Transliteration Key

A large number of teachers and writers have left their impress upon the advaita tradition during the 12 centuries after SankarAcArya. This page mentions only the seminal figures in the history of post-Sankaran advaita. True to the advaita spirit of not identifying with the body, our writers rarely give any clues to personal details in their texts. Consequently, all dates mentioned here rely upon the academic research that has been done within the last two centuries. Traditional details are mentioned where necessary, and it is important to remember that some historical details are still being disputed in the literature.

A list of post-Sankaran authors in advaita will have to include both sannyAsins and householders. Moreover, some householder authors took the vows of sannyAsa at a later stage in their lives, which means that some authors are known by more than one name (e.g. janArdana - Anandagiri). A general rule of thumb is that an author whose last name is miSra, or a variant of upAdhyAya, or dIkshita is a householder, while the names of sannyAsins are indicated by daSanAmI suffixes. However, there are some early sannyAsin authors whose daSanAmI suffixes are not known, such as jnAnaghana (grand-disciple of sureSvara, and author of tattvaSuddhi), his disciple, jnAnottama (the author of vidyASrI), vimuktAtman, citsukha, sukhaprakASa, amalAnanda and others. In these cases, that they were sannyAsins is known by the terms muni, yati, yogi etc. used by later commentators. The sannyAsin authors were generally associated with the four maThas established by Sankara and the other maThas established later. Thus, jnAnaghana and jnAnottama are found on the succession list of the Sringeri maTha, and Anandagiri is found on the list of the Dvaraka maTha. Meanwhile,the householder scholars formed the communities in which the sannyAsins were born, and from which the maThAdhipatis were chosen.

The name of vAcaspati miSra (9th century CE) stands out among the early post-Sankaran authors in the advaita tradition. His commentary, named bhAmatI [1], on SankarAcArya's brahmasUtra bhAshya, is celebrated, and has given birth to a sub-tradition within advaita, called the bhAmatI school. Many commentaries to bhAmatI have been written in the course of the centuries. vAcaspati miSra is said to have written a commentary named tattva samIkshA to maNDana miSra's brahmasiddhi, which is now unfortunately lost to us. He is also well-known as a scholar who wrote authoritative treatises in various Indian philosophical traditions, including nyAya-vaiSeshika (nyAyasUcInibandha and tAtparyaTIkA), yoga (tattvavaiSAradI), mImAm.sA (nyAyakaNikA) and sAm.khya (tattvakaumudI), in addition to advaita vedAnta. His erudition made him famous as a sarvatantra-svatantra, a title of high respect in India.

The next important author from the 10th century CE is prakASAtman, who wrote the vivaraNa [2] to padmapAda's pancapAdikA. This work has also received a long line of commentaries from later authors, and lends its name to the other important sub-tradition in advaita vedAnta, namely the vivaraNa school. prakASAtman also wrote the SabdanirNaya and the nyAyamuktAvalI, a commentary on the brahmasUtras. sarvajnAtman, the author of samkshepa-SArIraka, pancaprakriyA and pramANa-lakshaNa [3] is another notable 10th century author. sarvajnAtman salutes his guru deveSvara in his works. The name deveSvara is usually seen as a synonym of sureSvara, Sankara's disciple, and on this basis, sarvajnAtman is sometimes identified with nityabodhaghana. However, in the pramANa-lakshaNa, sarvajnAtman mentions the name of deveSvara's guru as devAnanda, whose guru was SreshThAnanda. Hence, there is some confusion over whether sarvAjnAtman was a direct disciple of sureSvara or not.

sarvajnAtman was probably a younger contemporary of vimuktAtman, the author of ishTasiddhi. [4] One author named jnAnottama, who lived in the 12th century CE, wrote the candrikA on sureSvara's naishkarmyasiddhi, and a vivaraNa to the vimuktAtman's ishTasiddhi. This jnAnottama lived in the region of Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu. His full name in the manuscripts is jnAnottama miSra mahopAdhyAya, which indicates that unlike the jnAnottama mentioned earlier, he was a householder scholar. There is some evidence from the last verse of the candrikA that this author later became a sannyAsin by name sarvajnASrama.

