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Preceptors of Advaita
Among the three great Dravida acharyas who expounded the Advaita philosophy, the earliest is known only by quotations from his lost commentaries. The second was Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada himself. Srimad Appayya Dikshita was the third. He also forms another venerable trio along with Sri Kanthacharya and Haradattacharya as an expositor of Saivism. But the real mission of his life was the reconciliation of creeds, cults and philosophies. He was a peace-maker who pleaded for harmony, tolerance and mutual goodwill and understanding. He was born in a very hot age of bigotry and vigorous proselytism. The fight was all about the Supreme God and the conception of Salvation. In actual life the warring sects were unified by an unquestioned allegiance to the sruti and the smriti. The sectarian disputes did not stop with the growth of polemical literature. Persecution of one sect by another with political backing was not of rare occurrence. The lives of the great leaders of either of the Saivism or Vaishnavism during the ten centuries from the 6th to the 16th, afford ample evidences of stormy times, when either of the creeds had to endure great hardships from the fury of the rival which for the nonce got the upper hand as the oppressor. Though the greatest saints did not discriminate between Siva and Vishnu and declares them identical, the adherents of the creeds were mostly cantankerous and mistook acrimony for devotion. Waves of conversions rose and fell. It was Vaishnavism that was aggressive in its proselytizing tendencies, being impatient for universal expansion. South India was seized with one such fervor when Ramaraya was regent of Sadasiva, the nominal ruler of the Vijayanagar Empire. Ramaraya was completely under the influence of Sri Tatacharya, the Rajaguru. During his times and during the times of the inheritors of the fragment of the empire after the battle of Talikota, mass conversions took place engineered by the Rajaguru under state patronage. Sri Appayya Dikshita in his Nigrahashtakam says that the leader of the Vaishnavas had taken a resolute vow to stamp out Saivism from the land. The Prapannamritam, a work of one Anantacharya, which purports to record the history of Vaishnavism and the lives of the acharyas, refers to Sri Appayya Dikshita as living at Chidambaram, resplendent with fame and unassailable by controversialists, sectarian or philosophical and proceeds to state that to refute his great works on Sivadvaita and Advaita. Sri Tatacharya wrote a work called Panchamatabhanjanam and Mahacharya wrote a work called Chandamarutam and thus both of them defended the creed of Sri Ramanuja against his attacks. This Panchamatabhanjana Tatacharya lived for about 75 years from 1508. He was not alive in 1585, for the ceremony of coronation of Venkatapati in 1585 was performed by his adopted son Lakshmikumara Tatacharya who was at that time only fourteen years old. The elder Tatacharya wielded influence in the court as Rajaguru during the reigns of Sadasiva (1542-1567), Tirumala (1567-1574) and Sri Ranga (1574-1585). Sri Appayya Dihshita lived from 1520 to 1593 as will be shown below. He was younger to Tatacharya by twelve years and outlived him by about ten years. Their lives ran together during the major part of the 16th century. During all the years of Sri Tatacharya’s supremacy Sri Appayya Dikshita is not known to have had anything to do with Vijayanagar Court. After 1585, when Venkatapati was re-establishing the glory of Vijayanagar and the younger Tatacharya was the Rajaguru, Sri Dikshita was invited to the court and was held in great honour. During the thirty years after the middle of the 16th century, when the controversies raged high, Sri Appaya Dikshita enjoyed the patronage of Chinna Bomma Naik of Vellore, who soon after the battle of Talikota established himself as an independent monarch with considerably enhanced power and glory. Sri Appaya Dikshita lived the longest period under the patronage of Chinna Bomma, as his own literary references show. Sri Dikshita wrote not less than a dozen works on Saivism during the period, of which the Sivarkamani-dipika is this magnum opus, comparable in bulk and importance with his Parimala. Both are commentaries interpreting the Brahmasutra of Vyasa. Parimala aligns itself to the Advaitic interpretation and the Sivarkamani-dipika expounds the Sivadvaita philosophy of Srikanthacharya. On the completion of this monumental work Sri Appayya Dikshita was bathed in gold by King Chinna Bomma. This significant even referred to in the works of some contemporary poets and also in the Adayapalam inscription dated 1582 A.D. From the inscription we learn that Chinna Bomma made endowments for the maintenance of a college of 500 scholars who studied Sivarkamani-dipika under Sri Dikshita himself thus equipping themselves for the Saivite propaganda work which had been organized with a view to stemming the tide of Vaishnavite attacks and encroachments. Sri Appayya Dikshita was thus the guiding spirit of a great movement in which he banked upon the services of a large band of trained volunteers who could disseminate among the masses the philosophy and worship which gave supremacy to Siva, in the face of Vaishavaite onslaughts against it. He threw himself heart and soul into the mission for several years together in the prime of his life often facing occasions of grave personal danger, with undaunted courage and faith. He preached, organized and wrote incessantly, enlisted the co-operation of enlightened monarchs, undertook frequent travels and challenged his adversaries to stand their ground in open disputation. He brought to bear on his wide-spread activities his resourceful and versatile personality and tried his best to constitute an atmosphere of spiritual tolerance and goodwill in the place of the prevailing antipathies and narrow-mindedness. The Nigrahashtaka is a thrilling piece of passionate poetry gushing out of his heart charged with desperate courage and faith, in an extremely critical situation of belligerency with his religious adversary.
Sri Dikshita thoroughly investigated the Vedas, Agamas and the Puranas and brought together authoritative statements which dealt with Siva’s supremacy in the trinity. He composed very charming works dealing with the glories of Siva and his worship and wrote his own commentaries on them. His Sikharinimala and Sivatattvaviveka, his Sivakarnamrita, his Ramayana-tatparya-samgraha, Bharata-tatarya-samgraha and Brahmatarkastava, his Sivamahimakalikastuti and Sivadvaitanirnaya, belonged to this category. Sri Dikshita relied to a large extent on the Puranic lore for supporting his conclusions conducing to the harmony of the sects and consolidation of a synthesis. He linked the Puranic teachings with the Upanishadic thought and proved them identical. He did all this without resorting to strained subtleties of argument and without displaying the heat of controversial temper, but in a spirit of calm and dispassionate search for truth. The Sivarahasya refers to Sri Dikshita’s historic mission as the resuscitator of Saivasastra when it shall become practically extinct on earth, in these words “saivasastram tada bhumau Iuptam vistarayishyati.” It is no wonder that Sri Dikshita is known as Srikanthamatapratishthapanacharya.
After writing all these works which are partial to Siva, Sri Appayya Dikshita declared with a ring of genuine regret that he was obliged by the circumstances of the times to plunge into prolonged sectarian controversies with the Vaishnavas, while, left to himself, he would have been quite happy to have remained a steady exponent of Advaitic philosophy all through. His verse uttered in this mood can thus be translated – “whether it is Vishnu or Siva who is the supreme deity spoken of by the Upanishads, etc. we are not very much worried about, because we are definitely committed to Advaitism. But it is impossible for one like me to keep quiet when men with perverted minds proclaim in abusive language their hatred towards Siva – a hatred which consumes their hearts like a conflagration. To refuse their offensive presumptions, I had to take up cudgels against them. But this does not in the least mean that I am not a devotee of Vishnu.”
Sri Dikshita’s impartiality is borne out by many facts. He was a great admirer of Sri Vedanta Desika. He wrote a commentary on the Yadavabhyudaya – the only commentary so far known and published. He is said to have written a commentary on Pudukasahasra also. His hymn in praise of Varadaraja is well known. In the Kuvalayananda he invokes the blessings of Mukunda at the commencement of the work. When Ramaraya at the instance of Doddacharya resorted the worship of Govindaraja in the Chidambaram temple of Nataraja, Sri Dikshita welcomed with all his heart the event and wrote his Hari-hara-stuti in commemoration of it. The verses, by the alternating epithets definitely manipulated, suggest Hari-hara-abheda. In his Ratnatrayapariksha, he conceded Brahmatva to Vishnu also along with Isvara and Ambika, while it is well known that the other sects place Siva only in the jivakoti. In this work, he supports his stand by ample quotations from the Puranas-the Kurmapurana being not the least of them. His Vishnu-Gauri synthesis was not an ingenious invention of his. He claims for it the undoubted authority of antiquity and the sanction of all the sacred lore.
Even in philosophical speculations he did not think that the rival interpretations were entirely in the wrong, for he declares–– na sutranamarthantaramapi bhavadvaryamuchitam––(who can prevent different interpretations when the Sutras are capable of yielding different meanings). Such was his tolerance in religious beliefs and such his ardent desire for the reconciliation of philosophic thoughts. He wrote the Chaturmatasara to elucidate the philosophical thought respectively of the four prominent schools of interpreters of the Vyasa-sutras. They are the Nayamanjari which deals with Advaita; the Nayamanimala with Srikanthamata, the Nayamayukhamalika with Ramanuja’s philosophy and the Nyayamuktavali with Madhva’s philosophy. His remarkable catholicity of outlook and thoroughness of method, his impartiality and absence of prejudice, his unerring sense of values and not the least of all, his earnest search for the truth, shorn of all bias or petty-fogging, are all evident in these writings – so much so, the Vaishnavas have adopted the Nayamayukhamalika as a manual for their reverent study, and the Madhvas, the Nyayamuktavali. From the heights of his philosophic enlightenment, Sri Dikshita saw in the different methods of approach elements lending themselves to reconciliation and not to mutual exclusiveness and hostility.
After he had done his best to settle the sectarian disputes, Sri Appayya Dikshita turned to writings works for the elucidation and uplift of Advaita philosophy. His greatest and most memorable work in this line is the Parimala, commentary on the Kalpataru of Amalananda. Kalpataru is itself a commentary on Vachaspatimisra’s Bhamati. Bhamati is a gloss on the Bhashya of Sri Sankara. These four commentaries along with the original Brahmasutra constitute the Vedanta Panchagranthi, a formidable fortress of Advaita philosophy. Sri Dikshita was induced to write this commentary by Sri Nrisimhasrama an esteemed elderly contemporary, himself an author of several works on Advaita. This celebrated work earned for Sri Dikshita the title of Advaitasthapanacharya. His Nyayarakshamani and Siddhantalesasamgraha are very popular Vedantic texts studied by students of Vedanta invariably. He enshrines in them rare concepts and comments in Advaita which he had learnt from his revered father.
Sri Dikshita’s name and fame can rest for ever on any one of his works, but his writings are innumerable. He had been described as the author of one hundred and four works ––Chaturadhikasataprabandhakarta. Though many of his writings have not been recovered, the most important of them have been preserved to us and the majority of the survivors have been brought out in print, in grantha, Nagarai and Telugu characters.
Special mention must be made of Sri Dikshita’s contribution to the growth of the Mimamsa Sastra. Khandadeva the founder of the modern school of Mimamsa wrote his Kaustubha a few decades after the life of Sri Appayya Dikshita. He reverentially refers to Sri Dikshita as Mimamsakamurdhanya, the most authoritative among the writers on Mimamsa. The Vidhirasayana and the Kuvalayananda take us to the last patron of Sri Appayya Dikshita, Venkatapati-devaraya of Penukonda who ascended the throne of the Vijayanagar Empire in 1585. Sri Dikshita wrote both these works at the instance of Venkatapati whom he refers to in highly eulogical terms. In the Vidhirasayana, Sri Dikshita clearly indicates that his life’s work has been done and nothing more remains for him to be desired and that still he kept contact with courts of kings not for any benefit for himself, but for promoting the interest of others deserving his help. The chief among those whom he introduced to Venkatapati for patronage was Sri Bhattoji Dikshita. Bhattoji, the author of Siddhantakaumudi, came to the south to study Vedanta and Mimamsa under Sri Dikshita whose immortal works had already spread his fame in the north.
A very interesting story is told about the first meeting of Bhattoji with Sri Dikshita. Sri Dikshita was in musty clothes, looked very poor and lived in an unostentatious house in his village. Bhattoji could not believe that he was the far famed Appayya Dikshita before whom mighty monarchs bowed, who was the teacher of thousands of pupils and an author of a hundred works. But when the conversation proceeded he found that he was before the great man who was not only the unrivalled master of all the Sastras but the maker of new pathways in all the Sastra. This anecdote shows that Sri Appayya Dikshita remained practically poor in the midst of competing royal patronage. Bhattoji remained for some years in the south. He wrote Tattvakaustubha at the instance of Venkatapati and as a commemoration of his discipleship under Sri Appayya Dikshita.
There was no branch of knowledge including literary criticism and lexicon to which Sri Dikshita did not make valuable contributions. His Kuvalayananda and Chitramimamsa are the favourite texts of the students of Alamkara Sastra. Not less than fifty of his works are current and it is a good fortune that almost all of his magnificent writings are not only in print but are ardently studied even today by pandits aspiring for eminence.
Sri Dikshita was not only a great sastraic scholar, but also a poet of a very high order. His poetic style is elegant and charming and his mastery of the verse form is wonderful. His expression is simple, natural and flowing. Great mystic efficacy is attached to his Durga-chandra-kala-stuti and Adityastavaratna. His Varadarajastava scintillates with gems of Alamkaras and his gloss over it deserves to be classed as Alamkarasastra. There is an interesting story about his Atmarpanastuti. It bears the alternative name of Unmattapanchasat, which means, “Fifty verses composed during a state of madness.” It is said that Sri Dikshita wanted to make self-examination of his sincerity and depth of devotion to God. He contrived to enter into an inebriate state by drinking a cup of the dhattura juice, after instructing his disciples to observe his behavior and write down his utterances under the influence of intoxication. His utterances took the form of a devotional outpouring in which he made self-surrender to God Almighty, describing his woes as one subject to the ills of mundane life and praying for the final release from the bonds of Samsara.
