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...

[Full title: Śaṅkarācārya Worships the Goddess: Śrīvidyā’s New Sacred Geography]

“Just like Kālidāsa,” the Śaṅkarācārya of seventeenth-century south India was not only a devout worshipper of the goddess but also a consummate poet, fusing ecstatic devotion and literary virtuosity in impromptu hymns of praise. While Ardhanārīśvara’s project reframed Kālidāsa as the prototypical cosmopolitan poet and Śākta devotee, another Smārta theologian—who happened to be his own younger brother—crafted a similar identity for Śaṅkarācārya through his daring and innovative biographical account of the eighth-century Advaita Vedāntin. The Śaṅkarābhyudaya (The ascension of Śaṅkara) of Rājacūḍāmaṇi Dīkṣita, a work of refined courtly poetry (kāvya), is counted among several works in the genre of Śaṅkaradigvijaya (Śaṅkara’s conquest of the directions) chronicles, hagiographies that recount the traditional narrative exploits in the life of Śaṅkara, from boyhood to liberation.

Rājacūḍāmaṇi’s treatment of the material, however, differs significantly from the standard conventions of the genre in two crucial respects, both of which are rarely observed in the extensive body of secondary literature on the Śaṅkara hagiographical tradition. As we have seen, Śaṅkara’s early childhood and renunciation was, for Rājacūḍāmaṇi, the zenith of his textual production, conspicuous for the authorship attributed to him of the two Samayin Śrīvidyā treatises, the Saubhāgyavidyā and Subhagodaya. It is the end of Śaṅkara’s life, however, that occupies the entire latter half of Rājacūḍāmaṇi’s work: these chapters consist entirely of a poetic travelogue of Śaṅkara’s final pilgrimage, culminating in his beatific vision of Kāmākṣī in the Kanchipuram Temple. In the process, the Śaṅkarābhyudaya situates itself securely within the orbit of devotional poetry, evoking this legacy through a series of ornate and impassioned lyric hymns placed directly in the mouth of Śaṅkara himself. But perhaps more strikingly, Śaṅkara’s poetic craft, for Rājacūḍāmaṇi, is unabashedly esoteric in its imagery, directly embedding the fifteen-syllable Śrīvidyā mantra in its verse and providing an extended ritual visualization of the Śrīcakra and the abode of the goddess and her attendants. In short, no other Śaṅkaradigvijaya chronicle colorfully ascribes to Śaṅkara an intimate acquaintance with the intricacies of Śrīvidyā upāsanā. By fusing this celebration of the esoteric with courtly literary practice, Rājacūḍāmaṇi crafts Śaṅkara—just like Kālidāsa—as a literary genius whose verse flowed spontaneously from his devotion to the goddess, homologizing in the process the social roles of poet and tāntrika in the Smārta religious imaginary.

Despite its unique features, however, the Śaṅkarābhyudaya has garnered less attention than competing hagiographies, largely owing to the institutional politics of the Śaṅkarācārya monastic lineages. According to the narrative most commonly accepted by Smārtas today across the subcontinent, Śaṅkara bequeathed the legacy of Advaita philosophy to subsequent generations by establishing four monasteries in each of the four cardinal directions—the southern direction being accounted for by Sringeri in western Karnataka—and culminated his life of pilgrimage and adventure by defeating his rivals and ascending to the Sarvajñapīṭha (“the Seat of the Omniscient”) located in Kashmir. Rājacūḍāmaṇi’s Śaṅkarābhyudaya is one of a few such narratives that redirect the course of Śaṅkara’s journey toward the South, situating Śaṅkara’s final ascent and liberation in the Tamil city of Kanchipuram rather than Kashmir. This shift is widely interpreted by the Tamil Smārta community to indicate that Śaṅkara in fact established five monasteries, the four traditional monasteries being branches of a single overarching institution, the Kāñcī Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha of Kanchipuram. As a result, scholarly considerations of Śaṅkara’s life story are often overshadowed by polemic, and supporters of the Sringeri lineage are often eager to discredit the authenticity and manuscript transmission of any text associating Śaṅkara with Kanchipuram.

Among other commonly circulating Śaṅkaradigvijaya narratives, two such works, Anantānandagiri’s Śaṅkaravijaya and Cidvilāsa’s Śaṅkaravijayavilāsa, both name Kanchipuram as the site of Śaṅkara’s final ascent. Likewise, both chronicles bear the outward signifiers of affiliation with a lineage of Śrīvidyā practice, as both conclude that Śaṅkara’s chief accomplishment in Kanchipuram was to establish the Śrīcakra that currently lies at the heart of the Kāmākṣī Temple. In fact, the recurrent patterns of citation and phrasing in the two chronicles suggest strongly that both emerge from roughly the same cultural milieu. We possess no reliable indications of their dates or places of composition, save that both must have existed before the terminus ante quem of the Mādhavīya Śaṅkaravijaya in the mideighteenth century, as this somewhat notorious narration of Śaṅkara’s life story borrows liberally from all previously extant versions.[1] Given their emphasis on Kanchipuram, one expects that both texts originated in the South; and indeed, a close reading of their Śrīvidyā allusions reveals that both place themselves within the cultural orbit of the Lalitopākhyāna, a narrative and liturgical excerpt from the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa that has remained a constitutive part of the south Indian Śrīvidyā heritage for centuries—so prototypically Tamil in its rhetoric, in fact, that it frames itself around Agastya, the southern sage, and his journey south toward the abode of Kāmākṣī in Kanchipuram.[2]

