Preceptors of Advaita
An account of Upanishadbrahmendra in this Volume is appropriate in more ways than one. Apart from the fact that the Matha bearing his name has its own importance in Kanchi, there have been close contacts between the Upanishadbrahmendra Matha and the Kamakoti Pitha in the comparatively short period during which the former had come into existence.
Elsewhere1, more than once, the present writer has dwelt on the life and works of Upanishadbrahmendra. In his paper, on Upanishadbrahmendra in the Journal of the Music Academy, Madras2, in which, for the first time, a detailed account of this Sannyasin-author has been given, the present writer has shown that our author was originally called Ramachandrendra – a name found in the colophons of several of his works, as also in his commentary on the Bhagavadgita – and that later he came to be called Upanishadbrahmendra by reason of his systematic and successful effort to write commentaries on the one hundred and eight Upanishads. It has also been shown in that paper that Upanishadbrahmendra flourished in the 18th century A.D. The cyclic year and its details mentioned by him at the end of his commentary on Muktopanishad work out to 1751 A.D. Another dated work of his is the Paramadvaitasiddhantaparibhasha (1709 A.D.)
In civil life, he was name Sivarama and was the son of Lakshmi and Sadasiva of Vadhula Gotra, of Brahmapuram on the banks of the Palar. He was born by the blessings of God Karinatha and Goddess Sivakamasundari enshrined at Krishnanagari or Sattancheri on the banks of the Palar; he says that it is on the prompting of this Deity Lord Sivakamisa that he composed the commentaries on the one hundred and eight Upanishads. In more than one place in his works, he mentions that the place of his stay in Kanchipura, which is on the way of Kailasanatha temple, was called Agastyalaya or Agastyasrama. As a Sannyasin, he was the disciple of Vasudevendra.
Upanishadbrahmendra was a bibliophile and all his writings, as also other works in Vedanta and Bhakti, were copied and preserved in his Matha. The present writer had occasion to examine first-hand in connection with his New Catalogus Catalogorum work a large number of Upanishadbrahmendra’s works which the present Swamiji of the Matha, Sri Ishtasiddhindra, was kind enough to lend him. Manuscripts of Upanishadbrahmendra’s works are also found in the Madras Government Oriental Mss. Library, the Adyar Library and the Oriental Library, Mysore; and many of them bear alternate and longer or shorter names and also the author’s own glosses. After a careful examination of all these, as also the mutual cross-reference found in his own works, a complete list of his works has been compiled and presented elsewhere3. Some of these works have also been brought out in print by the Adyar Library4. On this occasion a brief analytical account may be given of his works and an appreciation of the contribution he made through his works and life.
It is proper to begin with the Upanishads the ultimate basis of the two other texts of authority in the Prasthanatraya and also of all further expositions in Vedanta and Bhakti. The most important and sustained work of Upanishadbrahmendra, which gave him this second name, is his commentaries on the one hundred and eight Upanishads, all of which have been published by the Adyar Library. The author says that Krishnasuri, Ramananda, Isvara, Hari and Krishnadasa prompted him to write the Upanishad-commentaries5. All his works giving the author’s name as Ramachandrendra were written before the Upanishad-commentaries and this is borne out also by his mentioning some of them in the Upanishad-commentaries. On many of his earlier works thus written, he wrote glosses later, as Upanishadbrahmendra. His work in the field of Upanishads is valuable particularly in regard to the minor ones, on which we have no other commentaries.
A second major work of Upanishadbrahmendra in the Upanishadprasthana is the collection of one thousand and eight Mahavakyas from all the Upanishads – the Ashtottarasahasramahavakyavali – and expositions of these in a series of commentaries, the Prabha, the Lochana, the Vivarana and the Kiranavali. Even at the beginning of his commentary on the Upanishads, he has shown that the Mahavakyas are not just four, but many more.
In the Gita-prasthana he has given us a lucid gloss on the Bhagavadgita closely following Sankara’s Bhashya.
In the Sutra-prasthana, there is a short work of his in the form of an adhikarana-index and a concordance of the Sutras and topics, following Sankara’s Bhashya. In this he correlates the four chapters and the four Padas of each chapter, with aspects of the Pranava and phases of the Brahman, a favourite analysis of his which he uses for the songs too which he composed in sets according to this classification. Deriving his ideas from the Mandukya and Gaudapada’s Karikas and from the Nadabindupanishad, he equates the four chapters of the Sutras thus:
Samanvaya Avirodha Sadhana Phala
Akara Ukara, Makara Ardhamatra
Sthula (Virat) Sukshma (Sutra) Bija Turya
The four Padas of each chapter are equated with the further sub-divisions resulting from the admixture of the phases in the second principle of classification, Virat-virat, Virat-sutra and so on. The colophon of I. i of his index of the Adhikaranas run:
iti vairaje prathamah padah.
In the further colophons, we come across equations of other Padas of the Sutras with Nada, Bindu, Kala, Kalatita, Santi, Santyatita, Unmani, Puri (Vaikhari?), Madhyama, Pasyanti and Para.
Upanishadbrahmendra’s work on the Brahma-sutra should not be judged by the above concordance alone; at the end of this short work, he says that he wrote a commentary on the Sutra, following Sankara’s Bhashya of course, in 3500 granthas. The manuscript of this remains to be identified and studied; it may be in the form of a commentary on the Sangraha of the Sutra mentioned above; it is at its end that the author mentions the commentary.
The independent Vedantic Prakaranas of the author may now be noticed. Over a dozen of these are known and as in the case of other works, here too the texts bear the author’s own commentaries. The Tattvampadarthaikyasataka in one hundred Anushtubhs, published in the Adyar Library Bulletin, with an Introduction by the present writer, brings out the full implication of the great Mahavakya, tat tvam asi, working out, step by step, the manifestation of the Brahman as the Saguna Brahman, the individual souls and the universe through Maya, the three Gunas, etc. The work may be studied on the background of the older texts, Panchikarana, Vakyavritti, etc.
The other Prakaranas, with his own commentaries, are Karmakarmaviveka with Nauka, Tripattattvaviveka, Paramaksharaviveka, Paramadvaitasiddhantaparibhasha, Paramadvaitasudarsanaviveka, Bhedatamomartandasataka, Lingabhangamuktisataka, Sattasamanyaviveka and Vivriti, Svarupadarsanasiddhanjana, Kaivalyashtaka and Siddhantaslokatraya.
From what has been said already in connection with his concordance of the Brahma-sutra and its Adhikaranas, it would be clear that our author had a fancy for correlations and equations of the different phases of Brahman, of spiritual pursuit and indeed of the texts of Vedanta with the phases of Pranava. On the path of Sadhana, he was a worshipper of Pranava and Nada, which as we shall see below, led him to music. Tara (Pranava) and its four aspects figure out all over his commentaries and Prakaranas. A certain number of works of his is especially devoted to this approach:
Antahpranavavivriti, Bahyapranavavivarana, Brahmasarashodasabhumika, Brahmapranavarthaprakasashodasabhumika, Brahmapranavadipika, Viratpranavavivriti, exposition of Pranava and its phases as signifying srishti, sthiti and samhara and a series of devotional formulae related to the phases of Pranava which will be mentioned in a further section.
The tradition of combining Bhakti towards forms of Saguna Brahman, with Advaita has had a long history. Many Advaitic writers have not only composed appealing Stotras but also written treatises on the doctrine of devotion and the efficacy of reciting and adoring the Lord’s Name (Naman). Upanishadbrahmendra’s other works, to be dealt with now, belong to this field of Bhakti, Namasiddhanta and music compositions on his Ishtadevata. Bhaktisvarupaviveka is on the general doctrine of Bhakti. The Bhagavatasamgrahastuti summarises the stories of the twelve Skandhas of the Srimad Bhagavatapurana in the form of a Stotras, comparable to the Narayaniya. Another devotional work of his is the Sivamanasapuja.
Upanishadbrahmendra’s Ishtadevata was Rama. In Rama-Bhakti literature, he takes a conspicuous place. He wrote a commentary on the Adhyatmaramayana, a treatise on Rama’s worship called Ramarchanachidvidyachandrika, a Ramarchana embodying the meaning of the Upanishadic Mahavakyas and a hymn Ramachandradayashtaka.
On the Lord’s Name as Saviour (Taraka) and its recital, he wrote the Namarthaviveka or Upeyanamaviveka (text and commentary) in which, besides dealing with all the doctrines of this school, Upanishadbrahmendra enunciated the idea that the name Rama is composed of the vital syllables of both the Narayana ashtakshari mantra (RA) and the Siva Panchakshari mantra (MA). The present writer has recently edited this work, with a critical Introduction, in the Adyar Library Bulletin.
A sequel of this is the practice of Bhajana, singing songs in praise of the Lord and also formulae describing the Lord in a string of epithets and expressing devotion to the Lord, Namavalis and Divyanamasamkirtanas. What Upanishadbrahmendra did in this line could be classified into three groups. While all of the compositions in this category are on Rama, one set comprises longer poetic pieces to be rendered in elaborate music and following the model of the Gitagovinda of Jayadeva and the Krishnalilatarangini of Narayanatirtha, viz., the Ramashtapadi and the Ramataranga with Ramatarangaslokas and Ramatarangachandrodaya6. Another comprises a number of Ramagitas giving expression to his ideas on the phases of Brahman-sutra, Bija, Turya, etc. The third set is represented by the Namavalis which are found under the names Narayanataranamavali, Pranavanamavali, Vyavaharikapranavanamavali and so on. The largest corpus of our author’s compositions in this group is the Divyanamasamkirtana consisting of vocatives addressed to Rama both as Supreme Brahman and as Saguna Brahman. A complete Index of this mass of Upanishadbrahmendra’s Divyanamasamkirtanas, with mention of the Ragas used, is given by the present writer in his paper on our author in the Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, already referred to. In these, as also in his Upeyanamaviveka, he says that devotion to Rama must be done in Advaitabhavana, with the contemplation of one’s self being identical with the Supreme Being:
svananyadhiya tannamasmritih syat;
ramo’ham ahameva rama iti bhavayet.
At his Agastyesvara Asrama, he had put up a flag, as it were, inviting everybody to step in, participate in the great Satra of devotional singing of the songs and Namavalis composed by him, which was going on incessantly there and appease their spiritual hunger. Of this Muktisatra established by him, he says in the beginning of Ramataranga:
pratishthitam muktisatram dhvajasthapanapurvakam
madiyasiddhasamkalpam jnatva ye bhusuradayah
nirankusaste kurvantu mattarangadikirtanam
sakrinmatsatrabhuktya tu samtriptirjayate sada.
With all this activity, Upanishadbrahmendra proved quite an inspiration in his time of the votaries of the twin paths of devotion and music. In fact tradition current in the world of Karnatic music says that during his visit to and stay in Kanchi, the great composer Muttusvami Dikshita (A.D. 1776-1835), who wrote his songs in Sanskrit, was asked by Upanishadbrahmendra to set the tunes to the latter’s Ramashtapadi. The manuscripts of the songs of Tyagaraja (A.D. 1767-1847), the other great Karnatic composer and other literary materials that belonged to him, which are preserved now in the Saurashtra Sabha, Madurai, contain the Srimukha or call sent by Upanishadbrahmendra to Tyagaraja, asking the latter to visit Kanchi. The influence of Upanishadbrahmendra and his ideas and even expression on Tyagaraja, who also adored Rama with music, is clear and this has been already pointed out by the present writer in his Introductory thesis in the Spiritual Heritage of Tyagaraja7 and his critical Introduction to the Upeyanamaviveka.
There are some more songs8 of Upanishadbrahmendra which show that he went on pilgrimage to the Cola-mandala and sang on the deities at Chidambaram, Tiruvayyaru (Tyagaraja’s place) and Srivanchyam.
Upanishadbrahmendra was thus ceaselessly active. He is one of the most prolific writers in the recent history of Advaita and Bhakti. An authentic exponent of Sankara’s Advaita, he yet introduced several minor ideas and correlations; and this he worked out on the basis of what were already found in the earlier authentic literature, but they became a special characteristic of his writings. With his piety and spiritual exercises, he combined a practical outlook which explains not only the collection of manuscripts in his Matha, but also the care taken by him to mention at the end of each work of his its extent in terms of the number of granthas. Many of his works still remain to be studied and a connected account of his ideas will form a useful piece of research.
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