Between the 9th and 13th centuries, SankarAcArya's exposition of advaita came under attack by rival vedAntin teachers, such as bhAskara (bhedAbheda), rAmAnuja (viSishTAdvaita), nimbArka (dvaitAdvaita), and AnandatIrtha (dvaita). There was also a resurgence of nyAya-vaiSeshika philosophy around the same time, culminating in the fully developed navya-nyAya school of later times. After this period, all later authors in the advaita tradition concentrate on addressing issues raised by philosophers from nyAya, and rival schools of vedAnta. This is in contrast with the early authors whose major concerns were with the tenets of the sAm.khya, mahAyAna buddhists and the pUrva mImAm.sakas.

SrIharsha, who wrote the khaNDana-khaNDa-khAdya, [5] is an important author in the history of advaita vedAnta. He mainly addresses the nyAya school, and points out fallacies in their definitions of various concepts. Such criticisms lead to a later reworking of the nyAya system, which soon lost its earlier naive realism. After SrIharsha's time, logical formalism took center stage, culminating in the highly formal logical system of the navya-nyAya (new logic) school. The khaNDana-khaNDa-khAdya was commented upon both by advaitins and naiyyAyikas. SrIharsha is also famous as the author of the naishAda-carita, which relates the purAnic story of nala and damayantI. He is known for using extremely difficult grammatical constructions in the sam.skRta language, and constructing sentences using words in such a way as to yield multiple meanings. For example, the word yAgeSvara can be split as yAgAnAm ISvara:, the lord of sacrifices, or as yA ageSvara:, the lord of mountains, and both meanings are significant in the same sentence. SrIharsha's work has been commented upon by many later advaitins, and also by authors in the nyAya-vaiSeshika tradition.

citsukha, a disciple of jnAnottama, wrote a number of works, including commentaries on the khaNDana-khaNDakhAdya, brahmasiddhi and naishkarmyasiddhi. His tattvapradIpikA is more famously known as citsukhI. [6] Like SrIharsha before him, citsukha also makes effective use of the dialectical method seen in the works of nAgArjuna, the buddhist philosopher. Both acknowledge this fact, but criticize the madhyamaka school for not affirming the ultimate reality of brahman. Anandabodha, AnandAnubhava, akhaNDAnanda and anubhUtisvarUpAcArya are other important authors in the 13th century. sukhaprakASa, a disciple of citsukha, wrote commentaries on Anandabodha's and anubhUtisvarUpa's works. amalAnanda, a disciple of sukhaprakASa, wrote the vedAntakalpataru on the bhAmatI and also a pancapAdikA-darpaNa, thus forming an early link between the bhAmatI and vivaraNa schools.

Anandagiri (also known as AnandajnAna), a disciple of SuddhAnanda, is well-known as the author of a number of TIkAs and TippaNas on SankarAcArya's upanishad bhAshyas. [7] anubhUtisvarUpa, mentioned earlier, was an important figure in the sArasvata grammatical tradition, and was probably another guru of Anandagiri's. He wrote the prakaTArtha-vivaraNa on Sankara's brahmasUtrabhAshya and a mANDUkya-kArikA-bhAshya. Both SuddhAnanda and Anandagiri are mentioned in the lineage of the Dvaraka maTha. Anandagiri is popularly known as the TIkAkAra. His tarka sangraha is a refutation of the vaiSeshika categories, and is a very popular text in the tradition. Anandagiri is probably identical with janArdana, the author of vedAntatattvAloka. Anandagiri is often mistakenly identified with toTakAcArya, an immediate disciple of SankarAcArya. The Sankara-vijaya of anantAnandagiri, a much later author, is also mistakenly attributed to Anandagiri. Needless to say, both identifications are erroneous.