As a result, dubious voices are in no short supply, claiming either that Rājacūḍāmaṇi Dīkṣita, the celebrated court poet of seventeenth-century Tanjavur, did not write the text we have received as the Śaṅkarābhyudaya, or that the crucial chapters—the seventh and eighth sarga s, in which Śaṅkara arrives in Kanchipuram and worships Kāmākṣī with Śrīvidyā-inflected hymns and meditation—were interpolated directly by representatives of the Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha. Such a position was advanced by, for instance, one R. Krishnaswami Aiyer in his critique of the Kāmakoṭi Pīṭha and its claims to historical antiquity, in which he paints the Śaṅkarābhyudaya as a modern forgery: “It is quite patent that this Kavya was published years after the Madhaviya just to discredit the authenticity of the latter.”[3] Aiyer is correct about the limited discussion of manuscript evidence in the published editions. Two editions have been published to date, one in the Sanskrit serial journal Sahṛdaya in 1914–1915, and the second in 1986 by S. V. Radhakrishna Sastri. Both include all eight sarga s of the work, with a number of variants in the somewhat fragmentary eighth sarga to suggest either independent transcriptions of a common manuscript or distinct manuscript sources for this chapter. Unfortunately, neither editor is forthcoming about the manuscripts used to compile the edition or the editorial practices involved.

Among several manuscripts available in libraries across the subcontinent, most are duplicates of a paper transcript of the first six sarga s, transmitted in either Grantha or Devanāgarī script, accompanied by the commentary of a certain Rāmakṛṣṇa Sūri.[4] I have also located a distinct transcript of the entire eight chapters (sarga s) at the K. V. Sharma Research Institute in Chennai with no commentary, which shows minor variants from both published editions. Two further manuscripts appear to be housed at the library of the Śāradā Pīṭha in Sringeri and at the Punjab University Library in Lahore, neither of which I have been able to access.[5] Based on manuscript evidence alone, given that the six- sarga version circulates exclusively with the commentary of Rāmakṛṣṇa Sūri, the original was most likely abridged by the commentator himself, who may have been affiliated with a competing monastic lineage that did not consider the ending of the text acceptable to orthodox wisdom—either for its emphasis on Kanchipuram or its elaborate visualization of the divine union of Kāmeśvara and Kāmeśvarī.[6]

Stylistic evidence, on the other hand, demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that the entire eight chapters were authored by Rājacūḍāmaṇi himself. The fourth through seventh sarga s of the Śaṅkarābhyudaya are framed around Śaṅkara’s tour of the prominent pilgrimage centers of south India, progressing in tenor by the fifth chapter to a garland of successive hymns to the presiding deities written in highly ornate verse, comparable in literary style to Rājacūḍāmaṇi’s other works of courtly poetry. Providing a direct continuation of the pilgrimage narrative, the seventh chapter emerges seamlessly from the end of the preceding narrative, contributing to a sense of intensification as the poetic register of Śaṅkara’s hymns heightens with heavier meters and richer phonic textures. Throughout the hymns, the distinctive features of Nāyaka-period south Indian verse are unmistakable: with techniques ranging from rich alliteration to yamaka (paronomasia) and Dravidian front rhyme (the rhyming of the first syllables of each foot of a verse), the poet executes the baroque aesthetic of the period with a skill paralleled by few of his contemporaries. Similarly, our author delights in interspersing more obscure grammatical forms among the verses at regular intervals, showing a particular preference for the - tāt form of the imperative (e.g., bhavatāt) and feminine perfect participles.

Take, for instance, the following verses from the hymn to Kāmākṣī in the seventh sarga, which aptly exemplify the idealized aesthetic of the age:

kanaka-kanattanuvallī-janaka-samacchāyatuṅgavakṣojā |
sanaka-sanandadhyeyā ghanakabarī bhātu śailarājasutā ||

May daughter of the mountain shine, with her cloud-black braid, contemplated by the Sages Sanaka and Sananda,
The peaks of whose breast cast a shadow like to that of the father of the creeper-figured girl glistening like gold.

lavatām aghaṃ nayantī nava-tāmarasaśriyā dṛśā bhajatām |
bhava-vāmatanur mama sā bhava-tāpavimuktaye bhavatāt ||

Leading sin to minuteness with her eyes equal in splendor to fresh lotuses,
May she, who is the left half of Śiva’s body, release me from the agony of existence.[7]

In short, to successfully forge a missing seventh sarga of the Śaṅkarābhyudaya would have proven exceptionally challenging for the leading poets of the seventeenth century, let alone for modern polemicists.[8] In register and phonic texture, then, Rājacūḍāmaṇi’s hagiography of Śaṅkara diverges sharply from the versions promulgated by his near contemporaries, even those affiliated with the Śaṅkarācārya lineages of the Kanchipuram region. Undoubtedly, all Śaṅkara chronicles whose narratives culminate in Kanchipuram participated in promulgating a new religious imaginary, forging a connection between Śaṅkarācārya, Kanchipuram, and Śrīvidyā esotericism. And yet on a theological level as well, Rājacūḍāmaṇi proves himself an innovative iconoclast, sprinkling his narrative and devotional verse with esoteric allusions rarely found in cosmopolitan courtly literature.

