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....

A New Star in the Advaitic Galaxy

Dr. K. S. R. Datta

Bellamkonda Ramaraya (Rama Rao) Kavi

DR. K. S. R. DATTA, M. A., Ph. D.

The philosophy of Advaita, which is the true purport of the Upanishads, is the life of Indian culture. It has been taught by great preceptors from time immemorial as the culmination and goal of all systems of philosophy and religious beliefs. The Advaita tradition traces its inspiration to God Himself. Based on the Upanishads, this system was expounded fairly and consistently by Gaudapada. Later, Sankara, believed to be an incarnation of Lord Siva and the greatest consolidator of Advaita, systematically worked it out in his commentaries on the prasthanatraya. After him, his followers, through all centuries, took upon themselves the task of interpreting, elucidating and supplementing his teachings. Some others, taking cudgels against his opponents, defended Sankara by not only interpreting, elucidating and supplementing his doctrines but also refuting every argument of Sankara’s opponents. One such great genius and an original thinker in the recent past, who vehemently championed the cause of Sankara’s Advaita, by his classical and immortal works, was Bellamkonda Ramaraya (Rama Rao) Kavi, a bitter critic of Visishtadvaita. He was not only protector but also a powerful interpreter of the Advaita of Sankara. Like the authors of the Bhamati and the Vivarana, the two post-Sankara schools of Advaita, he worked out the Vedanta in its details. He thoroughly investigated the Vedas, the Agamas and the Puranas and brought together authoritative statements for establishing the truth of Advaita and the hollowness of tenets and arguments of the opponents of Advaita. He made Advaita a comprehensive philosophy with every stone properly set in and well-carved in the edifice of Vedanta raised on Sankara’s foundational concepts.

A born poet-philosopher, a great devotee of Lord Hayagriva and author of 143 works in Sanskrit, Bellamkonda Ramaraya (Rama Rao) Kavi, believed to be Aparasankara, lived from 1875 to 1914 in Pamidipadu in Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh. His parents were Mohan Rao and Hanumamba. He was a Niyogi-Brahmin of Bharadvaja-gotra and belonged to the Asvalayana-sutra. He lost his father in his sixth year and was put to school by his uncle Kesava Rao. But owing to constant ill-health he discontinued English studies and began to study Sanskrit under his distant relative Sitaramayya. He evinced keen interest in his Sanskrit studies and improved his health, too. Thus he switched over to Sanskrit from English.

Even as a small boy, Ramaraya was very pious and was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. He used to offer worship daily with great devotion at the temple of Ramavallabharaya in his village.

One day, the Lord Hayagriva appeared in his vision and initiated him into the Hayagriva Mantra. His constant Japa of the Mantra enabled him to start writing poetry in his early age. By that time he had read only a few cantos in the Raghuvamsaand Kumarasambhavaunder the teacher. He stopped reading the Kavyas under the teacher as the grace of Lord Hayagriva had given him sufficient knowledge.

He married Adilakshmamma, the second daughter of Singaraju Venkataramanayya of Nellore. He attracted a large number of students by his scholarship in Sanskrit and spent his time in reading and teaching. He was longing to study Sastras like the Vyakarana and Tarka and luckily he could study some preliminary portions in them under Purighallu Rama Sastri and Subrahmanya Sastri, two brothers from Godavari District, Andhra Pradesh. But even at that stage he was able to write a scholarly commentary called the Saradratrion the Siddhantakaumudi. At the command of his logic-teacher, he wrote an elaborate and scholarly commentary on the Bhagavata-champuof Abhinava Kalidasa.

As he was born in a Niyogi-Brahmin family following the traditions and customs of Visishtadvaitins, he used to read the Sribhashyaand Gitabhashyaof Ramanuja. But after reading the Vedantapanchadasiof Vidyaranya, he began to find many contradictions and inconsistencies in the philosophy of Ramanuja. He found the Bhashyasof Sankara to be more logical and meaningful than Ramanuja’s.

In the meanwhile he fell out with his religious teacher Prativadibhayankaram Rangacharyulu of Tirupati over the issue of Taptachakrankanam(branding the body with hot metallic disc and conch). Thus Ramaraya, who had been faithfully following the Vaishnava religion and Visishtadvaita philosophy, discarded it and began to attack the same. He became a staunch supporter of Advaita and a great devotee of Sankara. He firmly believed that Advaita is the message of Upanishads and dedicated his whole life for the defence of Advaita from onslaughts of Ramanuja and Vedantadesika. He produced the monumental works like the Sankarasankara-bhashjavimarsha, Bhagavadgita-bhashyarkaprakasika, siddhantasindhuh, Krishnoddhavasamvada vyakhya and some other works defending Sankara and criticising Ramanuja. Thus by a turn of event, he turned into a great champion of Advaita and a bitter critic of Visishtadvaita.

Apart from the philosophical works, he wrote a number of Kavyas, like the “Samudramathana-champu”, “Rukminiparinayachampu”, Kandarpadarpavilasa-bhana, Krishnalilatarangini and others; works on ethics like the Dharmaprasamsa, etc.

His Stotras which are about 70 in number are addressed to several deities. But his favourite deity is Lord Hayagriva. His Stotras include the Hakaradihayagrivasahasranaamaavaliand Vakaradivishnusahasranaamaavali. They reveal his gushing devotion forGod. He was not only an original writer but also a commentator, par excellence. His writings are marked by easy style, clarity of expression and vigour.

In his undaunted task of attacking Visishtadvaita and re-establishing the soundness of Advaita, Ramaraya must have been inspired by similar writings of his predecessors. There are several works which refute Visishtadvaita. They are the Tatvachandrikaof Umamaheswara, Virodhavarudhiniof Umamaheswara, the Visishtadvaita- dushanasarasangraha of Brahmadevapandita, the Visishtadvaitabhanjanam, etc. However, all these works are either incomplete or partially sufficient or not noteworthy to meet the requirements, i. e., refuting Visishtadvaita in detail and re-establishing the soundness of Advaita. The only Advaitin who could come a little nearer to Ramaraya in this regard in the recent times was the late Mahamabopadhyaya N. S. Anantakrishna Sastry (a junior contemporary of Ramaraya) who devoted his whole life to the defence of Advaita, particularly from the onslaughts of the Visishtadvaitins, by producing several valuable works, refuting the latter. Paradoxically, Ramaraya, who wrote earlier more powerfully and exhaustively than his junior, has not been duly recognised or his contribution to Advaita not realised. It was perhaps due to lack of publicity to his works or want sincere disciples and followers to fulfil the aim of Ramaraya.

Ramaraya’s aim being to prove that only Sankara’s Advaitic interpretation of the Upanishads, the Brahmasutrasand the Bhagavadgitais correct, he does not strictly follow any school of post-Sankara Advaita, i.e., either the Bhamatior the Vivarana, though he seems to lean more on the latter. However, he has no apathy or hatred for the Bhamatiand, at times, he makes use of both the schools since his sole aim is to strengthen Sankara’s position and establish Advaita after countering the attacks of Ramanuja and others.

Still, as he is not a blind follower of the earlier Advaitins however great they might be, he is so bold that he does not hesitate to criticize, indirectly, even the great Vachaspati whom he styles tan aham anujjhitatarkapishachan manye. This alludes to Vachaspati’s remarks that anyathakhyatitoo is embedded in the anirvachaniyakhyati. Whilehe holds Vidyaranya in high respect referring to him as Vidyaranyasricharanah, he does not hesitate to criticise him saying that the later’s verse, dehadipanjaram yantram, etc., does not sufficiently explain the content of the BhagavadgitaXVIII, 61. It is not understandable why he does not like Anandagiri, the great Advaitic commentator. He criticises him for having adopted the reading samanadhikaranena na nilotaladivat, etc., when Sankara says samanadhikaranyena nilotpalavat, etc., on the Gita, II, 16. On some other occasion he questions Anandagiri’s exclusive versatility. (Kim lasyaiva mukhe suryodayassamjatah, Sarirakacatussutrivicarah p. 53) While commenting on the verse idam to natapaskaya na bhaktaya, etc., (Gita, XVIII 67), he calls Anandagiri a Mandamati.

The contribution of Ramaraya to Advaita Vendanta is two-fold, firstly in the nature of general elucidation or elaboration of the central doctrine in a very easy language) and secondly in the form of defence of Advaita from the attacks of Ramanuja and his followers. The following works come under the first category.

1. Vedantasangrahah, 2. Vedantaniscayah, 3. Advaitavijayah, 4. Siddhantasindhuh, 5. Vedantamuktavali, 6. Debadehibhavanirmulanam, 7. Advaitamrutam, 8. Vedantatattvamrutam, 9. Sarirakacatussutrivicarah.

Some of them are original works and some commentaries. In these works he states all the views of Advaita clearly and exhaustively.

His substantial and original contribution to Advaita Vedanta lies not merely in elucidating the Advaitic theories but also in his gigantic effort to defend Advaita from the onslaughts of Visishtadvaita and establish it on a sound and high pedestal. During this process, he adopts two methods. First, he examines the opponents’ (Ramanuja and his followers’) views and criticism and shows fallacies and contradictions in their statements, arguments and proofs. Next, he supplies additional proofs or arguments, not advanced by earlier Advaitins, for establishing the central doctrine of Advaita from the very same sources or authorities on whichthe Visishtadvaitins rely for establishing their views. The following are the works of Ramaraya wherein he criticises the views, arguments, proofs and interpretations of the Visishtadvaitim and advances his own arguments and proofs for defending the central doctrine of Advaita:

1. Sankarasankarabhashyavimarsah, 2. Bhagavadgitabhashyarkaprakasika, 3. Sarirakachatussutri vicharah, 4. Siddhantasindhuh, 5. Krishnoddhavasamvada-vyakhya.

Each of these works is a contribution by itself to Advaita Vedanta since it replies to the charges levelled against Sankara by the Visishtadvaitins. Ramaraya’s chief objective in producing the Bhagavadgitabhashyarkaprakasikais to provide a sound and logical basis to the Advaitic doctrines. He defines several important terms silently passed over by Sankara or adduces further proofs for establishing the Advaitic points of view or interprets them better. The first two of the above works remain his most important contribution to the development of Advaitic literature.

Let us examine briefly his main and substantial contribution to Advaita. His first contribution lies in establishing the attributelessness (Nirviseshatva) of the Brahman with the help of Srutis and Smritis after refuting the arguments and views of Ramanuja. He examines (Sankara sankarabhashyavimarsah. pp. 140-207) in detail the meaning of each Sruti quoted (Sribhashya I. 1.1) by Ramanuja to prove the Visishtadvaitic theory of the qualified Brahman, refutes the interpretation of Ramanuja, finally gives his own interpretation and proves that these Srutis establish only the Advaitic concept of attributeless Brahman. Later, he questions the claim of Ramanuja that the Vishnupuranaupholds the qualified nature of the Brahman. He rejects the interpretation of verses of the Vishnupuranacited by Ramanuja as incorrect and proves at great length, quoting several hundreds of verses from the same Vishnupurana(which Ramanuja holds as the supreme authority for the concept of Saviseshabrahma), the attributelessness of the Brahman. Similarly he quotes profusely from the Sutasamhitaand the Bhagavatapurana. Thus Ramaraya has enriched the Advaitic literature by supplying a host of additional proofs, not cited by earlier writers, from various Smritis and Puranas; in this way he has elevated the Puranas and the allied literature to the rank of Srutis and unearthed the Advaitic secrets hitherto unnoticed.

His next contribution to Advaita is establishing the concept ofthe attributeless Brahman by the aid of various Pramanas. In order to meet the objection (nirviseshavastuvadibhir nirviseshe vastunidam pramanam iti nasakyate vaktum; saviseshavastusahayatvat sarvapramananam. Sribhashya, 1. 1. 1.) of Ramanuja that no Pramanassupport the attributeless Brahman, Ramaraya defends and establishes the Nirviseshatvaof Brahman not only by the aid of the means of knowledge as Pratyaksha and Sabda but also by coining an Anumana as follows:

brahma nirvisesham, sushuptyadishu, brahmani kasyapi
viseshanasyadarsanat, vyatirekena ghatadivat.

Apart from showing that there are several hundreds of Srutis in support of the Advaitic theory, he not only rejects Ramanuja’s interpretation of several Srutis but also points out fourteen serious contradictions in the interpretation of Srutis as given by Ramanuja; and these contradictions can be rightly called the Chaturdasadushaniof Ramanuja’s philosophy. Hence, these charges act as a counter to Vedanta Desika’s Satadushani.

Ramaraya’s third contribution lies in providing (indirect) replies to Vedanta Desika’s Satadushaniwhich purports to point out one hundred fallacies or contradictions in the system of Advaita of Sankara. From the time of Vedanta Desika there has been no dedicated attempt on the part of any Advaitin to provide replies to the charges of Vedanta Desika against Sankara’s Advaita. Even the great Appayya Dikshita did not take up the job. Barring a few casual (direct or indirect) references as replies to the Satadushaniprovided in the Advaitasiddhiand its commentary, the Laghuchandrika, the two post-Desika dialectical works, practically there have been no noteworthy works exclusively dedicated to refuting or providing replies to Vedanta Desika’s charges till the emergence of Ramaraya’s works. Though he does not actually mention by name the Satadushani, he bears in mind the objections of Vedanta Desika and criticises them mostly in the sankarabhashyavimarsah, the Bhagavadgitabashyarkaprakasika, the Sarirakachatussutrivicharah, etc. Hence Ramaraya is the first Advaitin who has systematically answered almost all the charges of the Satadushani. However, he is relegated to the ground owing to the negligence of scholars and lack of due publicity to his works and he is not known as a powerful critic of Vedanta Desika. As the Sankara sankarabhashyavimarsah is a detailed direct reply to Ramanuja’s Sribhashya(up to the Jijnasadhikarana), on which the Satadushaniis mainly based, it can be safely said that the charges of the Satadushaniwere answered by Ramaraya earlier (i. e., in 1913 A. D.) than by N. S. Anantakrishna Sastry who produced the Satabhushaniin 1956 A. D.

Another valuable contribution of Ramaraya is his elaboration of Sankara’s view that the Purvamimamsa and the Uttaramimamsa are two different systems. He elaborates this idea by giving 102 meanings (Sarirakachatussutrivicharah, pp. 1-53) to the word atahin athato brahmajijnasa.

His fifth contribution lies in his emphatic defence of Sankara who says that the Bhagavadgitacommences and concludes with the Jnanayoga. While Sankara holds that the Bhagavadgitaactually commences with asochyananvasocha.stvam, etc. (II-11), Ramanuja rejects Sankara’s view and observes that na tvevaham jatu nasam, etc. (II-12), is the Gitasastraprarambhaas it undoubtedly supports his theory of plurality and reality of souls, reality of the universe, etc. This view of Ramanuja on the Gitasastraprarambhaalmost demolishes the whole of the Advaitic theory, as it amounts to proving the denial of the authority of the Bhagavadgitaand sastraprarambhato the Advaitins. None of the earlier commentators has attempted to disprove Ramanuja’s stand and this unique privilege fell to the lot of Ramaraya who refutes this in detail in unequivocal terms and proves that II .11 is the beginning of the Bhagavadgita.

Another noteworthy contribution of Ramaraya is his emphatic restatement of the Advaitic view that Ajnana is a positive entity. He states that it is proved by the Smritis also. He examines in detail (Sankara sankarabhashyavimarsah. pp. 292-300) the Srutis and Smritis quoted by Ramanuja’s interpretation and concludes that Srutis and Smritis prove the existence of Ajnana as a positive entity. He remarks that Ramanuja’s failure to recognise it is either due to his hatred for Advaita or dullness of his intellect. In his own verses, about 120in number, he gives a summary of proofs from the Vishnupuranafor establishing the positive nature of Ajnana. Though the Advaitasiddhialso establishes the positive character of nescience by quoting the Srutis, it does not quote from the Smritis. Hence here lies Ramaraya’s contribution.

The seventh and very important contribution is collecting evidences from several authorities to prove that Sankara’s interpretation of Tattvamasiis not fanciful and mischievous and that it is upheld by the Smritis also. Using the Srutis, Smritis and logic he explains, on the lines of Sankara, the meaning of Tattvamasiin detail and rejects Ramanuja’s interpretation of Tattvamasiand shows it lacks authority. He remarks that the revered sage Badarayana, knowing with his divine sight that Tattvamasiwould have mischievous interpretation at the hands of some wicked persons, has (himself) described or elaborated its meaning in his Skandapurana, taking recourse to Bhagalakshana. Even in the Sutasamhitathe sage explains its meaning clearly. The Adhyatmaramayanatoo concurs with the Advatic interpretation of Tattvamasi. Thus, by citing evidences from the most authentic works, Ramaraya has upheld Sankara’s interpretation of Tattvamasiand incidentally stressed the importance of these works in substantiating the Advaitic tenets. This rare contribution brings sanctity to Sankara’s interpretation.

As seen from the above evidences it is clear that the contribution of Ramaraya to Advaita is great. It is my earnest hope that among the post-Sankara Advaitins he will be recognised by the scholars as the most powerful critic of Visishtadvaita and a great champion of Advaita.

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