By far the most important authors in the 14th century are SankarAnanda, bhAratI tIrtha and vidyAraNya. Together, the latter two wrote a number of definitive works, including the adhikaraNa ratnamAlA (also called vaiyAsika nyAyamAlA), pancadaSI, jIvanmuktiviveka, anubhUtiprakASa and vivaraNaprameyasangraha. [8] Both authors were from the Sringeri lineage, and were disciples of vidyAtIrtha (also called vidyAsankara), as attested by the evidence of the anubhUtiprakASa. vidyAraNya is traditionally known to be the guiding spirit behind the founders of the Vijayanagar empire in southern India. That vidyAraNya and bhAratI tIrtha wrote together is mentioned by their direct disciple, rAmakRshNa bhAratI, who wrote the pancadaSI-tAtparyabodhinI.

In the pancadaSI, vidyAraNya mentions SankarAnanda as another guru of his. This SankarAnanda was a disciple of AtmAnanda, and he wrote many dIpikAs on the upanishads belonging to the atharvaveda. He also wrote the AtmapurANa and the bhagavad-gItA-tAtparyabodhinI. He is said to have been a native of Tiruvidaimarudur in Tamil Nadu, and is also associated with the holy places Srisailam and Ahobilam in Andhra Pradesh. His name is also found in the lineages of a few branch maThas of the Sringeri and Puri maThas. [9] vidyAraNya is normally identified in modern literature with a mAdhava, but the identification remains controversial. The mAdhavIya Sankaravijaya is traditionally attributed to vidyAraNya. The sarvadarSana-sangraha, which is a compendium of Indian philosophical thought, presents the tenets of the major contemporary schools of thought in a hierarchical fashion, with advaita vedAnta as the ultimate truth.

There are many authors from the 14th and 15th centuries CE. The growth of the Vijayanagar empire and its vassal states in southern India was a crucial factor in the preservation and transmission of all Indian religious and philosophical traditions. Beginning with the sons of sangama, the founders of the Vijayanagar empire, the kings of the first dynasty identified closely with advaita vedAnta and regarded the SankarAcAryas of the Sringeri maTha as their gurus. A brahmasUtravRtti is even attributed to prauDhadevarAya, one of the early Vijayanagar kings. The later dynasties which ruled the Vijayanagar empire were predominantly Vaishnava, but the kings encouraged and patronized teachers from all sects and faiths, including Muslims. All aspects of traditional Indian culture found patronage in the empire. Among the texts written in the 15th century, the vedAntasAra of sadAnanda yogIndra [10] enjoys great popularity. It is often used as an introductory text in the advaita tradition. sadAnanda also wrote the vedAntasiddhAnta-sArasangraha, bhavaprakASa on the gItA and the brahmasUtra-tAtparyaprakASa.

In the 16th century, prakASAnanda sarasvatI's vedAntasiddhAnta-muktAvalI, [11] and siddhAntadIpa, a commentary on this work by nAnA dIkshita, represent a move away from the influential bhAmatI and vivaraNa sub-schools. These two authors argue for the dRshTi-sRshTi vAda, but not many other works are found along this line. prakASAnanda also wrote a few works in the SAkta tradition, such as tArAbhakti tarangiNI. This work is also not very widely known, although the worship of saguNa brahman in the form of the Goddess has been intimately connected with the advaita vedAnta tradition, since ancient times. The SrIvidyA tradition, in particular, has been largely assimilated into advaita communities, especially in southern India.

