Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

An Incarnation of Sankaracharya

R. M. Challa

As inexplicable and indefinable as is the source of the transcendent Primal Energy, so inscrutable are the ways of the immanent Providence.

Although advanced scientific thought, with its acceptance of matter as a form of energy and its concept of indeterminacy principle and Unified Field Theory, has virtually vindicated the Advaita and Anirvachaneeya Vaada of Vedanta as firmly established by Adi Sankara in his Bhashyasand Panchikaranam, no philosophical attempt of a convincingly scholarly nature had been made to show up the fallacy of Ramanuja’s criticism of his Advaitic forerunner, until Bellamkonda Ramaraya Sastry (1875-1914) took up the task.

At this point it must be explained why a controversial subject is being broached. This writer yields to none in his adoration of Ramanuja who rescued the spirit of universal Hinduism when its devotional aspect was being misused. But since the main aim of Ramaraya Sastry’s life and work was to justify the tenets of Advaita by refuting the allegations of Visishtadvatins, an impartial reference has to be made to the conflict between the two great schools of thought.

Besides, it was as though there was something divinely pre-destined and pre-determined in the birth of Bellamkonda. For he was born and brought up in a family of Visishtadvaita tradition and grew up to be its staunchest opponent. And his precocity, versatile scholarship and early death are so redolent of Sankaracharya that he deserves the popular title “Apara Sankaracharyulu”, as none else does.

The Bellamkondas of Pamidipadu Agraharam, near Narasaraopeta in Guntur District, Andhra Pradesh, have been from time immemorial known for their learning, orthodox habits and charitable disposition.

V. Ramaraya Sastry’s father, Mohanaraya Sastry, died at an even earlier age than his renowned son–when he was twenty-five–but even in his short life he earned the reputation of being an exemplary teacher of Sanskrit language and literature. Ramaraya Sastry’s mother, Hanumamba, was well known for her piety and generosity.

Losing his father before he was six years old, Ramaraya Sastry had to go through nearly a decade of formal modern education at home and Guntur, as advised by his well-meaning relations.

As his soul battled against English study, so did his body: he suffered from illness when he went to school and was healthy on the days he did not go.

And so, when he attained the age of fourteen and became master of his fate, he returned from Guntur to his native village and began his study of Sanskrit literature and scriptures under the guidance of various local teachers. At this stage Lord Hayagriva, his family deity, appeared to him in a dream and blessed him. Reciting the Hayagriva Mantra, Ramaraya Sastry attained supreme powers, which revealed themselves in his mastery of astrology and Sanskrit grammar and prosody even before he was sixteen years old. At such a tender age he wrote several Sanskrit works which included two Champus–Rukmini parinaya and Rama parinaya–and a bhaana, Kandarpa Darpa Vilaasa.

At about this time he was married to Adi Lakshmi, the daughter of Singaraju Venkata Ramanayya of Nellore. Later he continued his studies in all other branches of Sanskrit learning and mastered them without much effort. Writing some more literary masterpieces, he became a teacher in his own right and trained several scholars while he himself was a mere youth.

Finishing his literary studies, Ramaraya Sastry turned his attention to philosophy. His participation in the learned assemblies, where the relative merits of Advaita and Visishtadvaita were discussed, led to his study of the former, while he was already familiar with the latter, which was, as noted, the traditional study of his clan.

The first Advaita text that created doubts about Visishtadvaita’s plausibility in his young mind was the famous Panchadasiof Vidyaranya Swamy. Now determined to make up his mind about the real nature of Ultimate Reality, he proceeded to read the Bhashyas of Sankara. Before long, thanks to the blessings of Hayagriva, he realised that Advaita alone was true to the teachings of Vedanta.

Thus he found his life’s highest mission in the defence and propagation of Advaita philosophy. His first deed of revolt against the family tradition was his refusal to be initiated in the Narayana Mantra and to deprecate the concomitant consecration ceremony of Tapta Chakra as something meant for the lower classes (later he proved his point by publishing a book named “Sudra Dharma Darpana”). Then he went on to win the support and friendship of contemporary Advatic scholars through his lucid and convincing exposition of the monistic metaphysics.

Not satisfied with his conquest over rival philosophers in oral debates, he proceeded to put on paper his arguments in support of Sankara and against Ramanuja. Since the latter spread his creed after the demise of the former, there had been no cogent counter-argument in favour of Advaita against the attack of Visishtadvaita.

So Ramaraya Sastry set himself the task of setting the record straight, and to this end he first chose to comment on the relative merits of the popular Gita Bhashyas of the two seers. Published under the title Bhashyaarka Prakaasa, the commentary proves itself to be not only an irrefutable apologia of Advaita but also a veritable mine of erudition in the different schools of Indian philosophy like Tarka and Nyaaya. The best example of Bellamkonda’s skill is his interpretation of the twelfth verse in the second chapter: “Na tu eva aham...”In his commentary Ramanuja sought to read “eternal” multiplicity of Souls into Lord Krishna’s narration of three entities...Himself, Arjuna and the rival army leaders. Ramaraya Sastry exposes the untenability of this view by pointing out that the whole idea of the preceptor was to convince Arjuna of the eternal truth of only one Absolute, Infinite Atman which singly and equally pervades the various manifest forms and that the verses which follow establish this fact by reiterating the idea of the indestructible Atman transcending the destruction of its reflected material shapes. As regards Ramanuja’s finding duality in the existence of a teacher and a disciple, Ramaraya Sastry denies it by proving that the question of teaching arises only when the pupil is under an illusion and not when he realises the essential unity of his individual self with the universal Self.

In another book, Sankara-Asankara Bhashya Vimarsa, Ramaraya Sastry conclusively establishes the inviolability or the Advaitic theory of the one and only changeless reality which animates the multitudinous changing reality, by disproving all the non-Sankara commentaries on Vedanta, besides such non-Vedanta epistemologies as Buddhism.

The third most important work among Bellamkonda’s one hundred and forty-three Sanskrit works is Vedanta Muktavali. One can easily appreciate the fact of Rama Rao’s genius when one learns that this master work was completed in less than a month.

            Vedanta Muktavali expresses in the form of Sanskrit verses, in the Sardulavikridita meter, the twelve major Upanishads, Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Chhandogya, Brihadaranyaka, Itareya, Kaivalya and Svetasvatara, and also comprises the author’s own commentary on them, called “Dinakara Vyakhya.” It is no ordinary job to convert the Upanishadic originals into metrical verse, but Bellamkonda’s versions often read more original than the original. And his commentary has all the subtlety and majesty of Sankara’s style in addition to the clarityand intelligibility of the latter’s analysis–especially his ample explanation of the famous Upanishadic phrases “Satyam jnanam anantam Brahma”and “Ekameva Advitiyam” are reminiscent of the Acharya’s Bhashya on “Katama Atma” in Brihadaranyaka and “Sa iksham chakrey” in Prasna.

Above all, the very fact that a writer in modern times could compose with facilityand felicity such Sanskrit commentaries as these, in the classical tradition of the commentators on the Vedas, Upanishads and Darsanas, should convince us modern men of little faith that there is a higher power that directs the destinies of mankind and that, when Truth is suppressed by even well-meaning devotees, “Kaarana Janmulu” like Bellamkonda Ramaraya Sastry appear on the face of the earth and leave it soon after their mission is fulfilled.

Modern science, and even modern fiction (e.g.,Jonathan Livingston Seagull), pursue the path of unitary perfection indicated by Advaita. So let us recognise more and more its modern champion Bellamkonda.

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