Take, for instance, the case of Anantānandagiri, who describes Śaṅkara’s installation briefly, with no salient ritual detail and only a cursory allusion to the philosophical significance of the Śrīcakra:

Because the Śrīcakra is the very form of the unity of Śiva and Śakti, its unity with the vidyā [i.e., the Śrīvidyā mantra] and the self is consequentially established because of their complete nondifference. Thus the indication is that the worship of the Śrīcakra is to be performed by all who desire liberation. Therefore, the Śrīcakra was installed by your honor so that the fruit of liberation might be obtained merely by seeing it.[9]

The author then proceeds to quote a somewhat extended passage, without attributing any source, concerning the physical characteristics of the Śrīcakra. Interestingly enough, the same passage occurs in the Cidvilāsīya Śaṅkaravijaya as well, with minor variants in transmission, but merged seamlessly into the text so as to betray no hint that the passage was interpolated from an outside source:

The triangle, octagon, and the pairs of decagons likewise,
And the fourteen-sided cakra: these are the five Śakti cakras.
The seed, the eight-petaled and likewise sixteen-petaled lotus,
The square, and the four gates: these are the Śiva cakras, in order....
He who knows the invariable connection of the Śaiva
And also Śākta cakra s, respectively, is a knower of the cakras.[10]

This is the extent of Śaṅkara’s installation of the Śrīcakra in Anantānandagiri’s account. Although neither of our authors acknowledges its source, we are fortunate that Bhāskararāya, writing from eighteenth-century Tanjavur, quotes this same passage in his Lalitāsahasranāma commentary, crediting it to the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa and thus situating it unmistakably within the Lalitopākhyāna tradition.[11] In short, we can fairly definitively contextualize both the Anantānandagiri and Cidvilāsīya chronicles within the same south Indian Śrīvidyā tradition, one with a center of gravity in Kanchipuram and the Kāmākṣī Temple, taking the Lalitopākhyāna as a primary pillar of its scriptural canon. That Śaṅkara’s association with Kanchipuram had been deeply integrated into cultural memory by the late seventeenth century is confirmed as well by the Patañjalicaritra of Rāmabhadra Dīkṣita, pupil of Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita, whose brief summary of the Śaṅkara narrative includes as a matter of course a mention of Kanchipuram as Śaṅkara’s final destination: “Having served his preceptor Govinda at length with devotion, when his [Govinda’s] own greatness was established through liberation beyond the body, having fashioned the Advaita commentary, having conquered the directions, the noble Śaṅkara took up residence in Kanchipuram.”[12]

Narratologically speaking, Rājacūḍāmaṇi’s Śaṅkarābhyudaya outlines a trajectory remarkably similar to that of the final chapter of Śaṅkara’s earthly life. And yet its textual register could hardly be more divergent. While all three texts emerge from the same extended cultural sphere, the Anantānandagiri Śaṅkaravijaya, as can be seen from the above quotations, is rather rudimentary in prose style and in the specificity of its content. Cidvilāsa’s treatment of the same event, while presented at greater length in a more polished anuṣṭubh verse, differs little in content, even incorporating the exact same passage from the Lalitopākhyāna as his competitor, Anantānandagiri. Both authors are also familiar with Kanchipuram, referring by name to its Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava resident deities, Ekāmranātha and Varadarāja. No further esoteric content, however, appears in either chronicle. In fact, we meet with quite the opposite later on in Cidvilāsa’s Śaṅkaravijayavilāsa. Although the Śrīcakra is typically closely associated with the initiatory tradition of Śrīvidyā and its more esoteric regimen of ritual practice, this need not always be the case, particularly in the Tamil country, where the Śrīcakra is regularly installed in major Śaiva temples across the region at the base of the image of Śiva’s consort, even in the absence of any Śrīvidyā-based liturgical worship.[13]

It need not come as a great surprise, then, when, a few chapters after Śaṅkara’s installation of the Śrīcakra, Cidvilāsa describes him vehemently denouncing the heresy of a group of Śrīvidyā upāsaka s he encounters during his travels:

The all-knowing preceptor, Śaṅkarācārya, beheld them.
He asked them as if unworthy of respect, seemingly impassioned:
“Having abandoned the tripuṇḍra on your forehead, why do you bear kuṃkum?
Why have you cast off your white clothing and put on red garments?...
Indeed, you have met with such bad acts as a result of your sin.”
When the best of preceptors had spoken, the ones who had undertaken the Śākta path [replied]:
“O sage, what are you saying today? This arises from ignorance of our doctrine....
Certainly, the supreme Śakti of Śiva is united with the manifest goddess herself.
She is the cause of the world, her essence beyond the [three] qualities.
By the power of that Śakti, the great truth in its entirety was created....
Thus, it is service to her lotus feet that bestows liberation.
It is purely with delight that we bear her symbols, the kuṃkum and all.
Thus we bear her sandal always on our arms and even on our throats.
From this we Śrīvidyā upāsaka s are eternally liberated in this lifetime.”[14]