In philosophy, the vivaraNa sub-school continued to be very important, as represented by nRsimhASrama (disciple of jagannAthASrama), who was an extremely influential teacher in the 16th century. His bhedadhikkAra [12] is an early example of the polemical debate between dvaita and advaita philosophers. He also wrote advaitadIpikA, tattvaviveka, vedAntaratnakoSa, a commentary on padmapAda's pancapAdikA, tattvabodhinI on sarvajnAtman's samkshepasArIraka and bhAvaprakASikA on prakASAtman's vivaraNa. He and his disciples, nArAyaNASrama, rAmASrama and others flourished in the south and wrote many texts. One of the most famous disciples of nRsimhASrama was dharmarAja adhvarIndra, whose vedAnta paribhAshA is immensely popular. [13] All these authors of the vivaraNa school pay a lot of attention to epistemological issues, and dharmarAja systematizes the pramANas (source of valid knowledge) in pUrva mImAm.sA and advaita vedAnta.

In the 16th-17th centuries, a number of south Indian householder scholars, surnamed dIkshita, rose to prominence in the advaita tradition. The name dIkshita is used only for those who have performed certain Vedic sacrifices. Chief among them was appayya dIkshita, whose most famous work was the siddhAntaleSasangraha. [14] He also wrote the parimala on amalAnanda's kalpataru, thus representing the bhAmatI sub-school. However, appayya dIkshita points out that the differences between the vivaraNa and bhAmatI schools are not because of philosophical disagreement on fundamental principles, but a result of differing technique and the emphasis on different issues, such as epistemology in one and ontology in the other. Like vAcaspati miSra, appayya dIkshita has also written many texts on nyAya-vaiSeshika, pUrva mImAm.sA and other schools. He also wrote the madhva-tantra-mukha-mardanam, attacking the dvaita school, and an autocommentary to it, called vidhvamsana. Many descendents of appayya dIkshita were great scholars and authors in various fields of traditional learning well into recent times, including tyAgarAja makhin of the 19th century. Popularly known as Raju Sastrigal, this scholar wrote the sadvidyAvilAsa on the famous uddAlaka-Svetaketu dialogue of the chAndogya upanishad. swAmI SivAnanda, who founded the Divine Life Society, was another descendent of appayya dIkshita.

Tradition records that appayya was initially a follower of the SivAdvaita school of the 13th century teacher, SrIkaNTha. appayya wrote the SivArkamaNidIpikA on SrIkaNTha's brahmasUtrabhAshya. In the SivAdvaitanirNaya and the Sivatattvaviveka, appayya dIkshita tries to accommodate SrIkaNTha's thought within Sankaran advaita vedAnta. He represents the close connections between Saivas and the followers of SankarAcArya during this period in southern India. narasimha bhAratI, who was an AcArya in the Sringeri line, and a contemporary of appayya dIkshita, wrote a commentary to the SivagItA. An earlier example of this synthesis is mallanArAdhya, who wrote the advaitaratna, to which nRsimhASrama wrote a commentary called tattvadIpana. mallanArAdhya's name indicates that he belonged to the ArAdhya group of brAhmaNas, who greatly respected the vIraSaiva leader basavaNNa, but unlike the vIraSaivas, did not reject the authority of the vedas. A great motivating factor for this was surely the fact that south Indian vaishNava religion had given birth to two schools of vedAnta, namely the viSishTAdvaita of rAmAnuja and the dvaita of AnandatIrtha. Meanwhile, advaitins and Saivas found common cause in various social, religious and political issues, which is reflected in appayya's works. This understanding must have been helped by the religious customs of most traditional advaitins. For example, a Sivalinga is consecrated at the site where a sannyAsin of the advaita order is buried, and advaitins themselves worship Siva and vishNu as equally valid forms of saguNa brahman. However, appayya dIkshita was no narrow sectarian. He is known to have composed a commentary on the yAdavAbhyudaya, a work of vedAnta deSika, a vaishNava leader. The inclusivistic and non-sectarian nature of the followers of Sankara is also seen from other customs and texts dating from this period.

