merely meditative visualization but is also the term of choice for referring to the entire Śrīvidyā ritual system; a practitioner of Śrīvidyā is generally known as a Śrīvidyā upāsaka. Through this maneuver, Nīlakaṇṭha not only gives Śrīvidyā a Vedic stamp of approval but also argues, via creative exegesis, that the injunction to perform Śrīvidyā ritual is sanctioned by the Vedas—and in fact is the essential purport, or tātparya, of the entire Vedic corpus.

Having established the validity of his sources and the conceptual foundation of his mode of practice, Nīlakaṇṭha proceeds with his treatment of the daily ritual duties of the Śrīvidyā practitioner on the basis of the Āgamic prescriptions—of both Śaiva and Śākta origin. Although all sectarian Āgamas, ostensibly, partake of equal veridicality, the procedure (itikartavyatā) for the worship of Mahātripurasundarī, the central deity of the Śrīvidyā tradition, ought to be procured both from the Śaiva Siddhānta Āgamas—to which he refers as the “Divyāgamas” and the “Kāmikāgama and other Śaiva Tantras”[31] —and from the Śākta Tantras such as the “Vāmakeśvarītantra,” widely accepted as the foremost scripture of Śrīvidyā. On the other hand, the same Saiddhāntika Āgamas Nīlakaṇṭha invokes as authorities for esoteric Śākta practice had a much broader currency in the religious economy of seventeenth-century Tamil Nadu, being at once the purview of Siddhānta monastic lineages and the repository of procedural guidelines for nearly all of Śaiva temple worship in the Tamil region. Given the context, the approach of citing purely Śaiva scriptures to justify procedural injunctions on Śākta worship strikes the reader as less pragmatic than socially expedient, anchoring the practice of a socially marginal lineage in the broader culture of Śaiva orthodoxy.

This is not to say, of course, that Nīlakaṇṭha is not completely sincere in claiming that Śrīvidyā is at the heart of both Vedic and Śaiva orthodoxy. Nor is his adoption of Śaiva orthodoxy in any way artificial; Nīlakaṇṭha’s own Śivatattvarahasya and Appayya’s Śivārcanacandrikā demonstrate beyond doubt that the family’s practice and cultural self-understanding was thoroughly grounded in the heritage of south Indian Śaivism. Nevertheless, the synthesis between these two modes of self-understanding, on one hand, and pragmatic codes of ritual and social action, on the other, had evidently become a conceptual problematic for Nīlakaṇṭha that required a careful and deliberate negotiation. Take, for instance, Nīlakaṇṭha’s extended discussion of daily (āhnika) ritual duties and life-cycle rituals (saṃskāra) prescribed separately in the Vaidika Dharmaśāstras and in the Tantras: are practitioners of a particular sectarian upāsanā, who are also Smārta Brahmins, required to undergo Tantric saṃskāra s as well as the Vaidika saṃskāra s? Nīlakaṇṭha concludes, with the support of his elder brother, Appayya, and Gīrvāṇendra Sarasvatī that Tāntrika saṃskāra s are intended only for Śūdras, whereas additional daily rituals may need to be adopted according to the variety of upāsanā in question. This issue, contemplated at length by Nīlakaṇṭha’s contemporaries as well,[32] held significant consequences for the social constitution of Śaiva communities across the subcontinent: the position advocated here by Nīlakaṇṭha permitted Vaidika intellectuals to constitute sectarian Tantric practice as integral to their immediate social network while maintaining the social signifiers of inclusion in a transregional elite Brahminical orthodoxy.

The same may be said of other, more visible issues of sectarian comportment, such as the marking of one’s sectarian identity through embodied insignia such as the tilaka, a sectarian marker borne on the forehead. Nīlakaṇṭha interrupts his discussion, interspersed with ostensibly esoteric ritual matters, to adjudicate the public comportment of Śrīvidyā initiates. Taking issue with the Śāktacentric practice of more transgressive, or Kaula, lineages in the region, he maintains that Śrīvidyā initiates ought to display only the Śaiva sectarian tilaka, the tripuṇḍra, thus representing themselves not simply as Śrīvidyā practitioners but as members of the broader Smārta-Śaiva public.[33] In short, Nīlakaṇṭha situates his Saubhāgyacandrātapa at the forefront of a sectarian community at a key moment of transition. Engaging systematically with external players from the mainstream Śaiva Siddhānta to the more transgressive south Indian Kaula Śāktas,[34] Nīlakaṇṭha’s intellectual work negotiates the boundaries of the early modern south Indian Smārta community. By introducing into this discursive sphere a sustained and detailed treatment of Śrīvidyā ritual practice, Nīlakaṇṭha’s voice directly contributed to the fact that Śrīvidyā ritual and theology constitute a cultural pillar of Smārta practice to this day.