As one might expect, Śaṅkara responds by refuting their heresy, instructing them in the philosophical orthodoxy of Advaita Vedānta. In short, we can discern in Cidvilāsa’s treatment of this event a desire to distance himself from the more esoteric content of Śrīvidyā ritual practice, or from lineages of Śāktas he viewed as too transgressive to take part in normative Śaiva society. After all, the Śāktas he describes had taken steps to visibly demarcate themselves from orthodox Brahmins, abandoning the Śaiva tripuṇḍra, wearing red clothing and kuṃkum—a color with long-standing Śākta resonances—and even branding themselves with the Devī’s sandals on their arms and throat. Intriguingly, as we will see in the next chapter, Cidvilāsa’s opinion on the subject is closely in line with that of Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita concerning the necessity of orthodox Śaivas wearing the tripuṇḍra rather than Śākta sectarian insignia.

Rājacūḍāmaṇi, on the other hand, makes no effort to conceal his detailed and intimate acquaintance with the intricacies of Śrīvidyā upāsanā. To the contrary, the seventh and eighth chapters of the Śaṅkarābhyudaya contain an astonishing number of references to particular elements of Śrīvidyā practice. These esoteric elements, far from being obscure allusions discernible only by a handful of initiates, provide the primary structuring device for the climax of the work, mediating the narration of Śaṅkara’s beatific vision of Kāmākṣī’s abode and his ascension to the state of enlightenment. As Śaṅkarācārya approaches Kanchipuram in the middle of the seventh sarga, he enters the temple of Kāmākṣī and summarily dismisses a host of opponents, ascending to the Seat of the Omniscient, which Rājacūḍāmaṇi here refers to as the vidyābhadrāsana (“the throne of wisdom”). While Śaṅkara’s philosophical battles with heretical sects form the backbone of most Śaṅkaradigvijaya chronicles, the Śaṅkarābhyudaya addresses the matter with a handful of verses, leaving behind Śaṅkara’s propagation of Advaita philosophy in favor of a more fundamental task: his worship of Kāmākṣī, the goddess who wears the Vedānta as her girdle belt.

As he sings, bursting into a spontaneous hymn of praise, he recites a series of fifteen verses that spell out, through the first syllable of each verse, the fifteen-syllable Śrīvidyā initiatory mantra:

KA-ruṇārasasārasudhāvaruṇālayaviharamāṇadṛkkoṇam |
aruṇādharam avalambe taruṇāruṇakānti kim api tāruṇyam ||

I take support in that indescribable youthfulness with red lower lip, radiant like the fresh sunrise,
The corner of whose eyes conveys an ocean of nectar that is the essence of compassion.

E-ṇīdṛśam aiśānīṃ śoṇīkṛtadaśadiśaṃ śarīrarucā |
vāṇīmadhuripuramaṇīveṇīkusumāṅghrinakharuciṃ vande ||

I bow to the doelike northeastern direction, which reddens the ten directions with the splendor of her body,
Whose toenails have the luster of the flowers in the braids of the beloved of Madhu’s enemy, Lakṣmī, and Sarasvatī.

Ī-ḍāmahe maheśīṃ cuḍāvinyāsabhūṣitasudhāṃśum |
vrīḍānurāgaśabalakrīḍāvīkṣāvaśaṃvadamaheśām ||

I worship the great goddess, whose array of tresses is ornamented by the moon,
Whose numerous bashfully impassioned games and glances have made Śiva subservient.

LA-valīlatāmatallīnavalīlāgandhilalitatanuyaṣṭau |
bhava līlābhṛti ca mano lavalīḍhajapāruṇimni taruṇimni ||

May my mind always rest on that youthfulness, which has licked a portion of the
Redness of the japā flower, the stalk of whose body is made lovely by a charm and fragrance like that of the best of Lavalī creepers.[15]

The hymn continues, over its fifteen verses, to commence each verse with a syllable of the Śrīvidyā root mantra (mūlamantra):

“ka e ī la hrīṃ—ha sa ka ha la hrīṃ—sa ka la hrīṃ.”[16]

And just in case any of his readers fail to notice this structuring devise, he calls attention to it explicitly at the conclusion of the hymn, ensuring that his “esoteric” reference will not go unnoticed:

“Thus propitiating Kāmākṣī, who dwells on the bank of the Kampā River, established in her external abode, in verse with syllables laid out in sequence according to the fifteen-syllable mantra, moving to bow down into the familiar interior of the cave, he praised Bhagavatī Śyāmalā, who was seated at the entry.”[17]

And so Śaṅkara proceeds to sing a similar hymn of praise to Śyāmalā, understood in the Lalitopākhyāna tradition as the mantriṇī (chief minister) of Lalitā, here seen guarding the entryway to the cave on the bank of the Kampā River traditionally believed to be the true abode of Kāmākṣī. True to form, Rājacūḍāmaṇi embeds his six-verse hymn to Śyāmalā as well with mantric syllables, comprising the two subordinate mantras “aiṃ hrīṃ śrīṃ” and “aiṃ klīṃ sauḥ.”[18]