bhaTTojI dIkshita, the great grammarian scholar from the north was a disciple of appayya dIkshita. bhaTTojI's brother, rangojI bhaTTa, wrote advaita works such as advaitacintAmaNi and attacked the dvaita school of AnandatIrtha in his madhva-siddhAnta-bhanjanI. bhaTTojI wrote advaitakaustubha, a dIpana on nRsimhASrama's tattvaviveka, and the madhvamata-vidhvamsana against dvaita. rangoji's grandson, lakshmInRsimha, wrote the well-known Abhoga commentary in the bhAmatI line.

madhusUdana sarasvatI, disciple of viSveSvara sarasvatI and mAdhava sarasvatI, is the most celebrated name in the annals of the great dvaita-advaita debate. He also flourished in the 16th century. His advaitasiddhi [15] is a classic work, and most advaita teachers maintain that all the logical issues raised by the dvaita school of AnandatIrtha have been more than sufficiently answered by madhusUdana. His gUDhArthadIpikA on the bhagavadgItA is another well-known treatise. In addition, he wrote the ISvarapratipatti-prakASa, vedAntakalpalatikA, sArasangraha on sarvajnAtman's samkshepa-SArIraka, and the justly famous siddhAntabindu on SankarAcArya's daSaSlokI. madhusUdana sarasvatI was a great devotee of Lord kRshNa. Just like appayya dIkshita, who integrated SivAdvaita into advaita vedAnta, madhusUdana bridged the sAtvata school of pAncarAtra vaishNavism and advaita vedAnta philosophy. It is also interesting to note that madhusUdana boldly differs from Sankara in some of his interpretations of the brahmasUtras and the gItA, although he salutes Sankara and sureSvara in the most reverential terms.

madhusUdana sarasvatI is popularly reported to have been a contemporary of the Mughal emperor Akbar. It is said that on Akbar's suggestion, madhusUdana initiated large numbers of sannyAsins from kshatriya and vaiSya communities to the daSanAmI orders, in order to form a group of martially trained ascetics to protect the people. This most probably reflects historical fact. Armed nAga sannyAsin warriors, tracing their origins to madhusUdana sarasvatI, and affiliated with the daSanAmI akhADas, were a component of almost every Rajput army in northern India, till fairly recent times. Tradition also recounts that viTThaleSa, the son of vallabhAcArya of the SuddhAdvaita pushTimArga school, studied under madhusUdana sarasvatI, who thus forms a crucial link between advaita vedAnta and many vaishNava sects in the north.

In the 18th century, sadASiva brahmendra and upanishad brahmendra were very important teachers in southern India. sadASiva brahmendra was a disciple of paramaSivendra sarasvatI (author of Siva gItA vyAkhyA and dahara vidyA prakASikA) and grand-disciple of abhinava nArAyaNendra sarasvatI, who wrote many upanishad dIpikAs. sadASiva wrote AtmavidyAvilAsa, advaitarasamanjarI and other popular works. [16] Numerous legends are reported about his saintliness, the miracles he worked and the height of his brahman realization. His simple kIrtanas are meant to teach advaita values to even the most illiterate person, and are very popular in Carnatic music today. He passed away in Nerur in Tamil Nadu, where annual ArAdhanas are held at his samAdhi-sthala. The sannyAsins in sadASiva brahmendra's lineage lived and taught in the extreme south of India, and were widely known, but their maTha affiliations, if any, are not known.

rAmacandrendra sarasvatI, disciple of vAsudevendra sarasvatI, was popularly called upanishad brahmendra. He was the first author in the advaita tradition to write commentaries on all the 108 upanishads listed in the muktikopanishad. His commentaries are considered to be authoritative, and are quite popular among sannyAsin communities in the south. In the tradition of samanvaya used in the brahmasUtras, he harmonizes the various doctrines found in these texts, and weaves their extensive religious lore into the consistent philosophical framework of Sankaran advaita. upanishad brahmendra lived and taught in Kancipuram in the south. He established hiw own maTha at Kanci, which continues to this day, under the leadership of illustrious sannyAsins. Tyagaraja, the great composer in Carnatic music, was a disciple of upanishad brahmendra.

