HINDU RESURGENCE ANDLINGUISTIC FLUORESCENCES DURING EARLY MEDIEVAL PERIOD: SHANKAR AND RAMANUJA

Shankaracharya

A major formulator of the reinvigorated Hindu thought was Shankara, a brahman who combined philosophical adroitness with impressive organizational acumen. To oppose what he castigated as blasphemy, he returned to the ancient Upanishads (from which Buddhist doctrines had also evolved), and offered explanations of salvation as compelling as those of the hegemonic heterodoxies of his time and earlier. Besides incorporating and transcending Buddhist doctrines, he mimicked their institutions by establishing the monastery (matha) as a key institution in a number of sites. Four of these held special status as major missionary centres, each under a successor-teacher (sankaracharya).

The religious reforms were not wholly intellectual. In addition to borrowing and incorporating Buddhist and Jaina institutions, Shankara adopted a popular song form to compose praises to Shiva. These hymns of devotion became the foundation for the new and popular worship, one that has endured to the present throughout India under the name of Hinduism.

The religious devotionalism called bhakti which first took shape in Tamil country during the sixth century was anticipated earlier by the Krishna devo- tionalism found in the Bhagavad Gita, composed around the first century ce and incorporated into the Mahabharata around a century prior to Shankara’s time. Further developments of the Tamil bhakti religion were the work of later poet devotees and theologians. According to tradition, between the sixth and tenth centuries, sixty-three Shiva- and twelve Vishnu-worshipping poets created a large corpus of Tamil devotional songs, and all are now revered as saints. Nor did theology lag far behind. Shankara’s work in providing an intel- lectual base for popular worship of Shiva was also intended to maintain and strengthen brahman leadership, and this feature was imitated by the Vishnu cult as well.

Religious developments spurred the development of first Tamil and subse- quently other languages between 1000 and 1300 ce. In the twelfth century, bhakti hymns were composed in Bengali by the saint Jayadev and in what is now called Hindi by Nimbarka of Mathura. Nimbarka was originally a south Indian brahman whose devotion to Krishna inspired him to a missionary voca- tion that helped to make Mathura the centre of the Krishna cult. In the same period, literary works, along with such technical auxiliaries as grammars and dictionaries, were written in Marathi, Bengali and several other languages.

Languages and literatures underwent a regionalization that made possible the spread and particularization of popular devotion to Vishnu, Shiva and the goddesses. Everywhere devotees imitated the Tamils, the first of the devo- tional worshippers to create a corpus of hymns in their own language. These compositions launched the development of all the modern languages of the subcontinent, those based on Sanskrit throughout the north, and others based upon a mix of Dravidian and Sanskrit words and grammatical forms in the south.

In addition to the bhakti songs, two other literary projects assumed special importance. One genre preserved or invented myths about the gods who were the divine objects of the songs and theology and were installed in temples devoted to their worship. These temples, along with the mathas, gave insti- tutional focus to the religious reformation.The other stimulus to the literature of the early medieval age was the chronicles of ruling families of the time.

The new systems of Indian philosophy

The history of Hinduism in the second half of the first millennium was influ- enced by two tendencies which seemed to contradict each other but whose synthesis actually led to the emergence of the kind of Hinduism which still exists today. On the one hand this period witnessed the rise of the great philosophical systems which were formulated in constant debates with Buddhists and Jains in the course of what has been termed a ‘Brahmin counter-reformation’; on the other hand the same period produced the great popular movements of the Bhakti cults which often explicitly rejected Brahmin orthodoxy and monist philosophy and aimed at salvation by means of pure devotion to a personal god. There were six classical philosophical systems of which the Karma Mimamsa, which addressed itself to the the- ory of right conduct and the performance of sacrifices, and classical Sankhya, which postulated a duality of mind and matter, were of particular significance. But the most influential of these systems was Vedanta (the end, i.e. anta, of the Vedas) which was greatly emphasised by the Neo-Hindu thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth century and which is therefore often regarded as the very essence of Indian philosophy.

The great philosopher Shankara (788–820) renewed and systematised Vedanta philosophy by stressing its main principle of monism (kevala- advaita, or absolute non-duality). Shankara is regarded by some of his followers as an incarnation of Shiva. He was born the son of a Nambudiri Brahmin of Malabar (Kerala), composed his main work, the commen- tary on the Brahmasutras at Varanasi (Benares) and, according to later tradition, travelled throughout India in order to engage Buddhist and Jain scholars in debates. It is said that he defeated many of them by the power of his arguments. He also tried to unify the different rites and traditions of various groups of Brahmins. Four holy sees (matha) were established in the four corners of India, perhaps by Shankara or by his followers wh attributed their foundation to him. These holy sees were then occupied by 1 the Shankaracharyas who propagated his doctrines after his death and continue to be important to Hindus today. The Shankaracharya of Shringeri in Karnataka enjoys special reverence; one of his predecessors is supposed to have played an important role in the establishment of the Vijayanagar empire.