His Apita-kuchamba-stava is hallowed by a tradition. It relieved him of a fever which he caught during a tour of Tiruvannamalai. The Hari-hara-stuti has a historical significance as already stated. The Sivamahimakalikastuti incorporates Mimamsanyayas in a string of devotional verses. Mannargudi Raju Sastrigal has provided it with an erudite commentary explaining the Mimamsanyayas. The Manasollasa is a caution addressed in dejection and despair to one’s own mind importuning it to make the best use of the birth as human being for the realisation of the true goal of life. His Margabandhustotra is a popular prayer for safety during journeys as his Adityastavaratna is for health.
Sri Dikshita spent his last days at Chidambaram. Living at some suburban village, he came every day for Nataraja’s darsana. He was running his seventy three year when he left the mortal coil. A story is current handed over by tradition among the Dikshitas of the temple of Nataraja, that one day Sri Appayya Dikshita was seen to pass over the Panchakshara steps rather unusually and to the wonder of the spectators, to vanish into the image of Sri Nataraja; and lo! The news was soon abroad that Sri Dikshita has passed away at his residence. Sri Dikshita’s birth was due to the grace of Nataraja; and he, when leaving the earth, became one with Nataraja. The last words of Sri Dikshita are remembered in the form of a verse. “I am happy to die at Chidambaram which is a most holy place. My sons are learned and cultured. They have done some scholarly work. I am full of years and have no desires to be fulfilled. My only wish is to reach the lotus feet of Siva.” Immediately the vision of the ruddy light of the raised foot of Nataraja dancing in the golden hall rose before his mental eye and while he described the wonder with gushing joy in a half verse his eyes closed. His sons completed the unfinished verse declaring that the great soul reached the final beatitude at the conclusion of the teeming darkness of the night of Samsara infested with frightful nightmares.
Sri Dikshita was held in high esteem and reverential awe even by his religious adversaries. There are contemporary references to him in the writings and utterances of Sri Nilakantha Dikshita, Chinna Appayya Dikshita, Samarapungava Dikshita, GuruRama Kavi, Balakavi, Rajanatha Dindima Sarvabhaumakavi and others and in the Adayapalam inscription. He was regarded even in his times as an Avatarapurusha. Legends grew around his life and they are preserved in Sri Sivanandayati’s Dikshitendravijayam, a Champu Kavya written in the latter half of the 19th century.
Mannargudi Raju Sastrigal’s Chatussloki-vyakhya has preserved a quotation from a lost biography of Sri Dikshita, giving the clue to his date. It is a tag of a verse and runs thus:
vikrame bhutalam prapya
Vikrama to Vijaya in the 16th century is 1520 A.D. to 1593 A.D. That Sri Dikshita lived full 72 years is clearly declared by Sri Nilakantha Dikshita.
dvasapatatim prapya samah prabandhan
If we take his royal patrons chronologically they cover the same period of the 16th century A.D. His first patron Chinna Timma was the Viceroy of the Vijayanagar Empire in the south having sway over Tanjore, Madura and Travancore, with his head-quarters at Trichinopoly, till about 1550. Sri Dikshita according to his own statement wrote his commentary on the Yadavabhyudaya at Chinna Timma’s instance. The second patron of his, Chinna Bomma, ruled at Vellore from about 1549 to about 1578. He is mentioned by Sri Dikshita in more than one of his writings. The third and the last patron of his was Venkatapati of Pennugonda who began to rule from 1585. Sri Dikshita refers to Venkatapati in his Vidhirasayana and Kuvalayananda. The Adayapalam inscription of 1582 refers to him as an author of a hundred works. Of his contemporary religious adversaries Tatacharya lived from 1508 to about 1583. Vijayindra Bhikshu entered Samadhi in 1595 after a long life. His first patron was Chevvappa of Tanjore and the last patron Venkatapati of Pennugonda. Vijayindra wrote one hundred and four works to rival Sri Appayya Dikshita’s one hundred and four works. He should have been a younger contemporary of Sri Dikshita. Vijayindra was one of the greatest religious personalities of the age. It is said that he and Sri Appayya Dikshita were intimate friends in spite of their academic rivalries. Sri Vadiraja a co-pupil of Vijayindra and head of one of the Udipi mutts who lived from 1480 to 1600 also wrote works defending Dvaita against the attack of Sri Appayya Dikshita.
Bhattoji the disciple of Sesha Krishna was a very much younger contemporary and disciple of Sri Dikshita. The story about Sri Dikshita meeting poet Jagannatha at Banares is untrue and unhistorical. Jagannatha came a century after Sri Dikshita.
Sri Sivananda unconsciously gives us a clue to the true date of Sri Dikshita. He says that Sri Krishnadevaraya and Acharya Dikshita died in the same year 1529 and that when his grand-father died, Sri Dikshita was nine years old. He was evidently quoting these dates from a lost biography or a tradition based upon it, but the historical significance of the date escaped his notice.
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