Footnotes and references:


Filliozat (1967), Josi (1977), Viswanathan (1982), and Unni (1995).


Iyer, “The Saubhāgyacandrātapa of Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita,” 1947; Sastri, “Two Rare Treatises on Saktism,” 1942. Unfortunately, Iyer’s cursory summary of the Saubhāgyacandrātapa’s first chapter misrepresents the scope and ambitions of the work, portraying its thesis as that of an elementary work of Vedānta.


On various occasions Nīlakaṇṭha alludes to matters to be discussed at greater length in the succeeding chapters, referring to the caturthapariccheda and the uttarapariccheda, suggesting that at least five chapters were intended. The possible content of the chapters will be discussed in my critical edition of the text.


The colophon reads: iti śrīmadbharadvājakulajaladhikaustubhaśrīkaṇṭhamatapratiṣṭhāpanācārya-caturadhikaśataprabandhanivahika-śrīmanmahāvratayājiśrīmadappayyadīkṣitasodarya-śrīmadāccādīkṣitapautreṇa śrīnārāyaṇadīkṣitātmajena bhūmidevīgarbhasambhavena śrīnīlakaṇṭhadīkṣitena viracite śrīsaubhāgyacandrātape prathamaḥ paricchedaḥ.


Although the text we possess today of the Śivārcanacandrikā was quoted verbatim by Nīlakaṇṭha in his Saubhāgyacandrātapa, the entire text seems to have been “borrowed” directly from the Kriyāsāra, a theological and ritual tract of the Śaktiviśiṣṭādvaita Vīraśaiva tradition (see Fisher, 2017). Note that the Śivārcanacandrikā in question is distinct from another work by the same title written by Śrīnivāsa Bhaṭṭa, a South Indian by heritage who had relocated to Benares and the Bundelkhand, his descendants later becoming influential rājaguru s in Jaipur.


P. P. S. Sastri tells us that he had secured a Devanagari transcript of an original palm-leaf manuscript owned by a certain “Mr. Godbole” of Bombay. The current locations of both the original and transcript are sadly unknown. idaṃ ca saprapañcaṃ nirūpitam asmatpitāmahacaraṇai ḥ śivānandalaharyām iti neha kiñcid upapādanīyam.... sakalatantropasaṃhārakṣamasa rvatantrasvatantra-śrīmūladevatāparivigraha-śrīnīlakaṇṭhadīkṣitair asmajjyeṣṭhacaraṇaiḥ śi ṣyānugrahāya kṛtaṃ bahumīmāṃsānyāyaduravagāha ṃ saubhāgyacandrātapam anusṛtya vyavasthā pradarśyate.


asmatpitāmahacaraṇair apy eṣa eva pakṣo likhitaḥ śivārcanacandrikāyām, asmajjyeṣṭhacaraṇāś ca saubhāgyapaddhatyām ayam eva pakṣam aṅgīkṛtavantaḥ.


A traditional account of the Dīkṣita family is preserved in two nineteenth-century chronicles, the Appayyadīkṣitendravijaya and Āccāndīkṣitavaṃśāvali.


tvayy arpitaṃ prathamam appayayajvanaiva svātmārpaṇaṃ vidadhatā svakulaṃ samastam | kā tvaṃ maheśi kuladāsam upekṣituṃ māṃ ko vānupāsitum ahaṃ kuladevatāṃ tvām || (ĀSS 43). The phrasing of Nīlakaṇṭha’s verse alludes to a particular hymn composed by Appayya, the Ātmārpaṇastuti. While very little evidence exists to confirm Nīlakaṇṭha’s assertion that Appayya himself professed a particular devotion to the goddess, descendants of the Dīkṣita family preserve this tradition through the narrative that Appayya bequeathed to Nīlakaṇṭha his personal copy of the Devīmāhātmya. Appayya’s stotra, the Durgācandrakalāstuti, does evince knowledge of Śākta practice, but nothing indicative of Śrīvidyā in particular.