Shankara formulated an impressive theory of knowledge based on the quintessence of the philosophical thought of his age. He referred to the philosophical teachings of the Upanishads about the unity of the indi- vidual soul (atman) and the divine spirit (brahman). He taught that the individual soul as embodied in a living being (jiva) is tied to the cycle of rebirths (samsara) because it believes that this world is real although it is only illusion (maya). This belief is due to ignorance (avidya) which prevents the soul (atman) from realising its identity with the divine spirit (brahman). Only right knowledge (jnana) leads to the realisation of this identity and to salvation (moksha) from the cycle of rebirths.

Shankara’s philosophy was in many ways akin to Buddhist thought in highlighting the need to overcome the attachment to the cycle of births by self-realisation. He contributed to the elimination of Buddhism by evolving a Hindu philosophy which could account for everything which the Buddhists had taught in an equally systematic way. But he also provided some scope for popular Hinduism by allowing for a ‘lower truth’ which embodies the manifold appearance of the world and implies the existence of a divine creator (ishvara). In this way he reflected similar ideas of the Upanishads and of Mahayana Buddhism and was able to combine popular Hinduism with orthodox Brahmanism in a lofty philosophical system. Everybody could find his own level in this magnificent synthesis of ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ truths.

Sankara calls his philosophy by the name as Advaita.

By advaita Sarikara meant “NO-TWO” or “NON DUALITY”. To him

Reality is non-dual (Advaita) or expressed positively One Only Without a Secoi.d (Ekam Eva Advitiyam). He summarises his philosophy in just half a verse which runs thus:

“Brahman is Real, the world is illusroy and the so called individual self is non-different from Reality”.

In the Philosophy of Sankara, three concepts stand out predominently thus distinguishing other philosophies. They are:

i) Reality

ii) Maya

iii) Jivan Mukti

According to Sankara, Reality is referable by the term Atman aXso, in addition to being called Brahman, As Reality is beyond the senses, the mind and the intellect from the transcendental stand point. Reality alone is ultimately real. It is the Self of everything.

Maya is a veil that covers the reality. It conceals avarana and acts as the screen to hide. It is of the nature of superimposition (adhyasa).

Maya is not only the absence of knowledge, but is also positive wrong knowledge. It is neither real nor unreal (satyanrte mithuml krtya). It is indescribable (anirvachanlya). It is not existent for the existent is only the Brahman. It is not non-existent for it is responsible for the appearance of the Brahman as the world.

To denote illusory nature of the world, Sankara makes use of the term ‘Mithya‘, which in English is translated as illusory.

According to Sankara, Moksa does not mean cessation of the body, but the extinction of ignorance, which clearly shows that liberation can be attained even while one is alive (Jivan Mukti). Just as the wheel of potter remains moving even after the pot is made, similarly the realised individual goes on living even after attaining liberation, because of its Prarabdha. There is nothing to stop the earlier continuity of life. Even though he lives in the world he is not of the world. He is like a water on a lotus leaf as all his activities centre round Reality that is SELF.

After Sankara, the cultural history of South India records a triangular fight among the Vaishnavas, the Saivas and the Jainas and whoever succeeded in winning over, often indulged in persecuting the members of the other two sects in that territory. The social life gradually deteriorated. The caste system was gradually hardening. Great emphasis was laid on the purity of Varnas in the social orders. The Brahmanas became a well organised priestly class with special duties and privileges. In power and prestige, the Kshatriyas were closest to the Brahmanas. The social status of the Vaisyas had gradually deteriorated and wide gulf separated them from the others.

Philosophic enquiry and study became the monopoly of a few and religion and religious worship also came under the sway of a choosen few. This rigidity in social stratification widened the gulf between people, so much that disharmony, disunity and dissension became the order of the day.

People were thus so much confused that it required somebody to propound a Philosophy suited to their temperament. At this point of time appeared Ramanuja who by propagating the Philosophy of 0rganismal non-dualism (visistadvaita) catered to the needs of nis age and stabilised the Indian Culture.

Ramanuja tried to combine the Absolutism of Sankara with the theism of the Upanishads. In this attempt, he also took into account the theism of Vaishnavism. In the process he endowed Reality with all auspicious attributes and enhanced It to the status of an Absolute and named, It “NARAYANA” and regarded Maya as the lila of God. Reality being personal, the relationship between Reality and the individual also is Personal. So, to realise that Reality, one has to have an intimate persoral relationship with him which is possible only through self surrender and devotion (Bhakti).

