Dr. V. Vasanthakumari, MA. B.Ed, M.Phil., PhD., Professor in
Vedanta, Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady.
She published 3 Books, 40 Articles and presented 75 research
topics in various international, national seminars and invited
lectures. She has been undertaking research on Sri Sankara’s
works for the last 20 years. She is a Contributing editor of
Dr. V. Vasanthakumari ventures a daring new look at the contributions of
the great philosopher-saint Sree Sankara. A fresh avenue is suggested; it helps
avoid roadblocks created by hasty conclusions stemming either from hyper-adoration or pre-emptive negation. The author follows the wise path of the golden
mean and succeeds in integrating apparently irreconcilable standpoints. Not an
easy task, obviously.
Of course, a great lot has already been written about the life and works of
Sri Sankara, some of it by very eminent scholars. However, even today, Sree
Sankara poses a dilemma to some discerning students of philosophy. How could
a person of such great erudition and pristine wisdom approve of tenets like denial
of rights to the lower castes and glorify the anacharas and rituals detailed in the
karma kanda of the Vedas?, they argue.
The author convincingly establishes the fact that Sree Sankara was not
only an academic philosopher but also an acclaimed social reformer. By explaining
the texts in the light of his own methodology, he unravelled the blemishes of the
then prevailing social situation, which paved the way for future social reformers to
fight against them. Moreover, having opted for nivrtti marga - the path of renunciation
- he held all physical circumstances as merely ephemeral and therefore irrelevant.
Knowledge alone was what mattered. Assuming Sree Sankara to have fought shy
of the need of the hour is tantamount to blaming him for not reacting the way an
activist of today would have. He was made of different material and possessed the
right disposition to enable him to carry out his life's unique mission - the re-definition
of Vedanta and its social relevance.
Of the three faculties that man has - the senses, the mind and the intellect-
one can either rely on any one in particular, exploring it to its limits so as to achieve
parama pada or make use of all three in unison to the same end. We have jnana
yogis, bhakti yogis and karma yogis and also avadhutas like Sri Ramakrishna
Paramahansa who opted for the integrated path. Each one deserves credit for what
they achieved by their different styles, standards and paradigms.
The subject matter of the book is well-researched, its diction surprisingly
simple for a work of this dimension, the approach judicious and creative at the
same time and the conclusions, therefore, fully warranted. An impartial enquiry
always helps pre-empt weeds of confusion and misleading discussion; one only
wishes that a work of this nature, content and approach had been accomplished
earlier. Well, better late than never as the saying goes.
Sri Sankara revealed the essence of Advaita Vedanta and his birth raised
India, especially Kerala, to a holy place. Advaita attained its highest peak due to
Sri Sankara's dedicated efforts. He put his heart and soul into spreading the
essence of Advaitic vision "Brahma satyam Jaganmithya", "Jivo Brahmaiva
Naparah" throughout India and established Advaita darSana as the main pillar of
Indian philosophy. Strenuous efforts had been made by Sri Sankara to establish
his Advaitic vision such as the establishment of maths, his exuberant works such
as bhasyas, prakaranas, stotras and tantras, formation of DaSanami sampradaya
Sri Sankara, who propagates notions which transcend caste and religion,
is often regarded as the exponent of hegemonic caste system. He is also devalued
as the inventor of vedic ritualism and as a preceptor who nourished evil customs in
Kerala, by certain scholars. The root cause of these controversies resides in the
commentaries written by Sri Sankara on the ‘Apastidradhikarana’ of the
Brahmasitra. However, on examining the social background of that period, one
could understand that the works of Sri Sankara are only a reflection of the period
and not his own opinion regarding the varnavyavastha. He has performed only the
duty of a commentator.
The present study is undertaken in six chapters. The first chapter is
introduction. The second chapter gives stress on a general analysis of the
Brahmasitra, the author, his life time, the form and content of the Brahmasitra
and commentaries thereon. A bird’s eye view of all the four adhyayas of the
Brahmasitra is also presented. The third chapter clearly examines the
Apasudradhikarana. All the five sutras of the adhikarana are analysed here. The
attitude towards the Sudras found in the ‘Apasudradhikarana’ is not at all palpable
to the modern minds. At the same time, the Brahmasitra has to be defended too.
The method adopted by some to achieve this end is to consider
‘Apasudradhikarana’ as an interpolation. But it delineates the correct approach to
this problem by explaining its relation to the sixth chapter of Mimamsa sutras. The
chapter establishes that the Apasudradhikarana is not an interpolation and also
explains the commentaries on the adhikarana. Commentaries of Sri Sankara,
Ramanuja, Madhva, Nimbarka, Sripati Panditacarya, Vallabha, Vijnanabhiksu
and Baladeva are analysed.
Sub-commentaries are also examined in a general way. Commentaries
and sub-commentaries vouchsafe the fact that the Apasudradhikarana is not an
interpolation. Sri Sankara paved the way for the Sudris to study Brahmavidya
through the Itihasas and the Puranas. The fourth chapter concentrates on the caste
system in the Vedas. It also examines the competence of the Sudras for vedic and
vedantic studies. The upanayana ceremony, the Sudras in the scriptures, the Sudras
and women, the Sudras' competency etc. are also dealt with in this chapter. The
fifth chapter reveals Sri Sankara's perspective on the caturvarnya system and
vedic ritualism. It further tries to establish Sri Sankara a spiritual revolutionary.
The sixth chapter is the conclusion. It highlights the observations related to the
controversies among the scholars of repute on Sri Sankara's philosophy. It further
expresses as the some total of the author's personal views on how Sri Sankara is
able to withstand such controveries. Apart from these, two appendices are also
added to the book.
I am highly indebted to his Holiness Swami Paramanandabharati, in the
lineage of Sringeri Math for his relevant suggestions and support. I am equally
obliged to his Holiness Swami Haribrahmendranada of Adi Sankara Brahmavidya
Peetham Uttarakasi for his timely remarks and observations in the production of
I wholeheartedly express my gratitude to Sri. C. Radhakrishnan who has
made his name both as a scientist and as a Malayalam writer and novelist for
writing a foreword for this book. I am greatly indebted to Swami Nandatmajanada,
Editor, Prabuddha Keralam, Ramakrishna Math, Puranattukara, Thrissur who
was kind enough to provide the design and drawing of the cover page, which is
most suggestive of the contents of the book. My obligation also stands for Prof. A.
Subrahmanya Iyyer, Hon. Manager, Sri Sringeri Shankara Math, Kalady for his
valuable review of this book and Prof E. Narayana Kaimal for examining the
linguistic aspects in the preparation of this book. Finally, I thank ArshaVidya
Pratisthanam, Rameswaram, Amaravila P.O., Thiruvananthapuram for bringing
out this book in the present form.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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