Personal communication from several descendants of Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita at his ārādhanā (the anniversary of the purported date of his death) in Palamadai, the family’s agrahāra, or Brahmin village, which I attended in January 2011. According to the family, Nīlakaṇṭha and his descendants were granted the agrahāra by Tirumalai Nāyaka in compensation for his service as chief minister of Madurai. See chapter 4 for further discussion.


V. 75, 78: pāśuṃ sṛṇiṃ ca karayos tava bhāvayantaḥ saṃstambhayanti vaśayanti ca sarvalokān | cāpaṃ śaraṃ ca sakṛd amba tava smaranto bhūpālatāṃ dadhati bhogapathāvatīrṇāḥ || vidyātmano janani tāvakadantapaṅkter vaimalyam īdṛg iti varṇayituṃ kṣamaḥ kaḥ | tatsambhavā yad amalā vacasāṃ savitrī tanmūlakaṃ kaviyaśo ‘pi tatas tarāṃ yat || Cf. Lalitāsahasranāma, v. 53–54: rāgasvarūpapāśāḍhyā krodhākārāṅkuśojjvalā || manorūpekṣukodaṇḍā pañcatanmātrasāyakā |; v. 61: śuddhavidyāṅkurākāradvijapaṅktidvayojjvalā |


See Khanna (1986) for the textual history of the early Kashmir school of Śrīvidyā and its engagement with Kashmiri Śaivite traditions.


The life and works of Bhāskararāya are discussed in detail by Brooks (1992a, 1990). Other Śrīvidyā adepts in south India founded their ritual system on the Paraśurāmakalpasūtra; on this lineage, see for instance Annette Wilke (2012).


As per current estimates for the dates of the earliest strata of the Niśvāsatattvasaṃhitā, the earliest surviving Saiddhāntika text (Goodall et al. 2015). For a concise summary of the rituals and doctrines of the Śaiva Siddhānta, see for instance Davis (1991) or Ishimatsu (1994).


Śaiva Siddhānta theologians are noted for their polemical refutation of Advaita Vedānta positions, in addition to those of other rival schools. See for instance the Paramokṣanirāsakārikāvṛtti of Bhaṭṭa Rāmakaṇṭha, commenting on the work of Sadyojyotis, in Watson et al. (2013).


Another example is the Saiddhāntika Sarvajñānottara, whose sixteenth-c entury recensions include a significant amount of nondualist material inspired by Advaita Vedānta (Goodall, personal communication). On the history of the Śivādvaita school, as well as the widespread colonization of south Indian Śaivism by nondual Vedānta, see Fisher (2017).


Saiddhāntika scriptures cited in the Saubhāgyacandrātapa include the Ajita, Aṃśumat, Kāmika, Karaṇa, Makuṭa, Mataṅgapārameśvara, Pauṣkara, Vīratantra, Suprabheda, Sūkṣma, Svāyambhuvam, Skandhakālottara, Acintyaviśvasādākhya, and the Śivadharma. In his Śivatattvarahasya he often cites the Vātulaśuddhāgama as well.


In his commentary on the name “Maheśvara,” Nīlakaṇṭha writes: mahākāmeśvarādayo mūrtayaḥ kāścid atirahasyāḥ santi, tāś copadeśaikasamadhigamyā iti granthe na likhyante (pg. 42). Cf. Rājacūḍāmaṇi Dīkṣita, Śaṅkarābhyudaya: kalayāmi japāśoṇaṃ kāmeśvaramaheśvaram | (8.89).


His primary source, predictably, is the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad, a text accepted by nearly all later thinkers as a part of the original Upaniṣadic corpus but in fact composed by an early school of Pāśupatas, hence easily amenable to Śaiva interpretations.


evaṃ caivaṃbhūtacicchaktiviśiṣṭaśivajñānaṃ mokṣasādhanam iti sāmānyamukhapravṛttānām api śrutīnāṃ tātparyam avadhṛtam.


etena śivasyānupādānatvaṃ śakter jagadupādānatvaṃ cidātmakatvaṃ śivābhedaś cety etāvad api siddhaṃ.


tantreṣv eva vaidikatāntrikasamuccayasya kaṇṭharaveṇa pratipāditatvāt.


yady api bhaktiśabdo bhāvasādhanatayā upāsanāparyāyabhajanavācī. upāsanā dhyānaṃ nididhyāsanam iti paryāyaḥ. tatparasya caikena janmanā mokṣaḥ. udāhṛtavacanena śrutam.

tathāpy upāsanāṅgabhūtārcanasya tathā tv aśravaṇe aṅginas tathātvaṃ kaimutikanyāyasiddham.


Nīlakaṇṭha elsewhere cites the Mahābhārata verse he alludes to here: purāṇaṃ dharmaśāstraṃ ca vedāḥ pāśupataṃ tathā | ājñāsiddhāni catvāri na hantavyāni hetubhiḥ || This appears to be a variant of verse 14.96.15 of the critical edition: bhārataṃ mānavo dharmo vedāḥ sāṅgāś cikitsitam | ājñāsiddhāni catvāri na hantavyāni hetubhiḥ || Note that Nīlakaṇṭha appears to treat the Mahābhārata as an authority on par with the other Purāṇic and Upaniṣadic passages cited, at least as concerns nonesoteric Vaidika matters.


āgamānām aprāmāṇyaśravaṇāt kathaṃ tato grāhyetikartavyateti cen na. na hy āgamasāmānyamapramāṇam iti tadvacanārthaḥ.... ityādinā pāśupatādyāgamānāṃ mahābhārata eva prāmāṇyavyavasthāpanād vaidikapūjāpekṣopahārasamarpakatvena teṣām api vedatulyatvāt. paraṃtu tatra ye vedaviruddhavāmācāropadeśaka... dapramāṇam.


The only monograph on the subject of the Brahmavidyās is the work of Narayanaswami Aiyar (1963). Itself simply a catalogue of the thirty-two currently accepted Brahmavidyās, the book begins to illuminate the history of the Brahmavidyā concept via the short introduction provided by V. Raghavan. While Śaṅkarācārya himself only briefly alluded to the concept of Brahmavidyās (śāṇḍilyādyā brahmavidyāḥ), several of these vidyā s received heightened attention in south India beginning with the period of Rāmānuja in both Vaiṣṇava and Śaiva Vedāntic traditions.


In his Śivārkamaṇidīpikā (commentary on Śrīkaṇṭha’s Brahmasūtrabhāṣya), Appayya takes care to assert that Śrīkaṇṭha is particularly fond of the Daharavidyā. Among contemporary practitioners in south India, one often encounters the assertion that Śrīvidyā can be equated directly with the Daharākāśavidyā, which might suggest a link between Appayya’s emphasis on the Daharākāśavidyā and Śākta influences on the greater Śivādvaita tradition.


Śāntivilāsa, v. 8.


See Fisher (2017) for the genealogy of the Śivādvaita tradition before Appayya, from which he inherits his interest in subjects such as Cicchakti and the Daharavidyā. Suryanarayana Sastri has noted Appayya’s own interest in these themes in his introduction to his edition of the Śivādvaitanirṇaya.


The significance of upāsana for Śaṅkarācārya has been described in detail in Dubois (2014).


In Nīlakaṇṭha’s usage the term seems to refer to the Saiddhāntika Āgamas in general and not the particular class of Āgamas to which it typically refers.


Nīlakaṇṭha’s views of the matter in the Saubhāgyacandrātapa can be profitably compared with a similar discussion by his north Indian contemporary, Kamalākara Bhaṭṭa, in his Śūdrakamalākara. See the forthcoming work of Jason Schwartz on the changing relationships between Dharmaśāstra and Tantric discourses.


See chapter 3 for further detail.


While little work has been done on the early history of Kaula Śrīvidyā in south India, Annette Wilke’s (2012) work examines the standing of Kaula practice in the tradition of the Paraśurāmakalpasutra among Brahminical circles.

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