Ramanuja

Ramanuja

Ramanuja, also called Ramanujacharya, or Ilaiya Perumal (Tamil: Ageless Perumal [God]), (born c. 1017, Shriperumbudur, India—died 1137, Shrirangam), South Indian Brahman theologian and philosopher, the single most influential thinker of devotional Hinduism. After a long pilgrimage, Ramanuja settled in Shrirangam, where he organized temple worship and founded centres to disseminate his doctrine of devotion to the god Vishnu and his consort Shri (Lakshmi). He provided an intellectual basis for the practice of bhakti (devotional worship) in three major commentaries: the Vedartha-samgraha (on the Vedas, the earliest scriptures of Hinduism), the Shri-bhashya (on the Brahma-sutras), and the Bhagavadgita-bhashya (on the Bhagavadgita).

Philosophy And Influence

Ramanuja’s chief contribution to philosophy was his insistence that discursive thought is necessary in humanity’s search for the ultimate verities, that the phenomenal world is real and provides real knowledge, and that the exigencies of daily life are not detrimental or even contrary to the life of the spirit. In this emphasis he is the antithesis of Shankara, of whom he was sharply critical and whose interpretation of the scriptures he disputed. Like other adherents of the Vedanta system, Ramanuja accepted that any Vedanta system must base itself on the three “points of departure,” namely, the Upanishads, the Brahma-sutras (brief exposition of the major tenets of the Upanishads), and the Bhagavadgita, the colloquy of the deity Krishna and his friend Arjuna. He wrote no commentary on any single Upanishad but explained in detail the method of understanding the Upanishads in his first major work, the Vedartha-samgraha (“Summary of the Meaning of the Veda”). Much of this was incorporated in his commentary on the Brahma-sutras, the Shri-bhashya, which presents his fully developed views. His commentary on the Bhagavadgita, the Bhagavadgita-bhashya, dates from a later age.

Although Ramanuja’s contribution to Vedanta thought was highly significant, his influence on the course of Hinduism as a religion has been even greater. By allowing the urge for devotional worship (Bhakti) into his doctrine of salvation, he aligned the popular religion with the pursuits of philosophy and gave bhakti an intellectual basis. Ever since, bhakti has remained the major force in the religions of Hinduism. His emphasis on the necessity of religious worship as a means of salvation continued in a more systematic context the devotional effusions of the Alwars, the 7th–10th century poet-mystics of southern India, whose verse became incorporated into temple worship. This bhakti devotionalism, guided by Ramanuja, made its way into northern India, where its influence on religious thought and practice has been profound.

Ramanuja’s worldview accepts the ontological reality of three distinct orders: matter, soul, and God. Like Shankara and earlier Vedanta, he admits that there is nonduality(advaita), an ultimate identity of the three orders, but this nonduality for him is asserted of God, who is modified (vishishta; literally “qualified”) by the orders of matter and soul; hence, his doctrine is known as Vishishtadvaita (“qualified nonduality”) as opposed to the unqualified nonduality of Shankara. Central to his organicconception of the universe is the analogy of body and soul: just as the body modifies the soul, has no separate existence from it, and yet is different from it, just so the orders of matter and soul constitute God’s “body,” modifying it, yet having no separate existence from it. The goal of the human soul, therefore, is to serve God just as the body serves the soul. Anything different from God is but a shesha of him, a spilling from the plenitude of his being. All the phenomenal world is a manifestation of the glory of God (vibhuti), and to detract from its reality is to detract from his glory. Ramanuja transformed the practice of ritual action into the practice of divine worship and the way of meditation into a continuous loving pondering of God’s qualities, both in turn a subservient to bhakti, the fully realized devotion that finds God. Thus, release is not merely a shedding of the bonds of transmigration but a positive quest for the contemplation of God, who is pictured as enthroned in his heaven, called Vaikuntha, with his consort and attendants.

Ramanuja’s doctrine, which was passed on and augmented by later generations, still identifies a caste of Brahmans in southern India, the Shrivaishnavas. They became divided into two subcastes, the northern, or Vadakalai, and the southern, or Tenkalai. At issue between the two schools is the question of God’s grace. According to the Vadakalai, who in this seem to follow Ramanuja’s intention more closely, God’s grace is certainly active in man’s quest for him but does not supplant the necessity of man’s acting toward God. The Tenkalai, on the other hand, hold that God’s grace is paramount and that the only gesture needed from man is his total submission to God (prapatti).

The site of Ramanuja’s birthplace in Shriperumbudur is now commemorated by a temple and an active Vishishtadvaita school. The doctrines he promulgated still inspire a lively intellectual tradition, and the religious practices he emphasized are still carried on in the two most important Vaishnava centres in southern India, the Ranganatha temple in Shrirangam, Tamil Nadu, and the Venkateshvara temple in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh.