“The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.” – Mark Twain
I don’t know what made Mark Twain to say so but it successfully describes the topic that I am presenting in this article.
The much famed disputation between Akshobhya Tirtha of Dvaita school and Vidyaranya of Advaita school is the topic-in-discussion and I hereby present my line of thinking on this topic.
I have used the sources of history that are available, at present, with me and the relevant citations have been provided from the sources directly.
For those readers who are new to this subject, I wish to give them a gist of the story:
Sri Akshobhya Tirtha, the 4th successor from Madhva has ascended the Dvaita Vedanta Peetha in the year c.1350. He has succeeded Sri Madhava Tirtha (Ascendance:1333 Brindavana: 1349/50) and prevailed over the Peetha till c.1365.
The fables of Maadhva community say that there ensued a great debate between these two stalwarts of Vedanta at a place called Mulbagal (Purva Kavatapuri). Kumara Kampana, the supposed Governor of Mulabagal and many other royal dignitaries have gathered to witness this grand fiesta of polemic dispute. Vedanta Deshikan of Srivaishnava Vedanta has been chosen as the “referee” but he was not physically present at the venue and purportedly was staying at Srirangam. The 40 days of close contest between the two saints has touched upon every book of Vedanta and finally Akshobhya came out victorious and a ‘pillar of victory’ (image shown below) has been erected at the very spot where the arguments took place.
Riposte from Advaitins:
The story of Vidyaranya’s alleged defeat started spreading its wings and few organizations like Madhva Siddhanta Vijaya Sthambha Samsevana Samiti have come up to further the so called victory of Maadhvas over Advaitins. Pamphlets such as the one shown below have started flying thick and fast through the rank and file of Maadhva community.
Now, it was the turn of Advaitins to make a ‘quick return thrust’ to stop the onslaught of Maadhvas and this has resulted in publishing a book titled 'Akshobhya Vijaya Vibhrama’ (AVV) by Mr. G.R. Patil which has been nicely followed up with another booklet by the same author, rebutting the objections raised by few Maadhvas on AVV.
In this article, I will not be discussing about AVV or the objections raised by the Maadhvas and not even about the subsequent rejoinder written by Mr. Patil.
This write-up is an independent inquiry on the said topic with a fresh mind and new perspective.
Now, in to the topic…..
Religious Distinctions in Early Vijayanagara Empire:
Krishnaswamy Aiyangar in his work Some Contributions of South India writes…
“During the age of Vijayanagara the Lingayats certainly existed and flourished. We know of contemporaries of Vidyaranya belonging to this sect occupying high positions in the service of the state. Several sovereigns of the first dynasty of Vijayanagara seem to have patronized this particular creed. But it does not appear to have been exactly what might be called the state religion.” Page 205
He also writes in Page 309 about Kriyashakti Pandita who guided Harihara I. Kriyashakti Pandita’s reference comes in connection with a certain minister called Madhava Mantri This Madhava was a minister-cum-general working under Harihara I and a contemporary to Madhava Vidyaranya. This Madhava Mantri was a Brahmin and a disciple of Kriyashakti Pandita a Saivacharya heading Kriyashakti Peetha that belongs to Kalamukha sect. Madhava Mantri died in 1384.
Madhava Vidyaranya replaced Kriyashakti Pandita as Raja Guru and guided Bukka I who succeeded Harihara I in 1343. His brother Sayana mentored Kumara Kampana who was a governor of Udayagiri.
It appears that there prevailed a thorough confusion for sometime in the past in distinguishing Madhava Vidyaranya and Madhava Mantri and the present disputed victory of Akshobhya is a result of such confounded identity.
Here, it is worthwhile to quote Krishnaswamy Aiyangar’s narration from his “Sources of Vijayanagara Empire.” In Page 3, he offers a solution to distinguish two Madhavas living at the same and in same place. Read the following excerpt:
“The two Madhavas were of different gotras and sutras as is clear from the extracts.[…] The designation “establisher of the path of the Upanishads’, as applied to the second Madhava, seems deliberately intended to distinguish him from the other.[…]”
Madhava Mantri was enjoying a title “Upanishan margapratisthapanacharya” and Madhava Vidyaranya was credited with another title “Vedamarga-pratishthapanacharya.”