The 20th century: In the 20th century, there has been an enormous amount of activity in terms of publishing manuscripts, translating works of the advaita masters, and writing commentaries in English and in Indian languages such as Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Bengali. The "neo-Vedantin" groups have contributed immensely towards bringing a greater awareness of advaita philosophy to the West and the common man in India. The list of people is too large to mention, so here I only mention those who have composed philosophical texts in sam.skRta in the traditional style. I also exclude Indian and Western academic scholars and philosophers, who were non-dualists, whether due to an interest in traditional advaita vedAnta or otherwise. This is because I believe that while these other authors are contributing a lot to the interest in advaita philosophy, those who carry on the work of writing sam.skRta commentaries and teaching their disciples in the traditional way represent the core of the living advaita tradition.

A few authors stand out among the 20th century savants in the advaita daSanAmI tradition. One is SrI candrasekhara bhAratI of Sringeri, the world renowned jIvanmukta, who wrote the vivekacUDAmaNi bhAshya. [17] This commentary was reportedly begun by his guru, Sri saccidAnanda SivAbhinava nRsimha bhAratI. It is incomplete, with no commentary to the last few verses of the work. Another important author is SrI saccidAnandendra sarasvatI of the Adhyatma Prakasa Karyalaya, Holenarsipur, who brought the critical thinking of modern academic scholarship to the advaita tradition. He wrote the brahmavidyA-rahasya-vivRti on the chAndogya upanishad, gItASAstrArtha-viveka, vedAntaprakriyA-pratyabhijnA and kleSApahAriNI on sureSvara's naishkarmyasiddhi, in addition to many other texts in English and Kannada on the advaita tradition. [18] A third author is SrI vidyAnanda giri, who wrote a TIkA to toTaka's SrutisArasamuddhAraNa. [19]

Among the householder scholars of recent times, particular mention may be made of Vasudev Sastri Abhyankar, author of advaitAmoda, N. S. Anantakrishna Sastri, who wrote advaitatattvasudhA and other works, Kadalangudi Natesa Sastri (1878-1961), whose periodical, Aryamata samvardhinI published many upanishads and bhAshyas, with Tamil translations and Tetiyur Subrahmanya Sastri, whose Sankara Gurukulam school has produced many scholars.

This brief survey of post-Sankaran authors in the advaita tradition attests to its basic continuity irrespective of India's numerous historical upheavals. A large number of the teachers in the tradition have remained anonymous, as they taught only select students, and did not write commentarial texts. Great teachers and authors are found from all over India, but the scholastic tradition has always been stronger in the south. The sannyAsins travelled far and wide all over India, preaching basic religious values to the masses and teaching philosophy to competent students. These teachers often lived and taught side by side with Saiva siddhAntins, viSishTAdvaitins, dvaitins, bhedAbhedavAdins, leaders of various bhakti movements, Jains, Muslims and others. As no human being lives in a vacuum, the rapid changes in India's social, political and religious landscape made their presence felt in the personal lives of the post-Sankaran teachers in advaita. We see teachers of the stature of appayya dIkshita, madhusUdana sarasvatI and prakASAnanda sarasvatI bringing various Saiva, vaishNava and SAkta religious groups, with their own legacies, within the fold of the orthodox advaita vedAnta tradition. The leadership of teachers of advaita vedAnta contributed immensely to the inclusivistic nature of Hinduism, and encouraged a tolerant attitude towards diverse religious practices, that is so essential to a pluralistic society. However, through it all, the basic "Great Equation" of advaita vedAnta (Atman = brahman) has been firmly adhered to. The tradition continues to this day, and possesses an enormous amount of resilience to continue well into the future.


Last updated May 5, 1999.

Back The advaita home page