At this point, following the hymn to Śyāmalā, the narrative reaches its climax: seemingly pleased with his richly ornamented stotra s, Kāmākṣī grants Śaṅkara a visionary experience of her true abode, the city of Śrīpura on the central peak of Mount Meru, which Rājacūḍāmaṇi documents in painstaking detail through the 111 verses of the eighth sarga:

Thus having praised her, the mother of the universe, entering inside [the cave]
On the bank of the Kampā River, favored by rows of groves of wishfulfilling trees,
He rejoiced, seeing before him, immediately, in an instant, a certain mountain peak,
Leader of the clan of golden mountains, purified by the lotus feet of Kāmākṣī.[19]

If anything, the linguistic register and imagery of the eighth sarga present us with an even more intriguing fusion. Shifting from high kāvya meters to a steady anuṣṭubh throughout the entire chapter, Rājacūḍāmaṇi evokes the rhythm and cadence of liturgical recitation even while retaining the rich phonetic texture and ornaments of language (śabdālaṅkāra) so characteristic of his style:

“I meditate on a certain [kāñcana] city of Kāmākṣī, known as Śrīpura, with nīpa palm, mango, and ebony [kāñcanāra] trees with golden [kāñcana] sap.”[20]

And yet the emphasis in this chapter shifts from poetics to the particulars of the visualization, as the author spares no opportunity to match the imagery of his verse to the scripturally sanctioned map of Śrīpura, down to the proper lists of attendant deities in every enclosure of the city. As with Anantānandagiri and Cidvilāsa, Rājacūḍāmaṇi’s source for the geography of Kāmākṣī’s abode is the Lalitopākhyāna, which appends to the core narrative of the slaying of Bhaṇḍāsura an iconographically elaborate description of Śrīpura, including its eight outer enclosures with walls made of various metals, and its seventeen nested palaces composed of different gemstones, inside of which exists the Cintāmaṇigṛha, the home of the Śrīcakra. Rājacūḍāmaṇi describes each of these levels with precision, continuing up the mountain peak, where the various geometric enclosures (āvaraṇa) of the Śrīcakra lead inward toward the central bindu, the abode of the esoteric forms of the divine couple, Kāmeśvara and Kāmeśvarī.

A sample of Śaṅkara’s extended visualization, compared with its source material in the Lalitopākhyāna, will suffice to illuminate both the elegance and phonetic texture of Rājacūḍāmaṇi’s verses and the precision with which he seeks to capture the authentic iconography of Śrīpura and the Śrīcakra, even embracing descriptors that might offend the sensibilities of the more conservative voices in Smārta Brahmin society:

From the Śaṅkarābhyudaya:

I visualize here Mahākāla, radiant like the sun [kapiśābham],
Ardently attached to liquor [kapiśāyana], eagerly embracing the neck of Mahākālī.

May his seat, known as the Kālacakra, with the radiant bindu, triangle, and pentagon,
And eight-and sixteen-petaled lotuses, confer upon me long life.[21]

From the Lalitopākhyāna:

Mahākālī and Mahākāla, proceeding at the command of Lalitā,
Create the entire universe, dwelling on the first path.
The Kālacakra has become the seat of him, Mataṅga,
Surrounded by four enclosures, delightful with the bindu in the center.
The triangle and pentagon, the sixteen-petaled lotus,
And also the eight-petaled lotus. Mahākāla is in the center.[22]

Such parallels are numerous and, taken as a whole, leave little doubt that Rājacūḍāmaṇi has reworked what he believes to be the salient elements from the Lalitopākhyāna into a smoothly polished sequence. Further up the mountain, describing the nine enclosures of the Śrīcakra, Rājacūḍāmaṇi exercises similar care to refer by name to the particular attendant śakti s residing at each level, details that may seem insignificant from a narrative or even aesthetic point of view but which would be integral to a systematic visualization or installation (nyāsa) of the respective enclosures in the context of ritual practice:

From the Śaṅkarābhyudaya:

May the Śakti of the Triple City protect me, surrounded by those known as Prakaṭā,
Superintending over the triple cakra, the Deluder of the Three Worlds [Trailokyamohana].

And above, may those shining Śaktis, in rows on the golden seat,
Beginning with Kāmākarṣiṇikā be our wish-fulfilling cows.[23]

From the Lalitopākhyāna:

And inside is that triple cakra, the Deluder of the Three Worlds.
In this are the Śaktis, among whom are those known as Prakaṭā.[24]

From the Śaṅkarābhyudaya:

The goddess of the triple city, Samayā dwells, holding a rosary,
In the Cakra that Fulfills All Desires [Sarvāśāpūraka], with the Guptayoginīs in order.

We worship the goddesses beginning with Anaṅgakusumā,
Situated above that, on the lines of the golden seat.[25]

From the Lalitopākhyāna:

These are the Guptayoginīs, and Tripureśī is the mistress of the cakra,
The superintendent deity of the cakra is known as Sarvāśāpūrikā.[26]

After ascending to the peak of the Śrīcakra, Śaṅkara embarks on an extended panegyric of the esoteric form of divinity he witnesses there, Kāmeśvara and Kāmeśvarī, Śiva and his consort in the form of a sixteen-year-old amorous couple.

And it was through these elaborate hymns of praise to Kāmeśvara and Kāmeśvarī, Rājacūḍāmaṇi tells us, rather than through contemplation or philosophical insight, that Śaṅkara reached the end of his journey and attained direct knowledge of brahman, the formless absolute:

“In this manner, he bowed with humility to the great yantra of the imperishable Kāma with garlands of language.... Silently worshipping Kāmeśvarī, who dwells on the bank of the Kampā River, Śaṅkara, the refuge of the triple worlds, realized the bliss of brahman.”[27]

For Rājacūḍāmaṇi, evidently, Śaṅkara was not only a member of the Sanskrit literary elite but also a passionate, well-trained adept in what he considered the highest mysteries of the Śrīvidyā tradition. Writing from a cultural milieu that regarded the Saundaryalaharī as an authentic work of the eighth-century Vedāntin, Rājacūdāmaṇi and his contemporaries venerated Śaṅkara as a Śākta poet of high Sanskrit verse as well as an ardent personal devotee of Kāmākṣī, two identities that were intimately intertwined both for Śaṅkara himself and the seventeenth-century poet-theologians who adopted this image as a model for their own self-fashioning. It is no accident that fully half of the Śaṅkarābhyudaya consists of these devotional “garlands of language,” culminating in a series of esoteric hymns showcasing some of the more ornate and sophisticated poetic devices on offer by the Sanskrit language. Evidently, for Rājacūdāmaṇi, much as for his brother, to be a cultured, orthodox Śākta is by definition to be a first-class poet as well—and Śaṅkara, just like Kālidāsa, was a Śākta poet par excellence. Indeed, in Rājacūḍāmaṇi’s vision, it is as a poet, rather than as a philosopher, that Śaṅkara ascended to the throne of wisdom in Kanchipuram.

The following verse, in particular, alludes to Śaṅkara’s poetic conquest in the language of śṛṅgāra rasa—the erotic sentiment—evoking the divine lovemaking of Kāmeśvara and Kāmeśvarī:

“Alas, don’t force me so suddenly, without having defeated me
On the path of poetry, dripping with erotic sentiment.”
It was as if Brahmā himself, having conquered Sarasvatī,
Who had spoken thus, ascended to the throne of wisdom.[28]

Footnotes and references:


Jonathan Bader’s (2000) comprehensive overview of the Śaṅkaradigvijaya genre includes the Śaṅkarābhyudaya among the several works surveyed, but he remarkably makes no mention of its most distinctive features—namely its elevated poetic register and its deliberate, unmistakable references to Śrīvidyā iconography. Among his numerous contributions, Bader does, however, observe significant overlap between the Śaṅkarābhyudaya and the Mādhavīya Śaṅkaravijaya, the most popular text of the genre, often attributed by its proponents to the fourteenth-century Vidyāraṇya, founder of the Sringeri Śaṅkarācārya lineage. Bader successfully demonstrates that the Mādhavīya Śaṅkaravijaya liberally appropriates verses from all previously extant chronicles (the total borrowed material comprising nearly two-thirds of the entire text), thus establishing its relatively late date of composition beyond any uncertainty. His analysis of the Śaṅkarābhyudaya’s contents, however, goes only so far as to record that in Rājacūḍāmaṇi’s vision, Śaṅkara ends his pilgrimage and ascends to the Sarvajñapīṭha in Kanchipuram rather than in Kashmir.


Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa 3.5.3–7. Note the explicit references not only to Kāmākṣī but to the Ekāmranātha Śaiva temple in Kanchipuram as well: agastyo nāma devarṣir vedavedāṅgapāragaḥ |... tasya cintayamānasya carato vasudhām imām | prāptam āsīn mahāpuṇyaṃ kāñcīnagaram uttamam || tatra vāraṇaśailendram ekāmranilayaṃ śivam | kāmākṣīṃ karidoṣadhnīm apūjayad athātmavān ||


Aiyer and Venkataraman, The Truth about the Kumbhakonam Mutt, 51: “We are not concerned with the question of whether the Dikshita was a great man or whether he did or did not write a Sankarabhyudaya. The only relevant question is whether the Sankarabhyudaya put forward by the mutt is a genuine work and whether, even if it is, it can be relied upon as a historical work. It was published in the Sanskrit Journal Sahridaya years ago. It is not clear wherefrom the manuscript was obtained but it is known that the 7th and 8th sargas were supplied by the Kumbhakonam mutt. The Kavya is evidently incomplete. The correspondence between the slokas in this work and the Madhaviya Sankara Vijaya is not only striking but painfully astonishing.... It is quite patent that this Kavya was published years after the Madhaviya just to discredit the authenticity of the latter.”


Such transcripts are available at the Government Oriental Manuscripts Library at the University of Madras, Adyar Library in Chennai, and at the Oriental Research Institute in Mysore.


I have been able to locate the Sringeri manuscript from the unpublished on-site handlist, which is not included in the New Catalogus Catalogorum citations, but I have not yet been permitted to consult the manuscript.


Rāmakṛṣṇa Sūri provides the details of his lineage of Bhāratī preceptors in the introductory verses to his commentary: śambhur bhūrikṛpānidhir jagad idaṃ dvaitādidurvādavat pāṣaṇḍoktibhir ākulaṃ sadamalakṣemaṃ vidhātuṃ kālau | yadrūpeṇa mahīm avātarad amūn advaitavidyāgurūn śrīmacchaṅkaranāmadheyabhagavatpādān hṛdā bhāvaye || namāmi sukhacidrūpabhāratīdivyapādukā | yadāśritā anāyāsāt taranti sma bhavārṇavam || śrīmaccidghanabhāratyākhyān praṇamāmi sevakā santaḥ | yatkāruṇyasudhāṃ budhau hṛṣad api labdhvā... vanti mahad amṛtam || praṇamāmy ānandaghanabhāratyākhyān mahāmunīn |


Ś A 7.78, 80.


In addition, the Śaṅkarābhyudaya never mentions a monastery at Kanchipuram, which would not have served the interests of Kanchi partisans interested in tampering with the text.


Anantānandagiri, Śaṅkaravijaya, chap. 35, pg. 256. Citations are drawn from the Calcutta (1868) edition, as the Madras (1971) edition suffers from considerable interpolation that took place over the intervening century. śrīcakrasya sivaśaktyaikyarūpatvāt vidyātmaikyam atyabhedād avasāyasiddhiḥ. tasmān muktikāṅkṣibhiḥ sarvaiḥ śrīcakrapūjā kartavyeti dik. tasmāt sarveṣāṃ mokṣaphalaprāptaye darśanād eva śrīcakraṃ bhavadbhir ācāryair nirmitam iti.


Anantānandagiri, Śaṅkaravijaya, chap. 35, pgs. 256–257. trikoṇam aṣṭakoṇaṃ ca daśakoṇadvayaṃ tathā | caturdaśāraṃ caitāni śakticakrāṇi pañca ca || binduś cāṣṭadalaṃ padmaṃ tathā ṣoḍaśapatrakam | caturasraṃ caturdvāraṃ śivacakrāṇi tu kramāt || trikoṇabaindavaṃ śliṣṭam aṣṭāre ‘ṣṭadalāmbujam | daśārayoḥ ṣoḍaśāraṃ bhūgṛhaṃ bhuvanāsrake || śaivānām api śāktānāṃ cakrāṇāṃ ca parasparam | avinābhāvasambandhaṃ yo jānāti sa cakravit || trikoṇarūpiṇī śaktir bindurūpaḥ sadāśivaḥ | avinābhāvasambandhaṃ tasmād bindutrikoṇayoḥ || evaṃ vibhāgam ajñātvā śrīcakraṃ yaḥ samarcayet | na tatphalam avāpnoti lalitāmbā na tuṣyati || Cf. Cidvilāsa, Śaṅkaravijayavilāsa, 25.37–43: trikoṇam aṣṭakoṇaṃ ca daśāradvitīyaṃ tathā | caturdaśāraṃ caitāni śakticakrāṇi pañca hi || binduś cāṣṭadalaṃ padmaṃ padmaṃ ṣoḍaśapatrakam | caturasraṃ caturdvāraṃ śivacakrāṇy anukramāt || trikoṇe baindavaṃ śliṣṭam aṣṭāre ‘ṣṭadalāmbujam | dvādaśāraṃ ṣoḍaśāraṃ bhūgṛhaṃ bhuvanāsrakam || śaivānām api śāktānāṃ cakrāṇāṃ ca parasparam | avinābhāvasambandhaṃ yo jānāti sa cakravit || trikoṇarūpiṇī śaktir bindurūpaparaḥ śivaḥ | avinābhāvasambandhas tasmād bindutrikoṇayoḥ || evaṃ vibhāgam ajñātvā śrīcakraṃ yaḥ prapūjayet | na tatphalam avāpnoti lalitāmbā na tuṣyati ||

The significant number of variants in these two passages suggests they have been borrowed from a distinct textual source (i.e., Lalitopākhyāna) rather than transferred from one Śaṅkaravijaya chronicle to the other.


taduktaṃ brahmāṇḍapurāṇe—trikoṇe baindavaṃ śliṣṭam aṣṭāre’ṣṭadalāmbujam ity ārabhya, śaivānāṃ caiva śāktānāṃ cakrāṇāṃ ca parasparam | avinābhāvasambandhaṃ yo jānāti sa cakravit ||


Rāmabhadra Dīkṣita, Patañjalicaritra 8.71: govindadeśikam upāsya cirāya bhaktyā tasmin sthite nijamahimni videhamuktyā | advaitabhāṣyam upakalpya diśo vijitya kāñcīpure sthitim avāpa sa śaṅkarāryaḥ ||


In fact, it is not uncommon for temple priests today to vehemently deny any connection between the Śrīcakra and any Śrīvidyā practice occurring in the temple. Personal communication, temple priest, Madurai Mīnākṣī-Sundareśvara Temple, July 2009.


Cidvilāsa, Śaṅkaravijayavilāsa 30.21–31. sarvavicchaṅkarācāryadeśikas tān alokata || papraccha rājasenaiva nirmatān iva tān asau | phāle tripuṇḍraṃ santyajya kuṅkumaṃ dhriyate katham || śucivāsaḥ samutsṛtya dhṛtaṃ raktāmbaraṃ kutaḥ |... duṣkarmaṇāṃ hi saṃsargo yuṣmākaṃ pāpahetave | ity ukte deśikendre ‘smin śāktamārgasamuddhṛtāḥ || kiṃ yatin kathayasy adya manmatājñānato hi tat |... sākṣādbhagavatīyuktā śambhoḥ śaktiḥ parā nanu || kāraṇaṃ jagatām eṣā guṇātītasvarūpiṇī | tacchaktyā vaśataḥ srṣṭaṃ mahattatvam aśeṣataḥ ||... atas tadpādapadmasya sevā muktipradāyinī || kuṃkumādīni cihnāni tasyāḥ prītyaiva dadhmahe | atas tadpdādukā bāhau kaṇṭhe ‘pi dhriyate sadā || jīvanmuktā vayaṃ tasmāc chrīvidyopāsakāḥ sadā |


Śaṅkarābhyudaya 7.71–74.


Evidently Rājacūḍāmaṇi follows the kādi mata, the branch of Śrīvidyā that begins the v idyā with the syllable ka (rather than ha or sa as is practiced in some traditions), a common feature of South Indian Śrīvidyā.


Śaṅkarābhyudaya 7.86: itthaṃ pañcadaśākṣarīm anugatair varṇaiḥ kṛtopakramaiḥ kāmākṣīṃ bahirāhitasthitimatīṃ padyaiḥ samārādhayan | kampātīranivāsinīṃ paricitaṃ nantuṃ bilābhyantaraṃ gacchan dvāri kṛtāsikāṃ bhagavatīṃ tuṣṭāva sa śyāmalām ||


Some traditions have described these as the tritārikā and bālā mantras.


Śaṅkarābhyudaya 7.93: itthaṃ tām abhivandya viśvajananīm īśām athāntarviśan kalpānokahakānanālisubhage kampānadīrodhasi | kāmākṣīpadapadmapūtaśikharaṃ kañcit puraḥ kāñcanakṣōṇībhṛtkuladhūrvahaṃ pramumude paśyan sapady añjasā || Ramakrsna Sastri’s edition reads “padapadmabhūta,” while the Sahṛdaya edition and SSES manuscript read “padapadmapūta.”


Śaṅkarābhyudaya 8.4: kāñcanakṣīranīpāmrakāñcanāradrumām iha | kāñcana śrīpurābhikhyāṃ kāmākṣyāḥ kalaye purīm ||


Śaṅkarābhyudaya 8.6–7: dīvyadbindutripañcāradviraṣṭāṣṭadalāmbujam | diśyān me kālacakrākhyaṃ dīrgham āyus tadāsanam ||


Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa 3.32.6–8: mahākālīmahākālau lalitājñāpravarttakau | viśvaṃ kalayataḥ kṛtsnaṃ prathame ‘dhvani vāsinau || kālacakraṃ mataṅgasya tasyaivāsanatāṃ gatām | caturāvaraṇopetaṃ madhye bindumanoharam trikoṇaṃ pañcakoṇaṃ ca

ṣoḍaśacchadapaṅkajam | aṣṭārapaṅkajaṃ caivaṃ mahākālas tu madhyagaḥ ||


Śaṅkarābhyudaya 8.58–59: trailokyamohanaṃ cakraṃ trikaṃ tad adhitasthuṣī | trāyatāṃ prakaṭākhyābhis tripurā śaktir āvṛtā || kanantyaḥ śaktayaś cordhvaṃ kanakāsanapaṅktiṣu | kāmākarṣiṇikāmukhyāḥ kāmadogdhryo bhavantu naḥ ||


Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa 3.36.64: antaraṃ trayam etat tu cakraṃ trailokyamohanam | etasmiñ chaktayo yāsu tā uktāḥ prakaṭābhidhāḥ ||


Śaṅkarābhyudaya 8.60–61: sarvāśāpūrakaṃ cakraṃ samayā tripureśvarī | sākṣamālā vasati sā sannamadguptayoginī || avasthitās tato py uccaiḥ hāṭakāsanapaṅktiṣu | arcayāmo vayaṃ devīr anaṅgakusumādimāḥ ||


Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa 3.36.72: etās tu guptayoginyas tripureśī tu cakriṇī | sarvāśāpūrikābhikhyā cakrādhiṣṭhānadevatā ||


Śaṅkarābhyudaya 8.111: itthaṅkāram abhaṅgurāṅgajamahāyantrāvakṛṣṭyānamat pā [... vi] nivahojjvalābdhivihṛtīlolair girāṃ gumphanaiḥ | kampātīranivāsinīm anuditaṃ kāmeśvarīm arcayan brahmānandam avindata trijagatāṃ kṣemaṅkaraḥ śaṅkaraḥ ||


Śaṅkarābhyudaya 7.66: śrṅgārasāndrakavitāsaraṇāv ajitvā mām aṅga sāhasam idaṃ sahasā na kuryāḥ | ity ūciṣīṃ vidhivadhūṃ ca vijitya vidyābhadrāsanaṃ vidhir iva svayam adhyarukṣat || This verse places Śaṅkara in the position of Brahmā, evoking, by implication, an erotic connection between Śaṅkara and Brahmā’s wife, Sarasvatī, who represents the very wisdom that Śaṅkara “conquers” when ascending to the throne of wisdom.

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