Krishmaswami Aiyangar, in Page 51 of Sources of Vijayanagara, gives further details of Tatparya Dipika, commentary written by Madhava Mantrin and offers further clues to distinguish both the Madhavas.
In his book “A History of Vijayanagara – The Never to be forgotten Empire” Bangalore Suryanarayana Row writes about Madhava Mantri as below:
Further to the above observation, Mr. Row offers another support for establishing Madhava Mantri as a learned Upanishad expert. Mr. Row writes as below:
Most important lines that the readers must read are:
“[…]and we see that Madhava Mantri is the author of [Suta Samhimta]“Tatparya Dipika” and not Madhavacharya. The commentator commences with hailing his Guru as “Kasivilasa Kriyasakti Parama Bhakta Padabja Sevaka,” adjectives which are totally absent in all the accredited works of Vidyaranya.”
All the above sources successfully establish the connection between Kriyashakti Pandita and Madhava Mantri.
Based on these facts, I presume that Akshobhya Tirtha might have got engaged into an argument with Madhava Mantri and not Madhava-Vidyaranya.
Another fact behind this assertion is that the sentence “tat tvam asi” or “tattvamasi” from Chandogya Upanishad has been quoted as the point of debate between Sri Akshobhya and Vidyaranya.
With these details as background, I am drawing an inference that Sri Akshobhya Tirtha, if at all involved in a polemical debate, might have argued with this Madhava Mantri only and not with Madhava-Vidyaranya.
Who is Avadikottama or Avaidika Vidyaranya?
In my opinion it is none other than Madhava Mantri who has been referred to as “Avadikottama or Avaidika Vidyaranya.”
Now the moot point to be addressed here is – “Why was Madhava Mantri referred to as Avaidikottama or Avaidika Vidyaranya by Maadhva writers?”
For the answer, we can draw some insight from a book called “The Kāpālikas and Kālāmukhas: Two Lost Śaivite Sects” by David N. Lorenzen wherein in Page 162, the author writes:
David Lorenzen says that Ramanujacharya and his preceptor Yamunacharya were highly critical of Kalamukhas as they were not following Vedic teachings but that of vicious Tantric practices. Though Lorenzen differs with this statement of Ramajuna, he agrees to a fact that the Kalamukha followers were widely adhered to their own doctrine called Likula-Siddhanta and were having some Buddhist Tantric influences as well. This detour of Kalamukhis from Vaidika practice could have caused Ramanuja to relegate them with added vehemence.
In the present context, it is interesting to note that Madhava Mantri, though being a Saraswat Brahman, was a practicising Kalamukhi. Owing to his original roots as a Saraswath Brahman he was well versed with the Upanishads and also wrote a commentary on Suta Samhita. Given his strength of Upanishadic knowledge, Madhava Mantri has tried to promote Kalamukha practice as a practice that is in agreement with Upanishads. But we as of now, I have not got any such works of him.
I have made the above claim based on an observation made by Krishnaswami Aiyangar in his Sources of Vijayanagara. He states that the purpose for which Madhava Mantri gained mastery over Upanishads is to make the rigid Shaivism (Kalamukha) to correspond with the Vedic Upanishads. Read the following excerpt from ‘Sources of Vijayanagara’.
The last sentence sums it all that Madhava Mantri did try to elevate his belief system (Kalamukha) as against the relegation caused by Ramanuja. Thus Maadhvas too might have considered him as “Avaidikottama” and called him so! But I am unable to make any connection of Madhava Mantri with “Avaidika Vidyaranya” coinage as there is only one Vidyaranya at that time and that was Madhava Vidyaranya, the royal preceptor of Sangama Dynasty!
In the ensuing part I shall be discussing about few critical aspects that I have noted in Mr.Patil’s book Akshobhya Vijaya Vibhrama and my observations on the same.